Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
What makes great masses of people believe the same stupid, or magical, or xenophobic, or elitist narrative? What made Emperor Constantine decriminalize Christianity and eventually elevate it to the state religion of the Roman Empire? And what made people go along with that? What made people agree on currency? What makes people agree on crypto-currency? What makes so many people agree on the greatness of certain art? Or certain food?
Well, certain food is objectively delicious, but still...
At the root of this question might be, “how do people come to believe strongly, vehemently, even violently, opinions having no other value than the value the believers assign to them?”
Then again, what other value do opinions have? Well, a medically trained doctor’s opinion of why, say, you aren’t capable of speaking above a whisper, might have more value to you than that of someone who’s just tossing out guesses, because of the training and expertise of the one, compared with the lack of them of the other.
But you might not like the doctor’s opinion, because it has implications that require you to have polyps removed from your vocal chords, whereas the know-nothing opinion might only require you to eat chicken soup or suck on a slippery elm lozenge.
So, still, although you have your reasons, no specific property of the opinions other than your own judgment would make you choose one or the other. The medical one may be correct, or better reflect your physical condition, but you could still ignore it indefinitely if you were attached to the other opinion for some cowardly or superstitious reason.
I recently learned a little about the Saint Francis dam disaster, a fiasco made possible by the water wars of the late 1920s and 1930s, which Robert Towne and Roman Polanski used as a McGuffin to build their Chinatown on. The details would be better told as one of Renaldo’s Rotten Histories than by me. He may have already done so, I don’t know because there’s no way to search for just the Rotten Histories – I’m not trying to create more work for the archivists, I’m just saying: I’ll just be giving you the broad, choppy strokes.
Bureau of Water Works manager and chief engineer, William Mulholland, who would go on to have a drive through the Hollywood Hills named after him, wanted to be a big hero so that he could eventually have a David Lynch lesbian rom-com gone wrong named after his winding road. So he had a huge dam built and redirected the Owens River away from the Owens River Valley and its farms into an enormous reservoir. The dam needed to be higher than he at first thought, because of all the water that needed to be stolen, so they built it higher, but Mulholland, like a doofus, neglected to increase the size of the foundation.
Oh, speaking of lesbian romantic comedy gone wrong, I guess having to turn a whole season of your funny show over to maudlin lesbians is the appropriate punishment for thinking you might have sex, on a date, in your apartment. JUST KIDDING! Good for you, D’iziz I'msari! I’m sure your friend and her lover’s semi-autobiographical story of struggle, sorrow, joy, and commitment is just the thing to breathe new life into the comatose world of situation comedy. It’s a gag worthy of Andy Kaufman in the years when he traveled with his fake family of Evangelical Christian hymn singers. But back to the topic at hand.
Long and the short of it, or rather just the short of it: at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, on March 12, 1928, the Saint Francis dam collapsed, sending twelve and a half billion gallons of water smashing through farms and towns, rolling for sixty-five miles to the sea, flattening everything in its path. Four hundred to six hundred people were killed, and even the higher number’s probably low, because of all the undocumented laborers and their families who were also wiped out.
Mulholland had a vision, and it was a case of, “build it and they will come,” or rather, “build it and everyone will believe it was necessary, because who would go to the immense, costly lengths of stealing twelve-and-a-half billion gallons of water from an entire valley if it wasn’t necessary?
Somehow, the bigger and more audacious the lie, and the more resources it takes to commit whatever crimes demanded by the lie, the stronger the allegiance to it by congenital suckers. We see passionate attachment to opinions that run counter to historical documentation, empirical evidence, common sense, and our own lived experience more and more often, it seems, accepted by more of the public, trumpeted more loudly, having greater influence on our collective activities, and thus steering our collective destiny as a species ever closer to extinction.
Or maybe that’s just my opinion. And lord knows I’m no expert on anything, so why would anyone pay attention to my opinion? But I guess I’m just as good a fool as any, in today’s marketplace of dumb opinions.
In the foregoing description, we build our image of what the world is, with our opinions. And some building materials are more stable than others. The more closely we adhere to accurate observation and the counsel of the learned and experienced, the less likely we are to wake up being carried out to the ocean by a seventy-five foot flood wave.
What happens when 25 to 30% of US society has built their world out of the lousiest stuff imaginable? A house of cards can at least be glued and taped together to extend its questionable structural integrity. A house of pancakes will at least leave you something buttery and sweet to eat after it’s collapsed around you.
But a dam holding back a grotesque amount of stolen life necessities built on the delusions of a megalomaniac will sweep us all into the ocean. And on the way out to sea we’ll be smashed by huge chunks of the faulty structure or ripped to pieces by jagged flotsam and the antlers and horns of dead deer and antelope.
This ain’t no house of pancakes. We’re swimming in the reservoir, or strolling on top of the overburdened dam, and even though many, many of us are constantly warning that the foundation is rotten, there’s not a lot that can be done, because the edifice is built on ages of bad opinions and was constructed long before we got here.
Maybe it’s not too late to switch to pancakes as we build the tower of doom higher from now on. I don’t know, whaddya think?
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!