Mars Landing, Gold Medals, but You Didn’t Build That?

By | August 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

Cognitive dissonance means holding mutually contradictory beliefs at the same time. We all are subject to this problem, but some of us carry it to ridiculous extremes. For example, many Americans can simultaneously approve all four of these recent events:

1. CNN reports, “Mars landing went flawlessly, scientists say.”

2. Yahoo Sports reports, “With 22 medals, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all times.”

3. AOL Sporting News reports, “Usain Bolt sets blistering 100 meter record.”

4. President Obama declares, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that – somebody else made that happen.

Supporters of the president object that he was reminding us of the teachers who taught the business person, and of those who built the roads that the person and the customers use to get to the business. But almost everyone knows that we all were helped by our parents, our teachers, our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, and the gal who runs the lunch wagon. Almost everyone knows that we all depend on the fire department and the police to protect us, the paramedics to assist us, the military to defend us, and the plumber to unstop the drain.
In this general sense, no one ever does anything alone. But this is not what the president meant.
Successful athletes know how much they owe to their parents who raised them, their coaches who trained them, their teammates who supported them – and their opponents who challenged them. The fastest man in history, Usain Bolt, gave credit for his Olympic record performance in the 100 meters to his recent losses to a competitor. Bolt wisely noted:

Sometimes you lose sight because everybody’s praising you. Everybody’s saying it’s great, you’re doing well. And then you look back. But for me, I’ve said it at the trials when Yohan Blake beat me twice, it woke me up. It opened my eyes. Pretty much, he said, come and knock on my door and say, Usain, wake up. This is the Olympics here. I’m ready. Are you?

Clearly, the Mars lander was a group effort at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This project spanned a decade and involved hundreds of people with different skills, including people at NASA, a government agency. But this is also not what the president meant.
What President Obama meant was exemplified by the opening ceremonies, with its homage to the British National Health Service and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by a group. The NHS scene involved a mass of patients in beds crowded together. This skit unwittingly mirrored the conditions in many of Britain’s outmoded, underequipped, understaffed, underfunded hospitals. And the lighting of the flame by a group of young would-be athletes, rather than by a famous older athlete, exemplified the idea that the group, not the individual, is what is truly important – and that intentions, not results, are what is really significant.
But this is where cognitive dissonance comes in. The opening ceremonies emphasized – indeed glorified – the importance of the group and the beauty of cooperation. But as soon as the actual games began, we all cheered what really matters – competition and individual excellence. Yet few noticed the glaring contradiction.
Bertrand Russell was a noted mathematician and philosopher. When I was in college, I read an enlightening essay of his titled “Outline of Intellectual Rubbish.” He coined the term “Sunday truths” to describe ideas that people pretend to believe, but really don’t. They mouth these ideas in church on Sunday, then do the opposite the other six days of the week. For example, people extol the virtues of charity and brotherly love on Sunday, then cheat their customers and abuse their employees on Monday.
The same principle applies here. Many leftists extol the virtue of cooperation, then compete viciously for every advantage. They praise the idea of equality, then strive to be appointed to the committees that rule the socialist state. They proclaim “power to the people,” then vote for every measure that increases the power of government. They sing the praises of the “little guy,” then abdicate decisions on vital subjects such as health care to unelected, unaccountable, remote, faceless bureaucrats.
But conservatives are not immune to this disorder. Many of them talk endlessly about individual initiative and freedom from government interference, then lobby the government for whatever will benefit them. Insurance companies got on board with ObamaCare, hoping that the uninsured would be forced to buy their policies. The AARP joined up, since most of its income comes from selling health insurance rather than from membership dues. The AMA gave its endorsement, since most of its income comes from providing billing codes to the government rather than from membership dues.
The insurance companies sold out their policy holders, while the AARP and the AMA sold out their members – just as leftists sold out their beloved “little guy.” Hypocrisy is an equal-opportunity employer. But these people will be double-crossed, as they will discover too late. If ObamaCare is not repealed, private insurance will eventually wither away, the elderly will see Medicare cut, doctors will become servants of the state, and the “little guy” will become even smaller.
If we hope to deal with real problems successfully, we must recognize reality in the first place:
● Opening ceremonies may be impressive, but what really matters is competition based on innate talent plus years of strenuous training.
● Speeches on international cooperation may be eloquent, but what put the Curiosity lander on Mars was a national effort – plus individuals’ curiosity about the universe.
● Theories of economics may be intriguing, but what puts food on the table is individual initiative and hard work. Marx theorized about labor, but never had an actual job.
● Central planning may seem attractive, but no one and no group is smart enough to make the countless decisions needed to run the lives of 314 million people.
● The latest fad may seem “progressive,” but old-fashioned values have proved their worth in creating real progress.
I hate the water, but I can learn more about what succeeds in life from Michael Phelps than from the entire leftist professoriate in all the Ivy League colleges combined.
I can’t run fast, but I can learn more about the value of competition from Usain Bolt than from all the leftist economists in all the universities put together.
I know little about space travel, but I can learn more about scientific achievement and cooperation from the JPL team than from the entire UN bureaucracy.
As we watch gold medals being awarded and the Mars landing going perfectly, we are forced to recognize that “You didn’t build that” is a Sunday truth at best, and more likely an outright fabrication.

Author’s Note:
Here is a key section of Bertrand Russell’s “Outline of Intellectual Rubbish.” His criticism of big government, especially its control of information, is brilliant. But imagine what he would say today, as he learned about plans to muzzle talk radio and control the Internet.

I am persuaded that there is absolutely no limit to the absurdities that can, by government action, come to be generally believed. Give me an adequate army, with power to provide it with more pay and better food than falls to the lot of the average man, and I will undertake, within thirty years, to make the majority of the population believe that two and two are three, that water freezes when it gets hot and boils when it gets cold, or any other nonsense that might seem to serve the interest of the State.

Of course, even when these beliefs had been generated, people would not put the kettle in the ice-box when they wanted it to boil. That cold makes water boil would be a Sunday truth, sacred and mystical, to be professed in awed tones, but not to be acted on in daily life. What would happen would be that any verbal denial of the mystic doctrine would be made illegal, and obstinate heretics would be “frozen” at the stake. No person who did not enthusiastically accept the official doctrine would be allowed to teach or to have any position of power. Only the very highest officials, in their cups, would whisper to each other what rubbish it all is; then they would laugh and drink again. This is hardly a caricature of what happens under some modern governments. [Emphasis added.]

Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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