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A Farmer Far Afield: Inner Old Man Year-End Wrap Up

By John Mattingly

In the late days of fall and early days of winter, we get long nights, we wrap ourselves, we resolve, and we make lists: the Top Tens of the prior year, acknowledging that at this time of year, the benign indifference of the universe is simply more precise.

Coming in at Number Ten is Breaking News. So much news is breaking that it’s broken. The striking similarity between immediacy, insouciance and idiocy is no accident. Accordingly, IOM has long contended that the best news is Old News, news that has had a chance to ferment long enough to reach at least 90 proof.

At Number Nine: Black Friday now runs from Halloween to Valentines Day. The tradition started back in 1952 when large retailers got the idea to memorialize the start of the Christmas shopping season. IOM prefers to call it Red Friday, because our bank accounts tend to go from Black to Red in December.

Eight: Failure to Impose a Gas Tax. When gas prices drifted below $2.50, a ten-cent-a-gallon gas tax for roads and bridges was eminently sensible but politically difficult because it would disproportionally disadvantage the low income population and suppress growth.

Number Seven: Growth. By the Rule of 78s, three percent growth will require a doubling of resource consumption about every 25 years. Productivity and innovation result in some efficiencies, but those gains are offset by population growth and further offset by a human-oriented accounting structure that does not give ledger status to externalized costs. We dump so much trash into the air and oceans for free, for now, but the real costs are coming.

[InContentAdTwo] At number Six is Privatization of Functions that Should be Public, namely health care and the internet. At our current human population size, competition does not work well at keeping us well and informed. Wealth and privilege working together are a kind of incessant incumbency that winnows the wealth toward those who already have it.

Five is Economic Gluttony. Warren Buffett once spoke to a crowd of hedge fund gurus and told them “I have something you don’t.” Several hot shots eagerly asked, “What is it?” Buffett replied: “Enough.”

Some people feel the world, others measure it. Money becomes a means of measurement, a way to keep score. But running up the score exhibits bad taste and can lead to revolt by the low- scoring team when they get a chance. Both the Great Depression and the Great Recession occurred when income inequality raged.

Four: Repression of sexual desire leads to aberrant sexual behavior. Did we learn nothing from the world’s sex-punitive orthodoxies? Suppress your experience and your behavior will become offensive or destructive.

We make a necessary distinction between the workplace and the open range, but some humans have not studied other mammals enough to know that mammals do not engage in courtship or mating while eating or pursuing their livelihood.

Three: Representing “all the people” is pulp fiction. Our system of government empowers the individual. Do that for enough generations – while growing the population exponentially – and you have a multitude of individual interests that defy unified representation. We forget sometimes that the U.S. Constitution was created by men who lived in a world with land taken by the doctrine of discovery, slaves to work that land and abundant resources. Representative democracy worked pretty well in that situation, with thirteen colonies, two million people, unpaid labor, and plenty of everything to go around.

With fifty states, 370 million people, declining resources, and labor that demands a fair wage, representative democracy is an unconducted medley, a huge marching band with all its instrument sections playing different tunes.

We may end up with a truly participatory democracy through wireless connections, though this will be difficult because so much information is Top Secret or Classified, meaning that the general population has to make decisions based on incomplete information, which is seldom good. On the other hand, we might end up with a Dear Leader, an exquisite Don America. Or, most likely, we muddle through as Churchill suggested, doing the right thing after trying everything else.

Coming up at Number Two: Fungible Reality. At the same time that VRDs, Virtual Reality Devices, are getting closer to a truly convincing experience, it begs the question, “What is reality?” We accept the virtuality of TV, movies, computers, phones and talking appliances. And, we have a reality TV show host as president. Reality really is based on agreement, and our current culture is based on disagreement. The Human Hegelian Triad is stuck at Antithesis, which, confirming its lack of imagination, goes to war. War is the one human activity that, if virtualized, would be our greatest accomplishment as a species.

Number ONE: Persistence of Fundamentalist Religious Fictions that permit elimination of heretics and infidels. How crazy is it to kill someone because they adore an alternate fiction. The thesis of Sapiens by Yuval Harari is that human culture has thrived because of our willingness to believe in, and then unite around, various fictions: self, country, eternal life, money, intelligent design, big bangs, science, honor, and laws, to name the headliners.

But there are at least two kinds of Big Fictions. Some are based on feelings and some on measurement. Some are based on correlation to observations, and some on faith. Both contribute to our fitness and survival, but both can destroy us. But life is hard. It finally kills you.

John Mattingly cultivates prose, among other things, and was most recently seen near Moffat.