Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Scientists, Republicans and Democracy

A 2009 study of US scientists by the Pew Research Center found that:

  1. 6 percent consider themselves Republicans
  2. 55 percent consider themselves Democrats
  3. 39 percent consider themselves independent
  4. 9 percent consider themselves conservative
  5. 66 percent consider themselves liberal or very liberal.

It seems scientists have no affection for conservatives and Republicans, perhaps a good reason why Republicans are now the anti-science party. Or maybe scientists simply reject Republicans because they are anti-science (Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science). Science denial today is more pronounced on the political right, which, unlike the center-left is far more likely to question climate change, evolutionary theory, and biomedicine.

One reason for the latter is that Republicans now depend upon fundamentalist Christians in the South and the Midwest to get elected at all, and this means they have to pander to biblicist posturing on creation and evolution. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that highly intelligent, educated people reject religion as childish and unreasonable. As our leading scientists are necessarily intelligent and educated—quite unlike far too many Republican candidates for high and even presidential office—they are not likely to be impressed by those who think Bronze Age myths deserve more respect than modern science.

Washington is a magnet for unprincipled spinesless worms keen only on their own political and financial progress, and not on serving the people, or doing so only to the extent that they will benefit somewhat incidentally from doing so. Such men get their rewards from the mega rich whose wealth bankrolls the party, and put themselves in a position to receive them by pandering to the lowest common denominator of their electorate.

We are seeing what J S Mill, in a work much admired by right wing libertarians (Liberty) feared most of all, the oppression of the minority by the majority—the dictatorship of popular opinion. The right wing media feed the intolerant dogmata of the ignorant and their representatives by forcing into prominence false “controversy” on supposedly liberal grounds. Needless to say, Mill was against such false liberalism. Feeding false ideas to suppress true ones is not liberal, it is fascist. It is the “Big Lie” method of the Nazi propagandists.

Fascism is elitism, and elitism never supported democracy and liberalism. When the elite has all the money, it has all the power. In particular it owns the media, and so controls popular opinion, controls the financial apparatus, and controls where the jobs are. If the media cannot fool enough people, the banks and corporations will destroy their lives, by foreclosing on their homes, or by shipping their local factory somewhere else, often not even in the USA.

Liberty is expressed metaphorically as letting a thousand flowers bloom, not covering every acre with the same monocultured plant. Liberty is tolerating a plethora of views, not forcing one, usually wrong one, on to everybody, like it or not. That is the theocracy that the fundamentalists aim for, and the wealthy elite will gladly go along with it, if it means they keep their wealth and power.

Scientists are among those who can be relied upon generally to see what is going on, and to question it. The professional bodies of scientists ought to be standing candidates for office. They can aim to, at least, set a high intellectual and moral standard for candidates. If the electorate rejects them, it deserves what it gets.

The British Labour Party in 1931 put in its election manifesto that the electors had before them the choice to plan their economy or to perish. Hugh Dalton, a Labor minister, wrote:

By a majority of two to one they voted for perishing.

In the next twenty years under the victorious right wing government, the depression continued and led into WWII. Today, Americans have a similar choice. To get and preserve a liberal society, you do not vote libertarian, you vote liberal.

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