11 January 2017

Art foreshadows life -- scapegoating the truth-tellers

A couple of weeks ago I was watching some clips from the 1983 TV miniseries "V" on YouTube, and I suddenly realized that part of it was powerfully reminding me of recent events.  If you're not familiar with "V", in a nutshell, one day a fleet of huge alien spaceships appears and deploys over cities all over the Earth.  The apparently human-looking aliens explain that their mission is benign, and a period of friendly contact begins, despite ominous signs like the aliens' fascistic-looking red uniforms and omnipresent display of a vaguely swastika-like symbol.  Behind the scenes, however, they are subverting and taking over the world's governments and media.  Suddenly, it is announced that a global conspiracy of scientists against the aliens has been discovered.  To thwart this menace, the world's now alien-dominated governments declare martial law and "ask" the aliens to help enforce it.  Scientists everywhere are demonized and persecuted.  Most people, uneasy with events but swayed by the pro-alien propaganda filling the media, go along with the new reality.  The aliens have reduced Earth to a de facto colonial possession and now set about stealing its resources.

When I originally saw the show, the fake scientist conspiracy seemed like one of the least credible elements in it.  Surely no one would believe claims of such a conspiracy and turn against the scientific community, and even aliens would realize that?

But look what's happening now.

The right wing in the US (and to a more limited extent in some other English-speaking countries) has been settling into an anti-science stance for some time.  It started with their alliance with fundamentalist Christianity, which rejects evolution.  Their hardening commitment to global-warming denialism created a similar conflict with another scientific consensus.  More generally, their embrace of non-fact-based dogmas in fields from economics to human sexuality requires a general hostility to the entire concept of testing claims against real-world evidence.

Given the rejection of evolution and global warming, the fact that almost all scientists in the relevant fields accept those things practically demands that the denialist assume they're all in some sort of conspiracy to hide the truth, and I've actually seen some wingnuts claim that climate scientists worldwide are in fact conspiring to perpetrate a vast hoax, supposedly motivated by getting research grants (this doesn't make sense, but anyone smart enough to notice that probably wouldn't be a denialist in the first place).  Growing evidence that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon is dismissed as part of the liberal/Satanic conspiracy of scientists and pop entertainment to "normalize sin".  And so it goes.

It makes sense that the aliens in "V" would seek to discredit and ultimately destroy the Earth's scientific community.  They aren't really as human as they look, and Earth's human population is a potential food supply for them -- and scientists would be the most likely people to discover these facts and be able to prove them.  But there's a more general principle here.  If you're pushing a set of ideas which is at odds with objective reality, then people trained in deducing facts from evidence and proving them -- scientists -- are your natural enemies.  They're the people most capable of reasserting that objective reality and backing up what they say about it -- of authoritatively declaring not just "I disagree" but "you are wrong".

This natural tension has recently crossed the line into open attack in ways we haven't seen before.  The most alarming was the Trump team's request to the Energy Department for names of scientists who had worked on Obama's anti-global-warming initiatives.  To their credit, department officials refused, and Trump's people eventually backed off from the request -- but the message was one of intimidation and denunciation.  Climate scientists, it made clear, are out of favor with the new powers that be, and the future may bring further moves against them and their defenders.  To their credit, government scientists recognized from the start that the incoming administration was likely to be hostile, and have been copying climate data to computer systems outside the government's control to make sure it is preserved.

There are other signs that Trump's regime will be hostile to science.  He's chosen a global-warming denialist to head the EPA and a denialist propagandist to manage the transition.  His VP choice, Mike Pence, is a fervent Christianist best known for his anti-gay stance, but also aggressively ignorant about science.  Most recently Trump chose a prominent anti-vaccine nutjob to chair a commission on vaccine safety.  All this will play well with the troglodyte Republican voting base, with its suspicion of education and expertise generally, but it also legitimizes such attitudes in the eyes of a broader public which lacks such prejudices but is honestly uninformed about the issues.

