Friday, August 7, 2015

It's the Behavior!

I don’t write about political topics, which is difficult these days as nearly everything seems to turn into a political topic; but with the presidential elections only about 15 months away and more candidates than you can shake a stick at, I started thinking about how very curious the election process in America is.

It’s like sitting at a play.  The lights dim and the cast comes on stage and starts to bow to the audience whereupon the audience starts clapping and cheering.  You nudge the person next to you and ask why is there what appears to be a curtain call when the play hasn’t even begun.  He explains that there are two very similar plays but only room on the stage for one, so each cast comes out and whoever gets the loudest applause gets to do their play.  “But how do you know if either of them are any good when they haven’t started yet?” you ask.  “Well you are supposed to read the reviews and decide, or look at plays from previous years to judge the quality.”

As it turns out most of the people in the audience haven’t read the reviews and aren’t really interested in the theater.  Some just go along with what their friends are telling them.  Some don’t feel like it but were told it was their duty to show up for the opening curtain call.  Others were picked up in vans or busses and brought to the theater by people who think everyone should see one or the other of the plays.  Some walk in the door for each performance with their mind made up about which play they want to see because they have grown up believing that the one is good and the other is subversive or evil or naïve.

When the curtain goes up, the star of each play had better be a good-looking actor with a smooth confident delivery and lots of charm, because that will draw the most applause.  If he or she looks or sounds like a certain segment of the audience, it can also elicit louder applause.  Comparative acting ability will be a mystery until the play actually starts.

Once the initial curtain call is over, part of the audience feels smug because they got what they wanted; the other part feels cheated.  In reality most will not pay close attention to what is going on after the play begins.  The play is supposed to make people happy so they can go on living their lives and not worry about any big outside problems and issues. 

Unfortunately, for at least the past 25 years, if you ask Americans what they think of the “play,” most of the people most of the time will say they are not satisfied.  Polls put it this way:  Do you think America is headed in the right or wrong direction.  No matter who the “actors” are or what “play” they are doing, the response has been consistently negative.

That is what these bi-weekly essays are about.  The answers to most of our problems can and should be found outside the “theater.”  Fighting terrorism is best done by the government.  Most of our other problems are not, as these hundreds of examples over the past 4 years easily show.  What children eat in school or what they learn or how well prepared they are should be issues for educators and parents.  How overweight we are and how unprepared we are to retire are problems we created ourselves.  Whether we make careful and mature choices cannot be guaranteed by “consumer protections.”  The added cost of insurance and everything else we buy resulting from frivolous lawsuits and the justifiably paranoid reaction to a litigious society is part of regular business practices.  Parents having children without the means to feed them is not solved merely by feeding those children.  Courtrooms used as a weapon of delay and intimidation by advocates and special interests rather than as a path to justice threaten progress and rational judgment pushing common sense by default into the realm of zero-tolerance.  Charlatans with ever more sophisticated communication tools continue to prey on a credulous populace with promises of miracle foods and miracle cures, with warnings of health dangers and evil conspiracies, with get-rich-quick schemes and with hype of all kinds to sell us goods, services and entertainment that don’t add to our happiness.

America is headed in the wrong direction because we have a society awash in often-unconscious destructive behavior.  Government can’t legislate proper behavior, yet Americans go to the polls every couple of years hoping for a miracle, applauding the “actors” and expecting to be able to idly sit back and enjoy the show.

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