Sunday, August 26, 2012

The making of Todd Akin: An unflattering, but accurate image of our society.

 When I first heard of this story, the first thing that came to my mind was the images I’ve seen long ago, of women who were brutally raped during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990’s.  Many of them did get pregnant, despite the brutality they endured, which according to Mr. Akin should have prevented them from conceiving.  Some of the young girls, which were shown in the media, had missing teeth and scars, which speaks volumes about what they endured.  Thinking back to those images, my initial reaction was same as everyone else’s “how can a person say such a thing?”  After reflecting on this question for a while, it occurred to me; we are wrong to be surprised and shocked.

            What Todd Akin said was wrong both from a scientific and ethical point of view. The media, especially on the right, hurried to claim that it is just the result of Mr. Akin being somewhat deranged, and out of touch with reality, perhaps due to a troubled childhood.  In other words, this does not reflect the culture of the party, as the article bellow, courtesy of Fox tries to argue.

On the left, they hurried to capitalize on the political gain that is to be had as a result of the terrible comments that Mr. Akin made.  They rushed to point out every hint of this being a widely held idea within the right leaning circles.  But is he the only public figure who has been going around claiming things that can easily be disproved as untrue lately?  Is the left not also engaged in the same type of culture of distortions in the interest of gaining political advantages at the expense of massive misinformation that our society is now subjected to, to our detriment?

The cultural environment that created Mr. Akin

It is important to recognize that the only reason we are talking about the outrageous comments made by Mr. Akin is because it is a highly emotional subject that he touched on.  Truth is that we have become highly tolerant of false claims and outright lies, so in the absence of the emotional aspect of his claims, we probably would not bother to focus on this.  In fact, we demand of our elites that they tell us what we want to hear, instead of providing arguments based on accurate information, because we are no longer eager to learn about the world as it is, rather we are thirsting for the image of the world we live in, to be presented to us in a way that validates our ideological views, in order to have our beliefs reinforced.  We no longer care if the facts are true or not.  We no longer want to have our claims and arguments challenged, thus we tend to shy away from being faced with a situation where contrary facts are pushed before our face.  If we do encounter counter facts to what our side claims, we dismiss them as “political talking points”, in order to avoid having to take these counter arguments in consideration, even though what may be presented is not opinion but hard, undeniable fact.

In effect, our set of values we hold, usually wrapped in an ideological package, has become shielded from being challenged.  This is how outrageous ideas develop within ideological circles.  I’m sure that Mr. Akin did not just recently wake up with this belief.  In fact, it seems that it is based on a claim made decades ago, by a doctor named John Willke, with strong anti abortion views, looking to validate through false scientific arguments a puritan stance on abortion rights.  In other words, Mr. Akin has probably been carrying this belief with him for a while, and I’m sure he expressed them in certain circles in the past.  Like I said however, we no longer seek to have our beliefs challenged, so the ideological circles are becoming more and more purified, thus no matter how outrageous some of the ideas circling around, and how flawed they may be, there is no more natural selection coming from the pressure of being challenged.  All someone would have had to do, would have been to point out to Mr. Akin at some point in the past that his statements don’t seem to measure up against evidence to the contrary that is as clear as day, and easy to understand.  There is no shortage of conflict areas on this planet, and women often end up being the victims of these conflicts.  There is certainly no shortage of a double tragedy for some of these women, as many do end up getting pregnant in the process.  Evidently, there was no one around Mr. Akin to point that out to him, before he went to the mainstream media and made a fool of himself.

 What we are doing is as absurd as proposing that journal articles should no longer be peer reviewed and verified, yet this is what we do with our society.  We have become so polarized that the facts and the truth do not matter anymore.  We simply thirst for our ideological camp to become victorious at any cost, including at the price of loosing our collective sense of reality.  As proof of it, we will probably witness the incredible in a few months.  Todd Akin, who has been urged by his republican colleagues to drop out, might not win a senate seat, but there will certainly be many people who will still vote for him.  He might even surprise us all and actually pull off a victory.  If that is the case, it will be a testament to our cultural dysfunction, for which we will end up paying an increasingly steep price as time passes, with no effort made to fix this.


            For Todd Akin, the consequence is that he has become a pariah.  The consequence for us as a society is far more severe, as a result of this culture that created him and his mentality.  The cost to us is that we are no longer able as a collective to exchange information and decide on the course of action needed to make our society work.  The flow of ideas remains stuck in a closed circuit, within the ideological circles that are becoming cemented.  Thus our decision making process becomes paralyzed, which is something that cannot be denied, since the ideologically driven partisan farce in the US capital, which led to the country being downgraded a year ago.  We still continue to witness the same dysfunction, which will exact an increasingly heavy price.  As a society we can no longer hope to find consensus on what our main problems are, never mind trying to solve them.  In short, through this extreme ideological polarization, this society is becoming paralyzed and dysfunctional.

