Written by Hazel Weiser
Every now and then I have to turn off the news, totally, foregoing even my beloved The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It’s my sanity break, imposed to give me a mental holiday from everything about which I feel helpless. This most recent interval without hyperbolic headlines brought to light a sad, new question: have we become ungovernable?
When even http://www.weather.com sometimes presents the weather in terms like “the next threat to the U.S,” (I’m not kidding, either), we have been conditioned into having a near hysterical emotional reaction to almost everything: climate change, Afghanistan, immigration, evolution, tax cuts for the top 1%. And these are not the types of issues whose solutions will be revealed through overwrought emotional responses. These are not problems that will be solved by beliefs or feelings. They require time, analysis based on fact, science, and organized through paradigms; a thorough investigation into different perceptions, weeding out what is true and what is myth; and some trust in who is collecting data and performing these essential functions of self-government.
Listening to the national debate, whether the mosque at Ground Zero, health care, or economic stimulus, at least how it is portrayed in American media, illustrates how far away from a sane decision making process we have come as a nation. Ten minutes on C-Span or Fox News, it doesn’t matter which, leaves one with a similar conclusion: we are perhaps ungovernable.
When our daughter was young, we gave her a tee shirt that said: Opinion without knowledge. I’m beginning to sense that it now belongs on U.S. currency!
Here’s my theory: the habits of an uber-consumer society have infiltrated all decision making, even those kinds of decisions–voting, public priorities, budgets and taxes– that are necessary and inherent to civil, self-government. Our problem solving capacity has been coopted by capitalism, infiltrated by corporate greed through cynically financed distortion, and downright laziness.
Most decisions Americans make during the day are based on personal preference and feelings. Do I have a Dunkin donut or a Drake’s coffee cake for breakfast? McDonald’s or Burger King for lunch? College or professional football on ESPN? “CSI” or “Law & Order” on the television? We are so overwhelmed by inconsequential decisions all day that we forget that some decisions, especially those at work, affecting our families and communities, and those made on behalf of our country, require more than just impulse and mood. But it seems that Americans are just too tired after a day of inconsequential consumer decisions to gather together the resources we need to deliberate in a critical way. There are certain decisions that require time and are better decided in a Mr. Spock manner.
As a nation, we are becoming addicted to catastrophes–the weather, the Tea Party, Fox News, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell—because they induce an insane intensity that ordinary life doesn’t seem to offer. The news media is making us all into drama queens, needing a fix of hysteria daily, as a distraction from the hard work ahead of us: how do we truly become a multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy that enables each of us to become who we are while at the same time preserving the natural resources and environment for the next generations.