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Political Polarity Problems
       As Winston Churchill quoted in 1947, “Democracy is the worst system devised by the wit of man, except for all the others.” Unfortunately, over the past few decades, it has been growing even worse. Legislators have been more consistently voting according to their party, primarily concerned about getting reelected, rather than serving all of the people they should be representing. At the same time, there is a lack of offering true statements when they talk publicly.
       Instead, far too often, they are just saying what they feel their audience (i.e., their backers) want to hear. As Malcolm Harris points out in “It Gets Worse” in the January/February 2020 issue of MIT Technology Review, “Democrats and Republicans alike run for office on the promise of trillion-dollar spending proposals, not the bipartisan calls for a balanced budget and a shrinking government that we used to hear.”
       This problem applies to all political and social issues, and it likewise applies to the executive branch. I could address a wide variety of examples, but I choose to select environmental issues, which are of primary personal concern. I first became aware of the importance of this topic when I read Rachel Carson’s famous book, Silent Spring, that was published back in 1962. In 1970, I helped advertise the first Earth Day teach-in at MIT and the following year was a speaker at the Boston Earth Day conference, so I am speaking from a position of experience.
       The existing party line polarity has not always been so marked. As Jaime Fuller noted on June 2, 2014, in The Washington Post, “When the Clean Air Act first became law in 1970, the Senate passed it without a single nay vote. Only one representative had voted against the bill.” The government noted that this was an important issue that affected everyone. This is how the government should still be operating.
       In the current issue of Scientific American (January 2020), Chuck Hagel raises several important points regarding scientific research, noting that “work is being endangered by manipulation for political ends” and that “the distortion or downplaying of climate science is perhaps the most egregious category of examples.” I also agree with his note of being “concerned about the executive branch’s growing disregard for norms and unwritten rules that had formerly kept its power in check.”
       It would be wonderful if fact could easily be separated from fiction when our government is speaking to us. A agree with Naomi Oreskes, also writing in the January 2020 issue of Scientific American. “Politicians do sometimes say things that are egregiously at odds with expert consensus; the overt denial of climate change is the obvious case in point….But let’s not fact-check things that aren’t facts. There is a world of interpretation—and therefore a range of justifiable readings—built into any expert judgment.” Don’t hold politicians accountable for their personal opinions, but do hold them accountable for citing fallacies to support their opinions.
       However, as Wade Roush noted in a third article in the same issue of , “Don’t expect much help on the disinformation front from the social media giants, which are already dodging responsibility for the ways their platforms could amplify division.” We cannot depend on others to come to our aide in pointing out when false “facts” are being used to support poor decisions. This is where the role of education enters the scene.
       Everyone needs to be able to independently discern fact from fiction. At the same time, we need to recognize what actions are required to protect our future – and “our” has to be viewed in the broadest sense. We need to be concerned about others, not just ourselves, while at the same time we need to recognize that everyone is responsible for what will unfold in the future. If we start taking a public stand with this perspective, perhaps our government will start following that same course!
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