Americans who refuse to believe the facts about climate change have a more fundamental problem than their unwillingness to learn and to accept the results of scientific analysis.
I’m guessing the majority of those same folks are confronting other realities
that they either deny are valid, or acknowledge, but want to ignore or resist. Included, for example, is the changing demographic characteristics of this country, the rights of Americans to pursue lifestyle choices that don’t coincide with their gender at birth, that our economy is increasingly influenced by global trends rather than simply being ‘made in America,’ that our enemies cannot be quickly and easily identified and eradicated, that “brawn” work is no longer a sure pathway to a living wage.
Shall I go on?
Some of the conservative people I talk to, or observe in the media, believe that betting on alternative means to satisfy our energy needs is a risky gamble. Strategies such as wind and solar solutions probably won’t work on a large scale, they say with confidence. And it will take many years to develop them. Meanwhile, carbon based fuel has been our friend for decades—generations. It helped build this nation. It provides thousands of jobs. Why try to change that?
Isn’t that a compelling argument? Well, it is, unless you have the time and the interest to think about it a little more critically.
A couple of questions:
Why do many Americans fight against changes that are inevitable, even when a number of those changes are likely to benefit them in the long run? (You’ll find the answer in the last couple of paragraphs.)
And do you think it’s just the population of conservatives (what I call “preservatives”) who deny or ignore realities they don’t want to acknowledge?
Answer to the second question is NO. We proud progressives typically align ourselves with popular liberal ideas and causes. We can be expected to advocate, by our words or our deeds, for the wellbeing of all who live in our country; or anywhere else in the world for that matter. And for the health of our planet.
While involved in our noble causes, advocating for the issues on the liberal and pro-choice agenda, we often forget to worry about the consequences of the growing wealth gap in the U.S. Bernie Sanders tried to convince us to care about this problem. But we heard his statements so often, most of us tuned them out, the way we un-hear the words to a mediocre song played too frequently on the radio.
And we missed the most important point, because he didn’t paint a realistic and compelling picture for us of our country in a future where the number of well-paying jobs is constantly in decline, where substantial chunks of the middle class population regularly break off the hard rock of our economy and roll down the hill, landing at the place where people are struggling to get by financially, or falling further down into poverty. Bernie didn’t tell us, in detail, what our country will look like in a few years if current trends continue. He didn’t scare us. Another reason we don’t hold this problem close to our empathetic hearts, is that the discussions we hear on the issues can be so difficult to comprehend and fully evaluate.
Those of us who honestly want to understand, and are willing to mentally wade into the complex arguments about the best way for the country to be involved in international trade have to come away with a lot of unanswered questions, and some discomfort about the proposed “treatment” of the problem that presents as many unwanted side effects as solutions. If we try to understand and to select among the contrary approaches proposed to build the economy, or we attempt to parse the fuzzy but oft repeated rationale that explains away the enormous pay differences between corporate execs and their employees, or ponder the complicated regulations proposed to rein in abuses by parts of the country’s financial sector…well, if we really try to find the logical, intelligent solutions to our problems, we often come away with a lot of critical questions with no ready answers. In the process, we might gain some insight into why the proposed remedies are not nearly as simple as their proponents suggest.
What further complicates the discussion about pressing issues is that some of the proposed solutions are perfectly reasonable and well thought out, but those who oppose the ideas, hoping to protect and advance their narrow self-interests, have skillfully twisted the logic into a tight, messy knot with strands of rhetoric and lies.
Also missing from the progressive agenda is concern about the ranking of our educational system among that of other countries. One study places our schools 14th on the list, another says we’re 17th. Sixteen countries operate schools that are more effective than ours? Their next generation is better prepared to succeed in the future than ours? Really? Most of us on the left side of the political spectrum know about this issue. But are we scared? Do we really think America will continue to be great as long as our citizens are less well educated than those in much of the rest of the developed world?
I suspect we have only a limited amount of what can be called “outrage energy.” We react emotionally over the inability of our government to make some sensible laws that would help reduce the number of people who can get firearms, and to eliminate from the list of acceptable weapons the kind favored by military snipers. And we’re even more upset about the frequent killings of fellow Americans while they’re at school, church or the shopping mall. You’ll notice that nothing changes but the intensity of our outrage. Over time, much of the air leaks out of our protest balloons.
What happened to organized public demonstrations meant to combat the growing wealth gap? One was the “occupy Wall Street” effort. Sadlly, the energy behind that movement has largely dissipated. Part of the reason is that the outrage was refocused on Black Lives Matter. Another cause for evaporation of the loud public expression of angst about income inequality is that most people engaged in that protest finally conceded, as do most gun control advocates, that our voice may be heard, but it won’t result in any of the changes we want. Ultimately, most of us succumb to the almost inescapable acceptance of current and persistent problems. We go back to picking the low hanging fruit of our daily travails.
The (political) right does a much better job of sustaining its mood of fear and anger, exciting the limbic systems of people who join the camps of Americans harboring racist ideas and who are encouraged to worry about the protections of the Second Amendment. There’s much more to say about this phenomenon…perhaps in an upcoming post.
In answer to the first question—about people voting against their interests: Many of us pay attention to, and try to understand what’s going on with issues that concern us. But don’t we, or most of us, suffer from analysis fatigue? That’s when we grow tired of thinking critically about difficult issues. At the same time that we’re concerned about bad policies and practices, and the bad ideas behind them, we also recognize how deeply entrenched they’ve become. What gets our attention are things worrying us that pose more immediate challenges. Things that excite our fight or flight response. Things we believe, or want to believe we can do something about.