Friday, September 26, 2008
Just The Facts
When I look out my window, I see Puget Sound. Looking up, I see a gray and spongy sky. To my left is an enormous maple tree, its leaves portending the arrival of fall; to my right, a grand (if a little wind-beaten) cedar. I believe with certainty mitigated only by metaphysics, that were you to drop by, you'd see the same things.
It is with exactly the same certainty that I recognize Sarah Palin as surpassingly unqualified to be a national leader. It is no less clear to me that John McCain's latest look-at-me-I'm-a-hero stunt was pure politics; theater of the absurd; designed to deflect and distract. So it's nearly beyond comprehension that some see those facts differently. (I'd allow a little more slack on the McCain maneuver, because the situation is so complex and fraught. Still, it seems there was near agreement that agreement was near; then he buzzed in and things fell apart. And the preceding link is from a very conservative guy.)
So I come back to science (funny thing: I started this blog to save myself from polluting my medical one, but it seems there really is overlap!): studies showing differences between the actual makeup of liberals and conservatives. Our brains are different. And we react differently to facts.
Fascinating this may be, but it bodes ill.
In the founding days of this country, it was all upside. Prodigious and profoundly intellectual arguments took place in shaping The Constitution, and workable compromises were found. But somehow, as great and nearly inexplicably brilliant as those people were, I see it as less difficult than what's being faced today. The founders were farmers, basically, starting with nothing. It was all ahead of them, and there'd be time for correction, fine-tuning, making it up as they went along; based on thoughtful consideration of what had preceded them, they had clay in their hands. Lives were at stake, all right, but not the very survival of the planet. Were they to fail, they'd not have humanity on their hands.
Not so, today.
First of all, our politicians are nearly universally idiots. They are, in fact, chosen precisely for that quality, most especially those in the House of Representatives. Districts have been so gerrymandered that only the most partisan of either party will be elected. To the extent that there are people of wisdom in the capitol, they are mostly in the Senate, where such partisan hackery is less built-in. But, of course, there are conservatives and liberals; which means there are evidently fundamentally different ways of looking at data. Nor is it limited to Washington.
People who seem able, implicitly at least, to accept the physics behind nuclear power, reject the same math when it comes to the age of the Earth. Some think it literally true that a guy lived inside a fish for several days. Others are willing -- happy -- to kill themselves just for the pleasure of knowing they've killed others with whose beliefs they disagree. Nasty people take to the airwaves, spewing hatred and bigotry, claiming as fact things easily -- and already -- disproved. Listeners tune in and vibrate with pleasure, endorphins flowing from their grateful brains. Discourse, of the sort seen in Philadelphia centuries ago, is replaced by stunts, self-interest, and deceit. While the future of this country and the world breathtakingly teeter -- the economy, deficits, pollution, war, nuclear holocaust, climate change -- our leaders stake out diametric positions, sure of their own rightness, unwilling to compromise. And we cheer them on. The filthier, the more off-topic, the more dismissive and hate-filled, the better. The fewer the facts, the happier it makes (some of) us.*
I don't deny that, were anyone listening, I'd be fanning the fire much of the time. And the reason is simple: I look at what's going on and see fact as surely as I see out my window. John McCain is a self-aggrandizing and dangerously impulsive drama queen who needs (my explanatory theory may be upcoming) to be the center of attention and who is incapable of deep thought. His choice of Sarah Palin and his sudden crisis-mode (and quickly reversed) "campaign suspension" that never happened and vacuous meddling in D.C. are merely the most recent data points from which the conclusion is to be drawn. I can understand disagreements on the role of government, on entitlements, the war(s); I have misgivings about taxes and spending on both sides. But on McCain, and Palin, I simply can't fathom disagreement. It's just the facts, for all to see.
*Amazing. As if to underline the central thesis of this post, McCain already has ads up announcing he won the debate, before the debate has occurred! Laugh, cry? Tell me: I'll do it.