All this will not be good for the country.  Political interference in science never is.  The Nazi regime banned the works of Darwin and rejected much of the innovative physics of the day as "Jewish"; many scientists fled Europe for the United States, and some of them helped us, rather than the Nazis, build the first atomic bomb.  Stalin's support for the charlatan Lysenko, and persecution of real geneticists who opposed him, caused the USSR to fall far behind the West in the field of genetics.  Religious domination of Europe during the Dark Ages, and its rejection of the Classical scientific and philosophical tradition, brought a thousand years of stagnation.  The Middle East followed the same path after the rise of Ash'arite theology around 1100, with similar results.  It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of American scientists, with an eye on the incoming administration, are already looking into opportunities in other countries -- and if things get as bad as Trump's moves so far suggest they will, that trend will escalate.

Incidentally, the original script of "V" -- fake scientist conspiracy and all -- depicted an indigenous fascist take-over of the US, and was only later re-written as science fiction with aliens as the villains.  While this made it more entertaining and probably more plausible to the audiences of the time, the message comes across the same.  I've always emphasized pop entertainment's power to encourage positive social change, but sometimes its role is to serve us a warning.


Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

You know, I've also had V on my mind for some time now. And your observations about the rise of the anti-science crowd are spot-on.

Even in his farewell speech last night, President Obama touched on this with his statement praising science and reason. Contrast that to Trump meeting with and looking to bring Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a known anti-vaxxer, into his Administration (and as someone who admired Kennedy for his pro-environment efforts, I'm sickened by his anti-vaccine stance).

The GOP has launched a war against science--but don't just think it's limited to them. Back in the early 00's, Alexander Cockburn, the far-Left writer and contrarian, was the most trenchant critic of Al Gore and in 2000 constantly bashed Gore, praising Ralph Nader and encouraging voters to go for Nader (and thus, letting Bush get elected). When bush "won", Cockburn was delighted, and after that, because his hatred of Gore never subsided, became the #1 climate change denier on the Left.

These anti-science developments also affect those of us who--shockingly enough--walk in both worlds of science and faith. To see facts rejected and to see idiocy embraced is extremely troubling to say the least.

It just makes it all the more difficult to see that we are going from an intelligent, decent President who believes and champions science to one who rejects that and common sense.

11 January, 2017 08:24  
Anonymous KanaW said...

I hadn't connected the two, but you're right.
Demonisation of science is very dangerous.

11 January, 2017 08:44  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I had to go over this a couple times to let it sink in here, as to what you were saying. Many have and agenda, folks love their power and money, etc ... as far as conspiracies, I've never been much into the conspiracy stuff, I know a gal that is consumed in that, illuminati, new order, etc stuff ... she thinks I'm just brainwashed to an extent for not seeing what's happening, as she would put it, which maybe I am ... Hell, I dont know. But a one mission solid conspiracy, especially with how large a government we have is difficult for me to believe they can solely get away with, however, there are a ton of different interests. I'm old fashioned guy, I still have faith and trust in scientists, and DONT think they would all sell out, some people have other dreams besides just getting filthy rich ... although I know these oil joints got rent- a- scientists to an extent. Now though, when privatization trumps everything (no pun intended on the 'trump'), that is where we need to have concerns, that limits those participating, direction, goals, representation, etc. You talk about the "V" series thing ... geeez guy ... I didnt even know it been that long (the 80's?) ... Hell, I didnt even realize how old I am, thanx for the reminder {:-), I did remember watching an episode or two of that though. There was a movie, in the early 1990's, called "Demolition Man" ... that is hilarious to watch these dayz (2017), because it was a futuristic action flick, but one corporation (Taco Bell) had a monopoly on the restaurant business/ indusrty, and they had these things where if you used profane language, a machine would issue you a citation, everyone was scared of physical confrontation, even the cops ... but hilarious, because of the censorship we see today, internet, Facebook, political correctness, fundamoralism, etc. In an odd way, movies may prepare us for whats to come or expect ... or even maybe, some of those at the top are inspired by movies to plan what they do ... after all, all they do at the top is use others ideas and buy them out, most arent even very creative ... although good at manipulation. Anywayz, I have no idea even yet what this new administration is going to do, I know what the republicans would like to do though, and again, they dont waste time ... give them an inch, and they will take a mile and jump all over opportunity like a cheap suit on sunday, it's hilarious looking at them on the news, and how happy and over- excited they been, them miserable SOB's havent had this much joy and excitement in years! ... like a bunch of f'n junkies that just found a pound of dope, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh {:-) I'm outta here

