What We Want and What We Get
Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD
We all admire people who get things done, people who have ideas and the courage and determination to take the first step, the step after that, and, finally, to bring their plans and dreams to fruition. Let us suppose, to be charitable, that these people are interested primarily in the enterprise itself and not in personal gain for themselves. Isn’t this the best thing about the free-enterprise system? Unfortunately, starting a business is risky. Most entrepreneurs fail, and even those who succeed end up placing their families in genuine economic jeopardy at the beginning. We do not approve of gambling in other contexts. Why should we encourage it in the start-up of businesses? In addition, most enterprises are of no value to society and those that are of value often involve the greatest personal risk on the part of the entrepreneur.
For example, a company administers contests to promote various products. The result is a net increase in the cost of the product to the consumer, as someone must pay the costs of administering the contest. Moreover, those who play the game waste their time and indulge unreasonable and undesirable hopes to get something for nothing, while those who don’t participate subsidize the probabilistic expectations of those who do. On the other hand, a company that produces valuable software to enable people to select healthier diets risks the loss of its investment as even people who are willing to run five miles a day (probably to experience the “runner’s high”) might not take the trouble to run a computer program.
Initiators of enterprises want economic stability so that they can count on the state of the economy at the conclusion of their projects bearing a reasonable resemblance to the state of affairs at the inception. What good is it to design, build, and distribute high-density TV sets in a nation that may not be able to afford any by the time the product is in the stores! Moreover, producers would like to get government off their backs. It’s hard enough to accomplish something worthwhile without government shackles on one’s arms and legs and a hundred pounds of paperwork on one’s back. Unfortunately, the government needs to watch us like a hawk because, in a world where money is king, “a man with a wife and children will do anything.”
Artists, scientists, and scholars just need the time, freedom, and materials to create, without the necessity to satisfy someone else’s idea of what they should be creating. The theory of intrinsic motivation dictates that they themselves are best qualified to decide what to create. Does anyone honestly believe that Isaac Newton’s productivity would have been improved by the supervision of the holder of an MBA degree? It was bad enough that someone told Michaelangelo what and where to paint. Can you imagine a bureaucrat picking out the colors!
Workers need economic stability. Without it they live under a cloud of insecurity. The energy belt has jobs now, but what about five years from now? We can predict what the oil reserves will be then. Why can’t we compute the value of oil? The workers would like to make a decent living. Is it not outrageous that a man or woman who works full-time may not be able to afford housing? Working people have seen, on television and in the movies, what a comfortablet life is like, with a variety and abundance of nutritional food, clean clothes, plenty of secure living space (not in a flood plane), decent household goods, and a few luxuries that take the monotony and drudgery out of life (provided, of course, that they don’t hasten the destruction of our fragile environment – I wouldn’t recommend a 350 horsepower car for everyone, or even anyone). It would be nice, too, if workers could have something to do at work that didn’t drive them to drink and, it goes without saying, they should not have to put up with autocratic and sadistic bosses.
The homeless are easy to please. They just want food, clothing, and shelter. Some of them are willing to stand in the hot sun all day holding a sign asking for money. There must be something that society can find for them to do that wouldn’t be worse than that. Rather I should say, in the spirit of this essay, it should be possible to construct a society where they themselves can find something to do that is better than that.
Some want jobs and some do not. But, of those who do not, many would like to make a contribution on their own terms. Why can’t jobs and workplaces be tailored to human beings rather than the other way around? And, why should one man have power over another? Nobody really likes bosses, and I’m betting we don’t need them. I’ll design the experiment. You will agree that it is conclusive. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets!
All of us are citizens if we generalize the place of citizenship to include the entire earth. We want peace, harmony, safety, and permanence. Permanence. Without permanence, stability is meaningless. We want to live in a world that has a chance to exist into the foreseeable future. Everyone knows that the Second Law of Thermodynamics predicts the heat death of the universe in the far distant future unless we are overlooking something extremely critical in all of our scientific calculations and observations. But, are we aware that the Second Law predicts the destruction of our little corner of the universe, earth itself, in a much shorter time, perhaps only a few centuries, if we continue to abuse nature as we have done in this century and for most of the post-industrial-revolution period? We act as though we do not.
