Have we fallen down the rabbit hole? Have we, like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, imbibed the concoction labeled “Drink me”? Alice’s journey, read today, is hardly fantastic. What was once considered a work of glorious creative madness seems now benign, even mundane. Our collective sensibilities have been warped well beyond anything the Mad Hatter doles out at his tea party. We have been slowly but surely Alice-ed. But Alice woke up from her dream. Will we?
America is Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty—teetering on a wall of debt and deceit, tempting a rogue gust of wind to send it careening beyond the help of all the King’s horses and all the King’s men. Many, including economists who should know better, argue that deficit spending marks the path to stability and wealth, turning an ignorant eye on the savings and investment that built America. Our leaders claim they are reforming healthcare while expanding it and re-binding us to a failed system. We seriously consider doubling-down in Afghanistan to fight an enemy who is no longer there because we lack the political will to admit our mistakes and come home. We sit around whining while smart folks took our money, saved their companies, and turned our tax dollars into their bonuses. Our public education system is broken, and our power grid and transportation infrastructure is crumbling, while many of us honestly believe climate change is just another hoax and our future is assured if we’d just “Drill baby, DRILL!” Our ‘reality shows’ are unreal, spawning nut-jobs who turn their families into hoax machines to feed an insatiable appetite for fame. Our so-called news channels long ago chose opinion and invective over journalism leaving us all to decide between fiction and fiction—anchored at extremes of egotism. The rest of the world sees us as vain and dangerous, but they have little to fear, the harm we do now is largely inflicted on ourselves. We have become our own victim.
Our unique drink—much stronger and more dangerous than Alice’s—is one part illusion, one part narcissism, and one part certitude. We see things as they are and blithely re-interpret facts to bolster our myth of exceptionalism. We look in the mirror and proclaim, “I love me some ME!” We allow faith to trump reason, trading intelligence for alchemy. Yet, in spite of the volume, vanity, and vice, there is a solution in Carroll’s Wonderland. In Wonderland resides the essence of greatness—that special mix of discipline and madness that just might save us from ourselves
We need a new drink. Keep the illusion, but trade narcissism for modesty and certitude for curiosity, and add a dash of sweat. Let creative madness do its thing without allowing public parasites to bilk its treasure. Set the White Rabbit’s clock back. Return savings and investment to the altar of wealth. Celebrate individualism without staring at our navels. Quit ‘tweeting’ and ‘YouTubing.’ And, turn off the damn cameras. We’re not as clever or pretty as we think. Solve the problem, or shut up and get out of the way.
As Alice’s Golden Afternoon ended, Carroll wrote,
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out –
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.
May Lewis Carroll’s creative madness be ours.