Fantasyland (Part 1)

               The rise and establishment of fantasyland has already happened, and while it has been a common theme, one which has persisted through the colonization of America, it has never been more dangerous now that before. For great read about what constitutes Fantasyland, Kurt Andersen (no relation, though he is a fellow Nebraskan), wrote an excellent book called Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, A 500-Year History.

               The main premise of Fantasyland is that your belief is superior to anybody else’s belief, even if your belief has no credibility or is rooted in reality. The assault of the uneducated, the crackpots, and the fringes of both sides, used to be contained before the rise of modern technology of the radio, television. Though the fringes were given a new outlet, they remain contained until the creation of the Internet and social media, which has given every person access and a means to share their thoughts. (Yes, I can laugh at the irony, this is being shared by a website and has links on social media).

               The problem with every person having the ability to instantly share their thoughts is, not everybody is educated or knowledgeable about everything going on. I don’t claim to be fully educated and a subject matter expert on everything – there is simply no way to know everything in the world. There is not enough time in the world to read every book or watch every documentary, and you simply cannot download the information from the Matrix. However, not having enough time is not an excuse of being ignorant about the issues.

               A wide plethora of information is easily at our finger tips, but the problem is not the information or data but the way it is presented. With the initial creation of Fox News in 1996, a conservative slant was created for the presentation of a new truth. The majority of Fox News on-air talent are not journalists (off-hand only Shep Smith and Chris Wallace are journalists), but are entertainers like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Judge Jeanie. Just because the right-wing has their own media bias, is the left-wing of politics absolved of any wrong doing. There are crazies on the left, off-hand thinking of Keith Olbermann. The problem with both sides stems down to education…

               A lot of the right-wing talent really isn’t remarkable, they are mostly high school graduates and college drop outs (assuming they even attended). Their talent stems from creating a Joseph Goebbels level of spin of the original facts or by presenting alternative facts. If that doesn’t work, there is always the massive level of what-about-ism. Hillary Clinton last held public office in 2013. Her handling of the email fiasco is not unprecedented, as former Secretary of State’s Powell and Rice had used personal email to conduct official government business. During the George W. Bush administration, millions of emails were deleted. There is no what-about-ism here, simply government officials on both sides of the political spectrum have been fast and loose with rules about using personal email to conduct government business and then deleting emails.

               The problem I think is Fantasyland has become so entrenched into the American psyche, it has had twenty years to fester with creation reality television and non-stop twenty-four-hour news coverage. The constant need to fill the air created a demand for even the slightest happening becoming news. This growing infection has created celebrities out people offspring of famous parents – think Kardashians. Television has allowed the rich and the famous a chance to rehabilitate their image, first Reagan who had a weekly program, a radio show, and wrote a multitude of opinion pieces from 1976 until his election. Reagan’s transformation from a B-list movie actor is nothing compared nothing of the grade A bullshit Donald Trump was able to spin with The Apprentice. He made millions believe he was a successful business person, when in reality he most likely isn’t.

               What kind of steps can be taken to help remove the delusions of greatness or the rightness of their political beliefs?  Unfortunately, I think the answers are in the realm of fantasy because I do not think there is one easy solution or cure-all or instant process to eliminate the delusion which has been established and taken a firm hold. The biggest cure-all which would probably help eliminate Fantasyland is better programming on the 24-hour news networks. Not everything is newsworthy and needs or deserves to be reported – for example giving a celebrity who is a Flat Earther time on the air isn’t exactly beneficial to anybody. The networks can still offer around the clock news, but more programming time should be dedicated to a credible debate about the issues, not just a summary of talking points. I know it asking for a lot and is probably a far-fetched dream of having solid debates and polite but heated discussions, but it would help dispel the fantastical myths (like an imaginary sky figure telling a person to run for political office).

               A better starting point would be re-introducing the Fairness Doctrine which essentially states both viewpoints need to be presented in an equal manner. The problem with the Fairness Doctrine is it only controlled the airwaves for television and it would be near impossible to implement on the Internet, and one which would rightfully face a lot of lawsuits. The idea sounds improbable and maybe in the future (probably far future) when the political situation has become more stable and rational and not dominated by deranged fantasists, can the Fairness Doctrine come back. There will always be wing nuts on both sides of the spectrum, but the Internet has eliminated most control over how far the crazy is allowed to spread.

               I think the best starting point would be to greatly tweak our education system. In practice there are 50 different education standards (for the 50 states), but Texas due to its sheer size has generally held a monopoly on content. This has slowly changed with the ease of making different electronic/digital books for school districts; however, this is not an ideal solution. In the global world of today, I think there needs to be a federal standard of education and one which you cannot label the American Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression, gloss over the Civil Rights Movement or only mention the good moments of our nation. By limiting a person’s education and denying them the basic understandings of history and civics, you are entrenching another generation into Fantasyland.

