A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook wall. I like it.
I’ve mentioned before that I wish the Republican party would “go back to being the fiscally conservative, small government party they used to be instead of the religious, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-environment party they are now.”
Andrew Sullivan, over at The Daily Dish, seems to have the same idea, but in more detail. Andrew and I are not alone, either, since I’ve seen links to his post from two other blogs today, as well as a post by Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs who also put together a list of why he’s parted ways with the Right. No doubt there are plenty more who agree with these folks.
Here’s a sampling of items from both posts that I find particularly noteworthy (though I recommend going through the full posts of both blog authors).
From Andrew Sullivan:
- I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.
- I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.
- I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.
- I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.
- I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy
- I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.
- I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.
From Charles Johnson (reasons why he parted ways with the Right):
- Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)
- Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)
- Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)
- Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)
- Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)
- Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)
- A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)
- Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)
I think all of those issues are critical issues with the Right, but I tend to focus in on the anti-science, anti-intellectual issues like evolution and climate change… and then I just continue down the path of monumental incredulity at the crap that is touted, supported, and defended by what used to be a fiscally and bureaucratically conservative and responsible party.
I will grant that not all Republicans are this way, but the party in general (or as Andrew Sullivan puts it… “in so far as it means the dominant mode of discourse among the institutions and blogs and magazines and newspapers and journals that support the GOP”) has taken on the self-righteous air of superiority, while in practice, promoting ignorance, hatred, and the idea that the better educated you are, the smarter you are, and the more experience you have, the less qualified you are to partake in intellectually challenging endeavors.
If this country is going to improve its status (and it does need improving) or even maintain its current position in the world, the Right needs to change its ways or get out of the way, because its current pattern of blocking science and education, glorifying ignorance, and pounding its virtual fists on the podium of bigotry doesn’t cut it and it won’t cut it in the future.
As Charles Johnson said:
The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.
I won’t be going over the cliff with them.
I won’t be jumping off that cliff, either.
This evening, I was waiting for my new laptop to get through all its updates and my wife and I were watching NCIS while waiting, which allowed my eight-year-old daughter to stay up a little later than usual because… you know… we didn’t want to miss any of the NCIS episode to go tuck her in and I needed to be there to click “Next” on my laptop. Priorities.
While my daughter was, in turn, waiting for my wife and I to finish our important “tasks,” she grabbed some paper and colored pencils and wrote and illustrated a four-page book. Though the book doesn’t show off her graphic artistry (she can do much better), when I read the book, I was delighted… and proud. Here’s the book (click to embiggen).
Now, of course she doesn’t know everything, but if you’re going to learn everything, history and science are pretty good starting points. This creation of hers happened without any prompting on my part tonight, so I was especially pleased that she felt it was a cool enough topic to illustrate… in the 10 or 15 minutes she was waiting! She read it to me and my laptop and NCIS got ignored from that point.
I think my laptop is still prompting me to click “Next.”
Here’s why it’s really hard to take the religious right seriously.
“I don’t believe in global warming,” said conservative activist Kim Simac, a horse trainer and mother of nine from Wisconsin who also believes that the teaching of creationism and prayer need to be brought back to public schools.
One delegate, Sue Phelps, drew comparisons between Barack Obama, Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler – “they were good orators too” – and said the president’s nationality and religion were “unanswered questions”.
“Today in America, far too many young people enter adulthood unprepared for college, career, and life,” said Allan Golston, president of The Gates Foundation’s U.S. Program. [Drew] Dickens agrees and believes that “part of the problem is that we have removed prayer and the Ten Commandments from our schools and curriculum.”
I could go on. When people are that vocal, yet that oblivious to facts, that ignorant of the Constitution, and that eager to force their religious beliefs on others, they’ve really got no room to complain when they are ignored or mocked.
Today, President Obama is going to give a “Back to School” address to students across America. The speech is intended to be about the importance of education and taking control of your own education… and the benefits that can result from that.
However, what should be a simple, straightforward address to students has been attacked and demonized by many who don’t want their children hearing the president speak… for various reasons. There have been claims that his speech is unprecedented (it isn’t) or that it will try to indoctrinate children into becoming little socialists (it won’t) or that it undermines parental authority (it doesn’t).
It was well known in advance that the speech was to focus on the importance of education, but the vociferous opponents of the president cried wolf yet again and spread their alarmist rhetoric, claiming that there was a conspiracy afoot and our children were in danger of being insta-brainwashed by a 15-minute speech.
As White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school.”
Here are some excerpts from the comments section of a Reuters article about the speech [sic].
“I would not want my children to grow up being inspired by Obama and furthering their interests by studying his ideals and adopting his mind set. Obama is no friend to America’s freedom nor is he a friend to our Constitution which he is sworn to defend with the BEST of his abilities.”
“I am not sure I would trust anything this president has to say to children.”
“He’s a very un-American President, maybe that’s why people don’t want him talking to their kids.”
