Screw the Gimmicks; We Need to be Fighting for Substance

>> Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Facebook, if nothing else, often provides me food for thought. Not because I'm dealing with idiots--because I don't deal with idiots any more; fresh out of patience for that nonsense--but from people I like, admire, appreciate who say something that, the more I think about it, the less I agree.

As one might guess, a good portion of the thinking public is trying to wrack their brains to figure out how they can (a) minimize the damage from the Trumpster Fire currently in office and (b) change the dynamic drastically in the next election so we can limit it further and perhaps even start on the long ugly slog of cleanup.

Of course, that means hashing and rehashing "what Hillary did wrong" but, hey, "we're not attacking her." And I get the rationale for trying to find ways of dumbing down our complex messages and weighty dreams into palatable chunks for the electorate so they feel special this time. I totally get why they're doing it. I even applaud the intent.

I just think it's wrong. It's not only wrong to do, it's going in the wrong direction and we've done too much of that already.

This past election was a war between actual meaningful verifiable substance and celebrity hateful garbage that didn't even pretend it was real. And the latter won, not by much, but by enough.

It's not the first time I've heard this cry: it's the same battle between climate change scientists and deluded deniers, healthcare practitioners vs. the rabid and totally debunked antivaxxers who insist that killing your child is better than autism, economic realists begging us not to once again try tactics that always end in abysmal ugly failure but sound good to the people who will get no benefits ("Lower taxes!"), those who realize that vilifying a religion is not how you get rid of terrorists, it's how you make 'em, etc, etc, etc.

These battles shouldn't be battles at all because the war between substance and empty rhetoric should be a shoo-in for substance, especially with the overwhelming data for any culture that wants, hey, a future of any kind.

And yet...

And that's why, finding the right gimmick, the right tagline, the right front man even if he (always a he) has got no depth is the wrong direction to pursue. Because, as soon as we become the party that says gimmicks are better than substance, we're no different than the other party. Once substance doesn't matter, once the truth doesn't matter, once the reality of governance becomes less importance than someone with snappy lines at the podium, it's only a matter of time and no one will be defending substance. 

Sound extreme? It's not. I come from a scientific background. That's why I know the "scientists can't be trusted" nonsense is just that. If you're smart enough to be a scientist, believe me you could get rich quicker in many other fields if you were willing to compromise your integrity. Science is all about finding the truth, the how and why, the substance in the laws of nature that rule our existence so we can manipulate them or use them to the best effect. You can't go looking for the truth by ignoring it in favor of glam. Unlike politics, in the world of science, a single fudged study or manipulated result gets you exiled forever. You can have wild theories and hypothesis, but fake thedata and pretend it's real: you're outa there. Because every lie, every misrepresentation of the truth hides the substance and makes openings for more falsity to come and obscure reality and delegitimizes the good hard work they do.

Climate science doesn't need to find a new more straightforward way of explaining what's happening. What's happening is pretty straightforward: our crazy energy usage (primarily fossil fuels) is dumping shitloads of CO2 into the environment which makes the environment not only hotter but more volatile and chaotic, kills ecosystems in the water and, even worse, threatens Disneyworld. The specifics are complicated, but the general message: burning oil, coal and natural gas (at least that we don't make ourselves) is killing us off and we need to stop doing so. It's not that the layman can't grasp that message, it's that he's been offered an alternative and we've let that be acceptable. "It's fine. Nothing to worry about. The earth does this all the time. Let's dig some more wells, and, hey, don't lift a finger to find ways to save yourself money, reduce your energy usage, change sources, etc."

Well, no worries, then. All such a man needed was a viable alternative to believe and its complete lack of substance doesn't matter because there's no penalty for things that have no substance. They get the same  (or more) air time so it must be legit.

We don't need to dumb down our message. We shouldn't dumb down the message. Governance is a hard task. We shouldn't have stupid people in positions of power. We shouldn't have people that are bought and paid for in positions of power. We shouldn't have people who ignore science and reality and substance to convince their constituents to elect them in a position of power.

And the reason they are there is because too many of us have stopped defending substance, have been all accommodating when someone trots out something that's demonstrably false instead of blasting them or laughing them off the stage, off the screen, off the newspaper. If I'm coming on a news show to explain the established facts of climate change, I don't need some paid shill up there tossing a snowball around like that means anything and we shouldn't continue to support shows that do so, we shouldn't read papers that do so, we shouldn't take as serious contenders anyone who does so.

And that's a much harder task because the celebrity depthless crap has become established as reality, that's why people can still talk about how Obama was a bad president or Reagan was a good one.

Tens of millions of people supported Hillary because they knew she had the chops to do the job. The background, the experience, the fortitude to withstand the horrific elements that come with the job, the understanding that answers are rarely simple binary yes or no's when we come face to face with complex problems that have short term and long term implecations. She was substance and this country repudiated her.

We have to change that, not find someone who will impress the same idgets that repudiated her but make them see that substance matters, that truth matters, that reality matters. Trump should help with that, he and his Congressional phalanxes of soulless jerks rubbing their hands with glee at the notion of taking away food from school children and old folks. We have the opportunity to say: "This is what you get when substance doesn't matter. When the truth doesn't matter. When reality doesn't matter. Suffering and damage that may take generations to recover from, if, in fact we do." And that's what we should say. Not that we'll try our own version of bullshit to see if we can compete.

We can't. They've been doing bullshit way longer and know how to tweak our bullshit to favor themselves. They've got a pipeline that stinks around the world. As they did in this last election.

Instead, we have to staunchly defend capability and know-how, science and reality, facts and humanity. Even if it isn't easy because that's what makes us different. That's what makes real progress. That's what makes change. Fighting for reality and walking the walk.

And the only way to do that is to eschew anyone who humors the bullshit. Anyone who gets all even-handed with lies instead of reality. Anyone who gives equal credence to nonsense, especially harmful nonsense, but really any nonsense. Turn off their shows. Write in to the papers. Make them back claims. Challenge when they misrepresent scientific studies. Don't back down when stereotypes against this group or that group get trotted out. We're all one people and we only succeed if we all succeed. Every other methods always ends ugly. That's historically factual. Some haven't ended yet, but you can see it coming.

And it will be coming for us, because a country that refuses to govern itself on substance deserves to fail. And will. If we don't want it to, we, as the electorate have got to change or we'll have the end we deserve.

Oh, and speaking of reality, can we stop pretending Hillary didn't win the primary? Let's be on the side of truth, shall we?


  • R C Larlham

    Indeed, let's be on the side of truth, shall we? Stephanie is ever there. Why is she, then, not the famous and influential essayist who guides Representatives, Senators and Presidents in setting policy? Why do lackwits, lamebrains and fools like Bill O'Rielly, Sean Hannity and the ever reprehensible Rush Limbaugh. Because we DON'T challenge, There should have been pause points in that speech for cheering when she began talking about specific sciences and realities being denied by the people America put in charge!

  • Stephanie Barr

    Thank you, RC. Nothing stopping you from clapping if the urge takes you.

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