The video below from TED is chilling in many ways. Michael Specter touches on observations about the resistance people have toward anything that seems to threaten their hobbit-hole view of the world. A little of this, as he rightly points out, is fine, even agreeable, but when it burgeons into matters that threaten lives and seek to derail all that has made this present era as wonderful as it is—and it must be stressed, in the face of overwhelming negative press, that we are living in a magnificent period of history—then it loses whatever quaint appeal it might otherwise have. We respect the Amish, but they don’t tell the rest of us how to live and try their level best to be apart from the world they disapprove. When you see people filing lawsuits with the intent to halt necessary, beneficial progress because they have bought into some bogeyman horror movie view of science or politics or morality, it behooves us to come to terms with a fundamental reality with which we live today.
First, though, the video. Watch this, then read on.
Okay, what reality? That many people are just idiots. I cannot think of a more tasteful way to phrase it. But when you consider the list, justifications and rationalizations fade.
The Tea Party. The Anti-vaccine Movement. The Birthers. Young Earth Creationists. Medjugorje. Deepak Chopra. PETA. Free Market Capitalism. Global Warming Deniers. Holocaust Deniers. Abstinence-Only. Just Say No. The Shroud of Turin. Astrology. Texas Board of Education. Evolution Deniers. Frankenfood Protesters. Homeopaths. Herbalists. Psychics. Scientology.
I could go on. The list above I chose because in each instance the movement in question lies to suit their own end; in each case evidence to prove them mistaken or flat wrong is not only available, it is widely available. In some instances the scientific evidence is so overwhelming as to constitute grounds for considering opponents of the scientific (or historical) view to be somehow malicious subversives if not outright loons.
But more pointedly, in each of these cases, adherents to the various subjects listed seem not to even bother with looking at contrary evidence. They don’t argue with the evidence because they don’t even know the evidence and when, under certain situations, they are confronted with it they simply deny its validity.
Underlying this is an unwillingness or inability to educate themselves—some because they have no time, others for less understandable reasons—and yet they embrace their cause and go off with it as if they had looked into the matter and found the position they advocate unassailable. Dialogue is often pointless because they either won’t listen or, in my opinion more likely, can’t understand a contrary point of view.
It is this last that I address here. We have seen many posts on DI talking about the deplorable level of education. Here is where it is telling. These causes, these institutions, these movements are not embraced by people in general (I believe) because they have made a good case but because they have either promised something their followers want very much or they have scared the hell out of them. The combination of wishful thinking and imbecilic fright is deadly. It is not a question of being skeptical of authority, it is a matter of people finding a hole and pulling the earth over it after they climb in.
If dialogue happened, something productive might emerge from all this.
The Tea Party is basically a Libertarian movement based on a complete rejection of taxes. Idiocy. No state, good or bad, can function without the support of its citizens, and taxes are necessary to maintain community. Who do they think will build the roads, maintain the water system, support the common defense? They assume, because some things are happening with which they disagree, that Washington is now a criminal institution and they wish to strip it of resources, not stopping to consider that their ability to protest itself is something that exists because we have a government that protects their right to do so.
Anti-vacciners. As Mr. Specter pointed, the research has been done, the numbers are in. Something may well be causing a jump in autism, but it’s not vaccination, and suspension of vaccination programs—he was nice about it—will open the floodgates to a world of hurt no one today under the age of 40 in the United States has clue one about. The research is rejected. Why? There may be many plausible reasons, but a major one, if not the major one, I think, is because these folks don’t comprehend the science.
Frankenfood? I have never understood this. Just what do people think crossbreeding is if not genetic engineering? Crude, hamfisted, perhaps, but genetic engineering. The potential to feed people and increase nutrition is inestimable, but—”I ain’t puttin’ that in my mouth, ’cause a guy on tv said it would have unforeseen consequences and it ain’t Nat’ral.”
(Forgive the snarky tone—on the other hand, the title ought to given indication of my attitude.)
Global warming? An island of the Indian coast which has been the subject of a territorial dispute since Partition has simply disappeared. The ocean swallowed it. No more dispute. Ice shelves are melting in Antarctica that have been solid for millennia. Among all the other perfectly sound reasons to cut back on emissions, we can add this one, and yet…an yet…as if arguing over the degree of change human action can claim makes any difference.
Here’s what I think. I think people, by themselves, singly, off alone with one or two others, can be brought to a condition of reasonable cognition in which the world and its vicissitudes becomes somewhat comprehensible. I think if you put these people back into large aggregates, they lose I.Q. along with perspective, and it becomes more important to identify with the group than to follow one’s own reasoning. I think people want desperately to feel they have some control over their own lives and maybe over the world. And I think people want to be attached to something heroic.
I also think people don’t want the ideological rug pulled out from under them.
There are many ways to achieve the feeling of control. Most are easy, moronic, short-term, and destructive. The hard one, the one that works, is to actually learn how to think and to learn how to tell the difference between nonsense and reality. This is hard to do and often, even the best thinkers, get it wrong. But it is the only way that leads to long-term success.
But I also believe that people don’t want to be responsible. Ultimately, when you look at the list of idiotic things people defend, as if they were defending the ultimate meaning of life itself, at the core of them is a free ride from responsibility. “Oh, I won’t know what I want Washington to do, so I’d rather they didn’t do anything. And to make sure I don’t have to be responsible about any outcomes, I want to make sure they CAN”T do anything.” “Oh, I don’t want to take responsibility for my life, so I’ll do whatever my astrologer tells me—after all, if it’s in the stars, it’s just fate, and I have no control.” “Oh, I don’t understand anything about genetics and all that, so I’d like to make it so none of those questions ever come up and I don’t have to think about it.”
If I thought most of this came from people who had given any reasoned thought to these matters, I might be more tolerant. But I don’t think so. Religion has generally been replaced, not by reason but by the closest Cause of the Week. Something to Believe In. Something to give the impression that you have a say in what’s going on, but really all these movements are about not wanting to have a say and not wanting anyone else to have a say, either. Even if some of these non-choices lead to unwarranted deaths, it would be “better” to live in a “natural” world than—than—
Than what? Understand the world? Find out that there are some things you just can’t do, but that there are other things you can if you only take the responsibility?
I didn’t mention health care. It’s more complex, but it ought to be on the list. The opponents to a national health care system reject it because, they say, it’s Socialism. Yet they will readily agree that the current system works poorly and costs too much. They would like it fixed. How? Not by law. Oh. Then how? Well, there has to be a way to do it without federal involvement. What might that be? The Market. But the Market hasn’t done anything but drive costs up and decrease certain services. The Market doesn’t work.* Gee. I guess someone has to bar insurance companies from certain practices and costs generally have to be brought in line. Who will do that? I don’t know, but if the government does it it will be Socialism and we’ll be doomed. There has to be a way to fix it without—
—without changing anything. Bottom line. Fix it but don’t change anything. A clearer expression of wishful thinking is hard to find. And they have been fed the line so long that anything the government does on behalf of its citizens is automatically Socialism that they cannot see through to a different solution—one that will indeed involve the government—no matter what.
Fix it without changing anything.
There is only one way to describe that. Idiocy.
Thank you for your patience.
* The Market…in fact, the Market does function on its own, but most people would be hard put to claim the outcomes are desirable. The way the Market would “fix it” would be to let bubbles grow like cancer cells and when they can no longer be supported, let them burst. Economies collapse, people die, chaos ensues. That is how The Market functions. I dare say, that is not what people want when they say they want the Market to decide.
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