In today’s era of instantaneous news, mudslinging has risen to previously unseen levels. Business executives like Justine Sacco and Brendan Eich are beholden to Twitter mobs who hold no legal jurisdiction over them. Information regarding the latest news event cascades through social media channels, overwhelming someone who seeks to remain informed. Instead of informing, such data ends up further entrenching viewpoints. People hear and think what they wish.
How to extricate oneself from such endless feedback loops is a tricky question at an individual level. Unplugging only leads to ignorance, as no one has the time for original source research. On an institutional level, constant image management is a must.
Planned Parenthood and Greece
Two very different news events reveal the inconsistencies and results of wishful thinking. On our side of the Atlantic, a steady revelation of videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has led to a barrage of information about Planned Parenthood. CNN’s Errol Lewis and the New York Times Editorial Board (among many others) at first attempted to ‘unplug’ themselves before going on an all-out selective information onslaught (treatments of that here and here), demeaning the source of the revelations without approaching the root of the issue. So what is the issue? How did Planned Parenthood arrive where it is today? Why is an institution being defended for involvement in an industry it was never intended to enter? Doesn’t matter, we don’t have time for such questions.
On the other side of the Atlantic, dramatic all-night meetings and a nonsensical referendum have recently defined the six-year-long slow-motion collapse of Greece’s economy. Again and again, outside voices have stated Greece is but the writing on the wall, indicating doomsday for the entire Eurozone. If you succeed in extracting yourself from the tyranny of the present, you can read that in 2004 Greece’s Finance Minister admitted it cheated to get into the Eurozone. Even Greece’s entry into the EU was shrouded in rule bending. A 2002 International Political Science Review article found that, “Greece, Portugal, and Spain were allowed into the Union with the aim of helping them consolidate democracy after entry, and they were given large financial transfers after accession over a long period to aid economic development…. such terms will not apply to [newer Eastern members].” Indeed, those three countries are now suffering for such short-sighted wishful thinking while Central European countries like Poland and the Czech Republic aren’t doing half-bad.
In short, both cases represent the wishful thinking of the demanding present while avoiding the harder questions of how we got here. Such lack of self-awareness leads to further institutional drift and potential collapse.
Getting to the Roots of Drift
When it comes to U.S. law, conservatives are known for griping about power creep in the executive and judicial branches: the use of executive orders, the expansion of the Cabinet, the use of the Interstate Commerce or Equal Protection Clauses, and on and on. But why are these issues so thorny? Well, because they’ve been ignored before.
In the Roman Republic, Caesar did not claim to be Emperor. In fact, most Roman Emperors claimed to be under the law when they were anything but. Checks and balances, most notably in the form of the Senate, became charades of titles and egos. Once the Senate became a puppet, the law itself became a malleable tool, then a complete joke. It all took hundreds of years, but in retrospect, Rome’s fall was written on the wall from the rule of Octavian, before Christ.
While Twitter, Facebook, and the incessant drone of nonstop news may seem very different from Roman times, wishful thinking has not changed a bit. Mission drift and kicking the can down the road are not mere expressions; they are elements of a fallen human nature. Awareness of sin is the first step in dealing with it.