We have this lovely fiction in our big human heads: out of sight, out of mind.
It has two parts. The first part is our sight; what we don’t see we forget. The second is our minds, which are so big and powerful we assume they have everything under control.
The mundane (color of concrete, taste of water, temperature of waiting room) fact is that they can process only about seven things at roughly the same time, and everything else gets forgotten. Think about how much of our daily lives involves reminders: scribbling notes, checking calendars, phone calls, alarms.
While our brains can make choices, they are not masters of all. We are not God (or gods). We are animals in the thick of it, and our big brains are small compared to the world. We process what we can and discard the rest quickly so it doesn’t trip us up.
As a result of “out of sight, out of mind” we often forget about the consequences of things that are not happening in front of us just then. We accept them as inevitable, shrug and move on with life. While that’s not the worst response, problems remain.
Rotting cities. We have abandoned the most valuable properties — the ring of land surrounding the downtown areas — of our cities to ghettos. Regardless of who lives in the ghetto, and what their DNA profile (race/ethnicity/class) is, these places are a waste of time. They’re miserable to live in, full of crime, and basically exist as a snare for normal citizens to get robbed in. Why do we tolerate this? If we sent an army of cops, building inspectors, regulators and bureaucrats into the ghettoes we could shut down every apartment building, condemn every house, and move everyone out — and replace the ghettos with functional spaces, maybe even parks without heroin addicts and rapists. We’re conditioned to think we cannot do this because “but the poor people” yet the fact is we all pay for the ghetto. We drive long commutes. We avoid huge areas of the city. We are all victimized by the criminals that come pouring out of them. Instead of having pity for the self-destructive individuals, let’s have pity for society as a whole. Society doesn’t deserve this blight, or the added millions of tons of pollution as we drive from the suburbs into downtown every day.
Broken politics. Our politicians are self-serving because we the voters have made them so. Thanks to television, voters are awash in images. Like people doing stunts on lawns, the most outrageous person gets all the attention and thus gets elected. You don’t become president by taking a normal and undramatic course through life. You become president by finding a big enough group to pander to and acting like a nincompoop until the election, at which point they remember you and pull the right lever. You don’t make the news by being well-behaved, which means that all we see in politics is bad behavior that panders to one side or the other. The left are bitter at life and want everything to be good for the individual; the right distrust the individual and want to design a social order. The two are 100% incompatible and there is no reconciling them. Instead, we fight the same war (probably the French Revolution) over and over and over again, ad nauseam.
Useless jobs. It’s like the first day of kindergarten: not all the kids are smart. So the teachers calibrate class to the dumb ones, because that way, no one is left behind. The consequence is that smarter kids grow up thinking school is boring and adults are stupid, and they’re right to think it. They have been unjustly forced to work below capacity. Fast-forward 20 years: now they’re all in jobs, and the same thing is true. Mindless regulations abound. Meetings delay so that the dumbest person in the room understands. All communications formats and public activities must be dumbed down. For every one task, three make-work jobs must be created to give us some place to store all these useless people. Instead of sending them to work in the fields, which would make them not like us, we put them in desk jobs they cannot understand. And as a result, everyone waits, suffers through the mindlessness, and becomes so bored they forget to notice there’s an option. Adding insult to injury is the fact that our industry now panders to idiots as a source of profit, and makes products for them, which forces smarter people to sit around talking about “urban style” and “intelligent television.”
Politeness. We interpret politeness to mean avoiding conflict with anyone, because in our retreat-to-the-suburbs mentality we never want to cause clash that might start class wars, race wars or just lose us some clients. As a result, every issue in this country is cryptic. NASCAR versus basketball discussions are rarely about entertainment; they’re about identity. We can’t call people stupid, so we invent lots of hoops to jump through so we don’t need to compare intelligences — “Bill was just more motivated than Dave — hey Dave, stop drooling.” We can’t say that we want a neighborhood without winos, homeless, and people of a lower socioeconomic level, so we put up with them and pretend to be shocked when they commit crimes. Why hello! Who would have guessed? It’s even taboo to mention that most crime is caused by poorer people stealing from wealthier people, and that most rapes (which aren’t confused consensual sex, a consequence itself of the sexual revolution) are men taking what they could not have otherwise.
Pollution. Every two decades, our well-meaning academics and scientists try to whip us into a panic against a slow-moving enemy: our own growth. Since the industrial revolution, we have grown like crabgrass and as a species, now dominate the earth. It is very, very hard to find a place where you cannot look to the left and to the right, and see a soda can, cigarette butt, used condom or shell casing. We are pushing natural species out of their environments, which causes them to inbreed and die out; we are crushing ecosystems by splitting them with roads and dumping industrial toxins into them. Our concrete cities, which are so attractive, throw off so much heat and condensation they change climates. The upshot of all of this is that the natural world that once absorbed our pollution and converted it into harmless elements no longer exists. There’s not enough of it to clean up after us. Every year, the problem gets worse. We zombie-walk toward extinction. Scientists understand the problem, and yet have no way of getting it popular attention except through raw fear. Why? Because life is a lottery: no one wants to give up opulent lifestyles because everyone is hoping somehow to have one.
People. We tolerate idiots, parasites, predators and sociopaths among us — in the name of tolerance as a virtue — while ignoring the subtle consequences. Roughly 20% of the population commits 80% of its crime, vandalism, stupidity and dysfunction, yet we tolerate them because everyone is equal and that way, we think, we will always be tolerated. Walk down a city street and try to find one with no evidence of vandalism, theft, neglect and fraud. We are awash in destructive and pointless people. They consume a huge amount of resources, create a giant amount of damages, and yet, we insist we must tolerate them. Who designed this system, the sheep or the wolves?
Daily we ignore the high cost of these unnecessary and destructive things. We pretend that they don’t exist, and route around them.
We forget that the greatest damage is to our sense of self.
We no longer believe we and society are working together for the best of all. It’s every man for himself and worse, we see official forces as parasites trying to restrain us.
We no longer live in a place we believe in.
Tied down by speech codes and politeness rituals, propped up by illusions, and drugged on the idea that as long as the money keeps flowing we can buy our way out of it, we are marching to disaster.