Denying Reality (or, Why We Are Fucked)
Bob Runs The Numbers, Appendix 3
Maybe political discourse has always been this way and I just never noticed, but in the halcyon haze of my memory, opposing sides used to be able to agree on facts and sensibly (albeit emotionally) discuss alternative approaches that acknowledge those facts.
Now, not so much.
The Tragic Gap
When one side of a debate denies the existence of the underlying issue, there is a gap in the range of proposed solutions — and the denying side gives up its seat at the table, leaving only their opponents to proffer solutions.
This tragic gap means the discourse is missing alternatives that should be aired.
Examples of the tragic gap can be found in the climate change debate, the gun control debate, the rigged election debate, and the pandemic debate.
Is Climate Change Real?
Seems like there’s a contingent of global warming naysayers — social media acquaintances, pundits, and politicians — who can be counted upon to make the same tired old joke every time there’s a cold snap.
“Well, so much for global warming!”
Those on the other side — people who are politically inclined to acknowledge climate change’s existence — are also politically inclined to support a certain set of mitigations. Reducing fossil fuel usage, increasing efficiency, and discouraging unfettered growth are the kinds of mitigations that climate change “acknowledgers” tend to advocate.
People who might support a different set of mitigations don’t even get there because they don’t acknowledge climate change’s existence.
There is a spectrum of solutions and mitigations to climate change, but there’s a gap where some of those solutions aren’t mentioned because their natural supporters have opted out of the conversation. Sadly, those mitigations will not receive the public conversation that they deserve.
Sulfur Dioxide Atmospheric Injection
Injecting chemicals into the atmosphere is something that liberals have a deeply-ingrained antipathy towards. Deliberate pollution? Madness!
I’m not persuaded that injecting sulfur dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere is a terrific solution … but I am persuaded that it’s the kind of solution that needs more discussion, and the tragic gap is keeping this kind of solution out of the public discourse.
A conservative might look at sulfur dioxide as a lesser evil than abruptly cutting off all fossil fuel usage … but if that conservative doesn’t believe global warming exists, why should he look for solutions, even conservative-friendly solutions?
Conservative representation in the spectrum of solutions is missing because too many conservatives deny climate change. Conservatives are giving up a seat at the table.
By denying the existence of an obvious problem, participants in the political process are denying themselves a seat at the table when discussing solutions.
Do Guns Have Anything To Do With Mass Shootings?
I don’t want to dig too deeply into The Issue Of Guns. I’ve already done that in a jumbled, often-contradictory, stream-of-consciousness ramble.
But an inevitable phenomenon when another mass shooting occurs is that right-wing pundits have one very glaring omission when discussing the causes of the most recent massacre.
Maybe it’s mental health but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s bad parenting but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s too many doors into schools but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s too few guns in the hands of teachers but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s video games but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s the wrong religion but not wide gun availability.
Maybe it’s declining church attendance but not wide gun availability.
The credibility of anti-gun-control activists, when they very conspicuously overlook this one detail, is completely shot.
If half of American polity refuses to acknowledge a very obvious reality, our discourse is going to have a tragic gap in the wide spectrum of solutions to American violence.
By denying the existence of the obvious, a cohort of participants in the political process are denying themselves a seat at the table when it comes to offering solutions.
Was The 2020 Election Rigged?
Election denialism’s tragic gap caused Republicans to lose two senate races in Georgia.
The Big Lie that the election was rigged dissuaded plenty of Georgian Republicans from voting, leading to the astonishing Senate election results we saw in early 2021.
(Update: I don’t know if lingering Big Lie rhetoric depressed Republican turnout in 2022 as well, but seeing another close Senate race won by Democrats! In Georgia! makes you wonder.)
In a very real sense, Georgia’s Republicans surrendered their seat at the table in 2020’s Senate elections.
Is The Germ Theory of Disease Plausible?
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been an eye-opener.
A lot of people don’t like the cost of mitigation. Which, fine. But some of those people hate the cost of mitigation so much that they’ve denied that Covid-19 is bad or even real. “It’s just the flu” or “vaccines don’t work” or “masks don’t work” are different ways to deny the obvious (and painful) reality of this disease.
How about this:
Covid-19 is real and dangerous.
Covid-19 mitigation efforts can be a pain in the ass.
It is possible for both (1) and (2) to be true, and it’s a tragic gap when blind belief prevents people from acknowledging that.
Were we a rational species, we’d see a million American lives lost to Covid-19 as a tragedy that, you know, exists.
And given the terrible cost of that sad reality, mitigations would naturally be part of a conversation.
Were we a rational species, the most energetically anti-lockdown people would be the most pro-mask people … and the most vocal anti-mask people would be the most pro-vaccine people.
(Were we a rational species.)
But the anti-any-mitigation people have lost themselves in a deepening cycle that drives them towards denial that a problem exists. And if you’re lost in a mindset that doesn’t think Covid-19 is dangerous, you’re not going to have a seat at the table when it comes time to decide how to fight Covid-19.
This Will Fuck Us Up
Denial of reality is all too common in today’s discourse … and it’s a problem with a dangerous positive feedback loop.
As a group relies less and less on a concrete objective reality, there is less and less mooring them to any connections with that reality; they are more and more susceptible to spinning farther and farther away from reality; and the cycle continues. We all have “that Facebook friend” or “that relative” who has fallen so far down the rabbit hole that there’s no traction for getting out.
This phenomenon has gotten worse in the last twenty years. There’s nothing to suggest that it will get any better. We’re going to keep spinning and spinning and spinning. There aren’t any solutions to the problem.
For my part, I’m trying to internalize this Bob Runs The Numbers appendix. If “not denying reality” is a lesson I am to learn, I’ve gotta acknowledge that this is an unsolvable problem.
Reality denial has already killed countless Americans. It’s going to kill plenty more.
So it goes.