The replacement of truth by politicized conspiracy theories.
The great catastrophes of modern times have arisen from the acceptance of false doctrine as a true picture of the world, or lies as truth. To the ancient struggle over resources and prestige we have added the accelerant of ideology, like pouring gasoline onto a smoldering fire. Ideology corrodes our understanding, obscures our senses, degrades our judgment, inflames our worst passions. Peering through its distorting lens, we cannot see our real interests, our the real threats to our well being. It also provides a cloak behind which power-seekers can operate, obscuring their real intentions with a fog of rhetoric about class enemies or anti-American socialism.
I worry that the age of the internet and unlimited tv channels will only worsen our problem with perceiving the truth through the political miasma. If you like, you can now get all your news from outlets that share your own ideology, and spend all day online swapping conspiracy theories with fellow travelers. As North Korea shows, with complete control of information flows you can get people to believe almost anything, and millions of Americans seem to be voluntarily subjecting themselves to North Korean levels of indoctrination. There may come a time when political compromise is all but impossible because majorities on all sides believe crazy conspiracy theories about their opponents. The American system seems particularly vulnerable to this danger; what happens when it is simply impossible to write a budget that could pass a House controlled by one party and a Senate controlled by the other?
There is already a wide range of topics on which any statement is no longer judged according to its truth, but only its ideological content: climate change, sex education, the relationship between taxation and growth, the usefulness of international treaties, the morality and effectiveness of torture. It is very, very hard to get people to change their minds, and I worry that our system is creating more and more people whose beliefs are fixed in dangerous directions.