WE DON’T REALLY LISTEN TO EACH OTHER ANYMORE
TMV is simultaneously an outpost from the 24/7 info-entertainment news cycle and yet it is a part of it. Perhaps those who work in the media, politics, mass communications, press, or public advocacy provide their brains with hourly dopamine fixes by constantly seeing and hearing something new, but most people don’t need the constant barrage of pointless facts, rumors, gossip and snippets of opinion that today is considered “news.”
People are overwhelmed by just living and having to care for family, businesses, jobs, bills, and friends. Most people want simplicity and predictability in their lives, plus a pleasant dose of entertainment from time to time to divert them from the mundane. People want public services to work, taxes to be fair and collected from everyone, and their civil liberties and personal lives to be safe at home and work, while shopping and traveling, and in their places of worship and entertainment. All societies form a silent but important agreement between its participants: We generally keep to our own spheres of interest and influence, and when they overlap we hope the exchanges are mutually profitable or without any major negative consequences. Sane members of society do not stupidly blow themselves up in public places and kill many innocents with them. The vast majority of people will not intentionally or randomly hurt others for intangible beliefs. However, dysfunctional societies with broken political and economic systems create places where the uneducated or the outcasts can be manipulated into doing horrible things.
Most human beings are not that intelligent and often do things that are not in their best interests. This cuts across all societies, nations, ethnic groups and cultures. We like to flatter ourselves in believing that we are all “above-average” but in reality half of us are below the statistical mean. If I-Q tests measure anything, they prove the natural existence of statistical “Bell Curves” in most aspects of life on this planet. Thus half of us have I-Qs of less than 100 but about 90% of humans have I-Qs between 85 and 115. Most of us can be fully-functioning participants in society within this normal I-Q range, even handicapping the measuring system with normal errors. The tests are inherently unable to measure the important abilities of getting along with others and an open mindset to new ideas, both of which can be learned. Serious problems in society arise when people within the majority, and when those above or below that huge block of “normalcy” attempt to communicate effectively with the majority of people. Good public debate requires that people be open-minded, are willing to listen, and are able to change opinions as new facts become known. These attributes are completely unrelated to I-Q but often determine our entire public discourse on every conceivable issue.
The 24/7 news media is interested in entertaining, not informing the population. Extreme actions, words and antics are promoted to the detriment of any rational thought that may require at least several paragraphs to describe – not just sound bites. Competition and fighting are great for raw entertainment, but not for public discourse on major issues facing society. Certainly the talking heads, pundits and opinionators on our television, radio, newspaper and Internet media outlets certainly do not listen to the views of others. It may be harder in their case since their opposites are simultaneously spewing such extreme positions that it is almost a waste of time to listen or even debate intelligently. However, besides giving our brains short-term dopamine fixes, we really don’t learn enough from such sources to make worthwhile decisions in our personal or public lives.
Sadly, many people in that large middle majority choose not to participate because the extremes on all sides, plus special interest groups, dominate the national discussion. Their words and actions are slavishly followed and reported by our 24/7 info-entertainment system. Additionally, many in the majority are pretty uninformed, disinterested, lazy or stupid to follow certain political or economic discussions. Anyone who has attended public schools can attest that many students just passed through classes without engaging in any major thought processes whatsoever. This unfortunately carries on throughout adulthood. Finally, many charismatic and entertaining leaders are able to manipulate many people through misinformation or fear which often results in the pathetic tirades that pass off as public discourse today. Some politicians are willing to say complete garbage in a vain attempt to get their daily media publicity and feed their insane supporters.
Most all public policies with respect to political, economic and social affairs have been and will be a result of compromise and trying differing ideas over time. What has developed in the U.S. over the past 30 years has been a perversion of that overall sane and reasonable human instinct. Instead the natural and healthy tendency toward a middle ground has succumbed to our society jumping between extremes, or doing nothing because of fear or jealousy that something might work that we hope will not. Also Schadenfreude becomes a growing and pervasive emotion in our society as we get dopamine kicks seeing misery befall others even if our own lot in life is no better or even worse. We do not consider ideas on their merits, but permit our personal animosities against certain people or our unsupported rigid ideological positions rule our lives and bias our analysis.
