Yesterday, I asked the question about whether the Iraq war could happen again. Could we, the American people, be pushed into a war of convenience rather than a war of necessity? Simply put, I believe the answer to this question is yes. My answer is yes because we live in an Oppositional Society. This concept, the Oppositional Society, was first proposed by Rebecca Costa in her fabulous book The Watchman’s Rattle. (I’m not sure who first proposed the idea of an Oppositional Society. I first read about the idea in this fabulous book.) Basically, Ms. Costa’s argument is that we boil very complex topics down to yes or no, right versus left, for or against.
If we look at how we debate major issues, we can clearly see how nuance and complexity of argument have been lost in the whole issue and the issue is boiled down to a yes or no question. Gun control. In my opinion, this is an amazingly complex issue. Can the government regulate guns? Most constitutional scholars will tell you that every right that is granted in the Bill of Rights is not absolute. Yet, in this debate, we’ve seen almost every aspect of nuance and complexity boiled down to yes versus no. Assault weapons. There are simply two sides of this debate. Should an American be able to buy an unlimited quantity of assault weapons? Yes or no.
We can come up with theories as to why the United States has gravitated to this extremely simplistic way of examining any problem. Personally, I believe that the majority of Americans get their “information” from the television. Television is extremely good at presenting two sides to any story or topic. Television gets a little bit messier when you present a third or fourth opinion. That simply doesn’t make for good television. Even when you have four or five or even six guests discussing a single topic like on CNBC or Bloomberg TV, the guests conveniently can be categorized into two groups for or against whatever topic is being discussed. Interestingly, this fits very neatly into our political system. Democrats. Republicans. Notice how any third party which pops up is shunted to the side and is painted as being out of the mainstream, crackpots, just as any idea that doesn’t help frame a question in a yes or no answer is also pushed to the side.
Global warming is an excellent example of our Oppositional Society at its best. At its most basic, global warming is really about the greenhouse effect. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist to be able to understand that scientists first proposed the greenhouse effect back in 1824. Basically, as carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it traps heat and reflects it back onto the Earth’s surface. That is the greenhouse effect in a nutshell. We know from ice core data dating back more than 400,000 years that currently we have higher carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere than at any time in the last 400,000 years. These carbon dioxide levels have risen dramatically over the last 150 years. These are scientific facts. Yet, when we look at the debate on global warming, it is being boiled down to the simple yes or no. Do you “believe” in global warming? Yes or no. The craziness of this debate cannot be overstated. Yes, there are lots of things that we can debate. We can discuss whether sulfur dioxide, which we are also spewing into the atmosphere, has a cooling effect which is balancing out the warming effect of carbon dioxide. We could also debate the uncertainty of weather. We could discuss the fact that we, as scientists, do not fully understand all of the parameters that go into weather. Yet, that’s not what we debate. Instead, like three-year-olds, we boil down the complexity to yes versus no.
This brings me back to the war in Iraq. Think about the run-up to the war. Think about the arguments that the administration proposed. Could we, the American people, be tricked into war again? War in Syria? War in Iran? War in North Korea? War against some new terrorist organization that threatens our security? My answer is yes. The bottom line is that we still live in an Oppositional Society. No matter who is president, all they have to do is frame the debate correctly. The news media has proven that they will not do any significant due diligence to push the debate one way or the other. Although for the next war we will use different words, I believe it can be framed in exactly the same way – we are fighting for liberty. We are fighting for our freedom. The debate will once again be framed in such a way that those who oppose war will seem outside of the mainstream. They will be painted by the media as those who oppose protecting ourselves, opposing freedom and liberty. Sadly, I truly believe that we have learned little or nothing from our misguided invasion of Iraq. We are set up to make the same mistakes all over again.