Age Of Reason

The [BushCo] aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Ron Suskind

Global warming is killing the conifers of the Sierra. The US Geological Survey, after tracking tree mortality over two decades in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, concluded that Sierra forests are “sensitive to temperature-driven increases in drought, making them vulnerable to extensive die-back during otherwise normal periods of reduced precipitation.”

Of course, that’s just the view of reputable scientists. A screeching mercury monkey like His Holiness The Right Reverend Anthony W. T. F. Watts would no doubt furiously fling alternative explanations. Sunspots. “Natural cyclical die-off.” God’s wrath. Liberals. Frisbee damage.

It is amusing that anti-global-warming hysterics routinely couple their denials of climate change with tantrums against “liberalism.” For without the tolerance fostered by liberalism, goofballs like the Right Reverend would be cooling their bastinadoed heels in a musty dungeon somewhere. Prior to the Enlightenment, heretics were not permitted to ceaselessly spout foolishness. Those who denied reality—defined then rigidly and dogmatically by the church—were silenced, tortured, killed.

Today, however, and thanks to liberalism, just about anybody, no matter how ignorant, ill-informed, mendacious, or even downright dangerous, is entitled to an opinion . . . and a vote. Which is why millions upon millions of people, who believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church, were twice able to elevate to the US presidency a missing link who believes, in re evolution, that “the jury is out.”

And why the titanically dumb blog of that Dudley Do-Right retrovert Anthony W.T.F. Watts could, in 2008, be voted the “Best Science Blog” on all the intertubes.

And why Sarah Palin, an illaqueate fraud who, as recently set forth in a piece in Vanity Fair, cabins “on-the-record statements about herself to a litany of untruths and half-truths,” and whose own child has said to her “you’re just putting on a show; you’re so fake,” is afforded the sort of treatment due a serious person, instead of that appropriate for a hollow knave, which is what she is.

Anti-Enlightenment crusaders have learned to use the organs of liberalism to their advantage. And reality is rendered helpless because of it.

The media is an inherently liberal Enlightenment institution, soberly devoted to presenting “both sides” of public issues. Thus, some guy who just reads a thermometer, like the Right Reverend, is allowed to prance through the press with as much authority as someone with a PhD in climatology and biogeography, i.e., someone who actually knows what s/he’s talking about.

Or a shameless quack like Bill Frist can team with an attack-dog propagandist like Sean Klannity—the sort of person aptly described by George Orwell as “an enor-mous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again”—to pronounce Terri Schiavo “alert and respon-sive,” and be treated as seriously as the doctors who actually examined her, and determined that her skull, as the autopsy later definitively demonstrated, was a hollowed-out gourd.

Or, more recently, an ignorant yahoo like Glenn Beck can rely solely on his sphincter to declaim that “more than 500,000 people” attended his “Piss On The Dream” rally at the Lincoln Memorial, when professionals whose job it is to scientifically estimate crowd-sizes placed the true number at 87,000.

Doesn’t matter. Within 24 hours of the rally, syndicated hate-show host and vicious racist Bill Cunningham was crowing that Beck’s rally “drew more people to the Lincoln Memorial than Martin Luther King,” dismissing any assertion to the contrary as the factless fumblings of “liberals” who “hate our country.” Cunningham’s line was promptly adopted by The Eggman, and from there spread throughout the right-wing noise machine. As a consequence, more people today believe the lie, than accept the truth.

In his essay “Looking Back On The Spanish War,” George Orwell wrote:

I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, “History stopped in 1936,” at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various “party lines.”

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.

