Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Denialism Lets Voters Off the Hook for the Federal Debt and Global Warming

In "America Is Living on Borrowed Money," the NY Times editorial board sounded a warning about the federal debt, which continues to increase at a spectacular pace. 

The editorial covers a lot of bases, but it misses a central point. Americans are being let off the hook. One political party acknowledges the need to increase revenue to pay the government's bills, the other party does not. Similarly, one political party acknowledges the reality and danger of global warming, the other does not. This denialism has kept the Republican Party electable by letting voters off the hook. A vote for the Republican Party in its current state is a vote for shirking collective responsibility for our future. The reward for the voter is being relieved of having to pay the government's bills and making any substantive changes in our lifestyles to save a livable planet. 

As long as one party maintains an electorally advantageous posture of denial, all substantive debate is shut down. That posture of denial has worked well for the Republican Party since the Reagan era, allowing the party to compete for power despite many unpopular policies. The result is the quiet rise of increasingly troubling numbers, be they the size of the federal debt or the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Both of these rising numbers pose a threat to the America we know and love, and contribute to the diminishment of the nation's stature in the world--first through a steady weakening in the government's fiscal condition, and second by cheating the nation of its charmed place in the world's climate. 

That's the way to undermine a nation. Shut down substantive debate through denial, then let the problems grow and grow. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Thoughts On a Consistent Ethic of Life

I was introduced to the concept of "a consistent ethic of life" by an opinion piece entitled "You Can't Protect Some Life and Not Others." The writer, Tish Harrison Warren, is a priest in the Anglican Church, but quotes Catholic leaders heavily, calling for a "whole life" ethic that "entails a commitment to life 'from womb to tomb'." She sees this consistency as a means of breaking the rigid categories of political affiliation. "We need to rebundle disparate political issues, re-sort political alliances and shake up the categories," she says. "A whole life ethic is often antiwar, anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, anti-euthanasia and pro-gun control. It sees a thread connecting issues that the major party platforms often silo."

It can be refreshing when people adopt points of view that draw from different political camps. Warren points to a time, in 1973, when conservative evangelical leaders declared that "we, as a nation, must 'attack the materialism of our culture' and call for a just redistribution of the 'nation’s wealth and services.'" And yet attempts to achieve moral consistency come at a price. A whole life ethic appears to call on women to risk their lives to have unwanted children, and calls on society to put vast resources into sustaining indefinitely lives made unbearable by pain or dementia. The ethics of life get murky at the beginning and the end. Does the quality of life enter into these ethical considerations, or just quantity?

A consistent ethic of life becomes even more elusive when considering our relationship to nature. I spend my days seeking to heal nature, and yet all of us depend for our comfort, sustenance, and mobility on machines that are chemically altering the earth's atmosphere, to the detriment of nature. Each of us can do a great deal to reduce our own individual dependency, but as long as our shared ecomony and culture runs on fossil fuels, there is little hope of consistency. What we intend and what we unintentionally do will remain very much at odds. 

To break down rigid political polarization, I'd suggest we invest our consistency in a pursuit of truth, in building opinion on accumulating evidence, and not just the cherry-picked facts that will prop up an emotionally comfortable opinion. And, in building an opinion, be ready to be wrong. It's a readiness to be wrong that motivates the study needed to be right. 

Related post:

Skepticism and Self: Science's Role in Sustaining Democracy