This isn’t about sadness or depression or anything like that.
It’s about imagining how others live.
Have you ever sped down a highway in the evening, just past sundown? Noticed the shapes of houses sitting on hills and along dusty roads off in the distance?
Or have you driven through an unfamiliar small town passing house after house, each some replica of the next, although each distinct enough with its own pattern of fence, porch, color, tree ornamentation makes it semi-unique?
The lights are on in this houses.
It’s near dinner time.
And your mind begins to imagine what life is like inside that house. Who lives there? What do they do for a living? Are their children or grandparents? Are they troubled with finances or health issues? What must their life be like?
You’re not from there. You’re going from somewhere to somewhere else.
And sometimes, it looks depressing to be there. Sometimes it seems like the most gawd-awful life that must be lived there.
And you can’t imagine standing it.
And suddenly you breath deeply and you realize how darn lucky you are to “not be them”. Even though you know nothing about “them”. You just assume that their lives must be sad and awful because you find the surroundings not conducive to whatever you think of as a “good” life.
It’s too out-in-the-middle of nowhere. It’s too run down. It’s too cold, or not green enough, or to loud, or too quiet. It’s too something for YOU.
And you shudder at their mean little lives.
Except, as I say again, you don’t know.
It’s perhaps one of the saddest things I think about, when I think about humans.
I recently heard, I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson suggest that what made us special in all of evolution is that we compare stuff. That ability to “judge” or compare led us to strive for improvements I guess. While the dinosaurs nestled into their perfect environment, grabbing each genetic mutation that made their “fit” more comfortable, we seem to be the ones who simply altered the environment to suit ourselves.
That makes us more adaptable no doubt. The dinosaurs were powerless to respond to the comet that hit their world and changed their environment drastically. The mammals, especially the burrowing sorts fared better.
But in our comparing nature, it seems that we like to compare ourselves to each other. And that may not be such a good thing.
Let’s face it, much of politics is driven by our comparisons, real or imagined. And plenty of highly priced magicians of public opinion are engaged in efforts to manipulate that comparison.
It seems that the average person can relax and feel satisfied as long as she can point to some “others” as far worse off. And of course the far worse off is arrived at by lack of whatever YOU have that makes you the relative success.
How else do we explain the relative popularity of shows like “Moonshiners”, “Swamp Hunters”, “Ax Men” with their whole slew of vaguely educated, rough men and women who live on the fringes and manage to “make do”. We love us some Honey Boo Boo, and her family of misbegots. We relish our pageant babies and their silly and sick mothers, (at least I’m a better mother than her!) We eat up this garbage because they make us feel like decent successful people by comparison.
The rich tell us that we are the salt of the earth, while they lie to us with half-truths and pieces of fact, trusting that we are so ill-informed and so incurious to tell the difference, that fact and fiction wrapped in self-satisfying ribbons of “it’s not your fault, but THEIRS” that you life feels so stinkin’ worthless. If you watch you kids not doing any better than you did, then it’s not your fault, it’s THEIR fault. “Their’ is merely adapted to whatever group is currently available to be blamed.
A Latino man shoots some people at Ford Hood before killing himself, and I will assure that that from it the NRA will tell us we need more guns and the Tea People will inform us that our border security is to blame. Of course all that is untrue, but the quivering masses of “my life sucks” will eat it up and blame THEM.
We will feel better, because we have chosen to believe that others have it worse. Indeed others do have it worse. But it’s only by mere luck that we aren’t in their shoes and they in ours. We are not so much smarter or industrious as they. In fact they may well trump us on both those issues. We were lucky or not in having parents who could afford to support our four + glorious years in higher education finding our niche from which we could, as our personality led us, drive ourselves to financial nirvana, or be fairly lazy and still manage to make a decent living.
We got lucky in who we married perhaps, which led to unexpected riches (the family farm is worth a whole lot of dough on the market as prime farm land), or not. The family hardware store might turn out to be nothing in the face of the new Wal-Mart down the street. It’s pretty much a crap shoot ya see.
We did or did not have a kid with disabilities. We did or did not get sick; or maimed or not in theaters of war. The company upon which everybody’s job depended, did or did not belly up, or move to cheaper labor pastures.
Yet we still find it useful to compare our lives to others of which we know nothing.
It’s just easier.
It’s easier than digging through the pile of manure in our head and seeing if there is anything there worth keeping as human.
It’s easier when the bills need to be paid, and that second job may be lost, and the kid needs braces.
And the people who trade on stirring the pot of hate are happy that we are so distracted with trying to exist, that we will account ourselves good citizens if we listen vaguely for thirty-minutes every day while stirring the spaghetti, and pick up the phrases designed to resonate and be easy to remember.
2ND AMENDMENT RIGHTS!
PLAYING THE RACE CARD!
And I watch Nebraska, and I watched Medora, and I find myself thinking, “God how depressing to live THERE.” And I am doing the evolutionary thing I guess. But I am so wrong to do so. We are so wrong to do so.