The world is getting away from us, and by us, I mean Americans. Violence (aggravated assault) is five times greater in America now than it was in 1957. Millions of business transactions take place in microseconds, much faster than a human mind can think objectively about a single transaction.
Our planet Earth is heating globally to a point that millions will suffer in various ways, millions more will starve to death, and global economies will falter. Our entire education system (including private and parochial) is based on a 20th century national economy instead of the 21st century global economy that we live in. And most importantly, what qualifies as “truth” in the public realm has become unrecognizable to the unsuspecting eye.
Our challenge determining what qualifies as truth is a direct result of the preceding fact that our 21st Century educational system has not kept pace with the requirements of the technologies and business functions of the new era that we live in. The amount of digital data in the world doubles every 18 months. Some have said that the amount of available information in the world as general knowledge doubles every 9 months. The human brain - our minds - physically can not keep up with the information, the misinformation and the barrage of competing sets of data. It is no wonder that much of America seems to be hunkering down in their Audis, slaving away at Big Macs.
Information in the 16th century vs. the 21st century
In the 16th century, information was both simple and simply unavailable. It was a major controversy when Copernicus stated what is now obvious to most of humanity, that the Earth is not the center of the universe. A heliocentric solar system was big news back then. It was so big that some people were burned at the stake just for saying it out loud.
Now, in the 21st century, similar mind-blowing, dogma-blasting science is performed and discovered many times every single day. It happens so often that most humans are at a complete loss as to what all of this data and information should mean to them, and most of us don’t even know that it is happening.
We are confused. We don’t even know where to begin. Entire belief systems are becoming irrelevant on a factual basis and have been relegated to a rationalization of some kind of metaphor in order to remain plausible.
So what have we done in the face of all of this adversity? As a whole, we have just shut it all out. If it doesn’t support a mindset that we are comfortable with, we just call it a name, put it in a virtual trash bin and refuse to let it in to our reality. That kind of thinking was all right in the year 1500, but it’s going to get us all killed, or at least increase our instances of suffering in the year 2010 and beyond.
The Problem of Personal Media Environments and Our Pleistocene Brains
To make matters worse, while certain sources of media have never been reliable reading or watching for one who wishes to educate themselves on the issues of the world, most of the 21st Century media outlets have pandered directly to what Farhad Manjoo, in True Enough, calls “Personal Media Environments,” or PMEs.
Essentially, American minds are doing exactly what they have always done, and that is to compartmentalize data for easier processing. That worked for us for hundreds of thousands of years because it was easy to compartmentalize a saber-tooth tiger; danger - not danger, and corn; edible, not edible. But decision making, legislation, and governance is no longer satisfied by these over-simplistic compartmentalizations (Liberal vs. Conservative - Socialism vs. Fascism). We now need a much broader worldview to accommodate the impossibility of knowing everything there is to know in the face of so much uncertainty and data.
For millions of years, our species only had to worry about survival; food, water and shelter. The brain evolved with that capacity purpose in mind, to simply do what it takes to survive. If living in the 21st Century global economy only required those skills, we would still be fine, but that is obviously no longer the case. If you don’t know how to build spreadsheets and operate high-tech machinery and you live in the city or suburbs, you are going to suffer. And even if you do know how, someone in another part of the world can do it cheaper.
It’s not like you can just go out back and shoot yourself a meal anymore. That’s bad enough on an individual level, but the problems we mentioned in the beginning are universal to everyone.
If we don’t figure out a way to solve the problems as stated above, and quickly, it won’t matter if you are gay and have no rights, or sick and have no health insurance, or rich and hate to pay taxes, or believe the free market is the most important, ‘awesomest’ thing ever, or are unemployed and have no skills for 21st Century employment.
Ted Perry, writing as “Chief Seattle” said "Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself." We use that quote because we do not believe there is a more fitting analysis of the problems we face as citizens of the world than this analogy of a web being destroyed from within.
The Challenges of Our Representative Democracy
In America, our mechanism for solving the problems of our nation, is a system of representative democracy, or more specifically, our republican democracy. This brings us back to Washington D.C. being sick, infected with the blanket ignorance of America as we travel our modern day Trail of Tears.
The point is not that we Americans are ignorant, or are incapable of being intelligent, but that we just simply no longer have a reliable source for who or what to believe, and our educational system has let us down in the process. But again, the system alone is only a symptom of a deeper problem, the problem of denial, the denial and inattention to the unwillingness of Americans to focus on knowledge and critical thinking skills that have led to this widespread failure of our educational system.
Our cherished abstract belief systems, whether they be religion, or economics, or politics, or labor, or marriage, etc., have all taken precedence over the very real problems of the future of our species on this planet. And here is the worst part. Even when we have good leaders who are intelligent enough to help guide us on the the right path, we refuse to listen, and even ostracize them to the point of irrelevance. And yes, there are good leaders on both sides of the political aisle who suffer this fate. Some claim that many intelligent, pragmatic people refuse elected office for this very reason.
