Dealing with Reality
Facing the World as it Is
“Wouldn’t you like to know for certain that you are going to heaven?” Of course I would. Who would not want to know the secret to eternal salvation? I find it strange, however, when evangelists pose this question as evidence for the truth of their beliefs. They claim to have something that non-believers do not have, arguing that the joy of knowing the key to salvation makes their belief system superior to one that does not provide the same certainty. Because atheism or agnosticism is supposedly so damn depressing, why would anyone want to believe it? It makes more sense to adopt a belief system that provides clear, satisfying answers to the ultimate questions.
The problem is that the joy provided by a belief system has no correlation with its truth. There are, after all, many things that I would like to be true. I wish that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were real. It would also be nice if doughnuts, pizza, potato chips, and breaded mozzarella sticks were healthy food options. And even more importantly, the world would be a much more pleasant place without disease, starvation, homelessness, crime, child abuse, and a host of other horrors. All of the wishing and happy thoughts in the world, however, are not going to transfer these fantasies into reality. And it would be idiotic to claim that a person who questions the reality of my fantasy world has adopted an inferior belief system. I’m sure that the skeptic would like to know that a bearded man in a white suit hands out presents every Christmas. But somehow, common sense keeps getting in the way of his or her happiness.
Reality can also get in the way of our political fantasies. I have not followed the “Occupy” movement very closely, but it seems to be a general expression of anger against people’s various definitions of injustice. If the elites of society would just stop being so self-centered and greedy, then America (and the world) would be a better place. And there is no denying that in the end, they are right. So many of the world’s problems – environmental destruction, famine, disease, violence, etc. – are largely preventable. With all of the modern world’s problems, the human race has been able to achieve in the last couple of centuries what people in the not so distant past would have seen as impossible. So imagine what could be accomplished if there were fewer ass holes in the world. If all humans were selfless and wise, many of the world’s problems would have been completely eradicated a long time ago. This is why all major religions agree that our corrupted human nature is the root of most of the evil, and better individuals are the key to a more perfect world.
So is the answer to stand out in the streets and tell people to stop being so evil? Often, this is a very healthy thing for the people of a society to do. But eventually, you have to translate your frustrations and goals into some sort of coherent policy agenda. And plans that sound great for engineering the better world of the future often fall flat when confronted with that ancient problem of human nature. So given the fact that much of the human race is not going to turn into wise, selfless, compassionate people any time soon, what policies make the most sense? For me, this apparently inherent weakness of the human race is the strongest argument out there for free market capitalism. Since we tend to be a shortsighted, self-centered species, the profit motive is the strongest force out there for spurring us on to take risks and work hard. It’s an imperfect system, and anyone who has read my stuff before knows that I am hardly a supporter of pure, laissez faire capitalism. But just as it is foolish to argue that government has no productive role to play in an economic system, it is important to not snuff out the beneficial aspects of private enterprise. Like it or not, the free market in many situations will perform more efficiently than the best laid plans of experts, humanitarians, and politicians.
Reality, unfortunately, is a bit of a bitch. I wish that the heavens above would drop a clear answer from the sky. But from what I can tell, people who claim to have the ultimate spiritual answers have not looked very critically at their own conclusions. I also wish that societies were filled with selfless souls working for the betterment of humankind. But just as I have to make the most of the few spiritual “truths” that seem to work, I know that we have to develop political policies that recognize the human race for what it is. Hopefully, there will always be enough people out there influenced by the great moral philosophers and religious teachings, and they will behave in ways that help clean up some of the byproducts of our dog-eat-dog world. But we also must face up to and capitalize on some of that basic human desire to look out for number one.