My Irish Up: Problem-solving is not our strong suit

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

One of the more significant characteristics of an authoritarian society is its willingness to distort the truth while simultaneously suppressing dissent.

— Henry A. Giroux

Lying consistently, “on message,” with a straight face (or better, in a stern and scolding tone), with power nodding its approval behind the scenes, and power’s money spreading its buoyant lies across all media and modes of communication — this has become the most effective political messaging tool in ours, the Age of Inattention. When the distortion is repeated tomorrow, preferably in exactly the same punchy phrases, and in the same injured tones, and with disapproval or outrage the fallback facial expression, then everyone grows to accept the lie, and soon enough, it’s fact. Because any message reverberates a thousand times an hour in the echo chamber, perception becomes reality.

Those who get out front by framing the discussion find themselves already halfway there. Once the mainstream media begins thoughtlessly making noises that rhyme with the most pervasive of these lies, the argument’s won without ever being argued. The distortion becomes the basis for all discussion, an a priori condition. We can’t afford to pay, for example. Or: The safety net = “entitlements.” How about this one: The poor are “takers;” those leeches are getting rich off welfare.

These are opinions, not facts; they should be the basis for argument, not the starting points for all discussion.

Here are a few examples of unprovable assertions you may have heard your local newspeople repeating, imagining they’re just laying down the objective argument:

• The federal deficit is the most serious problem facing America and it must be addressed with a program of austerity, or our grandchildren will live to curse our names. (More likely, they’ll curse our names because of austerity — but neither assertion is a demonstrated fact.)

• Climate change is controversial — and even if it is real, man's role in it is uncertain. (97% of climatologists agree it’s a fundamental and elementary chemistry and physics problem, one exacerbated by industrial civilization; in science, uncertainty is relative.)

• “Obamacare has failed.” (It might, eventually — but this meme was repeated incessantly before 95% of the program even got underway!)

Well, pick your sound bite of the day. How can we get honest discussions based on facts, if the media itself refuses to examine reality critically? And if the media won’t challenge assumptions, why should the public?

It gets tiresome to hear how the “job creators” (jobs for Mexico and China? — what jobs?) need government to get out of the way; how flawlessly Wall Street would run with no regulation at all; how very well we've done with that much less government, following the sequester; how the economy is doing so well, just look at that glorious Dow-Jones average! All cases “proven” by unsupported assertion.

America and capitalism still have a lot going for themselves — but capitalism needs government to regulate it, stimulate it and to compensate for its unintended consequences (pollution, monopoly, etc.: what Milton Friedman called “neighborhood effects,” the equivalent of “friendly fire” of the world of economics.) We don’t need too much government control, either, but the lack of it allowed 2008 to happen — and not much has been done since to correct incipient problems in the real and phony economies.

Problem-solving in a democracy depends on defining the problem first. We could be working on high unemployment and even higher underemployment; income inequality at its highest levels in a century; neglected national and state infrastructure; actually solving the inefficiencies and excessive costs of health care instead of applying a Band-Aid; addressing sustainable energy and the potential effects of climate change; the pernicious and deleterious effects on money in political contributions and lobbying; on and on. This would be much more important work than taking Head Start away from poor kids, and food stamps away from the unemployed, and votes away from the already marginally-franchised.

But, no. We can’t be bothered to solve real problems. Our leaders in both parties are like the man who comes home to discover his house is on fire and walks calmly inside and sits down to watch TV.

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