“This is not about Obama telling our kids “work hard and stay in school”; this is about him being invasive and taking over, and promoting his socialist agenda.”
“we have taken god out of our schools lets take polictics out of it also”
Thankfully, most of the comments to the article were either in support of the speech or in support of clear thinking about the issue itself, something the opponents seem to be abundantly lacking.
I know a few people personally who oppose the speech and combining that with the tone and content of many of the comments I’ve read, there seem to be two common characteristics; very right-wing views and very religious views.
Perhaps the outrage comes from Obama’s public acknowledgement of religious views other than Christian ones. Perhaps the outrage is that, due to the incredible increase in the partisan divide that occurred over the past 8-12 years, many people can’t seem to see anything good coming from their political opponents. However, the dissent, hateful rhetoric, misinformation, and blind outrage seem to have reached a crescendo this year. Obama-haters see conspiracy around every corner. They rage about information received in bogus chain emails. They rant against anything, regardless of benefit, proposed by their enemies.
They fume and froth and sputter with righteous indignation over things like… like… the president giving a speech to students about the importance of education.
Here is a link to the text of the speech released by the White House. Here is a link to the Department of Education page about the speech. There’s nothing sinister here. There’s nothing controversial. Sorry… nothing that should be controversial. It’s just as announced… a speech about the importance of education and taking control of your own education. Study hard. Stay in school. Do your best. You can do it.
To oppose that is absurdity of the highest order.
Almost everyone laughs at Flat-Earthers, people who actually believe that the Earth is flat despite all evidence to the contrary. Most people also laugh at the Moon-Hoaxers, the folks who think that we never landed on the moon and that it’s all just a conspiracy with elaborately faked footage, photos, and reports. Conspiracy theorists in general provide a good laugh for most rational people, whether it’s talk of alien abductions, secret government programs with captured spaceships, crop circles, the Illuminati taking control of the world, or government mind control drugs in public water.
There’s a long history of conspiracy theory and one would think that that history would be just that… history… a thing of the past. Barring a few fringe groups, we don’t expect to see people outright denying scientifically proven facts or making accusations of secret, intricate, tangled webs of clockwork precision government cover-ups.
Yet we have just that… and not just among small “fringe” groups. Here’s a short list (in addition to the ones already mentioned).
- 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists – claim that the US government caused the twin towers to collapse.
- Lizard-People Conspiracy Theorists – claim that lizard-people are running the world (seriously).
- AIDS Conspiracy Theorists – claim that AIDS is a man-made disease cooked up in a lab.
- Obama Birthers – deny that Obama is a US citizen (or that it hasn’t been documented).
- Global Warming Deniers – deny that global warming is occurring or is affected by human activity.
- Creationism Proponents – deny that evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on Earth.
- Holocaust Deniers – claim the Holocaust never happened.
- Anti-Vaxxers – claim that vaccines cause autism.
- 2012 Alarmists – claim that, since the Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, the world will end.
I’m sure there are many more. Some of the ideas are absurd because of historical evidence, some because of scientific evidence, and some because of their sheer implausibility (backed up by no evidence). Some are combinations.
A common thread, however, is that each of them ignores or denies actual evidence contradictory to its premise. In some cases, their proponents will fabricate evidence, making scientific or historical claims that are patently false in an attempt to bolster their case. Using outdated, no-longer-relevant data is also a common tactic, whether through ignorance or malicious intent.
What is the motivation for people to believe and perpetuate these absurd claims? Sometimes it’s politics. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s an overactive imagination. There are plenty of other psychological reasons proposed.
Is this a big deal? Are conspiracy theories just good fun or are they harmful or dangerous? In some cases, like the lizard-people idea, they’re harmlessly silly and don’t gain enough traction in popular culture to cause anything other than snickering and pretend horror. In other cases, such as Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, they can cause emotional pain for those who are close to the event in question. In the worse cases, the conspiracy theories can gain enough traction to cause political turmoil, educational degradation, and even health risks. Global warming deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers are perfect examples of these.
Potentially dangerous effects aside, these conspiracy theories show a lack of critical thinking skills and/or a lack of understanding of science. Perhaps they demonstrate an innate distrust for any authority figure… to the point of automatically assuming that anything said by an authority figure is innately false or misleading (regardless of whether or not the figure in question has anything to gain by misleading the public). Perhaps they simply indicate a complete lack of curiosity, their proponents believing everything they hear without any skepticism at all. Politics and religion can also entrench someone firmly in a position that is rationally indefensible.
It’s the groups whose ideas have a tangible, negative effect on society that concern me the most. Folks who believe that lizard-people are controlling the Earth are relatively harmless and somewhat amusing. It’s the people who think that our activities don’t have an affect on our planet’s warming and who want to block any action we could take to limit that affect… or it’s those who feel that it’s okay to teach our children that our world was created by magic, corrupting science education, instead of teaching them the real science behind the wondrous way in which life evolved on our planet… or it’s the people who publicly mislead doting parents with bogus claims that childhood vaccines cause autism, leading those parents to forgo protecting their children which, in turn, leads to everyone else’s health being put in danger.
