"Shall I tell you something, Mawk?"
That's my English friend Bertram, signaling an impending anecdote.
This one concerns a recent illness. He relates endless details about visits to specialists, diagnostic tools, therapeutic regimens, bushels of high-priced pharmaceuticals. Happily, he concludes, he is now cured. And because his care was supplied by the National Health Service -- Britain's universal insurance system -- the whole shebang, he gloats, had been absolutely free.
"Free?" I reply. "FREE? Are you insane, or just a gormless git?"
Now, young Bertram is no imbecile. He knows that his health care was anything but "free" -- that he had paid for it, was paying for it, and would continue to pay for it, in the form of the U.K.'s extortionate taxes on everything from income to chewing gum.
Yet, somehow, there was a disconnect in his brain, a willingness to ignore the true cost of his care. He knew it, but he didn't want to know it. So he became, for a while, a naturalized citizen of Delusiana.
Delusiana is a wondrously happy place -- a topsy-turvy land of mirage and self-deception that transcends geographic borders.
Across the English Channel, for example, every French town boasts a monument to soldiers who died for "la gloire de France" -- a national "glory" consisting of battlefield humiliations from Waterloo to Dien Bien Phu. Crazy? Absolutement! Yet the country embraces its communal myth with gusto.
The Japanese sometimes seem to be permanent residents of Delusiana. They even have a word for the concept -- kotonakareshugi -- which means willfully dismissing unpleasant or inconvenient facts. The notion can be applied in all situations, whether ignoring the crush of fellow riders in a Tokyo subway or glossing over memories of certain activities in, say, Nanking in 1937.
The Delusiana mentality is confounding when it afflicts individuals like my friend Bertram. It's downright spooky when entire countries succumb. But it can be ruinously destructive when it pops up in the realm of business.
The most successful buggy-whip maker in 1918 Detroit was probably still thinking "By God, I own this town," even as he caught the first whiffs of smoke from the stacks of Henry Ford's new Rouge plant.
On a larger scale, General Motors once lorded over the domestic world of wheels -- until small, fuel-efficient imports from Honda and Toyota flooded America in the 1970s. GM's response? A poorly engineered expedient called the Chevrolet Vega, whose quality reached depths previously unplumbed. Living in a fantasy of their own creation, the gang at Woodward Avenue thought the rust-bucket Vega would be a hunky-dory stopgap to slow the erosion of their market.
And Delusiana embraced its newest immigrants.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from such tales of disconnects large and small: Reality is ugly at times, but it's the only game in town. So face facts now, or face troubles down the road.
Because while no visa is required to enter Delusiana, getting out can be nigh onto impossible.