The Age of Anti-Intellectualism: Facts Are Officially Obsolete

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These are plague years in America. The pestilence is as far-flung as any that ravaged Europe centuries ago – and potentially just as deadly. It’s not an affliction of the body, but of the mind. And unlike other diseases, the afflicted do not run from it or try to heal it; on the contrary, they embrace it wholeheartedly.

It isn’t stupidity; many of its victims are bright enough. It isn’t ignorance. Ignorance is simply an absence of knowledge; but this disease, anti-intellectualism, entails a willful avoidance of knowledge and a substitute of anti-knowledge. It isn’t just that many people no longer can distinguish between reality and fantasy; they no longer even have any concern that the distinction exists.

Half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism, 30 percent believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks, 30 percent don’t know what year 9-11 occurred in, 5 percent don’t know the DATE 9-11 occurred on (seriously), 30 percent of Democrats believe George W. Bush was behind the 9-11 attacks, 30 percent of Republicans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, 20 percent of Americans doubt that the moon landing actually occurred, 25 percent don’t know what country the U.S. won its independence from (many say it was China), 37 percent believe that climate change is a hoax, 35 percent believe that homosexuality is a choice, 25 percent don’t believe in evolution, 25 percent believe the sun revolves around the earth, and 71 percent don’t know where the Pacific Ocean is. (These percentages may vary from survey to survey, but the high insanity quotient is a constant.)

We have reached the point in American history at which facts officially have become obsolete. The corner officially was turned with the election of Donald J. Trump, a man who literally lies more often than he tells the truth.

Mind you, the plague is not of a solely political nature. And it has been incubating for quite a while. But its inception point arguably can be traced to another presidential election, and the apotheosis of another delusional demagogue: Ronald Reagan.

The Gipper was a prolific fibber even in a field proverbial for prevarication (though he pales beside Trump). Yet his admirers extol him as a “strong leader” of impeccable honesty and “character”. Why? One reason is that Reaganauts, like Trumpsters, are individuals who are willing and even eager to be deceived. In Reagan’s case, however, we also must give credit where it is due: he was a highly skilled liar, an acumen no doubt honed by his years in Hollywood. But there’s another, more chilling factor: he seems actually to have believed his own lies. His habit of recounting movie episodes as if they were real-life anecdotes apparently stems from his own confusion of one for the other.

When he claimed, more than once, that he filmed the liberation of prisoners from Nazi concentration camps (he never made it out of California during the war), he gave the impression that he had vivid memories of the fictional incident, and even offered to show nonexistent film he’d shot. Hell, he probably even suffered from PTSD from firing the camera. 

He lied repeatedly about selling weapons to a hostile nation and then using the proceeds to fund drug-running terrorists in Central America. Then, after denying he’d sold the weapons, he insisted that all the weapons he didn’t sell would have fit on the back of a small truck. He didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy, and neither did his fawning fans.

In fact, inspired by his highly successful rape of reality, they began doing for the media what Reagan had done for government – Rush Limbaugh was one of the earliest to jump on the bandwagon and is still going strong, churning out an endless stream of toxic falsehoods attacking The Others. Eventually the movement gave us Fox “News”, which for the past two decades has been feeding suggestible viewers an alternate reality around the clock. These folks know that the public will not bother to do any fact checking if you tell them what they want to hear and appeal to their emotions. 

We now have a society in which any belief or opinion, no matter how kooky, is considered on equal footing (at least) with solid fact; and all you have to do is say “I disagree” to make an unpleasant fact vanish is a wisp of smoke.

This has been going on for some time. But now, anti-intellectualism is officially national policy. It’s going to have a figurehead in the Oval Office. It’s going to have a high priest with his finger on the button. We came very close to this situation before with the “election” of George W. Bush — a man who spoke in an incoherent flux of grotesquely mangled English, and didn’t know the respective duties of the three branches of federal government, or that Social Security is a federal program.

Now we’ve gone full-throttle, officially decreeing that knowledge is not only unnecessary but a handicap. The U.S. has elected a president who rarely if ever reads, has no government experience, has no knowledge of the Constitution or government policy, and whose only legal experience is in suing and being sued at least 4000 times. The U.S. is going to have a president who obtains a large portion of his “information” about the world from the loony conspiracy theories of Alex Jones, which he repeats more or less verbatim.

Jones, in case you’re not familiar with him, has suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged; that 9-11 was an inside job; that airplanes use chemtrails to spread “weaponized flu”; that the government is using fluoride to control our minds; that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton smell like sulfur because they are possessed by demons; that Michelle Obama is a man; that juice boxes are engineered to make children gay; that Justin Bieber is planning to create a police state by brainwashing kids; and that the world is being controlled by lizards from another planet.

Trump was parroting Jones when he declared that Barack Obama is a Kenyan; that thousands of Muslims cheered in the streets on 9-11; that Clinton used drugs prior to a debate; that Antonin Scalia was murdered; that vaccines cause autism; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; and that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

Does any of this bother Trump’s supporters? Why should it? After all, there must be something fishy about Hillary’s emails.