If any political, economic or social system does not take account new facts and ideas, and are not allowed to change and grow, they will eventually ossify and die. For the past 30 years, too many in our society have embraced rigid dogmas and ideologies in religion, politics and economics, with little or no object proof they are even correct. Simultaneously we demonize those who do not share our orthodoxy and feel that any changes or compromises with “enemies” will result in dire consequences. The only dire consequences are really bruised egos and the death of false beliefs – both of which sustain too many people to the exclusion of real growth as human beings.
The most frequent results in the U.S. is to do nothing, ignore problems, or let people pursue their most narcissistic and greedy desires that later result in the greatest harm to other people and society at large. No viable political, economic or social policy is sustainable if it is rigid, nihilistic and refuses critiques or modifications to comply with reality. Unfortunately most of our orthodox positions have not been put to any rigorous tests. Their extreme positions are merely used in perpetual “debates” to offset and blunt any opposing views.
Many people also have unrealistic expectations of others, themselves and society as a whole. Real changes and progress require time, and major policy shifts take years to come to fruition. No one can make an accurate evaluation about a person, a group, or a major policy or program after only 90 days, 6 months or even 2 years in many cases, or even before it is even enacted. We try to do this in real life because we are too impatient and intellectually lazy to give people and policies time to develop. Those who make such broad summaries, condemnations or praises with seeing all the facts or allowing sufficient time to pass are merely arrogant imbeciles who should be ignored.
Let’s turn to a concrete example. Only a complete fool would deny that the American healthcare system has no serious problems. We can debate and disagree on the remedies, but various proposals are not the “end of the world” suggestions that their opponents claim. Without trying some new ideas, we really won’t know what works over time in the real world. By refusing any changes out of fear or greed, we do our entire society great current and future damage.
We are a big and complex country that requires similarly large and complex policies and laws to handle a very diverse population and economy. I am more than willing to try a slightly messy, conflicting and diverse cornucopia of new national healthcare policies without feeling either that my “principles” were compromised or that the country will be destroyed. Everyone should really “lighten-up” on this debate and realize that the changes won’t be everything they want. However, real life is that type of middle-ground compromise – except for the really lucky or unfortunate ones – and those are the people for whom public policy is not designed to address.
All of the proposals pretty much leave the majority of people alone, particularly those with good employer-based healthcare or who are on the existing public Medicare system. They all prevent the loss of insurance coverage due to illnesses, excessive costs, or pre-existing conditions. I would like to see more comprehensive tort-reform, greater systemic accountability for medical mistakes, and better provisions for those injured, without resorting to protracted and expensive litigation.
Most of the proposals try to address the 20 to 30% of people in the U.S. who have no insurance, inadequate insurance or who will likely face those situations in the near future. Many other proposals attempt to find ways to stop or reverse the growth in healthcare costs that impacts everyone. Current public and private players have in large part failed to do so over the past 20 years. Just by extrapolating current annual cost increases and by choosing to do nothing, total healthcare spending in the U.S. will double in 10 years, if not sooner. It would be worthwhile for every American to think that far in the future for our collective good.
In the final enacted healthcare reforms, we will all have to give up something for the overall benefit of our country. Eventually everyone will have to pay more taxes, not just for healthcare but to control our federal deficits since spending cuts will not be the only possible solution. We also have to realize that one-third of the current deficit is due to lower tax revenues during this deep recession and another third is due to prior tax cuts enacted during the Bush Administration. However screaming to preserve my sole interests at the expense of everyone else is simply nihilistic, selfish and immature. We all have to be open-minded on what may or may not work for healthcare, transportation infrastructure, public education, the environment, or national energy policy. We should not resist changes to the status quo because we fear change out of pure ignorance or anger.
Unfortunately, the final healthcare legislative may only be the result of actions by one party and the President as the other has apparently relinquished its intellectual and political participation in the debate due to extreme rigid ideologies, Schadenfreude partisanship, the corruption of money from special business interests, and pandering to fearful and ignorant people. Sane persons cannot endlessly debate in hypothetical and speculative fantasy worlds. Instead we must permit some major real-world experimentation within the system to see what works over the next 2 to 6 years. And we must be open to more tinkering and experimentation on a regular basis – free of all extreme ideologies that would prejudice an objective analysis of the real facts and results.
8/6/09 by Marc Pascal in Phoenix, AZ