When I moved to the small town of Clanton, Ala., many years ago, I knew it would be different from what I had been accustomed to. The small city of about 8,000 is about halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery. It felt very rural and provincial. I felt out of place.
A newspaper chain had hired me to be general manager of the larger of the town’s two newspapers. Shortly after arriving, my ex-wife and I dubbed the place Reverse World. Everything which we knew to be good was considered horrible by the people of this newspaper. Everything which we knew to be bad was praised and valued there. The culture was broken.
Very quickly, we realized everything about the city felt that way to us. The people were generally nice folks — and I don’t hold any ill will toward them — but we felt as though up was down, in was out, black was white, and good was evil. Everything in this place felt backwards. It was disorienting, because I had to constantly question everything I knew to be true.
If I had discovered that frogs were dissecting students at the local high school, I wouldn’t have been surprised.
I feel as though more and more of the world I’ve known is now part of Reverse World. It’s not the small-town mentality which I encountered in that city, but it’s a wide variety of things which seem to be making the world make less and less sense.
And I’ve discovered that if you don’t join in the delusions of the culture around you, the only alternative is for you to periodically wonder whether you’re the crazy one.
I do feel like questioning my sanity these days, because I see things in the world and in people and in relationships that make it seem that there’s an unspoken agreement for everybody not to notice.
I feel like the little boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I feel as though almost everybody is pretending not to notice things which seem painfully obvious to me. But then I start wondering whether I really see what I think I see.
I feel as though I’m the only one who still knows that two times two is four. It seems as though the world is screaming at me that two times two is five — and it seems as though I’m the socially undesirable outcast for noticing something which is still painfully obvious to me.
Am I the one who’s imagining things? When I try to tell others, there’s mostly a shrug of indifference or else they look away as though I’ve mentioned something that’s impolite to talk about. And that lack of interest from almost everyone else makes me certain that I’m an alien.
There’s something about this place — and these people — that I don’t understand. Or maybe we’re just wired to see different things. But it makes me doubt myself and doubt the things I see clearly and want to shout about — and it makes me desperate to find other people who clearly see reality as I see it, because it makes me feel alone.
I see things which I believe are mediocre being praised and getting attention online, but things which I believe are stunningly good or even insightfully important are ignored or else greeted with collective yawns. That confuses me and makes me want to start screaming.
Unless my way of looking at the world is simply objectively different from that of almost everybody else in the public sphere — which is possible — I have no explanation for this frustrating and confusing pattern.
My frustration is about the entire media and political landscape — social media, news media, politics, pop culture, academia — not just any one person or problem. Everything is obviously insane and obviously heading toward breakdown, but nobody with any power is doing anything sane to try to change the collapse which seems so clearly coming.
Republicans support a crazy man and Democrats want only to exploit his insanity to retake power to do more of their own brand of insanity. We are hading toward social, political and economic breakdown, but the political players argue only about who ought to be in the captain’s chair on the sinking Titanic.
I get frustrated because I can’t force anybody to listen or to question the insanity of where the world is going. And I constantly remember something which Ray Bradbury said. I believe Bradbury saw a lot of what’s going on in the world today back in the 1950s when he wrote “Fahrenheit 451,” so what he said carries a lot of weight with me.
“You can’t make people listen,” Bradbury said. “They have to come around in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them.”
The world is already starting to blow up. Because you get accustomed to the insanity and you’re focused on your own life, you might not even notice what’s really happening. But despite our standard of living getting better and despite amazing technological advances, our inner development — spiritual, emotional, psychological, intellectual — is regressing.
Even though it breaks my heart to see where we’re going, I can’t make anybody listen. But I keep hoping that some small number of people might hear my shouting and at least reconsider their relationship with the world around them.
At times, I feel like a mad prophet. In the Hebrew scriptures, the prophets looked and sounded like raving lunatics to the people who they were trying to warn. I’m certainly not a prophet, but I understand I run the risk of being seen as a wild-eyed mad man as well. But I can’t help it.
There are things the world needs to hear. I believe I can help point the way to parts of where some of the answers lie, not because I’m great or wise or brilliant. Just because I’m a little kid who clearly sees that the emperor has no clothes.
For now, I’ll go right on shouting into the void, hoping that the right curious people might hear and help find a way to turn the world around — to finally make Reverse World into the sane and loving and peaceful place it ought to be.