11/01/2014 04:22 pm ET Updated Jan 01, 2015

Thinking About the Future From the Edge of Darkness

Elections often highlight shifts in society. In America, the upcoming midterm election is no exception. The half-truths that today constitute our political discourse are likely to produce a set of results that will bring us to the edge of darkness. In the here and now of American politics, fear has trumped science and ignorance has obliterated reason. Here are some sobering examples of these developments.

Voter Literacy. Consider a recent PPP poll in which 29 percent of Louisiana Republicans blamed President Obama for the Federal Government's poor response to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. No matter that President Obama didn't take office until three years after the epic storm destroyed large swaths of the Gulf Coast. In a TMP Livewire post on the subject of the Katrina response, Tom Kludt wrote: "Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans -- 44 percent -- said they aren't sure who to blame."

What does this result tell us about voter literacy in our democracy?

Voter Suppression. Consider the widespread attempts by mostly Republican officials to suppress the upcoming vote--to avoid potential voter fraud that heretofore has been rare or non-existent. Slate's Jamelle Bouie writes:

Whether Republican officials are trying to nudge the electorate in the GOP's favor is almost beside the point -- since, intentions aside, that's what's happened. And when you take this out of its isolation chamber and put it in context -- a world where Republicans want voter identification and reduced early voting and stiffer registration laws -- it looks like a pattern of deliberate suppression, where some officials prune voter rolls with lists of minorities while others make it harder to vote altogether.

This news comes just a day after the verdict in Georgia, where a state judge denied a petition from the New Georgia Project -- a group that spearheaded registration drives across the state -- to process 40,000 missing registration forms, striking a blow to voter mobilization efforts in the state. Last month, after it submitted 80,000 forms, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp accused the group of fraud and opened an investigation into its voter drives. Soon after, thousands of forms went missing, prompting this lawsuit.

What do these unabashedly outrageous moves suggest about the health of our democracy?

The War Against Science. If the Republicans win control of the Senate, climate change deniers and anti-science crusaders like Jim Inhofe, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Enzi would take charge of committees that have oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation, Homeland Security and the Budget. These committees have the power to shape science policy and determine science funding. As Lee Fang reports in The Nation, Senator Enzi claims that climate change science is a waste of money. Senator Johnson has argued that sunspot activity accounts for climate change. Senator Cruz says that the scientific data do not support the claims of climatologists and that global warming stopped in 1997. For his part, Senator Inhofe believes that climate change science is a hoax perpetrated by the mercenary scientists who work for the EPA.

Disrespect for science has also emerged in the fear mongering associated with the appearance of the Ebola virus in America. Discounting the sage advise of medical and public health professionals, politicians are imposing unnecessary quarantines and advocating travel bans, two measures that health care professionals say would be counter-productive. Ignoring the scientific fact that you can't get Ebola unless you come in contact with an symptomatic person's bodily fluids, leaders like New Jersey's Chris Christie, someone without medical training or public health experience, dismiss the "settled" science on Ebola transmission and treatment.

In the current political climate, these various elected officials are happy to disregard the "inconvenient" and non-partisan findings of science to promote their own political agendas.

From a scientifically informed vantage it seems as if the best and brightest have been replaced by ignorant and incurious men and women who have been elected by citizens, if the sample of Louisiana voters is at all indicative, who are at best ill-informed about current events, geography, and science. Indeed, these social and political trends take us to the edge of darkness.

What is to become of a society that places so little importance critical thinking, social awareness, and scientific literacy?

As I've argued in previous blogs, the battleground for the future is not to be found in battleground states or in the results of Tuesday's midterm election. The real battleground is in our high school and college classrooms in which teachers and professors, who are increasing maligned in the media, have the difficult, but ultimately rewarding job of teaching our young people how to think critically, how to conduct research, how to construct an argument with clarity, and how to write an intelligible sentence. Declining public support for public education makes our job all the more difficult.

Despite these trying times the majority of my colleagues in education are dedicated professionals who soldier on in their commitment to battle ignorance and validate the inconveniently independent findings of science. Despite the stiff headwinds of no nothingness, we do make progress -- student-by-student.

Thinking about the future from the edge of electoral darkness I take a measure of comfort in the wisdom of an old Persian saying "The winds may blow the wheat in one direction for a very long time, but eventually they will shift and blow the wheat the other way."

As the West African sages of the Republic of Niger wisely remind us: "Life is patience."