Trying to wrap my head around the immensity of the problem

And how do you argue with a forest?

I wrote this as a reply to a comment — a thoughtful comment by Bud, explaining his view on this previous post — and it was so long that I decided to turn it into a separate post.

Also, it moved me toward a larger subject, a realization that’s been dawning on me for some time. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but it’s really hard to explain, so I’ll just take a step or two toward it by posting the comment…

I’m still not that interested in Shane Beamer and whether he’s worth all that money. If you accept that society values football enough for him to be able to make that much, then why shouldn’t he?

My point is, should society value football that much? I say no. Others obviously disagree.

Lately, I’ve found myself approaching a lot of things in a new way. Well, not entirely new: I guess I’ve started taking my usual forest-over-the-trees approach to a new level.

I’ve started realizing more fully that so many problems we have are not because of this person or that program or whatever. People tend to think that if you just replace the person, or reform the program, everything is fixed.

The problems are because of much broader, more complicated phenomena that are hard to understand, much less do anything about.

The madness over football is one of those things.

But to show you how my thinking goes, let’s take another example: Trumpism.

I’ve said from the start that as thoroughly obnoxious as he is, Donald John Trump is not the problem. He’s just the jerk who showed up at the right moment to take advantage of the real problem — the mass insanity in the electorate that would cause millions of voters to do something that the American electorate would nave have done before, which is even consider someone as useless and unsuitable as Trump.

I remember the America that would have laughed him off the stage. Suddenly (and yes, folks, you can point to all sorts of things that led us here — racism, Reaganism, Social Darwinism, the Tea Party, etc. — but while it almost happened in 2012, it didn’t fully happen until 2016), we are the kind of country that would actually consider electing such a grossly inappropriate person as president.

Anyway, this — that the problem isn’t Trump, but the sickness that caused people to respond favorably to him — was fairly evident from the start, but it’s become much, much more so. That’s because we’ve watched Trump himself decline in influence in recent months — not that he’s gone, but he’s clearly faded a bit — but the madness continue, as people like DeSantis have worked hard to replace him, and a bunch of yahoos have just taken over the House.

Aliens could drop down tomorrow and carry Trump away — why they would want him I don’t know, but bear with me — and the problem would still be here.

And increasingly, I’ve realized that the country won’t be sane and well again until millions of people wake up and realize they’ve been on the wrong course.

“Good luck with that!” you say, and you’re right. It’s a depressing way of looking at things, because I don’t know how to achieve such a thing. His supporters will no more pay attention to the mountains of evidence that their hero caused what happened on Jan. 6 than football fans will stop and think maybe they should stop being so crazy about a game that causes so much brain damage.

I don’t have a program for fixing it. It’s taken me this long just to sorta kinda start understanding the problem — at least, understanding it here and there, around the edges, and vaguely intuiting the immensity of the whole…

Anyway, that was the comment. I’ll return to the subject soon. And if you think that was crazy, wait until you see how this line of thinking applies to… never mind, I’ll tell you later…

9 thoughts on “Trying to wrap my head around the immensity of the problem

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and before someone says, “Oh here he goes telling us what an immense brain he has, and how deeply he perceives things, when the only thing immense about him is his ego…”

    But read it again. As I added to that comment in a separate comment, “And when I say ‘vaguely,’ I mean it. If I understood it more fully and clearly, I’d probably be able to explain it better…”

    I mean, it’s not very impressive to say, “Hey, I’ve got this brilliant idea,” and not be able to express it better.

    That said, if I ever manage to express it clearly, you’ll wonder why I bothered. Because what are we gonna do about it? I dunno. I’ll think about that later…

  2. Bill

    Would an arrow straight and narrow
    On second sight slightly bent
    Still be sent
    To a target overcrowded
    If to only eliminate one
    Would it miss and be gone
    And collaborate no longer
    With collaborators as well
    As it fell?

    How in a crowd could I blend in
    And where would I go?
    How can a plumb be perfected
    And how would you know?

    With the brightest star untraceable
    In absentia would all righteous
    Brothers know?

    And if then there was a camera flash
    And as instantly as it came it was gone
    Did it go
    With a cartoon-like explosion
    Of a prop and a virtual
    Demolition zone?

    How in a crowd could I blend in
    And where would I go?
    How can a plumb be perfected
    And how would you know?

    How can a plumb be for all time
    Still completely perfect?
    I sit around always thinking
    About how?

  3. Doug T

    In 1972, George Wallace won 5 states’ Dem primaries including Maryland and Michigan. In 1968 he won the popular vote of 5 states running as an independent. Wallace, Buchanan, Trump, all gave voice to that basket of deplorables. Jesse Helms, Lester Madddox, William Workman, and on and on. A good chunk of the electorate feel disenfranchised and left out.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep. But back then we were a sane country, and there was no real danger of his being elected — or capturing a major-party nomination.

