Recently, an Obama supporter said to me, “did you hear people are spending a lot on Christmas this year?? Obama is doing a better job than people think!”
It struck me how most people live in fantasy worlds. On the face of it, the comment is ridiculous: Obama has little to do with the economy because he was bought and paid for a long time ago. Besides, it could be the economy is really bad, people aren’t selfishly spending as much money on themselves or going into nearly the amounts of debt they once were afforded, and suddenly realized they could afford to buy a few more presents this Christmas.
But digging deeper, we find the typical attitude of the modern individual. Obama has to be bad or good, and anything you hear about on CNN or Fox News has to tie directly to one of the two. There can’t be a larger picture at play; there can’t be a process, it has to be an easy connect-the-dots exercise so we understand it. Our description of reality – which is awfully narrow, to say the least, in modern life – becomes our reality.
Even relatively unpopular schools of thought which are born from a good idea – for example, understanding quantum mechanics can tell us something about life – ends up in the hands of the wrong people at the right time – quantum “mystics” who want to sell a book by telling people how everything is part of everything else, man, and that’s all you need to know or understand to find happiness (plus the $29.50 for my hardcover).
In the world of cheap, fast communication, though, it’s even easier for modern day medicine men to cure ills with good-sounding tidbits and seminars. When it doesn’t work and we’re still left empty and lonely in our modern lives, we move on to the next guy/philosophy/New Age solution, because it’s easy to repeat the process hoping it’ll work this time – a bit more difficult to take a hard look at why you went to the first seminar or motivational speaking event in the first place.
What very few people will teach those who are seeking simple answers for a small fee, is that everyone and everything is part of a natural process. You don’t get rich off people by asking them to admit to themselves that their ego and individuality matter very little in the great scheme of things. But successful societies in the past that aren’t talked about much in text books or anywhere in academia these days had an understanding about their place in the world. They simply invented clever ways to describe the complexity of natural process, be it Egyptian gods or pagan solstice celebrations. They didn’t have to answer the huge questions, they just had to understand the world and create symbols for the things they didn’t understand, then focused on creating great things like the pyramids or monuments to nature.
At some point – whether hijacked by another society or done in by their own eventual degeneracy – these societies cared more about the description of reality than the reality itself (see the crucifix, Santa Claus, etc.), taking us back to the modern individual.
When life is more about symbols, of course you’ll feel an emptiness in your life. Symbols denote some type of answer, so someone must have arrived at one in the past. We drive ourselves mad thinking about it, instead of realizing that life can be about more than questions that need answering. Since there are very few concrete answers out there to the big-picture questions, we move to “good” or “bad” in everything and choose a bunch of viewpoints with one of those labels attached.
But not everything has to be “good” or “bad” as it pertains to answers in our daily lives. Simply choosing the best path for the group of people living a certain way is a good place to start. As for answers, the modern, unquenchable desire for them would be reduced significantly if we lived among people with whom we have something in common, because that’s more “the answer” than we can ever hope to find in our current way of life. Otherwise, we’re reduced to staring at symbols on TV like Obama and talking about how “good” or “bad” a job he’s doing.