12 October 2007

On the fringes

One of the things that alarms me about the right wing in America is a propensity for reality-denial. I'm not talking about issues like the Iraq war or trade policy or abortion, where there are differences of opinion (albeit huge ones). I mean flat-out refusal to recognize clearly-established facts, like evolution or anthropogenic global warming. Mere evidence, it seems, counts for little against the weight of ideology and traditional religious belief. We don't want to believe it, or it would be inconsistent with our world-view to believe it, therefore it is not true.

But, one might object, isn't the left guilty of equal absurdities? What about the September 11 conspiracy theories, or the claims that the Bush administration is "fascist" or even comparable to the Nazi regime (not only ridiculous but seriously offensive to anyone who actually knows anything about the Nazis)? Isn't that equally alarming, and equally dangerous?

No, it isn't, and here's why.

The left's lunatic-fringe ideas are confined to the fringe. We don't see, for example, any serious Democratic Presidential candidate saying things like "9/11 was an inside job" or comparing Bush to Hitler. Democratic control of the government would certainly lead to the ascendance of policies which are deeply unpopular in some circles, but it would not bring people who live and function in a self-created imaginary world into the center of power.

The right's lunatic-fringe ideas are not confined to the fringe. Several Republican Presidential candidates, and at least one President, have stated flatly that they don't believe in evolution, which is really no less ridiculous than saying one believes the Earth is flat. And we've all seen how the current administration resisted accepting the reality of anthropogenic global warming -- a major threat to the world -- for years after it became a consensus among climate scientists and was acknowledged as such by the governments of most of the world's other developed countries.

Reality-denial has even become something close to an explicit ideological stance in a "faith-based" administration where gut instinct is privileged over mere facts and knowledge. Its clearest expression was this now-notorious passage (from the linked article) quoting a Bush "senior adviser", widely believed to have been Karl Rove:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reali-ty.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

There have always been people who believe that reality works this way, but they are traditionally found in small locked rooms with rubber wallpaper, not in the corridors of power.



Blogger BlackSun said...

That Rove quote is one of the scariest things ever. But it stands to reason, because we've seen the results playing out for years.

Your point about the looney-left being less mainstream than the looney-right is well taken. But I wouldn't even consider the 9/11 conspiracy freaks a part of the looney-left. They are in a special category. Can you really call the people who rant about "9/11 was an inside job" or "black helicopters" conservative OR liberal? In my view, conspiracy freaks don't have enough of a grasp of politics to even lay claim to an ideologically-based position. They have no clue how the world works, and have been consumed by their fear of the unknown. Which makes them just insane, period.

12 October, 2007 10:03  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

That's a good point. The 9/11 conspiracy claims I've seen have, in practice, usually come from left-wingers; I think that to them it's the ultimate form of Bush-bashing. But it does sort of blur into the kind of people who think it's all part of the Illuminati-Trilateralist-Jewish plot they hear about in the radio broadcasts from Neptune which they pick up in their teeth fillings.

Extremists of whatever sort tend to have more in common with their counterparts across the ideological divide than they do with the middle (the regimes of Hitler and Stalin were much more similar to each other than either of them was to a moderate liberal or conservative government, for example).

I don't really identify with the right or the left myself, but I'll be happier when people whose thinking is expressed by the Rove quote are no longer in charge of 10,000 nuclear weapons.

12 October, 2007 10:41  

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