Saturday, November 3, 2012


One of the stereotypical features of the American political left is a disdain for the intellect of the American political right. The comments around the Huffington Post story "Most Republicans Believe In Demon Possession, Less Than Half Believe In Climate Change: Report" illustrate this nicely. Charges of "intellectual laziness," fears of "slipping back into the Dark Ages" and interjections of "Yikes!" are prominent in the comments section that follows the peice.

But what often appears to be a level of intellectual snobbery masks a fear of being marginalized, just as the moral snobbery of the right does. But it's also indicative of a certain ignorance of how others think.

If the headline started with "Most Republicans Think Divine Miracles Are Real" the likely response would have been "and what else is new?" An overwhelming number of Americans are self-proclaimed Christians, and a belief that God can directly intervene in Earthly affairs is more or less an article of that faith. Reading the Bible (no matter which version one chooses) reveals stories of both God creating miracles and demons possessing people. After all, there are several stories of Jesus going around casting demons out of people and animals. So, if you believe that Jesus could feed a multitude of people with a handful of fish and loaves of bread, why should the idea that demons can possess people be out of bounds? After all, from the perspective of science, neither scenario is particularly plausible. While the left often complains that religious conservatives are selective about the parts of the Bible they want to believe in, the issue isn't the cherry-picking - it's that the left wants the right to pick the same religiously-progressive cherries they do, believing that their cutting-room edits to the Bible are self-evident.

As for climate change, climate denial is a better thing than one might think it is - as it indicates acceptance of the underlying assumption that if human activities are disrupting the climate, then the people doing the disrupting have an obligation to stop. If the Huffington Post headline had read "Less Than Half Believe Climate Change Is Worth Giving A Crap About" then, perhaps the left would have reason to be worried, as there would a large constituency for simply allowing disastrous consequences to occur. The current stance of the political right on anthropogenic global climate change is primarily an ideological one, designed to avoid the economic disruption (i.e., lowered standards of living) that would come from a rapid push to eliminate fossil fuels over a relatively short timeframe, and the (likely correct) belief that emerging economies would blow off any efforts in that area in the name of protecting their own economies. Find a way to blame climate change on China and India, and set American firms up to make billions in profits by halting it, and Republicans would be on board.

And it isn't as if Democrats are believers in the ironclad correctness of "science." When NPR's Planet Money blog ran a story (with a suitably catchy, yet bogus, headline) on the fact that economists think that rules against price gouging aren't a good thing, it didn't take long for one commenter to opine that economists are "brain damaged," and for another to claim that the economists surveyed valued free markets over people's lives. So the idea that proper science is that which agrees with one's predefined worldview is not limited to either side.

In the end, both sides refer to the other as stupid because it easier than understanding where the other is coming from, and it justifies fantasizing about (or action on) limiting enfranchisement to only those who are "right thinking" enough to vote "correctly." Neither of these are particularly worthwhile.

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