Theater of the Mind

There is no more powerful force than the human imagination. People live their lives according to what they think is true more than what actually is. 

No kidding, right? It’s a pretty good heuristic: “That mean-looking son-of-a-bitch over there with the knives and stuff sure looks dangerous…think I’ll stay away from him.”

But there are also those, shall we say, less-than logical manifestations of this tendency. 

Let me provide some context: I work in DC. The presidential inauguration is in a few days. You can imagine the talk swirling across the country finds itself here. 

And I have to laugh at a lot of it, even though a lot of it scares me. 

Scares me?

It absolutely scares me. Because some people’s actions are guided solely by what they imagine is the case. 

There are people with important, high-stakes jobs like airline pilot, doctor, and lawmaker who think that we are one step away from having things like internment camps and death squads. The one-hundred percent think–no, know–that slavery is this close to being reinstated. 

And how many times do people tell you “All X are Y”? “All Christians are bigots. All Muslims are terrorists. All blacks are criminals.” And so on. 

Again, this goes back to heuristics: One bad experience with a group taints one’s view of them, yet one good experience never changes anybody’s mind for the positive. 

Survival. I get this. But letting our imaginations get the best of us has huge implications 

When somebody thinks they’re Napoleon, we sent them to the loony bin. But act like we are all dead if we don’t pass a certain piece of legislation right now, and you become a national hero. 

And back to Inauguration Day: “All Republican voters are evil and Trump is Hitler reincarnate. Let’s throw bricks at them!”

Which leads me to an important point: If we all live based on what we think is going on, who is right? What is what?

I don’t know. 

I don’t pretend to know who the bad actors are, or what the dark path is, with any mathematical certainty. I just think I know what it is. 

And so does the other guy. He thinks I’m duped, and I think he’s duped. 

But you have to be aware of it. 

If you’re not willing to entertain the merest possibility that you might be wrong, you are the problem. Sorry. 

We like to think we judge the evidence, weighing it in an impartial light, and coming to the most logical–indeed, only–conclusion. 

This is ridiculous. 

So what to do?

All I think I can do is use what little evidence we have about how things should be. And throughout human history, and yes even now though many deny it, that’s religion. 

And this knowledge is scanty. Don’t kid yourselves otherwise. 

So I try–“try” being the key word here–to base my perceptions and ideas on God’s rules. But so do other reasonable, decent people. These other reasonable, decent people can look at the exact same scanty evidence and come to a completely different conclusion: Hail Caesar. 

Far easier to discern what path we shouldn’t take. I have my opinions. So do you. 

Again: Which one is right?

Hint: Probably the one that doesn’t involve setting fire to our cities. 

The simplest, most idealistic rule is: “The one that alleviates human misery.” More realistically, it is “The one that minimizes human misery,” or at least doesn’t cause it…or too much of it. 

Can we do any better than this? I sure as hell can’t. But its the best I’ve got. 

Just think…if we could use our imaginations for good ends and not to fight each other, we’d probably have cities under the sea and Mars colonies by now. Alas. 

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and @DaytimeRenegade

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