Friday, December 20, 2013

Carl Sagan 1934-1996

Just a few days ago, I posted a memorial to Christopher Hitchens. Well, today it's 17 years since Carl Sagan died, and this brief video clip is from his last interview. (The full interview is here.) He was only 62, my age. Damn cancer, anyway!

This was from 1996, and the issue is even more important today than it was back then. (Certainly, the Republican Party has become even more ignorant about science, even more faith-based, rather than evidence-based, even more anti-science, because science tells them what they don't want to believe.)

This might be understandable (if still not admirable) in Afghanistan or Somalia, but not in the most powerful nation on Earth. And how do these people imagine that we'll maintain a lead in military power - because that is something which they want their government to do - without science? It's just nuts.

As Sagan explains, "Science is more than a body of knowledge. It's a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility."

You may think it doesn't really matter if ordinary people, or even our elected leaders, don't 'believe' in evolution or global warming or the real age of the Earth, but it does. Once you start to dismiss science because you don't want to face the truth, where will you stop?

Remember, being unwilling to face reality doesn't make reality go away.


Anthony G Williams said...

The impression I have (if I may pass comment from across the Pond) is that the Republican retrenchment to a more simplistic, ideological belief system is driven by a mixture of fear and nostalgia.

Fear for what they perceive the USA is becoming (far more diverse in its culture and people, and with its economic and military dominance increasingly threatened by China) and nostalgic for a partly imaginary past when the USA was nearly all white, Christian, heterosexual and ruled the world.

Ironically, their attitude, should they get into power, would merely hastened the USA's decline. The one comfort is that demographics are against them, since the proportion of the population comprising "angry white men" is in steady decline.

WCG said...

Yes, you're right, Tony. But I wonder if you recognize how much of this has to do with the culture of America's Deep South, which has always been out-of-step with most of my country.

This was the slave-owning South, of course, which developed a sort of plantation culture. They were Democrats then (they tried to secede from the rest of America when a Republican was elected president), and stayed solidly Democratic for more than a century.

But the northern segment of the Democratic Party moved on without them, while the Republican Party became less progressive and more dedicated to the wealthy (nothing like it is now, though). When northern Democrats pushed through Congress the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was bitterly opposed by the segregationist 'Dixiecrats,' Republicans saw their chance to gain more political power.

So they started deliberately wooing white racists with their 'Southern strategy.' And it worked a charm. Surprisingly quickly, the South - white southerners, who were not just a majority, but had a monopoly on political power - switched from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican.

But they brought their plantation culture with them. They joined with reactionary elements already in the GOP, which gave all of them more power in the party, and over time, they effectively turned the Republican Party into the Dixiecrat Party.

Those are the people who are driving this. Of course, there are right-wing Republicans everywhere, just as there are racists everywhere. But that solid core of the Deep South is what's making the Republican Party so crazy these days. Mainstream GOP leaders still support the rich, but increasingly, it's the crazy social activists who run the show.

Unfortunately, in places like Nebraska which are overwhelmingly white, it's easy to push racial fear. In those parts of the country which are still solidly white and solidly Christian, it's very easy to scare people about those Americans who are different from them.

So there's a lot that goes into this. But the real lunacy these days is the end result of that notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. Republican leaders did that, not to change their own party, but to give themselves more power. And for decades, that worked great. But it did change their party, and the people who changed it don't want it to change back.

Anthony G Williams said...

It does make me wonder how North America might have developed if the Confederates had won the Civil War. No doubt there have been lots of books written about that!

WCG said...

Yes, I've seen lots of alternate history with that theme, Tony. But they've all sounded much too depressing for me!

WCG said...

PS. In fact, I prefer Eric Flint's "Rivers of War" series ("1812: The Rivers of War" and "1824: The Arkansas War") which is depicting a history where the Civil War might not happen, because things go better for non-white Americans.

Of course, there's still plenty of war (as you can tell from the titles). But they're much more optimistic than the alternative. I'm anxiously awaiting a third volume in that series (if he ever gets around to writing one).