Thursday, November 09, 2006


A couple of weeks ago, I took a short road trip with a friend, a rhetorician, who told me how he had dismantled a piece of propaganda, not by arguing against the actual thing it was promoting (a screed on the horrors of illegal immigration, if I recall correctly), but by taking it apart rhetorically, showing the flaws in the arguments (non sequitors and the like). I should add the propaganda was one of those forwarded e-mails we all seem to get from certain friends and/or relatives.

Anyway, after his careful dismantling of the argument (without taking sides in the argument), he received the response that he wasn't living in the real world. The implication was that with all his education, he had lost touch with the reality this forwarded e-mail was clearly exposing.

The details of that particular story aside, I've pondered this for days now. What is the real world? I admit, I find my grasp on the concept to be slippery at best. Setting aside political views, let's just look at one simple way reality is very different to different people, yet very much a way of life on this big ol' planet.

I live here in the U.S. of A. where, I heard on the radio a few weeks ago, that the average citizen uses over 100 gallons of water per day. Per day. I heard that and it seemed just ridiculous. Impossible. How could I possibly be responsible for using 100 gallons of water each day? But as I added it up--showers, clothes and dish washing, food prep . . . not to mention the amount I just drink everyday . . . it still seems unlikely, but I suppose it could add up. (I now feel better about never washing my car.)

There still exists, in some parts of the world, communities that must walk to a central well or river or cistern of some sort and carry the day's water back to the home. How much water can one person carry? I'm guessing between 10 and 20 gallons. I've carried two 5 gallon buckets full of water at one time, and I can't imagine someone being able to carry much more than that for a very long distance.

So, just that as a base measurement of reality . . . which circumstance is more real?

Given the economic strata that I hold here in this country, I've looked at the way some people live and think they exist in some fairy tale world. There are families of 4 living in 20 room mansions not that far from me, and look forward to a time when I might be able to afford a second bedroom and move my home office out of the living room.

But I suppose those lives lived in opulence . . . really, is their circumstance any more or less real?

There are many, much more complex ways this has been rattling in my brain. Lies and "realities" we present to people who then live in a world not quite as real as it might be if we told the truth. The unrealities we continue to create and present because it's easier than exposing the real circumstances. For some reason, people seem to find me a good place to tell about their extramarital affairs. I wonder, then, about the reality of the spouse, who thinks he or she is in a monogamous relationship.

Those sorts of things.

I've seen different fiction writers talk about writing stories as a way of organizing and making sense of the real world. I suppose that's true . . .

I'm not sure I have a point. Except maybe to pay attention to other realities, to not assume ours is the only one, that anyone living differently is out of touch with reality. Maybe I meant to say something about discounting someone else's viewpoint as not in the real world is to miss out on the many ways reality can be experienced, is to cut oneself off from compassion for others, is to disregard others' concrete experiences as somehow unworthy of consideration. I probably had some sort of point about those sorts of things.

I suppose I'll continue to ponder this. If I come up with anything more lucid, I'll try to write about it.

Does anyone out there read Sojourners magazine? The current issue has an article about fiction writers, Barbara Kingsolver among the more prominent featured. In some way, I think of that article as having something to say about fiction as arranging--and transmitting--reality so as to foster intimacy between diparate folk. Kingsolver said somethign about that intimacy being the opposite of war.

I'm feeling particularly inarticulate about all this. I suppose that can happen when discussing reality. Feel free to comment and help me arrange my thoughts more thoughtfully.

While writing this, I was reminded of a couple of lines from the late great songwriter, Mark Heard:

To the poor we are swaddled in riches
To the rich we ain't nothing but poor

Maybe I'm trying to get at something about perspective . . .