21 January 2021

Challenges Facing America

How do we deprogram the roughly 50 million American voters who are just flat out delusional and actively insulate themselves from more reliable sources of information? Will those who have been fooled by Trump's lies about election fraud in the 2020 Presidential election come to accept the fair and square results that we had (for the most part)? 

Will authorities continue to follow through on the way of anti-domestic terrorism action that they took following the January 6 seditious riot at the Capitol?  Will regulation of police abuses and the cause of racial justice that Biden championed in his inauguration speech actually improve?

Will we be able to unwind the national surge in murders that we experienced in 2020?

Will Trump be convicted of  the impeachment charges he faces? Is the Republican Party actually at risk of a schism between Trumpists and more traditional conservatives? Has a large minority of the GOP lost the support of Big Business for the foreseeable future?

Can we smooth out the inevitable decline in the rural population of the U.S. that has left large swaths of the U.S. in a state of malaise?

How do we roll out a COVID-19 vaccine while keeping new more virulent strains which may not be as deterred by the vaccine under control? Will this allow schools from pre-K to college return to business as usual by the fall of 2021? Will women who have disproportionately left the labor force in droves in 2020 return to work when and if that happens? How do we treat and manage the months long serious symptoms of the many millions of Americans who have contracted COVID-19 but not died from it? What will be the long term demographic and societal consequences of the 2020 baby bust in a year when births had already been on track to reach record lows before COVID? Will the people who have been hardest hit economically by COVID-19 be able to recover when it's over?

How do we establish a battery charging infrastructure that in conjunction with new battery technology ready to be available in the mass new vehicle retail sales market in three to six years can bring us to a tipping point where electric vehicles dramatically increase their market share (currently 1.9% of new vehicles which replace 1/7th of the vehicles on the road each year or less)? What other Paris Climate Accord and Biden Administration climate change policies will we need.

Will Democrats in Washington D.C. be able to pass significant legislation despite a lack of a filibuster-proof majority and the will within its caucus to use the nuclear option to abolish the legislative filibuster? Will election law reforms and redistricting reforms be in place in time to have an effect in the 2022 election? Will efforts to provide a rapid path to citizenship for millions of foreign born people who reside permanently in the U.S. bear fruit quickly enough to impact the 2022 election outcomes? 

Will the U.S. be able to mend ties with its historic allies whom it alienated during the Trump Administration? Will U.S. exporters be able to recapture foreign markets that it ceded to other exporters as a result of Trump's trade wars?

Will marijuana decriminalization at the federal level, and more generally, a deescalation of the "war on drugs" come to pass?


Dave Barnes said...

"How do we deprogram the roughly 50 million American voters?"
We invite the experts to institute a program—the North Koreans.
Put them in charge of the FEMA re√ęducation camps.

Guy said...

"How do we deprogram the roughly 50 million American voters?" Hum... How do we know they are not following their best interests? And belief in science on both side is contingent on how it affects political interests. Maybe the question should be "Why does the Democratic leadership consider 50m Americans to be deplorables to demonized?".

andrew said...

"How do we know they are not following their best interests?"

To be clear, I am not in the least suggesting that their best interests and mine are the same, or saying that there is a problem with them disagreeing with me.

But this is a huge problem with 50 million Americans believing all manner of things that are deeply disconnected from reality, such as the false belief that there was massive election fraud in 2020 that caused Trump to lose an election that he actually won, the belief that climate change is false, the belief that COVID-19 is a hoax or is on a par with the flu, the belief that mass gatherings without masks or social distancing or vaccines does not spread a dangerous disease, the belief that information from sources such as mainstream media sources, medical experts, and higher educational institutions is completely unreliable, the belief that evolution is bunk while Young Earth Creationism is real, belief in QAnon Conspiracy theories, etc.

People are entitled to their own opinions and have different interests, but they aren't entitled to their own facts. A world where a third of the electorate has grossly inaccurate views about reality and facts is deeply dangerous to democracy and to the future of the United States. There is plenty of room for disagreement left in a world where we are fighting about values and which true facts are most important without having to have disagreements over things that are objectively true and provable. The fact that someone says that it is raining on a sunny day, doesn't make the actual state of the weather a matter of opinion.

Guy said...

