Thursday, August 1, 2013

Baffled, bothered and bewildered: The rejection of the 21st Century

         I guess I read too much. In modern America there seems to be a price to pay for being informed. For me it's Spontaneous Head Explosion Syndrome. I read or hear statements made by Conservatives in power and my head explodes.The right seems to suffer from a disturbing dissonant disconnect to recognized reality.
I came of age in the Sixties. Science and the pursuit of knowledge was seen as a by product of a free open American society. A vindication of the American experiment. The post WWII explosion in science and technology was unprecedented in human history. In sixty-six years we went from the Wright biplane, to supersonic aircraft, to landing on the moon. In 1969 there were a lot of people who saw this happen in their lifetime.
The Government and industry took a long view of R&D. Pure research was funded because it was recognized that any discovery could lead to serendipitous and unforeseen results. For example the vacuum tube was replaced by the transistor which in turn was replaced by the chip.
Through private and public funding not one, but two, polio vaccines were developed. I remember the Sabin on Sunday drive where millions lined up at churches and schools to receive the oral vaccine. And it was free. It was public policy to eradicate polio and smallpox.
A segment of the population, rather vilified now and perhaps rightly so, older white men were the driving force behind this era of scientific discovery. Admittedly it was because they dominated society. Their near universal view that progress was a good thing in and of itself lead to amazing scientific and social progress.
Under consecutive Republican and Democratic Administrations we built the Interstate highway system. We had an active, push the envelope aerospace program. Long range R&D produced incredible discoveries. Hormonal birth control was introduced. This had the effect of freeing women to pursue their potential by giving them control of their reproductive options. Better living through chemistry wasn't simply a corporate ad slogan. Progress is our most important product was a statement of corporate philosophy.
Our educational system was the envy of the world. Unfettered thought attracted the planet's best and brightest to our Universities to learn and do research. Ignorance was something that was seen as a national duty to eradicate.
So what happened? We now seem to be bombarded by WTF moments. Willful ignorance is now seen a desirable badge of honor.
In the sixties conservatives embraced science and knowledge as a plus for the nation. An educated workforce enabled new manufacturing techniques to be embraced. R&D was something seen as a potential profit center. A means to introduce new technologies and products. Progress was a way to enhance a brand. A modern infrastructure was seen as necessary to efficient movement of goods and services. A right and proper use of government.
In the seventies, to counter Democratic power, the Republican Party reached out to and wooed the so-called Moral Majority. The leadership of this segment of the population was dominated by fringe, reactionary religious leaders. They were derided as holy rollers and as a product of a socially stunted backwards South. The pundits ignored the fact the Bible belt runs through the center of the country.
The GOP did not foresee the result of legitimizing the fringe. At the time they were fringe for a reason. Actual science, history, great literature and critical thinking was the foundation of American education. A liberal Arts education was the norm. It was an extension of the old classical education given the elite. There was a need seen for universal education to eliminate ignorance.
The Twentieth Century will be remembered for many things, good and ill.
Devastating wars followed by the collapse of Colonial Empires.
In the United States the Corporate Oligarchy was reined in as an era of egalitarianism was unleashed. Jim Crow was finally dismantled in the Old Confederacy. The covert racism in the North is fading. Women have more options now than ever before. The curve of liberty was and for the most part still is, upward.
Unfortunately there has always been a love/hate relationship with education in American history. On the frontier, in an agrarian society, the three R's were seen as all that was needed. Reading, riting and rithmatic. As the nation became more industrialized and urban the need for higher education was grudgingly accepted and became the norm. The high school diploma became the standard for The American workforce. As society evolved universal education for women and minorities slowly also became the norm.
Still there is a segment of the population that is threatened by change. They see it as destructive to their worldview. They have been embraced by the Republican Party as a way to stay in power. The true believer is a person who takes every opportunity to expand their influence ans enforce their belief system.
The embrace of the fringe by the GOP sowed the seeds for the cultural wars being fought today. These reactionaries were used as shock troops to register voters, knock on doors, get out the vote for the Republicans, and act as an ATM for campaigns. After the elections they received only lip service to their issues. Needless to say they felt used and abused by the Republicans. So, they acted.
Using the political lessons learned they hit GOP officeholders with Primary challenges from the right. Since they were the majority of Primary voters they won. A lot. Office holders that survived moved right to save their political skin.
These people were not skilled pols, they were zealots. They were driven, focused on single issues or imbued with a perceived moral and cultural superiority. The ideal was to return America to an imagined golden era when Christian values were law. A time when tradition was revered. It was time to turn back the clock.
