APRIL 2004

Recruiting the armies of ignorance

By H.N. Arendt
Online Journal Contributing Writer

February 24, 2004—As a scientist, the balance of forces between me and book-burning, fanatical ignorance is looking pretty bad. To be a scientist is to, above all, demand reproducible behaviors and to apply the scientific method to those behaviors. In some ways, science is like Zen Buddhism. It has methodology, not doctrine. You do things according to the method, and you get the results the method produces. Nothing more, nothing less. No value judgments, no dogmas. Just conditionally-true statements that can be modified over time as new results come in.

Science is intellectually engaging as well as productive. It produces valuable artifacts that society can use for good or for ill. To science, the world is the ultimate jigsaw puzzle. Just as with a jigsaw, you don't get to force-fit one piece if it messes up the entire picture. Some of the more prominent of those pieces include:

  1. The measurements that support the fact of plate tectonics, which has tied together such obvious physical facts as the matching of continental outlines, the commonality of species on continents that were long ago joined, and the locations of volcano and earthquake zones.
  2. The theoretical explanation called the big bang, which explains the existence of the ubiquitous microwave background radiation. We couldn't even begin to look for such radiation until we had invented microwave technology.
  3. The genetic code, which is used literally millions of times a day in the course of making products with genetically engineered bacteria, making medical diagnoses with genetic tests, and performing criminal investigations based on DNA fingerprints. Cross-species examination of such codes produces trees of species evolution and timelines for that evolution from mitochondrial mutation rates.

Why, then, do all of these well-documented facts and their excellent fit to the jigsaw puzzle of science set fundamentists teeth on edge? Because these facts dare to impugn and discredit the timeline of their ludicrously literal reading of the Bible, and because they demonstrate the ongoing inter-connectedness of all life on this planet.

The latter result raises environmentalism to a stature that does not mesh with the agendas of plundering extractive corporations who bankroll both the "junk science" apologists for ever more pollution and the junk science apologists for the lying-on-its-face Creation Science "movement."

Another sticking point with fanatics is that scientific predictions have a much higher likelihood of being true than the so-called prophetic utterances of modern-day revivalist preachers concerning the imminent end of the world. (Propaganda note: Bush's use of the word "imminent" to describe Saddam's threat was another coded message to his marching moron supporters.)

But, since this is America, where religion talks and science walks, the Georgia school commission has decided that children shall not be exposed to certain scientifically verified facts that are basic to understanding and maintaining our technologically-dependent, world-scale culture.

These ideological idiots are busy shoving the captain and crew of the ship of science overboard so they can run that ship aground in fulfillment of their pronouncements that God will sink this satanic contraption. Talk about self-fulfilling, suicidal prophecy!

And, how convenient such dumbing down is for the pillaging and polluting corporations. A scientifically-illiterate population will easily accept putting the blame for the impending environmental disasters and resource depletions on the heads of the very scientists who tried to stop them.

How convenient that the reproducibility (i.e., consistency) of their demonizing explanations of evil science is honored only in the breaches of logic that pass for thought among fundamentalists:

  • There is no objection to military scientists using genetic engineering to whip up hideous diseases.
  • There is no objection to putting dubiously-tested microwave battle stations into orbit to defend against cost-ineffective, easily tracable, and infinitesimal probability "terrorist" ICBMs.
  • There is no objection to profitable pie-in-the-sky studies that propose dumping toxic waste into descending tectonic plate edges, instead of finding far cheaper ways not to produce said toxic waste in the first place.

Why does this War on Some Science remind me of the War on Some Drug Dealers (the ones without CIA connections) and the War on Some Terrorists (the ones without CIA or Mossad connections)? This is war on those scientists who refuse to bow to the Religious Correctness Police.

Furthermore, the religious far-right is open about the fact they think of this as war. They see themselves as being in a Culture War against modernity. To them, the Enlightenment is a heresy to be stamped out. Of course, I could just as easily be referring to Afghanistan as to Atlanta. There is nothing truly Christian about such blind fanaticism, despite the fact that the history of the Catholic Church is full of witchhunts, Crusades, Inquisitions, book-burnings, and imprisonments of scientists like Galileo. Only sick people, like Mel Gibson, think Christianity is about violence.