               There is no easy solution to combating the fantasy that one person’s beliefs are superior to another’s. There is no simple cure all potion to drink which will make all our problems and ignorance go away. It is not easy to tell a person they are wrong and even if you do summon up the courage to do so, they are unlikely to change their ways. We have all become willing or unwilling participants in America the Fantasyland, we have idolized our founders and past-presidents into mythical, God-like status, even though they were flawed individuals like us. The majority of our electorate has succumbed to receiving soundbites from talking heads on the radio or television. The vast majority of Americans said they have never or picked up only a few books after graduating high school.

               We have a choice to make, continue living in a Fantasyland as the rest of the world develops and leaves us behind or to act and join the modern world. Cast off the idea of American exceptionalism, the idea of a imaginative figure in the sky who talks to us, and battle to save ourselves, our species, and our planet.

Thoughts on Higher Education (Part 1)

It feels stupid to reiterate this point, but I’ll say it again. Higher education is important. If you ever truly believe education ends once you graduate high school, technical school, college, graduate school, etc., you are wrong. I am an avid reader and by reading an assortment of books, mostly non-fiction, I am still learning. Reading is paramount because it helps a person by exposing them to new words (increasing vocabulary), new ideas, critical thinking and comprehension, and provides them an imagination.

Education never ends and while some forms of education are relatively free, like the public library (yes, I know my taxes help pay for it, but it is inexpensive). However, the education which provides a significant boost into a career path is not prohibitively expensive. Technical schools are a cheaper alternative and I highly encourage them because for the foreseeable future there will always been a need for electricians, plumbers, maintenance personnel, etc.

What is not cheap is the path towards a bachelor’s degree. The University of Nebraska at Kearney, where I went, is one of the cheaper public schools in the state. The current tuition cost for two 15-credit hour semesters is just under $6,000. Fees add another $1,500. Want to live on campus? Cough up another $5,000. Like food? Well that will be $4800 dollars. Total billing, around $17,000 a year, for instate and nearby Colorado and Kansas residents. Follow this entire plan for four years you will graduate and begin your career with $68,000 in debt. Yes, there are a plethora of scholarships, Pell Grants, and other financial aid offers, but even with those accounted for, you are most likely to graduate with 30-40 thousand in debt.

You can get a head start at a community college and transferring the credits over, but it doesn’t completely reduce the costs. The problem is, education has become expensive and the current system of paying for higher education is failing the nation (and by extension the world).

America is falling behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These four broad fields are not the sole reason to go college, there will always be a need for future educators, political scientists, agriculture, etc. Why exactly we are falling behind is not easy to answer, and one which would require a lot to time to research, write up, then make present it in a comprehensible to the general public, (I do apologize if I’m sounding elitist, I’m trying to get a point across). Today people want an easy answer, a talking point. An issue as big as higher education cannot be broken down into ten-second soundbite. Addressing the issue requires a study, solutions, and the critical thinking skills offered by college (especially English courses and from reading in general) to understand the issue.

At a future time, I may write more about higher education, but I’m focused on the costs right now. The cost of higher education is hurting the nation (and again by extension…the world). I strongly believe every citizen deserves a shot to earn up to a bachelor’s degree, tuition and fees, covered by the government – housing and meals are a different ballgame.

Why is the lack of affordable higher education failing this nation? I believe because without an educated electorate, we get elected officials who have no concept of reality and the world around them. We get elected officials who embrace scare tactics rather than honesty. We get elected officials who appeal to the lowest common denominator and our worse, primal instincts instead of debating the issues which affect us. We get elected officials who instead of caring about all people, only care about themselves and the people who got them elected. Higher education can help people understand why fascism and authoritarianism is bad. It can help people understand that anecdotal evidence (ie. it is snowing outside so global warming/climate change is a myth) is not the way the world really works.

Why is the lack of affordable higher education in America failing the world? Looking outside of the United States, we are a small portion of the world’s population, only about 325 million of the 7.5 billion people. However, the nation is one of the top producers of carbon dioxide, methane, and other toxic chemicals which are spewed into the air and water. A college education with critical thinking (and imagination helped by reading) can help people understand our current ways cannot be sustained. All other nations in the world can move toward a goal but it will no matter if the United States does not partake in the action. By electing foxes to run the henhouse, we have hurt ourselves.

It is my hope if we change the affordability of college education, we can prevent foxes (complete idiots) from getting elected, or at least reduce their number to a point that they have no say on what legislation is proposed and how it is enacted.