The Right Side of History

Sometimes I wonder how I would have responded to significant intellectual and social developments if I were alive when they were occurring. Would I have opposed the Catholic Church when it tried Galileo for heresy for believing our solar system revolved around the sun? Would I have embraced the Enlightenment ideals of reason and science? Would I have opposed slavery? Would I have rejected the United States’ isolationism of the 1930’s and seen the necessity of taking a stand against fascism? Would I have considered the Red Scare to be mass hysteria? Would I have supported the Civil Rights Movement?

I like to think my answer to all these questions would be yes, and not just because of self-flattery–although self-flattery is a significant factor. I tend to be skeptical, to distrust ideas based on faith, to disbelieve True Believers. Twenty years ago a former boss gave me The Emperor’s New Clothes as a holiday present–an apt gift, as I spent considerable time and effort poking holes in her pronouncements. It’s a good thing to recognize the inexorable social and intellectual forces. If the choice is between desperately hanging on to a disappearing past and understanding and dealing with society’s evolution, I want to come to terms with the future.

We (finally) saw Steven Speilberg’s Lincoln, which focuses on Congressional enactment of the 13th Amendment, which banned slavery. Viewed through a modern lens we see the anti-Amendment arguments for what they were–unadulterated racism, with a frosting of state rights rhetoric that serves mostly to mask that slavery was our Civil War’s bedrock issue. Few Americans today would make the anti-Amendment arguments in the film’s naked terms. (Although many continue to embrace the state rights perspective–see, e.g. the Texas monument to the Confederacy at the State House in Austin:



Romney’s abject toadying during the primaries to the Tea Party Taliban, Tax-Pledge Terrorists, and anti-progress ayatollahs, and various jaw-dropping far-right pronouncements throughout recent months, underscored that the Republican Party is controlled by those denying the future and holding on to the past like grim death. In her column titled A Lost Civilization Maureen Dowd echoed this theme when she referred to the Republican Party as “the first civilization in modern history to spiral the way of the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys. Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Denying the existence of global warming, and the role of human agency in global warming, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence1 . . .  asserting that creationism (by whatever name) is not faith-based religious doctrine but a valid scientific theory that should be taught in public schools alongside evolution . . . arguing that gun violence is caused by a variety of factors which do not include lack of regulation of firearms . . . urging the primacy of explicit religious belief as a criterion for public office . . . these beliefs are on the wrong side of history. How can one take the Republican  party seriously when it is in thrall to those who advocate such beliefs?

1. See, e.g.

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Political Devolution

It’s stating the obvious but I like how she says it:

The Republicans are now the “How great is it to be stupid?” party. In perpetrating the idea that there’s no intellectual requirement for the office of the presidency, the right wing of the party offers a Farrelly Brothers “Dumb and Dumber” primary in which evolution is avant-garde . . . So we’re choosing between the overintellectualized professor and blockheads boasting about their vacuity? The occupational hazard of democracy is know-nothing voters. It shouldn’t be know-nothing candidates.

Maureen Dowd, Egghead and Blockheads, The New York Times 18-Sep-11

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Survey Says

Recently I listened to a Teaching Company course titled The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy.  The lecturer repeated a statistic I’ve seen elsewhere, that about 50% of Americans believe God created humans within the past 10,000 years.  And, as has happened every time I’ve encountered this statistic, I almost drove off the road.  Put aside for the moment belief in intelligent design–which I consider to be creationism dressed in a new coat–, and belief in theistic evolution, which holds that evolution is God’s instrument of creation.  About 50% of Americans believe the human species was created within the past 10,000 years?  Is it any wonder we lag the rest of the developed world in science and other rational-thinking skills?

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