In our age we have seen that it is not necessary for a state to be totalitarian for it to successfully write “the very concept of objective truth” right out of the world.
Recall that George II and his people sold Operation Iraqi Fiefdom on the pretext that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Though in the world of objective truth, no such weapons existed. And BushCo knew they did not exist, because French intelligence had on its payroll a member of Saddam Hussein’s cabinet, who described their non-existence.
This information was passed on to BushCo, which did not want to hear it, and so did not pass it on to Congress or the American people. Instead, BushCo willed into existence weapons that did not exist. And thus it gained the approval of Congress and the people for a war that was in fact predicated on a non-reality.
It is true that even BushCo officials today concede that they were then mistaken, about those WMDs. But the rent they temporarily tore in the fabric of objective truth served its purpose: through it, George II was permitted to hunt down and kill “the guy who tried to kill my dad.” For that, at root, was what Operation Iraqi Fiefdom was all about: pure atavism. A dynastic family feud, like something out of the 8th Century. George II was not, alas, able to mount in the Oval Office Saddam’s head, but he did take personal possession of Saddam’s revolver, which I suppose must be considered the next best thing.
Similarly, in selling Operation Iraqi Fiefdom, BushCo and its enablers lied that the US had to invade and occupy Iraq because Al Qaeda was present in that country. But did, in objective truth, Al Qaeda exist in Iraq? No. That, like the WMD canard, was a lie.
But then, some years later, George II decreed that the US must not end its occupation of Iraq, because Al Qaeda was there. Was Al Qaeda then present in Iraq? Yes. Why? Because the US had invaded and occupied that country.
He said it, and it was a lie; but then he made it true. Like a sort of dark magic.
During the course of Operation Iraqi Fiefdom and Operation Enduring Fiefdom, BushCo also strayed into the sorts of outright fabrications that Orwell set forth in 1984. There, Winston Smith concocted out of his head a fictitious soldier and his vaporous acts of valor. In Operation Iraqi Fiefdom, BushCo sold to the world a tale of the heroism of Jessica Lynch that was simply false, spun not from the skull of Winston Smith, but one Jim Wilkinson:
The subsequent story of Private Lynch—”a petite blond supply clerk [who] fearlessly mows down Fedayeen terrorists with her M16 until she runs out of ammo, whereupon she is shot, stabbed, cap-tured, tortured and raped”—was con-cocted by Jim Wil-kinson, a Bush loyalist who was pulling double-duty as the director of the Office of Strategic Communications for Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the Iraq-Afghanistan theater. Wilkinson fed the story to the Washington Post among others and [then] “sat back, and watched his fabulation go viral.”
It would take many months before the true story of Lynch’s ordeal became public, but by then it didn’t matter. War fever had been stoked. Operation Iraqi Freedom had rolled on.
When Pat Tillman was killed by his own men in Operation Enduring Fiefdom, BushCo repeated the Lynch lie:
Within hours of Tillman’s death on April 22, 2004, the propaganda apparatus of the Pentagon and Bush White House swung into high gear. According to [author Jon] Krakauer, “approximately 200” e-mails raced among staffers, some discussing the political leverage to be gained in the Tillman affair. The next day, the White House released a sober tribute to the fallen hero.
By April 25, the Army Chief of Staff’s Office of Public Affairs was gloating about the “extremely positive” stories in the national media, noting that interest in the Army was higher than it had been “since the end of active combat last year.”
Meanwhile, the 2nd Ranger Battalion was expediting the paperwork to award Tillman a Silver Star—the nation’s third highest award for valor—using two falsified eyewitness accounts of the incident.
The fact that Tillman had been killed by his own comrades shooting in a wild panic, and that everyone up and down the chain of command knew it, scarcely mattered. Washington was set upon a “G.I. Joe” narrative: Tillman died while charging uphill toward the enemy, attempting to lay down covering fire for men caught in a Taliban ambush . . . .
The lessons learned in the Lynch affair—the initial bogus story carries vastly more weight in public opinion than the eventual corrective—was applied to the Tillman case with a vengeance . . . .
It would take three years for a semblance of the truth to come out and even then the Army allowed only that Tillman was “probably” killed by friendly fire. “No one has found evidence of a conspiracy by the Army to fabricate a hero, deceive the public or mislead the Tillman family about the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death,” Secretary of the Army Pete Geren told the media in 2007.
Geren’s statement [is] a lie, plain and simple. And yet as Aeschylus said, “In war, Truth is the first casualty.”
But not just in war. This sort of thing can become pervasive everywhere. Which it has. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in dissent in Olmstead v US (1928) 277 US 438: “Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”
And so during the reign of George II, we were subjected to the sorry sight of predatory capitalist Robert Murray, of Utah American Energy, dissembling all over our television sets as men in his care died needless deaths.
