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Cruise Control

I do get it. Honestly, I do. I understand why people are so apathetic about what’s going on around them. We are under assault from every direction; from employers who marginalize their workforce and send jobs overseas, or eliminate them altogether for the sake of the bottom line to bankers who want every penny we own and will find ways of taking them from us, using credit cards and mortgages as tools.

Life is indeed a bitch, and getting bitchier by the day. What news we get is usually bad as unemployment rises, war rages and murder and mayhem rule the streets. Even our kids are not only targets of predators they’ve become predators themselves, shooting up their schools or beating up and bullying their classmates.

It’s easy to put yourself on cruise control and find ways to numb yourself out. You don’t have to think about the unpleasant things that way. Watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing games on Wii, texting your friends…these things are nice and certainly necessary to keeping our sanity but in the end they are distractions which is what they were meant to be all along.

The Romans provided their citizens with bread and circuses to keep the mob happy and docile; without those distractions they might have realized that their government was totally corrupt and the divide between the haves and have-nots was widening and the haves were few in number. Hmmm, does that sound familiar?

Governments live in perpetual fear that their citizens will find out what they’re up to and get REALLY steamed. Nearly every civilized country as had some kind of uprising in which the sitting government was overthrown by an angry mob, often with the most egregious and visible members of the government being shortened by a head as a result.

Revolutions are a lot harder to undertake these days, with electronic surveillance, satellite imaging and the ability for law enforcement to essentially suspend the constitution by naming anyone who disagrees with government policy a terrorist (not that it’s happened here, but the potential is there). However, a revolution even in an industrialized country isn’t beyond the realm of possibility if the citizens got angry enough and if the armed forces that are mostly made up of the working class chose to support them. The sheer numbers are not in favor of the very rich and powerful.

What is in favor of the rich and powerful are a couple of things – fear and apathy. People are scared to lose what they have, as little as it may be. However, apathy can be far more powerful; allow people a certain amount of comforts and they’re pretty much satisfied as long as the Internet is up and the TV still works. If the media makes the issues of the day so confusing and difficult to keep tabs on, so much the better; people will tend to ignore things that they don’t understand.

In general, the average citizen of most countries is woefully ignorant of current events. I would be surprised if one person in ten could name their local, state and federal representatives. Fewer still are aware of the voting records of those representatives. Chances are once an election with all its soundbite rhetoric is over most people become blissfully unaware of what their elected officials are doing, or the ramifications of their actions. We only hear the big button-pushing phrases; “raise taxes,” “abortion,” “gay marriage” and whatever else is making the rounds on the talk shows. What our officials actually do about even these issues generally passes unnoticed. However, people are generally very aware when a congressman, MP or representative gets caught with their hand (or penis) in the cookie jar. People are even more aware when an actor, pop star or celebrity gets into trouble. Murder cases and sex scandals also grab our attention.

The news media plays into that. The old “if it bleeds, it leads” adage was never more true than it is today. The media has always had a vested interest in selling advertising, but the bottom line is way more important now. Newspapers and broadcast stations are owned by large corporations now rather than men like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Their allegiance is more to the bottom line than it is to keeping the public informed. The days of the media acting as a watchdog are essentially over; that function has been taken over by Internet blogs and political sites.

It’s not impossible to stay informed and there are plenty of places to find out what’s happening in the world on the Internet. The trouble with that is that a very high percentage of the information on the Internet is bogus; while there are libel laws that can be enforced, quite frankly there is literally no way to police the truth about what is published here. Internet journalism isn’t held to the same standards that print and broadcast journalism is held to; bloggers and internet journalists will report rumor and/or opinion as fact. That’s why you’ll hear people spouting the most ridiculous drivel and cry “I read it on the Internet.” Even respected news agencies have picked up information from the Internet that turned out to be without basis.

So take things you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. Most of what you read is either opinion (as it is on this blog) or blathering (which it often is on this blog) or simply someone with an agenda who will say anything to promote it, even if it’s something patently false (not on this blog).

