Category Archives: breaded circuses

The Empire of the Senseless.

There are a lot of Wise Fools in media; on the television, on the radio, arguably even more of them out here in the blogipelago. Alleged domain-level experts (who just so happen to be lifelong career conservatives), always with some authoritative title from a well-funded institution after their name. I’m sure this intellectual niche has always existed, but since the mid-1990s or so (roughly about the time when panel-based journalism because the norm) it does seem to have gotten more endemic. No truly fair and balanced panel discussion on cable news is complete without one or two of these on the panel.  There’s good money in it.  Nice stable work, if you can get it.

If the topic is Climate Change, you can count on at least one Climate Change denier, appropriately credentialed and funded by a conservative think tank, to take up half the discussion. Evolution? Here’s Dr. Jones-Smith IV, D.D., Esq., PhD;  clergyman/biologist from the Institute for Creation Science with his view. Go over to CNBC and you’ll see Larry Kudlow (one of the original Wise Fools of television) spouting bad investment advice, backed by often untrue ‘facts’. If you prefer Adderal to cocaine, Jim Cramer is ready for your non-skeptical embrace. Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels have some very serious people convinced that the Path to Prosperity is paved with the bones of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. And so on, ad infinitum.

The ubiquitous panel format is transparent to most of us by now:

  1. Topic X is introduced by Moderator.
  2. Actual credentialed domain-level expert (call her DLE) is introduced.
  3. Very Serious Person (VSP) from “The Foundation/Institute/Society for Y” (generally with no formal training in topic X) is introduced
  4. Moderator introduces the controversy.
  5. DLE attempts to state fact-based opinion
  6. VSP does one of: (1) Deny the basic facts; (2) Throws out false ‘facts’ of their own; or (3) Accuses DLE of having some shadowy liberal agenda against Everything Good and True
  7. Moderator (guided by a mix of unavoidable personal bias and unsubtle economic and professional tensions) falsely equivocates, fails to correct any falsehoods or (despite their title), to moderate much of anything.
  8. Go to Commercial.

Repeat this exercise for 30+ years, and your end state is a culture in which any fool with an opinion, no matter how unscientific, unsound or just plain wrong, feels entitled to ignore or accuse anyone who disagrees with them. Regardless of any evidence or arguments presented against them, in any form or format. It is now nearly impossible for the non-expert (ie most of us) to discern what is true or not-true on any given topic. Which means that we’ve become unanchored from the Real. We now lack even the common terms to discuss what the Real might even be.

Consensus Reality, it turns out, requires a minimum of consensus.  Whatever ‘consensus’ is supposed to mean.

Chris Mooney’s new thesis (and book) diagnoses our problem perfectly, IMO:

Their willingness to deny what’s true may seem especially outrageous when it infects scientific topics like evolution or climate change. But the same thing happens with economics, with American history, and with any other factual matter where there’s something ideological—in other words, something emotional and personal—at stake.

As soon as that occurs, today’s conservatives have their own “truth,” their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.

This state of affairs has been formally studied, and (contrary to what I would have thought had you asked me just a few months ago), this ignorance does not correlate with education. There are plenty of educated conservatives, with highly advanced degrees, who have consciously chosen to ignore formalized science.  They’ve chosen to Fight the Enlightenment.

Chris Mooney again:

The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had—or will have—world-changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what’s true—which they both generate, and perpetuate.

You can’t decide how to govern or how to vote without at least some understanding of the facts, of what your true interests and goals are, or without an honest look at the real-world risks, benefits and consequences thereof. Granted, facts can be squishy and elusive things– but up until now at least, no one seriously proposed that there was no such thing as an outside objective truth.

I want to understand how we got here.

Assuming that they let us…

With work and seasonal issues, I haven’t had much time to comment on much of anything, here or elsewhere. I do think I’ve finally become over-saturated with politics. The frenzied pace at which the GOP leaps from outrage to outrage makes it impossible to really think about any of it. Which is (quite probably) the intent. A significant wing of the Republican party is now openly against contraception; the rights of employees to their own lives and lifestyle on off-work hours; Panicking as the economy makes a better effort to crawl out of the ditch than most anyone thought it could. Rush losing advertisers in the first ‘media shaming’ of him that I can remember.

In other words– there is, indeed, a ‘wall’ that can’t be pushed against anymore. The Overton window might turn out to have a rightward stop, after all. Oddly enough, I consider this to be a good sign… but also surprising. None of these antics or statements are new. I’ve heard politicians say the same things out loud not too long ago. I’ve seen Bills written, and some even passed, there were just as bad or worse. And any newspaper’s Comments Section would have opinions just as fringe, or worse. So… what’s different? Why now?

Hunter S Thompson’s old line about the Wave that finally broke and rolled back keeps coming back to me. All this public craziness could just be their particular Wave, finally breaking on the shore after a 40-year run.

And those of us not involved can really only stand back and watch it happen, and try not to get dragged out to sea by the riptide.