We citizens want to be able to walk the street at any hour of the day or night and feel safe and be safe. We want our children to be safe as well. Is it too much to ask that it be possible to spend our declining years in the same neighborhood and house in which our parents spent their declining years or to be able to visit a brother or sister who is living there? We are sick of terrorism and crimes that seem senseless until we take a closer look at what is really going on. We want to live in beautiful cities as well as beautiful homes and we would like culturally enriching entertainment at home and in museums, theaters, and concert halls, entertainment that isn’t trying to sell us something for two minutes out of every six, usually insulting our intelligence in the bargain. We want to know what is going on in the world and we are sick of being lied to. We would like to live in a true democracy and have a legitimate share in making the decisions that affect our lives.
We want our children to be educated well enough so that they can understand the world and help make the changes that will ensure its permanence under desirable circumstances. We want the schools to stop lying to our kids. We do not want our children to emerge from the educational process illiterate, innumerate, ignorant, brainwashed, and suitable to be nothing better than drones. It would be nice, too, if they were motivated by something other than greed.
We are sick of the threat of war. If it’s not a shooting war, it’s a cold war. If not a cold war, it’s a trade war. No sooner has one conflict been diffused than another arises to take its place. No one knows whether or not he or his offspring will be called upon to go into combat or, for that matter, whether or not, we will meet sudden death in our living rooms or on the streets of our cities. Even the children are terrified for their futures – if they are at all reflective.
Citizens want to be happy! We propose a constructive definition of happiness by enumerating the conditions necessary to attain it; i.e., happiness is a state of mind that is likely to be present if the following factors are present: (i) reasonable satisfaction of tissue deficits, (ii) autonomy, effectiveness, and relatedness, and (iii) safety.
We shall elaborate on this definition in the sequel.
We love individualists. Individualists are the people who built our world. They fly in the face of convention, dream, create, and sometimes make royal pains in the collective ass of themselves, but we love them, and we wish we could be more like them. What individualists want is power over their own lives. And, we want them to have it, but we don’t want them to have power over our lives as well, so we have to make certain that we don’t tolerate social machinery that will make it too easy or too tempting for them to become tyrants.
We are all nature lovers. Some of us haven’t found out that we are yet, but that’s only because we haven’t had the chance. Nature lovers want, not just beautiful lives, but a beautiful world in which to live their lives. And, a beautiful world includes beautiful creatures, not just birds and tigers, but insects and hippopotamuses too. They are all beautiful. Nature lovers know that man is nothing without his fellow creatures. The earth is not here merely to support our greed and stupidity. It is the common heritage of every animal and plant. We don’t have exclusive rights to it, only temporary custodianship on behalf of every living thing. I’m not sure that abuse even of inanimate objects such as mountains and canyons would be well tolerated by a divine intelligence if one existed. (I can’t believe the attitude of a writer to my daily newspaper who said that the extinction of an entire species of sea turtles should not stand in the way of the economic well-being of even a handful of human beings. I can’t believe the people who cry out to heaven at the destruction of a four-week old human fetus, but disregard the wanton slaughter of adult mice, who have memories, dreams, reflections, and affections (perhaps). These people are nature lovers who have not discovered who they are yet.)
The rich want to retain their positions of power and privilege and pass them on to their offspring. They wish to live in safety and not in fear of violent retribution. But, as citizens, nature lovers, and members of the human race, they want many of the same things we all want. Their difficulty lies in the conflict between their goals as members of their class and their goals as members of the human race.
There are ants (I mean the human, hard-working kind), we need ants, there are plenty of ants, most of us are ants. But, can you imagine a world with no grasshoppers? By grasshoppers I mean the people who play but don’t work. Sure, the grasshoppers don’t produce anything that the rest of us can use (except that, from time to time, what they do for fun turns out to be genuinely useful), but we think enough of them that we manage to give them decent parts in our poems, novels, movies, and folk legends. The grasshoppers are no good when it comes to work, but, if you need someone who knows how to play, the grasshopper’s your man (or woman). Players need leisure to play. Maybe they can concentrate on boring activities like writing essays (or is this play?) for an hour or two a day, but they don’t really wake up and start living until they get a pair of dice, a pack of cards, or, perhaps, just a little round ball in their hands. We don’t want to be too hard on the players.
Respect. Equal rights and equal pay for the same work. Some women, however, only wish to be the exploiter rather than the exploited. They speak about the “glass ceiling”, which, presumably, prevents them from enjoying nearly complete (total) power over underlings as many men do. When the women’s movement began, I thought they wanted equality! Undoubtedly, I have said too much about women. Let them speak for themselves.
