I always feel a little awkward, like I’m making people uncomfortable, when I question conventional wisdom out loud. Not that I’m some genius thinker or what have you. But if I suggest that perhaps everything is rigged, that money itself is a fraud, that banks are criminal organizations, that Democrats and Republicans are just different names for the same party, etc., some people act like I’m off my nut. Sometimes, even, people in my own family.
And so it seems that most people are operating under the pretense that we are always living in some idyllic time—say, the 1950s—where hard work is rewarded with high pay and everyone plays by the rules and we are a nation of laws, not of men. That every day is “Happy Days.” That real life is or ought to be a 50s sitcom. Indeed, no period in American history has been idolized—and “idyllized”–as much as the 50s, particularly in TV and movies. Such a carefree, everything-in-its-right-place time has never really existed, but it seems as though people hold up such an imaginary time as “the way things used to—and still ought to—be.”
But it’s hard to notice most of the time because it’s not usually expressed in such terms; it’s much more subtle–indeed, most people don’t even know that they think this way. It’s the idea that you should have no problem finding and getting a good-paying job in your chosen field because, well, this is America after all, and that’s what America is all about, in this non-existent 1950s egalitarian paradise that most people implicitly believe in and cling to.
This mindset evinces itself in the idea that things cannot be as bad as they seem—the government is spying on everyone, everywhere, all the time, for example, but hey, this is America and America is forever bound into that 50s-esque ideal of men are men and women are pretty and polite and children are obedient and bankers lend out deposits and everybody goes to church on Sundays, so if the government is spying on us, well then, that is just a part of that 50s-esque paradise that we didn’t realize was part of the paradise.
Another manifestation of this attitude regarding something like government surveillance or the open rigging of all markets is that “Well, it could be worse—at least we’re not Jews in Nazi Germany or slaves in the antebellum South” or some such. Yes, that may be true, but at least Jews in Nazi Germany and slaves in the South knew very well what was happening to them at the time it was happening to them. We seem to be no better than the proverbial frog in the tepid water, now slightly warming, now slightly warmer still…wow, it’s getting hot…
And maybe that’s the point of the famous Solzhenitsyn quote—
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
–that yes, it was a tragedy that people were rounded up, but even more tragic is the fact that they couldn’t accept the enormity of what was happening to them, i.e., being rounded up, even while it was happening. If they had accepted the enormity of it, as he said, they might have lain in wait and killed the rounder-uppers.
And clearly, that’s what we must do now—accept the enormity of what is happening to us. See things for what they are. Turn off the “news.” Talk to other people. Realize that America is not now what it never was–a 1950s paradise that everyone wants to believe in even though it isn’t now and never was real–and act accordingly.