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Abdication of Truth for the Acceptance of Likes, Retweets and Ratings: Are We Entertaining Ourselves to Death?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Clements and Layné Clements
November 6, 2020

In today’s America, it could benefit public policymakers and administrators to consider the imminent danger of, “Amusing ourselves to death,” as posited by the wonderful writer, Neil Postman, in the namesake work.

It is with a foreign and strange wonder that I place these words to paper. In the United States, year 2020, arguably one of the most powerful empires the world has known, I find myself bombarded by news media headlines twisting and thwarting the somber reality of the American experience into a 15-minute televised production littered with pseudoscience, hyperbole, vitriol and other Shakespearean components which constitute a good drama. According to Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death, he quotes the following:

  1. “Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other.” This is apparent in the news cycles, tweetstorms, Facebook post and even in televised Presidential debates. Americans spend little time in meaningful conversation as the majority of what we truly absorb is from social media platforms driven by likes and retweets.
  2. “Americans no longer argue with good ideas, but with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” It was once a strength embraced as valuable to hear an opposing position, furthermore an integral part of the human experience, but today with the emergence of partisan politics, information bubbles and insulated followers, ideas are now measured by likeability rather than truthfulness. This is substantiated by numerous studies measuring that “good looks” are associated with trustworthiness or height being associated with leadership skills. Unfortunately, this type of assessment has been engrained into the political life of America more than ever before.
  3. “People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” Big Tech companies such as Google, Facebook and the likes are finally beginning to pay close attention to their algorithms, which have been applied within the American public’s way of life. This has led to the optional use of autonomous discernment, rendering a majority powerless and at the complete mercy and control of said-algorithms.

At present, incompetency and mediocrity at various administrative levels has lowered public trust and is quite knowingly self-inflicted.

Without justification, one must be able to admit that mediocrity and incompetence is rampant in the many functions of our present government including federal, state and local jurisdictions. Practices adopted in the bureaucratic machine have successfully favored stagnant obedience instead of steady improvements, complacency in place of innovation and those who seek to tow the line instead of those who strengthen it. In my many years as a public servant, I have witnessed this devastating occurrence innumerable times. It seems commonplace that employees observing unethical and incompetent acts remain silent due to fears of retaliation. I have seen middle-managers with little to no cultivated leadership qualities be rewarded simply due to the daily lunches taken with their immediate supervisors increasing the incompetent employee’s likability. Lastly, I have seen those brave employees who could have contributed mightily to our constituencies leave and pursue more satisfying and rewarding employment elsewhere. This type of power structure begs for the recycling of ineffectual solutions to new and evolving issues which necessitate innovation, improvement and strength of character. Unfortunately, those who possess the traits to provide this novelty very seldom find a lasting home in public administration.

Today in America, public policy and politics are in danger of becoming more concerned with trivia than truth and are presented as a form of “baby-talk” rather than the serious, involved adult conversations they should be.

In the age of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Americans are confused as to whether they should believe the healthcare/public health edicts leaving our departments. Americans wonder if masks work, if it is all just some conspiracy and if the government’s goal really is to keep us safe. An alarming number of Americans are now unsure of whether vaccinations are or will be harmful and if they cause the disease itself, autism, cancer, etc. Attributing to the height of astonishment, one of the major studies which many individuals use to justify these positions has been discredited and retracted for numerous years. Possibly more concerning, many public health and policy administrators do not know the study used for these positions and as a result, they can never combat it. Having tuned-in to numerous COVID-19 press conferences, I am appalled at the lack of logical constructions being shared. It is devasting to hear elected officials falsely claim, “This will all go away soon,” “A vaccine will quickly put an end to this,” or, “This is a hoax, no different from the common cold.” Make no mistake, fellow administrators, we have dropped the ball, but now we must hope that the glass floor does not break so we can rebuild with a more suitable foundation.


Authors:

William Clements, PhD, is a professor in the School of Government at higher education institutions. With a B.S. of Justice Studies, M.S. of Forensic Psychology, PhD of Public Policy and Administration (concentration: Public Management and Leadership), he has served in public service fields for 13+ years. His interests include economics, politics, and public policy. Email: [email protected]

Layné Clements, B.S. in Biology, currently pursuing an M.H.S. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, is an advocate for science literacy, public health issues, climate change action, and precision medicine.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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