By Donella Meadows
–December 14, 1995–
Back a decade or two ago when we weren’t paying much attention, the advertising industry took over American politics, reducing debates to soundbites, using polls to tell politicians what to say, polishing image while banishing ideas.
Worst of all advertisers taught government leaders their central trick. Say any fool thing over and over and over, and it will start sounding plausible, or at least comfortably familiar. Repetition eats into peoples’ brains.
“You deserve a break today. No new taxes. Progress is our most important product. We stand for family values. Because you care enough to send the very best. We’re cutting Medicare in order to save Medicare.”
It’s bad enough to drum false claims into the heads of consumers. We may think for awhile that we’re getting beauty, health, love, youth, progress, when we’re really only buying stuff, but most of us wise up. The cost is only some unpaid credit cards and permanent disillusionment.
But when people to whom we hand the power of leadership solemnly parrot idiotic statements, by the time we catch on, we’re trillions of dollars in debt, we can’t afford medical care, our schools, roads, and communities have eroded, and our nation has wasted vast resources on fantastic ideologies.
The only defense I know against often-repeated lies is often-repeated truth. No one has unique access to truth, but one can usually find a good bit of it by looking in the opposite direction from where advertisers or politicians are pointing.
For example (and I would welcome readers’ additions to this list), turn around popular political rhetoric and you discover that:
– There is nothing wrong with taxes if they pay for important public services, competently administered.
– United States citizens pay less in taxes than the citizens of any other industrialized nation.
– Cutting taxes doesn’t necessarily release money for productive investment. It also releases money for conspicuous consumption and financial speculation.
– There are three ways to balance the government budget: raise taxes, cut military spending, cut public services. There is no rational reason to ignore the first two.
– The United States spends as much on weapons as do all other nations in the world put together, not because we need those weapons, but because weapons makers and politicians make corrupt deals. Much of our military spending does not strengthen our nation, it parasitizes our nation.
– A public job is no less worthy than a private job. A teacher, a policeman, a postmaster is at least as valuable as a sales clerk, a factory worker, an investment banker.
– Paying less than a decent wage for a full day’s work hurts the whole economy. Underpaid workers can’t be customers. Henry Ford knew he had to pay his workers enough to buy his Fords.
– Every industrialized nation except ours guarantees health care to all its citizens, pays less for health care than we do, and has lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy than we do. Those results are achieved with public, not private, health systems.
– The gap between the rich and the poor is higher in the U.S. than in any other developed nation. That’s not because our poor people are especially irresponsible; it’s because every market economy serves the rich more than the poor, and our government, instead of balancing that tendency as other governments do, also serves the rich more than the poor.
– A nation of haves and have-nots cannot be prosperous or safe or happy. It squanders more money dealing with the consequences of poverty than it would cost to end poverty.
– A good law administered in a stupid way (as are many of our environmental laws) is not fixed by eliminating the law. It is fixed by intelligent administration.
– Economic activity that destroys the environment (overfishing, overcutting of forests, dumping toxins) will ultimately destroy itself.
– Growth — of the economy, of the town or city, of the corporation — is a stupid goal, unless we say exactly what should grow, why, for how long, at what cost, paid by whom.
Our leaders don’t say these things and don’t want us to think these things. They would rather fill us with self-serving, short-sighted, microphone-enhanced falsehoods. So we have to say our own truths, over and over and over.
Say the truth you know. Say it to politicians and fellow citizens. Say it again, not louder, but with calm conviction. “It is error alone which needs the support of government,” said Thomas Jefferson. “Truth can stand by itself.”
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1995