In fact, Islamic civilization began its descent when its religious fanatics decided not to pursue Western-style science because it was not Religiously Correct. Today, the proud heritage of Islamic scholarship is in ruins, but fundamentalist fanatics there are riding high. America is starting down the same road, despite what history has taught us about the wages of ignorance.

Yet, fundamentalism wears its ignorance as a badge of faith. To fundamentalists, thinking is the work of Satan. I wouldn't object so much if these people followed their own logic. If they did, they would simply marginalize themselves like the intellectually honest Amish.

If the fundies were honest, they would have to give up the televisions and radios (whose programming is distributed via microwave relays) that spew their message of ignorance and destruction. They would have to give up the SUVs with which they mindlessly pollute the planet (using oil from fields found by applying plate tectonics). They would have to give up the hospitals (full of microwave-frequency MRI machines) and medicines (increasingly derived from genetic knowledge) that save their sorry butts from the corporate-dictated lifestyle of too much sugar, fat, and salt, plus no exercise.

But, logic is another one of those snares of the devil. So, fundies see no contradiction between decrying science while benefitting from it. Its Claude Raines and "your winnings, sir" all over again.

At bottom, the Culture War is really a Mafia-style takeover. Not just gangsters, but gangsters with family values. (The pro-choice people were on to something when they sued abortion protesters under the RICO laws.) The most rigid, patriarchal code of conduct will be imposed on society because its proponents are the most willing to resort to violence—judicial violence by a packed federal court system and the Christian KGB of John Ashcroft; economic violence by large corporations; and raw violence by "Christian" fundamentalist terrorists. This code's only values are loyalty to the Don, misogyny, and as much greed as you can get away with. Anyone who looks too smart or too different can expect to get kneecapped, just on general principles.

In a Mafia Family Values world, rigid, family-based hierarchy is a given; profiteering, extortion, and corruption-protected vice are a way of life; and any justice to be found is provided by a gun, a knife, or a garotte. (Media note: the appeal of gangster movies to angry white guys is not the violence; its the whole "the Don is King in his family" shtick.)

In an ignorant society, the schools are places where curiosity is beaten out of children so they will be obedient, repressed chattel, whose boiling anger at this repression can be directed at the millennia-old "usual suspects" of gypsies/foreigners, homosexuals, intellectuals/Jews, and feminists.

Right on cue, the Georgia school board is trying to move the Religious Correctness ball forward towards this goal—to turn our schools into backwater swamps of obfuscation and denial. And, unless I missed a lot of presidential candidates responses, the only ones willing to fight this march back to flat-earth dogmatism are the scientists themselves.

The pro-science crowd seems to get mobilized about once every 10 years, and each time, their starting position is more precarious; there are fewer well-educated people and more angry, manipulated ignoramuses. While the scientists have won battle after battle, the Armies of Ignorance are winning the recruiting battle and the war. A fanatic president [sic] is now carrying the battle to the national science establishment, appointing crackpots, religious ideologues, and corporate apparatchiks. If the science establishment loses this battle, it has lost the war.

The Georgia school board might as well put up a sign that says: Recruiting Office for the Armies of Ignorance. I mean, when you have it, flaunt it. Who is there to stop them? The rock-bottom issues of the basic neutrality of the scientific worldview and the un-constitutionality of Creation "Science" as an Establishment of Religion (or intelligent design or whatever label the GOP spin machine has manufactured today) are "too divisive" for any Democratic candidate to touch, regardless of the fact that the far right is beating them over the head with this stuff daily: partial- birth abortion bans that will kill mothers, Ten Commandments idolatry from state supreme court justices, prayer (but not plate tectonics) in the schools, and so on.

It looks like the same people who assisted Dr. Dean to give the Democratic Party a partial spine- transplant are going to have to light a nationwide fire on the growing intrusiveness of Religious Correctness in America. The fundies are going to keep pushing until someone pushes back. The corporate media seems interested in re-fighting Vietnam, not in spotlighting Religious Correctness.

So, I'm setting up my own recruiting office for the Army of Modern Science. Anyone who wants to stop these benighted lunatics from ruining American science and perverting the American Experiment in democracy into yet another obscurantist religious gulag should come down and volunteer today.

Uncle Albert (Einstein) needs you.