Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetric—it’s not about physics… but politics

Back when I published research on optical ellipsometry, “polarization” seemed an innocent-enough term — and indeed, lately there have been applications that let us peer into the very origins of the universe. Alas though, more and more, we hear talk about a polarization of politics — especially in the USA – that has destroyed a great nation’s ability to argue fairly, negotiate pragmatically, and forge the sort of effective compromise solutions that enabled past generations to keep moving ahead.

The worst aspect of all this has been the devolution of politics into cliches, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward science… along with every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. And not all of it from the right! The far-left contains plenty of anti-modernists.

But why?

 Isaac Asimov once commented: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Or take this from another commenter: “Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favor of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.”

Hm, replace “bumper sticker” with “snarky Facebook Jpegs.” This depressing article — America Dumbs Down — in Canada’s MacLeans Magazine certainly offers a litany of statistics suggesting that at-minimum, the citizens of the United States are splitting in twain — with half the country going out o’ its ever-luvin’ mind.

== Do I sound depressed? ==

In this new article, America’s Cult of Ignorance is No Match for Asia’s Cult of Intelligence, Texas professor John W. Traphagan suggests that this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. Other nations are not sabotaging themselves this way, they are pushing education, intellect and admiration for accomplishment:

“It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.”

Polarization-politicsSo… Is there any way out of this third phase of the American Civil War? Both sides are more politicized these days, but it’s not equal.

A recent Pew study of the American political landscape breaks down the population into eight groups, seven of them engaged in politics at least to a degree and the other mostly on the sidelines. Three are highly ideological and politically engaged — two that lean to the Republicans, one to the Democrats. Four other groups are “less partisan and less predictable” in their political views, what the study calls a “fragmented center” that poses challenges for both major parties:

“The most loyal followers of the Republican Party account for about one-fifth of the total population, more than a quarter of registered voters and more than one-third of politically engaged Americans. The Pew study labels these two Republican groups as “business conservatives” and “steadfast conservatives,” writes Dan Balz in The Washington Post. Almost nine in 10 people in each group are white, and about six in 10 in each group are men. Two-thirds of steadfast conservatives are 50 or older…” The study also appraise divisions among liberals and leftists.

See: Yes, Polarization is Asymmetrical…and Conservatives are Worse — in The Atlantic.

Personally, though I respect Pew, I find their categories silly to the point of uselessness. For reasons I go into, elsewhere. Nevertheless, the article is interesting.

politics-outrge== The Good Billionaires ==

Smart billionaires are worried. They see their own their own futures being endangered by the dumb billionaires. Those who got rich by paying attention to trends — like Silicon Valley entrepreneurs… and Warren Buffett… are starting to see a truly scary prospect on the horizon. Torches and pitchforks. Or one word that says it all (look it up).


The dire, freedom-wrecking consequences of wealth disparity were discussed long ago by Adam Smith. They were the root cause of both the French and American revolutions — one of which resolved the situation with moderation, the other with self-defeating pain. And the tradeoff is starkly portrayed in an article by billionaire Nick Hanauer, on Politico: The Pitchforks are Coming…for us Plutocrats:

Hanauer-tumbrels-capitalism“Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

This kind of “smart billionaire” will be our secret weapon, in the fight for our Great Experiment to continue.

Nor is Hanauer alone. We know that most of the tech billionaires have joined Warren Buffet in rejecting the winner-takes-all mantra of Fox-style economics. But how about midwest agri-business leaders?

Greg Page is executive chairman and former CEO of Cargill, Inc., the largest private company in the U.S. Page participated in the high-level “Risk Committee” of top business leaders that forecast the U.S. economy could suffer damages running into the hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century due to climate change.

page-climate-change Page describes the northward movement of the American agricultural belt. As average temperatures have risen over the past decades, the growing season in the northern plains has grown, while heat waves further south have baked America’s traditional agriculture producing states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

==Looking for Solutions==

What can the rest of us do?

lesterlandMayday PAC was started by my colleague, Professor Lawrence Lessig (founder of Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America’s political system. Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics — they have five days left to meet their goal.

Start with the TED talk by Professor Lessig called “Lesterland” — a program detailed in his book, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption — “a map for a democracy we could reclaim.”

Or view Steve Wozniak’s 3-minute video: America’s Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.



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