Why Aren't We Laughing?

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Certain axioms are favorites of mine. The frog in the pot, for example. He didn’t jump out of the boiling water, because it was comfortably cool when he was put in it, and by the time he realized he was cooked — he was cooked. Or the subjects who saw their King parade past in his BVDs and accepted that he was gorgeously attired in new clothes, because a powerful authority had said so, and they disbelieved their own eyes in favor of the fiction.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the frog, or the parade-watchers. Perhaps they were infected with the modern curse of relativism, and hesitated to assert what seemed obvious. After all, the frog might have mused, "hot" is a relative term. It seems hot to me, true, but does that mean it is, in fact, hot? Perhaps what seems true to me is — ooops! Dead! The parade viewers might have hesitated to substitute their opinions for those of the experts with, literally, a vested interest, who lauded the King’s exquisite raiment. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder, they told themselves. Who are we to substitute our own ideas for those of the King, when there aren’t any real fixed principles, anyway? Hey! What’s that little boy laughing at?

Americans may be in the same position as the frog, or the parade watchers, with results ranging from serious indeed, to merely silly.

Consider, for example, the TV ads for "pet medication." As an antique, I can remember when few people took medication, much less their pets. We shared our home with an assortment of dogs when I was a boy, and had someone suggested we could have saved money on pet medications by using this or that store, we’d have been puzzled. What pet medications? Our dog isn’t sick! I never heard of dogs — or cats — taking "medication" until relatively recently, when they also began to need periodic "checkups" at the vet’s office. Now pet medication is so commonly used, and expensive, that a business has sprung up around supplying it cheaper.

Another TV ad, on a far more serious note, extols the health benefits provided by a certain organization. The announcer intones, in a voice exuding indignation and astonishment, that older citizens, even with Medicare, might have to pay as much as half of their own medical expenses, unless they buy this insurance. The horror! Imagine having to pay for your own medical expenses — even only a half! May we not wonder who pays for these same seniors’ clothing expenses, or food expenses, or housing expenses? Would it be preposterous to ask who, if not the recipient of the services, should pay for them? But at least insurance is voluntary. I haven’t volunteered.

Along the same vein, there are several firms advertising that they will get you a powered wheel chair free. Of course, the machine isn’t free; that term is employed to indicate that someone else is going to pay for it. "Someone else" is Medicare, meaning — guess who? I presume the wheel chairs are expensive; I can understand why a person would prefer not to pay for one. I can more easily understand why someone who does not need such a chair would prefer not to pay for one as well, but in this case, there’s no opting out.

And consider government. It is at least as obvious as the King in his skivvies that the very principle, the bedrock, of modern government is that the state has a greater claim upon your life and property than you do. You may have enough left over after paying other bills to make expensive repairs to your cracked and leaking foundation, but forget it! Uncle has first claim upon your money. You’ll have to borrow for your own needs; the rulers come first. By the quite deliberate policy of inflation, the purchasing power of the dollar has been reduced to about a dime, or maybe less. In other words, the savings that represent your life’s work have been reduced by 90%. Another way to look at it is that 90% of your life has been wasted, or spent for the benefit of the state-sanctioned counterfeiters. Don’t you notice the water getting a bit warm? Aren’t Mr. Greenspan’s magnificent robes looking a bit tatty? Shouldn’t that raise your eyebrows, if not your hackles?

Why don’t we burst out laughing when someone on TV offers us a good deal on "pet medication?" Far more importantly, why don’t we fetch the tar and feathers when we’re ordered to provide motorized chairs for strangers, or large chunks of our life’s work to the ruling class? Are we so blind that we cannot see what is clearly taking place before our eyes?

Say, that reminds me: did you ever hear the story about the frog in the pot of water, or the people watching the parade?

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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