Monday, July 22, 2013

Dear Sir or Madam, Please do not be a gun crime victim

With every passing day, what passes for reality comes more to resemble a dream world, where the nonsensical is normal, scenes shift instantaneously, and the characters are people you know in waking life but behave like they never actually would.

Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club describes the latest (well, after a day it is surely no longer the latest) example of our public officials chasing their own tails and announcing that they're about to meet their goal. Like so many of his brief essays, "Lying as a Way of Life" is a miniature classic of calling out humbug.
Society is increasingly unable to solve its pressing problems not for lack of a solution or resources, but primarily from an unshakable determination not to face politically inconvenient facts.  Take for example, Chicago’s new crime-fighting strategy. “Chicago police are going to hand deliver letters to people suspected of committing or being victims of gun crimes in an effort to stem violence in the city, according to a new report.”

This is a triumph of PR over policy, fiction over reality and madness over sanity. Yet all the same everyone will sign up to the letter scheme like it might actually work even though they know it hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell.  
The strategy is not to find actual solutions to social problems -- that would put too many nanny state pod people out of work -- but to strike poses of undertaking bold initiatives. Almost essential to the process is upbeat, stirring nomenclature. "No Child Left Behind." "Head Start." "Taking a Bite out of Crime." "A National Dialogue on Gum Disease."

Making real progress invariably entails demanding responsibility, weeding out incompetence, refusing the path of least resistance, and other measures that are bound to be unpopular with many. No -- unpopular is yesterday's language. Today the danger is offending, especially offending members of Certified Victim Groups™ who may not know much, but know how to game the system with displays of reflexive outrage.
No one’s interested in fixing anything. It’s more lucrative to lie, cheat and steal. But not until the public rediscovers the truth and the facts once again  can the slightest progress be made made towards fixing anything. Yes, money is short. But far more importantly, sanity is in even shorter supply.  
Of course there is nothing new about being economical with the truth. That's part of human nature. But where it used to be confined to reservations like advertising, salesmanship, and campaign promises, there was a widely held notion that in the actual business of governing you put strict limits on it.

The Lying State is a state of mind that begins in small ways. The recorded message that tells you every 30 seconds for half an hour while you're on hold that "your call is very important to us." What kind of fool do they take you for? If your call was important to them, they would find a way to get you connected almost immediately. "Easy-open" packaging that is tough to open, or sometimes won't open at all. "Your money cheerfully refunded if you're not satisfied." "Open immediately: Important information" (a pitch to apply for a new credit card). "Call now to speak with a home roofing expert," when your expert is sitting at a toy desk in a call center in Falling Pines, Georgia or in India.

The process works, not for you but for its sponsors. So it seeps over into other areas of life. Charities that tug at your heart strings and pay their executives big bucks and their volunteers sweet nothing. Community uplift schemes that uplift winning politicians' political allies.

And eventually, the government will pursue any fatuous program, like hand delivering letters tied with ribbons to "people suspected of committing or being victims of gun crimes." Don't offend anyone. Beg. As Fernandez says, even the functionaries behind the farce know these childish moves are a waste of time and money, but the important thing is to issue press releases and hold news conferences to show they're doing something. Plus scoring points for exhibitionist compassion. They're the winners! Winners win. And losers lose.

No comments: