Sunday, August 26, 2012

The crackpot caucus

Here's Timothy Egan's take on the Republican war on critical thinking:
Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

Let’s take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.

He then goes on to give some very scary examples:
We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept. But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change, Representative John Shimkus of Illinois is — you guessed it — a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length. It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas. You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.” Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

In his party, Kingston is in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years — a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.

Another Georgia congressman, Paul Broun, introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House — backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan — that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.

Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.

Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.

If you care for America - or our planet - at all, you should be terrified at this. And outraged, too. But there are three points I want to make:

First, as I've noted many times before, this is faith-based thinking, rather than evidence-based thinking. The scientific method is designed to determine the truth, despite our biases. It's the only effective method we've found of distinguishing reality from delusion and wishful-thinking.

But these people don't want to accept reality. They don't have the courage for that. They prefer to remain ignorant and, like Judge Head, they prefer their own fantasies. They don't "believe" in science, because science tells them the truth, regardless of what they want to hear.

Second, it's always easy to find reasons to believe what you want to believe. We human beings are very good at rationalizing our existing biases and beliefs. And let's face it, if you look online, you can find backing for pretty much anything you want to believe.

Do you believe the Earth is flat? You can find support for that online. Do you believe that the Moon landing was a hoax, that vaccines cause autism, that George W. Bush planned the 9/11 attacks, that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya? Those things are all completely crazy, but if that's what you want to believe, you can find backing online. Heck, you can find whole books backing up any crazy idea you care to mention.

My point is that finding reasons to backup whatever you believe is trivially easy. As I said, we are very, very good at rationalizing. So what does that tell you? It should tell you that that's not an effective way to determine the truth. It should tell you that you need a better mechanism than that.

And yes, the scientific method is the best mechanism we've ever discovered for determining the truth. If there's a scientific consensus on an issue, there's no valid reason for us laymen to believe the opposite. If you don't understand why that is, you really need to study the scientific method.

Finally, you might think that these crackpot ideas don't really matter. Yeah, the Republicans might be completely nuts about science, but you support their economic policies. So why should you care that they're batshit crazy on these other issues?

Well, for one thing, these other issues are important. But even if they weren't, why would you think that Republicans are right on some issues, when they're demonstrably crazy on others? What makes you think that their economic policies are any less faith-based than their other policies?

Maybe they're telling you what you want to hear, but is that the truth, or just what you, yourself, want to believe? How can you tell? You must know that Republicans are just as much faith-based in their economics as in their science. You must realize that they're going to reject anything they don't want to believe in economics, too.

And you must know that everything they claimed during the Bush years - notably, that tax cuts for the rich would create such a booming economy, with jobs for everyone, that our budget deficit would disappear nearly overnight - turned out to be completely, horribly, disastrously wrong (at least as wrong as their claim that Iraq would greet us as liberators and that the war would "pay for itself").

Republicans still believe in that dogma, despite the evidence, only because they're faith-based. It's still holy writ to them. You don't abandon your faith because it fails, not when you really, really want to believe it. It's only evidence-based people who admit when they've been wrong, and change their mind.

So why would you accept Republican claims about the economy when they've proven to be complete crackpots about everything else (and about the economy)? Why would you disregard their lunacy in one area, just because you'd like to believe what they say in another? Why is being completely batshit crazy not important to you?

Isn't it just because you, too, want to believe what you want to believe? Isn't it because you have your own biases, and you find it easy to believe whatever backs them up? Well, we all do. That's just human nature. But some of us look for a reliable mechanism for determining the truth, and for separating the truth from wishful-thinking.

And when we see crackpots taking over the Republican Party, it makes us wonder about all of their positions. When we see Fox 'News' lying - blatantly - we wonder why they wouldn't use the truth, if the truth really did back up their claims.

And when we see Republican politicians everywhere avoiding questions and refusing to tell us the details of their plans, we wonder why we should just assume they've got the (secret) solutions to our problems.

Crackpots are everywhere in the Republican Party these days - not just in the GOP base, but among their leadership, too. What does that tell you? How do you feel about it? Frankly, it scares the crap out of me!

My thanks to Jim Harris for the link.


Jim Harris said...

This scares the crap out of me too!!!

And there's nothing we can do about it. It's obvious that this kind of thinking is not uncommon and voters pick these people because their thinking resonates with their own beliefs.

And did you see this other article in the NY Times about education:

And then imagine how budget cutting for education will happen if Romney wins, and the trends is clear, the conservatives aren't just nutty, they are anti-science.

Jeff said...

Eisenhower wouldn't recognize his own party.

Have a look at this. It's a copy of the 1956 Republican Party platform. Take a deep breath, it's a long read:

WCG said...

That's even scarier, Jim. I just can not understand why the presidential race is so close, or why anyone would vote Republican in any House or Senate race, either.

Of course, it's not just the Republicans. Barack Obama is far ahead in the polls, until you look at likely voters. Progressives - especially young people - seem to be too lazy or too dispirited to bother getting off the couch.

They've bought the Republican message that nothing can be done about anything. Yet, at the same time, Republican crazies are all fired up to vote against that 'socialist' 'Muslim' in the White House. Go figure!

WCG said...

Long, yes! I could only skim part of it, Jeff.

But today's Republican Party should more properly be called the Dixiecrat Party. Remember, in 1956, the South was solidly Democratic. Today, no part of the country is more Republican.

Those old 'Dixiecrats' are today's Republican base. Meanwhile, African Americans and most of the Northeast have left the GOP. That's been a huge change in American politics.

You can still see hints of today's GOP in that 1956 document, because they're still the party of wealthy bankers. And there were crazies even back then - like the John Birchers - who have never left the party. But these days, they're no longer on the fringe.

They've combined with the Dixiecrats to take control of the GOP. Crazy is mainstream in today's Republican Party, and as people like Charlie Crist drop out (note that he recently endorsed Barack Obama), they keep getting crazier all the time.