In the Land of Manufactured Controversey

Developments in two manufactured controversies recently–one serious and one trivial–bring me back again to that well-known feeling of helplessness at the core of twenty-first-century existence. The first was Richard Muller’s mea culpa in The New York Times. After two years of study, he acknowledges that human-sparked climate change is real–something anyone with any sense has known for a generation. The second was Mitt Romney’s little slips while out of the country. They are what is to be expected from him, are what he has been doing consistently for years, and they have no impact on whether or not he will be president.

What’s astonishing and frustrating is how, in a time when we are surrounded by real crises, we allow ourselves to be sidetracked so easily. So what if Miller finally ‘fesses up to the obvious? Climate-change deniers aren’t going to simply shrug and give up because one of their numbers defects. It’s not science, it’s not logic that’s behind them anyhow. They created this controversy not for truth or exploration but for their own convenience. They don’t care that what they are arguing is patently ridiculous. They only care that the continued argument keeps them from being immediately discomfited. They don’t want to be bothered so make up a controversy to make sure they aren’t.

The same is true–intellectually–of creationism. The people who argue for it are simply deflecting, keeping themselves from facing real questions of the systems of their own belief. They don’t really believe in creationism (the evidence is too overwhelming against them) but its implications are unpalatable. So, they push.

The whole voter-fraud controversy is manufactured not to make sure only legitimate voters vote but to keep as many who would likely vote for Democrats from voting at all. It is a controversy in response to no underlying problem, as Pennsylvania legislator Mike Turzai admits. The “schools fail” controversy does nothing to improve our education, the “reformers” acting only as point people in an attempt to pry huge public funding from public hands–with the result, as I am seeing as a college teacher, of our students entering higher education more unprepared than they were a decade ago.

None of these manufactured controversies solves anything. They all just make sure real problems are not addressed (and that real profits are made or are not threatened today, in many cases). The problem is, when they are raised with force we have no choice but to address them, turning us away from the real problems of our time–which, in many cases is the point.

Climate change denial? If you are invested in the way things are and believe you have the resources to survive even if others don’t–no problem. Don’t want to question your own beliefs and think the world’s going to end soon anyhow, proving you are right? Just make up something in the meantime. Want to make sure growing resentments don’t lead to a forcing out of manipulative and dishonest government? Make sure that those most likely to be affected negatively can’t vote. See money going in huge amounts into schools that you can’t touch? Make those schools seem toxic and offer an alternative that has the appearance of doing something better, an alternative whose money you control.

To hell with the rest of us. To hell with the future.

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