I confess to being a fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I also confess that when I’m watching “normal” news shows, especially “fair and balanced” cable news, I frequently experience moments of disorientation, during which I can’t tell if I’m witnessing an intentional parody of honest reporting or an unintentional one. The old friction between reality and faux reality has been greased, so one keeps sliding into the other when you aren’t looking.
The recent stories of fictional reporting by our military intensify the oddness of a world where fake news and real news are too often equally fake.
Maybe that’s why when “serious” reporters and pundits play out the old, familiar, reactive scripts of left and right, liberal and conservative, many of us find ourselves laughing at the wrong times, not realizing they aren’t joking. Perhaps parody provides the only serious way to respond to the old paralyzing ideological polarities of left and right, liberal and conservative.
A new friend I met in my recent travels, Wendell Jones, offers a proposal that won’t allow the last laugh to go to polarized thinkers. Wendell is a career physical scientist whose personal crisis in addiction left him identifying deeply with the weak and the broken. He creates this imaginative scenario:
Imagine that it is 2020 and the U.S. is secure as the wealthiest nation in the world. Our best and most productive citizens remain the world’s wealthiest leaders. Tax burdens are at all time lows. Entitlement drains on the GDP have been essentially eliminated. Illegal immigration is a minor issue. Federal government spending is almost completely focused on defense and homeland security capabilities allowing the U.S. to proactively intersect all threats. The voting public is nearly unanimous in support of the government and its policies. Voters uniformly feel that taxation is reasonable and that policy rewards them for their productivity.
This vision contrasts sharply with the status quo he describes:
A number of observers in the U.S. have noted the peculiar characteristic of the American political structure that taxes the best and most proficient citizens to support those unable to contribute their fair share to the overall well-being. The growing recognition that this is unfair and damaging is fueling criticism of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, trends in tax and bankruptcy law reflect the awareness that non-contributors put the success of our best citizens, and the nation as a whole, at risk. This wealth redistribution through social entitlements is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. history.
If this kind of analysis rings some of your bells (one way or the other), I hope you’ll read his whole proposal – down to the last sentence. Don’t let its modesty fool you: Jones is making a deadly serious proposal. It’s a “moment of Zen,” an eagle’s soaring flight into “truthiness,” and restores some friction into fact.
Brian McLaren is an author and speaker, also serving as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His most recent book was just released in softcover and is highly rated for group studies and discussions. Nobody is sure if the title is sincere or ironic. See his Web site for more details (brianmclaren.net).