In this week’s Friday Five, Laura picked out another big Green Booger, and on it was written the following question:
I think the greatest tragedy of the world is that dragons don’t exist. What are the five things you really wish were true – and do you believe in them?
Ah, there are so many answers to this that I have in my mind. I’ve been talking about it, actually, lately, as it comes up in political discussions and other chats around the camp, and so I have a few answers in mind.
- People pursue their own self-interests.
Look around at any pub or bar you go to in most cities and you will see the opposite of this. People are smoking everywhere, people young enough to have grown up with the full knowledge that smoking gives plenty enough people lung cancer. And of course, if you check out the obesity epidemic by taking a walk through your local city, and then check out the local fast food joints, you’ll see a correlation. Sure, Super Size Me might have been rather different if the guy had ordered the Salad and orange juice at every meal. But while I only ate McDonald’s once during my trip, I walked through about four to see what people were eating, and after all those trips, after seeing well over a hundred people, I saw only ONE (1) salad. So don’t give me that. Yes, Mum, you may order a salad every time. But you hardly reflect the average McDonald’s customer. And since Super Size Me was out to make illustrated a simply accelerated version of what people do to themselves over weeks, months, and years eating at McDonald’s, it’s a representative illustration for most customers.
Or look at the way country people vote. They vote for people who will screw them in terms of tax, benefitting the rich and leaving the average folk with the tax burden; they’ll vote for the people who are willing to take away their own civil rights and liberties; they’ll vote for the people who start wars in countries based on non-evidence, lies, and pure agenda… and they’ll do it at the slightest provocation, like because voting thus spites gay people for a few more years, or will prevent them from having their kids properly educated in “heresies” like Darwin for a few more decades.
Or they’ll do ridiculously surprising, stupid things to themselves. One kid burned his head at camp by sticking his face to the water spout on a water filter to get a sip of cool water… he used his face because he didn’t have a cup. Good way to burn your forehead, though, if you happen to tap the hot water spout’s release bar at the same time.
People, either because of stupidity, how easily they are distracted, or because of other inexplicables including great chunks of their cultures, will do things that are really decidedly against their self-interest, without any balancing benefit to outweigh it. This means people around them end up paying tons of money in health care when these people hurt themselves or get ill from their stupid habits. They screw up nations, and screw themselves politically and economically because of faith in political parties, or in ideologies, or religious leaders.
It would be nice if, instead, people followed sensible self-interest, and only denied that guideline when it benefitted themselves or loved ones in some real, demonstrable way. Of course, for that to happen, we need another assumption to be true:
- People know what’s good for them.
People will pay good money for the most useless, ridiculous treatments from quacks. They’ll shell out piles of money on New Age books whose Bibliographies are as incestuous as the European Royalty back in the day. They’ll insist that eating this or that food is good for one’s virility, and pay through the nose for it. They’ll glorify one-night-stands and shun real involvement with another human being. They’ll marry the first person who shows interest in them. They’ll have sex with a stranger and not use protection. They’ll drink absinthe. They’ll join cults. They’ll date the wrong guy or the wrong girl, meaning an outright nut or stalker, because friends (date unseen) will advise them that’s the right person for them. They’ll steal a car, go to jail for it, and even after getting out not have any idea why they’ve done it.
People often don’t even know what’s good for them. How can people follow their own self-interests when they don’t even know what’s good for them? People tend not to be willing to think critically about the values they inherit from their parents and absorb from their peers. We’re far more trained as people to seek to follow the “normal” pattern of life that is lived by people around us. Because of this, we often do things that make us profoundly unhappy. We subjugate things like actual enjoyment or anger to social demands, and sometimes even to erroneously perceived social expectations.
It would be nice if people generally tended to have a pretty good sense of what is good for them, or bad for them.
- People act in a more admirable or ethical way because they’re members of a particular group or self-assigned designation.
I wish I had a penny for every time I heard someone say one of the following: “I’m a Christian, so of course I don’t…”; “I’m a vegetarian, so I would never…”; “I’m a Korean, so I must…”; “I’m an American, so of course I must…”; “I’m an educated person, so I always…”
But the fact is, educated people sometimes say ridiculously ignorant things. Vegetarians are sometimes callously careless towards life, in whatever form. Some Koreans never do anything expected of a good Korean. Some Americans always do the opposite of what are the Hallmarks of being a good American according to their nation’s internal self-discourse. And there are lying Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists… actually there are plenty of rotten practitioners to be found among the adherents of every major religion that is practiced.
It would be nice, through, if people lived up to the things that are commonly claimed as articles of membership in the group to which they claim to belong.
- What goes around, comes around.
Sometimes good things happen to good people. And sometimes assholes win the lottery. Sometimes, your kid gets cancer and you pray and the kid gets better. Sometimes the kid dies a painful death despite all your prayers and efforts, and never even gets into a hospital because it’s too expensive, you only have crap insurance, and your HMO won’t claim responsibility for a seven-year-old with that particular strain of leukemia.
Sometimes the guy who steals all his life gets caught. Sometimes the serial killer gets away for years on end, or even forever. Sometimes nobody gets hurt and sometimes the drunk driver walks away from his car but the family in the other car that he slammed into are all dead.
There’s a reason it’s called “poetic justice”: it often only happens in literature. It’d be nice, though, as well as a powerful incentive to good behaviour, if what went around really did come around. Not that I wish horrid pain on people who do bad things, but if one’s relative bad luck in life was determined related to one’s karma, so to speak, as opposed to the seemingly-random method by which our good and bad runs of luck are determined. This, at least, seems fairer and something in me responds to it more favorably.
- Every dog has its day…
Except of course the dogs born in Somalia. Or the babies born there, for that matter, who starved to death because members of a rival tribe raped their mothers and then cut off their breasts. Or, you know, Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs on the wrong side of the border during the Partioning of India.
Genocides aren’t always near-complete tragedies. Sometimes they are complete tragedies. I cannot imagine a time when, say, Native peoples in Canada wield any real degree of power in the nation’s government. I’ve read claims by some North American women that feminist consciousness in North Americaundoubtedly part of the “day” that women supposedly were enjoyingis now in painful and serious decline.
Likewise, some people, after long years of fear, cruddy treatment, or not fitting in, get the chance to shine. But many more lead lives of quiet desperation, sad trudges between cubicle and the bar and home. Many, many people “achieve” the things they’re supposed to in life: they buy a minivan, have 2.5 kids, invest in a home… and all the while never admit that they’re not truly, abidingly happy. They live in fear of being punished for being too different, which is understandable for people living in human societies (as punitive of difference as they often are). But it is sad.
It’d be nice if every loser, nerd, refugee, flat-chested geek girl, fat kid, war victim, genocide survivor, and other loser in the bingo game of life had a real shot in life. It’d be really nice if every dog actually got its day.
Of course, on a more personal note: it’d be nice if I were as clever or well-read as people seem to tend to assume; it’d be nice if I were as rich as my students all guess I am; it’d be nice if I were as handsome in the mirror as I am in my own mind; and it’d be nice if, as so many Korean bus drivers seem to believe, the presence of rain actually negated awful, muggy, viciously hot weather and made air conditioners unnecessary. But these are, I think, less interesting gripes than the others above, since they’re just personal and not so very applicable to the world or general beliefs that matter much.