I think that sportscaster Bob Costas pretty much got it right. He was on comedian Bill Maher's "Real Time" a few weeks ago, and the subject turned to the concussion crisis in the National Football League. A number of retired football players are suing the league for an alleged failure to protect them from the long-term consequences of the repeated blows to the head that professional players accumulate by the many thousands.
The NFL and colleges have made belated and half-hearted efforts to deal with the issue. But ultimately, Costas said, not much is going to change because, well, the fans just don't care.
Weigh an autumn without football against the damage to the brains of young players -- which is mostly out of sight, anyway -- and football will win every time. The game is just too exciting to abandon or to allow for remedies that might diminish the violence in any significant way. It's not that fans are choosing football over the health of the players; rather, they're conveniently ignoring the fact that there's any choice to be made at all.
But this column isn't about concussions. Our attitude toward the carnage in football exemplifies our enormous capacity for denial in the face of unpleasant realities.
Consider our American way of life, the result of a fortuitous confluence of abundant resources, enlightened ingenuity and human energy. For many of us, it's the most pleasant, satisfying, comfortable and amusing existence that civilization -- anywhere or anytime -- has been able to produce. Our self-satisfaction and complacency have given rise to a remarkable politics of denial, which is being played out tellingly in the current presidential campaign.
In the final presidential debate, the candidates were asked about the greatest threat that America faces. President Barack Obama referred to the threat from Islamic jihadists. Gov. Mitt Romney said our greatest threat is a nuclear-armed Iran. I'm not the first to point out that the threat of climate change was unmentioned in any of the presidential debates and virtually absent from the campaign.
Allow me to assert the short version of the proposition that virtually all serious climate scientists support, that the greenhouse gases that are being increasingly pumped into our atmosphere are pushing our warming earth toward, at best, extreme discomfort and, at worst, catastrophe. At present, almost nothing is being done in response.
The Republicans accommodate the full-blown climate-change deniers, who believe, despite the science, that the earth is undergoing ordinary, benign temperature fluctuations. Or if the earth really is getting hotter, humanity has nothing to do with it. Or if humanity is responsible, there's nothing that can be done about it anyway. Romney's position on this issue, as with many others, has evolved away from pure denial, but nothing indicates that he takes climate change very seriously.
The Democrats, on the other hand, perform somewhat better on this issue. They express more interest in green energy and automobile mileage standards. But the fact is, these are half-measures, and neither party can afford to say much about climate change because the solutions -- if there are any -- will be painful, difficult and expensive. The pleasures, comforts and amusements of modern life depend on the extensive use of hydrocarbons, and no one is looking very seriously at finding ways to wean ourselves away from them.
So we've driven both parties into a politics of denial. Our way of life -- let's call it the "Hydrocarbon Bubble" -- is so good that it prevents us from even considering an existence without the comforts and amusements that we currently enjoy in abundance.
And the result? Bob Dylan said that a hard rain's a-gonna fall, but Bob Costas said that the game is so much fun that most of us just don't care.
(John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)