Opinion: Breaking Through the Noise - Breakthrough Week


Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking at the Business Horizon Retreat for the US Chamber of Commerce last year. Photo by Sarah Elliott.

It’s hard to break through the noise. The ominous noise, in politics, makes it even harder for those working towards breakthroughs to remedy the deepest, most problematic, and ignored problems in our society.

What exactly is that “noise?” Considering recent headlines, would the attention-grabbing half-truths surrounding the disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2009 qualify as noise? Is noise the hyperbolic call of desperate former politicians demanding the impeachment of our president? Or is it the little realized fact that Barack Obama has, in fact, broken the law–an impeachable offense, at least on paper.

Aside from partisan barbs, does “noise” sound more like Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber getting back together? Because, by the way, she’s pregnant with his kid, as are two other women.

I’m kidding.

(Well, actually, I’m not kidding about the possibility of at least them being back together, but obviously, it is not the most important story in the… Okay, you get the idea.)

Even passing over a distinct political definition, we can agree that noise that kept the American people so blissfully unaware that the recent takeover of the Iraqi city of Mosul by Sunni militant forces was a long time coming. Yet if you were watching the 24-hour news media for the last few weeks–from Kimye’s wedding on Memorial Day Weekend, to Elliott Rodger, to the VA scandal, to Bowe Bergdahl–it might as well have happened overnight.

The takeover was a symbolic indication that our military and diplomatic efforts in the country have utterly failed. We’ve been reading reports on Iraq’s deterioration for the last two years on the Third Eye Weekly podcast here on BreakThru Radio. The grave consequences of the false pretenses for our invasion in 2003 are only evident by examining the long and painful descending arch of the government that replaced our occupation. Yet it’s hard to remember the last time the Fertile Crescent made Jon Stewart’s or Bill O’Reilly’s top story run-downs.

Making such charges against the media, both left and right, is nothing new—whether its the fault of their elitism, the tight leash held by their corporate masters, or their addiction to conflicts of the most petty and nauseating variety. After all, perhaps the only thing worse than listening to an over-tanned bigot telling me that Robert Berdgahl’s beard is too long is two clearly uneasy “journalists” asking whether or not the entire news story bares a resemblance to a plotline from Homeland.

Such stories are news, after all, because that’s what people are thinking when they hear the Bowe Berdghal story.

Seriously, can we hear that Justin Bieber three-way story again?

By extension, the problem of being selectively misinformed bleeds over into our politics. Many liberals firmly believe that blame falls distinctly on the other side of the ideological isle. After all, wouldn’t we be tackling so many actual problems facing our country (student loans, immigration, climate change, income inequality) if we weren’t tackling so many fake ones (repealing Obamacare for the 50th-plus time, making sure potential rape victims have proper access to guns, and the importance of using manufactured debt ceiling crises to solve problems)?

Take a recent op-ed by one of my favorite TED Talkers (also copyright activists, all-around thinkers), Lawrence Lessig. He expertly skewers certain GOP senators for being outraged that a government agency requires scientists to disclose any potential financial conflicts of interest when submitting research studies.

His analysis digs to the roots of a government corruption at the heart of why our system cannot improve, all the while being defended by the party that abhors government because it is, you know, corrupt. It’s a familiar headline, but one, like many that are so “important” to serious people, still not giving Kimye or Bergdhal any competition.

But don’t fret, technocrats. Mass denial in 2014 is being addressed, and arguably reversed. Truth is, as Will McAvoy would say, being brought to stupid.

The Neil deGrasse Tyson-hosted reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series–which concluded a few weeks ago–defied cynical ratings expectations. The show updated a record-setting network primetime audience to the wonders of the universe. All the while, it bravely incorporated progressive themes of gender and income equality, how an authority can keep us from knowing the truth, and the benefits of investing in public knowledge.

Did I mention that this show debuted on the Fox network, with the productional backing of Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane? The same network that just canceled I Wanna Marry “Harry”?

Science really shouldn’t have to be reduced to a kid stuck in the middle seat on the political spectrum. Unfortunately, though, to scratch beneath the surface of mass denial, you have to talk about the fact that it is precisely the case. Yet like any controversial issue in the news, the polarities of opinion may be the loudest noise, but there is also that wonderful space in the middle where the binary reactions disappear, and the truth can be best observed.

For instance, wise cracking conservatives can think they are getting wise to deGrasse Tyson’s act, but, like they do whenever they mention anyone in satire media like Colbert or Stewart, can only really flail at his success. That still doesn’t make Tyson’s voting record so easily predictable.

Take this answer he gave to a Fora TV on who is more pro-science, Democrats or Republicans:

The short answer? The GOP outspends the opposition, who is more likely to spend on social services than science, in research and development by a pretty substantial margin. In other words, if there’s a government-funded breakthrough in a reasonable alternative to fossil fuels, there’s a good chance it’s because of George W. Bush.

Facts like these confound the traditional left-right narrative that corporate media outlets use to generate interest in their content, so they don’t become news. In a communications landscape built on the foundation of long-standing disagreements, why give anyone a chance to agree on anything?

Because that would be cutting through the noise, and hearing the harmonious music of individual cooperation, rejecting that authority that cannot justify itself, and instead investing in sensible approaches that don’t cater to entrenched interests.

Beyond what makes “news,” knowledge can help us reach this place above exploitation of our worst tendencies. That way, we can live more consciously of our choices. We need more than to see the forest through the trees; we must listen closely to hear the melody of importance from within the sometimes screeching, often delirious feedback of bullshit.