Archive for May, 2012
This is from 2008 but I just saw it on Reddit. What a beautiful speech. I thought you might like it.
A piece by Katherine Stewart.
Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2009, is a “young earth” creationist. He believes the earth is 6,000 years old, that human beings walked with dinosaurs, and that Noah’s Ark had a unique, multi-level construction that allowed it to house every species of animal, including the dinosaurs.
McLeroy is off the rails nuts. You can see his interview with Colbert here.
He has a right to his beliefs, but it’s his views on history that are problematic. McLeroy is part of a large and powerful movement determined to impose a thoroughly distorted, ultra-partisan, Christian nationalist version of US history on America’s public school students. And he has scored stunning successes.
If you want to see a scary movie about this movement, consider taking in Scott Thurman’s finely-crafted documentary Revisionaries, currently making the festival circuit, which records the antics of McLeroy and a hard right majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as they revise the textbook standards that will be used in Texas (and many other states).
You can see the trailer for that movie here.
The first part of this documentary deals with the familiar “science wars”, in which one side seeks to educate children in the sciences, and the other side proposes to “teach the controversy” in order to undermine those aspects of science that conflict with its religious convictions. But it’s the second part of the movie where the horror really kicks in. As I explain in more detail in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the history debate makes the science debate look genteel. While the handful of moderates on the SBOE squeals in opposition, the conservative majority lands blow after blow, passing resolutions imposing its mythological history on the nation’s textbooks.
Cynthia Dunbar, a board member who has described public education as a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion”, and who homeschooled her own children, emerges as a relentless ideologue. During the hearings, she yanks Thomas Jefferson from a standard according to which students are expected to “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas … on political revolutions from 1750 to the present”, and replaces him with the 13th-century theologian St Thomas Aquinas. Moderate Republican board member Bob Craig points out that the curriculum writers clearly intended for the students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson in this part of the standard, not a mix of Protestant and Catholic theologians, but the resolution passes anyway.
Hmmm…. If we had Thomas Aquinas and not Thomas Jefferson write our constitution this would be a very different country.
The story goes on….
Dunbar isn’t very subtle about her agenda. In one scene, the filmmakers track her to a prayer rally in Washington, DC, where she implores Jesus to “invade” public schools.
The board goes on to remove the word “slavery” from the standards, replacing it with the more benign-seeming “Atlantic triangular trade”. They insist on calling the United States a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy” – largely because they want students to think of their country as Republican, not Democratic.
These people are evil and trying to control the minds of your children. That IS what religion does.
Post by Jim Newman
I am disgusted with Jonathon Haidt–not really, though I notice I use that term a lot more because of him. A half dozen years ago I pinned an article on the Fridge that detailed how conservatives are really naturally that way and we should accept them for who they are—but we liberals were somehow unnatural. My wife who is far more reasoned than I noted the facileness of the article. As a moral choice it just doesn’t matter whether a political position is intuitive or reasoned. A person who chooses to be gay for social or political reasons is as legitimate in their decision as one who is born gay—the genetic inclination to be gay is irrelevant to the political-moral argument of whether there should be gay tolerance. The same is true for being conservative. It just doesn’t politically-morally matter whether you’re born conservative or choose it.
I read up on his disgust studies and was disgusted. When he dissed philosophers from his research because we supposedly have a skewed view of disgust, it was clear that his own bias was getting in the way—he basically said “I want to show that people are intuitively disgusted at certain things, if not the same things, and I am going to exclude this group of people from the conclusion because they don’t get disgusted the way they should.”
Aside from my philosophy of studying and understanding all people and things in the world, I had long ago decided that disgust and fear were two inclinations that got in the way of my success in the world. Fear stopped me from trying things I wanted to do as did disgust. I trained myself away from fear and disgust. Additionally, philosophy erased what xenophobia I had but then being raised by a woman, being born in another country, being raised in an educator’s environment, being raised in both urban and rural areas, and being mentored by both blue and white collar types created an acceptance and familiarity rarely attained by most,. Integration works. Capture bonding works. Inculcation works. Perhaps I am genetically inclined to diversity and pluralism as well but it was a good thing considering how I was raised.
Zimmern on the food channel has an excellent show on Bizarre Foods. The notion that we are naturally averse to varmints, insects, and squishy soft foods is fatuous at best. Anthropologists have long shown that we are attracted to foods we need to chew less and to foods that are present in our environment over time. The only reason we love cows so much is they are big, docile, and eat grass, enabling a much larger population. The irony is that psychologists have shown we are addicted to salty, bland, sugary, sour, and hot foods as well. Sugar is 50 times more addictive than cocaine; others eschew sugar for salt. Food tastes are directly related to the environment in which we evolved. Different groups evolve tastes based on geography and its prevalent and accessible flora and fauna.
The notion that we all love the smell of flowers is also not traditional for everyone. Some Native American tribes preferred the smell of rotting flesh to the sweet smell of flowers; just as some of us prefer musk and patchouli to Chanel 5; OMG don’t make me smell that crap. Salads were the innards of grass feeding animals. Any right minded aboriginal would eat the soft, squishy, and tasty guts, brains, fats, and bone marrow of an animal first. Our preference for lean meat is recent and any decent turn-of-the century farmer, rancher, or city connoisseur loved their lard, butter, and oil; olive oil was the peak of Mediterranean cuisine, whether Greek or Italian.
