Monday, January 30, 2006

Great Question: Why Here?

Jon Margolis, writing in the Chicago Tribune, hits the nail on the head with this piece. It's a readable but fundamentally serious discussion of the cultural divides in America, and asks the important question: why does this happen here, of all places? Why would it be the United States, that most progressive of nations, whose Constitution was the flower of the Enlightenment, that rejects science and reason and takes a dive back into the Dark Ages?

He focuses on intelligent design and, of all things, hunting (you'll see), but we have the same issues in the sex-ed quarter, the lines are drawn along the same boundaries.

The problem with this piece is that I couldn't find any good place to cut it off. Usually there's some good stuff, and some junk, and I can condense an article for the blog. But here ... I just have to post the whole thing. I don't think you'll mind.
The flap over intelligent design poses a special quandary for us Americans. Our puzzlement has nothing to do with the merits of the intelligent design argument. There are none.

Instead, the question is: Why us? What is it about the United States that makes us particularly vulnerable to this particular foolishness?

It is largely an American contretemps. There are little flashes of it elsewhere, but they rarely rise to the level plaguing us here in the good old U.S. of A. Embarking on a trip to Europe recently, the head of the pro-intelligent design C.S. Lewis Society half-seriously described his destination as the "the dark continent," anti-Darwinially speaking.

Surely we are not more ignorant than foreigners. Our engineers come up with at least as many gizmos as Europeans, Asians, Canadians and South Americans. Our scientists win more than their share of prizes. Our universities attract the best and brightest from all over the world.

We do seem to be more religious than the Europeans. But there are lots of devout folks over there, and even more in Latin America, from whence come few debates over intelligent design. Besides, for a century or more, millions of devout church/synagogue/mosque-goers have found their faith untroubled by the reality of evolution.

Happily, we have a possible answer to our puzzle, courtesy of Ted Nugent, the clean-living, outspoken singer-guitarist and hunter.

A recent New York Times story described Nugent holding a bloody liver from a freshly killed deer and proclaiming: "Big bangs don't make this. God made that. Things banging don't make livers."

Forget for a moment that his outburst means nothing whatsoever. It's not the content that counts here, but the mood, which is angry and gets angrier as he proceeds: "Biodiversity is mine, environmentalism is mine. It doesn't belong to Pam Anderson."

Aha! An object for the anger, the artificially enhanced TV star who has supported People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights group that opposes hunting. What seems to excite Nugent as much as hunting--maybe more--is antagonism to anti-hunting, not just the individuals and the organizations, but the mind-set.

Nothing else accounts for the anger. After all, there is no visible anti-hunting movement. Still, some hunters become infuriated about the mere existence of anti-hunting sentiment, impotent though it may be.

In their fury, they lash out at what they perceive to be the anti-hunting subcultures, and so they oppose whatever these folks might favor. It's a visceral, tribal distaste for "them": vegetarians, suburbanites who drive hybrid cars and disdain crudeness, New Agers, folk dancers and perhaps worst of all, people who speak French, drink martinis and go to the opera (full disclosure: That's me, but I'm pro-hunting).

Consider that Nugent also doubts that global warming is real. Global warming denial is not quite as unfounded as evolution denial. But it's getting close. The most plausible explanation for it is that some people--with some justification--resent the environmentalists, scientists and others who have been sounding the alarm on climate change.

So it isn't that Americans are more ignorant than others. We're just more tribal. Or maybe it's that we have to choose our own tribes, because we aren't one.

Almost everybody in France is French, and Sweden is chock-full of Swedes. All the French speak the same language, as do all the Swedes, and so did their ancestors going back centuries. Few of them are religious, but they stay away from the same churches, Roman Catholic in France, Lutheran in Sweden. They share both religious background and religious indifference.

Americans lack common ethnicity or religion, and while most of us speak the same language, our grandparents didn't. We get to choose our tribal loyalties and hostilities. Some choose one sociopolitical subculture to join, and others to find objectionable. Whatever the objectionable guys support is to be opposed, and vice versa.