I just heard the umpteenth one of them say that Trump won the popular vote. Thanks to the miracle of Google, it would take only a few seconds to find out who really won. But why should they bother when their illusions are so comfortable?

And how many times have you heard them say that Clinton was responsible for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi? It would only take a few minutes online to learn that a highly partisan investigation spent months and millions trying to find evidence of some blunder by Clinton or Obama with regard to Benghazi; but in the end they were forced to admit that the administration acted properly and made no mistakes. Even Fox “News” reported as much, for Christ’s sweet sake. But millions of people would prefer to believe the lie.

Throughout the excruciatingly long campaign season, Trumpsters bombarded Facebook with bogus stories supporting Trump — or more precisely declaring that “Hillary’s a crook”. Many of these stories were concocted by teenagers in Macedonia who had no interest in Trump or the election or the U.S of A. They just wanted to make money. And they did — a ton of it. Some of them tried circulating fake stories promoting Clinton and Sanders, but they discovered that Trump was much more of a cash cow — which is to say, his supporters were much more gullible and misinformed.

A large number of Trump voters call themselves “pro-life” – a smug euphemism for “I believe abortion will go away if I sweep it under the rug”. It’s their hope and dream that Donald Trump will keep at least one of his campaign pledges and do what he can to make abortion illegal again. They choose to bury the harsh reality (as many did pre-Roe) that outlawing abortion just means that many women and girls will die horrible deaths from back alley procedures. And it’s entirely possible that some of them will be loved ones of “pro-life” voters.

And there’s another grim consequence of bubble-dwelling that is not only possible but absolutely certain. Trump has declared that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (yet another nutty notion he cribbed from Jones) and this greatly appealed to voters whose favorite subject is not science. But we cannot ignore climate change forever; in the very near future, its effects are going to become so devastating that they will demand to be acknowledged. And that day probably will be hastened by the actions of Trump and company.

In the meantime, the denizens of alternate reality will keep on reveling in their plague, and turning their backs on the facts. Until the day comes when some pesky fact sneaks around and cures them by kicking them squarely in the nuts.

The Standardized Red Herrings of Homophobia

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If you have gay-hating friends or relatives (and who doesn’t) or if you’ve been exposed to the mindless prattling of media cesspools like Fox “News” (and if there’s any way to avoid it, please let us know), then it’s almost certain that at some time or other (and probably more than once) you’ve heard something very similar to this:

I’m sickandtired of gays ramming their lifestyle down my throat. They’re a small minority, and they’ve chosen to be the way they are. They shouldn’t have any special rights.

This is a very standardized comment, as if those using it had learned it at some kind of special school or seminar. It consists of four separate red herrings, which may be used separately or in combination. Let’s look at each of them.

1. Ramming down my throat

Gay haters are invariably a bit vague about exactly how homosexuality is being rammed down their throats. They can’t seem to cite a single instance of someone trying to force them to marry or even sleep with a person of the same sex. What they really seem to mean by gays ramming their lifestyle down their throats is gays existing in their direction.

But suppose gays indeed were interested in ramming their “lifestyle” down people’s throats. What kind of behavior might that entail? We don’t have to search very far to answer that. There happens to be a superb illustration in the conduct of the very people who so often persecute and malign gays.

Christians have a long history of ramming down throats. Sometimes quite literally — one of the many delightful medieval treatments for “heresy” was to pour hot lead down the heretic’s throat. There, that’ll teach ’em the proper way to love God. (Heresy, by the way, wasn’t unbelief; it was belief in a slightly unapproved fashion.) But things have changed a bit since then, haven’t they? Well, sure. We have laws now against barbaric tortures. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that religious fanatics are any nicer. And it certainly doesn’t mean that religion no longer has the world — or the nation — in its grip.

Church membership, or other religious affiliation, is still the default mode, and religion is often presumed to be a yardstick for morality. Ministers perform weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage.  The official (and probably unconstitutional) motto of The United States is “In God We Trust”, which glares at us from our currency every time we make a financial transaction. Officials are sworn into office on a Bible. Witnesses in court place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth “so help you God”.

The words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge Of Allegiance, which school children are compelled to parrot every day. Christian activists tirelessly spread the blatant lie that prayer was banned from public schools, and work overtime to turn voluntary school prayer back into mandatory school prayer — which we had when I was in school not so very long ago. Religious crusaders stick the so-called Ten Commandments under people’s noses, including on government property when they can get away with it. They also vigorously (and successfully) campaign to get fundamentalist dogma inserted into science textbooks.

Christianity is promoted on billboards, on window signs, in TV spots, in Internet advertising. Proselytizers preach on TV or in the streets in an effort to convert people to the one true faith — namely their own. Sometimes they even go from door to door soul-hunting. There are entire TV networks — quite a few of them — devoted to devotion.

Prayer is injected into as many public and private events as humanly possible. When was the last time you heard of someone asking if anyone objected before praying at the dinner table? When have you ever heard of parents asking their children if they really want to go to church? Children are dragged along because it is supposed to be “good for them”, whether they have any beliefs of their own, or even understand what religion is all about. They are baptized into their parents’ religion as infants.

