No matter how hard you and I try, it’s hard to see the culture in which you live because, well, you’re living in it. Frankly, you need to stand back and get some distance. One way is the distance of history. But if you can’t wait that long, here’s another. Watch how people from very different cultures see us.
When visitors from distant lands travel in America they see us as we can’t. They experience quick waves of collective impressions, chief among which is the way money matters to Americans. Without an inherited aristocracy or a landed gentry of our own [see Downton Abbey for details], we have always judged success [ours and others] by our incomes.
When the stranger scans the American media, they see virtually everything we do or make or sell featured in terms of its monetary value. The ten richest Americans…the highest grossing film of the week…the cost of the newest Broadway show….the price wars among the smartphone producers…the salaries of the newest sports stars…the contracts for the most prominent TV stars…what the last Rubens painting got at Southey’s…the price of this year’s must-have screen, BMW or Princess Cruise. Somehow the pricier they are, the more we value and want them.
True, in every culture everything has a price, but in a culture of conspicuous consumption, the price of the product becomes an entity unto itself. Just being able to afford the price is what makes the product worth paying the price! A kind of circular logic that is more circles than logic.
What does all this have to do with Magic & Mystery….? Simply this. Our consumer culture is a maze of magical products and promises. Magic is seeing something that is not really there. Mystery, on the other hand, is not seeing something that is really there. Such as…? Such as all those unseen realities to our lives which have no price because they are priceless, and which have no measurable dimensions because they exist outside the the physically measurable.
Such as…? Well, that’s for you to decide.
SEE MY LETTER IN TODAY’S TRIBUNE EDITORIAL PAGE TITLED ‘THE TERROR OF RANDOMNESS’
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