Invisible Political Facts



© 2015 Alan F. Zundel

When you ignore relevant facts, they become invisible. Invisible facts can lead to disaster.

A dark basement might make lighting a match seem like a good idea, but if you ignore the sound of a gas leak hissing—BOOM! Not such a good idea after all.

Daily news reports leave a lot of relevant facts invisible. They—and we—tend to fill in the gaps with familiar story lines.

Good Guy Versus Bad Guy

One of the most familiar story lines is good guy versus bad guy. Take news reports on nuclear negotiations with Iran. The dominant story line has been how much the U.S.—the good guy—can trust the word of Iran—the bad guy.

A visible fact, often repeated, is that Iran funds Shiite terrorist activities in the Middle East, thus confirming our story line—Iran must be the bad guy.

What are some invisible facts that might mess with this story line? Here are two examples.

Number one, the U.S. is allied with and provides military support to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the region and the main supporter of the Sunni fundamentalism that produces the Sunni terrorists that threaten Iran.

Number two, in 1953 the CIA was involved in a military coup of Iran’s democratically elected President, and for the next quarter-century the U.S. funded an Iranian dictatorship which used torture to suppress dissent.

From the Iranian perspective, it would be easy to see the U.S. as the bad guy. Of course, that ignores other relevant facts that make that story line too simple as well.

My point is that if you ignore invisible facts and rely on simple story lines, you will misunderstand the people you are dealing with and make bad decisions.

Growth Is Good

Another story line is that bigger is better. Reports on the U.S. economy focus on economic growth. Growth is good, right?

Changes in a statistic known as the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, are our visible fact. GDP is a measure of spending for goods and services. More spending on goods and services must mean more goods and services are being produced, thus we are wealthier.

But what are some invisible facts?

The GDP includes spending by consumers, business, and government. About half the federal government spending included in the GDP goes to the military. The GDP also includes arm exports to other countries and business investment in equipment to manufacture weapons.

So one invisible fact is that a significant chuck of the GDP is based on producing weapons. Do more weapons make us wealthier? You can’t eat them, live in them, cure illness with them, or use them to clothe yourself. The human labor and natural resources that go into producing weapons could have gone to producing other needed goods. They do not make us wealthier in any direct sense.

But what about indirectly?

One argument is that they make us wealthier indirectly by providing the security which allows other economic activity to go on. But the opposite argument is that flooding the world with more weapons at some point makes everyone less secure.

Growth is good? Not always so clear.

Another invisible fact is that, under current methods of doing business, degradation of the natural environment is a byproduct of increased economic activity. Pollution, loss of species, climate change—all of these increase along with the GDP.

Are we wealthier when our natural environment is more degraded?

My point is not that economic growth is bad. It is that our way of measuring growth makes some facts visible but leaves other relevant facts invisible. Focusing on the visible and ignoring the invisible can again lead to disaster.

Disaster in the Making

If we see the world as simply composed of good guys and bad guys, we will need more weapons. And if we see growth as good, producing more weapons is also good because it helps increase economic growth. So there is a dynamic here that leads to more and more investment in making and using weapons.

But if we misunderstand people and our weapons turn them into enemies, we are less safe. And if economic growth has the price of destroying our environment, we are less wealthy. The dynamic set up by invisible facts can destroy us.
This is not just a problem for politicians. We are the ones who create the political environment in which politicians act. We must resist simply story lines and look for the invisible facts before adopting a political position.

In sum, sniff around before lighting that match!


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