“We are the Emperor and we’re naked”

by on May 27, 2010 · 16 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, War and Peace


("The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen is a fable about the pitfalls of political self-aggrandizement and the fear of people to face reality even when they know that the reality of the situation is untrue.)

Political apathy? Nah, political crapathy!

By Sarah Little / OB Rag / May 27, 2010

After much introspection I’ve concluded that I’m not politically apathetic. I am politically horrified. I’m socially horrified as well. I look around and see a nation of lemming-like creatures who gasp in horror when tragedy strikes as we turn our collective heads to some overriding power that is supposed to step in to avert or mitigate disaster. FEMA, local law enforcement, OSHA, the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, the School Board, the Constitution, the Pope… God! Someone or something is supposed to make sure “this” doesn’t happen and if it does the “they” are supposed to fix it!

Five years ago Katrina came through and devastated the gulf coast. The TV news was crammed with images of desperate people holding up signs, begging for help. Fingers were pointed, blame cast. It’s was FEMA’s fault, it was the Army Corp of Engineers’ fault, it was somebody’s fault. Forget the fact that we knew we were living in a danger zone with an antiquated protection system, someone, somewhere screwed up and they are going to have to pay. sd_wildfireWhen annual wildfires wreak their havoc in Southern California we scramble to assign responsibility, if not blame, for the damage. Heartsick families stand before TV cameras in tears, vowing to rebuild their stolen dreams. The electric company must be to blame for having, well, electrical towers that spark. Or the developers are to blame for building homes in the desert in the first place. Now families have to start over, rebuild. This issue must be addressed, we scream, as we flip the light switch to get electricity to run the house we can’t afford in the desert that has no water. Someone will pay!

One day in the fall of 2001 terrorists flew airplanes were flown into the twin towers. The words to describe that horror have all been used up. In our shock we stood tall and proud. We screamed about colors not running and we flew the American flag from our truck antennas until Old Glory became Old Rags. As a country we pulled together for one brief moment in time while we simultaneously mouthed the words, “why us?” And by god, we said to one another, someone will pay! greedy fat man

Several years ago an oil tanker missed it’s turn and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine wilderness of Prince William Sound. Tormented sea otters, dead and dying seabirds, slimy shores and hundreds of angry fishermen were seen on national television. We watched in horror and vilified Exxon for the tragedy; we raked public officials over the coals for not having appropriate response procedures in place. We wanted someone to fix it, step up to the plate and admit culpability. I tell you, someone must pay for this! Greedy_bastards

Now we have the current era of bailouts where we collectively assure our most highly paid citizens, “Don’t worry, we know you’re too big to fail, we’ll take care of everything. We do not hold you responsible”. And the big BP spill where we’re apparently keeping the status quo, “Don’t worry, there’s a cap to your liability and we must have your oil so we will continue to turn a blind eye to your irresponsible actions. We won’t hold you responsible for putting profit over humanity”. Just as we did after their Texas City explosion. We chose to live behind crumbling levees, we turned a blind eye to the warnings over the years and when disaster struck we were helpless, expecting the government to come and make it better. We continue to build and buy houses in deserts and on flood plains because we want to, and I suppose we think that “someone” will help us when nature comes calling. Clogged Freeway

We buried our heads in the sand and pretended not to notice as we went from being a country that was envied and admired to one being held in contempt as we war over oil. We still have no real mass transit in most US cities and just as Prince William Sound is beginning to recover from the devastation of our greed we have BP spewing globs of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. And we still have no viable electric vehicles.

We bought big houses we didn’t need with more of the money we didn’t have and we bought cheap, fast food we shouldn’t eat and we got fat. We sent our kids to schools that shouldn’t be open where they failed to learn and to churches that harbor child molesters where they were raped (and yet we celebrate with these institutions when they throw carnivals and allow them to remain in our neighborhoods?).

mexican-migrant-worker-We bought disposal goods that should have been enduring goods, we bought toys painted with lead because they are cheaper. We pretend we don’t benefit from the migrant labor as we raise our arms against illegal immigration. All the while ignoring the fact that if we did not give jobs to those “illegals” they would not come here. We spent money we didn’t have on cars that ran on oil for which we sell our collective souls. We get in our cars and commute to jobs working for people and organizations for whom we probably ought not be working, doing things that, frankly, might not even need to be done.

We gain our wisdom over the airwaves and our opinions from sound bites. All the while we express our outrage at “them”. We’ve handed over our rights because “they” said we must in order to be safe. We have settled for mediocrity and have grown comfy with complacency. We laugh when we’re told to laugh and we cry when we’re told to cry. When we’re told we should protest we scream from street corners and vent on blogs, all the while making heros out of entertainers claiming to be journalists and following pop stars more closely than the people we’ve elected to keep us safe.

