Emerging Crises

I recently read Serhii Plokhy’s Atoms & Ashes (Norton, 2022), a chronicle of six nuclear disasters over several decades in America, England, Japan, and Russia, three in the military and three in electric utilities.  In all six cases, the consequences of the disaster were much worse than expected and governments did their best to cover up the situation until it became really bad and the media spilled the beans.

One of our latest disasters, beyond daily school massacres and horrible environmental events, involves misinformation and disinformation.  Social and broadcast media, including advertisers, deliberately deceive consumers to act against their own best interests, for example, pursuing health interventions that will likely kill them or voting for candidates that seemingly agree with their priorities, but actually have no such intentions.

Why do these kinds of things happen?  First of all, the purveyors of misinformation and disinformation are earning huge profits by deceiving consumers.  Second, when things go wrong, industry and government players think they can get things under control before the consequences get out of hand.  They are often quite wrong.  Third, the players involved do not want to be held culpable for these consequences. 

All of these behaviors undermine trust in government, industry, and expertise in general.  People feel that they are being sold a bill of goods – and that often is the case.  As the Supreme Court has ruled, lying is completely legal.  They have indicated that marketing and sales are typically inherently lying.  Let the buyer beware is their recommendation.  The overarching message is to not believe anything that anybody tells you.

Where does that leave us as a society?  We need a major initiative to restore trust.  This requires open communication, discussions, and debates across tribes.  This could start in the community of pubs, the topic of my last post.  This could be paired with a serious collaborative effort across the mainstream media – CNBC, CNN, FOX, et al.  President Biden should invite them to the White House for a serious planning session.  This has to be a top priority.

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