Culture? You’re soaking in it.

When I was a kid there was a long running TV commercial for a dishwashing liquid whose maker claimed it was so great at softening and moisturizing a woman’s skin that Marge, the manicurist, would soak her customer’s hands in it (on the sly, of course). Marge would quickly work how beautifully this wonderful dishwashing product worked to soften skin into every chat. When the customer asked Marge where she could try this amazing product Marge hit ’em with the punchline “you’re soaking in it!” The startled customer would start to pull her hand back, but Marge would gently but firmly put the hand back in the dishwashing liquid and everybody smiled and remembered the product was so good that you could literally soak in it to soften and moisturize your hands.

“You’re soaking in it” serves as an excellent (if mildly strained) metaphor for how dimly we see culture and most other things that surround us, seemingly immutable things that appear to be inevitable. The way things are, and have “always been”, is a powerful reinforcement of just about anything.

There is a compelling reason the US government doesn’t provide health care to all citizens as a right of citizenship. It’s complicated. Same for the reason that millions of underemployed Americans can’t presently go through a government sponsored training program to become skilled home health aides, with a guaranteed decent income, benefits and a pension. Both have to do with what we’re all soaking in, how the “free market” profit motive drives American health care, the lucrative middle man corporations who rake in billions selling these services, skimming a percentage off the top, usually underpaying the unskilled workers who often provide tender, intimate care to homebound older Americans in their last days. There are laws in place, and overlapping regulations, customs, cultural beliefs, etc. that keep things like affordable health care as a right and the right to decent pay for doing a tough, shitty, very important job out of the public discussion most of the time.

If you watch commercial TV you are going to see television commercials. Duh. Nothing is for free, and our constitution acknowledges, in its copyright clause, that all creativity is motivated by a desire for profit. You want something for free? Pay the premium to not see ads or shut up about the constant commercials. It is unthinkable that anyone in a free society would do anything for free, except perhaps favors for friends and family members. In God we trust, YOU pay cash, brah.

Some men see things as they are and ask, “”Why?”” I dream things that never were and ask, “”Why not?””

We can either, in the great old phrase (made famous by Robert Kennedy, who tweaked a line from George Bernard Shaw), talk about things exactly as they are, limited by existing law and culture, or imagine better things that don’t presently exist and change culture and laws to make them real Maybe our worst failures, as humanists who believe in basic human equality and a right to dignity, are failures of imagination.

To me, one of the features of Hilary’s 2016 campaign that doomed her to win the popular vote by only 3,000,000, and come up 78,000 short in the Electoral College (how about that vestige of slavery and rule by the wealthy for a “why?”) was her assertion that changing institutions takes time, sometimes generations, and that steady, incremental progress is the best we can realistically hope for, that radical change is unwise and uncalled for, no matter how pressing the need might seem, and so on.

The status quo, she implied, while not perfect, was pretty good for most people. Her opponent, the malignant Orange Polyp, spoke directly to the grievances of millions of disgruntled Americans when he said he knew how rotten to the core and corrupt American politics was and that he alone could fix it. He’d drain the swamp, build the wall, repeal Obamacare and replace it with something much better, and cheaper, that would cover everything.

This is a simplistic little post on an obscure blahg by a know-it-all who works for free, but there is hopefully a kernel of a thought in it for somebody. The best, and the worst, are things we imagine in the absence of actual experience. Few things we dread turn out to be as terrible as we fear, not everything we look forward to turns out to be as great as we dream it will be. Still, it’s a useful exercise, I think, in looking for solutions, to suspend disbelief based on the reality of a seemingly unalterable legal/social/cultural arrangement that we are all soaking in and that nobody can change. For generating possible solutions to complicated, miserable, often deadly problems, why not imagine something better and ask “Why not?”

This entry was posted in musing.

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