Stay Calm, Don’t Panic

It’s always interesting to watch a collision between the reality based world and the make believe world.

Ferguson is providing one view into that collision.

Another is remarkable only because it happened in the mainstream, on purpose and by respected people.

HBO, of all of the television networks, provides some time to the outliers of the media world. The Wire was one such occurrence.

The Newsroom, much to my surprise, has provided another.

Aaron Sorkin (creator and writer of the program) is obviously a bright and talented guy. I’ve enjoyed other of his work.

He writes dandy dialogue. He brings up big issues. But he usually doesn’t go too deep. He likes to skate on the surface, being amusing and entertaining, without requiring an awful lot of thought.

The Newsroom has many stories going on at one time, at a quick pace. The fictional network in the show is covering events of about a year ago.*

This last week featured a climate scientist from the EPA who leaks a report to the fictional network of ACN.

In this report is the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm for the first time in three million years.

Hilarity ensues as the intrepid journalists try to make that interesting television. They decide to have the climate scientist on the air for an interview. I think the actor playing Westbrook, Paul Lieberstein, is absolutely wonderful.

Here’s how it goes:

This interview has been fact checked by Mother Jones and can be found here. What is typical of everyone, including Mother Jones, is what is not factored into the “doom and gloom”. That would be out of control reproduction (7.2 billion people on a planet with a carrying capacity of around a billion), a totally fucked up global financial system, the death of the oceans and vegetation, the fact that 2C is being sold as “safe” when 1C offers the lovely exponential nature of climate change, which models do not factor in. I mean, as doom goes, what is depicted here is really pretty mild. This is the least “alarming” way to present the truth.

The most dangerous thing happens at the very end, when the climate scientist says, “who cares?” THAT is what the powers that be are very very afraid of….people who perceive that life is over have nothing to lose. Hard to control people then.

But the whole episode is really telling. The Great White Father, played brilliantly by Jeff Daniels, says over and over and over again, “stay calm, don’t panic.” He says this in many different contexts during the show.

Don’t spook the herd.

This is not new behavior. I just finished re-reading The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, subtitled The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History.

He is a much better writer than I, so I’ll just quote him:
“Newspapers reported on the disease with the same mixture of truth and half-truth, truth and distortion, truth and lies with which they reported on everything else. And no national official ever publicly acknowledged the danger of influenza……

As terrifying as the disease was, the press made it more so. They terrified by making little of it, for what officials and the press said bore no relationship to what people saw and touched and smelled and endured. People could not trust what they read. Uncertainty follows distrust, fear follows uncertainty, and, under conditions such as these, terror follows fear……

Fear, that was the enemy. Yes, fear. And the more officials tried to control it with half-truths and outright lies, the more the terror spread.”

Over and over and over again, people were told not to fear, not to worry, not to panic, to stay calm. Trusting people with the truth was apparently never considered. The pandemic is merely one peek behind the curtain. American history is rife with such tales.

We can speculate until doomsday about the whys behind this. My own guess is that officials had a war to conduct and shit needed to get done. If people really thought, hey, I could be dead by tomorrow, would they show up to work the next day? And that is probably being way optimistic, knowing what I know about human beings and how they behave under stress.

The same exact behavior is happening with climate change. You know this scientist on this show is fictional because a real life climate scientist employed by the EPA would never appear on such a show with that truth. It hasn’t happened yet, anyway.

After the end of the world segment runs, the journalists move on. Just like in real life.

It is very difficult to try to live in a concrete, reality based world when the press, the government, corporations and the means with which to keep people under control collude so powerfully with one another. The truth so often does not “come out” until after the fact and is then allowed and encouraged to become forgotten history. Hard to connect the dots when you aren’t aware of any.

It’s also very dangerous.

If lies aren’t confronted, if lies are allowed to persist, the society that will come from that will consume everything. Your white skin won’t save you. Your class won’t save you.

Those who persist in remembering are dismissed as being too negative. Those who persist in exposing the truth are few and far between on the climate change front. There are people serving jail terms for exposing the truth. And people in hiding.

“Truth is treason in an empire of lies.” Variously attributed to George Orwell or Ron Paul. I need a choking on the irony emoticon.

*It’s fictional, but there are many winks to others in the background, if you’re alert.

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