Democracy is at its best when a reasonably well-informed public makes responsible choices based on individual judgments about what best serves their own or the public interest. Democracy is at its worst when well-funded disinformation campaigns pump amplified falsehoods into the reverberating echo-chambers of segregated and insulated ideological camps. By that measure, we are currently enjoying one of the low-points in American democracy.

I’ve watched political ad after political ad refer to “the failed stimulus” and the “most fiscally irresponsible Congress in American history,” accusing those Democrats who supported it of an incomparable villainr. And I cringed each time, knowing that, as John Stewart once described the infamous emails exchanged by climate change researchers expressing some sloppiness in the research, “it’s like catnip” to those who are already predisposed to believe a demonstrable falsehood. The combination of the nature of human cognition and perception (filtering out that which challenges our current beliefs, and amplifying that which reinforces them), with the balkanization of the dissemination of information (with conservative ideologues happily hooked on the ideological opiate provided by Fox News), and the highly financed and completely amoral pumping of outright misinformation into and through media outlets, create a perfect storm of cultivated ignorance, just in time to channel into completely dysfunctional electoral decisions.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some objective sources of information to which to turn, in order to sift through all of this noise and deception? Oh, wait, there is. The Associated Press reported today, for instance, that stimulus spending was far more successful than popular opinion (and false campaign advertising) would have it, reporting that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 1.4 million and 3.3 million people are employed because of stimulus spending ( The AP article reports that many state and local governments were kept fiscally viable by the stimulus spending, and that the suffering construction industry experienced a boon due to new road and bridge building, while tax cuts and benefits have assisted millions suffering during the economic crisis.

But the problem isn’t just that those disinclined to believe, or factor in, these facts are too lazy to include them in their diet of information; it’s also that they have conveniently defined all such facts out of existence, even if they are served to them on a silver platter. The mantra about “the liberal media” permits all information contrary to their preferred myths and falsehoods to be dismissed en masse as part of a vast conspiracy by socialists to deprive them of their liberties. It doesn’t matter if the non-partisan CBO said it, or thousands of scientists working over decades all over the world have concluded it; all that matters is that it must be false, because it isn’t what they already believe, and all else is by definition false.

I refer to this social force, eating away at our ability to govern ourselves rationally and sensibly, as “Organized Ignorance,” a movement both organically and intentionally cultivated to enshrine demonstrable falsehoods, create false idols of misinformation, stoke up blazing emotions with the combustible kindling of “patriotic” and religious fervor, and unleashing it all as a man-made (and made-of-man) disaster flowing like molten lava over the institutional edifices of our republic.

The irony, and perhaps the saving grace, is that many of the people caught up in this fervor are really descent people, sincere, honest people of goodwill who have been swept along by forces designed to do so, like addictive drugs sold as health-enhancing tonics. Many can be weaned from these corrosive cognitive substances they have become hooked on, can be returned to sanity, can become a part of our shared effort to govern ourselves as reasonable people of goodwill.

The trick now is for the rest of us to figure out how to design and implement an effective detox program, and return this country to some semblance of sanity. Because the situation right now really is pretty dire.

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