Links and Comments: The Universe; Narratives and Conservatives; PW reviews; the Right-Wing Myth

Catching up from the past week.

First, refining the Provisional Conclusions, I’ve switched the order of the first two, and of the last two. This shifts the entire list to a more positive, rather than negative, spin, I think.


Re: The Universe is Vast

Vox: 40 maps that explain outer space

The most interesting ones to me are those that reveal scale, e.g. 31 and 36.


Quote, from Louis Brandies: “Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant”. The sunlight is what those exampled in Provisional Conclusion #7 try to block.


I see more and more essays on various relatively mainstream sites (well Salon is left of mainstream, but nothing like AddictingInfo or ThinkProgress or Alternet; actually Salon seems devoting more to rabble-rousing as much as any particular ideology) about political differences in terms of ‘narratives’, just as I’ve been doing here. No doubt this is confirmation bias.

Salon: The twisted morality of climate denial: How religion and American exceptionalism are undermining our future

The general principle here is one I’ve already captured: narratives, especially the cultural narratives enshrined in religions, are so powerful that most of their adherents will go to any lengths to deflect evidence about the real world that conflicts with those narratives. (To put it another way: religions are the *best* stories humanity has ever told about itself!) That is, PC’s 7 and 8.

Key points of this essay:

Climate change challenges people’s traditional beliefs about God
…Sen. Inhofe is probably speaking for a significant number of Americans when he declares himself unwilling to accept this: “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Climate change contradicts America’s heroic image of itself
The most enduring account of ourselves as an American people, which extends nearly twice as far back in time as the founding of our nation, is that we are continually, inexorably becoming more prosperous. This mind-set seems to be how most Americans measure personal success, and what they wish for themselves and for their children. Climate change brings our ethos of continual growth up against a definitive and rather claustrophobic limit. …

Challenging the narratives. Here’s another one, a radio interview heard Sunday afternoon (while driving on the 580), about how the ‘narrative’ of Alcoholics Anonymous is mostly fiction; which is to say, the program doesn’t actually work very often. But film and TV depictions reinforce the narrative. America, the commentator says, loves the redemption narrative…

On the Media: My Name Is Hollywood And I Have A Problem


This brings us to: How to Become a Conservative in Four Embarrassing Steps. His four points:

  1. Ignore facts
  2. Make up your own facts
  3. Display no empathy for others
  4. Shout down your opponents

With many linked examples.


On a more conciliatory note, here’s another Salon essay, which like many, is an excerpt from a book.

My atheist search for God: We’re debating science and religion all wrong

Subtitle: I’m not interested in believing in God. My God has to exist, like matter and gravity. Here’s what I found

The book is A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet, to be published tomorrow.

I have not read this entire piece, but I like the last paragraph:

What I have learned is this: Having no spiritual life at all is like never really falling in love. Developing a spiritual bond with a fantasy is like falling in love with someone who will never love you back. But developing a spiritual bond with the real universe is like falling in love with someone who is already in love with you. That’s where God is.

Reality, yes, that’s what I’m interested in. But which religions are not.


I’ve mentioned before how browsing the weekly reviews at Publishers Weekly provides a great insight into what people, er, culture, er, people who write books, are writing about. Most likely I will never read these books, but the reviews themselves are informative.

Here’s a review of a book called What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action, by Per Espen Stoknes, to be published April 3rd. A Norwegian analyzing the American cultural debate about climate change.

Stoknes puts a cognitive-psychological spin on the matter at hand and differentiates among climate “skeptics,” “contrarians,” and “deniers,” distinguishing active and passive forms of denial. He also looks at evolutionary self-interest and the ways in which people can use social networks to further their goals. People like to believe their actions matter, he notes, and a solution is more likely to be implemented “when people want it, like it, love it,” not when they are guilted or shamed into it.

And then there’s a new book by Leonard Mlodinow: The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos, which will be published May 5th, and which PW gives a starred review [i.e. especially recommended].

Mlodinow’s point has been made before, but rarely so well: the quality that best distinguishes—and honors—humankind is not an ability to answer questions, but that “after millennia of effort,” nothing stops us from asking them.


And back to examination of right-wing thinking. Here’s Dan Savage responding to President Obama’s speech in Selma, this past weekend, which some are saying is “the best speech he’s ever given”. Savage:

The right-wing myth is this: Progress is impossible. It’s too risky—it’s always too risky. According to conservatives, the country and the American family are too fragile to allow women to vote, to end segregation, to treat LGBT people as equals. We are the greatest country on earth, the most powerful country on earth, a country uniquely blessed by God… but somehow we are “always one public library book away from total collapse.” The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT movement—whatever the movement, social conservatives are always running in circles with their hair on fire predicting total collapse. And they’re always wrong. Social conservatives have predicted collapse every time there was a demand for social justice, and they were always wrong. We ended segregation (which did not end racism) and the country did not collapse. The vote was granted to women (which did not end sexism) and the family did not collapse. Same-sex marriage came to 37 states (which did not end homophobia) and people didn’t start marrying their dogs.

He also describes a left-wing myth, that “There has been no progress, nothing has changed, the country is as racist, sexist, and homophobic as it ever was.” And debunks that too. (I disavow this on the basis of my PC #5.)

And finally one more, just browsed this past hour, another example of what numerous bloggers ironically tag as ‘Christian love’.

“Christian” Pastor At Mega-Chruch Calls On Gays To Be “Put To Death”

In Tennessee.

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