There’s a ground
In my head, I’m endlessly replaying the scene in Golden Child where Eddie Murphy has to carry the glass of water through the dark obstacle course. He’s walking on the ends of long poles, and he can’t see the ground.
He gets it in his head that it’s a bottomless pit (but then what do the poles stand on?). He says, “Oh, there’s a ground.” Can’t fool me, right? No place is groundless. By the time he’s done, though, he’s sure it’s true: In fact, there is no ground.
(So what do the poles stand on?)
But he was right the first time. There is a ground.
We can delude ourselves about reality for a while. In the end, though, reality is what it is, to paraphrase the battle-cry of Generation X. You can huddle in the dark and mumble that it’s all going to be fine and in the end, it will or it won’t be fine, and that’s not up to you.
People want to believe all manner of false things. Bigfoot and Nessie and UFOs, for example. There is a ground here. There is a real reality. In the end, though, you don’t collide with it. The Bigfoot believer will never face concrete proof of the absence of a gigantic hominid that for some reason never leaves DNA or scat or hair or footprints that aren’t identical to a black bear slipping in mud. That is never clearly and unambiguously photographed despite everyone on Earth having a camera in their hand during every waking moment.
You can go on believing some kinds of delusions because you never actually touch the ground.
God. Psychics. Astrology. Tarot cards. Crystals.
People rationalize all sorts of stuff. The rationalizing you have to do to keep taking religion seriously is exactly the rationalizing you have to do to believe in authoritarian populists.
That’s the trouble. Not that religion is in itself a harm, but that it trains people to overlook the fact that the poles rest on something solid; that there is in fact a ground.
Then there are untruths that do get tested.
We’re seeing a rash of COVID-denying, mask-mocking Republicans diagnosed with (and in some cases dying from) COVID-19. We’re seeing states with Republican “leadership” where they deny the virus and spread the folie-a-deux that’s it’s a Democrat hoax, in those states the spread of unchecked Coronavirus is, well, unchecked. The more Republican your leadership, the more people die. Literally. Republicans are literally bad for your health.
The climate is changing and we’re having to confront that. Fewer people believe it’s a hoax than at the mid-decade peak of denialism, because we see the effects of global warming in our own front yards. There’s a reality, and that reality countermands the delusions we wish to believe in.
Tax cuts for the wealthy. The Kansas no-corporate-tax experiment. Blue Lives Matter. T**** will turn reasonable on us any second. The solution to the gun problem is more guns. Hydroxychloroquine is a safe and efficacious treatment for Coronavirus because the exorcist with an MD said so from the pulpit.
These delusions are directly making the world worse around us in real time. I’ve heard talk of the collapse of American society, and that might be still a few inches from reality. Let’s call it propaganda. But I’m willing to revise that estimate as this mad scene continues to unfold around us.
T**** is in real electoral trouble. All he has in the can right now is dirty tricks. The polls have him losing in a historic landslide and taking a bunch of Red team senators with him. The reason isn’t people getting more reasonable. They’re not tired of his rhetoric and gameplaying. People still enjoy winning arguments and feeling right. It’s just that they’re wrong.
At the end of the day, we need to put food on the table. We see our relatives dying of coronavirus. We see that the eviction notice is coming any day and our economic confidence wasn’t justified. We see the rich getting richer while our diabetes medicine quadruples in cost. We see our health care premiums jacking up while we still can’t afford to see the doctor.
The rhetoric doesn’t match the reality and we can see it with our own eyes.
In the end believing in non-falsifiable stuff is often of little consequence. So you believe in a literal Heaven? Well, if you’re right, you’ll get proof; when you’re wrong, you won’t be around to be disappointed.
But there is a ground. We can’t always see it, but we can know about it. We have the tools of logic and science, observation, repetition, intellectual honesty and plain old honesty. These are the pillars on which we stand, and they themselves stand on something: The ground.