People who have enough money to live do not cease to desire even more money still. They seek money as the key to power, as a measure of success, which is interpreted as ascendancy over other people, (or so that others will love or respect them, or because they are afraid of becoming poor, or for some unknown reason). Some people believe that the “will to power” is a natural part of human nature. If it is, it will have to be transcended, because, as we shall show in this essay, people who are trying to gain power over other people are destroying the earth. This is an inescapable consequence of what they have to do to acquire power and to retain it in today’s world.
Whether we are acquiring excess wealth that represents power or can be converted into power or not, we work long hours at meaningless jobs and we admire people who work even longer hours. Some people will do anything for money. They not only neglect their families, they neglect themselves. We think that people who don’t work shouldn’t be allowed to live. We permit any sort of activity, no matter how harmful or unethical, as long as it passes for work. We do not respect those who don’t work. If they are writing books, we ask how many have they sold. Henry Miller commented, shortly after he became famous, “Yesterday I was a bum; today I’m a genius” (quoting roughly).
The world, under the specter of a global economy, is turning into a forced-labor camp. Not forced labor? Perhaps not, but look at what happens to those who resist the system. They can be turned away from the emergency room of a hospital if they don’t have a job that provides health insurance, and that could be the death sentence.
In order to acquire large amounts of money, we require assistance from workers of all descriptions; however, nowadays, we need workers who can read, write, do simple problems in arithmetic, operate a computer, as well as highly educated workers with advanced degrees. Therefore, we influence the education of our future workers in an attempt to mold them into the sort of individual who will fit our requirements. Sometimes, as in the case of entrepreneurs looking for key managers, we try to mold workers into images and likenesses of ourselves. This places a serious constraint upon the educational process, which ought to be one of self-discovery. Instead of educating children and young adults for their own purposes, we attempt to educate them for ours.
But, this process works in reverse as well. Students recognize that education is the key to good salaries and, perhaps, ownership of their own businesses, therefore they orient their studies toward extrinsic goals rather than pursue their natural curiosities and follow their natural predilections. A young person is curious about the secrets of the heavens but elects to study investment banking rather than astronomy because he or she has been corrupted by the culture of money.
Science is for sale to the highest bidder. One day I’m working on distillation. The next day some self-styled expert convinces the National Science Foundation that novel separation techniques are the way to go, never mind the thousands of distillation columns that already exist and are consuming 3% of the national energy budget. So, tomorrow I’m working on electrophoresis and chromatography if I know which side of the bread the butter is on. This is outrageous.
You think pesticides are harming the food supply? Good, so do I. Give me a grant and I’ll prove it. You don’t? Well, perhaps you are right. Give me a grant and I’ll prove that too, but it’ll cost you a little more because I don’t lie for nothing. Twenty years ago, no one doubted the integrity of scientists. We all knew businessmen were crooks, but scientists? Unthinkable! Not any more. The average person on the street is skeptical, very skeptical.
Once upon a time young people pursued medicine because of their natural desires to help and serve humanity. Even if they had been so motivated at the outset of their studies, they have been forced to assume such enormous debts and to undergo such inhumane treatment in order to become physicians that, by the time they are in a position to make up for what they themselves have suffered, they are interested, primarily, in getting rich from medicine. Not that every one gets rich from medicine. But, the longer it takes to put oneself in a position to get rich from medicine, the greater becomes one’s desire to do so. Only the elite at the “top” of the profession make the really big bucks, and, perhaps, it has taken them a long time to get there; but, once they do, they become a factor in driving up the cost of health care to the point that only the rich can afford decent health care at only reasonable inconvenience to themselves. I can’t prove that the salaries and fees earned by the highest-paid health professionals are the major factor in the rise in health-care costs, but they are obviously a factor. The difficulty in assessing the influence of physicians’ salaries on health costs is due to the privacy of personal income data and the reluctance of health-care officials to let individuals audit their financial affairs.
