While it seems impossible to make sense out of the turmoil in our society, a former CIA analyst offers us an intriguing way to understand what is happening and the forces that are driving these troubles.
Signs of difficulty abound. We have COVID-19 infections and deaths rising among the vaccinated and some hospitals are being overwhelmed and medical professionals who seem to be nearing the breaking point because of the stress of caring for unvaccinated individuals at the expense of patients who need other services.
Meanwhile, there are effective vaccines to head off the carnage but resistance and reluctance among a portion of our neighbors remains a serious challenge. It appears a foregone conclusion that we won’t achieve herd immunity in this country and this pandemic will be with us for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the culture war is in full swing in our political system.
We have governors banning the use of masks in public schools despite the growing evidence that children are at risk from the new, more easily transmissible delta variant. Some school boards are defying those bans out of concern for student health. Other governors are reimposing mask mandates to protect public health and, in the case of Oregon, calling out the National Guard to help hospitals address the surge of cases.
We also have medical professionals and first responders, including at Confluence Health, who are actively protesting vaccine mandates. Personal freedom and personal choice are colliding with public health and concern for the functioning of our medical system. There are protests between those promoting and against masking at school boards and elsewhere.
This roiling nightmare seems Kafkaesque. Anger abounds.
The most interesting analysis I have seen about this state of discontent and strife is in a book by former CIA analyst Martin Gurri called “Revolt of the Public.” My friend Jeff Ostenson of North 40 Productions suggested I read the book. Jeff has built his business as a video storyteller by identifying and exploring bigger trends and deeper insights. When he speaks, I listen.
Gurri’s thesis is that we are seeing the demise of a world dominated by a social order developed in the industrial age that is driven by expertise and established institutions. Using examples from around the world, he seeks to show that these institutions are failing society.
These leaders and institutions are now confronted with an unruly public that, thanks to the information age, has developed its own information networks and has seized control of the narratives that was once dominated by traditional media and those in power.
There are no more gatekeepers of information and there is no mass audience that once existed that kept liberal democracy running. By seizing control of the information through informal networks, the public is waging war on these increasingly feeble institutions. This is happening around the globe.
One disturbing aspect is that increasingly, people have ceased trying to create a better world and instead are rallying around what they oppose. You see this in the anti-vaccine and anti-mask efforts and also see the same dynamic playing out in all sorts of other ways, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement and Black Lives Matter. It’s happening on both ends of the spectrum.
There is a strong undercurrent of nihilism — rejecting society as it is — at play. Breaking the system is what matters with no regard to what comes next.
What Gurri says he cannot predict is how this will end. Will institutions and those in power abandon their traditional top-down approach and find new ways to engage the increasingly disconnected public in forging new solutions?
Meanwhile, our politics are stuck on the simplistic view that “everything” is the fault of the other political party. We now have to make a choice of whether to create new ways of solving our challenges or continue tearing down the system. As individuals, we can make that choice. What will we choose?
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 665-1162.