Fog and Haze, Smoke and Spin

by Steve Mason

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

While I'm old enough to remember the violent domestic conflict this country faced during the Vietnam War, I have to say that I've never seen anything like the current state of national discord. It is, perhaps, amusing that the President sold himself as being a uniter rather than a divider during his run for office. Good is bad, black is white, tell a bigger lie - 1984 had everything right but the year. Alas.

In the 60's, people were pretty much divided over whether we, as a culture, should change or stay the same. Should we keep women at home, Blacks in their place and Gays in the closet, or should we abandon the status quo and create a new society? Of course both sides stood foursquare for Freedom and Democracy. These were principles to be upheld no matter what. The point lost on both sides was that Freedom and Democracy are mutually exclusive. They don't mean the same thing. Freedom refers to individual rights, while Democracy is another way of saying majority rule. This is a point being made increasingly clear in the Middle East, where a clear majority wants a society where women have to cover up. Those women who don't, who embrace individual freedom, will be stoned.

So when politicians talk about spreading Democracy and bringing Freedom to the world they are, as is so often the case, talking nonsense. What I wonder is, do they know that most Americans are too poorly educated to appreciate the contradiction, or is it (and this is a far scarier prospect), that they themselves are unaware of the error in their thinking?

In any case, we all know how the 60's turned out. Freedom won hands down over Democracy. I say this because the majority of Americans are neither Black nor Gay and, truth be told, even though women outnumber men, a whole bunch of wives kinda liked hanging around the house being supported by their husbands. And besides, when was the last time a majority of those eligible to vote actually voted? But Freedom was in the air, and as so often happens with things in the air, it was taken to an extreme. The common perception is that if a little is good, more is better, so policemen and firemen became police persons and fire persons. You may not want to go back to the 50's, and I can certainly understand that, but only someone totally divorced from reality would take comfort in seeing a woman arrive at the scene of a bar fight or a burning building. The forces for a new society let success go to their heads, and political correctness went off the deep end.

Because of such ludicrous flights of fancy, a new order was ushered in during the 80's. This was followed by a step back in the 90's, but then firmly reestablished in the new millenium. It's silly to write off a period of twenty years in a couple of sentences, but to devote any more space to it would be to detract from the main point which is the current national discord. So why is it, you may well ask, that Americans are at each other throats? People will tell you about the damn Democrats/Republicans, those Darwinian/Creationist crazies, the despicable homophobes/homophiles, and the fools on the Right/Left. Everybody, it seems, truly hates everybody else. How come?

There are times when complex issues and all encompassing global affairs can be broken down to a simple dichotomy that both the liberals and the conservatives will understand - and applaud. The nation is very close to being evenly divided between those who are faith-based and those who are reality-based. The former rely on what they feel is a strategic plan, while the latter adhere to what they think is a tactical situation. You will note that this dichotomy does not favor or offend one side or the other. Quite the opposite. Even though some might quibble with a word or two, faith-based people are more than happy to tell you that they support the President, while those who are reality-based will quickly tell you they hate his guts.

There are those who believe that there's a divine plan floating around, and what they lack in evidence they more than make up for in conviction. The other side thinks humans are the end result of pond scum, and that the dolt in Washington reflects this heritage better than most. It's a matter of looking inside versus looking outside. What you know is based on your eternal wisdom as opposed to what you think is based on your individual perception. Here again, I haven't offended anyone. Both sides are happy to hunker down in what is admittedly their patch. The faith-based are proud to know the truth. The reality-based are happy to live in the real world. Both are delighted to be superior to those other idiots.

What's more, every public poll confirms this assessment. Opinions concerning abortions and stem cell research, Intelligent Design and the Rapture, Biblical Prophecy and the Big Bang, come amazingly close to 50/50 splits. And where does that leave us? It leaves us in a very unenviable place indeed. There is no common ground between faith-based and reality-based philosophies. It does no good at all to argue religion versus reality because one is set in faith, while the other depends on a logical understanding of events.

You can throw every other designation out the window. Democrats, conservatives, fundamentalists, liberals and all the other labels, can be boiled down to the Supers and the Brights. The first believe in the supernatural. The latter don't. It's as simple as that. Whether this is a matter of nature or nurture, or a combination of both, is unknown and matters little. The bottom line is, if your goal is to convert the other guy, your time would be better spent talking to the cat.

Look At It This Way

For a long time, it was possible to just get along because the Supers and the Brights had never previously formed up sides so completely. To be sure, they came at truth from different directions, but they could often compromise because the issues were never so tightly tied up in one big ball. And too, they themselves were never so one-dimensional. Democrats and Republicans could agree to disagree because there was so much overlapping of the two sides, that they were hardly two sides at all. The nation was more of a blend. But no more.

There is no some-and-some between Supers and Brights. You either have faith or you depend on evidence. If terrorists hit New York with a nuclear device, the reality-based Brights will say it's the fault of that nut in the White House, while the faith-based Supers will say it would have come sooner and been worse if the President hadn't had God's blessing. Believe me - there is no in-between. The sides have been drawn up. There will be no retreat. When, for example, was the last time you heard either side say they were wrong about Iraq? Thousands of bodies versus thousands of purple thumbs. I have my side and you have yours. Maybe we agree on what has become the whole ball of wax - maybe not. One thing is certain, few of us will - or even can - change. Let the new Crusades begin.

Return to Port Of Call Home Page
Return to April/May 2006 Table of Contents