When six of his workers became trapped (and later died) in a mine that over the past three months alone had been cited 32 times for safety violations, Murray brazenly claimed that the cave-in was caused by an earthquake. When, in objective truth, as area geologists and seismologists confirmed, the so-called “earthquake” was in fact caused by the mine cave-in.
“From our mining experience, we know this was an earthquake,” said Murray.
Is Murray a geologist or seismologist? No. Was he even there when the supposed earthquake occurred? No. But it’s his opinion: he says it: so report it! it might be true!
Even though, in the world of objective truth, “[m]ine collapses have a seismic signature distinct from earthquakes because they tend to occur at shallower depths and at different frequencies.”
Like the Right Reverend Watts, Murray is also a climate-change denier. Though like the Right Reverend Watts, Murray is not qualified to pass judgement on the science of climate change: he’s just a GOoPer who kills people who extract coal for the greater good of his bank account.
Nevertheless, like the Right Reverend Watts, Murray flaps across the land gobbling that Al Gore is “the shaman of global gloom and doom” and “more dangerous than global warming.”
“Some wealthy elitists in our country,” Murray told the New York Coal Trade Association in 2007, “who cannot tell fact from fiction, can afford an Olympian detachment from the impacts of draconian climate change policy. For them, the jobs and dreams destroyed as a result will be nothing more than statistics and the cares of other people. These consequences are abstractions to them, but they are not to me, as I can name many of the thousands of the American citizens whose lives will be destroyed by these elitists’ ill-conceived ‘global goofiness’ campaigns.”
Murray delivered this speech just days after it was confirmed that the lives of six men had been destroyed in his mine because, for profit, he had allowed it to become a death-trap.
Although Murray preferred to blame the media. “It seems to me,” he said, even as his miners were breathing their last, “that the media are more concerned about trying to place the blame than they are about the families and the actual rescue effort underground.”
Translation: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Support the troops. Support the troops.
It is a curious phenomenon that the most powerful figures in the American media today spend so much time inveighing against it. They position themselves as outliers, outsiders, even as victims of the very media that they in truth dominate. This is so whether the crocodile tears are flowing from the factotums of Fox, the most powerful cable network extant; The Eggman, doyenne of the most influential political website on the intertubes; or Runt Limprod, both the most powerful and most influential political com-mentator on radio.
Limprod is both a sophisticated and a matter-of-fact warrior against the Enlightenment. In recent months he has cleverly and pre-emptively moved to short-circuit criticism by relentlessly accusing “liberals” of doing what it is that he is in fact so expert at—denying objective truth. He has taken to speaking of “two realities”: “objective reality” and “the reality of lies”—the latter of which he ascribes to “liberalism.”
Amid the trumped-up climate-change email imbroglio out of the UK, Limprod told his people that “the reality of lies” has four pillars: government, media, science, and academia. He explicitly instructed his listeners not to believe anything that comes from any of these pillars, particularly science or academia. Any and all media needs, he added, can be satisfied by listening to him, while government must be stripped to the bone, along “conservative” lines which he disingenuously, preposterously, attributed to the country’s Founders.
Limprod and his radio clones ceaselessly play to the deep strain of anti-intellectualism that has always afflicted this country. The Founders, who were, to a man, highly educated, sophisticated, cultivated gentlemen, are reimagined by Limprod & Co. as a scuffling, snuffling collection of bumpkins and claghorns, who left off their dominoes and chaw only long enough to get down on their knees to weepingly receive, fully realized, from the divine hand of The Lord, the words to the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. We are assured that the Founders would have no truck with such anathema as “pointy-headed bureaucrats,” “government schools,” or “cultural elitists”: why, they even believed that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church, just like we do.
These radio foghorns ceaselessly tore into John Kerry as an effete over-educated elitist; today, the appallingly stupid, barely-educated Sean Klannity openly sneers at Barack Obama’s Harvard degrees. Knowledge, competence, to these people, is Wrong, Suspect. Rolling back the Enlightenment, is where it’s at. Anybody interested in such a thing as Orwell’s “objective truth” can consult the Bible, or Rush. Searching beyond that is to stray into heresy.
The great appeal of Sarah Palin is that bone-ignorant people recognize that she is every bit as bone-ignorant as they are. This comforts, not threatens, them. That is truly the sort of person they want running their lives.
When I listen to these people, when I read that Hillary Clinton—who, despite her faults, at least possesses a functioning cerebrum—is only a hair more popular among the populace than Palin, I despair that maybe it is just time for all the Sane People to admit that the American experiment has failed, climb back into the boats, and go back to from where we came.
