Let’s talk about another belief. Say that people believe this:
This is not real life. You only get to have real life after you die. And even then, it’s only good if you passed the big test in this fake, temporary life.
Part of the test is that you have to tell everybody about the real life that dead people get, and if anybody disagrees with you, considering that they’re not really alive anyway, it’s perfectly okay to torment or even “kill” them.
Real life, and this testing phase that precedes it, is ruled by this big, powerful guy who is more important than anybody or anything you know. Nothing is more important than him. He and the things he says — passed on by this big special book and the people who interpret it for us — are more important than your health, more important than the life and death of your kids, more important than the love of your life, more important than democracy and justice and freedom, more important than the entire earth and all that it contains.
In fact, in the really near future, the big powerful guy is going to destroy the entire earth and all that it contains, every last puppy and baby and symphony and sunset. And that’s a GOOD thing, because it will allow us and everybody we know to get on with our real lives, which are going to be much better than anything we have here.
Oh, and by the way, because you believe all this, you’re one of the Chosen Ones, and pretty much nothing you do to the bad, UnChosen ones is really all that bad.
Imagine that they believe this thing, both today and for the past thousand years, very, very VERY strongly.
Now imagine what sort of society they’d create.
It would be a crazy one, don’t you think? Completely bonkers.
It would have to be. I mean, if you really believed that nothing around you was real? And that being dead would be a GOOD thing? That you should go out and do anything and everything you could to convince others? And that it was all going to end soon, and hurrah for that?
Here we are, living in wealth and luxury and contentment. The sun shines, the birds sing, we go to work each day and have dinner each night. It all seems so NORMAL.
Is the world really all that crazy? I have to be wrong about it, right?
We’ve got TV, the Internet, the power to fly across a continent in a few hours. We’ve got eyeglasses and cellphones and a car in every driveway. Books and libraries. Barbie and Buzz Lightyear and Happy Meals. Skiing and whitewater rafting and skateboard parks. Antibiotics and surgery.
What could possibly be wrong with our beautiful modern society?
But here’s the problem:
It is impossible to have a strongly held belief in your head and not have it affect your thoughts and actions in extremely powerful ways.
What evidence do I have that being broadly crazy has some effect on our beautiful, modern world? How about this:
Forty-seven U.S. companies have been involved in the manufacture of landmines. From 1969 to 1992, “we” exported more than 4 million mines, to at least 34 countries. Even years after regional wars are concluded, all those unrecovered landmines continue to cripple women and children, kill farmers – to the tune of 26,000 people annually – and even critically injure or kill wildlife such as elephants.
In Vietnam, 35 years after the end of the war, landmines are still killing about 100 people every year – about 60 of which, on average, are children. There are estimated to be 800,000 still-deadly landmines in the country, enough to kill or critically injure the entire population of San Francisco, CA, or Austin, TX.
To some of us, this will come across as old news. Why am I even writing about it? But the point is that the whole situation is crazy as hell.
American companies. American workers. Going to work each day to make landmines that would – how can I put this delicately? – BLOW THE FUCKING LEGS OFF CHILDREN.
And then sleeping well that night. (Companies in the continental United States supposedly stopped manufacturing landmines in 1997, but the U.S. still has the largest stockpile of the clever little things in the world. Plus, there’s probably nothing in law that prevents American companies from making nasty stuff overseas.)
Someone sat down and invented these things, knowing they would kill mostly civilian adults and children. And someone else, a lot of someone elses, right here in America, thought it was a dandy idea to make money off them. Following which, a lot of other someone elses put them in fields all over the world, without bothering to note where they were. And 300 million someone elses just sort of sat back and yawned.
When things like this seem distant to me, I try to translate them in my head into something more immediate, something nearer and realer, to see how I feel about it. So imagine that people came and put landmines on the side of a nearby hiking path, or in a cornfield, or even in a children’s playground.
And you know this little girl named Sarah, the neighbor’s daughter, who has just about the bluest eyes you ever saw, and who just won the third grade spelling bee, and wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
Except yesterday she stepped on the exact wrong spot in the playground, and was blown up by an American-made landmine. Today in the critical ward at the local hospital, she is missing both legs, one arm, and one eye.
Pretty disgusting that I should write about that, huh? I mean, what sort of person am I, putting this crap here so that you’d be forced to have that image in your head?
The point is that stuff like this really happens. To real people, real children. Every day. But it’s so crazy that we can barely force ourselves to visualize it. To know it.
[Part 4 coming tomorrow.]