Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lies as Drugs

When it comes to matters of budget and climate, the Democrats have been forced into the role of the responsible chaperone, standing soberly by while the Republicans in Washington party down, their heads spinning with an elixir of lies intended to keep their Party in power indefinitely. Buy into the Party line, and you, too, can shed the dreary burden of responsibility and enter a fantasy world where tax cuts pay for themselves and global warming is nothing to worry about.

The counter culture of the '60s experimented with drugs, often to bad ends, but the lies that national Republican leaders have soaked their brains in, and are pedaling to the nation, are far more dangerous. Drugs mostly hurt the people taking them, but lies can lead a whole nation down the wrong path. Listen to a lie-besotted employee at Home Depot blame the high price of incandescent bulbs on the Save the Whale crowd. An imperfect stranger, he touches your arm lightly, as if for balance while he takes a psychedelic ride down paranoia's slippery slope, telling you how "they" want to control your life, how, if we let them, "they" will dictate what food you eat, what color shades you put in your living room, and before you know it, we'll be under Nazi rule if we don't fight for our freedom.

That freedom, it seems, is to heedlessly bequeath to our offspring a collectively polluted and radically damaged world. All you had done to trigger the employee's rant is remark to him how amazing it is that they're selling LED light bulbs for 43 cents each--cheaper than incandescents. You thought it was good news, but he sees it as part of a sinister plot. Just look at the price of candy bars, he says. In order to impose healthiness upon the people, he claims, "they" have made them $3 each. And vegetables. We're told to eat lots of vegetables, but they're expensive. Movie stars can afford healthy food, he says, but the working man can't.

And so you see how someone has fed him lies that drive a politically expedient wedge between him and those movie star environmentalists, and even makes him resent progress in the form of cheap, efficient light bulbs, while the real reason chocolate is more expensive has to do with our having exported a love of chocolate to Asia, which now competes with us for the world's limited supply of cocoa. Shall we resent those who want to be more like us? He may think he's fighting for freedom, but his mind is controlled by lies that let him experience a drug-like high of indignation.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The New Wild (and crazy ideas about nature)

In this post-2016 election world, many of us are seeking ways to break out of our bubbles and help others to do the same. I have a suggestion. If you have an area of knowledge and experience, seek out the books being written on that subject, particularly those you're likely to disagree with. Amazon.com and Goodreads.com offer a convenient way to do this without necessarily buying the book. You may well find some wild and crazy ideas being peddled, and even more disturbing, large choirs of adherents giving those books high marks in the review section. Perhaps your own views will be challenged in the process, or maybe you will be astonished by how biased, arrogant, and misleading the books are, and how gullible the readers. If the latter, then go ahead, break their bubble. Write a review that will help people think more critically about what they are reading, or about to read. It's better than just preaching to the choir on facebook, and you're impact could extend beyond the bookreading world. Misleading books beget misleading articles by misled journalists, spreading the misinformation far and wide.

Below is my latest contribution to the genre, a critique of The New Wild, by Fred Pearce. The book is described by Beacon Press as "A provocative exploration of the “new ecology” and why most of what we think we know about alien species is wrong." It was "Named one of the best books of 2015 by The Economist." Impressive, engagingly written, and yet it is one of the most skewed books I've ever encountered.

Upsetting the applecart is a great way to sell a book. We cheer for the underdog, the David who slays the scleroticized, conformist, institutional Goliath who wouldn't know the truth if it hit him square between the eyes. What a rush to think ourselves smarter than all those scientists isolated in their ivory towers. Whether denying human-caused climate change or the threat posed by invasive species, the polemics against both of these share many of the same techniques even as they arise from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Yes, we should question authority. But the appetite for contrarianism for its own sake has undermined the nation's capacity to respond to proven threats. Now, in part due to the resulting paralysis, we have an authoritarian occupying the White House.

The critique below draws primarily from The New Wild's Introduction, which is reckless and deeply flawed in logic. Other portions read suggest the Introduction is typical.

(Click below on "Read more" to access the critique.)