So we operate on cruise control, staring straight ahead while things go on to either side of us and behind us that affect our daily lives but that we are completely unaware of. The mechanisms that caused this economic downturn were painfully evident; industry watchdogs were predicting disaster and chaos years before the meltdown occurred but nobody listened because it was easier not to. Anything having to do with finance is confusing and boring; it’s much easier to watch the latest episode of “The Office” than to watch the news. People are far more aware of what Dwight Schrute is up to than what their political representatives are doing.

I do understand why this is. Believe me, I spend a lot of time doing the same sorts of things and until recently I was just as ignorant about my representatives as everyone else is. However, as things began to fall apart, I began to take an interest. Why weren’t politicians protecting their constituents? Why were things allowed to get so far? Why are our tax dollars being spent to bail out corporations who then give that money to their executives as bonuses? Why are my taxes so high? Why are services being cut back? Why do I know more about the sex life of our politicians than their voting record?

All legitimate questions that I’m still trying to answer. However, taking an interest can be very draining and very frustrating. It takes a lot of time and energy to stay informed; after working hard all day, the last thing I want to do is work more simply to find information about what my congressman is up to. A lot of times, I just retire to my movie websites or turn on the boob tube. It’s so much easier on the psyche.

The problem with cruise control is that sooner or later you run into a traffic jam and then you need to hit the brakes. If you aren’t paying attention, you’re going to crash into something. I’m not advocating that you give up blowing off steam entirely – we’ll have a nation of stressed out zombies having coronaries and aneurisms left and right that way. I’m just saying that rather than spending all your free time doing it that you spend at least a small percentage – say, 10% – keeping track of what your elected officials are up to. We can’t count on the media to keep an eye on them any longer, so we’ll have to do it ourselves.

For my part, I much prefer flirting to fact-finding but both have to get done. The greedy and the power-hungry want us to be uninformed. That way they can continue to erode the constitution and abridge our freedoms. Information is power and the more we have of one, the more we get of the other. It is in our own best self-interest to keep an eye on things and at least have some idea of what’s happening in the world around us, even if it is boring and confusing. That’s the only way we’re going to retain the things we have – and the freedoms we cherish.


5 Responses

  1. Carlos, we as a nation have been forced into third world conditions. I would not have thought that the politicians that we empower would abuse their power and neglect the people they serve. It has gotten balatent lately. I believe, what we are experiencing now ,is a result of the past actions done previously by our politicians. It was a set up to have President Obama in office to say ” Look, black men are not equipped to lead period”. Corporations are stealing the money that was allocated to help ,we the people. It seems that greed is and has been the motivating factor in our elected officials eyes. We are still racially divided. The recent immigrants to this country are doing better than those who were born here. It is easier for the newly arrived immigrant to get the social services and entitlements that we the people have worked years for. It is a lot. I am thankful that Jerry Brown is our newly elected governor in California. I am happy with the newly elected team. Arnold raped California and divided it up among the Russians, Chinese and Germans. Because of the political up heavels, I am inspired to go to law school. Just figuring out the finances for school now. In the mean time lots of news is being watched. Lots of prayers prayed.

    • I admire you and applaud you for taking the initiative to go to law school and hopefully, make a positive difference when you graduate. The very best of luck to you in your endeavor and I hope that more people like you will take action instead of wallow in apathy.

  2. Our great minds think alike. This is the first time this thought is surfacing for me and here I see it mirrored in you, that a civilized country could reach a point where nothing is left but to turn against the takers. Yet that is only natural as history has shown us. When you take too much away so that there is nothing left to lose, the people turn upon the takers. Let them eat cake doesn’t work. I applaud your encouragement to become involved in observing what our elected officials are doing.

  3. Thank you Carlos for so eloquently describing the state of our country. I am not passionate about politics, and in fact, have lived much of my life on cruise control. But I am sincerely dismayed at the comments displayed on facebook and other sites that are extremely one sided. There is nothing wrong with a person’s opinion (in fact I encourage the expression of opinion), but I as sad to say that most folks’ opinion is uneducated. People tend to lean one way or the other without investigating what the other side has to say, or what is, in fact, truth. You are absolutely right that it takes effort on our part to know what is going on, but I, for one, would like to be able to leave a better America for my grandchildren. Thanks for your blog!

  4. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who especially knows what they’re talking about on the internet. You conveniently know how to bring an issue to light and make it comprehensive. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

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