Monday, July 02, 2007

Actual reality vs. desired reality

An alternative title to this post could be, “Pragmatism vs. wishful thinking”.

This is one aspect of human beings that drives me absolutely nuts. Many people, it seems to me, don’t seem to be able to deal with reality as it stands. They insist on inventing solutions (or non-solutions, as the case may be) based on what they desire reality to be, not how it really is. Others acknowledge the actual reality of whatever situation they are dealing with, and then build any plans or theories with which then intend to address that reality. Personally, I call that pragmatism. It doesn’t matter how you got “here”, or whether or not you like “here”. It’s what you do next that counts. However, many people in today’s admittedly very complex society cannot seem to handle reality on the ground. They would much prefer to interface with the world assuming that reality should really reflect their personal beliefs. These two approaches to life are starting from much different points of initialization. That is, as my alternative title suggests, pragmatism vs. wishful thinking.

Now, that entire preceding paragraph was pretty much psychobabble; pretty talk that may or may not mean much of anything but certainly sounds terribly deep. Therefore, let’s go with an example or two to illustrate what I mean.

Let’s talk about sex. Specifically, teen sex. Many people, mostly on the conservative and/or Fundamentalist Christian side of things, would like to pretend that teen sex doesn’t exist at all. Or, if they acknowledge it, would like to address it in a way to make it such that it conforms with their desired reality, i.e., that teen sex shouldn't exist. Now, I am certain that most of us remember what it was like to be a teen. Sex was a driving factor in your daily life, either thinking about it, planning on doing something about it, actually doing it, etc. At least for the boys. I have no idea what the girls were thinking. And that was in the 70’s. From what I have gathered listening in on some student conversations (in some public places, like a high school gym during a basketball game**), things have only accelerated since then.

Given this reality, it seems the pragmatic way to deal with the problems of unwanted teenage pregnancy, children borne out of wedlock, the spread of STD’s, etc., is to start with the premise that teenagers, at least a large percentage of them, are going to have sex, given the chance, then go from there. Given that a large number of teenagers are going to have sex, regardless of what the conservative Christians of this country would like to believe, it would seem to me that the best way to approach this problem would be through proper education of the social and biological risks involved, access to counseling, availability (not easily available, but availability all the same) of condoms, etc. You should give the kids enough information to know what they are dealing with, and give them some tools to prevent some unwanted results, such as a baby or disease.

However, the conservative Christians would prefer to try to bend the reality of the situation more to their liking. The premise of “many kids are going to have sex, whether you like it or not, so you better deal with that in a realistic way” is not one that they particularly care for. So, they invent their own. “Kids should not be having sex!”, is their starting position. And everything they do regarding this subject is based on their desire to get actual reality to fit back into their preferred reality. Abstinence-based sex education is just about all they will accept. To me, this position seems to me to be bordering on delusional. They need to stop and think what they were like as teenagers. This seems all the more crazy when another topic that conservative Christians care deeply about is abortion. If they would like to reduce the number of abortions in this country, then you would think they would be more willing to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy in a realistic manner. You would think….

I do not want anyone to think, based on my example above, that I am all for teens having sex whenever and wherever they want. I am not. I am in the process of adopting a soon-to-be 12 year old girl. I am not yet to the point where I really have to address this issue, but I better be ready for it rather soon. Sex is a basic drive for our species, as it apparently is for all species. If it weren’t, then there would be a lot less species around. Personally, I would prefer for teens to hold off on having sex until they really have a good idea of what they are getting themselves into. However, given that most teenagers have a couple of things working against them here (specifically, a lack of maturity and raging hormones), then I would suggest that a better course of action is to attempt to nudge them toward Solution A (abstinence), at least until they are of an age they have a chance of understanding the ramifications of actually doing the deed, but be prepared with Solution B (everything else) when Solution A doesn’t work. An even better alternative is to work Solutions A and B together, woven together into an overall solution package.

In any event, this post wasn’t specifically about teens having sex. I was only using it as an example. I was attempting to write something about the different starting points in people’s “realities”. I could have picked any number of examples with which to illustrate this. How people view the Iraq war is another good one. It becomes more and more obvious to most people that the Iraq war was a big mistake and we are hip deep in a quagmire from which we have no idea how to extricate ourselves. Yet, there still seem to be some pockets of resistance to this reality. The “surge” in Iraq is working, violence is going down, etc., etc. I see some people on the right push these talking points every day. Joe Lieberman did it just this week.
It should be more than obvious that it ISN’T going well, that violence is not abating and may actually be going up, and that by keeping our troops in Iraq means we are just delaying the point in time when things fall apart when we do leave. The situation in Iraq is not good, to put it mildly, and to say otherwise is rather delusional. Yet, they truly desire for the Iraq war to be going well (to support whatever agenda they have going on), so the “everything is really rosy, no matter what else you may see or hear” approach is the only one they can take. The issue of global warning and the resultant climate change is another example. Calling your enemies “global warming Nazis” isn’t really going to change the situation for the better.

I am trained as an engineer and a scientist. To me, facts are indispensable to the entire process of thinking logically. If you start with a preconceived and desired but yet untruthful premise, then your entire logical process is flawed. GIGO; garbage in, garbage out. You are not going to come away with an approach to anything that has a snowball’s chance of success if you aren’t willing to start with a realistic premise that is grounded in facts. Just ask George Bush and all his neocon enablers how well that worked out for them re. the war in Iraq.

**I wasn’t trying to listen in on this conversation of group of 7 or 8 young high schoolers. It just happened that I overheard this. I was just sitting in the stands, and they were having this overt, rather loud conversation about three rows in front of me. They didn’t appear to be seniors, and a couple looked as if they might be freshmen. They seemed to be trying to impress each other about how nonchalant and “worldly” they could be about the subject. Only one girl seemed vaguely aware that I could hear what was going on and she looked somewhat guilty in my direction. The conversation was about oral sex, and who was doing who and what everyone was saying about it. Needless to say, I was pretty astounded when I realized what they were discussing and the graphic terms that they were using. As I said above, things certainly have “progressed” since the time I was in high school. Not something I would have preferred, but nonetheless, a new reality that needs to be dealt with.

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