Arthur Schopenhauer once observed:
Whoever lives two or three generations, feels like the spectator who, during the fair, sees the performances of all kinds of jugglers and, if he remains seated in the booth, sees them repeated two or three times. As the tricks were meant only for one performance, they no longer make any impression after the illusion and novelty have vanished.
I have lived long enough now so that I recognize the jugglers and the clowns when they all do tricks for you. So when I hear Sarah Palin say this, of the Obama administration:
“They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies. And I so want to tell ’em, and I do tell ’em, Oh, we’re plenty smart, oh yeah—we know what’s goin’ on. And we don’t like what’s goin’ on. And we’re not gonna let them tell us to sit down and shut up.”
I know who I’m listening to. I’m hearing George Wallace, v2.0, 28 years on.
The root of the Wallace magic was a cynical, showbiz instinct for howling down from the podium that he had an instant, overnight cure for all their worst afflictions: Taxes? Nigras? Army worms killing the turnip crop? Whatever it was, Wallace assured his supporters that the solution was actually real simple, and that the only reason they had any hassle with the government at all was because those greedy bloodsuckers in Washington didn’t want the problems solved, so they wouldn’t be put out of work . . . .
[Wallace] has the same smile as his great-grandfather—a thrice-convicted pig thief from somewhere near Nottingham[.]
Indeed. With a bit of imagination you can almost hear the cranky little bastard haranguing his fellow prisoners in London’s infamous Hardcase jail, urging them on to revolt:
“Lissen here, you poor fools! There’s not much time! Even now—up there in the tower—they’re cookin’ up some kind of cruel new punishment for us! How much longer will we stand for it?
“How much more of this misery can we stand, boys? I know you’re fed up right to here with it. I can see it in your eyes—pure misery! And I’m tellin’ you, we don’t have to stand for it! We can send the king a message and tell him how we feel! I’ll write it up myself, and all you boys can sign it . . . or better still, I’ll go talk to the king personally! All you boys have to do is dig me a little tunnel under the wall over there behind the gallows, and I’ll . . . “
Right. That bottom line never changes: “You folks be sure and come to see me in the White House, you hear? There’ll be plenty of room for my friends, after I clean house . . . but first I need your vote, folks, and after that I’ll . . . “
Just as the teabaggers are Wallace supporters redux. They even use the same words.
“We might get our country back,” said the construction man, stirred. “I feel like I lost it. I feel like I been lost in it all this time.”
“I’ve been lost too,” said the gas-station operator. “I’ve been trying to find somebody I can understand to vote for.”
“One thing puzzling the press is why there weren’t more Wallace stickers on cars,” the auto dealer told me. “It’s fear. Fear of retaliation from blacks. Of getting bricks thrown at your car.”
“You didn’t have any problems down in that black section did you?” asked the construction man.
“A few. Just a few,” said the auto dealer.
“I think it’s just a small group of black revolutionaries cause the trouble,” the construction man said.
What can I say, that The Giant hasn’t already said?
Nicholas Kristof is a good and decent man, and so he sometime gives people more credit than they deserve. In his September 4 column for the New York Times, Kristof opined that “most” of the people rending their garments over the proposed $100 million Manhattan edifice that would include a swimming pool, gym, basketball court, 500-seat restaurant, culinary school, library, reading room, art studio, child care center, September 11 memorial, and also a mosque, “aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers.”
Well, no, Nicholas, they are bigots.
Too, Nicholas, what you identify as the genesis of their bigotry—”the starting point isn’t hatred but fear”—misses a step. Because where it all begins, in truth, is in ignorance.
Ignorance then births the fear. Which in turn births the hate.
People fear what they don’t understand. It has always been such. And the greatest wrong that the anti-Enlightenment crusaders against objective truth commit, in my view, is that they play to that ignorance, seeding the fear, and thus birth and nurture the hate.
The musician John Mellencamp once said a wise and true thing that I try always to keep in mind.
People are really involved, and rightfully so, in their own lives. You can’t say anything negative about people not being informed, because they don’t have time to be informed. It’s a hard world to get a break in.
This is absolutely true. I am an ex-tremely lucky person on this planet be-cause I have been gifted with the time and the skills to inform myself about people, places, and things outside the aura of my own life. Not everybody is blessed with such an opportunity. Most people, worldwide, and even in this country, are not afforded the luxury of filling their hours with the lives of others. So I am less inclined to place blame on those who are uninformed, than on those who deliberately and methodically work to keep them uninformed, and misinformed.
Most all of the people who are either brazenly or coyly pushing the lie that Obama is not a United States citizen know it to be a complete and total fiction. But they push it anyway, for partisan political ends. They prey on people’s ignorance, they stoke fear, they gin up hate. They know that this is what they are doing, but they do it anyway. They are actively battering against objective truth, and what they are doing is working.
