Sunday, September 14, 2008

True or False?

On my favorite hospital drama television show, a patient is informed that she has a small but quite operable brain tumor. She's reassured by her doctor that the procedure will be performed by a certain Dr. Derek Shepherd: "Don't worry ma'am. Doctor Shepherd is one of the best neurosurgeons on the West Coast. He's the best. Elite, even." The patient responds, "He's elite? Oh, no..." and begins to cry.

A man finds himself in fairly serious need of a root canal. After getting a list of the local dentists and oral surgeons covered by his company's medical insurance, he asks around the office for recommendations (being new to the area). One co-worker informs him: "You should go see Schuffler. She was excellent when I had some troubles, and she graduated near the top of her class from one of the most elite dental colleges in the country." The man considers this and responds, "Elite, you say? I dunno – I'm more comfortable with a dentist I can relate to. Someone who generally disbelieves or is ignorant of sound science would be more to my liking."

Having grown up enjoying playing a few different sports (sandlot baseball as a kid, intramurals in college, pick-up games at the gym as an adult), Peter is attempting to explain to a buddy why he doesn't enjoy watching the NBA Finals. "What's up with all these elite players? They're all, like, at least six feet tall. I can't dunk a basketball – I'd rather watch normal guys play, not these lanky, well-trained snobs."

Obviously (hopefully), all three of these examples are false. Or anyway, they're intended to be (I just made them up – no similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is intended). I thought all this up after reading something that Sam Harris wrote:

"Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves...

This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get. You deserve to be poor, to see the environment despoiled, to watch your children receive a fourth-rate education and to suffer as this country wages—and loses—both necessary and unnecessary wars."

It's odd to me that folks (including me, both four and eight years ago) will actively vote against their own self-interest (and for that matter against the well-being of others, especially if they're a marginalized, demonized, or otherwise unfamiliar minority) based on, among other things, measures like "relatability" and glossy biographical summaries. This is a big problem for democracy, quite apart from our willingness to believe outright lies, or to not notice or care that the Corporate Media seems blissfully content to regularly avoid pushing for facts and honesty from politicians and pundits.

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