[ 968 words]
I am thinking about the present moment and about the world as I see it. I am focusing not just on my immediate context, but the wider world, the information that others around the globe have gathered and presented via news media. I am thinking about the crises that we (human beings as a whole) face across the planet — drought, starvation, disease, rising sea levels, disastrous seismic events, overpopulation, desertification, extreme forms of pollution, war in Yemen, war in the Congo, sporadic violence nearly everywhere, cyberwar everywhere, Russian aggression, vulgarity, racism, xenophobia and hatefulness in public discourse across ostensibly civilized nations, and strife on nearly all continents, along with increasingly erratic and violent weather. I have trouble believing that any decent, truthful human being can, in good faith, deny that there are serious problems or that climate change is real or that human actions are destructive to life on this planet. And yet… denial happens all the time.
There are many who are adamant, almost violent, in their denials. Here’s the kicker. I truly believe that many of them are not being disingenuous or dishonest. I believe that they think that historians, social scientists, and climate scientists are wrong or that their perspectives are dictated strictly by bias. Why would they believe this? It’s a matter of culture, or, more precisely, a matter of counterculture. A large number of Americans have been mentally programmed or predisposed by a small but determined group of strategically savvy, ideologically motivated thinkers and talkers who tell them that there is a vast left-wing conspiracy trying to take over the world and ruin the lives of regular Americans by taking away their pleasures and their freedoms. The tale that the ideologues tell is about what they call the “nanny state” or the “deep state” or the Jewish and/or Marxist and/or Communist and/or Left-Wing Liberal “conspiracy” is wildly untrue. It is a pathologically distorted vision of the world and of their fellow human beings. It arises from a desire to affirm absolute personal freedom, even the freedom to harm others, and from a distrust of certain kinds of authority or collective decision-making.
Here is my concern. First, this vision of the world is just plain wrong. While there may be some “liberals” who would be willing to impose something like martial law on folks they consider stupid or unreasonable, in order to protect the environment or promote social justice, I think that most folks who are talking about climate change or about social justice are reasonable, measured, moderate folks who have looked at the evidence and they see that we have a real problem. It is grave. It is going to be increasingly destructive. A lot of folks are going to suffer because of climate change. Agriculture is going to be disrupted. Entire forests will just die. Places will become largely uninhabitable. Cities will be destroyed. Forest fires will kill many and destroy much. These problems are coming. We don’t know exactly what will happen or when these things will happen. (The effects of catastrophic climate change and the timing of their occurrences are too complex for us to predict exactly. But we do know that we are likely to see disruption of the jetstream and the Gulfstream and other ocean currents and wind patterns, and that those things will have massive and destabilizing effects.)
The problem is that the folks who deny climate change models or who dismiss the evidence and the theories of scientists are not interested in scientifically validated information or frameworks. They generate their “truth” by looking through a particular ideological lens. The facts of global warming are not important. What is important, in their narrative, is the ideological conflict between communitarians and individualists. It is about “eggheads” who have — in their view — no practical sense of the world versus heroic hard-nosed realists. In their narrative, they are trying to save the freedoms of individuals from the ideologically motivated overreaching of “leftists.” They are freedom-fighter, in their version of the world. On the other hand, regulators, intellectuals, scientists (especially those who document the facts of climate change), environmentalists, feminists and human rights activists are either naïve fools or malevolent villains driven by an ideological hatred of individualism or of enterprise.
As long as we allow these kinds of narratives to subsist, as long as there are cynical mouthpieces who seek to perpetuate conspiracy-theory-fueled mythology, we will not be able to come to consensus or to devise effective solutions. As long as the responses of those who disagree with climate-change deniers and other kinds of ideologues amount to simply stating that they are wrong or appealing to evidence that they will simply dismiss or ignore, there can be neither productive conversation, nor collaboration nor common ground.
How, then, do we move past ideological filters and lenses that make us deaf to our diverse needs, that blind us to the other, that distort our understanding of the world so that we are unable to see shared values and productive pathways that we ought to be able to follow together. Nearly every major movement accuses others of foolishness or ideology, but none question their own distorted and distorting ideological lenses. The problem is not one of facts or of reason, but of ideology and a will to perpetuate and expand that ideological framework and its influence, no matter what. How do we change that culture? How do we break that meme that risks driving us to destruction. As a species, Homo sapiens ought to be smarter and wiser than that.
How do we move from fearful and hateful oversimplification to a complex and nuanced understanding of the world and an openness to collaboration and cooperation for the greater good? I just don’t know.
[lightly emended on 27 November 2019]