Links and Comments: 28 Apr 2020

One of today’s news sites links to an article about how Trump, and science-deniers in general, aren’t trying to fight science per se, but are trying to “claim the prestige of capital-s ‘Science.’”. Adam Laats at the History News Network:

Fights against science itself tend to lose, but fights for the right to call bad ideas “Science” can go on for generations. [discussion of evolution-denial] … When President Trump says his decisions will be based on a “hunch,” he is repeating the tactics of generations of creationists. It might sound at first like he is rejecting the need for scientific credentials or expertise. In fact, though, Trump is positioning himself as superior to those experts, not against them.

This reminds me of the common perception that Trump supporters don’t care that he lies all the time, that he’s an idiot, that he’s a despicable person; it’s about “owning the libs.” There’s something about a resentment of intellectuals, people who understand complicated things that others do not, that drives some people to use any means possible to win, by any disreputable means possible. A weird kind of American exceptionalism.

And another example of how resistance to established science is driven by psychology, not by evidence or reason.


Coincidentally, reviewing my notes about Fred Hoyle’s 1957 novel The Black Cloud, I see a wrote down a passage about an encounter between a Home Security official and a professor of astronomy at Cambridge, about how to deal with the investigation of an approaching interstellar dust cloud.

The two men were mentally too dissimilar for more than a half hour of conversation between them to be possible. When the Home Secretary talked, it was his aim to make those to whom he was talking to react according to some pre-arranged plan. It was irrelevant to him how he succeeded in this, so long as he succeeded. Anything was grist to the mill: flattery, the application of common-sense psychology, social pressure, the feeding of ambition, or even plain threats. For the most part like other administrators he found that arguments containing some deep-rooted emotional appeal, but couched in seemingly logical terms, were usually successful. For strict logic he had no use whatever. To Kingsley on the other hand strict logic was everything, or nearly everything.

The difference between politics and science.


A couple weeks ago the New York Times Book Review ran a review by George F. Will of Andrew Bacevich’s anthology of essays, American Conservatism. Two weeks later several letter writers responded, noting especially conservatives’ history of racism and antipathy toward civil rights. And this:

Nothing summarizes American conservatism more succinctly than its devotion to cherry-picking those intellectual arguments that reinforce its members’ preconceived notions.

Preconceived, often religiously-inspired, notions are what they’re trying to conserve, despite the evidence of the real world. You can always find Some Random Guy with a blogspot page, or some random YouTube video, to support any position. Just as you can selectively quote Bible verses to support any position you like (as Christians did in the 19th century to defend slavery).


Two op-eds from last Saturday’s NY Times.

Timothy Egan, How Republicans Became the Party of Death. Subtitle: “People are disposable. So is income. For the ‘pro-life’ party, one is more important.”

(This expands on a comment I made in a Facebook post a couple weeks ago.)

When Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas doubled down this week on prior remarks elevating commerce above life — there are “more important things than living,” he said on Fox News — he was speaking for a significant slice of his party. People are disposable. So is income. But one is more important.

All of this follows Trump’s obsession with money over human life, with markets over medicine. On Wednesday, just as the United States reported its largest daily death toll to that date, Trump tweeted: “States are safely coming back. Our Country is starting to OPEN FOR BUSINESS again.” So much for the departed.

Given that Trump is an alpha-male simpleton with no filter, it’s never difficult to find the true motive behind his tactics. As he has said, he wants all the authority and none of the responsibility. If we lose a quarter-million Americans, it’s the fault of governors running their respective shows. If the number is far less, it’s because he took charge.

When I think about how many doctors and nurses, how many cops, firefighters and other first responders, how many grocery store clerks and delivery people, how many parents and grandparents would lose their lives to get to that immunity threshold, I realize there’s only one choice.

That is: to err on the side of life. Lucky for us, most Americans already feel that way. Most Americans expect no quick fix. Most Americans are willing to be patient. And if this holds, most Americans will reject the party of death in November.

Trump’s denial of responsibility and eagerness to take credit, reminds me of … how the faithful view their God. Any bit of good fortune, like this story about a poundcake, is taken as evidence of God’s mercy. But God can never be blamed for those killed in the tornado, or those dying from coronavirus. Those are attributed to “God’s mysterious ways,” or more likely, to whatever various preachers or politicians personally dislike: abortion, the gays. (Example from Pat Robertson.)

At the same time, here’s Drew Holden’s The Lockdown Isn’t So Simple for Conservatives. (The print title was “Why Some Conservatives Resist the Lockdown.”)

One of the reasons it’s proving so difficult to organize a broad response is that the means needed to fight the coronavirus challenge basic principles of autonomy and liberty. This pandemic forces a rethinking of how our own rights may conflict with — even endanger — the well-being of others, when each of us could be an unwitting disease vector for the virus.

This last sentence is precisely the point. Going on:

This is an unpleasant thought experiment for limited-government conservatives, who center our politics on the importance of individual liberties. A lockdown runs counter to the spirit of rugged individualism that takes on near-mythic proportion in America, particularly among libertarian-minded conservatives.

But conservatives shouldn’t conflate the ephemeral necessity of collective sacrifice in pursuit of the greater good with an assault on individual freedom, particularly in moments of crisis. Not every compromise is a harbinger of tyranny.

The coronavirus pandemic, it has been said, lays bare the underlying structural problems and inequities that exist in our system. As we attempt to marshal a collective response to the virus, our own instinct to see the world through only our own eyes presents yet another impediment that we must confront together.

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