By Josh Sager
“Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.”
-- George Santayana –
Santayana’s quote describes perfectly how logical reasoning and the study of history should be used in order to inform our social policy decisions. Rational people look back upon history in order to predict what may happen in future, analogous, situations. In order to avoid catastrophic mistakes, we look back and see where past mistakes were made (the same is true with choosing positive outcomes). Without the benefit of past experiences to inform our present actions, any decision that we make is little better than guesswork; this is a terrifying proposition when applied to public policy, civil rights, and our economy.
Modern politics, primarily but not exclusively in the right wing, has become increasingly divorced from a factual foundation; this divorce is present in numerous political topics of contention, including, but not limited to, accepted science, economic theory, infrastructure spending, energy policy and health policy. The problem inherent to the separation of facts and policy is that without a factual basis for policy, we end up with ineffective or harmful policy outcomes.
Imagine this analogous situation: A group of people are driving somewhere in a bus, alternating among themselves as the driver. During this trip, one driver does not believe in gravity, thus decides to take a shortcut over a ravine. Despite the driver’s best intentions, this situation does not end well for the passengers, because a fact like gravity doesn’t change if you don’t believe in it. The bus in this situation is the most powerful country in the world, possessing enough weapons to destroy the planet and the keystone position on the world economy. The drivers in this situation are our politicians, and unfortunately just over half of them are ignorant, insane, or willing to deny facts while serving a political/economic agenda.
Vast portions of the US population and political representation simply don’t understand economics. The entire right wing, as well as centrists like Obama and Lieberman, has become possessed with the idea that tax cuts are the universal remedy for all economic ills and that regulations are crippling growth. Beginning with Reagan and continuing to this day, we see the talking points that tax cuts always increase revenue, tax increases on the mythical “job creators” kill jobs, regulations are universally bad, and that all social spending is simply waste (unless it oppresses women or helps the rich); these talking points are simply false. The 2008 economic crash, rampant pollution, exploding income inequality, and record unemployment are all results of these policies, yet we fail to take the steps necessary to fix the problems we ourselves created. Far be it from avoiding such demonstrably false economic policies, many politicians are hell-bent upon doubling down on them.
According to recent polls, over half of our population does not believe in global warming or evolution. A denial of evolution has comparably fewer consequences than a denial of climate, as the only consequence of evolution denial is a lack of understanding of biology and other natural sciences. The lack of belief in global climate change and pollution risks catastrophic damage, manifested by extreme weather, ecological degradation and far larger problems down the road. Unless we get a handle on carbon emissions and pollution, we could render our planet uninhabitable; what use is money if the cost is cancer, accumulated heavy metal toxicity, overpopulation, food shortages, civil unrest, and widespread ecological destruction. Unless we recognize the ecological issues facing us as facts, we will never be able pass reasonable legislation in reaction to them.
Facts don’t change simply because we deny them. Partisan rhetoric may help convince people to support policies, but the real effects of these policies will rarely match up with the rhetorical goals. We cannot allow any political party in our country to continue rejecting facts; not if we want any hope of implementing sane and rational policy, based in fact rather than a convenient fiction.