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News Media and the Public Discourse: A Menagerie of Blindness and Misdirection

Saturday, June 20th, 2020: Problems & Solutions, Society.

A Menagerie of Blindness and Misdirection

Whack-a-mole, submissive sheep, blind as a bat, red herrings, and sacred cows. There’s no shortage of animal metaphors to describe our behavior and our public discourse in a heterogenous society repeatedly shocked and increasingly divided by the revelations of the news cycle.


Whack-a-mole: a situation in which attempts to solve a problem are piecemeal or superficial, resulting only in temporary or minor improvement

News headlines: Black people are victimized by systemic racism in the police!

Public discourse: Government must do something about police brutality and racism now!

Weeks earlier: Global pandemic is spread by travel and physical contact!

Public discourse: Government must do something about the pandemic now!

Weeks earlier: Young people say we must do something about climate change!

Public discourse: Government must do something about climate change now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: Supreme court nominee is a sexual predator!

Public discourse: Government must reject this nominee now!

Weeks earlier: Government is separating immigrant children from their families at the border!

Public discourse: Government must stop this separation now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: White supremacists are rallying nationwide!

Public discourse: Government must stop racism and white supremacists now!

Weeks earlier: Opioid addiction is a national emergency!

Public discourse: Government must stop opioid use now!

Weeks earlier: Terrorists kill tourists worldwide!

Public discourse: Government must find a solution for terrorism now!

Weeks earlier: Mass shootings in our schools and public places!

Public discourse: Government must do something about gun violence now!

Weeks earlier: Powerful men in the movie industry are sexual predators!

Public discourse: Bring these men to justice now!

Weeks earlier: The President colluded with a foreign power to win the election!

Public discourse: Impeach the President now!

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how the news media keep us in a constant state of crisis, leading us by the nose, focusing our attention exclusively on a single problem for weeks at a time, then moving immediately to the next headline issue while the previous is forgotten, in most cases without any solution ever being reached. In this endless cycle, we news consumers and citizens of a centralized, hierarchical state are helpless whiners, powerless children continually demanding that our parental leaders fix things for us. If we reflect on this phenomenon, we can only conclude that it’s a messy but essential aspect of progress in a democracy, as we try to stay informed and hope the democratic process will finally work for us.

Led by the Nose

Virtually no one questions the need for nations and national governments. From earliest childhood, we’re taught that we belong to a great country, the purpose of which is to protect us and give order to our lives, from cradle to grave.

But the size of nations, their population and geographical expanse, requires a centralized, hierarchical government. We take this for granted, along with the fact that as citizens, the government knows us primarily as anonymous statistics.

We accept that we can’t know directly the members of our government, nor can we see, hear, or feel what’s going on in our country outside our local neighborhoods. We rely on the “press,” and with the advance of technology, the “news media,” to keep us informed about our leadership and the world around us.

But in order to maintain independence from government – the “free press” – and a measure of objectivity, the news media have evolved as a private-sector institution. Individual media outlets from Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp to PBS, NPR, and Democracy Now! operate either as businesses in the capitalist economy, delivering ad-sponsored information as a consumer product, or as nonprofit organizations, funded by the rich – wealthy individuals and their philanthropic foundations.

In either case, news entities must compete for our attention in the market. And news media must filter the news for us, taking the infinite number of stories available in the world at any time and selecting only the handful they believe will draw the biggest audience. And they all march in lockstep, delivering the same headline stories out of fear they will lose audience to their competitors. Thus all news providers have studied us and learned in detail how to manipulate us for their own agenda, for what they believe is best.

As can be seen from the whack-a-mole litany of stories above, the news media are eminently successful. They keep us hooked, leading us around by the nose like so many sheep, from week to week. In our public forums, from family and neighborhood gossip to online social media, at any given time, what most of us will be reacting to and talking about will be the latest crisis in the news media.

Blind Spots and Sacred Cows

In the “whack-a-mole” of our news headlines and public discourse, some topics seldom if ever arise, either because of sociocultural taboos, because they’re not considered interesting enough to be competitive in the rapid news cycle and the media bid for our attention, or because they represent universally-held core beliefs.

