Idle Musings of the Hypothetical Citizen
So he said, "if the problems are so overwhelming, if they're not being solved, if they continue to mount, then what is the justification for the process as a whole? What good is all the education, all the ritual of power, all the fine sentiment? It can't justify itself at the very crux."
The poor guy had been decimated by the Reagan years, after having an exuberant life in the 60's and 70's. "Things run on an even keel, they can be maintained but little will be solved. My cynicism tells me that those in authority don't want these problems solved. A mature country co-operates; it resolves its infantile conflicts in the family where they belong. This can only occur when a nations identity is firm and established on its most profound footing. The more arbitrary it becomes, the further away the true identity drifts.
"And I will tell you this, I have no desire to be a part of mass disillusionment. The millions feed on themselves like hungry ghosts. And the elite's rationalize their hunger and try to make it as palpable as it can be. I was told many things which I believed on faith and it all stuck to my imagination, it drove deep into the truth and when it re-emerged it was no longer what I had been told but it had a heart of its own."
He became so desperate he spent one full afternoon immersed in the pure information of the state. In a mood half-discouraging, half-engaged he read the 800-page manual on the federal government that detailed every agency, corporation, quasi-government run agency that forms the bureaucracy. It occurred to him that an imposing bureaucracy did not add a cubit to his sense of security, to his sense of being an individual; didn't help his own development as a person. It didn't make him pause and reflect on the great achievements of the country. About all it did was erode his innate belief that problems could be solved. "Formerly significant information is frozen on behalf of those who administer information; intelligent and conscientious without question.
"Where is the progress," he thought idly?
It was fascinating to pour over the charts, statistics and agencies; to read glyphs of their responsibility. "And if all these departments, agencies, all that money and manpower, all of these resources at its command doesn't progress things, then what does?"
Then the politicians would appear on TV and he would be forced to watch them. One after the other their washed heads, male and female, would slip into view. He listened and saw through them. "What an uninspiring breed" he thought. The politician was addressing things which the citizen really couldn't get a handle on. How was one going to experience a defense budget of $300 Billion? He looked at the contrail of a jet and a grotesque looking helicopter from the local army base flying over. "I can't believe if these disappeared I will be in terrible danger. Yet, the politicians try to convince me that this is so. Ah, perhaps they are right, I can't see it but who am I to challenge this?"
At least, he thought, if you politicians want to be believed let me know what you really want. What, in the most specific language do you want for your nation? Don't you have enough? Don't you see the extraordinary moment you live in? How do you perceive the future? What would you like for each man, woman, and child? What is the requirement from them? What do you expect from them? What obstacles do you perceive? How one-dimensional is your program? Do you want your people to be wealthier or more productive, at peace with themselves and others? What exactly is it?
How do you perceive the world? Do you see it as a grasping, Hobbesian zone of conflict in which the strong prevails? Or, does strength make you magnanimous, make you secure?
Simple questions but why not start there? However complex these nations have become they are still grounded in the fundamental questions asked several hundred years ago. A man, even one of the late modern era, can't take anything for granted.
And politician, when have you ever thought anything new? When has the future excited you so much that you risked even your power to bring it into being?
Here is a very difficult question: If the leaders of the major powers want to destroy the planet what can I do about it? And they say, "no, just go along with your business and develop your own self..." And those over there say, "stop everything and concentrate totally on the particular problem that will end the world; which, in the final word, is the problem of the soul and how it is to live and survive in the world. So many dark spots are introduced, so many disturbing habits that make one appear an idiot."
There is, he observed, a shadow of the real truth of the matter. I, an individual, with great limitations and vanities, am in the same boat as you with your limitations and vanities and for all that we'll get this boat somewhere. If you begin paddling the opposite way I'll be forced to shove you, take your paddle away and resume course with the full knowledge that I may end up in the sea. The struggle is all up in the air and, really, it won't come about at all because we'll be too busy enumerating our failures to each other or bragging about our successes. As a matter of fact, about the only thing we can truly trust is the boat and sea it rides on. Ourselves, in the boat, are poor pissants full of fear and heatstroke. But the boat has enough reality to keep the water from rushing in and sinking us. And if it comes about that we both trust the boat to bring us to some salvation we can even manage a smile or two at each other, even say a few kind things or few innocuous things about the gulls flying over our heads. Now, if one trusts the boat and the other doesn't then there's a problem. One or both is going to go overboard.
© 2004 David Eide. All rights reserved.
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