Bill Cunningham ceaselessly questions Obama’s US citizenship; Glenn Beck repeatedly opines that Obama “hates” white people; Michael Savage routinely thunders that Obama “is not working in the interests of this country”; Runt Limprod has taken to referring to the president as “Imam Obama.” And so 58% of Republicans now believe that Obama was either born outside the US, or “don’t know,” while 52% believe that it is either “definitely true” or “probably true” that Obama “sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.” These truthless anti-Enlightenment demagogues are creating ignorant, frightened racists.
And so, while in objective truth, 87,000 people attended Beck’s “Piss On The Dream” rally, in the anti-Enlightenment histories 500,000 attended. And while in objective truth Barack Obama is an American and a Christian, in the anti-Enlightenment histories he was born in Kenya and is a Muslim mole.
As Orwell saw, “history [is] being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.'”
Those “party lines,” as Orwell also saw, are not cabined solely to the right. And so I cannot leave this endless piece without a nod also towards the crusaders against objective truth currently fulminating over there on the left.
For reasons that passeth understanding, or at least mine, large numbers of people in such dilettante white-privileged playpens as the Great Pumpkin are invested in portraying Barack Obama as a mendacious turncoat and/or bumbling failure.
They rage that he has betrayed his campaign promises, when a simple search of their own site would reveal the objective truth that, less than two years into his term, a colorable case can be made that Obama has already achieved two of what he himself identified as his three major goals:
Wenner: “Is there a marker you would lay down at the end of your first term where you say, ‘If this has happened or not happened, I would consider it a negative mark on my governance’?”
Obama: “If I haven’t gotten combat troops out of Iraq, passed universal health care and created a new energy policy that speaks to our dependence on foreign oil and deals seriously with global warming, then we’ve missed the boat.”
They ululate that he is a feckless cave-in artist who has resolutely refused to convince Congress to advance his agenda; they weep that he is not a Congressional jujitsu artist like LBJ. When, in objective truth, “[i]n his first year in office, President Obama did better even than legendary arm-twister Lyndon Johnson in winning congressional votes on issues where he took a position.”
Bearing torches and pitchforks, arrayed in ranks, behind the likes of that indefatigably arrogant sockpuppeteer Glenn Greenwald, they screech that Obama must embrace populist jihad. Ignoring the objective truth that, as Robert Stone has expressed it, “American populism [is] notorious as a pious front for venal corruption, the curse of this nation, and now, empowered by American wealth and resources, a worldwide plague.”
Populism is ever a scourge. It relies upon, and is a celebration of, ignorance. As Hunter S. Thompson saw in Wallace, the premier American populist of the last half of the 20th Century, its appeal is that “whatever the problem, the solution is actually real simple.”
But this is not a simple world. Nothing in it is the least bit simple. This is a place that is endlessly complicated. Lefties, of all people, should be aware of, and embrace, chaos theory, which teaches that in the ineffably complex workings of our world, the gentle stirring of the wings of a butterfly can ul-timately generate a hurricane, thousands of miles away. That is not a world amenable to simple solutions.
And they have allowed the endlessly bellowing foghorns of the right to snatch and besmirch the word “liberal,” have shamelessly fled from it, and have embraced instead the term “progressive,” ignoring the objective truth of American history that the original “progressives” brought to this country prohibition, draconian drug laws, Jim Crow, segregation of the federal work force, eugenics, and America as a worldwide imperial state, driven by racism, greed, and hubris.
Some, echoing their fervid counterparts on the right, are even clamoring for blood in the streets. Though as Meteor Blades recently observed over on the Great Pumpkin:
Well, you know, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about violent revolution over the past 45 or so years. They make a good case that we are poorly represented and that the fatcats or oligarchs or whatever you want to call them control us to our detriment. But not a single one of them has given me reason to believe that they know how to actually bring about that revolution or that they would exercise political power responsibly were they to succeed.
Similarly, there is not a single blowhard in all the left blogosphere who has managed to convince me that if s/he had been sitting in the Oval Office, s/he would have been any more successful in advancing a “progressive” agenda than Obama. Most, I am convinced, would have wet themselves within the first week.
Orwell, a socialist with anarchist instincts, spent much of the latter part of his too-short career examining, and ofttimes excoriating, his putative allies on the left. I am beginning to understand why.
Well . . . this thing has gone on so long that there’s no way to get out of it without falling into film and music. So first a scene that didn’t make it into Apocalypse Now, but should have. And, finally, the consoling mystery of “Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking.”

