These are perilous times. The biosphere is experiencing unprecedented rates of change. Overconsumption, unsustainable practices and anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are altering Earth’s vital climate at an alarming rate. Thanks to climate change, COVID, denial of facts and distortions of truth, the lines between difficult and dark times continue to blur, and no Asoka, Suleiman, Gandhi or Martin Luther King answers our roll call . According to the United States Humane Society, about 420 depraved “contests” are held each year in America in which 63,000 or more wild animals are slaughtered. Sixty of these hunts take place in Texas alone. Competing for money, hunters sign up through Facebook and other social media to kill coyotes and other wildlife, including but not limited to bobcats, foxes, and crows . This destruction of top predators and scavengers destabilizes ecological communities. Yet only 8 states currently ban abominations, less because of moral and environmental objections than because killing violates state wildlife and game laws. René Ebersole, writing for National geographic, suggests that the United States is the only country in the world that, in a twisted perversion of “entertainment” and “sport,” allows such gratuitous destruction for prizes. India, the world’s largest democracy, does not, and neither do autocracies. Why then is a tiny minority of declining hunters in America (none of whom remain except the Inuit) allowed to clash with large majorities who find such behavior morally and ecologically reprehensible, even deviant? Cultural evolution in a functioning purposive democracy should abolish social evils, not allow them to persist until they are whimsically eliminated. This is especially true when other governments, some considered less exemplary than ours, either do not condone such aberrant practices or leave their dissolution to gradual attenuation.
Unsurprisingly, autocrats, such as Xi Jinping in China, insist that democracies are ill-equipped to make the critical decisions needed to adapt to rapid change. Democracy requires a consensus that, even among informed, thoughtful, and well-educated citizens, lags behind our rapid world of digitally accelerated social change and planetary woes. Given an uninformed, politically subdivided and deadlocked population, modern challenges are almost always overwhelming. Although American democracy, despite its turbulent past, still asserts itself as above all ethical, efficient and fair, the facts no longer justify this assertion. January 6thand The insurgency, whose origins continue to point to the White House, was a nadir in our history. Congress, paralyzed by the two major parties, is like a caterpillar attacked by ichneumonid wasps, devoured from within by corporate money and oligarchic influences. Disjointed, ineffective and politicized responses to the pandemic have made it devastating in this country. Not only have 1 million Americans died to date from SARS-CoV-2 and its consequences, but the WHO, extrapolating worldwide, insists that the contagion has indirectly killed two or three times as many. Thousands of Americans, for example, have died from overcrowded intensive care units and pandemic-related delays in seeking medical care for life-threatening conditions other than COVID-19.
Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH’s longest-serving director, estimates that around 100,000 people in the United States have died from political misinformation, causing “over 50 million Americans to resist taking vaccines.” vital, safe and effective”. People, of course, are not seduced only in democracies to believe the counterintuitive or cling ideologically to misinformation that puts them at risk. But more than a handful of American politicians have advanced their political fortunes and fundraising abilities by spreading lies and creating a subculture of antagonists to public health and safety measures. The provision of culture media in human Petri dishes, resistance to inoculations and the wearing of masks have thus enabled adaptive radiation of newly evolving variants of SARS-C0V-2, and infections remain persistent.
The most damning indictment of democracies, however, at least those subverted by capitalism, has been America’s poor response to global warming over the past 4 decades. Keep in mind that the United States was the number one emitter of greenhouse gases for over a century, and on a per capita basis it remains so today. As Nicholas Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out, the disproportionate power wielded by fossil fuel industries clearly underlies our failure to address climate change. By giving tens of millions of dollars to candidates in the 2019-20 elections, the big oil, coal and natural gas cartels are openly thwarting our efforts to save the biosphere, where climate change now exceeds habitat loss in as the main cause of mass extinctions. As the Earth warms, species diversity will continue to decline, even more drastically. If global warming were to remain unchanged for another 300 years, a third of all marine life will be extinct, victims of the dramatic drop in oxygen levels due to rising ocean temperatures. Such a mass extinction would rival the “Great Death” of 250 million years ago, around the time of the Permian-Triassic boundary (or interface) when 90% of life in the seas and 70 % of life on earth are gone forever. Make no mistake about it. Despite public declarations to the contrary, such results are premeditated. Emily Barone and Chris Wilson’s recent review in TIME of 10-K filings — financial documents that public companies submit each year to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — shows how Big Oil and other companies admit to causing climate change. And aside from worries about the impact of global warming on their profit margins, they have little remorse for the damage they cause. Can such greed and stupidity really be sanctioned or explained away by majority rule?
Referencing Freedom House, which rates democracies around the world, Goldberg also points to systemic failures in US democracy, currently ranked below Romania and Panama in the index of political rights and civil liberties. Voting rights are under siege. States with relatively small populations, such as Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota, have the same voting power in Congress as California, Florida and New York. Campaign finance laws, badly in need of reform, allow plutocrats and corporate syndicates to spend without limits to peddle their agendas. Additionally, an anachronistic Electoral College and filibusters continue to blunt majority rule. When the undeserved wealth of small but wealthy and powerful minorities replaces the common good, democracies are doomed. Insurgent candidates, lacking the knowledge, foresight, and skills to safeguard the future, gain undeserved legitimacy by preaching short-term goals and self-interests allied with their own. What can lead to populist support and political victory can put society at risk. This is how dangerous demagogues, backed by quid pro quo benefactors, enter the corridors of power, navigating mirrored walls but failing to avoid crises.
In the 1970s, Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist at Columbia University, established how changes in chemical signals between neurons in the brain provided the physiological basis for learning and memory. It is true for all animals that the more a “preferred pathway” of neurons is excited by chemical neurotransmitters, the stronger the memory becomes. As Kandel said in his Nobel lecture, “Practice makes perfect, even in snails.” A recent study of baby zebrafish at USC further showed that, just as animal brains form new synaptic connections to create memories, certain connections are selectively removed each time we are inundated with light. information. What is relevant to survival is retained and reinforced. What is superfluous or inconsequential is neither strengthened nor lost. Forgetting can therefore be as important as what we learn and remember. Otherwise, the evolutionary benefits of strong memories would be redundant. The validity of the information from which we form memories is of utmost importance because what we learn, reinforce and retain as a society determines the future. Failing to learn and retain vital information and, just as importantly, forgetting irrelevant and bogus product from the dumps as the basis for decision-making.
For democracies to prevail, majorities must be mentally equipped to make sound and moral decisions about the future, especially in the long term, and consensuses must be rid of powerful Machiavellian minority interests that think only of themselves. , even if it costs a direct election. To develop a true democracy in America, we must restore checks and balances, reduce the influence of outside donors, and thwart the media that declares anything farsighted as treacherous and un-American because it does not focus on the short-term profits and unbridled economic growth. We need to separate Big Money from political decision-making and crisis mitigation. Above all, we need to better educate the public and put an end to deliberate, financially and politically motivated misinformation. Unless we Americans acknowledge reality and existential threats, and agree on solutions and priorities, democracy will be another sacrifice on the cold stone altars of political conflict.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, environmentalist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.