Ishmael and the Politics of Division

“It is not in numbers, but in unity that our greatest strength lies.” – Thomas Paine

When I was a kid the biggest threat to the United States of America seemed to be nuclear war. President Ronald Reagan seemed to be on TV all of the time warning against losing the Cold War, and we had lots of drills in school to prepare us for the eventuality that we we came under such an attack from Russia.

These days, it’s not as easy to pin down the biggest threat to our survival. Climate change is easily the biggest existential threat to the planet as a whole, but there are large numbers of people in the US who don’t “believe” in climate change. It’s an odd thing when non-scientists decide to refute the findings of peer-reviewed science, but there it is. It may be that this singular phenomenon represents an even bigger threat to our culture.

The Ishmael way of analyzing things is all about taking a step back, getting a bigger perspective, then taking another step back for an even bigger one. Let’s give it a shot.

If the majority of the people in a given country agree on something, it’s a powerful force that cannot be easily resisted (unless it’s a national election in which the electoral college overturns the popular vote). The problem is, when running for office to be in positions of importance requires huge sums of money, those with big money have much bigger voices than the majority who don’t.

Having a bunch of money isn’t quite enough, though. The majority still basically rules in a democracy, so if the bulk of Americans get on the page about a particular issue, they can overrule the will of the wealthy elite.

Don’t think for a second that the wealthy elite don’t know it.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise when I state that most of the information we consume is carefully controlled by large corporations…those same large corporations that benefit the most from Americans NOT being united. Political action committees work tirelessly to message things in ways that are friendly the big corporate interests that fund them. People can tune in to their own particular flavor of political Kool-Aide and never run the slightest risk of accidentally encountering a point of view they disagree with.

Want to hear that climate change is a hoax, the world is flat, guns are the answer to everything and Jesus Christ is coming back pretty soon so we had better get all up in our neighbor’s business to make sure The Nazarene is pleased when he gets here? There’s a channel for that. Want to hear that liberals are a bunch of atheistic, baby-killing, tax-loving heathens? There’s a channel for that, too!

Want to work on actually solving problems like gun violence, public health, mass extinctions, illegal immigration and the growing number of people in America live in Third World conditions? Sorry, that’s a little harder to find. The media makes money by, to borrow a quote from “The American President” –

“Whatever your particular problem is, I promise you (the media) is not the least bit interested in solving it. (They are) interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.”

If you can’t beat them, divide them is essentially the motto of the political powers that currently reside in Washington, DC.

Think about it this way: you can go see your local sports team play and spend three hours talking to the random people around about that team and get along just fine. If, however the conversation strays into political territory, things might not go quite as well. You might even have a hard time agreeing on anything more complicated than the score of the game taking place in front of you.

That’s how divided our information sources have become.

If they were covering sports instead of world events you would likely leave the game believing one team had won, only to find out later you were completely wrong. In fact, to carry the sports analogy one step further, you might not even be right about which teams were playing, though you spent three hours watching them.

So how do we combat this phenomenon?

It’s definitely not easy. One way is to watch a little of both sides, though I can tell you some of what you see will absolutely suck IQ points right out of your head. You can definitely consider the source. If the news you’re reading, especially on social media, comes to you from something like,, or there’s a pretty good chance it’s not real news.

Also, you can fact check and cross reference. Someone on Facebook recently posted a headline which stated: “NASA Scientists Admit Climate Change is a Hoax.” I didn’t click on the article, lest I be identified as a crazy person and spammed to death, rather I searched NASA’s website. Turns out NASA was not the source of the story, to the surprise of no one rational.

Bottom line, don’t trust headlines or bogus stories. If something sounds too silly to be true, it’s probably too silly to be true. Avoid no-name sources, always fact check, and …gasp…at least give the other side a glance from time to time. The news isn’t really the news any more, it’s primarily an entertainment source that only gets paid by getting you to click on outrageous headlines.

In future posts I’ll be talking about specific political talking points and how to decode them. Until then, thanks for reading!


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