Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Dangers of a Reality-Free Electorate

We have important issues to discuss in our country and critical decisions need to be made. For example, we need to review economic data to help us determine whether public investment in infrastructure is a spur or drag on the economy. We need to examine scientific evidence to determine whether climate change is real and what, if anything, we can and should do about it. We need to look further at our healthcare system and determine whether the Affordable Care Act will be good or bad for our country and whether it will be good or bad for our economy or whether any adjustments should be made. We need to examine the issue of immigration in order to determine the sort of legislation and policies that will have the most positive impact.

But how can we possibly have those sorts of discussions and debates or make those sorts of decisions given this:

In answer to the question, “Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?,” 29 percent of a pool of Republican primary voters in Louisiana blamed Obama, who took office in 2009, and 28 percent blamed Bush, whose term lasted through 2008. Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

I mean, seriously. How do we, as a country and a society, have the necessary discussions (or even negotiations) on critical issues, when a segment of the population remains this uninformed. And query whether they are uninformed intentionally or whether this is the result of listening to serial-lying Fox News. Or ask it this way: Where does this knee-jerk response to blame President Obama for anything and everything, including things that happened more than three years before he was elected President?

Moreover, while this poll is of voters, rather than elected officials, some of the lies and idiocy that have come from elected officials just reinforce the point. Far too many, especially on the right, are quick to latch on to any conspiracy theory, believe anything negative about President Obama, reject ideas that they once supported once Democrats agree with them (healthcare, being the prime example), and reject science as some sort of liberal conspiracy (algebra, too, if you believe Fox News). And if elected officials are aware that their constituents are willing to believe any lie or conspiracy they offer, so long as it puts President Obama or liberals in a bad light, then there will no incentive for those officials to revert to a reality-centric universe, let alone move toward the center of the political spectrum.

If people hear their elected leaders or “trusted” media figures repeat a lie often enough (“death panels!”), then the lie becomes true notwithstanding, you know, the truth. If people hear their elected leaders or “trusted” media figures repeat totally bogus statistics often enough, then those statistics must be “true” and there is no reason to look at or consider contradictory data.

In a sane world, we’d look at economic or scientific data and use that evidence to help us make important decisions. But in our current political climate, not only have science and economic data become suspect; so, too, have reason, logic, and many other forms of empirical evidence. Just look back at the 2012 election and the belief that polls were “skewed”.

With such flawed understandings of reality, it may prove simply too challenging to solve important problems. Compound the inability of one side to rely on actual evidence with that same side’s belief that compromise is wrong (even evil) and the difficulty in resolving problems (or responding to new ones) increases, perhaps to an insurmountable degree.

I haven’t even factored into that analysis the fact that one side (primarily) is relying upon their understanding of what G-d wants or will do. And, of course, they make those determinations with barely a passing glance at what their own holy scriptures do (or don’t) say. What did G-d or Jesus really say about abortion, homosexuality, caring for the needy, welcoming the wanderer? Who cares if it doesn’t fit with the constructed world view in which abortion and homosexuality are evil and the needy and wanderer need to help themselves.*

Until we can bring people back to a reality-based world, I don’t see how we can resolve any of the real issues facing our country.

*As I wrote that sentence it dawned on me that perhaps I’d have a better understanding if I could find a copy the Ayn Rand edition of the Bible. King James had his version. Thomas Jefferson another version. Perhaps the attitudes that we’ve been seeing from the right come not from their fidelity to the Bible but to an underground edition revised by Ayn Rand. Anybody know where I can get a copy?


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