12 May 2020

Institutionalized stupidity

Militant Trumpanzees' rejection of the scientific consensus on the dangers of covid-19, and on the best methods for preventing it, looks insane, self-destructive, and inexplicable.  In fact, it's the natural culmination of a generations-long anti-intellectual and anti-scientific trend among a large segment of our country's population.

About a third of the US population has a strong predisposition to reject and disdain science, and expertise generally.  Like most forms of human stupidity, this is ultimately rooted in religion.  Religion has been hostile to science for centuries (going back at least to Copernicus and Galileo, and arguably back to the destruction of Greco-Roman civilization), because science constantly makes discoveries which are at odds with religious dogma.  The most obvious example is evolution.  The most fervently-religious groups, in order to preserve their belief in their ancient myths and superstitions, have trained themselves to reject science and the general concept of establishing truth by evaluating evidence (that’s what science basically is).  Once that mental pattern was established for the sake of rejecting evolution, it easily got broadened to dismiss other inconvenient truths like global warming.

So we now have tens of millions of people who are culturally primed to react with hostility against any manifestation of expertise or any assertion of fact based on evidence instead of on ideology or tradition.

Most of the public figures now promoting stupid responses to covid-19 are Republican politicians.  The Republican party for decades has represented the interests of the ultra-wealthy against the rest of society, and has exploited religious fundamentalism to win elections; over time the fundamentalist element has become more and more dominant even in the upper levels of the party due to the rising influence of its grass-roots supporters.  What started off as a strategy to manipulate the rubes into voting for the party has become its real soul. It’s as if The Man Behind The Curtain had himself gradually come to believe that his projection of Oz the great and terrifying was a real entity.  And the fundamentalists themselves are now totally committed to Trump and his siren song of lies and delusion.

To that toxic situation another element has been added -- Republican leaders' fear, since around mid-2016, of crossing Trump and incurring the wrath of his hordes of fanatical, stupid, easily-enraged, and heavily-armed followers.  So the positions and statements of these politicians are rooted in two factors -- a specific form of stupidity, and a specific form of cowardice.  These exist in different proportions in different individual cases, but the practical result is pretty much the same.

Covid-19 is bringing the dangers of this mentality to the surface in ways we have not seen before.  The harm done by rejection of evolution or of climate science is long-term and generalized to the whole society -- an individual holding such anti-scientific views typically suffers no visible, immediate harm from doing so.  The harm done by rejecting the scientific consensus on covid-19 can be both personal and immediate, both to the dogmatic individual and to innocent people in his vicinity.  Our society is getting an object lesson in the dangers of irrational thinking.  And with so many states prematurely loosening their lockdowns and so many Trumpanzees and church leaders defying them, that object lesson is about to become a lot harsher.


Blogger Ami said...

I have had a lot of those same thoughts, except I'm not that eloquent.
And with so many places ignoring the science in favor of politics and pocketbooks, the idiots are going to learn a very awful lesson. It's worse because other people will be affected by the idiocy.

I have friends in the scientific/medical community. I can't understand why people are even willing to listen to idiots who have no idea what they're talking about. One of my friends (a real scientist... makes his living that way.. gasp) shared something last night. "Man, all these doctors and nurses and epidemiologists and other researchers keep saying Covid-19 is so dangerous, but all these dudes I went to high school with who barely passed science keep saying it's not big deal. It's soooo hard to know what to believe!

12 May, 2020 15:34  
Blogger Mary said...

Took the words out of my head only better.

To me religion is like a virus...very old been around a long time and it’s host is the human, especially one with a weakened brain, sorta like a weakened immune system. Although I grew up in a non religious atmosphere, religion in those early days, seemed relatively harmless, as if the hosts were fairly asymptomatic. But as time has gone on, this religious virus, which spreads human to human, has mutated and is getting more virulent and is spreading into a much more dangerous form.

So just like a virus, it will have to run it’s course and do much destruction in the meantime. The drug of education no longer will work. But like any virus, it will end, but the world will look drastically different. Without any treatment for climate change, eradication of racism, gun control, wars that are only money generators for the few and a continuation of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer etc., what will be left could be a wasteland.

PS...Since you like to read and if you’re into the science of viruses, I’m reading a fascinating book..."Spillover" by David Quammen.

12 May, 2020 16:36  
Anonymous Sweet Jimmy Tea said...

I worked in medical research for most of my professional life, so I'm totally on board with your observations. The principle of natural selection is at play here. At first the generalized intelligence of the population rises slowly as the stupid dies away, then it becomes a tsunami. I have family that fall into the religious nutsville category, and as much as I would like to them survive, I have been unable to convince them to change their behavior. Natural selection like COVID-19 doesn't give a damn about your beliefs, it's a force of nature looking to thrive, and thrive it will until it runs out of willing victims. Unfortunately, those of us who heed the cautionary imperatives of keeping healthy and live our lives accordingly risk the virus when just going for groceries...

Here's hoping that all your readers be careful in their daily activities, their lives depend upon it...

12 May, 2020 16:53  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

“ About a third of the US population has a strong predisposition to reject and disdain science, and expertise generally. Like most forms of human stupidity, this is ultimately rooted in religion.”
That about sums it up. Ignorance fed by superstition and fear and voilá! Perfect storm for a real disaster. Be it the pandemic or climate change or anything backed by science, they’ll balk.
As one of the commenters said, natural selection will take care of them. Only hung it’s that they’ll kill a few thousands while they live their stupidity.


12 May, 2020 17:48  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Very true and very dangerous.

12 May, 2020 19:05  
Blogger Leanna said...

All I can say is Darwin is laughing and whispering in our ears, "wait and watch. Mother Nature has set the stage. Natural selection is at play here. Please, step aside and just let it happen."

12 May, 2020 19:43  
Blogger Victor said...

Great post, Infidel!

The nuclear weapon isn't even close to being the worst human invention.

God(s) and religion are by far the winner of the worst!

The prior is invisible, the latter, is invasive.

12 May, 2020 19:54  
Blogger Mike said...

We just have to let nature take its course and hope she does a thorough job.

12 May, 2020 23:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ami: A telling quote. Unfortunately some people have decided reality is whatever they want it to be, and choose their sources to back up what they choose to believe. Expertise can be dismissed by claiming the experts are all part of an evil conspiracy.

Mary: yes, I've argued for a long time that religion is like a parasitic infection which has evolved to spread optimally among humans. Judging by the rapid growth of nonbelief today, though, it's not adapting fast enough to the changes in the environment brought about by modern technology.

I'll look into that book.

Jimmy: Thank you for your work in a vital field.

It's odd how those who don't believe in natural selection often seem most eager to volunteer as an object lesson in how it works.

For almost nine weeks now I haven't left the apartment at all except for short grocery-shopping trips. Unfortunately, with all the premature "re-opening" and consequent surges in viral spread, it'll soon become necessary to be even more careful.

Sixpence: Let's hope that the general public will now see the point that religious stupidity endangers them. It's not just a harmless personal quirk.

Debra: The danger is becoming undeniable now.

Leanna: Darwin would probably be wondering why so many people have learned so little in a century and a half.

Victor: Thanks! Adding it all up across the sweep of history, religion has probably caused more pointless suffering than anything else.

Mike: And avoid becoming collateral damage ourselves.....

14 May, 2020 04:30  

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