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Proliferation of Isolation

May 17, 2012

It is a strange time in the world. At least it seems that way in the midst of it all. We live in a time when humankind has achieved dichotomy in nearly all its dealings. We say one thing but do the opposite. We preach one sermon but live by the tenets of another. We lie to each other and ourselves and while being conscious of it, there are few times it is acknowledged. This falseness, this façade of aspiration to hide our reality, permeates everything from advertisements to children’s books, from impassioned political speech to casual conversation around the water cooler or dinner table. It is the nature of humankind. The scorpion will sting; the dog will bark; the human will lie. It is this quality perhaps that sets our species apart from the others. Lies and thumbs.

In this time, in this strange world we have made from within, our human qualities have proliferated and become institutionalized. Lies have become part of every facet of our lives and our inability or unwillingness to restrain this offensive part of human nature is tantamount to approving and yielding. It should be a natural reaction to recoil in horror at distortions of reality being peddled as truth. Indeed, our society takes a dim view of those who have been caught in a lie and we revel in their unraveling, from James Frey to Dominque Strauss-Kahn. But it seems, rather than being disgusted by the fact that liars lie, we are disgusted by liars who lie and lie poorly. The true crime is not lying effectively enough or denying one’s human nature.[1]

But how has it come to this? This is the part in the dystopian novel that never gets written. It will never be a cataclysmic shift to an Orwellian nightmare. It is gradual. It is not engineered by some Stalinist dictator. It is agreed upon by the collective consciousness. We make one concession after another. We allow one more lie to replace a truth. The truth hurts, but lies feel good. Before you know it we are living in a world that bears striking resemblance to many dystopian visions of the future.

We live in an isolated country made up of only four percent of the world’s population in possession of twenty-five percent of the world’s wealth. We are a culture obsessed with wealth, excess and the accumulation of things. While our nation has massive importance to the rest of the world, the rest of the world has very little importance to us.[2] We manufacture next to nothing in our country. There are a few dying industries that have been propped up by an indulgent government, but the bulk of industrial work has gone overseas where goods can be made by people who are virtually slaves for next to nothing. Our economy is propelled by complicated financial schemes, oil, and the flogging of unnecessary shit to poor people. Entertainment is the chief purpose of the arts, and the arts are our most cherished industry. Our lives are built around worship of art and artists and entertainers. At an early age, children are inducted into this cult of entertainment and branded with licensed clothing stitched by slave children in some distant, and therefore irrelevant, place. A child need only look as far as their parent or parents for social cues. A father that can tell you the stats of every player in the New York Mets but can’t remember what day his child was born. A mother that knows which starlet has slept with which sizzling hunk going back decades but struggles to calculate the tip on a bill. Parents that spend more time watching TV than watching their children.

Dystopia is here. It is not what we thought it would be. There are no flying cars or jetpacks. There are no pneumatic tubes or endless conveyor belts. It was not swept in on a wave of brutal repression. We invited dystopia in, quite happy to let the world go to hell around us as long as the cable doesn’t go out and there’s a solid internet connection. Selfishness is the most primal of humanities traits and rather than becoming vestigial as it should, we have instead embraced our selfishness. We have convinced ourselves that what is good for me is all that matters. Selfishness is viewed as strength, highly prized and richly rewarded. Politicians from both sides of the aisle praise this disgusting trait saying Capitalism is what makes this country great. Entertainers constantly exhibit the most egregious acts of selfishness and are encouraged in this pursuit. Even the charitable among them cannot help but embrace the Me First mentality.[3] Religious leaders regularly put their own beliefs ahead the well-being of unbelievers. They decry abortion and gay marriage and condoms while simultaneously claiming to represent God.[4] The average person on the street invariably has a complaint about some other person or groups of people who are taking away their rights or jobs, from immigrants to business people to politicians, while most agree that viciousness is the only way to get ahead and that clambering over a few bodies you have stabbed in the back to get what you want is okay as long as you are successful. At the same time, they profess a great love for their country or humanity. As previously observed, it is human nature.

