Gallup polls show that on topics such as homosexuality and reproductive rights, Americans have become more liberal over time. As reported in Slate, in 1977 Americans were evenly split on the legality of homosexual sex, while today Americans are two-thirds in favor of the legality (more of the “keep the government out of the bedroom” mentality). On the topic of gay marriage, again, in 1996 the Americans opposed it 68 percent to 29 percent. Today it’s nearly even, for and against. On a longer timeline, minorities, and before that women, have slowly earned the same rights that white, landowning men have always enjoyed. Culturally, there may still be some distance to go before all people are given the same social considerations, but politically and legally we are marching toward a more liberalized and egalitarian state.
Technology has done much to make the U.S. and the world a more freely open and interconnected place. Furthermore, organizations and entities in every country have, over the previous decade, fought to keep the internet (perhaps our greatest tool in this regard) from being leveraged by nations or companies. This openness is threatening old power structures that still rely on old methods to control information. One of my current favorites in exhibiting this growing obsolescence is The Heartland Institute.
This Chicago-based libertarian think-tank has been in the news frequently as of late, and provides one of the more public examples of how old thinking and old levers are no longer adequate to controlling the conversation. It has come out in a number of arenas promoting climate change denial, but earlier this year it was an entirely different kind of news coverage. Peter Gleick, a famous climatologist, faked his identity to acquire internal documents that revealed donors and sensitive information about the organization. Among those documents, it revealed that the Institute was highly funded by corporate interests in the fossil fuel industry (who have a vested interest in disproving climate change), and that it was attempting to indoctrinate children by placing climate change denial propaganda in textbooks and school curriculum.
More recently, a billboard campaign attempted to link climate change believers to serial killers with graphic photos of Charles Manson. The result was a huge, and we can assume unexpected, backlash by the public, forcing a full 35 percent of corporate donation dollars to be withdrawn from the organization. As a result, the organization may be discontinuing many of its operations, including the infamous International Conference on Climate Change, a meeting of an insular group of deniers with a thin veneer of science to give it credibility.
Ultimately, it has been well-connected organizations and individuals in favor of openness and scientific evidence that have taken a well-funded movement like climate change denial and rendered it obsolete to the public. Sure, the debate over global warming persists, but the decline of the Heartland Institute signals its inevitable resolution.
The democratic values of citizen-centered government intent on openness and equality are central to the values of the United States, and of many other democratic nations the world over. Whether this is why our societies inevitably move in that direction, or a product of it, is irrelevant. Even as elements within our own government and commercial sector continue to use the old tactics of misinformation and diversion to manipulate the national narrative, individuals with smartphone cameras and social networking sites at their fingertips are rewriting the old rules.