Wilful Ignorance Is The Bedrock of Denialism
28 March, 2010 | Candobetter | CounterCurrents
Albert Bartlett once spoke about Mark Twain’s “silent lie”. It refers to the habit of lying by not revealing the truth. If I know that someone has planted a bomb in the local subway, but I choose not to share that information with the authorities, by Twain’s definition, I am a liar. But when the information that I withhold is of critical importance to our lives or the lives of innocents, then I am more than a liar. I am criminally negligent. Such is the case with many politicians and environmental leaders. They know that we are facing economic collapse from dwindling oil supplies and ecological Armageddon from over-population, soil degradation, overtaxed aquifers and species loss, but they choose to shield the public from the brutal truth.
Several reasons have been advanced to account for their silence. One is ideological. The syncretistic blend of New Left thinking, feminism, cultural relativism, xenophilia and political correctness, sometimes bundled under the rubric of “cultural Marxism” has been a proven reality filter. The stark fact that there is not “enough to go around”, that we are already in overshoot, cannot be acknowledged by ideologues who view the present through the prism of an antique social justice agenda. Their focus is not on stopping growth, but managing and deflecting it. It is not on acknowledging limits, but ‘growing’ them with more efficient use of resources by land use strategies, pie-in-the-sky technologies and Spartan living habits. And it is not about family planning to cap population growth, but granting women reproductive choices even if they those choices result in unsustainable growth. For the growth management syndicate there is never a “longage” of people but a shortage of food. A shortage that can be cured by perpetual foreign aid, political reform or fair and efficient distribution. The notion that modern agriculture will collapse with the demise of fossil fuels or that organic farming or “re-localization” cannot sustain 7 billion people is beyond their comprehension.
There is another more mercenary reason for population myopia and green silence, however. Simply put, political parties and mainstream environmental NGOs, for the most part, are paid “not to understand”. Organizations like the Sierra Club, Conservation International, Nature Conservancy and the David Suzuki Foundation, accept corporate money. Some even permit corporate representatives to hold directorships. This comes at a price. What are corporations, and particularly financial institutions all about? Growth and Debt, which go together like a horse and carriage. An apt simile for the post-carbon future that looms around the corner. So we shall have growth, but it shall be painted green. Voila. “Smart” growth. A first class ticket on a doomed ship.
But most importantly, corporations crave the certification of social responsibility that environmental organizations can give them. In the 1990s big business felt the winds of change. Environmentalism had gone mainstream. It became evident that opposing the public mood was not a wise business strategy. So rather than war with environmental organizations, it proved commercially advantageous to jump on their bandwagon. If they could gain the environmental seal of approval in exchange for acquiescence to growth, they could proceed with business-as-usual. And just as the Pope sold indulgences to the wealthy benefactors of the Middle Ages, the “Pope” of the Sierra Club, among others, sold ecological dispensation to corporate benefactors. As anointed Green Citizens, “progressive” corporations can count the profits and bask in self-righteous glory as the population grows relentlessly.
But this fact raises a more fundamental issue. Proof of this corporate infiltration is available by the mere perusal of their financial reports. So why aren’t the members of environmental NGOs doing their homework? Why do people who would conduct a title search or home inspection when they buy a house, or scrutinize the financial report of their union or strata council, or make the purchase of a car subject to a mechanical inspection not care to apply the same rigor and due diligence to the environmental organizations they support? Why don’t they care to know who is paying the piper? And why do they rely upon the filtered , spoon-fed news that these green organizations dispense rather than do their own research? Why do they delegate their thinking to these kept women of corporate duplicity, their chosen gatekeepers of knowledge?
Are people lax, indolent and ignorant? At times, most are. Despite numerous opportunities, I have chosen to be ignorant about the workings of my car, or how to trouble-shoot my computer problems, or even how to fill in my own income tax form. But like other people, I address many areas of my life with earnest curiosity. Many of us effect great interest in proper nutrition, effective exercise, better gardening, shrewd shopping and a host of hobbies and interests. But we are deliberately oblivious to those societal issues which threaten our collective survival. Many adopt the posture of “positive thinking” ---the wilful ignorance of the blatantly obvious. Like those who persisted in playing cards while the Titanic listed, they whistle past the graveyard of a civilization that edges closer to the cliff. The writing is on the wall, but they choose not to read it.
While the media collaborates with their self-imposed stupefaction, it only panders to their appetite for escape. There is an insatiable market for denial and self-indulgence. Even news must be entertaining. We are transfixed by stock market quotations, economic indices, sporting events and movie star divorces, but bored with the end of the world as we know it. Of those who read, it is murder mysteries, horror stories, romance novels, tales of the supernatural and pop psychology that seem to command interest. We are literally amusing ourselves to death. Even those nations with democratic levers are captive of an ecologically illiterate electorate. Everywhere we are oppressed by the coalition of the uniformed, who consist of, in the words of Tasmania’s Peter Bright, “People who don’t think, and who don’t want to think; people who don’t know—and who don’t want to know; and those who don’t care, and don’t want to care.”
We are fatally flawed. Unfit and undeserving of a better fate than that which awaits us like a black-hooded executioner beside his chopping block, axe in hand. Poetic justice for the architects of the Sixth Extinction, a species that despite its vaunted intelligence, continues to undercut its own life support system like a cannibal feeding off his own limbs. The fossil record is full of failed models like ours. A Greek tragedy in the making.
(We) can do better home page
CounterCurrents home page