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Armageddon and bad faith
Believing with all your heart that the other side is acting in bad faith will prevent honest debate from happening.
Remember that Bruce Willis movie from 1998, Armageddon? Of course you do, if you’re over 30. The whole world got together to stop the mass extinction event giant life-sucking bitch of an asteroid from hitting the earth, while Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck’s characters got to have their wedding. Remember the montage of all the world’s religions praying that Harry Stamper could detonate the nuke, when all hope was lost?
If the story was merely about a bunch of roughnecks and astronauts flying to “the worst place imaginable” so Steve Buscemi’s character could pay off his loan shark, it wouldn’t have been a classic (remember “The Core?”—yeah). The asteroid, “Dottie,” was merely the backdrop of the plot; the real villains were the Air Force generals who wanted to screw the whole mission just so they could pop a nuke. The scene where the NASA puke locked out the system when the Security Forces took over; that showed who the bad guys were. And that’s what made the movie a classic versus a silly sci-fi flick.
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We know bad faith when we see it, and the military in Armageddon, despite the whole freaking world trying to save itself, acted in its own narrow, stupid, interests.
If only we could recognize the same thing in the real world.
For instance, yesterday I wrote how Joe Rogan’s attempt to bully a virology researcher into a public “debate” against a hard-core anti-vaxxer is bad faith. There’s no way Dr. Hotez could ever win against RFK Jr. No facts, arguments, studies, or mere words could convince anyone listening to change their view of the effectiveness of COVID vaccines, or the motives of the people who make them. Rogan and RFK Jr. would destroy Hotez, publicly, and make Rogan’s podcast even more popular than it is now.
In fact, that’s the whole bad faith purpose behind this stunt. Money.
I’m not sure I want to write about this, because it’s still painful though it happened about 25 years ago.
I’ve experienced bad faith in my life. Once I had a friend and business partner believe some really bad motives on my part, but then decided to go into business with me anyway. This person engineered some particular clauses in our operating agreement that I and my other partners questioned, but he managed to pass them off and we trusted he was operating in good faith. That is, until it mattered and his true intentions were revealed. Sure, he thought he was acting in self-defense, believing me to be a bad faith business partner. But in the end, it harmed everyone. For the record, I wasn’t always a Boy Scout in business, but I had matured and was more accountable. The point is, if he had been up front, we either would have worked it out, or not. The bad faith path leads to pain. A friendship was lost and never recovered.
There are much more serious things at stake than a small business when we’re dealing with pandemics, war, and the rule of law.
What’s all over the news these days is Ukraine fighting for its survival against Russia. Make no mistake, Putin is in this to win, and he’s capable of waiting out the west, and the U.S., if we start wavering. Many people think Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is operating in bad faith, trying to become a dictator in an already-corrupt nation. And if he is, so what? The people of Ukraine still need our help, and Zelenskyy is all they have to run this war, and to keep the arms flowing. If the aid stops, Ukraine loses. If we act to protect ourselves from a perception of someone else’s bad faith, then the real bad faith actor, Putin, wins.
Many people believe that Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, etc. are warmongering so they can profit from it. Well, sure, those defense companies lobby Congress to keep the money coming so they can make more weapons. But Ukraine still needs those weapons to defeat Russia. So if the military industrial complex makes money, and some of them do act in bad faith, we have to deal with that separately. However, we can give credit to the people who design and make the weapons for America’s arsenal that they’re not corrupt and acting completely in bad faith. Otherwise the planes, missiles and tanks wouldn’t work—like Russia’s.
It’s the same with drugs and vaccines. Certainly, there’ve been some real fakes, like Theranos. And there are some really bad companies in the drug, agriculture, and chemical industries. Bhopal still hasn’t recovered from Union Carbide. Yet we have to give credit to Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna. Only the largest companies had the capacity and ability to produce and manufacture at scale the vaccines that likely saved tens of millions of lives. On the other hand, China made its own vaccine, which turned out to be pretty ineffective. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is more effective, but troubled in manufacturing. Who would you trust more in good faith? Yeah.
Now, politics. If you can’t trust the courts, the police, elections, the FBI, the national security apparatus, well, you don’t really have anything left to trust. This goes for people of all political stripes. Many people think the gun manufacturing industry is all for more murders and against gun safety. It doesn’t matter who debates these issues, or what facts they haul out, or what reasonable arguments are presented. If the listeners believe it’s all in bad faith, nothing will convince.
And this is why we don’t have answers to political problems or our society’s issues. We won’t fix immigration because someone twenty or thirty years ago started claiming that Democrats wanted to fix our demographics to keep themselves in power indefinitely. Guess what? The groups those Democrats counted on—Hispanics—now support Republicans more, due to policies on school choice and opportunity. Both sides were wrong, but they both think the other acted in bad faith.
We don’t fix policing because many people believe the police are racist to the core, or corrupt. Many progressives would rather deal with violent crime, shoplifting, homelessness, aggressive mentally ill street people, and arson, than put more cops on the street. Some people would rather bring a gun to a sit-in, to prove the police are violent by getting killed after shooting a cop.
If our police were acting in the kind of bad faith these same people attribute to them, this country would be a lot worse than Turkey, or parts of Mexico, where the police run things like mobsters.
The only way to fix hard problems is by real debate of issues, policies, and solutions. They won’t fix themselves, and campaign slogans won’t fix them. Pointless gestures and violence won’t fix them. But worst of all, believing with all your heart that the other side is acting in bad faith will prevent even honest debate from happening.
Sadly, that’s where America is right now.
If the plot of Armageddon really happened today, it wouldn’t end with Harry Stamper sacrificing his life to detonate the nuke and save the world. No. It would end spectacularly, while the world was glued to their television screens watching talking heads scream at each other about how the other side is evil and caused us all to die. As they argued, unable to proceed with even the most useful plans because nobody trusted anyone enough, Dottie would blot out the sky and the world would end.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are enough people acting in good faith, even in the face of trolls, online idiots and jerks like Joe Rogan goading them in bad faith. Maybe we’d pull it off. If only we could apply that kind of faith to things short of the end of the world, we’d all be a lot happier.