Politically apathetic? No, it’s just that the noise to signal ratio is intolerable and I’m no Don Quixote. I’m weary of talking about what’s wrong and why. We all know what’s wrong and why.

We’re greedy, we’re short-sighted, our system of electing leaders is broken and we’re hooked on comfort. To top it all off, we never look in the mirror when we’re looking for answers.

I hate to have to be the one to break the news but we are the Emperor and we’re naked as the day we were born.

Or am I Chicken Little?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

BillRayDrums May 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

*slow deliberate clap*…..I’m buying you dinner tonight. :D


lane tobias May 27, 2010 at 12:52 pm

a wake up call for the collective mind of those with blind agendas. Thanks Sarah.


psd May 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Kudos!


Sunshine May 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

someone had to say all this and I’m glad, for once, it didn’t have to be me. I, too, am weary of all that’s “wrong and broken” in this country. Try as I might, I simply can not do anything by myself. I need all of you, we all need each other, to turn this around to acceptable level of human care and compassion for all once again.

I’m too tired right now to fight the good fight. I’m not burying my head in the sand, just laying down on the warm sand for awhile to rest my weary soul.

continue to speak up loud and clear, sarah. This is a message we all need to read and serious consider what actions to take next..


OB Cindi May 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

WOW! What a powerful editorial by Sarah!!! Awesome job woman!!!

If we want to raise the next generation to not whine and complain and point fingers, and not be complacent with politics, then we need to teach a class at the elementary school level about “service.” Service to community, service to family, and service to earth. If a teenager can “letter” in Athletics, then they should also be encouraged to letter in Service. Teach kids from a young age to become good at the craft of service, and maybe with the next generation, we can build confidence to speak up without worry of losing one’s livelihood or being thrown in jail.


JMW May 28, 2010 at 3:41 am

Sarah, Hi. I want to respond because it seems to me that this is topic of the time. Unfortunately, there are too many words, ideas, and images banging about in my brain to get them organized right now and say anything with depth and coherence. In any event, as we used to say, “Right On!” Nail on the head.
Still, I don’t know who “they” are. I don’t think that “they” are us. To whatever extent we are lazy and self-indulgent, smug and selff-righteous, it certainly is us. But, there have been few people ever on earth considered to be perfect; and there’s quite a bit of debate about those claims. Could it be that “they” are that “loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires” that a now, probably, passe entertainer once sang about? Or, was his scope too small?
If we had our own way, wouldn’t things be better? Wouldn’t If feed you, if you were hungry. Wouldn’t I give you a place to sleep? Wouldn’t I bind your wounds? Wouldn’t I help you, if I could?
The bell curve tells us bad things are bound to happen, bad people are bound to roam around, but that good things and good people are equally part of reality. I guess one big problem is telling who is who, and what is what.
Lastly, another big problem is that humans don’t seem to know enough. We don’t know what a human is. We don’t know where we are. We don’t know why we’re here we are or what, if anything, we are supposed to do while we are here.
Maybe, we’re just a bad batch forgotten in the darkness and left to fend for ourselves without any purpose at all. Then again, even if that were true, we’d still be here and we’d still have problems. Choosing not to choose is still choosing.
Best, thanks, keep it up.


Jon May 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

Great piece Sarah. In regards to the oil spill, all those “pesky” environmental groups who have been screaming about this looming disaster for years are now both justified and horrified. Unfortunately, as you so eloquently point out in your essay, “We’re greedy, we’re short-sighted, our system of electing leaders is broken and we’re hooked on comfort (OIL). To top it all off, we never look in the mirror when we’re looking for answers.”



david May 28, 2010 at 11:52 pm

sarah always wows me. shes got the knack for getting past the cliches, making it all more palpable, always taking me higher.

i have nothing of my own to add but i am reminded of a leonard cohen song that i think makes for a great soundtack to sarahs post

everybody knows that the dice are loaded
everybody rolls with their fingsres crossed
everybody knows that the war is over
everybody knows that the good guys lost
everybody knows that the fight was fixed
the poor stay poor, the rich get rich
everybody knows that the boat is leaking
everybody knows that the captain lied
everybody got this broken feeling
like their father or their dog just died
everybody talking to their pockets
everybody wants a box of chocolates
and a long stem rose

thats how it goes
everybody knows


Sarah May 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Thank you, David.

I think I want a nice bottle of wine with my chocolates and my rose.


