Last weekend (Happy New Year’s by the way!) my girlfriend happened to be watching the movie du jour Don’t Look Up while I was enjoying the opportunity to be obnoxiously lazy. As with most latter-day Adam McKay movies, it was two things: 1) Proof that the McKay Formula is still funny 2) Proof that the McKay Formula will never change, for better or worse.
But regardless – I’m not here to give movie reviews (no one wants to be Moviebob) – what I found interesting is how this movie showcased some serious issues our society faces – just not the one that the usual suspects focused on. What this film really exposed, both through it’s central message as well as it’s flaws, was to shine a light on what truly is the plague of our modern society: the lack of critical thinking or even a slight fucking sense of nuance by those who drive our policy and our collective narratives has not only led to many of current problems, but is fed in a negative feedback loop that is also a product of modern society.
The sad fact of modern society, specifically in America, is that those who succeed and prosper in our current political world are the loudest voices. Through a multitude of factors ranging from the prevalence of social media literally tailored to promote the extreme opinions to the rise in power of small donor donations fueled generally by the most radical elements of both parties to the rise of a British-style partisan tabloid news media focused on opinion over fact, those who represent the true intention of the public are not just not crowded out but run out. Call it Cancel Culture for the Left or Forced Trump Worship on the Right, but the same phenomenon exists throughout the political spectrum. Those who have succeeded in this environment have some universal beliefs:
Nuance is the enemy.
Complexity doesn’t matter.
Individual opinion does not matter, they are simply functioning as a member of a particular group or identity.
And – most importantly – the ends always justify the means.
With a media that uses extremely unreliable social media increasingly as a major source, a major feedback loop exists in our current environment where the most far out and shocking opinions are presented consistently as face. This doesn’t just lead to partisans on a certain side accepting completely untrue narratives are truth, but more importantly leads to these partisans believing most of their opponents are in fact supporters of their own side’s extremist ideals, contributing heavily to bad faith politicking and blatantly lying to succeed. Other electeds and influential individuals begin to believe their choices are between two extreme options, choosing the one closest to their ideology as to avoid backlash from, yes, the loudest folks again.
The problem is the vast majority of the public does not hold extreme opinions in general and generally aren’t as informed on current events as activists (who are naturally the loudest yet conversely the most unreliable arbiters of truth) in our rapid-fire information culture, allowing extremists to dominate and control narratives rather than the much more reasonable, effective, and logical options that are actually representative that is much more moderate and asymmetric than a nationalized media ever assumed.
You are asking – how does this apply to Don’t Look Up? The main message of the film – that the stupidity of the general populace and of elites – is ignoring an imminent catastrophe that will doom humanity – is a flawed premise itself that climate scientists themselves have been arguing against against an alarmist media that, once again, has no room for nuance. While the effects of climate change are real – despite what some crank may try to convince you on Youtube – the world is not ending. While climate emissions have flattened but not declined yet, the worst case scenarios proposed decades ago – that would actually make a case for an existential threat – have thankfully not come to pass. Instead, we face a crisis that can actually be solved (and in many cases actually is) but the apocalyptic narrative given by those with too much influence, too loud of a voice, and too little of an appreciation for complex have not only harmed efforts to combat climate change but led to a mental health crisis as well.
What is this all to say? It comes back to the same question I ask every time and continue to find the answer for. How, in this modern environment, do we make it politically feasible for the moderation and dispassionate insight (supported by the majority of the populace) necessary to solve our most pressing issues? I still don’t have the answer, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up. We must grow bolder, and I will highlight some ways in upcoming posts.