February 27, 2015
On Thursday of this week in the U.S. Senate, James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma, brought a snowball into the chamber. Inhofe, a champion climate change denier, stated that the snowball and the recent cold temperatures in Washington, D.C., proved that climate change was a hoax.
Ordinarily this would just be a laughable incident. Anyone who knows anything about climate change will tell you that is just not about global warming. The rise in temperature around the earth affects other weather patterns, resulting in worse storms like tornadoes or hurricanes or an unusual rise in snowfall and colder temperature in other areas. Or that while it was very cold on the East Coast (it is winter after all), the West Coast was actually much warmer than it supposed to be.
But Inhofe is the head of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee, which means he gets to highly influence policy about climate change. It would be like a member of the Ku Klux Klan being appointed the head of a anti-racism committee. It’s that ridiculous.
A few states over, in Kentucky, a gentleman named Ken Ham is on a ridiculous mission of his own. Mr. Ham, a New Earth apologist and a fundamentalist Christian, is building a theme park of which the central attraction will be a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark. This is not Ham’s first venture in this area as he has already constructed the Creation Museum, whose central theme is that the earth is only 6000 years old.
Like Sen. Inhofe, Ham has relentlessly attacked scientists and dismissed their findings as biased nonsense. In his view, evidence of the ancient age of the Earth or of evolution are just plots by left-wingers to undermine Christianity and society.
In Texas, there have been noisy confrontations for the past couple of years with the state’s conservative-controlled Board of Education over new science and social studies text books. Conservatives want the new textbooks to reflect what they call a more “accurate” picture of science and history. This means altering or eliminating information on evolution and climate change in science, while in social studies cutting back on lessons about the history of slavery. They even tried to eliminate the works of some founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson because his works champion a more open-minded and less religious attitude towards things like life and education.
Ordinarily this wouldn’t matter much as Texas is only one state. The problem is, however, that it is a very big state with a lot of students and a lot of textbooks. And so publishers, in order to save costs, tend to use the Texas textbooks in many other states.
Sadly, I have a limited amount of space in which I can write about these things, or else this article might stretch to dozens of different areas and examples, and tens of thousands of words.
It’s not just that a new kind of ignorance has been embraced across America by many people — it is being championed by those on the right.
Most, but not all, of this ignorance is based in conservative religious beliefs. And while it’s true America has a long history of confrontation between these religious beliefs and science, seldom has there been a time when these beliefs have more potentially disastrous long-term consequences. Unlike other Western nations where religious belief is seen as just one component of a society’s composition, in America it is often the dominant factor that decides how decisions are made.
Sometimes more liberal and progressive religious beliefs help move society in the right direction, such as with civil rights in the South during the 60s. Catholic nuns were among the most outspoken proponents of President Obama’s health care initiatives in 2009. But these days, more moderate religious voices are often drowned in a tsunami of fundamentalist religious dogma that strain to hold back American society from meaningfully addressing issues like climate change or human rights for groups like women and ethnic minorities.
But it would be a mistake to blame it all on religion. Conservative businessmen who control groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or individuals like the Koch brothers, manipulate this ignorance among their “followers” in order to maintain their prodigious cash flows. As a result they pour millions of dollars into the political campaigns of conservative politicians who champion this new ignorance. They use money to basically shout down any voice that calls for a more scientific and reasonable approach to any issue that challenges their financial interests.
“On the right, they’re pretending that our truthfulness is what’s really important to them, which ironically is not true,” John Stewart, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, said on the show recently. “What matters to the right is discrediting anything that they believe harms their side.”
In a dangerous time for America to embrace this new ignorance. As the average yearly temperatures around the globe continue to rise, as huge chunks of the Antarctic ice sheet break off because of this warming, as terrorist groups like ISIS not only killed hundreds of people but destroy centuries of cultural artifacts and historic documents in the name of religion, now more than ever we need to champion the tools of reason and scientific inquiry as the backbone of our society
Ignorance maybe bliss, but ultimately it leads down the road to perdition..
Copyright Tom Regan 2015
Contact Tom Regan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Post-script, March 2: After writing this column, it occurred to me to add that it’s not just those in the right who are guilty of falling into ‘the new age of ignorance’ paradigm, but more than a few on the left as well. Most of those who subscribe to the anti-vaxxer movement might also be found at a pro-environmentalist rally, protesting against the Gaza war, or campaigning for Democratic congressional or senatorial candidate. While those on the right, particularly at conservative news organizations like Fox “News” are championing the anti-vaccination movement supposedly based on their belief in the liberty of the individual, it really just boils down to another attack on science and reason. It’s unfortunate that those on the right or the left who choose to dismiss often overwhelming relevant science inquiry as “biased,” because it conflicts with their personal beliefs, seem to make so much more noise than those who are actually pointing in the right direction.
Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.
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