      Over the years, there have been a number of similar candidates who HAVE managed to affect the race, or act as spoilers — after all, one can argue that Ralph Nader elected George W. Bush president in 2000.

      And in 1992, Pat Buchanan had a big effect on the Republican Party — one of lasting effect, unfortunately. But he was never going to be the nominee, in 1992.

      We used to have this sensible center of gravity in our electorate that didn’t do away entirely with the ability of such people to affect politics, but prevented them from getting anywhere near the White House, thank God.

      That’s gone now. And yes, as I keep saying, the factors that caused this to happen were building up over a long period of time. With issues such as anti-immigrant fervor, the problem had been out there, to varying degrees, for roughly two centuries.

      But such things didn’t reach the tipping point until 2016. The change at that point was dramatic…

  4. bud

    You mentioned people’s obsession with football and Trump. I’ll add a third one – military and war stuff. Why people constantly go on and on about ways of killing people. And we can’t even characterize it honestly. Why in heavens name do we refer to the military as national “defense”? I find that expression very off putting.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, I’ll agree with you there. It’s kind of anachronistic. No, not anachronistic, exactly. Although you could say that in terms of the fact that we haven’t had to engage in actual defense against a foreign invasion since 1814. Unless you count the Cuban Missile Crisis, I suppose — and that was nothing like when the Brits burned Washington.

      It’s simply not the right word, for a country that was blessed from the beginning by those two oceans. The invasion of the United States has always been an impractical proposition.

      For the United States, the protection of our interests and values has always been a matter of projecting power when necessary. That’s certainly what the 20th century was about — and the whole world would be far worse off if we hadn’t been there. Oh, we can quibble and say — as George Will reasonably said in a column today — that the Soviets had the war against the Nazis pretty much won before D-Day. But if we hadn’t been there, we’d probably have been dealing with a Western Europe dominated by Stalin after 1945. You know, like eastern Europe.

      But it was ever thus. Even before those British invaders hit Washington in 1814, American isolationists had had to come to terms with the fact that they had to deal with such threats as the Barbary pirates. So the U.S. Navy was born.

      Today, it’s critically important to make sure Putin’s naked aggression doesn’t succeed. This country is doing absolutely everything it can to avoid getting involved directly — in a boots-on-the-ground sense — in a fight with the Russians. Thank God. Because we definitely don’t want that. So we need to combine aid — of the Lend-Lease variety — with diplomacy. I’ve been persuaded this morning (by this WashPost editorial, and by the aforementioned Will column) that we really need to get the Germans to let Kyiv have some of those Leopard 2 tanks.

      So is the term for that “defense.” Yes, just not in a simple sense that everyone easily understand. If I can think of a better word, I’ll get back to you on it…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      As to your analogy. I assume you’re talking about me on the “military and war” stuff, simply because I acknowledge that military force is occasionally — but seldom — a part of the combination of ways to respond to a problem.

      Your comparison would make sense if you saw me spending the money the way I noted that football fans spend on their obsessions:

      But MY point is that the fact that football IS such a big frickin’ deal, with so many people SO excited about it and willing to shell out SO much money for tickets and parking spaces and food and beer for tailgating and little flags to go on their garnet-and-black SUVs, and the extra gas to run their SUVs’ engines for an hour creeping along in the traffic to the game, and their wardrobe of special clothing they wear on game days, and the extra-huge TV to watch the games when they can’t be there, yadda-yadda…

      Of course, there ARE people who do that — such as the yahoos who just HAVE TO own AR-15s, and walk around carrying them while wearing their camo gear. Which is just embarrassing. Grown men just SO desperate to play soldier. Which is one reason we should bring back the draft. Give all these guys two years in the Army, and it would satisfy their fascination. They’d do their time, serve their country, and they’d have the nonsense knocked out of them. The drill instructors would do a great job of taking the romantic delusions out of the experience within the first few weeks…

  5. Ken

    This is more than a matter of a “prolific billion dollar entertainment business.” And those who speak of “what the market will bear” are complacent disciples of blind market ideology, not thinking practitioners of moral reasoning.

    Just this week, while sitting in an airport waiting area, I overheard a woman tell her lady friends how she and her husband were planning on listing their second home on Vrbo for $1000 a night. “Wow! That’s $7000 a week! That’s great!” one of the other ladies exclaimed. What she should’ve asked instead was, “Don’t you think that’s kind of excessive?” Or “What do you think the public share of your windfall should be?” A response like that would be the more Christian one. After all, Christians once condemned, on moral grounds, usury, excess display of wealth, luxury and extravagance, or other forms of greed. Yes, the marketplace may be millennia old, but it was never taken for the moral compass it is in many circles nowadays.

    So, for those who believe that a person should be free to do pretty much whatever they like with their property, I would submit that it’s precisely that attitude that creates the problem. I would remind you of the old moral adage that “With ownership comes responsibility” And the responsibility referred to is the responsibility to the larger community’s claims on the greater good.

    And on that point, yes, “this person or that program” (or policy) can very much matter.

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