But enough about religion. We could go on and on, but you get the idea — the Christian culture provides a textbook model of what throat-ramming really looks like. The question is, what exactly about gay culture is any any way, shape or form comparable to any of the above?

The only possible answer is that, just as Christians have churches to assemble in, gays have certain bars. But it’s a very weak parallel. Gay bartenders don’t aggressively recruit new drinkers, telling them they’ll go to hell if they don’t come in and have a stiff belt. And they don’t ring their damn chimes at odd hours when people are trying to sleep.

2. They’re a small minority

Roughly 3 percent of the American population is either gay or bi. That’s certainly a minority, but’s it’s by no means the smallest of minorities. It’s about 6 times the number of American adults who are legally blind, for instance. So if numbers were really what mattered, then gays should be treated with 6 times as much respect as the blind.

But it isn’t really about numbers. It’s about the fact that the wielders of this red herring are confusing (deliberately?) majority rule with majority tyranny.

I happen to be part of a 10-percent minority myself: I’m left-handed. That has resulted in more forms of awkwardness than most right-handers would ever think about. Not only are most baseball gloves, guitars and books designed for right-hand dominance, but so are most pianos, scissors, can openers, and even — no fooling — kitchen knives.  No problem. I understand perfectly that in a world dominated by right-handers, most things are going to be designed for their convenience. I even realize that there is a good reason why in the game of baseball southpaws are totally barred from four positions. I’m okay with it now and I was okay with it even as a kid when I had to contend with right-handed school desks and pencil sharpeners.

What I was not okay with then and am still not okay with now is the way I was relentlessly coerced and badgered into trying to be “normal”. There is a big difference between the majority determining what the norm is and the majority trying to compel everyone to conform to it. The line between the two is not the least bit fine.

3. They chose to be the way they are

This is an all-too-common form of Christian arrogance: the presumption that cherry picking an out-of-context biblical passage that seems to support your prejudices makes you an instant expert, more knowledgeable on a particular topic than people who have studied it professionally for years –even in highly technical fields like biology, climate science and evolution.

Experts say homosexuality is NOT a choice, based on extensive biological and psychological research — though we might have come to that conclusion a lot sooner if more people had been willing to just ask gays themselves. Just about any of them will tell you that they didn’t choose it, and quite a few will tell you that they would have chosen otherwise if they could have. But of course the gay-bashers know better. They know the gays are lying. They know that they absolutely wanted to be rejected by their families, marginalized by society and harassed and beaten, sometimes to death.

Aside from being drastically wrong, the “choice” belief is drastically irrelevant. In a sense, saying that gays choose to be “the way they are” is simply saying the same thing that gays themselves say: they do choose whether or not to acknowledge their predilection, but that doesn’t mean they deliberately created it.

But does it really matter? Suppose it were true that homosexuality is chosen with as much utter volition as deciding what kind of car to drive or what flavor ice cream to eat. Whether you realize it or not, there are factors beyond your control, and probably even beyond your comprehension, that cause you to prefer a red Chevrolet to a black Ford, or strawberry to chocolate. And even if that were not the case, should people who drive red Chevrolets and eat strawberry ice cream have to live in the closet?

4. Special rights

What special rights exactly have they asked for? Do you hear gays demand to be exempt from traffic fines, or be allowed to shop half price at any store, or be allowed to vote twice, or to be bowed down to every Thursday morning?

What they want is to be able to marry whom they choose — like anyone else. They want to enjoy the full legal benefits of such unions — like anyone else. They want to be able to partake of the services of government agencies and private businesses without discrimination — like anyone else. They want to be able to live openly wherever they choose without fear — like anyone else. It is the gay-haters who are special, not the gays themselves.

When I was a child, some adults suggested that I used my left hand in order to stand out and gain attention; in reality, what I wanted was just the opposite. That’s true of most gays as well. They may attend a Pride parade to combat the years of stigma thrust upon them, but at the end of the day they want to be thought of as friends and neighbors rather than oddballs and outcasts.

It’s quite interesting — and more than a little amusing — that at the same time they’ve been insisting that homosexuality is a choice, the gay haters have also tried (successfully) to portray it as a disease, a mental disorder. Is that supposed to mean that people consciously choose their mental illnesses?  But recent research (not to mention an overwhelming weight of anecdotal evidence) strongly suggests that it is in fact homophobia and not homosexuality that is connected to mental dysfunction.

A popular quote on the topic, falsely attributed to actor Morgan Freeman, is a bit more blunt:

I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.

That’s true enough in some cases, but not always. Not all homophobes — and there is indeed a fear factor at work — are candidates for the Westboro Baptist Church. Many are, despite their virulent homophobia and perhaps other forms of bigotry, otherwise decent folks who would make good friends and neighbors to gays and transgenders, as long as they don’t know those people are gays and transgender.

But they are still folks who fall prey to ridiculous knee-jerk soundbites odiferously loaded with red herrings.