The next insulting, offensive bullshit Haidt spews is that liberals aren’t as moral as conservatives because we eschew loyalty and authority in favor of fairness and equality. First, this is utter bullshit. I am totally loyal to my family, friends, and philosophies. I also follow the authority of fairness and justice—to death if necessary. In times of crisis and need for expertise such as when I have no expertise and when I am in a crisis where I must follow a leader blindly I do. In the military, with green soldiers, authority reigns supreme. In situations where I don’t know shit about the subject I must suspend my own opinions to learn the subject quickly—where learning by intent observation and fully-involved absorption is necessary. Indeed when training as an EMT, (I trained as an EMT) I trusted the doctor first and then asked questions later. I also learned to squelch disgust and fear rather than accept them as good and natural, regardless of which were which and why.
Finally, conservatives I knew weren’t blindly loyal and didn’t blindly follow authority. Many of them had stories of abusive fathers to whom they stood up. Nearly all of them talked about earning respect and keeping it. Your men didn’t naturally love you because you were sergeant or boss; they learned to love you by your actions and attitudes. Their love of meritiology and respect towards seniority were both derived from the moral value of fairness, equality, and justice. It was trust over time. How is that different than liberals?
Haidt then insists that we are emotional beings that use reason to support whatever idiotic first take we have on things. Riding an elephant. Maybe he should learn to communicate with his elephant. I am reminded of the Rudyard Kipling story where he was watching the abuse of a disobedient elephant. He goes to the driver and speaks a few words. The driver speaks to the elephant, and the elephant responds immediately. Turns out the driver spoke a different language than the one in which the elephant had been trained. Elephants are highly intelligent and easily trained with respect and reward.
Humans can learn. Even in odd ways. Just exercising causes the hippocampus to grow larger and our memory to improve. Being comfortable and relaxed allows us to perform better on tests and tasks. Being educated has an ameliorating effect on xenophobia. Over and over again we see how we can train our intuitions.
Kahneman speaks of System 1 and System 2 training. Emergency and time sensitive occupations require intuitive training. Indeed, being in the groove, the zone, or the flow are all examples where we no longer need to think to do the right thing automatically. It’s true that many biases are based on the laziness of the brain and its desire to do System 1 work when System 2 work would be better–especially as society and environment gets more complex, complicated, sophisticated, and immediate. The moral-utility-virtue would not be to accept whatever immediate crap we spew but rather to ascern how to train ourselves or to allow the time and work it takes for better conclusions.
Haidt’s latest reiteration on following the sacred instead of the money is also a facile attempt to make everything religious. As if every ideology, value, closely-held-action we follow is a religious one. This is absurd. Even his beloved Durkheim seeks secular solutions to providing community. It’s not that every community is religious, it’s that most communities have these qualities, loyalty, authority, fairness, pureness, and vitality, in common. I love how Haidt disses Durkheim’s two foundations, ebullience and vitality, by excluding them—is there no happiness, no visceral joy, no feeling of sublimity in his moral view? So important to Durkheim, that he lists them separately, discerning the difference.
Yes, we all follow ideologies as shortcuts to trust, security, reputation, and recognition; and to damn near everything else we want. We live by symbolic attribution to make living possible. We simply don’t have the brain capacity to hold all of the information, and process it within reasonable time. Our consciousness would be flooded to stasis if it had to consider more than a percent, if that much, of what our bodies do.
By calling every sincerely-held ideology sacred Haidt is fiendishly supporting the Templeton Prize, which was designed to be greater than the Nobel Prize in monetary value because he felt the Nobel prize ignored the spiritual aspect. Haidt is following the sacred money and is no different than Marx and Smith who both acknowledge that material motivation in humans is prime. Is Haidt saying money is sacred, a religion–the almighty dollar is god too? By conflating sacred to all value it loses its distinction.
Finally, Haidt lambasts New Atheists as big meanies that ought to be nicer to religion. What he misses is that they do acknowledge the good aspects of religion. In the absence of psychological care, churches have had an ameliorative effect on impulse control—they have also created stress in outsiders by their exclusionary practices. In the absence of science they have provided some sort of answers that allowed people to progress—they have also held people back by not acknowledging obvious scientific facts. They have provided community in times when there was no other means of collecting—when civilization arrived, churches negated its utility and attempted to isolate its membership. Churches have provided governance when no government was present—when democratic law and order came they did not relinquish power to better governance.
New atheists have long denied that the existence of absolute good and evil as a general trait. They have also acknowledged their own enjoyment of the esthetics derived in religion—Bach, Handel, etc. They have also expressed the importance of studying religion and the bible because it is so culturally important and not just because they see it as aversion therapy. The issue is that like the digging stick, it’s purpose is now severely limited. In fact, like the Cinnabar used by Native Americans and Asians, it has been found to be noxious and prone to causing other problems—it has systemic issues–Mercury poisoning that severely shortened life. But like old time craftsmen that refuse to believe lead, asbestos, and chlorohydrocarbons are really dangerous, because they just are so dang useful, some religious people can’t change quickly enough, and scientists have to point out the dangers. Yeah, it’s beautiful, yeah, it’s dangerous, yeah, it kills.
Morality, ethics, and value all define how to live, our actions. All knowledge leads to action. It is facile to divide “ought” from “is”. Is defines what ought needs to be. In the times of Hume, this distinction helped divide knowledge from religion (how new knowledge was affecting moral values) so that scientists and rationalists could talk about their work without being called heretics and atheists, and excommunicated, jailed, or killed. The Is/Ought distinction is as pointless as the ghost in the machine dichotomy.
It is moral to do so. It is also true. It can be trusted. It makes me joyful to know something that makes my life better. It satisfies my curiosity. I am more confident. I am also humbled. These are all good things so called new atheists espouse. A philosophy, a worldview, a way of living, a path–all true. A religion? No, there’s no spiritual clap trap involved. Don’t conflate all value with religion. There’s no subnaturalism. No denial of material reality. No ghost anywhere.
Jim Newman, bright and well
www.frontiersofreason.com and www.brightpride.com