5 Responses to “Age Of Reason”

  1. 1 possum September 8, 2010 at 3:49 am

    Wow!! Just WOW! For all the time I have been reading what you write I do not believe any other piece so grabbed my attention and drew me right in to your thinking. This one is what persuasive writing is all about.

    The start was illaqueate. That one sent me to the dictionary which is a not so common event in my life these days. New words are wonderful. The ones that are so succinct in their meanings are the best of all.

    “The great appeal of Sarah Palin is that bone-ignorant people recognize that she is every bit as bone-ignorant as they are. This comforts, not threatens, them. That is truly the sort of person they want running their lives.(snip)People fear what they don’t understand. It has always been such. And the greatest wrong that the anti-Enlightenment crusaders against objective truth commit, in my view, is that they play to that ignorance, seeding the fear, and thus birth and nurture the hate.”

    What more need be said? In about 50 words you said it all.

    • 2 bluenred September 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

      Thank you, possum. “Illaqueate” is indeed a great word—too bad it’s fallen out of the language; I don’t think I’ve used it in 20 years. But it’s quite fitting for Aunt Sarah, eh? ; /

      • 3 possum September 8, 2010 at 8:17 am

        Fitting indeed. That one is a perfect trap. Ensaring the thoughtless. And endangering the thoughtful ones among us with her useless pap.

  2. 4 bluenred September 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Nature has noted the assault of Runt Limprod & Co. on objective truth, and other poisons brought to us by the new populism. Following is the text of an editorial in the September 9 edition:

    “The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.” It is tempting to laugh off this and other rhetoric broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative US radio host, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter.

    There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts—including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. Take the surprise ousting last week of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator for Alaska, by political unknown Joe Miller in the Republican primary for the 2 November midterm congressional elections. Miller, who is backed by the conservative ‘Tea Party movement’, called his opponent’s acknowledgement of the reality of global warming “exhibit ‘A’ for why she needs to go”.

    The right-wing populism that is flourishing in the current climate of economic insecurity echoes many traditional conservative themes, such as opposition to taxes, regulation and immigration. But the Tea Party and its cheerleaders, who include Limbaugh, Fox News television host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who famously decried fruitfly research as a waste of public money), are also tapping an age-old US political impulse—a suspicion of elites and expertise.

    Denialism over global warming has become a scientific cause célèbre within the movement. Limbaugh, for instance, who has told his listeners that “science has become a home for displaced socialists and communists”, has called climate-change science “the biggest scam in the history of the world”. The Tea Party’s leanings encompass religious opposition to Darwinian evolution and to stem-cell and embryo research—which Beck has equated with eugenics. The movement is also averse to science-based regulation, which it sees as an excuse for intrusive government. Under the administration of George W. Bush, science in policy had already taken knocks from both neglect and ideology. Yet President Barack Obama’s promise to “restore science to its rightful place” seems to have linked science to liberal politics, making it even more of a target of the right.

    US citizens face economic problems that are all too real, and the country’s future crucially depends on education, science and technology as it faces increasing competition from China and other emerging science powers. Last month’s recall of hundreds of millions of US eggs because of the risk of salmonella poisoning, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, are timely reminders of why the US government needs to serve the people better by developing and enforcing improved science-based regulations. Yet the public often buys into anti-science, anti-regulation agendas that are orchestrated by business interests and their sponsored think tanks and front groups.

    In the current poisoned political atmosphere, the defenders of science have few easy remedies. Reassuringly, polls continue to show that the overwhelming majority of the US public sees science as a force for good, and the anti-science rumblings may be ephemeral. As educators, scientists should redouble their efforts to promote rationalism, scholarship and critical thought among the young, and engage with both the media and politicians to help illuminate the pressing science-based issues of our time.

  3. 5 Anagha Comar May 26, 2013 at 12:03 am

    I feel your angst. I never had any good luck with this stuff, either.
    So happy to know I’m not by myself!

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When I Worked

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