12 January, 2017 06:40  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Very disturbing, indeed. That is why we have to work at the grassroots level in politics to vote out the anti-science, anti-reason menace.

I try to stay optimistic, but after watching trump's press conference and his treatment of the media he doesn't like, I'm not very hopeful. Trump's dismissive attitude toward global warming is appalling, since he will be the representative of the most technologically advanced country in the world.

12 January, 2017 07:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Marc: Great minds think alike, I guess. And this leadership change is an abysmal embarrassment.

I don't know how much harm Kennedy can do directly, but he'll give the anti-vax movement credibility with the uneducated, and we'll likely see a rise in preventable childhood diseases as a result.

I know that the left also sometimes puts ideology over scientific evidence, but at least at the moment that doesn't seem to express itself through dangerous government policy. Cockburn sounds like a first-rate asshole, though.

Kana: Our loss, if scientists start leaving for other countries.

Ranch: Yep, it's been a while, but life did eventually imitate art (not very well though -- Trump isn't even stylish and photogenic like Jane Badler). The Republican leaders are beside themselves with excitement at finally being able to take away people's health care, Social Security, etc., but some Senators and Reps are getting a bit nervous. Letters and calls from their constituents may help them see the light -- none of my Congresspeople are Republicans, but even some people in red states are telling theirs to back off. We'll see.

Shaw: Trump will be the representative of Japan? :-) Seriously, since the next chance we'll get to vote out any of these bozos is 2018, for now all we've got is the kind of grassroots protest that stopped the destruction of the Office of Congressional Ethics. That, and hoping Ivanka will talk Trump out of some of his bullshit. But there's no denying it's a grim situation.

12 January, 2017 09:26  
Blogger Jono said...

I had forgotten about V. Reality is now scarier with ignorance and stupidity held in such high regard.

13 January, 2017 08:03  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

Speaking of another V--I've re-watched V For Vendetta. A good film, in my opinion, even if it changes things from the graphic novel it was adapted from (but these things always happen). Interestingly enough, back when it was released many Libertarians jumped on the bandwagon praising the film to the nines (and of course, guess where Anonymous got their Guy Fawkes mask fetish from?), but seeing it now, in light of Trump...

Of course, the film has several memorable lines--but those were taken from the original source which was written by Alan Moore. Nonetheless, I encourage anyone with access to the film to see it again.

13 January, 2017 10:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jono: And, of course, education and intelligence held in such low regard. Sometimes I think it would serve us right if we lost global leadership to Europe and Japan.

Marc: Thanks for inspiring me to check that out. I'd heard the title but never knew much about it. It certainly has an impressive roster of actors in it.

13 January, 2017 11:24  
Anonymous NickM said...

Odd that it is a trope of some of the political left that reality is created not discovered- Homo-sovticicus and all that. I am not sure because up to a point we do live in a consensual illusion. I dunno. But then I dunno what colour Corsodyl toothpaste is!

14 January, 2017 20:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

That's something I've never heard anyone on the left say. It's an attitude very specifically associated with the right.

15 January, 2017 01:24  
Anonymous NickM said...

It all depends on how you define right and left. And of course left and right mean different things to different people. I regard the NAZIs as of the left though they clearly very different from the left of Attlee or Roosevelt. Perhaps it just means the dichotomy is verging on meaningless.

17 January, 2017 08:40  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I regard the NAZIs as of the left

That's too ridiculous to be even worth discussing, and you know it.

17 January, 2017 10:46  

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