What I Have Learned in Six Decades

When I was growing up, I frequently was told that I would "understand" the ways of the world when I was older. Well, I am sixty-three now, but I am no closer to understanding the ways of the world. What I surmised to be an unholy mixture of greed and corruption (usually referred to as "business" by my elders) when I was a young man still appears to be an unholy mixture of greed and corruption. What I perceived, then, to be unspeakable occasions of mass murder (usually referred to as "necessary wars" by my elders) still appear to me, now, to be unspeakable occasions of mass murder.

What I have learned in my time is that most people (particularly those who happen to be affluent and comfortable, and especially in the United States of America) are inclined to care only about themselves. They all pretend otherwise, of course, but the evidence of their relentless self-regard is constant and unavoidable. They choose not to support any actions that would foster a more just world, because to do so would detract from the foul pursuit of their own desires. The world is filled with rampant suffering not because it has been ordained by a savage deity, not because it has to be that way, but rather, because most people allow it to be that way.

Throughout my life, I have believed in the virtues of peace, fairness, and honesty, which has tended to keep me at odds with the crude prerogatives of brute capitalism. It is my confirmed view that human values should, in every instance, be given precedence over any considerations of private wealth or corporate advantage. Such precedence clearly is demanded by the common precepts of essential morality. I have learned, however, that money rules the world, which means that those who have the greatest amount of money are able to get everything they want, in defiance of both expense and equity.

I also have learned that people acknowledge the truth only when it is likely to serve their own interests. People generally prefer convenience to truth, even if that convenience is achieved through heinous actions. Few people will consent to make any concessions that might require them to renounce the tasteless luxuries to which they have become strongly accustomed. It seems that, for too many people, accepting a world of grievous wrongs, a world in which war, poverty, and famine are permitted to cause untold misery, is preferable to the prospect of having to forgo the shallow pleasures of an easy life. It is hard to comprehend such a complete lack of feeling for humanity.

I have learned, to my deep repugnance, that most people are quite willing to embrace a dull outlook of illusory happiness, surrendering themselves to the worthless delights of mindless convention. Even after years of daily observation, it still is sickening to me that so many people, including those who are highly educated and therefore should have no excuse for abject foolishness, are so witlessly eager to embrace the hollow rewards of upscale slavery, turning off their brains as they abandon their integrity and happily yield to the fraudulent joy of being an ardent consumer and a perpetual debtor. As Peggy Lee once sang, "Is That All There Is?"

In moments of idle curiosity, I am prone to wondering how everyone will cope when all of the usual deceptions have irreparably broken down, and the perverted fantasy of eternal abundance, having recklessly expended itself in a wanton manner, cannot be sustained any longer. It is, admittedly, difficult to know what might happen when the vulgar mania of prosperity wanes, as it inevitably must, and the attendant jollity comes to a sour end, but I feel certain that whatever does happen will not be a pretty sight. As dreadful reckonings go, it promises to be an extremely harsh experience for all concerned.

I have learned, in addition, that many people elect to spend the duration of their lives in hiding. Some hide behind a grand display of wealth, some hide behind a stern edifice of religion, some hide behind a pompous wall of intellect. Some hide behind a veil of wine, whiskey, or reefers, while others hide behind a blanket of cocaine or heroin. Some hide behind prescription medications that alleviate unpleasant moods. Anything can suffice as a means to hide, as long as it readily enables the person who is hiding to shield the true content of their character from other people, and from themselves. It seems that few people have the ability to get through life without hiding behind something.

Finally, in six decades I have learned that, at best, "freedom" is a transparent delusion and "democracy" is a bitter falsehood. The world is controlled by the ruthless villainy of governments and corporations, pitiless gangs of liars, thieves, and killers whose deeds are above and beyond the law. Only a worldwide uprising, in which determined citizens take a purposeful stand and challenge the brazen violations that are regularly committed by their oppressors, can bring down the loathsome dictatorship of avarice. Unless such an uprising happens, mankind undoubtedly will continue its current slide toward an ugly outcome of total ruin.

As any reader can quickly deduce, my sixty-three years of living have not left me with a disposition to hopefulness. Actually, I do hold that, in principle, this wretched world could be transformed into a better realm, but only if sizable numbers of people actively want it to be transformed. Unfortunately, most people have been conditioned to be fearful of the radical change that is so urgently needed, which results in familiar patterns of evil being endlessly repeated. I have seen no solid reason to conclude that the downward trend of our destiny is likely to be interrupted, soon or ever.