With education, we are too busy indoctrinating our children on what to think and not busy enough teaching our children how to think. We Americans have hunkered down in various piles of confirmation bias, sheltering ourselves from any kind of data or information that may open our minds to new solutions for new and old problems alike.
We Americans have our minds made up and no one is going to change that. Period.
No big deal really - in 1880 maybe, but in 2011, the inability to think critically and the willingness to consider new data for each unique situation is everything to everyone. The inability for us to think critically about problems in real time and then solve them efficiently is perhaps the single greatest threat to our national and international security. Our problem in America isn’t that the government is too big, it’s that our government is too slow. Again, maybe this was fine in 1880, but it is disastrous to our nation in 2011.
As witnessed with the politically-manufactured debt-ceiling crises, the laborious pace of legislation, filtered through a porous mess of public opinion, mass-produced, conflicting and often erroneous data from every special interest imaginable, and corporate, profit-driven media personalities are close to bringing down not just America, but the entire human race.
Many times, Washington D.C. has the answer to our problems right in front of them but will not dare consider acting on it for fear of the retribution of the people who elect them to lead, and they fear even more those factions that paid for their journey to D.C. to begin with. Of course, the catch-22 is that when government is gung-ho on the wrong track to solve our problems, being slow and inefficient isn’t such a bad thing, which is why the real fix is to repair the filter.
It's Not Our Founding Fathers' World Anymore
When James Madison, often referred to as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’ advocated (through James Randolph) a strong central government in his Virginia Plan to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, he made an argument in Federalist Paper No. 10 that the reason why Americans should not fear a strong central government is because the shear size of the country makes it impossible for an individual faction or special interest to rule the country. That was 220 years ago. The size of the country hasn’t changed, but most everything else has.
Technology has made the world small enough to fit in our phones, and factions with a common interest can now instantaneously band together and push their propaganda out to space and around the world in micro-seconds. Often times these factions flood our environment with nonsense and misinformation for no other purpose than to intentionally confuse, making it nearly impossible to make an informed decision unless you are someone who already happens to know better.
One of these factions, the multi-national corporations (meaning they are under no single sovereign influence) have no one to answer to, completely ignoring the interests of Americans unless they need money to stay in business or to take a business trip to Palm Beach.
Doesn’t this make the mass of us some form of a slave?
It’s hard to think of ourselves as slaves when we have just about every luxury imaginable, but that is essentially what we have become; slaves to the very luxury we have worked so hard to obtain. If we were not slaves to this luxury, then it would be no problem to let large, multi-national corporations falter and fail, but when millions of livelihoods and retirements are on the line, what is humanity to do?
To paraphrase the late comedian George Carlin on this matter, we have turned the American Dream into a slavish nightmare. This is what is meant when you hear the oversimplified phrase, “Too big to fail.”
A few years after Madison made his case to the Philadelphia Convention, Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to John Tyler, "I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength: 1. That of general education, to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. To divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it."
Our country can no longer, "Maintain itself in Strength"
So here we sit, in the heat, ill-educated, unemployed and marginalized by corporate interests, and either busy killing each other, yelling at the TV, laughing at each others’ ignorance on Facebook, and holding on dearly to the idea that this here dollar bill is going to save us when bread cost $100,000 a loaf and corn flakes are $500 a bowl. It has happened before and will likely happen again.
Dear Mr. Jefferson, this republic can no longer “maintain itself in strength;” not for the good of America, nor for the good of the human race.
Washington refuses to operate effectively in an effort to solve the problems of our planet, not because they don’t want to, or because they are bums that need to be voted out, or because they are ignorant of the consequences, but because there is always a never-ending cycle of elections and the voters who vote them in or out are too susceptible to dishonesty and misinformation to respect the critical thinking skills required to make smart legislative decisions.
The spin doctors from every nook and crannied special interest group are already lining up at the television stations with their millions and billions of dollars to “educate” Americans as we slave away at the boob tube during "Jersey Shore," "American Idol" and "You Think You Can Dance."
A Democracy Can Die of Too Many Lies
Bill Moyers, considered one of the few “deep-think” journalist left in America, gave a speech at the National Conference for Media Reform in 2005 titled, ‘A Democracy Can Die of Too Many Lies,’ and it seems as though he was right. America is passing away slowly, and the entire human race is on the verge of a mass suicide the likes of which has never been witnessed by human eyes. We very well could be on the verge of our very own Noah’s Ark of sorts, all for no other reason than that we cannot grab the truth from a barrel of lies.
Americans, if you really want to fix Washington - if you really want to fix America and the world, you can start by simply turning off your television. Cancel your cable and satellite subscription. Shut down Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.
America, it is not Washington’s fault, at least not any more than it is our own fault. In America, we are our government. In America, in the 21st century, if Washington fails - if we fail Washington - all of humanity may fail along with us.
No one is treading on us any more than we are lying tread on ourselves. The worldwide infestation of our willful ignorance is a disease for which until now we have refused a cure. America, let us refuse no more.