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November 28, 2004 - The Triumph of Idealism

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Last Week in History - November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin's 'Origin of the Species' published.

In an October 29 New York Times article on George Bush, Nicholas Kristof reports: "Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution - he says the jury is still out - but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, 'he doesn't really care about that kind of thing.'"  (Also see in these pages May 9, 2004 - On your knees, America!.)

David Neiwert picks up the thread –


Intelligence on their designs

Science and fundamentalism are natural enemies, because they represent diametrically opposite models for understanding the world.

Fundamentalism begins with articles of faith, gleaned from Scripture, for which it then goes in search of evidence as support - ignoring, along the way, all contravening evidence.

Science begins with the gathering of evidence and data, which are then assembled into an explanatory model through a combination of hypothesis and further testing. This model must take into account all available facts, including contradictory evidence.

They are, in other words, 180 degrees removed from each other in how they affect our understanding of the world. One is based in logic, the other in faith. As methodologies go, they are simply irreconcilable.

Moreover, it's clear that the fundamentalists who are rapidly gaining complete control of the American government's reins of power fully recognize this natural enmity --and intend to use their rising power to curtail the influence of science on society: in government, in the schools, and in the media.

To do this, they are resorting to a combination of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques.

The key piece of illogic is one that has especially lodged itself in the media in recent years: The notion that a demonstrably true fact can be properly countered by a demonstrably false one - and that the two, placed side by side, represent a kind of "balance" in the national discourse. This is the Foxcist model of Newspeak, in which "fair and balanced" comes to mean its exact opposite.

[Linnaeus points out in comments that the logical fallacy at work here is the argumentum ad temperantiam: "If two groups are locked in argument, one maintaining that 2+2=4, and the other claiming that 2+2=6, sure enough, an Englishman will walk in and settle on 2+2=5, denouncing both groups as extremists."]

We've seen this dynamic play out constantly in the media over the past eight years or so: during the Clinton impeachment fiasco (when any kind of false rumor about Clinton got media play under these circumstances) to the 2000 election (from "Al Gore invented the Internet" to "machine counts are more accurate than hand counts") to the 9/11 commission hearings (notably Condoleezza Rice's testimony that the Aug. 11 Presidential Daily Briefing warning of pending Al Qaeda attacks contained just "historical information" and "did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks") to the 2004 election (especially the way the media depicted the fact-driven reports on George W. Bush's military record as the counterpart to the Swift Boat Veterans clearly specious claims').

Now this model of illogic is being applied to our education system. Specifically, it's being used to inject religion into our schools' science education curriculum.


Neiwert goes on to discuss school board in Dover, Pennsylvania deciding to include so-called "intelligent design" programs in their schools' science curriculum, along advocates for "intelligent design" in the schools in Seattle and their a full-fledged embrace of creationism, and many other such examples.

There’s something going on here.  And it’s bigger than the debate between the ant-Darwin forces of faith standing up to, and winning against, the die-hards who foolishly cling to the values of The Enlightenment, who prefer evidence to faith.

Those who founded the country, particularly that Deist dude, Thomas Jefferson, were in fact, at the dead center of enlightenment values – and that’s a bit of a problem.

But put that aside.

We have a war of epistemology here.  Facts versus faith.  It’s matter of a basic approach to life, of how one deals with, well, everything.

It’s not just religious matters.  As Harold Meyerson points out in The Washington Post -


Though his reelection campaign brilliantly marketed President Bush's anti-intellectualism, the truth is that his administration has trusted more to pure theory than virtually any modern president's. The Iraq war is a triumph of ideology over the facts on the ground (it's certainly not a triumph of anything else). And, as it's currently shaping up, Bush's second term looks to be even more theory-driven than his first.

Theory certainly is driving the administration's tax policies. In his first term, Bush took an ax to the taxes on dividends and mega-estates. In his second term, according to a story by The Post's Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, the president is looking at eliminating taxes on dividends and capital gains and creating generous tax shelters for all investment income. The theory here is that investment, not labor, is the real creator of wealth -- so the taxes on investment income will be scrapped, while those on wages will keep rolling along.

And in the name of this theory, Bush seems willing to sacrifice much of the social compact that made America, in the second half of the 20th century, the first majority middle-class nation in human history.


So what we’re dealing with is an odd sort of neo-platonic idealism.  It would be foolish to call this fanaticism.  It is more as if we are seeing a conflict between faith - a rejection of fact and evidence in favor of hope in theory – and reason - which can lead on to realistic pessimism, restraint and careful consideration of alternatives.

Choose your side.  Are you with the dead white men of the late eighteen-century Enlightenment – the careful compromisers who would separate church and state and who so liked the chimera of science and evidence?  Or are you with the idealistic and hope-filled neoconservatives of the twenty-first century – say Karl Rove and Paul Wolfowitz and Bush – who would mold reality, as best they can, to what it ought to be?

Are you clinging to the past, or part of the future?  Realist or idealist?

That’s one way to see what the recent election was about – damn the facts idealism versus uncomfortable realism. 


More folks wanted to be comfortable than wanted to face reality.






Vince in Rochester:


I put at the top of my list the realization that L. Frank Baum wrote not just of one wish but three... 


Not just "if I only had a heart..." - but it's not incongruous to aspire also for a brain, and the courage to speak for the balance that arises from both!


Now as to searching for home, Dorothy...


I can only say I'd rather be moving forward to create a new (balanced) home for my kids and future generations, than to spend my years seeking some latent pre-infantile memory of solitude and security!


Happy Thanksgiving...  and here's to courage...  in days when it becomes more and more apparent that we've met the enemy and it is us!


Is the enemy us?  Maybe so.


Dick nearby up there in upstate New York:


Unfortunately your sources have overlooked the basic reality that one person's fact is another person's theory.  You don't have to go very far into neo-con religion to find, "It's a proven fact that God created the world in six days.  And we can even give you pretty close to the date it happened."  Ditto on immaculate deception, resurrection - all that natural selection and evolution is crap... blah, blah, blah.  If these people are locked into a Channel 3, ain't no amount of "truth" or "reality" or "proof" that they are going to even notice on Channel 5, assuming that they know or care that Channel 5 is even there.  It is so much easier just to accept an answer given to you than it is to wonder about what dangers wondering might lead to.


Easier?  When it’s the moral thing to disregard reality, one does the moral thing.  I guess you save your soul.





Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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