            Ideas and proposals meant to address our problems are just as flawed through the infection of ideology, as the ridiculous statement made by Todd Akin.  We will never get as worked up by these lies as we did about the rape comments, because most statements will not be as personal.  These ideas can be as dangerous or even worse.

            Let us take climate change as an example.  It may not be as personal an issue as rape, but if the scientists who make the claim that our climate is changing and could have serious consequences are correct, our inaction will lead to a lot of rape as well as other human on human crimes being committed around the world, because hunger can lead to failed societies, and failed societies lead to precisely this kind of stuff.  So, the denial practiced on the right is every bit as bad as Todd Akin’s denial of the fact that rape can lead to pregnancy.

            Not to leave the left out with their ideological convictions that might be deeply flawed and harmful, we should stick with the example of climate change. This is a topic on which, I have been highly critical towards our left leaning elites, in fact I dedicated a book to the wider subject of sustainability, and their flawed proposals for dealing with it.  Not only that, but I offered a solution that can be a viable alternative to their flawed proposals.  The western left leaning elite advocates unilateral action on climate change, advocating economic suicide in the process, while in reality, there is no measurable benefit to this self sacrifice.  The only ones benefiting would be our economic competitors.  The left is stuck holding on to romantic notions of humanity coming together and solving this issue.  All we need to do is get the ball rolling by being the first to sacrifice, according to them.  As a result, they are in fact proposing solutions that leave us worse off than we would be by listening to the right, and their distortions that justify their denial on this issue.  We would not only continue to suffer the effects of climate change under the proposal of the left, since voluntary self sacrifice on the part of the west is not nearly enough to prevent this anymore, but they are also proposing we commit economic suicide as well.  We do need to resolve this problem for ourselves and for the planet of course, but as I pointed out, there is no solution to this within the ideologically filtered set of ideas, coming from either side.  As far as an idea like the standardized trade tariff I proposed to deal with our sustainability problems, it is not designed to appeal to either ideological camp, so it will remain an orphan, just like all other ideas that do not make it through the ideological purity test.

            The examples of disinformation on the part of our elites are endless.  I’m sure that in a moment of honesty, all of us can admit to having swallowed one of these lies or distortions, mainly because we liked the fact that it supported our own point of view, even though deep inside, we always knew them to be false.  If that were not the case, we would not have the polarization of the media happening as it is right now.  The media is nothing but a service provided to our taste.  Our taste evidently leans towards a high level of tolerance for willful distortions.  

What to do about it?

            It is clear that the current social dynamics within which we operate are broken.  We cannot function for too long like this.  We will leave problems unsolved, and we will incur continuing damage as a result.  So in other words, our greatest problem is not the debt, climate change, peak oil, the social safety net, economic growth or any other issue.  Our greatest problem is our dysfunctional culture.  That is where we need to start if we are to tackle our problems and find appropriate solutions.  Unfortunately, this is the toughest problem any society can ever be expected to fix.  Historically speaking, most societies only abandon major cultural traits in the aftermath of great disaster.

            What I suggest for those who read this article may seem outrageous, repulsive, ridiculous and a host of other things.  If you however truly see yourself as a person that wants the good of our society, then you will do this.  We can only ensure the survival of our society if we have a constant infusion of new ideas.  These ideas need to be put through the filter of reason, not of ideology as is the case now.  It is up to each and every one of us to become a component of the filter of reason.

            So here it is:  Get to know someone from the opposite barricade of the ideological divide.  Offer to take them out for a beverage of their choice, in order to be able to discuss things.  Try to find someone knowledgeable, because there is no point talking to people who simply repeat slogans, which they themselves do not fully understand.  Do not try to convert your conversation partner.  Try instead to get them to point out the flaws in your own convictions.  Try to reciprocate the service.  If for any reason, you are skeptical of the facts and views offered by your conversation partner, look up the facts for yourself, because after all, we do live in the era of information.  Just make sure that you distinguish between fact and opinion when researching. Afterwards, thank them for their time, offer to do it again sometimes and go back to your own ideological circle, and confront everyone there with the new facts you learned, whenever the topics of interest to you come up.   

            In other words, the only solution is to try to break up these solidified ideological camps.  Nothing good will ever come out of them, because as Todd Akin has proven to us, these circles are infected.  When we can no longer sway people based on facts, the democratic process itself is broken, at which point there is no more justification to defending democracy.  When the democratic process fails, there will be only one alternative, and as someone who lived within one of the most brutal of these alternatives in Europe decades ago, I can tell you from experience, that we better do our patriotic duty and defend democracy from the disease of ideology before it becomes too late.


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