Some years ago, during the second season of Survivor, a rumor made the rounds of the spoiler sites that one of the contestants refused to watch the show. There was no attribution accompanying the rumor, but before long, it was being passed around as gospel with rampant speculation as to what it meant. I posted a note asking for the source, and was very specific about what type of information I was seeking, namely, a documented post that identified where the information originated. I also asked people to only reply if they could provide the source, or a path to the source. The very first response I received was something to the effect of, “ I don’t know the source, but I know it’s true.” I didn’t respond kindly, much to the chagrin of the respondent.
Now, we live in an age when the most unimpeachable facts are treated like uninformed speculation, and “gut feelings” overrule careful inquiry. Science is dismissed as just so much noise, and we’re told to give every opinion equal regard, no matter the basis for it. Expertise in an area is ridiculed, and a person’s “sincerely-held belief” overrules basic common sense. People who scoff at logic and tolerance are touted as heroes, while those who attempt to bring reason to the chaos are pilloried and dismissed as unworthy of attention.
The current situation is not surprising, given what passes for “leadership” in the US today. Politicians of both stripes can offer little more than insults and allegations against their opponents, and the voters in this country long ago stopped electing well-qualified candidates who reflect their views, choosing instead to opt for the least offensive choice. This is nothing new; John F. Kennedy’s religion and family background were as much of a factor in the presidential race of 1960 as was his voting record as a senator. Even the Founding Fathers weren’t above slinging mud at one another. Opponents dredged up scandals about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson with differing levels of effectiveness. Realizing the polarizing effect of political parties, some of the Founders wanted to outlaw them but instead, ended up fully entrenching them into our political landscape, much to our detriment.
The reality is, the constituency in the US has no one to blame but themselves for the current mess. Failing to hold our “leaders” accountable and rubber-stamping incumbent senators and representatives demonstrated to the political class that the constituents were disconnected and couldn’t be bothered with the responsibility of making informed choices. Gerrymandering and voting irregularities were tolerated by enough of the electorate so that today, the votes of a significant number of individuals simply do not count in elections. We’re told to go out and vote, never mind how much the system is rigged against many in this society.
One must wonder, though, what happens when the ballot box is no longer viewed as an effective check on an out-of-control government. The current level of animosity in our society today is looking for an outlet, and many are hoping the midterm elections will turn things around in a positive manner. What happens if they don’t? I fear we’re headed toward a time when we’ll learn the answer to that question the hard way.