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Cognitive Dissonance


Monotropa uniflora ("Ghost Pipe") does not photosynthesize. It lives on tree-energy, transmitted via underground mycorrhizal networks.


As promised, this post begins with another dose of indignation. For those who’d rather pass on that, an antidote lies at the bottom.

A number of news stories over the past several months have left me agog at the journalists’ apparent oblivion to contrasting stories featured by their own outlet weeks or even days prior. Here are a few examples:

  • On February 3, a train hauling more than 100,000 gallons of vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals half-way across the country derailed in the village of East Palestine Ohio, about 15 miles north of the Ohio River. Consternation ensued. The EPA got flack for downplaying the tragedy. Norfolk Southern’s CEO was dragged before an indignant Senate.

But wait. Wasn’t that the same (supposedly divided) Senate that just two months earlier voted 80 to 15 to break a railroad workers’ strike, forcing unions to swallow a contract that still lacked predictable scheduling and paid sick leave provisions? Didn't our pro-labor President Joe Biden spur Congress to pass that bill?

  • In the first phase of the COVID pandemic, the CARES Act — designed to help citizens weather the crisis and stave off economic collapse — provided nearly $500 billion dollars of taxpayer money to the Federal Reserve, to underwrite the purchase of corporate bonds. This was the first time in U.S. history the Fed was authorized to buy bonds not issued by another government. The Fed was able to stretch the CARES sum to cover $5 trillion in purchases. How? By minting more money on that collateral. That’s what central banks do. Only they don’t have to mint or even print it any more. They just add electronic zeroes to the account.

This fact raises two questions:


1) Why do stories about inflation and rising interest rates routinely mention the moderate wage gains achieved in the wake of the COVID pandemic, and not the massive bond-issuing spree that greeted announcement of the Fed purchase program, flooding corporate coffers?

2) If the Fed can in effect create money, is there really such thing as a debt limit?

  • If we agree to believe that there is, why is a Republican insistence on spending reductions as a “red line” accepted at face value? Why do so many commentators presume that the Democrats must therefore give way? Doesn’t that presumption select for precisely the kind of bad faith those same commentators claim to deplore? Why can’t insistence that the super-rich pay reasonable taxes be a line that is equally red? Why does one law — forbidding the U.S. to borrow above a certain arbitrary limit — trump all other laws, such as those appropriating money to specific purposes? Or the constitutional amendment declaring “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions….shall not be questioned.” Italics mine. Does the Constitution supersede all other laws or doesn't it?


  • Here’s the biggest one. On the Ides of November, 2022, according to UN estimates, the human population reached 8 billion. Interviewees on both NPR and the BBC assured listeners that morning that 8 billion was really no problem. The earth can sustain more. All we have to do is distribute resources more equitably.

As if we will.


That unanimity was in line with most reporting on cities or countries experiencing population decline, which frames that fact as a problem.


Less than a month later, coverage of the U.N. biodiversity conference emphasized the tragedy — and existential danger — of the tidal wave of species extinctions crashing down before our eyes.


Is there no connection between these two stories? Between human population density and the precipitous decline in the rest of life? Exactly how many Homo sapiens do we need, anyway? Is there such thing as enough?


One antidote to the stupefaction above, and all its causes, is to wrench our gaze away from us altogether, and behold for a moment a few of the myriad other beings who still do people this earth — to inhale the sight and sound of them, to marvel at their ever-astonishingness. And to consider how we might endeavor to keep faith with them, even still.


And so, I am pleased — and extremely grateful to Arrowsmith Press — to bring some of the resulting writing to light. You’ll find it here. Also a separate May poem, on the Elsehow page.


More such work, rather unexpected coming from me, is underway.



2 Comments


Samuel Claiborne
Samuel Claiborne
Jun 07, 2023

Don't worry, the unregulated use of CRISPR is gonna wipe us out before climate change, AI, nuclear war, or pollution. It was a good run, though...

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THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUDO, SARAH!!! (just watched the 3 pieces of Atlas Shrugged again...)

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