The Country that Lived in a Bubble: Americans in Denial of Everything
There’s a saying I heard while vacationing in The Netherlands that goes: “Whatever happens in America, the Americans are the last to know about it.” I might have chalked it up to anti-Americanism if it were uttered by a jaded Dutchman or woman but this was not the case. I heard this saying at a youth party consisting of mostly teens and young adults. Aside from the lack of alcohol and drugs of any kind (I know, in the Netherlands. Ironic), what amazed me the most was that their conversations completely avoided the mundane — fashion, dating, gossip, etc. — and circled around religion, politics, music, and ecological concerns. What’s more, their English skills were markedly better than their American counterparts. And English was their second language! It was from a kid about 19 years old where I heard the saying I previously mentioned. His rationale consisted of the usual — our biased media, propaganda from political and financial institutions, poor education, and so on. I can’t remember the details for I mostly agreed with him but marveled at his sincerity, cogency, and the ten-dollar words he used. He seemed to be more interested in what’s happening to Americans then Americans are themselves.
Fast forward to 2015. I live in Southern California where the big news is the water crisis. And yet there’s a complacency regarding this issue among the people as if it’s expected that someone or some agency will eventually solve the problem. This may be because we have not experienced any devastating natural or political event other than an earthquake every ten years or a minor recession (they’re all minor compared to what other countries have gone through). We feel stable so we think we are stable. But we’re really in denial.
This year the California water experts have told us that in one year all of our reservoirs will be empty. Last year, they said we’d have four more years. Two or three years ago, news of the water shortage was most likely preempted by the break-up of a notable teen couple. Our heads are so easily bobbled. So why didn’t we heed the warnings of climatologists years ago? You can hear their arguments (mostly European experts) on a documentary CD included with the CD of the movie Children of Men which hit the video stores in 2006 or 7. In the presentation when the California drought was brought up, the speaker said that our state would dry up and there would be a mass exodus to the northern climes. I’m sure the California water experts know the score but they’re just experts; they don’t have the wherewithal to make sweeping changes in our water management. They need money and cooperation. That’s where the government and the public come in but they haven’t mustered the collective will. Our denial has disabled our preparing for the future. Alas, at the rate we’re distracted from more important matters, when it all hits the fan, we won’t know what hit us. And we’ll be unprepared still reeling from our lives in denial.
Denial in America is, of course, not limited to water crisis; it’s pretty much unlimited. If it was an export, we’d be rich! Virtually every sector seems propped up by imaginary numbers, ideas, and scenarios from alternative universes maintained in order to pacify the status quo and keep the profits flowing. But our jobs, our sanity, and the direction of our country are at stake. We can chase chimeras or wake up.
The arts are particularly affected by the economy, greed, and sea-changes in consumer use. And artists have to employ every psychological trick to maintain their motivation and one of those tricks is denial. About ten years ago, when CD sales started its long decline, the big marketing “tip” that many songwriters employed was to give away one or more of their songs for free in hopes that some people would like the music, find the available recording, and buy it. It did work for some of the famous bands but I have yet to find an unknown artist that it has worked for. Ninety-nine percent of them are unknown. I’ve asked a number of them who promoted this tactic, “How much money have you made based on your total profit this year divided by hours spent promoting your music this way?” The answers were all prime examples in the art of denial and never came close to amounting to minimum wage. Most couldn’t articulate their thoughts and a few admitted that it was just an experiment. Years later, I did however read a potent statement against giving away free music from a reader named Sasha responding to an article posted on musicthinktank.com: “Musicians who willingly give away their music free are collaborators in their own demise, and traitors to their colleagues.” Today, songwriters have received the short end of the stick by letting music distributors and streamers take way more than their fair share. That coupled with declining CD sales, and tripled with the younger generations’ feelings of entitlement where they are encouraged to frequent illegal music downloading sites, there’s nothing left for the songwriter.
Another example of the arts taking the road that shouldn’t be traveled was from an article I read in the Los Angeles Times extolling the virtues of competitive online graphic design crowd-sourcing companies such as 99designs.com. He may as well have been raving about the benefits of slavery. Here’s how they usually work: A potential client posts a project they want designed. A bunch of designers all compete for the cash by DOING THE JOB FIRST. The client only picks the one he likes and only has to pay that designer and for a fraction of what the work was worth. All the other designers (and there can be dozens of them) get nothing for their time and trouble. At least slaves got room and board for their work. So the client denies that (s)he’s taking advantage of the artist and the artist denies that he has anything else better to do with his/her time.
Fiverr.com works differently. The client only pays for one artist at a time but the fees are generally for five dollars! Granted the quality won’t be as good as if you take advantage of 20 designers and only pay one of them, but FIVE DOLLARS! This particular company works best for designers from other countries where five dollars buys more than in the U.S. But still, are we not able to acknowledge the worth of others? Is it worth getting a deal if we have to diminish their livelihoods and self-esteem? Do we have no moral responsibility to other people?
This brings me to the most universally misunderstood subject which has been so distorted that there is no consensus as to the nature of its reality and that is religion. Here, both religionists and atheists are to blame for their denial, for any talk about religion cannot result in understanding without historical and social contexts being understood. This is such a big conversation that I’ll leave it for another time but I will direct you to a most illuminating talk that attempts to do this which you can pull up on YouTube if you input into the search field, “Tom Price The Role of Religion”. Or you can click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXUh_Pdro9U
All in all, denial serves no practical purpose. It is a blind spot. A weakness. It enables the avaricious to seduce the unsuspecting. For them, it’s as easy as giving candy to a baby. And look at all you’ve been given. Has it been worth it? Our education is at or near the bottom of industrialize nations. Our health care gets the same low marks. Our divorce rate is the highest it’s ever been. The gap between the poor and the rich is higher than any country in the world! So, when the bottom of our economy falls out, what are your plans? What can you do now to burn away the veil of denial and face the future?
Famous meta-historian Will Durant wrote: “So I should say that civilizations begin with religion and stoicism: they end with skepticism and unbelief, and the undisciplined pursuit of individual pleasure.”