From this perspective, Nugent and his fellow advocates of intelligent design are not really ignorant. Instead, they have made a deliberate decision to embrace ignorance rather than agree with people they find obnoxious.

Those people can, in fact, be obnoxious and sometimes base their own political opinions on their distaste for, well, people who are crude and go hunting.

So it isn't just that Americans are more tribal; we're also more childish. Well, maybe we'll evolve. Everything does, you know. Tribal America defends right to ignore facts

This kind of tribal explanation would explain why facts have been so unimportant in the discussion over our Montgomery County health curriculum. It has never really mattered what the curriculum actually taught, it only mattered that it was evil and undermined good family values -- well, it didn't matter that it didn't really do that, but it was sufficient to be able to say it did. The MCPS curriculum was a territory that was raided by outlying radicals, its ownership to be a symbol of the tribal victory of the Tribe from the Hinterland.

Sorry that didn't work out.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 30, 2006 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post shows how far the liberal left will go to rationalize two facts that are very inconvenient when put together.

1. The U.S. has the strogest group of Christian believers in the world

2. The U.S. is a leader in technological progress

The left keeps claiming that because the majority of Americans don't believe in evolution and believe in a supernatural and sovereign God, we will fall behind other nations. Yet, we've always believed in these things and look where we are. The materialists have to make something up to save face. Reality presents a problem to them. It must be all tribal.

January 30, 2006 2:02 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Anon

I am deleting your article. It was too long, and it is better to post a link to something like that. Readers can find the article HERE.

That article was not peer-reviewed. The editorial board of the journal that published it issued a statement repudiating the article and admitting it was not peer-reviewed. It turns out that Richard Sternberg, an editor for the journal, let the paper slip through the process without review, because he favored "intelligent design" himself.

This is a well known fraud, and you should be ashamed of yourself for cluttering up our blog site with it.

As far as rambling statements about "the left" and what they do and don't say, that has no place here. It just makes you look even more like a paranoid schizophrenic.

JimK

January 30, 2006 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The editorial board of the journal that published it issued a statement repudiating the article and admitting it was not peer-reviewed."

Got a source or a link?

January 30, 2006 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As far as rambling statements about "the left" and what they do and don't say, that has no place here. It just makes you look even more like a paranoid schizophrenic."

Strange statement coming from someone who has so many meditations on the right wing conspiracy.

January 30, 2006 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

""The editorial board of the journal that published it issued a statement repudiating the article and admitting it was not peer-reviewed."

Got a source or a link? "

Never mind. Found it.

January 30, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

>1. The U.S. has the strogest group of Christian believers in the world

2. The U.S. is a leader in technological progress<

Really? The U.S. has the "strongest" group of Christian believers in the world? What's your reference for that?

I also don't believe that the AAAS or AMA categorize their members by religion, nor especially by denomination or depth of their beliefs. I have trouble saying that we're a technological leader because we have separation of church and state. Whenthe nazis threw out their Jews from Germany, they became a backwater and second-rate technological power. When the U.S. accepted them, they became first-rate and won the war to boot.

Now, are some of those Jewish Nobel laureates believers? Sure. Traditional believers? Maybe, though less likely. But Jews have learned to compartmentalize and to view the world through metaphor, unlike many Christian fundamentalists. An orthodox Jew can quite easily be a molecular biologist; a Christian literalist would have much tougher time. As for the Muslims, I haven't a clue, but there hasn't been any Muslim science for 800 years now.

So the point is that if people can manage to keep their faith to themselves, which is "the American way," then we'll do fine. Teach the facts in school, teach all the dogma and myth and morals in church, and things will work out. Start imposing that religious stuff on the rest of us, and I think you'll discover just how few of you there really are. And, remember, the entire Bill of Rights applies to all of us, not just Ted Nugent.

