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:

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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. http://www.wunderground.com/resources/climate/928.asp

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More Complicated

A pet peeve of mine–the only one, really, since I’m so accepting of other’s thoughts and behaviors–is blaming every extreme weather incident on global warming and related climate change.  I understand global warming enough to be confident of three things:

  • It exists
  • Mankind exacerbates it
  • Its effects are complicated, nuanced, and not always obvious

So I appreciated the Times’ response to this question:

Q: Can the intensity of this year’s tornadoes be blamed on climate change?

A: Probably not. Over all, the number of violent tornadoes has been declining in the United States, even as temperatures have increased, making it likely that this year’s twister outbreak is simply a remarkable and terrifying — but natural — event. Climate science has long predicted that global warming will cause more weather extremes, however, and statistics suggest that this has started to happen . . . That said, scientists are reluctant to attribute any specific weather event to global warming. And, at least so far, only a handful of studies have suggested that tornadoes are likely to become more frequent or more intense on a warming planet. Frustratingly, it is likely to be a year or two before we get good published analyses of the causes for this season’s strange weather — and it may be decades before science can conclusively demonstrate whether or not human-driven warming is affecting tornado frequency.

This is part of a continuing series titled “It’s a Handy Explanation, But It’s Wrong.”

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