War on Reality

One of those things that everyone knows is true, but turns out not to be true after all, is that the GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this “truth” is questionable at best, but finally people seem to be waking up to the fact. Thinkprogress points out that:

A survey of forty economists from across the ideological and partisan spectrum has concluded that on some of its most cherished issues, the Republican Party has simply taken leave of economic reality. For instance, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers noted that one of the results from the survey — run by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which is hardly known for a left-wing slant — is an overwhelming agreement that the 2009 Recovery Act (i.e. the stimulus) brought down unemployment. But GOP leaders have spent years roundly denouncing the stimulus as a failure.

This is particularly disturbing because of how many GOP leaders, and supporters, come to their conclusion. It is not that the stimulus was not successful enough, or because the unemployment was brought down in the wrong sectors. That kind of political difference might be something we can question. Rather, notice that the GOP is in many cases simply ignoring facts. Much like the climate change discussion, the argument the faithful on the right give if you browse the townhall discussions of many a conservative website, is that these things simply didn’t happen. Real measurable numbers like the temperature average or the number of people claiming unemployment are simply ignored. I remember while Clinton was in office hearing repeatedly from conservative family members that the economy was in terrible shape, despite all indications to the contrary. Then as the Bush tax cuts took the nation over a cliff, everything was fine, again despite all measurements to the contrary.

I am reminded of the philosopher Baudrillard, who argued that current society has replaced all of meaning and reality with symbols and signs. Once we have accepted this symbolic reality, we have no real world in mind anymore, and our ideas and concepts increasingly point only to other ideas and concepts. In the same way, the political right seems to have become so enamored of their own ideas of how the government and economy should work that they simply stopped paying attention to the real world.

Global warming? No, my politics says that doesn’t happen, thus it is not real. The temperature? It can’t be that high, because after all global warming is not real. It is just a plot by scientists. The entire system of false information supports itself, it is internally consistent. The proof of UN plots to destroy America, lies by science, false economics, the black helicopters, and the boogie man who will take your guns are all very consistent with each other. Just not with the real world. But the real world is unimportant, because increasingly we can simply live in a symbolic world of our own making…

The failure to distinguish what amounts to bad theory from reality is far more disturbing than simply disagreeing with reasons, politics, or views of how the world should work. It is a fundamental shift away from actually dealing with the world, and assuming you can create your own reality. (Insert famous Bush era quote about the right actually creating reality here, and shudder)

More evidence from Thinkprogress:

Contrary to nearly every Republican, the economists overwhelmingly agreed that the federal budget deficit cannot and should not be closed without increased tax revenue.

This is a policy disagreement, on one level, but points again to the fundamental disconnect from reality. It remains a GOP article of faith that no matter what ails you, cutting taxes, especially for the wealthy, makes it better. Yet the Laffer Curve is not simply being held up as a question about the future, it has demonstrably been shown to utterly fail, repeatedly, in the past. We could, before testing such theories, have reasonable disagreements over the theory. But it has been tested. Over and over again, and been found wanting in every case.

Baudillard points out that we might think of this as “Third stage” divorce from reality. “Signs texts and ideas” claim to represent truth, but are utterly divorced from reality. Human meaning is artificial, but still though of as real. The evidence of of our senses and knowledge can’t be true, because the truth is in the language that is used to talk about reality, and not reality itself.

This is especially clear in discussing warming. NASA recently reported that:

for several days this month, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.

On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. But this year the extent of ice melting at or near the surface jumped dramatically. According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.

This is significant not just because the melt is described as a once every 150-250 year event, but because the melting they describe is not an entire seasons melt. A similar melt from a century ago took place over the entire summer melt season, however this particular melt happened not over a few months, rather the shift from a normal 40% or so melt to a 97% melt happened between the dates of July 8th and July 12th. In just 2-4 days the thin ice melt went from slightly high, though acceptable, to nearly biblical proportions.

To be clear, and the NASA press release repeats this several times, this is not to say that the entire Greenland sheet has melted, rather that 97% of the sheet experienced some melt in that 4 day period. Areas of Greenland that where once thought to be melt free year round, in even the hottest years, experienced melting temperatures this year. Ice that science taught had to move from permafrost locations to lower and warmer climates in order to melt, this year had melting. Areas of Greenland that normally stay nearly frozen year round and have only minor runoff due to melt water rivers passing through the area are this year torrential flood zones.

But the most telling thing about this event is not that it has been predicted, or that it is happening far faster than we thought, or even that if this is indeed a new normal and not a once off event, we will soon see sea level rise that will eclipse previous predictions. No, most telling is watching the right respond to this news. I spent over an hour last night reading through blog and facebook posts as the rightwing reacted to this news. The overwhelming majority of posts and comments from self identified right leaning political ideology was simple denial. As one self described “Tea-Party Patriot” put it “this is simple bullshit, didn’t happen, I don’t know why people believe this shit.”

Consider that for a moment. NASA, the Indian Space Research Organization, the Goddard center, several research scientists actually living in Greenland, and climatologists from multiple universities collaborate to bring us the most precise scientific information available, and random people declare that they have better, more accurate knowledge. Based on what exactly? Faith in the symbology they believe in. Nothing more.

Over and over again this seems to be the rightwing mode of thought. “Obama is from Kenya!” Based on what exactly? Sometimes there is an attempt to give proof or reasons, but increasingly the accusations are made simply as a point of faith. “He doesn’t seem American. He doesn’t think like an American.” “People choose to be gay!” This belief is based on what? Again, evidence is not neccisary for the faithful. Cutting taxes, biblical truth, people coming to take your guns, welfare queens, voter fraud, the terrors of illegal immigration, and on and on, the articles of faith pile up. Evidence not needed.

Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard’s treatise, points out that this is rather like living in a life sized map of a world rather than the real world, while the real world rots away beneath the map. Wars once began when the first shots were fired, or when war was declared. By the Gulf War, war was a reality to most people before the actual war began. The images, the symbols, precede reality. But the reality was chosen by humans. The war, in may ways began before the real event. War came, because society was generally convinced that war had come. The actual opening shots are almost immaterial. It is even increasingly possible to imagine wars that don’t need to take place, so long as the faithful believe they have. Like the war on Christmas. Or wars that never took place, despite all the fighting. GOP war on women anyone?

But what happens when the world is not something we can manipulate to match our own images? How long can a society, through sheer force of social media, ignorance, and force of will ignore reality? When society decides war has come, we can then act on that belief and make it reality. We can’t do the same to climate change.

No matter how hard we decide warming is not happening, water transitions from solid to liquid at the same temperature.

  1. #1 by cav on July 26, 2012 - 5:40 pm

    It borders on criminality to waste Reality on the mindless. I could expand but I’m on a ridiculous 5″ keypad and compulsively struggling with pedantics.

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