Links and Comments: Trump and His Supporters; Versions of Leviticus; Ancient Aliens, Skepticism, and What Science Fiction Is Not

I’ve been preoccupied with other matters in recent months, and need to resume regular posting of Links and Comments from things I see in the papers and magazines that I think are pertinent, in one way or another. If I rail about Trump, it’s not about him precisely, it’s because he represents a shift in the United States’ position in the world, not for the better, and thus a stage of human history some thinkers thought we had moved beyond; and because he exhibits so many traits of authoritarian autocrats before him, demonstrating that some people can be fooled all of the time, and as a society we are still unable to learn from history.

New York Times, 20 July: Timothy Egan: Blame the 400-Pound Guy

Wishing for supporters of Donald Trump to find their hearts, their brains or their patriotism is a fool’s errand. We are, as the president has said many times, “a stupid country,” and every day of this presidency proves his point.

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New York Times, 20 July: Frank Bruni: Disgusted With Donald Trump? Do This

By which he means vote. Key thought:

That’s because they read polls, including an astonishing one that SurveyMonkey just did for Axios. It revealed that 79 percent of Republicans approved of Trump’s sycophantic performance at the news conference with Vladimir Putin, while 85 percent deem the investigation of Russian intrusion into our elections a distraction. They bear less and less resemblance to the followers of a coherent ideology and more and more to the members of a cult. That word is gaining currency in our political discourse for excellent reason.

Cult.

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New York Times, 21 July: The Secret History of Leviticus, by Biblical scholar Idan Dershowitz.

As I argue in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men. In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible.

Of course what any version of Leviticus said or did not say should be irrelevant in today’s world. Except that for some people, for whom the ancients were wiser than any people living today could ever be, and who don’t actually believe that our government is based on a constitution and not a holy book, apparently it matters.

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New York Times: 21 July: Suspicious Minds: Mingling with wariness and wonder at a conference devoted to “Ancient Aliens.”

It should not need to be said, yet probably does, that this kind of thing — belief in ancient astronauts, conspiracy theories about Area 51, and the like — is antithetical to science fiction, which is more aligned with science and its inherent skepticism, than with the gullibility and wish-fulfillment of the crowds at events like this.

Carl Sagan, the popular scientist who captivated television audiences of the 1970s and ’80s, once said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

But Mr. Sagan has been dead for years, and many Americans of the internet age have been in a mood to challenge established ideas. There has been a resurgence of the flat-earth theory. More than a few believe that global warming is a hoax, that survivors of mass shootings are crisis actors.

Yet for many at the conference, and elsewhere, this is not simply a political divide. We now know that the history that had been taught for years excluded the experiences of so many (African-Americans, women, the working poor). What else had been left out? Trust in the government and leaders who could set it all straight is historically low.

And there are so many people ready to believe that aliens visited Earth before recorded history that some 10,000 attendees paid to visit this conference over three days.

To be clear: skepticism is not cynicism. Skepticism is being savvy about what is known and established, and to avoid being gullible, given the understanding of human motivations toward in wishing false things to be so.

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