Those are the conspiracy theorists that I have a problem with. Those are the people who have a detrimental effect on society. Those are the people whose blindness to rationality, evidence, and critical thinking cause harm to the rest of the world. They cheapen our existence, mislead our children, endanger our health, corrupt our national discourse, and create hostile divisions where there should be none… and they will defend their absurd positions with a ferocious certainty that is completely unwarranted by evidence.
What’s the solution? In my opinion… education. Starting in grade school, children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking skills are… well… critical. The scientific method needs to be understood… not just science facts, but the why and how of the facts. And these skills need to be taught, not just to school children, but to adults.
As for those adults who refuse to accept evidence and continue to scream their absurdities from the rooftops, they need to be countered… loudly, frequently, and eloquently. We cannot silence them by removing their right to free speech, but we can do everything in our power to point out their muddled thinking, debunk their bogus conclusions, and reveal them for the charlatans they are. They should be embarrassed by their own silliness and we need to hold up a mirror to them, giving them a perfect view of their intellectual ugliness. They will complain, accuse, deny, quite possibly lie… and they will be loud.
We need to be louder.
Note: Cross posted from Rationality Now.
At the beginning of last month, I wrote about the Freedom From Religion Foundation‘s sign at the Olympia, Washington capitol building, stating that I wasn’t all that pleased with the approach they took with the wording of the sign. Since then, I’ve read a lot (and I mean a lot) of commentary about that situation and have decided two things.
First, I think the point of displaying the sign wasn’t to further atheism, per se, but was more to demonstrate the point that government buildings shouldn’t be hosting religious displays of any kind. Not only was the FFRF’s sign displayed, but because of the “open door” policy required due to the Alliance Defense Fund’s lawsuit, there were displays requested for other “religions” as well (Pastafarianism, Festivus) including an application by the Westboro Baptist Church to put up a sign declaring that “Santa Claus Will Take You To Hell.” It turned into quite a fiasco which, to anyone who wasn’t too incensed to miss the point, demonstrates in grand fashion just why religious displays have no place in government buildings.
Second, I still don’t think it was the best approach. FFRF’s stated goals are (from their bylaws) “to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.” I think both of those goals are admirable and could have been accomplished in a way that would have brought far less scorn to atheists.
I read this article today by David Gleeson (who has a similar view about the situation) and was impressed with his suggested alternate message.
At this season, may reason triumph over fear and superstition, and may we renew our commitment to life, love, and the bonds of our shared humanity.
That’s good stuff.
David makes a number of other good points in his article as well and I especially agree with him about the absolute statements in the FFRF’s sign. Dan Barker of the FFRF should know better. Lack of evidence does not necessarily mean lack of existence. It might. It might not. We don’t know and we cannot possibly know… for certain. Claiming to know with certainty cripples us in the same faith-based trap as religion. Based on the evidence (or lack thereof in this case), I can believe there is no god, but I cannot know there is no god.
So David’s softer, more positive message is a winner in my book. I think it would have been a much better approach. It probably still would have stirred up enough controversy to make the “separation of church and state” point, but it would have done it without putting another black mark on atheists.
I’m dismayed by the number of people who seem to think that being “folksy” is a good qualification for a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. Being able to connect with people is one thing. Using slang, bad grammar, and incorrect pronunciations for common words is something altogether different. Comedians and television writers get damned good mileage from it, but do we really want it from our public officials?
Personally, I want someone smart in public office, especially in the office of President of the United States of America. When I say “smart,” I don’t just mean IQ. I mean having enough of an education to know how to speak in public, to use proper grammar, to pronounce common words correctly, to know enough about science to talk intelligently, to process information rationally, to negotiate effectively, to look at evidence objectively, and to know when to ask for help. There’s more to it than that, though. Someone “smart” understands that appearance matters… visually, audibly, and behaviorally.
Folksy appears uneducated. It probably doesn’t appear that way to uneducated people, but to anyone else (who has an ounce of honesty)… it does. However, everyone looks favorably upon well-spoken, even folksy people. Well-spoken doesn’t mean using big words, literary flourishes, clever allusions, and mythological references. It means having the ability to get your point across cleanly and clearly, using proper grammar and a relatively solid grasp of the English language. That doesn’t offend or alienate anyone.
That’s what I want in the office of President. We haven’t had it for 8 years now and, although McCain has it (or used to), his runner-up has precious little of it. Obama has it in abundance. Biden has it, too. When I visualize our president sitting down with other world leaders to discuss matters of global importance, I cringe to think of someone saying “new-cue-luhr” and “you betcha” and winking and stumbling over facts and simple scientific issues. If that happens, it reflects poorly on us as a country. It looks laughable. It looks farcical. It looks sad.