That Sagan Quote…

Tomorrow, we begin 2022– a new year. It promises to be a turning point–since I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the barbarians are at the gate.

The divisions that characterize our “body politic” are deep, and every day appear more insurmountable. As yesterday’s post noted, we are rapidly approaching a point where the country will choose between two seemingly irreconcilable visions of what it means to be an American.

Or for that matter, a human. 

I can’t describe the stakes as well as Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan did in their 1995 book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.”A widely quoted observation from that book rings eerily prescient.

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

The only element of our current landscape that that quote from Sagan didn’t predict is the “silo-ing” of that “enormously influential” American media–and the consequential division between those of us who occupy a credible, if confusing, evidence-based reality, and those whose “research” and selective media consumption lead them to…goodness knows where.

Somewhere else.

Credible and substantive information remains available, so we still have a choice–we can still opt for reality, messy and ambiguous as that reality is. But I don’t know how long that choice will be available. The institutional mechanisms of democratic government are being steadily appropriated by a barbarian cult composed of White Supremicists– along with the venal, the frightened and the ignorant. I worry that our window of opportunity for defeating that cult is closing.

The Democrats can’t do it alone–especially when they’re burdened with faux Senate Democrats like Manchin.

If at least a couple of “good guys”– aka honorable adult Republican politicians living in the real world and having the guts to speak truth to power– are ever going to show up, this would be a really good time.

Happy New Year….


  1. Thank you for this years informative daily posts. Although I feel such a sadness for our current situation, I hold out hope for those who fight to regain the vision that is America. Happy New year to you and your family

  2. The Democratic Party is not the solution to what Saga saw…it’s the flipside of the same coin being drug off the cliff.

    If it makes you feel better to believe the DNC is different than the RNC, this is your delusion. It’s magical thinking. You’ve fallen for indoctrination of another color of the same paradigm grinding toward the cliff. You’ll be pulled over with the RNC.

    Sagan writes, “unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…”

    He’s talking about the USA and its faulty systems — not just the RNC.

    Our crises are systemic — not limited to one political party or one brand of media propaganda.

    It’s the whole system that is sliding off the cliff — not a fraction of it.

    Wake up, Dorothy. 😉

  3. Todd; I disagree with your conclusion. There is a significant and growing difference between what’s left of the Republican Party and the current Democratic Party. In spite of the effect of money on both parties, I’ll take the Democratic vision of our country. Our system will never be as pure as you would like to portray it. Happy New Year.

  4. We are either at the end of the Reagan Consensus or the end of democracy. For the sake of my grandchildren, I choose to believe it is the end of the Reagan Consensus.

  5. The early commenters are full of piss and vinegar today.

    Happy New Year. 2021 can go to hell.

  6. Happy New Year Professor and everyone.

    And be sure to watch the movie “Don’t Look Up” on Netflix, a DARK comedy that is outlandish but at the same time a documentary of our superficial American culture and political climate.

  7. Sadly, we will leave the old year behind and begin the new year on a downturn of accelerating and escalating Pandemic case numbers, hospitalizations which leave little room for those who need to be hospitalized but “there is no room at the inn”, and deaths.

    I will be 85 in April, in reasonably “good” health, with the expectation and fear that Donald Trump will return to the White House; my hope and prayer is that I will be blessed and not have to live through another four years of deconstruction of American.

    Question; does that limitation of two terms for a president mean two CONSECUTIVE terms or will SCOTUS give Trump a pass on that Amendment?

  8. Politics be damned! It’s the economics, stupid! The capitalists have hijacked the voices of the people and flooded them with the pap of consumeristic garbage. The politics merely feed this beast…at the behest of the beasts of industry and Wall Street.

    Until everyone stops peeing on each others’ shoes for ideological (read bribed) issues, our beloved democracy will just spiral down the same fetid rat hole that all other great societies have. The real question is, “Why does this keep happening over the millennia?”

    Once again, I refer to Rebecca Costa’s book, “The Watchman’s Rattle”. Our caveman intellect is trying to drive a modern society that the higher thinking centers created over thousands of years. And yet… Our most basal and basic instincts keep reminding us of how fearful we are. Hell, we’re still mostly afraid of the dark. In yesterday’s post, for example, that poor woman from Enid who thought her mask reminded her of being raped is the best example of invented fears, fears that “satisfy” the sub-limbic fight or flight mechanisms.

    Most of us on this blog try to elevate the conversation with reasoned intellectual ideas and comments. But the vast majority of our fellow Americans don’t bother, can’t be bothered or are just exposing themselves to the areas where their intellects are not used to do anything more than make enough money to satisfy their own pleasures. Heck, even Karl Marx saw that 150 years ago.