We do anything to save a buck or get something for nothing, hence we are suckers for every coupon, rebate, or sweepstakes that comes down the pike. Obviously, whatever is given away by such marketing gimmicks must be paid for ultimately by the consumer; moreover, there is an overhead associated with printing and distributing the coupons, mailing out the sweepstakes offers, etc., etc. The people who administer these marketing gimmicks are making a living too, and a good living, in some cases getting rich. Who pays for this? We all do. And yet, many Americans who buy brands with coupons think they are saving money. This cannot be true even if the time they spend fussing around with the coupons were worth nothing, and, apparently, that is precisely the value they place on their time – nothing.
Nowadays, we envy football players and boxers who earn millions of dollars. According to a recent report, the three highest paid athletes are all prize fighters, one of whom has already suffered a detached retina and has heard his best friends plead with him to give up fighting. The rewards for putting oneself in unreasonable physical danger are so great as to amount to “offers that cannot be refused”. Many athletes not only are likely to suffer injuries, they are certain to be injured. Thus, we are willing to pay any price to see a person take inordinate risks and we are willing to take inordinate risks for money. Examined under the cold light of reason, what does this say about the extent to which we have attained civilization? [Note in proof: I should say “properly socialized behavior” rather than “civilization”. The word civilization should be reserved for reference to the rise of the cities and as a synonym for urbanization. Readers will understand me, though, even if I use the term loosely. The trouble is that, in the sequel (later in this essay), I intend to oppose civilization and hope for and expect it to end.]
We act as if the world were infinite in extent. When the first European explorers of North America saw the vast expanses of virgin timber and the inland seas, they imagined that centuries of exploitation could not make the slightest dent in all that bounty. But, they had just left Europe, they should have realized that in just a few generations, fewer than the generations one could write on the back of one’s hand, in fewer than twenty-five generations, the virgin forests would be nearly gone, the vast inland seas would be polluted, and America would be nearly as crowded as Europe. How could they have been so blind and stupid?
That’s a good question. But an even better question is: How can we be so blind and stupid? We can calculate the area of the surface of the earth to within a few acres. It’s easy to see that only famine, epidemic disease, and war can prevent each person’s share of the earth’s surface from being reduced to less than one hundredth of an acre in less than 600 years if we continue to allow our population to grow at the present rate.
We have used more energy since I have been born than we used in all of the history of the human race up until that time. How can we be so credulous as to believe that such extravagance can continue in a finite world even if we arrange to capture a greater portion of the energy transferred continuously from the sun? But, we are doing everything conceivable to prevent that from being done. Doesn’t anybody realize how long it took to create the fossil-fuel reserves we are gobbling up as fast as we can?
And, why are we fouling our own habitat? If we want to commit racial suicide, fine. But, must we kill every species of animal and plant along with ourselves? It is easy to see that cars and airplanes are an unacceptable environmental nuisance. They consume at least 25% of our energy budget and they emit intolerably noxious fumes. Commuting to work can hardly be described as a pleasure and even vacation trips by car soon degenerate into “getting there”. It’s not difficult to see how to get rid of cars and planes, but I don’t think political conservatives will like it. (According to one estimate, the average commuter spends 400 hours per year commuting. That amounts to a loss of ten work weeks that could have been used for leisure.)
People drive to and from work. The air over most U.S. cities is nearly unbreathable. Some of that is due to urbanization itself, but urbanization was caused by our economic system. Some of the drivers are productive people, but they would live near where they work if they never changed jobs, and they change jobs because of our economic system. Other drivers are only shuffling paper, counting beads, making deals, and persuading other people to do things that may not be in their best interests to do but that favor the persuader and his employer. The energy these drivers consume is wasted and the pollution they cause is unnecessary. Many of the drivers do not belong to the business class, but business is responsible for their commuting. They feed business people, make their stationery, program their computers, and so on.
A businessman comes home tired at night, but the most he can hope to have achieved is that a certain economic advantage has been transferred to his own company from another company. The net gain to humanity has been zero (or negative). For that matter, his hard work may have consisted in taking a long plane trip between London and his home base in New York in order to have negotiated a deal. Airplanes consume tons of fuel and emit annoying, disruptive, and unhealthy roars, whistles, and booms as well as extremely noxious fumes. Also, from time to time, they dump unburnt fuel over cities! It is easy to prove that one way to reduce air pollution is to eliminate business.
