Elected officials cannot even agree on reality.
“The saddest aspect of life… is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” ~ Isaac Asimov
As Isaac Asimov noted, modern humanity is challenged by the tendency for our wisdom to be outpaced by the unforeseen consequences of science, creativity applied in ever-emerging technology. During the period he described, the foremost dilemma validating his point was nuclear science applied in lethal weaponry that could end civilization in a war of escalation – which remains a looming existential threat.
But now we face another menace to survival in the form of climate change, the solution for which doesn’t precisely conform to Asimov’s bewildering insight. The greatest threat to solving climate change isn’t a lack of understanding, but rather the calculated propagation of misinformation intended to subvert the credibility of well-established scientific knowledge, used as a means to protect profit making activities.
Two other concurrent trends are making this dangerous subversion of truth more destructive. First, social networking has amplified the enervating influence of rumors and false conspiracy theories. As epitomized and confirmed in analysis of the 2016 U.S. presidential election revealed in the Mueller Report, disruption of public opinion has been made far easier for malefactors to achieve through the compelling coercions of internet communication. Ironically, this computer-age information technology has been stealthily crafted into a weapon of malicious misinformation, with tragic societal outcomes.
The second factor impeding America’s ability to grasp and act upon mutual self-interest is the growing suspicion of public institutions and those in power. Unfortunately, the blame for stagnating conditions suffered by many working-class Americans has been misplaced, to the point where tribal-like allegiances, often based on race and sub-culture, are blocking consensus at a time when it’s crucial to our future.
In effect, the persuasive delusion of social networking has combined with increasing discontent caused by conditions manifested after decades of public policies favoring corporate activities at the public’s expense.
Since Calvin Coolidge declared that America’s business is business, there has been a series of U.S. policy concessions to the nation’s corporate sector, which has gained further advantage by exploiting low-priced foreign labor, global markets, artificially cheap resources, and offshore tax-shelters. The culmination in corporate dominance of American politics came with the now infamous 2010 Citizens United case, wherein the U.S. Supreme Court awarded citizen status to corporations, perversely equivocating political spending with freedom of speech, thus protecting it under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Accordingly, we now incur the consequences, as much of Washington and many state-capitols labor under the yoke of corporate campaign contributions and lobbyists who wield great power – and who sometimes actually draft legislation that shamelessly and recklessly advances opportunistic corporate activities. These same influences have concentrated wealth through tax laws, unaccounted-for damage to public health and the environment, and other unfair accommodations in public policy and the prejudicial administration of law.
America not only endures the overly sluggish reach of wisdom described by Asimov, but citizens and their elected officials cannot even agree on reality, often rejecting pivotal scientific facts. This is largely due to the well-funded manipulations of corporations pursuing agendas that prioritize short-term financial benefits and shrinking regulatory controls. This explains ongoing federal efforts to override state objections to offshore drilling, EPA’s proposal to dismantle regulatory rules protecting clean air and water, and a well-financed Big Oil campaign to sustain brazenly fabricated denial or marginalization of climate change, its calamitous impacts, and/or the causes.
Until Americans regain the capacity to agree and rationally act upon basic realities, we will flounder at ever greater risk to our collective future. It remains uncertain if such consensus can be reached soon enough to avert the worst impacts of climate change, thanks in no small part to those who profit by strategically prolonging misinformation to discredit unsavory but vital scientific truths.