Progress: A History of Violence

We’ve all been indoctrinated in the story of our culture and society, tracing it back to the Ancient Greeks. It’s a history of violence, of the growth of nations and empires by violent conquest, the violent establishment of Eurocentric colonies on other continents, the oppression, enslavement, and genocide of indigenous peoples, and the destructive exploitation of natural habitats. But we’ve been taught to view this history as “progress,” in which the incessant wars, the colonialism, slavery, and exploitation, are simply natural growing pains, mistakes which we leave behind as we advance toward a better future for all. Europeans and their colonial powers justified their violence against traditional societies and indigenous people by painting them with a broad brush, portraying them all as warlike savages to be pacified and improved by European civilization.

Believing in progress, we tend to ignore our history, assuming that the past consists only of problems we’ve already solved. We’re taught that we are a fundamentally peaceful society, so we’re always surprised by exceptions to this, and rather than questioning our fundamental values and institutions, we seek “band-aid” solutions that don’t threaten our comfortable way of life.

But violence begets violence, and the harm, the injustice we’ve done in the past is never truly repaired. It lingers, generation after generation, in the communal memories and behavior of races and cultures we’ve conquered, enslaved, and displaced: the natives of former European colonies, including our own, and the descendants of slaves imported from Africa.

Competition, Dominance, Coercion, and Aggression

Aggressive, competitive behaviors have been so deeply embedded in our culture and institutions that we take them for granted and rarely even notice them. We honor competition in our organized sports – we consider sport to be an institution that brings us all together for good, clean fun, regardless of our beliefs, religious or secular, liberal or conservative. Competition, dominance, and coercion are legitimized in our Constitution and laws, and competition is the fundamental value in our “free market” economy, grounded in the small, local businesses that most of us treasure. Even in science, competition is enshrined in the Theory of Evolution. We never consider that our competitive bias may be causing many of our problems.

Europeans romanticize warrior culture, believing that war is a noble venture fostering courage in young men. When we look at other societies, we look for warrior culture whether it is there or not. Americans’ stereotype of Native Americans is the brave, fierce Sioux warrior, feather headdress streaming as he charges into battle. New Age mysticism has adopted the notion of the “spiritual warrior” from Buddhism, and the women’s movement romanticizes “warrior women.”

Industrial Society and the Consumer Economy

Where do our basic needs – air, water, food, clothing, shelter, energy, etc. – come from? How are they produced and delivered? What is their quality? Are they sustainably produced, is the source habitat being protected, are the providers well taken care of? In our industrial society, mines and factories, including factory farms, operate around the clock, across the globe, to supply our basic needs, which are ever-increasing as we adopt more and more labor-saving devices, from computers and smart phones to robots and self-driving cars.

Consumerism itself – the notion that all human needs are commodities to be bought and sold – is rarely even acknowledged, let alone questioned, in the media and public discourse. This is bound up with our belief in progress: producing and providing your own needs is backward and primitive – civilization elevates us above all that. In our society, producers are usually ignored, whereas consumers have “rights.” Even Karl Marx, in his advocacy of labor, was a firm believer in progress, industrial society, and consumerism.

The industrial underpinnings of our civilization are virtually never questioned in our news media or public discourse, except in isolated instances like environmental disasters – Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez – and labor scandals like Apple and Foxconn. But the production and delivery of our basic needs continually consumes massive amounts of nonrenewable resources, poisoning or destroying distant habitats and threatening the health and safety of distant communities.

What about the vast, global infrastructure that enables our mobility, the distribution of raw materials, products, energy and information, our water supply, and the removal and treatment of our waste? The superhighways, powerlines, pipelines, dams and aqueducts, ports, tankers, cargo ships, railroads, and satellites overhead? We only hear about infrastructure when it fails spectacularly, as in the case of big earthen dams or poisoned urban water supplies, and then it’s seen as an isolated environmental problem, not a failure of our way of life.

Affluent white people strive to live far from mines, factories, and waste processing facilities, so they can forget that these loud, dirty, smelly facilities even exist. The provision of our basic needs is “mere subsistence,” and through civilization and progress we rise above that, to enjoy the civilized arts and sciences. We don’t want to hear about what it takes to maintain that high standard of living.

The Military, Espionage, and Law Enforcement

We take “intelligence,””security,” and “defense” for granted as essential institutions of nations. But few of us ever acknowledge that as a global superpower, our nation maintains a global military empire, with hundreds of bases imposed on other countries. We live in denial of the nuclear arsenals that could render our entire planet uninhabitable. None of us is ever informed about the covert operations of our government, at home or abroad, except in rare cases that emerge long after the fact.

Countless times, American as well as foreign citizens have been spied upon, falsely incriminated and punished. Our private-sector arms industry is one of the big three multinational business sectors, distributing deadly weapons across the globe, including to terrorist groups that then use them against us and our allies. We take it for granted that we need these violent, coercive institutions, and their ongoing operation is never reported on in the news unless there is a momentary scandal or a new war starting somewhere. In those cases, we only want our lives to get back to normal so we can forget about our real spies, armies, and arsenals, and enjoy the fictional ones in our books and movies.

We romanticize the lone police detective in his search for truth, the spy as globe-trotting sophisticate, and the brave, selfless warrior defending our freedom. But in reality the police are there to control the unruly poor and the racially undesirable, and spies and soldiers exist to protect our empire abroad.

Justice, Punishment, and Incarceration

We take it for granted that those who commit violence or otherwise break the law must be punished, and in extreme cases removed from society through incarceration. This is the foundation of our justice system, and we are never exposed to non-punitive, restorative alternatives that may exist, or may have existed, in smaller, weaker societies that have been conquered and dominated by us. The operation of our justice system is only reported on in rare cases of scandal or crisis, and in those cases, we only want our lives to get back to normal so we don’t have to think about it.

For good reason, courts and prisons scare us. Unless we’re lawyers, most of us don’t even want to think about them. So the only glimpse most of us get is in fictional TV shows and movies. The fiction is not the reality. As outrageous as some of those shows are, the reality is much worse. Studies show that less than 6% of people jailed by the police are ever brought to trial – the rest are forced by prosecutors into plea deals that result in punishment without any form of judicial or peer review. In general, our justice system delivers anything but justice, because nation-states are inherently unjust, and the underlying values of our society are unfair.

Red Herrings

While much of what’s important is left out of the news cycle, there are some issues that repeatedly arise in our news media and public discourse. These are issues that are consciously or unconsciously calculated by the media to trigger emotional responses in their audiences. And over and over again, they distract us from their root causes in our fundamental values and institutions.

Racism and Diversity

As racially-biased police brutality moves temporarily into the media spotlight, Blacks and idealistic young people march in protest, and liberals react by reluctantly, ashamedly acknowledging that they may not yet be adequately “woke.” And conservatives react by again claiming that white people are actually being unfairly discriminated against, and racism is a myth.

But to both sides, racism is a complex, amorphous topic, intimately dependent on and embedded in the history of European imperialism. Racism was predominant in ancient Greece and Rome, and on the rare occasions when Native American, Latino, and Black prisoners are brought to court rather than sentenced extrajudicially, they’re typically tried in the ostentatious, intimidating architecture of imperial Greece and Rome, and the language of our law is the language of the Roman Empire.

The imperialists of the European Enlightenment, including artists and scientists, were motivated by racism in their conquest and appropriation of native societies and cultures in the Global South. Latin, the language of the Roman Empire, is the language of science, and white scientists continue to exhibit implicit racism as they isolate themselves in the all-white enclaves of their profession. After all, white Europeans developed science, and European empires brought civilization to brown-skinned natives. We may no longer call them primitive savages, but the assumption of superiority lingers unconsciously.

Traditional indigenous societies always have neighbors who are culturally or racially differentiated, and even societies that are relatively peaceful view their neighbors in ways that we would find racist, for example stigmatizing their neighbors’ diets or physical build.

The difference between these peaceful societies and ours is not that one is racist and the other tolerant, but that one – ours – is inherently violent, and the other is inherently peaceful. In peaceful, cooperative societies, the “other” may be gently teased, yet generally respected for their differences, but is never attacked.

One of the biggest red herrings in our culture is diversity. Native Americans didn’t embrace the diversity of Europeans in their midst as a benefit – we’d invaded them, perpetrated genocide, stole their land and their livelihoods, and displaced the survivors onto barren reservations. Black people, brought over from Africa as slaves, didn’t volunteer to be part of our great “melting pot” of cultures. The Asians and Latin Americans who have streamed into our country for centuries, opening the ethnic restaurants we’re addicted to, didn’t come here because they love being around white people and wanted to be part of a diverse community.

When affluent white liberals talk about diversity, they don’t mean integrating their safe neighborhoods. They love ethnic restaurants but don’t want brown neighbors. They don’t include blue collar workers or poor white trash in their vision of diversity.

What we celebrate as our society’s diversity is actually the tragic result of imperialism. We forced people off their traditional lands – that’s why we have cultural and racial diversity. Our heterogenous, pluralistic society is not the sign of progress toward global peace and tolerance. It’s a festering calamity born of centuries of aggression, oppression, and exploitation. The Rwandan genocide, the result of European imperialism forcing conflicting ethnic groups together in a “diverse” nation, shows what our “progress” is really capable of.

Humans thrive in small groups unified by shared beliefs, values, and goals, not in heterogenous masses with conflicting behavior and worldviews. Communities and societies thrive by forming a cohesive, distinct identity which is most clearly distinguished from that of their immediate neighbors, and neighboring societies are naturally vocal about their differences. In violent, competitive pluralistic societies like ours, in which distinct communities are forced together involuntarily by politics and economics, there is always tension between them, with the potential for sudden or systemic conflict and violence.


Terrorism is what happens when violent subcultures have been systematically oppressed by imperial powers…and then, unsurprisingly, strike back in violence. As noted above, we live in denial that our culture is imperial, and that it’s violent by nature – we ignore our violent history and coercive institutions and believe we are progressing to a peaceful norm.

Many weaker societies have been harmed by us but have not responded with violence. But in our news media and public discourse, the focus is always on the violent reactions – the Al-Qaeda and ISIS – and we are always shocked that people would want to hurt us. We tend to conclude that particular cultures – specifically Islam – are inherently violent, ignoring our own history of violence, our past conquests of Arab and Islamic societies, and our continuing interference, including “regime change” – in Middle Eastern cultures, governments, and economies.

The U.S. and its allies, particularly Israel, have practiced state terrorism since their very beginnings, in the brutal conquest of indigenous people and traditional societies. The atrocities of ISIS that have so horrified us in the news media were actually exceeded in 18th and 19th century America, perpetrated on indigenous people by American citizens known as “rangers” – the namesake of Texas Rangers, Army Rangers, and the Ford Ranger truck. These terrorist vigilantes were sponsored by the U.S. government. During the 20th century, the U.S. sponsored state terrorism in Central America, in which hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were tortured and killed. And since 2001, American Presidents have conducted covert terror campaigns against rural communities in the Middle East and Africa using missiles fired from remote-controlled drones, killing an unknown number of civilians, including women, children, and elders.

Our government has always practiced terrorism against its poor and minority citizens, from the anti-union labor massacres of the 19th century to the bombing of Black activists in the 20th. And the inherent violence of our European legacy is borne out in domestic terrorism, church bombings and mass shootings perpetrated by white supremacists.


Accepting our childhood indoctrination in the structure of our society, we never question the need for national borders and controls on immigration. Because we live in ignorance or denial of history, we forget that these borders were imposed by our government for political and economic purposes, in violation of natural ecological regions and the territories of indigenous societies, causing permanent stress and tension in border communities and forcing traumatic disenfranchisement, migrations, and alienation.

Virtually all nations outside Europe were originally created by Europeans as colonies, often in disregard of traditional boundaries. European institutions were put in place, and when these colonies gained their independence, the institutions remained and their native leaders were trained at European universities, where they were indoctrinated in European culture. This is as true of the U.S. and Australia as it is of Mexico or Nigeria. Every country in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, and the Middle East remains a European colony in all but name. The Eurocentric leadership of former colonies continues to oppress and persecute their surviving indigenous populations.

In the past, we imported slaves across our borders, and our political, military, and commercial oppression of foreign populations continues to drive waves of refugees and immigrants toward our borders, but we seldom acknowledge this. People of European ancestry are invaders in the Western Hemisphere, and even after centuries we remain colonists on indigenous land, failing to adapt sustainably to native habitats and ecosystems.

Unaware of how our global empires have forced people off their native lands, conservationists and population activists sometimes blame immigration for overpopulation. Thanks to our biased educational system and our misdirecting media, the most educated among us are often the blindest.

Gun Violence

Mass shootings are a recurring theme throughout our history, yet we continue to fail to identify their source in our aggressive, competitive, coercive culture. We continue to celebrate physical competition and dominance in our sports, and we crave violence in our entertainment – our most popular movie franchises are Star Wars and The Avengers.

When mass shootings occur, our only solution is gun control. But the right to bear arms against government tyranny was a fundamental value of our English founding fathers, which they institutionalized in the Bill of Rights and passed on to their descendants. So on the rare occasions when gun control is implemented, it is bitterly opposed and never lasting or fully successful.

Climate Change

Like many themes in our public discourse, climate change is a coded, emotionally-charged euphemism that accompanies a cultural and political divide in our society. When liberals talk about climate change, they use it confrontationally, to attack climate change deniers. They take it to mean a multitude of destructive human-caused changes in global climate due to carbon emissions which primarily come from the use of fossil fuels. But when mentioning climate change, liberals generally also imply particular solutions: transitioning to so-called “green” or renewable energy, which implies the electrification of industries and products which previously relied on other forms of energy. To liberals, climate change implies both a general technological problem and specific technological solutions.

To conservatives, climate change represents yet another controversial theory, perhaps a conspiracy or a hoax, by means of which liberals threaten our traditional way of life.

The irony is that taken literally, climate change is acknowledged by all. The weather constantly changes, and everyone recognizes trends in their local region. What is ignored by both sides is the underlying historical, social, and anthropological context for human-caused climate change and the proposed solutions. And both sides lack an adequate understanding of climate science or alternative energy technologies, which are actually anything but green or renewable.

The anthropocentric bias of European cultures ensures that we are more concerned with impacts of climate change on humans than on the rest of nature. When we talk of the “environment,” what we generally mean is the physical surroundings of most humans: their cities, their urban neighborhoods, their homes and workplaces. Our first priority is always going to be to secure the safety and comfort of these non-natural, artificial environments, our fortress from which we view nature as a hostile force.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg naively urges us to “stand behind the science,” unaware that the industrial application of science – petroleum technology and the internal combustion engine – is something that caused the problem to begin with. Climate science represents only a tiny minority of all scientific research, which is mainly conducted for government and industry, in pursuit of capitalist and imperialist agendas.

And climate science is yet another of the reductive sciences that have triumphed over holistic science since the 1970s. We all talk about our carbon footprint, blaming climate change on fossil fuels, rather than acknowledging the broad complex of exploitative, destructive behaviors that are degrading nature and destroying our planet: our imperialistic expansionism, our industrial infrastructure, our accelerating demand for mobility, comfort, convenience, power, and speed that are cumulatively increasing our consumption of nonrenewable resources and spreading toxic waste and invasive species. Many of these factors overlap with climate change, but in the news cycle and the dumbing down of public discourse, climate change has become the only “environmental issue” that most of us are aware of.

The fundamental problem is neither climate change, nor carbon, nor fossil fuels. The fundamental problem is not a specific technology, but our overall way of life, our values, our institutions, accumulating in Europe and its colonies over thousands of years.

Democracy and Fascism

Whenever one of our leaders exhibits autocratic tendencies, liberals and idealistic young people can be depended on to cry “fascism!” and bemoan the eroding of our “precious democracy.” But democracy and fascism have come to be defined as flip sides of the modern nation state. In either case, the machinery of the state – the bureaucracy, the military, the economy – is much the same, and citizens have no role in decision-making.

We trace our notion of democracy to the ancient Greeks, and our notion of a republic or representative democracy to ancient Rome. Of course, neither were egalitarian. In ancient Athens, the slave-holding male gentry, a minority of the population, voted directly on both leaders and major decisions that affected the entire community. That was our archetype of democracy.

Majority vote is a notoriously unstable and unfair form of decision-making and electing leaders. Peaceful societies maintain small, accountable, face-to-face communities in which leaders can be chosen and decisions made via the unanimous consensus of all members – a much more fair and sustainable solution than our “precious democracy.”

“Liberty” and “freedom” are fundamental, universal American values believed to be at the foundation of our society and economy. But in the public discourse, they become vague, emotionally-charged euphemisms that imply the use of violence to defend individual rights. Peaceful societies exercise firm restraints on individual behavior, by group consensus, to ensure the welfare of the community. Unlike us, they understand that since humans are a social species, individual welfare only results from strong, healthy communities.

Poverty, Hunger, and Disease

Poverty and hunger were the primary targets of President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs in the 1960s, and the suffering of “developing nations” continues to inspire idealistic young people and guilty billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

But the poverty, hunger, and disease of indigenous and poor populations in former colonies have been directly caused by European and American imperialism, and are continually exacerbated by Eurocentric governments and our military and industrial operations. First Europeans conquered their societies and territories, then supported European businesses in the takeover of their productive lands, driving the people into urban slums. These newly poor people ended up living in squalor and vulnerable to disease.

After independence, European institutions and Eurocentric leadership remained, and as the former imperialists rushed to put a band-aid on the problem by feeding the poor and treating their diseases, we enabled population explosions that lead to overconsumption of resources. And finally, ignoring our role in the historical process, we view these poor third-world societies as the main culprits in the overpopulation of the earth. Why can’t they be enlightened like us?

Like most of our buzzwords, poverty is relative. In our capitalist consumer society, we pity people who get by with less, whether voluntarily or not. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, we behave as if happiness is a commodity that can be bought. We believe money and technology are the solutions to every problem. Some of the happiest and healthiest people I’ve known are those who consume the least, and thrive in what others call poverty. And some of the unhealthiest are those caught up in the rat race of conspicuous consumption.

The world doesn’t have a poverty problem, it has a wealth problem. Global poverty only exists because of capitalism and imperialism, which lead to economic inequality. The lifestyle of the wealthy depends on exploitation of the poor, mostly in foreign countries where they are out of sight, out of mind. A minority is wealthy because many others are disadvantaged. And even the middle and lower classes in affluent societies depend on products and services that are affordable because they come from poor regions and depend on cheap labor.

Peaceful societies are egalitarian. Despite the rhetoric of the wealthy, white Founding Fathers, nations are by necessity hierarchical and generate economic inequality, which, alongside other causes, generates suffering, conflict, and violence. Our individualistic society, with its Horatio Alger myth that anyone can get rich, pits us against each other and victimizes the people who provide our products and services.

Space Exploration and Colonization

Among all the contentious, divisive stories that regularly make the news, space exploration is one topic that’s supposed to truly unite us, something we can all be proud of, the achievement that offers us hope in our future despite all the problems that challenge and divide us. We in the “advanced” nations proclaim space exploration as a noble effort that all humans can share in with pride, regardless of race or creed, wealth or poverty.

Expansion of our species into space is considered an inevitable consequence of the Progress we take for granted. But in our much-denied historical context, progress has involved the violent conquest of new territories and indigenous societies and the appropriation and exploitation of their resources. Exploration, in the European sense and the sense we now apply to space, is the vanguard of imperialism. First the brave white explorers use their advanced technology to travel to remote places, where they establish a beachhead. Commercial enterprises follow, to extract natural and human resources for the enrichment of their investors back home. Military forces accompany the businesses, to protect them from the natives. Colonial governments are set up to control surviving native populations, followed by white colonists who gradually displace the natives until they believe themselves the natives and the original natives the ungrateful outsiders.

Space, like the Antarctic continent, may lack indigenous populations. But like Antarctica, space is merely another target for exploitation by our aggressive, out-of-control consumer society, a place in which imperial powers can compete for advantage. And as in the exploration of Antarctica, space can only be reached by exploiting resources back home to build and power the vessels of exploration. The earth is sacrificed to get to space.

Science is used as a justification for exploration, but science is never purely a search for truth. The more expensive the exploration, the more science is guided by capitalism and imperialism. Space exploration teaches us nothing about how to take care of our habitats and communities on earth, which is by far the most important thing we need to figure out.

Humans evolved as part of natural, terrestrial ecosystems. We continue to thrive only with the help of our non-human partners in these ecosystems, which fill the gaps in our knowledge and perform services we may not even be aware of. Naive and ignorant space enthusiasts like Elon Musk believe in the myth of human exceptionalism: the misperception that as the pinnacle of natural evolution, humans deserve to expand throughout the universe.

Alienated from nature, proponents of space exploration are unaware that evolution has no pinnacle, and humans have no more knowledge or wisdom than our nonhuman partners. Space enthusiasts mistakenly believe science knows enough to manufacture “life support systems” from scratch, to “terraform” other planets, transforming them into human habitat. But only terrestrial organisms can create our habitat, and we need to submit to their nonhuman wisdom.

Humans are neither superior nor sufficient; our knowledge, skills, and wisdom are not enough. We need our wild, native, terrestrial ecosystems, and we thrive by practicing restraint, living within our limits. Exploration is part of expansionism. Space exploration and colonization are imperialism, plain and simple, the doomed products of hubris and aggression.

Think Locally, Act Locally

Whereas conservatives tend to reject intervention in foreign affairs, the specter of climate change has renewed the commitment of liberals to globalism. But as we can see from our analysis of news media and public discourse, we simply lack the accurate information to think globally.

The global way of thinking is just another conceit of imperialism. We first-world people who have the luxury to consider ourselves global citizens have the illusion that we know what’s going on everywhere, but we don’t even come close. Our news media leave out almost everything that’s really important, and traveling to learn about distant places is a wasteful luxury that can only give us snapshots.

Even our science betrays us – we only know the “planet” through expensive machines like spacecraft, airplanes, and scientific instruments, tools of the capitalist, imperialist elites. These instruments filter out context and leave us with decontextualized data which is only useful in our misguided, doomed attempts to engineer nature and society. The “planet” is a presumptuous first-world fantasy.

The only societies that live responsibly are those that tend to their local habitats and communities, ignoring the follies of the larger world, but keeping an eye out for threats that can be avoided. Many threats are unavoidable. The juggernaut of civilization has trampled and obliterated many sustainable societies. That’s the nature of humanity, and like most stories in the news, it’s not an edifying one.

No matter how many or how often moles pop up in the news to be whacked, people still cling desperately to what they believe are the benefits of their culture and their nation, partly because most people fear change, partly because they’ve been so thoroughly indoctrinated, but also because instead of valid alternatives, the filtered, curated news media keep showing them apocalyptic failures – the chaos of places like Syria and Libya. Compared to that, a nation of gun-toting racists seems like paradise.

Our local environment is the only one we can truly know. The more we can disentangle ourselves from the larger, inadequately known world outside, with its destructive infrastructure, greedy empires, and misdirecting news media, and the more we take responsibility for our own needs, the better we can take care of our communities, and the happier and healthier we will be.

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