Business, or domestic trade, is harmful enough, but foreign trade is even more deadly, and the harm it does is felt more directly. Competition between industries in different countries forces each to ignore the best interests of humanity in the interest of economic efficiency, which never takes humanity into account if it can help it. (Occasionally, businesses get sued by injured workers or innocent by-standers. This forces the business to account for human factors in the economic equation.) Moreover, foreign trade, or the opportunity for foreign trade, often leads to war, as we have seen as of this writing (August 8, 1990).
Possibly, wars arise, from time to time, because of differences in religions, ideologies, and cultures. Certainly, these differences have been proposed as the causes of wars. I would like to examine, in the sequel, how wars resulting from these differences might be traced back to competition for wealth and power. In case it is conceivable that wars arise because of the egos of powerful people, I must point out that powerful people capable of starting wars would not exist in a world without competition for wealth and power. It is possible, too, that wars are never due to causes as simple-minded as these.
We are ignorant. That is unavoidable, but why must we insist on being so stupid as well? That is inexcusable. The most pernicious category of ignorance is belief in falsehood. We think we have it all figured out, don’t we? We lie and are lied to and we deceive ourselves and others. We cling to senseless superstitions. We have shrill, arrogant men telling us that the will of God is known and that access to it is only through them. Even in the face of serious problems that we must attend to immediately if we wish to survive, we cling to the tired old myths that got us into this mess in the first place. We believe simultaneously in opposites in a mode of cognition that George Orwell called “doublethink”. We are afraid to face the truth because in order to do so we will have to discard every lie we have told ourselves and our children for generations: “Self-knowledge is always bad news.”
“America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, is the greatest country on earth with the greatest possible form of government and an economic system that is guaranteed to provide liberty and justice for all.” Only a fool could believe that. And we are not fools. I claim that we both believe it and do not believe it simultaneously! Patriotism does for nations what egotism does for individuals.
During the proof-reading of this chapter, I have become acquainted with a book called The Right Brain and Religion , which proposes that our talent for doublethink comes from the conflicts between our right brains and our left brains. This idea is worth pursuing and I shall refer to it wherever appropriate; however, I shall try to remember to leave the terms right brain and left brain in quotes to indicate that, until a scientific theory has been established, they are to be regarded as metaphors.
We claim to love liberty and yet we are intolerant of every idea, belief, or lifestyle that does not correspond to our own. We claim to love our fellow man, and, in fact, that is the heart of the teaching of the major prophet of the dominant religion, yet we pay only lip service to the Golden Rule. As far as we are concerned, any event that does not occur directly under our noses, has no meaning. Thus, with rare exceptions, the victims of famine in far distant lands do not concern us. In some cases, we feed them but, subsequently, indoctrinate them in the religion that was responsible for their suffering in the first place (and which is guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering).
Even though we espouse compassion for the homeless, we would much rather they stay out of our sight, and, if they do not, we take steps to increase the probability that they will. People are content with the status quo as long as their own situation is tolerable, but they exhibit a singular lack of compassion when it comes to the misery of those who are bound to suffer unless the system is changed. “That’s just the way things are,” they say.
Shockingly the workers in a Japanese car factory in the United States voted to reject the union even though this put them in the power of capitalists, bosses, and managers who are not even compatriots. Presumably, they did this because they understood that the union would be less tolerant of racism than they were. They were willing to put themselves in a weakened economic situation with respect to some non-Whites to protect their unwholesome myth of superiority over other non-Whites!
The effect on education is that we teach our children the same lies that we were taught and perhaps some new ones. But, our children have not had sufficient time to develop the faculty of doublethink to the high degree that we have attained. They find it difficult to accept obvious contradictions, so we find them in rebellion in two ways. First, they refuse to learn and, second, they do the opposite of what we wish, sometimes resulting in no little harm to themselves and others. But, we are only getting what we deserve.
We are horrified at crime, more brutal and more bizarre every day. Let’s reinstate the death penalty, we say, and without the endless process of appeal and delay. We want justice and – What about the victim’s rights? When are we going to stop coddling criminals, we ask. We never stop to think about what the effect of state-sponsored murders might be on those who sponsor them. In effect, the renegade killer is paying us back for our institutionalized brutality in advance of our vengeance. What does it matter which comes first, his revenge or ours! We never stop to realize that we have created a society that will produce a statistically predictable number of violent crimes every year. What do we care if we are mugged by Tom or Dick or Harry? The fact is that we are going to be mugged or robbed or raped or murdered by someone. Senseless crimes? No. Very understandable crimes. When we create the conditions or even tolerate them, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The criminals are just statistics as far as we can see and, for that matter, so are ourselves.
