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Refusing To Tolerate The Intolerable

The Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts has a piece out this morning about the “birthers”, the people who still insist that President Obama is not really a US citizen, that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Donald Trump and the birthers:

As mama used to say, enough is enough and too much stinks.

A 2010 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 20 percent of all Americans and 30 percent of tea partiers believe the president was not born here. In recent days, Trump, the reality-show impresario and human punch line who’s been threatening to run for president, has added himself to their number. For that, he drew a sharp rebuke from Whoopi Goldberg on The View. When, she demanded, has any white president ever been asked to show his birth certificate?

Let the church say amen. So it is time to call this birther nonsense what it is — not just claptrap, but profoundly racist claptrap.

And, with apologies to the late James Brown, please, please, please, anyone who is so inclined: Spare me the e-mails where you soliloquize like Hamlet, the back of your hand pressed to your forehead, eyes turned heavenward, as you moan how it is impossible to criticize this president without being accused of racism.

Criticize him to your heart’s content. Give him hell over Libya. Blast him about Guantánamo. Knock him silly on healthcare reform. He is the president; taking abuse is part of his job description.

But this ongoing birther garbage, like the ongoing controversy about his supposed secret Muslim identity — is not about criticism. It is not about what he has done but, rather, what he is.

Please go read it all. Pitts is refreshingly, brutally honest, something we see all too little of in public discourse today.

And what, you might well be asking with trembling trepidation, does this have to do with The Cost of Energy or climate change or any of the topics I normally pursue on this site?

It is simply this: People in many “developed” countries today have chosen to wrap themselves in a reality distortion field that provides them with a comforting level of detachment from the physical universe and the realm of human affairs as they really exist. I would guess that nowhere is this trend more widespread or plainly evident or damaging than in America. We have birthers and vaxxers and HIV/AIDS deniers and the people who see black helicopters and/or ninjas in every shadow and climate change deniers and peak oil deniers and who knows how many other categories of people who refuse to accept overwhelming evidence that their pet belief is so much self-indulgent balloon juice.

The people who cling to such views do so for a variety of reasons. The climate change deniers seem to be driven by some combination of greed and ideology and arrogance, the birthers are highly likely nothing more than the latest incarnation of garden variety racists, as Pitts suggests, and I won’t even hazard a guess as to what drives the HIV/AIDS or vaxxer or “Elvis is still alive” or “we never landed on the moon” camps. But the basic pattern is largely the same. They choose to wallow in ignorance and believe the unbelievable and add to the already dangerously high level of detachment we all encounter today, detachment from how everything we eat or drink or wear or use is made, and the consequences, some immediate, some not, of that production for the entire Earth System, which is to say us, everyone we care about, everyone we don’t care about, and future generations.

Why should we care about such delusions? Simple: Bucky Fuller got it right and expressed it more concisely than anyone ever has when he talked about Spaceship Earth. We’re all in this together, which means my CO2 emissions affect you and your loved ones, and the mercury emissions from the coal-fired electricity you consume with negligent inefficiency poison the fish that I and my loved ones eat. As many others have observed, the concept of “throwing something away” is itself a perverse and blatantly incorrect world view. There is no “away” on an Earth with nearly 7 billion people and projected to reach over 9 billion in the next 40 years. So yes, even beyond the disgusting acts of thuggery like personal attacks the climate change deniers level against climate scientists, up to and including death threats, which should be loudly condemned by everyone reading this, the actions of deniers to delay and prevent meaningful action on climate change is my business and yours and that of everyone alive today, simply because we’re all sharing the only home humanity will ever have in all likelihood.

What to do about this? None of us has the resources or the personal energy to fight back against every part of this mass insanity, but we can pick those parts which speak the most clearly to us, stand up, and shout, “Enough!” We can use the tools of reality — facts and logic — and demonstrate the absurdity of false and damaging claims, whether they come from your slightly deranged brother-in-law or an elected representative, and do what we can to pierce and dissipate that reality distortion field before even more people wrap themselves in it.

In other words, we can take a stand and do more than blogging the equivalent of “Yeah! Me, too!” at each other. We can educate ourselves, something that far too few of the people on “our side” of the climate change debate are willing to do, sad to say.[1] We can take action and write unflinching, fact-based rebuttals for web sites or letters to editors or give them as presentations for local groups, and, yes, we can and should get involved politically, as that’s the only way to change public policy.

It’s well past time we stop tolerating the intolerable. We have to do this not out of some fuzzy minded belief in “doing the right thing” to earn karma points with the universe, but for the most basic and, dare I say it, selfish reason of all: Because it’s in the best interest of each of us individually. And that boils it down to the ultimate contest, between the intellectual laziness that afflicts us all in some circumstances and our ability to rise above that tendency, see the broader picture, and take intelligent action guided by enlightened self-interest.


[1] I’ve had numerous run-ins over the last few years with people on the right side of the energy and climate issues who simply refuse to dig deeply enough into the facts and science to have anything close to an informed opinion. It is precisely this tendency that leads, for example, to absurdities like dedicated environmentalists saying that peak oil is a good thing because it will force us to emit less carbon. I’ve heard this staggering piece of ignorance and naivete so many times I almost wonder if it’s a bad joke.

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