    The cycles of risen, then collapsed great societies sort of proves the point. Humans simply cannot, for long periods of time, govern themselves in large groups. And yet religions and social norms glory in giving birth to too many offspring; clearly 8 billion humans is too great a burden on the Earth, never mind the human population’s ability to feed and govern themselves. Gloom and doom? Well, sort of. And we’ve only ourselves and our clutching of manufactured belief systems to blame for industrializing the fantasies that can never be true.

    Happy New Year!

  9. Good morning Sheila, thank you for your thoughtful and informative posts.
    There is one point that people on both sides of the political spectrum can agree; the government is hopelessly corrupt and inept. That said, acknowledging that Democrats are not the perfect solution to our political problems, the alternative cannot be Donal Trump and his lackeys. Therefore, as a step in a better direction, I will hold my nose and support local, state, and federal Democrats with my vote and my donations until better alternative arises.

  10. Shiela … thank you for your daily (evening before and early morning edits) to publish a very high quality standard of informed debate on timely issues.

    I join Patrick Wilshire to encourage everyone to watch “Don’t Look Up” despite critical reviews. It is the best film satire since “Clockwork Orange”. (Yea … I know … that really dates me). Put on your seat belt for Meryl Streep’s last scene.

    Ditch da trolls and ultra-minions. Hold truth in trust.

    A Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.

  11. Patrick and Norris; look for “The Laundromat” on Netflix with Meryl playing 3 parts in another dark comedy with a message and Meryl’s end scene remarks.

    I’m hoping to find “Don’t Look Up” on Netflix to spend my New Year’s Eve.

  12. Thank you for this particular essay, Dr. Kennedy. Carl Sagan was, and still is, ‘THE Prophet’ of our time that we can read and should take warning from.
    But, the worries of politics may well be superseded by something going on in Antarctica now.
    A glacier the size of Florida is near to breaking off. And if it does, it would raise the level of the oceans by 10 feet. Now, that’s a good, scientific estimate, so look for the political party of naysayers to say it won’t and God will protect us.
    And a Happy New Year to all.

  13. Ms. JoAnn –
    It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 consecutive terms or 2 terms total — Trump will become a dictator for life and none of his lackies will challenge him on this. That’s why they are working so hard on restricting voting and placing new laws to overturn results they don’t like. All they need now is military support and our fate will be sealed.
    They’ll all be toasting Putin in a few years on NYE. >:-(

  14. Kathy; you voiced my fears verbatim. If the Pandemic doesn’t kill us off; Trump will finish the job.

    I hold little hope for this new year, just hours away, the age of miracles has passed and Manchin is leading the Senate into the Republican future. It is in his safe-keeping till he can hand the gavel back to McConnell

  15. Thanks, Sheila, for a year of doing your best imitation of a professor trying to teach critical thinking to a bunch of 80 year old’s.

    Dark thought for the day – perhaps, fires and faulting ice and The Former are God’s way of telling us she has given up on human free will and washed her hands of us.

    Bright thought for the day – a “new generation of leadership” will show the way quickly, the likes of Stacey Abrams, Andy Beshear…

    My personal thanks for putting up with my curmudgeonly remarks all year…

  16. I have to say that any post discussing Sagan’s work and ideas was going to get me interested.

    Unfortunately, the “good guys” in the GOP are not relevant. We are beyond them. They mean nothing and have no power. The “Lincoln Project” and their ilk may make the participants a bunch of money, but they have NO relevancy in this battle. The culture war is real and underway. It is a battle for the soul of what it means to be human, and–to all the religious out there, including those who frequent this blog–we can’t let you win, no matter how well-meaning you may be. If your world-view is based on what you believe some god wants for us rather than what YOU think is good for us and the planet, then you are on the wrong side in the wrong war.

    Sheila, I agree with your post of a couple of days ago that the larger culture war is going to be won be those of us who, as you put it, want a “better, fairer” world for all. But, the other side, evil and small as they are, truly believes otherwise and is going to fight to the bitter end to stop our vision from becoming reality. Their tactics are powerful and persuasive to many, and they may win in the short-term. It’s odd how the psychopath attacks via projection so often, to undermine the position of the opponent. For example, as the GOP complains more loudly of voter fraud, they steadily increase their voter fraud tactics. For decades, they’ve worked diligently to dissuade voters of the opposite party from voting and to make it difficult for them to participate in the process, and now they are moving on to actually manipulating the machinery of elections itself. In fact, I’m confident that the crazed GOP base will participate in some truly nutty fraud schemes in upcoming elections, all excused by the wrong-headed belief that some god thinks they are the “right” people.

    As I say, I am confident that my side will win, because my side–the humanistic, Earth-centric side–is right. But, those terrified, ignorant idiots on the other side can do a lot of damage along the way. Right now, it appears they are willing to perpetrate a LOT of terrible things to prevent decency and good for all.

