I could not believe my luck when I saw John Cassidy's New Yorker post Is America Crazy? Ten Reasons It Might Be. Might be?
I think human beings are crazy. Americans are simply a splendid example. Well, I shouldn't say it that way because it significantly understates the case. Americans are an outstanding example of human craziness. We might even regard America as the absolute pinnacle of human craziness, the "greatest" achievement of our species.
Remember the DOTE rule of thumb when assessing insanity—the more divorced from Reality, the crazier people are. By that criterion, it is easy to see that Americans have outpaced other humans in the craziness race by a very wide margin. C'mon! Americans live in Disney World! The Magic Kingdom! Fantasy is America's (Hollywood's) biggest export, and a very successful one I might add. But these obvious conclusions are not so transparent to John Cassidy—
“Every country has, along with its core civilities and traditions, some kind of inner madness, a belief so irrational that even death and destruction cannot alter it.”
That was my colleague Adam Gopnik commenting the other day on America’s attitude toward gun laws. Having read some of the comments on my own post about President Obama’s failure to pursue more restrictions on the sale of firearms, I can only agree with Adam. When Bill Moyers, Keith Olbermann, Mayor Bloomberg, and Rupert Murdoch are all in favor of something—in this case, tougher gun laws—and there’s still no chance of it being enacted, you can rest assured that forces other than reason and partisan politics are involved.
My only quibble with Adam is his use of the singular form: “a belief.” Are firearms the only subject on which Americans are, let us say, a little batty? I’m not so sure. Having lived here for almost thirty years, and having been a U.S. citizen for the past five, I am greatly attached to this country and admire many aspects of it enormously. But the dogged persistence of certain American shibboleths has always struck me as somewhat curious.
What are these shared convictions? I could go on all day, but here, for argument’s sake, are ten. Not all Americans subscribe to them, of course. In some instances, the true believers may amount to a small but vocal minority. Still, the popular sentiment underlying these statements is so strong that politicians defy it at their peril.
Quibble? Cassidy then lists the "shared convictions" that strike him as being "a little batty."
1. Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected.
2. Private enterprise is good; public enterprise is bad.
3. God created America and gave it a special purpose.
4. Our health-care system is the best there is.
5. The Founding Fathers were saintly figures who established liberty and democracy for everyone.
6. America is the greatest country in the world.
7. Tax rates are too high.
8. America is a peace-loving nation: the reason it gets involved in so many wars is that foreigners keep attacking us.
9. Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright.
10. Everybody else wishes they were American.
You've heard some of these before. For example, #3, #6, #9 and #10 are long-standing American delusions. But I believe we can do better than this. My list may disappoint; remember, we are talking about the Magic Kingdom here. No such list can capture the crazy Spirit of the Age, the American Zeitgeist.
11. Americans, including naturalized citizen John Cassidy, think they live in a democracy. This delusion represents the triumph of form over substance, as do all things American. It is sufficient that we appear to live in a democracy. See my post Democracies Always Fail.
12. Americans think they all have an equal opportunity to get rich, i.e. they think they can become slaveowners, and not have to live as lowly slaves toiling away on this vast plantation called the United States.
13. Americans think the TV "reality" show Survivor (and its endless spin-offs) are a true reflection of how life works. And for them, it is! Their sacred right to defraud or otherwise fuck over other Americans is viewed as a central cultural virtue. That's why we have far more lawyers per-capita than any other country. See #12.
14. Americans think their economic fortunes ebb & flow with ups & downs in the rigged stock market. They also think it is acceptable when economists and media types refer to them as "consumers".
15. Americans think all problems can be solved by "free" markets and dazzling technology (iPhones, Twitter, or "fracking"/horizontal drilling ).
16. Some Americans ("progressives") think you can preserve the environment and have endless economic growth too.
17. Some Americans ("conservatives") think we'll never run out of anything—crude oil, fish, lemurs, rare earth elements, phosphorus, you name it. Well, OK, they don't care about the lemurs. They, too, believe in endless growth.
18. Americans think "news" on TV is news.
19. Americans think their opinions about scientific matters they know nothing about count for something, e.g. global warming, and see #11.
And last, but certainly not least—
20. Americans are generally too ignorant or stupid to realize just how ignorant or stupid they truly are.
And we add this meta-observation about American entitlement—
- Americans think Lunch is, and has always been, Free*
* For example, read anything Paul Krugman has ever written
So, are Americans crazy? You betcha! Does a bear shit in the woods? Is a fish the last one to figure out that the water it swims in is polluted?
I have now endured 59 years in this lunatic asylum. I've had plenty of not-so-fulfilling experiences in America and with its deluded people. Unfortunately, people like John Cassidy have jobs at places like the New Yorker because they function well inside Joe Bageant's Media Hologram, a place where up is down, crooked is straight, and 2 + 2 = 5. In short, they are as blind as bats.
As America gets crazier, more and more bullshit must be spread about to cover up that sad circumstance. If you make a living inside the hologram (the bullshit) as Cassidy does—if you think a seemingly endless 22-month presidential campaign is perfectly normal—then you must operate by the rule don't rock the boat. Cassidy's standard fare consists of articles like Mitt Goes Abroad—But Should He Come Home Early?
I suppose all this would be alright if the boat weren't sinking. The only way you are going to preserve whatever is left of your sanity is to understand just how crazy America has become.
Bonus Video — George Carlin on marketing and American bullshit, first used in my post The Kingdom Of The Blind