There is a story I remember from somewhere of a dog that was trotting through his suburban neighborhood one sunny day. It was moving day at a house along his accustomed route. The movers happened to lay down a large mirror on the grass to prepare it for packing just before he came by. Momentarily distracted by the activity of the movers, the dog continued trotting - right onto the mirror. He instantly noticed the cool, hard surface stopped and looked down. Seeing nothing but sky below him, feeling that he was suddenly standing on nothing, overcome with a sense of disorientation, the dog yelped in panic and confusion and leapt straight up in the air.
I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors and reflections- and the peculiar but subtle effect they have on our perception. I can remember as a child of 6 trying to work out how my newly acquired knowledge of right and left applied to my image in the mirror. I recall touching my right hand to the glass and seeing what I knew to be the left hand of my reflection reach out in return. Having recently taken apart a telescope, I was aware that there are optical lenses that would turn your image upside down as well reverse handed.
Mirrors are a good metaphor for human perception. Like a mirror, I can only reflect what I see. My senses are the limit of my world. The things that are too small for me to see, to large to behold at one time, too soft to hear, or too chaotic to recognize do not get reflected in my view of reality. The things that I choose not to see or that are not shown to me are blind spots- holes in reality.
I particularly like the story about the dog because it says something very important about our perceptions and our emotions. The visceral fear of having one’s world suddenly turned upside down, or of being in a state of free-fall it seems, is not just a human one. There is, undoubtedly, an instinctive element to it which is reinforced and entrained in the physical and mental being from the first time an infant has something fall on him from above, or raises his head only to have gravity pull it down with a thud, or he struggles to his wobbly feet only to jar his spine and upset his composure with an unceremonious “plop” back down to the ground. Up and down is the critical dimension. You can get disoriented or even lost in the horizontal plane and most of the time it works out all right but do not mess with the vertical!
There are two visions of the future in competition with each other in America today. They are mutually exclusive.
One vision believes that we must take responsibility (or at least make it our mission) to prevent suffering and to create peace. This vision is based (often unconsciously) on idealism and the belief called “humanism” which assumes the essential goodness and purity of human nature. In this vision, the utopian dream is not just possible- it is obligatory. If human nature is blameless, the reasoning goes, then the blame for war, poverty, suffering, starvation and disease must lie with things that are “other” than the individual. Thus, government, capitalism, religion and social convention become suspect as the cause of war, famine and all manner of suffering.
This vision is the one that, since the beginning of time had people praying for a “good king” to supplant their cruel one, following conquering emperors or throwing their lives into the bottomless pit of totalitarian regimes that promised utopia.
The other vision starts with proposition that suffering, poverty and conflict can not be prevented, that the best way to minimize them is to give individuals the liberty, responsibility and the protection they need to provide for their own wellbeing. This proposition stems from the understanding that human beings have imperfect natures. Do not confuse it with nihilism- it just recognizes the reality that in the human heart, spiritual grandeur and venal greed embrace each other in an intimate struggle. Like Jacob and Esau in Rebecca’s womb they are confined, tethered to the same placental blood supply. This vision grants that all people have the potential for honesty and courage but are also subject to temptation and craven greed. The image of the future that arises from this starting point looks at the evidence and finds no reason to believe that humanity will change it nature. It posits that keeping people honest and inspiring cooperation, prosperity and progress requires balance, fairness, openness and, above all, transparency. Those who share this vision believe that the positive aspects of humanity must be given space and resources to grow and flourish, but they also see that there must be forceful controls and stern consequences for the evil aspects of humanity.
This last is the founding vision of the framers of our republic- it is the reason they made three branches of government with checks and balances in the relationships among them. It is a vision of clarity and justice.
Each of these visions is a mirror of reality but it strikes me that the utopian one is much like the mirror laid down on the grass. When you step on it, you get a view of yourself either as a kind of deity- standing among the blue sky and the clouds with nothing above you but the limitless cosmos. If you look around you from that vantage, you could be forgiven for feeling that the strictures and limits others around you are acting within are somehow meaningless and arbitrary. In fact the less you actually do in the horizontal realm of reality the more convincing you are as a deity. But beware! You have just messed with the vertical!
As you might have guessed the current standard bearer for the mirror-on-the-ground vision is Barack Hussein Obama. His unspoken, unformulated call for change is perfect- perfectly above all things terrestrial. He, who has never done anything in reality, has no fear or respect for it. His lofty aspirations are above reproach. The multitudes who in past ages would pray and clamor for a benevolent king to arise, seize on his promise of change and proclaim him The One.
And the mainstream media, faithful but supine mirror, is also lying on the ground at his feet. They do not see (or at least notice) Bill Ayers the terrorist or Jeremiah Wright the demagogue or Rezko the fraud or Michelle the ingrate or his associations with socialist and subversive organizations, all they see are the clouds and blue sky!