December 19, 2007

Conservation biology and nationalized television

Some whistle while walking past graveyards at midnight. Some believe that "significant improvement of politics, policy, and governance are unlikely and probably irrelevant," that "better design and market adjustments can substitute for governmental regulation and thereby eliminate most of the sources of political controversy," that "greed and self-interest are in the driver's seat and always will be," and that the human future looks quite bright. David W. Orr has accurately described people like me (Optimism and hope in a hotter time, in Conservation Biology).

But he does not like us. For him, even the ideas of well-known pessimists like Pacala and Ehrlich, or of the IPCC, are too soft. Orr is for something more radical - nationalizing television in order to tell people the truth.
The problems can in one way or another be traced to the irresponsible exercise of power that has excluded the rights of the poor, the disenfranchised, and every generation after our own. That this has happened is in no small way a direct result everywhere of money in politics, which has aided and abetted the theft of the public commons, including the airwaves where deliberate misinformation is a growing industry. Freedom of speech, as Lincoln said in 1860, does not include "the right to mislead others, who have less access to history and less leisure to study it." The rights of capital over the media now trump those of honesty and fair public dialogue and will continue to do so until the public reasserts its legitimate control over the public commons including the airwaves.
Telling the truth through nationalized airwaves would lead to...
front porches; public parks; local businesses; windmills and solar collectors; local farms and better food; better woodlots and forests; local employment; more bike trails; summer sports leagues; community theaters; better poetry; neighborhood book clubs; bowling leagues; better schools; vibrant and robust downtowns with sidewalk cafes and great pubs serving microbrews; more kids playing outdoors; fewer freeways, shopping malls, and sprawl; less television; and no more wars for oil or anything else.

Nirvanna? Hardly.
I agree with the latter, although not for the same reason as Orr (he means that such things are attainable) - I believe that the attempt to build such a society would result in something more akin to North Korea than to paradise.
Finally, I am an educator and earn my keep by perpetuating the quaint belief that if people only knew more they would act better. Some of what they need to know is new but most of it is old, very old. On my list of things people ought to know in order to discern the truth are a few technical things, such as
1. the laws of thermodynamics that tell us that economic growth only increases the pace of disorder (i.e., the transition from low to high entropy);
2. the basics of the sciences of biology and ecology (e.g., how the world works as a physical system); and
3. the fundamentals of carrying capacity, which apply to yeast cells in a wine vat, lemmings, and humans.
I am also a teacher but I don't think the idea that "if people only knew more they would act better" is very useful and what I know about biology and physics does not lead me to Orr's "truth." I do prefer individualistic greed and self-interest to "leadership" and state-sponsored brainwashing through the airwaves.

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