Cut To The Chase

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways

Ordinarily, when I ask readers to look at something from an entirely new point of view, I spend a good bit of time explaining my reasoning. Why should you, after all, go out on a limb on just my say-so. But now I have to wonder if such a carefully laid out approach is really necessary.

John Kerry is thought to have lost his presidential bid because he tried talking chess to a public accustomed to checkers. And perhaps there's a lesson here. Why spend time carefully constructing an argument when all that's really needed is a bumper sticker. Hence the following seven quick insights that you can either cheer or hiss based strictly on what you already believe.

1) Building Better Brains: Whenever people talk about mankind's progress down from the trees and out of the caves, they're sure to bring up cars and computers and, that extra special favorite, going to the moon, as proof of our privileged place way beyond anything our ancestors might have imagined. But ask yourself this: how have advances in science and technology made us better as a species? Have Ice Age cretins simply replaced their clubs with thermonuclear devices? How, specifically, have Space Age humans gotten any better than their Stone Age predecessors at using their brains to maximize harmony and minimize discord here and abroad?

2) A Question of Taste: A new TV commercial shows a woman who confidently asserts that she prefers Miller Light to Budweiser. In your dreams! I'd be willing to bet anyone who thinks that they can tell the difference. Beer produced for the mass market in this country is so bland that Europeans refer to it as "Making love in a canoe" - another way of saying F___ing close to water.

If you disagree, try this simple experiment. Put glasses of Seven-Up, ginger ale, and Coca-Cola in front of a blindfolded subject. Present six tastes, one at a time in any order, and ask your subject to name them. So much for paying more for premium brands.

3) Analysis at a Distance: The professional societies to which Shrinks belong all agree it's unethical to analyze an individual you haven't examined. Why? Because it would then become obvious that the whole business is a sham.

Two analysts, on different sides of the love/hate Bush dichotomy, recently wrote about the President's mental state on being told of 9/11. One said the long silence was a time of critical thought prior to a reasoned decision, while the other saw it as a time of total confusion probably related to brain damage brought on by years of substance abuse. Believe what you will, Drs. Laura, Phil and Ruth are nothing but busybody yentas!

4) A Good Education: Mostly this is defined as learning that you can take to the bank; learning that results in a check. From air conditioner repair to architectural design, it's a good education if it leads directly to cash and prestige near the top of your social station. This, my friends, is not education. It's training. This is what you should learn on the job, and what kids learned, during more enlightened times, as apprentices. True education, a broad liberal arts approach to knowledge, teaches one how to live, not how to make a living. As such, it's a luxury that those with limited finances can't afford, and those with limited intellects can't appreciate.

5) Throwing Money at a Problem: An obvious example of such nonsense would be a fellow off to the side of the road tossing cash at a flat tire. A less obvious example would be the same fellow writing a check to charity. In the best light, charitable organizations may be seen as ineffective - in the worst light as counter productive. Can you name a single one that did such a good job it was able to close its doors?

After administrative skimming, the fraction of the donation that's left goes to what exactly? Would you bet your life on it? One agency's rather astute slogan was "Don't give until it hurts - just until it feels good". To donate is to buy yourself a warm, fuzzy feeling. Period!

6) Curing Cancer: A common refrain goes something like "Why doesn't the government start a crash program to stop cancer?" We went to the moon so why can't we find a cure? The problem with such reasoning has to do with the difference between science and technology. Science asks why some cells go berserk, while technology asks how we can make a big rocket bigger. Clearly, one is a whole lot harder than the other. And besides that, breakthroughs in science (unlike developments in technology) can't be rushed. No matter how big and well-funded a bureaucracy you build, you simply can't speed up the pace of serendipitous discovery.

7) Middle Class Parents: Today's enormous middle class is a relatively new phenomenon. It evolved mostly from merchants and craftsmen who were better off than lowers, but by no means uppers. Curiously, this in-between group took on the parenting role of the lowers but, with more leisure time, extended it beyond all reason. Uppers have nurses and nannies to handle the grunge work. Lowers are forced to do it themselves until their broods reach adolescence. The middles serve as cleaners and care givers (thereby losing any status as authority figures), and then insist on asserting control through the teen years. No wonder the middle class turns out to be neurotic.

Look At It This Way

Each of the above insights may well serve as the basis for a book. But why bother? Despite extraordinary efforts on the part of a writer, the typical reader makes no effort at all. The prevailing attitude seems to be don't confuse me with alternatives. When, for example, was the last time you went to a debate and heard someone say: "Gosh Golly - you've changed my mind"?

It would seem that attempts at balanced programming, unbiased reporting, and reasoned discussion are so much time wasted when arriving at a new way of thinking is deridingly referred to as flip-flopping. Until being able to change one's mind is seen as a virtue, we might as well cut to the chase - just cheer the hero and hiss the villain.

Dr. Mason, who changes his mind all the time, may be reached at:

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