JUST GIVE ME THE FACTS M’AM: Let’s stop feeding reality the comfort food of false hope
Tim Murray, Population Media Center
July 25th, 2010
In her book, “Titanic”, author Stephanie Barcszewski described the exchange between Captain John Smith and the ship’s designer Thomas Andrew just over ten minutes after the collision with the lethal iceberg.
“Smith asked Andrews how long the Titanic had left and Andrews did some quick calculations: An hour and a half, possibly two. Not much longer.” That quick calculation was not far off. The ship sank two hours and forty minutes after it hit the iceberg, or roughly two hours and twenty minutes after Andrews made that grim pronouncement.
As there was no PA system on board the ship, Captain Smith issued immediate instructions to his crew to have passengers board the lifeboats, beginning with 1st class passengers of course. The Titanic was, after all, a microcosm of Edwardian society and 70% of third class people never saw a lifeboat that night. But then again, 40% in 1st class did not survive either, and I suspect that is a much lower percentage than that will perish in the imminent sinking of RMS Affluent Society. Rich ticket-holders will evidently launch off the first lifeboats half empty because they don’t believe in the fallibility of the ship.
But the point is, Captain John Smith sought an honest assessment of his ship’s condition, accepted it, and took whatever action he could to mitigate the scale of the disaster.
Imagine however, if Bernie Segal, or some such guru of the self help industry, had been captain of the Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Assuming that he would have indeed ordered a damage report, rather than blithely persisted in a state of denial by thinking happy thoughts, would he have accepted it? I rather doubt it. Here would be the screenplay:
Thomas Andrews: “Captain Segal, Sir, the front six bulkheads have risen 14 feet in just ten minutes and at this rate of water intake the weight will carry the ship down within two hours.”
Captain Segal: “The fate of this ship will be determined by our positive expectations. If as a crew we visualize a positive outcome there will be a spontaneous remission of the flooding waters and the gash in the hull will be healed. Go away. I don’t need your negative energy. I need to work on my nomination speech for the leadership for the Green Party.”
Oh yes. Faith can move mountains, can’t it? That is what all the televangelists say. That is why Tony Robbins makes $30 million a year saying too. That is what Tojo and the Japanese Empire and the Kamikazes said as well, that faith could defeat an American war machine five times its strength. Mao had his troops believing that they could walk into an H bomb mushroom cloud to prove that radiation was a paper tiger. If you believe that renewable technologies will supply all of our current energy demands and that human ingenuity will provide a substitute for oceans of missing fish and biodiversity and depleted soil nutrients then you are indeed a candidate for faith healing. But just try healing Mother Earth. You’ll have as much luck as Captain Segal would have had healing that gash on the Titanic with his positive thinking.
The infantile disease of religion is still with us. Those who renounce its traditional forms still seek refuge and comfort in Pollyannaish, unscientific beliefs that do not follow from their scientific analysis. We are still children. We still need faith, apparently. Al Gore, ended his documentary on faith, and on June 7/08, in “The Age”, Maude Barlow was quoted as saying that “hope is a moral imperative”, for without it, there is no will to act for change.
These people confuse their roles. Are they truth-tellers or morale-boosters? Is their role to tell Captain Smith the facts about the Titanic or to sugar-coat them so as to not depress him too much? Are they his emotional care-taker or his reliable reporter?
Some have taken the line that the truth is too shocking for most, so let’s dispense false hope to remain in the good books of mainstream opinion, otherwise we won’t get a hearing and none of our ideas will be entertained. I won’t tell you the ship is going down in two hours but could you (whispering politely) remind passengers where the lifejackets are stored?
Former Liberal cabinet minister Brian Tobin was a master at trying to straddle the two fences of defending the environment but not telling the truth about it. He admonished environmentalists for depressing people with bad news when he said, they needed hope. Here I was under the impression that the worsening environment was responsible for depressing people. And that industry, whose portfolio he was in charge of, had much to do with that. MacLean’s magazine heralded his victory as Premier of Newfoundland in 1996 because “Tobin’s optimistic approach struck the right balance between realism and hope.”
A balance between “realism and hope.” Can anything be more absurd? When a doctor gets a lab report, does he want “realism balanced with hope”? When I take my car to my trusted auto mechanic “Mitch”, do I want to hear his realistic assessment about whether I need an engine rebuild or do I want him to “balance” that assessment with his “hopes”? When I go to my oncologist, am I going to a friggin priest, or to a guy who is going to give me a blunt and objective reading of the MRI and lab results together with his unemotional prognosis?
I am not a child anymore folks. I sent Santa Claus packing long ago. Same with his successors and Green wannabees. I don’t vote for political faith-healers. “Believe in me and I’ll make the ecological consequences of overpopulation go away by changing your attitude.” Like Sgt. Friday in the old TV series “Dragnet” used to say, “Only the facts M’am. Just give me the facts.”
Just give me the number of people this planet and this country can support indefinitely at a given lifestyle. And cut the crap.
My state of mind has no bearing on that figure and neither does yours, Mary Poppins.
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