January 30, 2006 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mock my rambling statements about the left if you will. The guy that wrote the column that Jim posted also writes for The American Prospect magazine. It has an agenda and it's not objectivity. Here's their won description of their agenda:

"The American Prospect was founded in 1990 as an authoritative magazine of liberal ideas, committed to a just society, an enriched democracy, and effective liberal politics.

Our mission, simply put, is to rise to the momentous occasion that confronts all Americans who seek a just society built on our greatest traditions. Contemporary conservatism stands to thwart those traditions. It is our mission to expose that agenda and the lies that support it.

Rising to our historical occasion also means reviving and rebuilding liberalism, renewing its connections both to American history and to people's lives in the 21st century, and giving progressive political leaders the weapons they need for battle. Through dogged reporting, cool analysis, witty commentary and passionate argument, the Prospect strives to beat back the right wing and to build a majority of true patriots who understand what really makes America great."

January 30, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

I didn't "mock" your statements, I challenged them. I don't believe the US has the strongest group of Christian believers in the world, only the most obtrusive and obnoxious. And that's a relatively new phenomenon in my lifetime.

Uou can believe in your God or not, it's of little matter. And you can believe in the flat earth or creationism for that matter, too, without it having an impact. It's when you stick your nose into the facts that it becomes a problem. When you dare to write a law that would permit physicians to pick and choose their patients, then you have a very serious problem. I do not believe the US would survive such a state of affairs intact. Which, as I've already suggested, would probably be for the best.

January 30, 2006 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for publishing the
magazine's mission statement, A.
I just bought a brand new
subscription!

:)

January 30, 2006 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I didn't "mock" your statements"

Dr Beyer, I wasn't referring to you. I was referring to this statement by Jim:

"As far as rambling statements about "the left" and what they do and don't say, that has no place here."

Unless I directly address you, you may assume I'm not.

January 31, 2006 9:20 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Thank you, but since you guys still don't identify yourselves, it gets kinda confusing.

How about one of you becomes Peter, and the other Paul?

January 31, 2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

The majority of Americans don't believe in evolution- is there a cite for this? I dobut it- unless it was Pat Robertson who heard it somewhere.

January 31, 2006 7:55 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Here it is: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/10/22/opinion/polls/main965223.shtml

Pretty shameful, I'd say.

January 31, 2006 8:40 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jon Margolis writes,

"Almost everybody in France is French"...

Orin Ryssman replies,

WHAT?!!! Where has this writer been? Approximately 1/5 of the population of France self-identifies as Muslim, not French. And this has the native French concerned to no small degree, hence the restrictions on religious outer wear that was clearly targeted at Muslims.

This is a basic fact, no? And it is clear that this writer got this fact wrong, no?

Frankly I do not get worked up about Evolution, or "Intelligent Design", though I do think the battle between the two now is largely the result of the Culture Wars.

Margolis writes,

"We do seem to be more religious than the Europeans. But there are lots of devout folks over there..."

We do "seem"? Good grief, again I wonder if this writer has bothered to truly understand the subject he is writing on. Christianity is DEAD in western Europe; yes, there are pockets of holdouts here and there, but for the most part religion is dead in faith and practice (though not in mere emotional sentiment, hence the large public gatherings when the Pope shows...question is this: do these same people take any sort of authoritative direction for their lives from the church they claim to belong to?...with a native population that is imploding on scale with the Black Plague, the answer is all too clear).

What these two errors suggest is that I should consider the remaining assertions by Margolis with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Orin Ryssman
Fort Collins

February 02, 2006 8:51 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

Dana, thanks for the cite- but the story is confusing since it cites 67% for believing in both God and evolution. And as you know, I personally believe in the FSM creation story. Forget my anthro/archeology degrees and working for 20 years with scientists-I was touched by the Noodly Appendage and saw the truth.

As a true Pastafarian, I need to go now and make farfalle for supper.

February 03, 2006 3:57 PM  

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