But, it seems to me, in the relatively short time I have been on this earth, that there has been a proliferation of isolation. The internet has played a major part in this. Rather than dreams of equality and tolerance being realized, the differences have been highlighted in nightmarish terms. On the internet you can be both anonymous and notorious, unleashing waves of hate and bile. The truth is relative on the internet and should you so desire, you need never be exposed to an opinion you don’t agree with again. You can bolster your beliefs through isolation. You can cut yourself off of the roots of your humanity and exist in a world created from within. While extreme cases of this isolation from the living world are looked on with a kind of sympathetic scorn, this isolation has gained massive acceptance over the past decade or so. One need only watch an hour of TV to see it.

Phone commercials entice potential customers by portraying phone owners as rude assholes, absorbed in the tiny screen rather than enjoying the person next to them or if they do interact with real life it is to inform it with a snarky factoid gleaned from the web. There is a commercial in which the husband, who has forgotten his anniversary, is able to lie convincingly to his wife with the aid of his smartphone. You can buy a frozen pizza that is so good that you will be able to effectively fool your friends into thinking they are eating food that was delivered. Sitcoms often use lies and selfishness as the prop that propels the comedy and only when the protagonist is caught is the lie portrayed as wrong, sometimes not even then.[5] The most popular dramas either glorify criminal behavior or propagate the “Greatest Country on Earth” narrative that has been agreed upon collectively.

We eat our cake but we want it too. We let our “morals” get in the way of our morals. We say one thing but do another. We are all surface and no depth. We live in what is very nearly an Orwellian picture of the future but try getting anyone to admit it.

I don’t know what my point is. I don’t know that there is any. I am mostly just confused. Unlike most dystopian novels or movies, there is no escape hatch to clamber out of and emerge into the sun. There is no revolution that will overthrow the oppressors. We are our own oppressors.

I think of my mom when I was growing up. Most times, the house was in a state of disarray, laundry piled everywhere, dishes left out, toys spread out over the floor, newspapers and magazines in slovenly piles. My mom was busy with a full-time job and a child to raise. Cleaning was low on the priority list… Unless company was coming. My mom would go into full panic mode. Anybody available would be recruited into her Cleaning Brigade. Usually it was just me, but occasionally there was one of her boyfriends there to help. We would spend hours cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, folding till the place was spotless. After the guests had come and gone the house would once again descend into chaos. Once I asked my mom why we had to clean it every time.

“Couldn’t people just see it the way it really was? Why lie?”

“We’re putting it back the way it really is,” she told me.

That wasn’t true. That still isn’t true. If you were to arrive at her house unannounced, I’m sure you would find the mess is all there minus the children’s toys. She was convinced that clean was the true state of her house. She had convinced herself and she would convince everyone else.

And there we are.

[1] If caught in a lie, there are only two courses that are acceptable in the Court of Public Opinion. First, confess everything immediately and without reservation. You have acknowledged your humanity by doing so and though your popularity might take a drumming, you will ultimately be forgiven. The second is to deny everything and cling to your lie with such tenacity that even those with full access to the facts begin to doubt your guilt. Doubt will be your only savior. One must never start with denial and then reveal all, as in the case of Anthony Weiner. You just come off looking like a dick.

[2] Even the most politically-minded among us would have some difficulty recalling who the prime minister of the UK is and that is a nation with whom we are said to share a special relationship.

[3] As in the case of Bono, who, rather than pay his fair share of the tax in Ireland, whose floundering economy is well on the heels of Greece, has funneled much of his earnings into accounts in the Netherlands where the tax-rate is much lower.

[4] The God of most major religions is by and large a proponent of peace and love. The Christian God, through Jesus, made it quite clear that love of one’s neighbor was second only to love of God. Jesus himself spent a great deal of time amongst the unwashed sinners. Consider that he washed the feet of Judas Iscariot shortly before Judas, in a fit of what can only be called selfishness, sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus knew what was coming too, yet he knelt before the man who has achieved a reputation comparable only to Hitler or Bin Laden and washed his feet. Where is this forgiveness and love in the modern incarnation of the church?

[5] I am not asking for sanitized “moral” sitcoms. I am pointing out that they are a reflection of our society.

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