Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, October 23, 2017


Ariel Dorfman has an essay in NYRB which says what a lot of people are saying, but says it particularly well. Here's a key paragraph:

There has always been a disturbing strand of anti-intellectualism in American life—the very title of Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book—but never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis (despite his untested boast that his IQ is “one of the highest,” certainly higher than Obama’s and a host of other worthies’). “The experts are terrible,” Donald Trump said during his campaign. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” It is hardly surprising, then, that his administration is over-stocked with know-nothing fundamentalists. Across the board, he has appointed amateurs who are hostile to science and sport obscurantism as a badge of honor. Accordingly, the policies they have adopted are as stultifying as they are noxious.
The noxiousness takes two basic forms. One is the suppression of inquiry and the entombment of truth. Although congress hasn't gone along with all of the administration's proposals, they wanted to drastically cut funding for the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and other key government scientific resources. They have forbidden government scientists from speaking publicly and attending conferences (just today three EPA scientists were barred from a conference here in Rhode Island about Narragansett Bay, because it will include discussion of climate change); scrubbed scientific material from government web sites; and hired non-scientist cranks for scientific positions.

The other form of noxiousness is the resultant killing of people -- workers who will lose safety protections, people who breathe (I assume that includes you) and of course people who live on the planet (also including you) who will be subject to climate catastrophes.

The fact is that modern conservatism is not a socio-political philosophy. It is a set of demonstrably false beliefs. You may have heard about the cub scout who was kicked out of his den for questioning a state senator. Here is his specific sin:

“I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun,” Ames said in a question that took more than two minutes. He continued, “Why on earth would you want somebody who beats their wife to have access to a gun?” The event took place not long after the Las Vegas shooting. As part of her answer, Ms. Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, defended her position on gun ownership, saying that shootings in Las Vegas and Aurora, Colo., happened in so-called gun-free zones, and that “the more guns a society has, the less crime or murders are committed.”

No. The more guns a society has, the more crime or murders are committed. This is an empirical fact,. which you can read all about here. The U.S. already has the most firearms per capita in the world, and our gun-related murder rate is 25 times that of the other wealthy countries. Wayne LaPierre likes to say that "an armed society is a polite society." Uh huh. As the author of the linked study points out, "Offenders take into account the threat posed by their adversaries. Individuals are more likely to have lethal intent if they anticipate that their adversaries will be armed."

But as you know, federal support for public health research on firearms is forbidden. As Dorman puts it, "The administration is obstructing the collection of data and the publication and discussion of research, as if in expectation that inconvenient truths will magically melt away." It's not just the administration. It's conservatism in general. Being a conservative, being a Republican, requires believing what is just not true.


Gay Boy Bob said...

We all want the same things in life. We want freedom; we want the chance for prosperity; we want as few people suffering as possible; we want healthy children; we want to have crime-free streets. The argument is how to achieve them.

Engaging in demonization is not helpful.

I would also remind you that almost twice as many US citizens self-identify as conservatives as liberal. The sheer numbers have weight in a free and democratic society.

Gay Boy Bob said...

There are more murders per capita in many countries that have fewer firearms for the average schmoe than the US.

Russia comes to mind with about 13 million in circulation compared to 300 million in the US. They also cannot have a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds and yet the murder rate per capita is more than twice that of the US.

The Bahamas is rich, has fewer guns per capita and also highly restrictive gun laws, but has a much higher murder rate per capita.

There are many other factors that need to be considered before ham handedly declaring that the existence of guns is the sole problem.

Using broad statistics and pointing to only one variable while holding for all others is an argument designed to deceive.

Don Quixote said...

Gay Boy Bob cites "broad statistics" to cite Cervantes's intent to "deceive."

Gay Boy Bob: It's cool to be gay. It's cool to be Bob. It's cool to be you. But you just don't get "it." It's not cool to accuse a highly educated person who's used statistics to point out a definite trend of trying to "deceive." It's like saying--which I think you've also done--that when 500 studies show global warming is real, and exacerbated by humans--and two studies purport to dispute it--that the 500 studies are "deceitful"!

And "ham-handed" is hyphenated.

You are a willfully ignorant man.

Don Quixote said...

PS: A general note here...

It is incredible how many humans on this planet are asleep. This is not my idea, of course...just listen to Anthony DeMello, or any other great thinker. There are an astounding number of people on Earth, like Gay Boy Bob, who basically just see what they want to see--and nothing else--even when they are standing right in front of something else. Their human brains are in denial and they spout deceits and outright lies because what they see doesn't agree with their false version of reality. Were people like this born asleep? Or did they "go to sleep" at some point? Who knows?

