Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Monkey In The Mirror

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation And Empire, a genetic freak known only as The Mule seems to arise from out of nowhere and manages to take control over the better part of the galaxy. Similarly, a man who I’ll refer to as The Monkey has managed in the last year to capture the Republican nomination for President despite having been dismissed by the prognosticators of the media. Whether he too is a genetic freak is an issue I shall leave to others to decide.

But like The Mule, no one seems to be able to account for the trajectory of The Monkey, nobody can explain how someone so seemingly lacking in positive human attributes has been able to have the success he has enjoyed. Everyone has their pet theories as to how The Monkey has managed to achieve the nearly impossible while breaking all the rules, but none of the explanations seem convincing. More often when people attempt to exposit a theory it is merely a matter of finger pointing.

In Foundation And Empire, it turns out The Mule has the ability to control the minds of others, and perhaps that might help explain The Monkey. Somehow when The Monkey’s minions look at him they don’t see the obnoxious, hateful, bloviating simian, they see what The Monkey wants them to see. Well, actually, even his minions have to admit that he’s an unlikeable character, and yet they are able to see past the gruff exterior to the warm, caring individual that the rest of society does not see. Like a lonely woman who wants to feel loved, the supporters of The Monkey ignore all the warnings their friends raise and prefer instead to see the knight in shining armor their hearts cry out for. True love, after all, is a matter of the heart, not the head.

What then accounts for the unprecedented success had by The Monkey? The truth might be quite obvious and yet so unpleasant that we would rather not admit to it. The liberals want to blame the conservatives and the conservatives want to blame the liberals. Indeed, everyone’s pointing their fingers at someone else. But nobody seems to want to take a hard look in the mirror. Maybe The Monkey isn’t some random occurrence or the cause of some other party. Perhaps we, individually and collectively, are to blame for the ascendance of The Monkey. Perhaps we have somehow allowed ourselves to slide down somewhat on the evolutionary family tree.

What would make a narcissistic capitalist monkey popular? Perhaps it is due to the fact that we have been permitting narcissistic capitalist monkeys to tell our stories for us for the last thirty years, beginning around the time of Alex P. Keaton. Perhaps it is because we have been told over and over again if you are good you will become rich and if you are rich you must be smart. Perhaps the values of free market media have finally overtaken the values humanity has lived with up until the time television took over as the voice of authority in every home.

Maybe we have become a nation of narcissistic monkeys ourselves, whose only purpose in life is to get more for ourselves and not worry about the results of our actions. After all, are we not always being urged to satisfy our gluttonous cravings for anything advertisers are selling? Isn’t it our patriotic duty to be selfish and arrogant?

Perhaps the Republican Party is the natural home to the narcissistic capitalist, but the opposition is merely a kinder, gentler, more hypocritical breed of monkey. Those who claim they have been the alternative to the narcissistic capitalists have not been averse to eating from their hands whenever it is outstretched to them. We are all of us living in our own little jungle, not willing to contemplate the larger world outside.

For a couple of generations now, we’ve been living a sort of delusion, a mindset sold to us by advertising executives. It’s a delusion that tells us we don’t have to think hard or grow old. We try to live this lie by doing the only thing that is in our control, refusing to grow up. Growing up means accepting that we as adults have certain societal norms we should live up to and sometimes apologizing for our behavior when we have failed. It means taking responsibility for our own actions. Growing up means grappling with difficult questions and finding solutions. But we have become a society that will no longer admit that we are ever wrong or responsible for anything we’ve done.

The Monkey will never admit wrongdoing. That’s part of the narcissistic package. Or perhaps that’s sociopathy, I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist. The point is, we live in a world nowadays where nobody feels responsible for anything and nobody feels like they have to set the good example. Everybody is worried about their rights and nobody about their responsibilities. It’s no wonder why we can convince ourselves that a monkey is worthy of leading our country nowadays. It’s no wonder we can overlook his many and pronounced flaws.

A society of monkeys doesn’t have to worry about the long-term implications of their behavior, after all, we’re just monkeys. To monkeys, the Middle East exists for no other reason than to be a holding tank for the oil that will eventually be consumed by our vehicles. Central America is there as a place for us to vacation or as factory labor to make our clothing.

If we’re monkeys, all we have to do is select an alpha-monkey to subject our will and our decision-making abilities to. Of course, if you know anything about primate behavior, you’ll know there are some rather unpleasant aspects to subjecting yourself to a dominate ape, but being monkeys we really don’t care to speculate on such matters. Monkeys aren’t known for their dignity or self-respect.

We can pretend if we like that The Monkey is an aberration, sprung upon us by random chance. We can believe that we only have to defeat The Monkey in his attempt to win the presidency and disaster will be averted, that we will have confronted and won the important battle of our age. But if The Monkey is not some fluke, if The Monkey is merely a symptom of the monkey within all of us, a symptom of a monkey virus that has been spreading in our society for thirty or more years, then the defeat of one monkey, even if he be the alpha monkey, will do little to change the path we are on.

There is a voice inside us that says we merely have to turn out in November and cast our vote for the lesser of two evils, that everything else we attempt to do is not merely wrong but will end up helping The Monkey. It is a tempting voice, a voice for the status quo. It tells us that we are basically fine and all we have to do is overcome the enemy that sprang from nowhere and can be cast back into the abyss by following the accepted wisdom. This voice speaks to our laziness of thought, our unwillingness to take a hard look at ourselves or the position we now find ourselves in. It speaks to the monkey within us all. But before you decide, take a look at The Monkey, and ask yourself if that is really what you want to be.

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