The Image/Reality Conflict

In The Outline of History (1920), H.G. Wells stated, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”  True as that may be or may have been, I’m getting the feeling that at present we’re seeing a race between “image” and reality.

Regardless of rhetoric and belief, walls seldom work at keeping people in or out, and when they do work, it takes enormous effort and creates horrible tragedies… and in a short time, any wall fails.  History has shown this time and again.  That’s reality, but for the past month we’ve seen a political battle between the image of the wall as a security blanket and the reality of its impracticality.

Study after study has shown that societies work far better, are more stable, and progress more when economic inequality is lessened in a society, particularly the gap between the poorest and the very richest members of a society.  History has also shown that absolute income leveling does not work, and that functional societies need income gradients based on ability and effort.  Yet we have a world where the 26 richest men in the world [and they’re all men] control as much wealth as the poorest 48% (or 3.7 billion people), and even in the United States, the top one percent controls 40% of all the wealth, and it’s become harder and harder for people to move up from the income level of their parents, or, if they’re born rich, easier to stay rich than at any time in over a century, essentially since the time of the Robber Barons.  Yet all too many Americans hold to the image that government hinders income mobility, when in fact government law and policies over the last thirty years have largely benefited the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  That’s the sad reality.

Then there’s the image of social media “bringing people together,” but if social media actually does that, then why do people feel more isolated than ever, and why are those individuals most addicted to social media the ones who feel the most isolated.  Once again, the image seems to be triumphing over reality.

Even as Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster and faster, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, too many people hold to the image that the world is too vast for “mere” human activity to play any significant part in the ongoing global warming. And deniers cite a mere handful of scientists who deny global warming over the 99% who cite human activities as a significant cause. 

The United States is a far safer place for children than it’s ever been, yet American parents are more fearful for their children’s safety than ever before, largely because the media focuses on every sensational adverse event that happens to a child. In the same vein, millions of parents don’t have their children vaccinated, even when years of statistics show that the side-effects of vaccination are minuscule compared to the side-effects of the illnesses those vaccines prevent.  These parents either don’t know or ignore the fact that measles and whooping cough used to kill thousands of children annually, or that measles largely wiped out several Native American tribes and a huge percentage of Hawaiian islanders.

We have a President who has made thousands of false statements over the past two years, and yet something like 38% of the people still believe him.

So why do images grasp so many of us so firmly that we cannot see reality?

5 thoughts on “The Image/Reality Conflict”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    If you subsidize something, you get more of it.

    Subsidize poverty, and you make it bearable – and chronic; you do NOT eliminate it.

    Wealth is not zero-sum; more productivity means more total wealth. OF COURSE the rich will get most of that (and the more complex tax law is, the bigger their advantage, since they can afford considerable resources to pay as little as possible), but others will get some too. Redistribution is NOT the answer; the bottom 50% or so don’t even pay income tax (no “skin in the game”), so there’s arguably too much redistribution already.

    Darwin thins the herd; let him do his job. Or help someone _privately_ if you prefer, but don’t institutionalize the replacement of real survival skills with gaming the system.

    At least switch to a modified flat tax – still (disgustingly) progressive, but it would eliminate the rich folks’ gaming the system. But also phase out all the handouts; no reason the useless should get a pass on their gaming. (Speaking of which, get rid of state lotteries!)

    1. First, the bottom fifty percent do pay taxes. They pay sales taxes, and most of them pay Social Security/Medicare taxes. Second, if you add income taxes to those whose incomes are below the poverty level, you’re not only making it harder for them to survive, you’re also discouraging them from working more. Third, the greatest economic growth and overall economic health in the U.S. took place when the highest marginal income tax rates were far higher than they are now. Fourth, you’re right in one respect. We’re now subsidizing the greedy rich, and that’s just making them greedier. Stripped of all the accounting chicanery, corporate profit rates are at an all time high, as are CEO salaries. Fifth, in real terms, working class wages are lower than a generation ago, and that means, in a consumer economy, people have less money to buy things and keep the economy going. One reason why the stock market doesn’t reflect this is because share buy-backs have inflated the prices of corporate stocks.

      Like I said… you’re ignoring history and reality.

  2. Frank says:

    Throughout my career, I have noted a “type” of manager (middle management up through executive level) that spends most of their time on managing “perceptions” of what is happening, instead of managing what is actually happening. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon, but it seems to be on the increase. I believe that your “images” are a component of managing perceptions…or possibly vice versa.

    I think most of us severely underestimated Mr. Trump’s abilities in this area…I believe he is quite the master of managing perceptions and of creating an image of what he wants you to see. And, I think that the tool of managing perceptions is augmented with the tactic of playing on people’s fears and their hatred of other “groups,” be they religions, national origin, political leanings, etc. This is an old tactic, also, but I wonder when/where/who has used these tactics in the past as successfully?

    You mentioned social media, but the explosion of all media, and the present speed of information, is somewhat new, and how does this play into the formula?

    One of the worst effects that all this has is that we are talking about it instead of trying to find the answer to some of these issues. I understand that you can’t solve a problem that you can’t identify…but maybe that is part of the motivation.

    Food for thought…almost unpalatable, but that may be the point.

  3. Michael says:

    The answer isn’t to tax the rich more but to remove the many regulations that increase the difficulty of starting your own business and that protect large companies.
    We had a case in TX where a woman was earning money braiding hair. The state stepped in and said she had to meet all of the barber shop and hair salon regulations.

    She sued and won but it cost her time and money to do so. Her ability wasn’t hampered directly by the rich but by the state at the behest of the rich.

    Right now, at this time, there are ample opportunities for those less fortunate to move up to the middle and upper middle classes.
    There are extreme shortages in the blue collar crafts, e.g., welders, electricians, plumbers, machinists, instrument techs, pipe fitters, planners, etc.
    Those are high paying jobs with longevity and several will allow one to start their own service businesses. As an example, 3 years ago in Houston, welders were be paid $50/hr with per diem and overtime was paid at 2x instead of 1.5x. Companies were having trouble keeping them because they were finding better offers.
    There are opportunities out there and the fed, state, and city governments need to direct people toward those opportunities instead of blocking the path.

    1. There’s no single answer to the income and opportunity gap. Yes, getting rid of unnecessary licensing and permit requirements would help, but most of those requirements were created at the behest of other businesses to make their business easier. Until poorer people have more income, and particularly health care, or can organize into a unified force, the politicians and bureaucrats will continue to listen to those with the money. It’s all well and good to come up theoretical fixes, but one thing I learned in almost twenty years in Washington, D.C., is that you have to have to have votes to make changes, and the more sweeping the changes, the more votes you need. Or you need a huge amount of money to buy those votes, as witness the pharmaceutical lobby.

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