    In the end, it’s up to us. Do we let them? Or do we come out in immense numbers and vote such that there is no ambiguity about the real future of this planet and our species? I’m confident we will eventually, and I just continue to hope it’s sooner rather than later.

  17. Carl Sagan, in the aforementioned wonderful book, also refers to his “Bullshit detector”, an instrument that has been fully disarmed among many too
    many people. Trump, DeVos, and sick ilk have worked so as to make the thing unavailable to coming generations.
    The Thwaites ice shelf will, itself, not cause sea level rise, as it is floating, but it’s demise will allow its glacier to speed up, as I have read, by a factor of 3, if
    I recall properly. Indiana will not find itself having seaside properties, but Vernon and I might. Actually, Vernon, for all I know, you already do, and
    happily at this point.
    Common Cause reports that from, of all places Texas, there is coming a NON-patented covid vaccine, as a “gift to the world,” so ’22 may be starting
    on a good note:
    And, then there is the bit about a very experienced lawyer lady re-joining the DOJ, possibly to aid in the work to indict Dumpy, as I recall.
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Happy New Year!!!! (I hope)

    Republicans now have pulled out all of the stops on bringing down the Republic and restoring aristocracy with the shallowest of men as king and his court, in the final harvest of the country’s wealth, that which can only be created by workers. The vultures are circling (China, Russia, the Middle East) to fight over the remains.

    One year from now we will have interim knowledge on the odds of either side winning. The country that we knew, or the one that we can’t imagine.

    Republicans who are the least aware of them, see the year that will be behind us as merely politics as usual telling lies in order to bring down the competition. They honestly don’t see anything past the calculus of winning.

    If they win, they will learn what the Taliban learned in Afghanistan. When nothing is left to govern, extremism is unchecked.

  19. JoAnn, to answer your question, the 22nd Amendment limits the President to two elected terms of office, and no more than ten years. If a President takes over from his predecessor, in the first or second year of the term, he may be elected only once. I’m fairly certain that that little inconvenience wouldn’t matter to the Republicans, especially if they manage to get the trifecta again. One of the things we learned from the 45th President, is that you won’t suffer any harm simply from violating your oath of office repeatedly.


  20. Social media has provided the means by which the inmates have taken over the asylum and perhaps more importantly has provided a large group of the boisterous and ill-informed for political capture by the likes of Boeberts and Trumps who prey on such aggrieved class in their own quest for attention and power. The victims? Athenian democracy as translated by Jefferson and Madison, Americans, those we have influenced, the born and unborn.

    Perfection demanded by Todd? Of course not, no ism is; even a perfect ism can be degraded by choices in application of its principles, but given the alternatives proposed by Trump and the One Sixers, I will remain in the corner of the then novel idea of self-government that arose in the Athenian agoras, i.e., that the legitimacy of the right to govern depended upon the consent of the governed as expressed via majority vote, a view at odds with kings by birthright, emperors by conquest, seizure of power by Lenins and Hitlers and Trumps et al.

    So what will this new year bring? Mere identification of the underlying problems during this last year does not solve them. Our task? Solve them in this new year by, among other things, electing those who favor small d democratic rule and who are resolute and persevering in not only preserving our democracy but expanding it, and the good news is that we have a pending bill in the legislative hopper in re protecting the vote and putting a crimp into gerrymandering that will do just that.

    So Happy New Year? I hope so, and it can be if we make it happen. Let’s make it happen!

  21. Todd, I’ll grant you the many problems with the Democratic Party, the corporate influence over both parties, and the limitations of the two-party system. But your pox on both seems reminiscent of Ralph Nader’s claim in 2000 that that there was no difference between electing Bush or Gore. As a result he gave us Bush—and everything that came with that outcome (Iraq, Afghanistan, lack of action on climate change, etc.). I’m afraid you’ll have to pick sides—just as Bernie and many other democratic socialists have.

  22. Sharing another quote for ’22…

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers –

    That perches in the soul –

    And sings the tune without the words –

    And never stops – at all –

    And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

    And sore must be the storm –

    That could abash the little Bird

    That kept so many warm –

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

    And on the strangest Sea –

    Yet – never – in Extremity,

    It asked a crumb – of me.

  23. Right on, Daleb and James and most others here today.

    Boy, Sagan put it so well, didn’t he? like Sheila often does; hard to believe he wrote it around ’95. It reinforces what a visionary thinker he was.

    HNY to all.

  24. No lengthy comment today – just Happy New Year – may bring a year of positive items for Sheila to comment on and hopes fulfilled for us all.

  25. Todd – something to consider, you don’t have to ALWAYS be a contrarian dick! Try finding a new hobby 🙄

  26. “If at least a couple of “good guys”– aka honorable adult Republican politicians living in the real world and having the guts to speak truth to power– are ever going to show up, this would be a really good time.”

    The fact that we can’t find a single “good guy” not even Romney, the church deacon, is a scary thought.

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