Jack May 29, 2010 at 9:22 am

I read with interest your editorial, Sarah. It is good, it is a rallying call for something better. But it unfortunately stops short. I believe you are speaking to many of us, who have either have been thinking about many of these issues, coming to the same conclusion, or are just now beginning to wake up to the systemic nature of “what’s wrong.” And regardless of whether you are an angry member of the Tea Party, or angry member of the Progressive, we all must stand up and be counted, for what we have done and have not done. We have met the enemy, and it is us.

We have recognized the problem. Whew, glad that is done. So now we have accepted the problem as one of our own making. We can now be comfortable we are taking the blame for all that is wrong, either by our actions or inactions. And it is right back to complacency, self-satisfied we are ultimately responsible for the mess we have allowed ourselves to get into. Now guilt-ridden, we bow our heads in shame and acknowledge to each other it is all our fault.

But we do nothing to change. Tomorrow, we will buy gasoline to fuel our cars. We will buy fast “food” because we are busy and on the run. We will play politics at work to chase our gods; money, power and prestige. We see the homeless and instead of despising them, we shake our heads and tsk, tsk, tsk. We will consume the next technological contraption which takes us further from our humanity as we blog, twitter, facebook and youtube, all in higher and higher definition. And we will sit on our collective asses (as I am doing right now) staring endless at a machine asking where has our humanity gone.

Why? I believe it is because we have become hopeless. Not hopeless in the sense of it is all bad and just end it all now. But hopeless in the sense, what good can I do by myself. And with hopelessness comes complacency, isolation and paralysis. And so we stop doing anything which is not directly related to our comfort and survival…and that would be the American perspective of comfort and survival.

What do we do? I use the parable of the Hummingbird in some of the classes I teach, particularly when I get to the issue of ethics and humanism. Seems a long, long time ago, there was a huge forest fire. All the animals of the woods fled in terror and watched as their home burned. All, that is, except one. The little Hummingbird flew to a pond and took a drop of water and flew over the towering flames and let her drop of water fall on the flames, returning to the pond to fill her beak with another drop of water to put on the fire. As the other animals cringed in fear, bemoaning all the reasons they could nothing, they finally called out to the little Hummingbird and asked her what she thought she was doing…she was never going to put out the fire. She replied, without slowing from her task, “I am doing what I can.”

Sarah, if you do not mind, I would like to add, the mess we have allowed ourselves to get into appears insurmountable. All of us look at what is going on around us and ask. “What difference can I make?” My response is simple. Do what you are able. It needn’t be something remarkable, just pick something and do it on a regular basis. Acknowledge the existence of others in your actions…stop isolating and seeking the path of least resistance. If you cannot feed the homeless, then simply look them in the eye and speak to them as you would anyone else you pass by on the street. If you cannot make it to a beach clean up, pick up a piece or two of trash when you take a walk. If you cannot stop buying gas for your car, try to find a day each week you can get by without driving, or plan your trips to optimize your energy use. Once you find something you can do, you will find there are other things which become a natural progression to a passion, replacing your complacency.

But stick with one thing! I assure you if you spread yourself to thin, you will burn yourself out, and the what’s the use attitude will return. Seek contentment in what you are able to do. The best day is one you can look back upon and have no regrets. If we are all Hummingbirds, just maybe we can put out the fire….

Now you must excuse me, I feel the need of bicycle ride coming on.



Sarah May 29, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I’m humbled by the nice comments and happy that I was able to convey my thoughts well enough that people understood what I was getting at. It was all sort of a verbal foot-stomping that, as Jack mentioned, fell short of offering any solutions.

Maybe if we all do enough little things it will make a difference. Pick up the piece of paper instead of stepping over it (or as my mom would say, “how long are you going to pretend you don’t see that mess before you clean it up?”).

Pay attention to whom you business with and where you spend your money. Use caution when picking your affiliations.

Ernie McCray said it perfectly, “Watch what you buy. Watch what you wear and how you wear it. Watch how you express yourself, how you roll.”


Nate Hipple May 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Nice, a rebuttal to political apathy…. I’ve wondered about sayings like “judge not, lest ye be judged” and “turn the other cheek” which seem to recommend apathy as a strategy for dealing with life’s woes. But if someone’s trampling your rights, you gotta defend yourself, right? Not sure how to feel about hurricanes, floods and other acts of God.


Sarah May 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Regarding hurricanes, floods and other acts of God or nature:

I’m advocating for proactive thinking instead of reactive bitching.

Tbough it would be nice if all the systems we have in place would work perfectly, they usually don’t and it’s irresponsible to assume that some other person or organization is going magically appear to save us when the inevitable disaster happens.


Jack May 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Besides…..we have signs now to point us in the correct direction to get us out of the beach if a tsunami heads our way….at least that one is covered.


Jackie McElveny June 3, 2010 at 11:41 am

Two words: Truly excellent!


Cancel reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Older Article:

Newer Article: