Pundits on talk shows like to refer to the 24/7 news cycle, and “The Age of the Internet,” and imply that we are all incredibly well informed these days.
I often wonder if this is true.
Polls continue to indicate a frighteningly high level of ignorance in the U.S.; and my impression about mankind in general is that is that not only is our capacity for rational analysis decidedly limited, but we are not particularly well equipped to handle large volumes of data.
We can’t remember most of it, we’re not particularly good at connecting the dots, we are delusional when it comes to multi-tasking (we think we can, but mostly we can’t) and we find too much data confusing.
After that, personal agendas and vested interests enter the picture, and they tend to trump facts again and again. And then comes ideology, the curse of the thinking classes. I tend to think of ideologies in terms of religion or politics; but they also exist in many other forms, and, in particular, can be induced by institutions, whether corporate, or government, or academic, or religious. Whatever be the form, the end result – if an ideology - equates to intellectual blindness. It is a common ailment.
I’m thinking this way, both because I normally do; and because I’m struck by the fact that trends and developments of significance so often go unnoticed.
For, instance, in the late Eighties and Nineties, when I was working on such books as GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, RULES OF THE HUNT, and THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT, it was blindingly clear to me that terrorism would be used against the U.S. in the near future; and I said as much repeatedly.
Subject to some notable exceptions such as the remarkable Vaughn Forrest and his Congressional Task Force On Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, I was substantially ignored. After all, terrorism in those days belonged in the box marked ENTERTAINMENT; and anyway what could an author of fiction know that the security services did not?
I could answer that last question in detail, but since I’m merely trying to illustrate the point that we are disconcertingly bad at recognizing trends and developments of significance, I’ll move on.
The next obvious example was the Great Recession. I forecast that in 2004. I thought it would start in early 2008, last for several years and that housing prices would fall by a third. I wasn’t the only person who forecast such doom and gloom, but certainly neither the mainstream media nor the government seemed to be remotely concerned. As to why the Fed, with all their resources, ignored the obvious, one cannot but wonder.
As matters stand, though there are obvious threats like the Chinese, the U.S. is unlikely to be seriously threated by any external conventional enemy, using conventional weapons, but is eminently capable of destroying itself, or at least of inflicting the kind of damage on itself that will take decades to recover from.
If such is the case, and I believe it is, then we are misallocating our National Security resources. Further, I believe a threat from within is more immediate than any external threat.
Here, I had better explain that when I say “from within” I am not referring to infiltrated terrorists or enemy sleeper cells (though they exist). I am talking about this society’s capacity to self-destruct in some way. I am talking about structural flaws in the American Way of Life. As is becoming self-evident, they are many. This is not to bely our strengths, which are numerous, but to focus attention on matters we can do something about; if we want to. The latter is far from clear.
Bottom line: We are our own worst enemies.
Let me list the principal threats to our National Security that stem from within. – in the next post.