If you tried to describe early 21st century politics with a single word, apocalyptic would be among the top contenders. From climate change and COVID to biodiversity change and abortion, the rhetoric surrounding most issues seems to be "The world (as you know it) is going to end. Only radical action can hope to save it." Whatever the merits of the argument that the relevant indicators have gone from merely "bad" to a "crisis" might be, the consequences from democracy have been deadly. Once political problems are framed as potentially apocalyptic, the implication that they are therefore too important or pressing to be solved by regular old democracy tends to be taken for granted. Participants become polarized and fanatical, seeing their opponents as not just behind the times or ignorant of "the facts" but enemies of the future of humanity. What's more is that it imposes a disaster narrative. And like a tornado bearing down upon us, the expectation is that people lay all other concerns to the side and just do what they're told. But as I've pointed out earlier, that story about the politics doesn't really hold up.
I think that we're not going to make consistent and dependable progress on the global crises we face until we can learn to talk about them as merely "big problems," rather than as cataclysm. Decades of political experience have told us that no amount of screaming about "the facts" or insisting on the stupidity or evilness of other people will make them drop their own political views and do what we tell them. Most of all, it only takes a bit of reflection to recognize that these problems are not at all like a disaster, like a tornado we can see with our own eyes. They depend upon our trust in experts and those communicating the science. The pandemic, for instance, is not something the average citizen perceives in its totality. It is a diffuse problem, one that people have to be constantly reminded of. Choosing to wear a mask or get vaccinated, as a result, is not at all like stacking sandbags in the face of rising flood waters. It is asking people to play their part in an improving epidemiological situation that is only understood to government modelers. It demands that people see imperceptibly influencing statistical projections of viral spread and healthcare burden as a heroic and necessary act. That can't be done except by building trust, by doing democracy, by convincing your opponents that you're not only credible but honest and benevolent.
In any case, see more at The New Atlantis.
Taylor C. Dotson is an associate professor at New Mexico Tech, a Science and Technology Studies scholar, and a research consultant with WHOA. He is the author of The Divide: How Fanatical Certitude is Destroying Democracy and Technically Together: Reconstructing Community in a Networked World. Here he posts his thoughts on issues mostly tangential to his current research.
On Vaccine Mandates
Escaping the Ecomodernist Binary
No, Electing Joe Biden Didn't Save American Democracy
When Does Someone Deserve to Be Called "Doctor"?
If You Don't Want Outbreaks, Don't Have In-Person Classes
How to Stop Worrying and Live with Conspiracy Theorists
Democracy and the Nuclear Stalemate
Reopening Colleges & Universities an Unwise, Needless Gamble
Radiation Politics in a Pandemic
What Critics of Planet of the Humans Get Wrong
Why Scientific Literacy Won't End the Pandemic
Community Life in the Playborhood
Who Needs What Technology Analysis?
The Pedagogy of Control
Don't Shovel Shit
The Decline of American Community Makes Parenting Miserable
The Limits of Machine-Centered Medicine
Why Arming Teachers is a Terrible Idea
Why School Shootings are More Likely in the Networked Age
Gun Control and Our Political Talk
Semi-Autonomous Tech and Driver Impairment
Community in the Age of Limited Liability
Conservative Case for Progressive Politics
Hyperloop Likely to Be Boondoggle
Policing the Boundaries of Medicine
On the Myth of Net Neutrality
On Americans' Acquiescence to Injustice
Science, Politics, and Partisanship
Moving Beyond Science and Pseudoscience in the Facilitated Communication Debate
Privacy Threats and the Counterproductive Refuge of VPNs
Andrew Potter's Macleans Shitstorm
The (Inevitable?) Exportation of the American Way of Life
The Irony of American Political Discourse: The Denial of Politics
Why It Is Too Early for Sanders Supporters to Get Behind Hillary Clinton
Science's Legitimacy Problem
Forbes' Faith-Based Understanding of Science
There is No Anti-Scientism Movement, and It’s a Shame Too
American Pro Rugby Should Be Community-Owned
Why Not Break the Internet?
Working for Scraps
Solar Freakin' Car Culture
Mass Shooting Victims ARE on the Rise
Are These Shoes Made for Running?
Underpants Gnomes and the Technocratic Theory of Progress
Don't Drink the GMO Kool-Aid!
On Being Driven by Driverless Cars
Why America Needs the Educational Equivalent of the FDA
On Introversion, the Internet and the Importance of Small Talk
I (Still) Don't Believe in Digital Dualism
The Anatomy of a Trolley Accident
The Allure of Technological Solipsism
The Quixotic Dangers Inherent in Reading Too Much
If Science Is on Your Side, Then Who's on Mine?
The High Cost of Endless Novelty - Part II
The High Cost of Endless Novelty
Lock-up Your Wi-Fi Cards: Searching for the Good Life in a Technological Age
The Symbolic Analyst Sweatshop in the Winner-Take-All Society
On Digital Dualism: What Would Neil Postman Say?
Redirecting the Technoscience Machine
Battling my Cell Phone for the Good Life