But there's nothing short of personal suffering that can alter these people's brains.

So the libelous Fox propaganda network tramples on truth, like a bull in an ant colony, and people like Antonin Scalia chose to listen to it. The lies suit their false version of reality. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr would say, "And so it goes." And a man like Trump--whom Louis C. K. presciently identified as an insane bigot--could kill his own child and eat him with a Bechamel sauce, and people like Gay Boy Bob would say, "Hey, he was hungry! Don't condemn him for not using Worcestershire sauce."

People like Trump and GBB don't just dispute the true problems--they don't even know there is any problem because they're asking all the wrong questions. And the one common thread these people have is that, while they're not stupid, they are, by definition, willfully ignorant. They look at their toes and insist that they are lug nuts and nothing can convince them otherwise. And they go on and on about it because their denial feeds on active mendacity.

Don Quixote said...

One more PS: It is ironic that GBB chooses to spout off on a blog entry entitled "Truth"! Modern so-called conservatives believe--as Cervantes's post pointed out--that truth is relative. Any truth, whether or not it is scientifically confirmed.

As Cervantes wrote, "Being a conservative, being a Republican, requires believing what is just not true." This is what happened when, this week, a conservative congresswoman averred--when answering a Cub Scout query about wife abusers being given gun permits--that more guns make people safer.

It is false. Proven false. Over and over. And yet she spouts this lie. That is what modern so-called conservatives do. The big lie. Over and over.

We call this "denial." It is also called "lying."

Gay Boy Bob said...

I really wasn't accusing Cervantes of anything. I was criticizing the conclusion of the study and the inference that somehow guns seem to pull their own triggers.

There are countries that have NO GUNS that have a higher murder rate than the US. It's really all over the map.

And you're free to criticize anyone you wish and broad-brush a whole group in a negative light, although it doesn't make you look that good.

But none of that really matters because the individual's right to own guns is an explicit constitutional right as recently affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Constitutional rights don't have to be justified or explained. They're not up for grabs. That's what makes them 'rights'. This has already been litigated.

The author can infer anything they want and it still won't matter just as freedom from slavery is an explicit constitutional right and anything you say to the contrary doesn't matter either.

"Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

Cervantes said...

The politician said "“the more guns a society has, the less crime or murders are committed.” That is demonstrably false. While there is not a monotonic relationship, the trend is for more guns to be associated with more murders. You did not answer that proposition.

Whether more people label themselves as conservatives than as democrats is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of their respective beliefs.

The Second Amendment reads "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." This referred to an institution which existed at in 1789 which is now the National Guard. So yeah, I have read it.

Don Quixote said...

Nice to know I'm not the only person wasting my time and breath on GBB.

mojrim said...

You both know that correlation does not imply causation. More, causation may be involved but the arrow points the other way. Comparing different countries, states, and nations in a simple linear regression is useless; this is sociology, not chemistry. Consider Switzerland, with 0.49 private guns vs the US 0.89 yet with the lowest homicide rate in western Europe. Consider the UK and Australian gun removal programs of 1997 - neither lowered the overall homicide rate in measurable degree.

I think it more accurate to say that americans are simply more murderous than the citizens of other developed, organized states and that we demand guns to support that. If you take them away we'll just find other methods because it's our favorite hobby.

Gay Boy Bob said...

I thought this would be relevant to the post "Truth"

A feminist professor at the University of California-Davis has vowed to “challenge the authority of Science” by “rewriting knowledge” through a feminist lens.

Sara Giordano, who left the field of neuroscience to become a Women’s Studies professor at UC-Davis, opened up about her feelings towards the sciences in a recent essay for Catalyst, a journal of feminist theory.

"We need to disrupt the epistemic authority of Science…[and] the assumption that science = truth."

Science, she worries, has “earned its epistemic authority through its co-constitution with colonization and slavery,” and therefore “relies on a colonial and racialized form of power.”

Not only is science rooted in racism, she alleges; it has been used to perpetuate racism and colonial practices.

Don Quixote said...

The United States of America was founded upon murder. Of natives, then of Africans who were imported as property (millions died in transit, to be unceremoniously dumped into the ocean as wasted cargo).

We are founded upon violence, steeped in violence, trained in violence. More than any other country on earth, we perpetrate violence each day in overt and covert war. We have finally installed in office--somehow--a party and a man who are nothing but verbally and emotionally dysfunctional and violent.