The government operates for the benefit of business, which pays for the political campaigns of the majority of elected officials, unless, of course, the interests of business conflict with the interests of government. Thus, when business needed the U.S. dollar to drop in value to increase its exports, but the government needed the dollar to be stable to attract foreign lending to cover its deficits, government betrayed its partner, business, in a wink. A government that governs in its own interests rather than in the interests of the governed is known as a tyranny. (Tyranny can be defined in other ways as well.)
Life under a tyranny has several drawbacks, chief among which are loss of liberty, undue inconvenience in conducting one’s personal affairs, and constant danger due to the possibility of one’s well-being conflicting with that of the government, in a war, for example. One does not have reasonable access to the law, which does not really exist in a textbook sense, inasmuch as it can be reinterpreted in any way that suits the government. Dissent is nearly impossible and, even if it were possible, it would be ineffectual since the governed have no power other than the power they seize in a revolutionary context, but that is not a real option for people who are not actually starving to death or who are living in a state of delusion. [Note in proof: It has been said, perhaps by George Bernard Shaw, that every revolution is hopeless and impossible the day before it occurs.] The government is a tyranny and is in control of its people, but it is not in control of the economy.
The economy has become so complicated that no one understands it (except for two brilliant economists, so the joke goes, but they disagree). We have created a monster. We are at the mercy of a system that no one understands and which is out of control. The system is extremely cumbersome and, therefore, it possesses a certain abstract inertia, which is not entirely disadvantageous. It is not very often that the system changes suddenly, dramatically, and without warning. But such catastrophic events do occur. A swing of 200 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of thirty important stocks (actually a sum rather than an average) is catastrophic enough for people who are on the wrong side of the change. Moreover, there is no guarantee that, at any time, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that, a catastrophe of such magnitude that the system would break down into sheer chaos could not occur. Why do we put ourselves at the mercy of forces we do not understand – unnecessarily?
“Honor sinks where commerce long prevails,” wrote Goldsmith, and he had not seen American television. Recently, a businesswoman who had been convicted of stealing $13,000,000 in a fraudulent investment scheme was asked what proportion of businesspeople were guilty of dishonest, illegal, or unethical behavior. “All,” she answered. “If they’re not doing anything else, they are cheating on taxes.” I believe that the understanding of ethics is disappearing. I believe that the average person in the United States does not know the difference between right and wrong, not just the average person, everyone below the 99th percentile, say, in honesty.
In the supermarket one day I commented casually to a person standing near me, “Look. This package has deceptive advertising on it.” She replied, “Well, buy something else.” Buy something else! Buy something else, notify the manager of the store, initiate a boycott if the product is not removed, arrest the persons responsible, ··· I complained to a graduate of an Ivy League College that the denotation “93% fat free” used by her employer was deceptive. She simply did not understand. I reminded the management of the Smithsonian Institution that the terminology “member” was deceptive when it meant only “subscriber”; they don’t understand. Neither does public TV. I pointed out to a scientist that it was unethical to create a non-existent or, to be more fair, pre-existent institute on letterhead for the purpose of raising money. His reply: “Everyone does it.” And on and on.
People are the victims of their own greed. Everything beautiful, man-made as well as natural, is disappearing. We begin playing music because of our love of the great music of the past, which, for young people, might be last year, but we will do anything, play anything, dress up any way that someone thinks will allow us to make more money, and prostitute our art every day of the week. Years ago, if a professional musician were playing what has become rock and roll, or just plain rock, and a fellow musician asked him what he was doing, he would lie and say he was unemployed before he would admit that he was prostituting his art. But, not anymore. Perhaps it isn’t even prostitution anymore. People have forgotten all about the good and true. They do what they do simply because they don’t know any better.
The same can be said for actors who are actually proud of doing soap operas or television commercials. And, painters who work for advertising agencies. Imagine using art to encourage people to buy things that they don’t need and consume resources that are in exceptionally short supply and the use of which is threatening the survival of life on earth! And fashion, the business of making people’s wardrobes obsolete before the clothes have worn out, not to mention the intentional perversion of taste. And, movies. And, musical comedy. And, sitcoms. And so on, and so on. But, the main result to which I wish to call the reader’s attention is that the artistic tastes of the American people are virtually nonexistent and the effect of this is that their sensibilities in every other department of human life are dangerously debased.
