Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's A Harsh World After All

I can't deny that I have loved living in an affluent society. (1) It has truly been a blessing. But I can also see how affluence has skewed my vision and even blinded our society as a whole. We forget that this blessing is not normal in the wider view of history but rather is a deviation from normal. The reality that we live in an inherently harsh world in fact clashes with our life long experience. This experience sets us up for what is called a "Normalcy Bias". A Normalcy Bias is a state of mind that, according to Wikipedia, causes us to assume that "since a disaster never has occurred... it never will". This nothing-really-bad-can-or-ever-will-happen state of mind blinds us to the reality that we actually live in a very harsh world; a world that is way more hostile to our utopian desires than we can comprehend. (2)

While most, it should be safe to assume, have a reasonable understanding of the harsh realities of natural disasters, these disasters are quite tame when compared to the harsher realities of the political and economic calamities brought on by man. Natural disasters brought us building codes for constructing dwellings that could withstand its ire which mitigate the human tole of its wrath. But with all the seemingly randomness of nature's furry, and the unfathomable power it unleashes, its randomness actually becomes our ally for it is indifferent in its furry. Not so with the furry of man. Nature therefore, as it turns out, can't hold a candle to the destruction and suffering brought to bear against man by man.

Another tenet of normalcy bias, according to whoever the writer was on Wikipedia, is: "People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation." It is difficult for anyone who does not participate in an affluent society to take this perspective.

So what does this mean? It means that we can go about our lives interpreting the economic facts that our government is annually spending deficit amounts that are beyond the grasp of the human mind and, in a spiritual sense, that we can institutionalize then teach all our children the idea that there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong and that all our lives are the result of random chance and are ultimately meaningless in the most optimistic way possible.

But the reality that we live in a harsh world will not be thwarted forever. Creating "money" out of thin air to built a wall between action and consequence will work only for a little while, but it will have its long term ramifications, and those ramifications will demonstrate the forgotten reality that we do in fact live in a world inherently harsh to our adolescent ideas of a utopian existence.


1. Emphasis on "in" an affluent society; and by this I mean Western Society generally and American Society specifically. I am not claiming to be affluent myself, at least not according to the American understanding of that term, but I am able to realize that on a global scale, even in light of all the limitations placed upon me by my economic condition, that I do live an affluent life; and I do so along with the great majority of other citizens of this society.

2. I am a harsh critic of "utopian desires", but still understand all people's, including my own, desire of a utopian existence. The desire is not, in my opinion, the problem, but rather the willy nilly willingness to go on destructive and rage based rampages in pursuit of some future unrealistic and ever elusive state of being.


Stan said...

"Creating 'money' out of thin air ..."

Reminded me of a "letter to the editor" I recently saw:

"I object and take exception to everyone saying that Obama and Congress are spending money like a drunken sailor. As a former drunken sailor, I quit when I ran out of money."

christian soldier said...

LOVED the sneaky football play!

we are living on the edge of aren't we---

Craig and Heather said...

Interesting article, Dan.

I've not come across the term "normalcy bias" before, but it seems to make sense. Kind of like the old "out of sight, out of mind" adage. If it doesn't directly affect *me*, it must not be a reality.

I am a harsh critic of "utopian desires", but still understand all people's, including my own, desire of a utopian existence.

I'm glad you included this, and agree wholeheartedly. Since the fall, it appears man has had an awareness that something is terribly "wrong" and has been trying to recreate Eden for himself in this temporal realm.

Even those who know that we cannot create a true utopian society long for that day when Christ returns and sets everything right.


Dan said...


Thanks, I laughed so hard when I saw that.


I once heard RC Sproul Jr. say "We mistake what we experience for what is normal, then we mistake what is normal for what is right". I loved this. As a student of history one of the things I have noticed is that all major historic events seem to have in common the refusal to believe that such an event could happen.

Also, Ditto on recreating Eden. Sadly this is attempted with what is euphemistically called "non-perfect" human beings. The failure to recognize that we are all much worse off than simply lacking perfection dooms all our attempts for such an end. Interestingly again, this anomaly of affluence that we are now experiencing is the result of the long ago embrace of the truth of our depravity. Our only goal as spelled out in the constitution: "to establish a more perfect Union" is of coarse actually achievable. This is opposed to our current collective intolerance of imperfection; all the while ignoring that the world and indeed our very nature wars against any other reality.