Hi Andrew, Well written, let me attempt a response.
First I will assert that in the US today, that 'facts' are already in play, and have been used as a cudgel on both sides. The facts that the conservatives will admit to while sipping a craft beer amongst a group of trusted friends are different than what they will publicly avow.
For example climate change, as an engineer my opinion is sometimes asked and I give them straight skinny (it's happening, it's bad, there is a technological fix). They don't say, "You must be wrong because some talking head blah, blah." They do tend to be very concerned about the approaches to solving the problem, that it is being used as an excuse for social change beyond that justified by the issue, or that they might be asked to shoulder more of the cost than would be optimum for them. However, since it's America, the economic aspect can't be separated from the political aspect. Or maybe those are the same thing. Associated with climate change are conversations about nuclear power, as proof that the left is not above partisan politics (coalition building) with respect to the issue. The left claims the moral high ground without (in public) admitting that the solutions they espouse are limited by simple political calculations. Sure, don't be honest in public, but don't expect your opponent to be either.
I don't think that it's debatable that the left has knowingly attempted to completely dominate the mass media and higher education. Well played, possibly even the winning move. The right is counter attacking as best they can but left's position is so strong that all that is remaining for the right are suicide attacks. Again, American politics; if you aren't cheating then you aren't trying. (This a nebulous response at best, maybe you can stoneman it for me.)
With respect to the election, I will relate a personal story (the weakest form of argument). Right after 9/11 I started hearing friends of mine on the left speculating that it had been an inside job. Later it became specific that the President of the US had known about that attack and possibly had arranged it so he could seize dictatorial power. I was flabbergasted that nominally rational people would entertain such outlandish and serious claims without a shred of evidence. A couple of elections later when folks on the right started spouting nonsense about birth certificates I thought to myself, what comes around goes around. I rather believe that most folks, after reflecting for a while, would admit that they didn't care about the truth value of their accusations, only that they had their feelings hurt and wanted to strike back and hurt the people that had hurt them. Tit-for-tat as it were, and so very zero sum. How do you break the cycle? I think back upon the Irish Troubles that lasted what - fifty years? And involved a fair amount of killing, property damage and forgone economic growth. It is entirely possible, for lack of human decency, empathy and kindness, for a modern western culture to go to a very bad place.
And finally Creationism. When folks bring this up I usually think that they are strawmanning and scoring easy points. Compared to let's say, a belief that violent crimes rates are the same for European-Americans as for Asian-Americans, the impact of creationism is negligible with respect to modern policy and practice. If students aren't introduced to evolutionary theory until college I doubt that any lasting damage has been done. For those who care there are a universe of resources available at the click of a mouse.

andrew said...

I'm going to focus on creationism because you suggestion that "If students aren't introduced to evolutionary theory until college I doubt that any lasting damage has been done" fundamentally misunderstands the phenomena.

Creationism isn't a product of lack of information. One might have reasonably suspect that this was the source at some point, but the ubiquity of the Internet and progress in K-12 science instruction over the last few decades has pretty much definitively ruled that out as a cause.

Every middle school and high school biology class discusses evolution and other forms of science which are inconsistent with creationism, and even if they didn't, ideas inconsistent with creationism (in its less sophisticated young Earth variety that is the naive interpretation of the Book of Genesis in the Bible) are deeply embedded in mainstream popular culture and unavoidable.

Instead, Young Earth Creationism is the product of a deliberate decision to prioritize Biblical Literalism as a source of accurate knowledge about the world over science, the K-PhD educational establishment, mainstream media, and so on.

The philosophical choices that adherence to creationism requires someone to make in their epistemology is the gateway and lynch pin to all of the other things that a large segment of Americans on the right, especially Evangelical Christians, believe that are grossly at odds with science and observational evidence.

Once you make a choice that science, educators, the mainstream media, the government and should be disregarded because they contradict a literal reading of the Bible, the constraints that prevent the rest of us (including hard core European political conservatives who adhere to non-literalist forms of Christianity) are gone and pseudo-science and mood affiliation can swoop in to fill the vacuum when some highly authoritative figure within your movement (like a tele-evangelist or Trump) who is a source of knowledge below the Bible but above reliable mainstream sources, endorsed these ideas.

This is why this subset of perhaps 50 million Americans are profoundly more vulnerable to the "Big Lie" than the rest of us.

When I say "deprogramming" really the main issue is trying to get these folks to recognize that the way that their epistemology priorities the reliability of sources of information is broken.

There is more than one way to do that. Devout mainstream Christians often decide that there are domains in which Biblical and religious authority is paramount, and there are other domains in which secular sources are paramount. Some people deconvert. Some people convince themselves there secular sources are fake as descriptions of reality but that pretending they are real to be able to function in the world is a bit like honoring the rules of nature that apply in a video game or to understand a fantasy novel, knowing full well that video games and fantasy novels don't describe reality. But the prospects for American if a large share of those 50 million people don't do something to address this are dire.