Without rock and roll, people would not be able to tolerate the idiotic motor-driven blower/broom, or whatever it’s called. This is only conjecture, but my guess is that loud music has desensitized them to the point that they don’t even notice that they are in the presence of intolerable noise pollution. McDonald’s has made bad taste affordable for millions. We no longer rebel at eating with plastic utensils, and, by the way, what happens to those utensils when we are done with them? People work, shop, and have their teeth drilled in buildings and rooms filled with low-level junk Musak that would drive a sensitive person batty. One cannot even call one’s insurance company on the phone anymore without being treated to junk “music”. I called the Better World Society on their 800 number to ask a question and was put on hold with some incredibly painful pop “music” droning in my ear. When I pointed out to the operator that the Better World Society was starting off by making the world a little worse, he stated categorically that it was better with the music than without it. I believe this corroborates my previous point.
I believe that modern technology has made life more “convenient” but less humane. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Nowadays a normal family has two wage earners, therefore nobody is left to dedicate his efforts to maintaining the household, unless, of course, one can afford servants, in which case one is living by exploiting people less fortunate than oneself. In most cases, if dinner is eaten in the home, it must be prepared swiftly. Thus, the traditional culture of food is replaced by a new, more convenient, but less humanistic, culture, involving preprocessed foods, which are more or less inferior to the dishes prepared in the homes of our grandparents, presumably, but not necessarily, by women. The liberation of women from the culinary arts is supposed to be progress. The service of food is less elegant too. Sometimes not everyone in the family can eat at the same time, thus a vital aspect of human culture, namely, eating together, is destroyed as well. The meal is more convenient, but, from the standpoint of our humanity, it is inferior. Thus, progress makes things a little worse.
The glorification and exaltation of excess has become a part of our daily lives. Rock music performances that are as outlandish and nonutilitarian from the point of view even of the art are the norm. Clothing styles are extreme to the point of being bizarre, with underwear, for example, worn on the outside. A television show depicting the lifestyles of people who consume obscene amounts of wealth is watched with interest rather than disgust. Our sporting events place athletes in extreme risk, as discussed above, and new and more absurd sports are being invented continually. Crimes are becoming more and more monstrous as commonplace crimes become insufficient to gain the criminal the attention he craves.
Weapons of greater and greater destruction are built to counter defense systems of incredible complexity in a never-ending chain of succession and obsolescence. Daily and weekly newspapers tell lies that are so shocking that yesterday’s lies seem mundane by comparison. The excesses of our clergy shock our senses as they heap extreme upon extreme in order to acquire power over the gullible. Some religious services make the center ring at the circus look like a sewing bee. Yesterday’s excesses pale into insignificance as our jaded senses cry out for more and more shock.
Ignorance, including ignorance of the difference between right and wrong, is engaged in fierce competition with reason for possession of the minds of humanity. Our minds are controlled by mass media and we are developing shocking attitudes toward state-sponsored murder, the prestige of our nation, and the rights of man. We are superstitious, bigoted, intolerant, and absolutely blind to anything that does not coincide with our preconceived notions. We allow ourselves to be manipulated and exploited by parasitical leaders of government and business whose authority we dare not challenge. The world is in danger of becoming the totalitarian, dehumanized, monolithic workcamp described in the book 1984 by George Orwell, with indefensible illogic dribbling through nearly everyone’s mind. The spread of humanity over the face of the globe like a creeping fungus, or a cancer, is killing the earth, and, for many species of our fellow animals, the world is already gone. The fine arts of the past are disappearing. Although the musicians of today have more skill than those of the past, almost no one knows what music to play. We have incredible poverty next to obscene wealth, which must offend any hypothetical deity one can imagine. Society is fragmented into a complicated system of warring races and classes. Violent depredation and revenge in the form of business, trade, crime, terrorism, and war is the thrust of the daily news. I claim that all of this is a result of our institutions, not a result of anything intrinsically evil in ourselves. We have the power to change our institutions and remove the corrupting influences, as I shall show in my book On the Preservation of Species .
1. Wayburn, Thomas L, On the Preservation of Species, Work in progress, 1996.
September 19, 1990
Revised July 30, 1992
Reference added June 6, 1996