In the nineties they took Congress. They went after science and arts funding. There was enough pushback by Democrats and remaining Republican moderates to limit the damage. They did manage to Impeach President Clinton in a frenzy of moral outrage led by a House Speaker who, himself was a serial adulterer. But, after a disastrous Government shut down their power was curbed by outrage from the American public.
During the Bush years the hubris returned. Two wars were started. The misguided adventure in Iraq was built on lies, misrepresentations and half truths. Taxes were cut, the wealthy coddled and worshiped as job creators. A balanced budget and surplus became a historical artifact as unprecedented deficit spending became the norm. Attacks on rights were attempted only to be slapped down by the courts.This did nothing to dampen a belief that in spite of voting patterns Americans were conservative.The elections were obviously being stolen.
In 2008 we saw a field of GOP Presidential candidates that would not unequivocally, when asked if they believed in evolution, say yes. They mouthed soft platitudes about a balanced education.(A nod to creationism) Only Mike Huckabee said he did not believe in evolution. He also was the candidate that challenged McCain hardest and longest for the nomination.
McCain in a move to placate the base chose an obscure, untested Governor as his running mate. Sarah Palin. She purposely played to the proponents of ignorance in the base. This was the direct result of Spiro Agnew's attacks on the educated. He called them pointy headed intellectuals. Nattering nabobs of negativity. The George Wallace campaign echoed that as they went after the racist vote in '68 and '72. This strain of anti-intellectualism had spread like a virus in the political lifeblood of the party during the ensuing years.
When a bi-racial moderate Democrat was elected the very idea of fringe views seemed to evaporate. No idea was too absurd to be reported. No proponent was too crazy to get airtime and be treated as a serious historian or political philosopher.
The tea party was born to harness this rejection of modern America as the Moral Majority was once used. But these upstarts refused to be used. They beat party endorsed candidates. They coined the term RINO. Republican in name only for those who actually thought their job was to reach a consensus and govern. Compromise was evil. The idea was to throttle the government's move towards progressive ideals and move society backwards.
The moves against Unions were intensified as they were the only groups working for the protection of working Americans.
Regulation was decried as job killing interference. The idea that banks and corporations could be forced by the market to self police was pushed by those who hated government. And surprisingly, banks and corporations.
After all one could count on them to do the right thing voluntarily in spite of a long history of disaster.
These policies went hand in hand with an extreme pushback on social issues.
Progressives were fighting battles in wars that we thought we had won. Religious extremism had gone mainstream.
Following their rise to power these Christian zealots felt they had a divinely ordained mission to make America a christian theocracy. They started with abortion. It became the norm to equate abortion with murder. Harassment of women at clinics was an accepted strategy. As they won office this tactic spread to legislative harassment.
At one time they were held in check by moderates in the GOP. So, to further their mission these voices were driven out of the party. Where they gained a majority they went after women. This was done on moral, traditional and religious grounds. After all women were the main reason of the decline of the Traditional family. They had abandoned their traditional role as subservient help mate to go forth into the world. This upset God's ordained natural order. Women were systematically stripped of the right to decide her reproductive options. The goal seemed to be a return to her status as a life support system for a fetus.
History was being attacked as secular propaganda. People with no credentials in history (Disclaimer:I have no degree in History. I did major in it however and still remember it)and an agenda to do a rewrite saying the American Revolution was a Conservative religious movement. A movement that resulted in the establishment of a Christian Theocracy.
To push this the extremists took over school boards. They fought to have text books changed to reflect their desire to replace history with religious indoctrination. They have had a modicum of success. Texas comes to mind.
This religious zealotry has resulted in the push to have biblical ideas taught as science. The theory of evolution is under attack as it was in the Scopes trial in the Twenties. These Christian extremists feel creationism should be taught as a viable alternative. They push a controversy where none exists. This is also a rejection of most settled science. Biology. Archeology. Medicine. Physics. Science is reviled as satanic lies. And this is  done on computers, the internet, television and radio. Huh? A major disconnect from reality.
Vaccines are reviled and parents fight to keep their children from being inoculated. Thus we are seeing the comeback of diseases we had beaten into submission.
Unbridled corporatism and coddling of the rich is resulting an income inequality and a lack of opportunity not seen since the Gilded Age.
The problem is the sane among us have sat back and allowed this to happen. We treat school boards as unimportant offices. We assume sane thinking people will serve. So, we hand it to the extremists. We let the them take power through complacency and apathy. We wing our hands as we see Modern America under attack.
This can not continue. We have to reassert America is a secular, diverse nation of law not enforced theological dogma.
Equal means equal. Religion and tradition was used to justify slavery and subjugation of women. There is a movement to reassert that idea.
Knowledge is not to be a la carte.
Facts are stubborn things. They don't care if you believe in them or not.
We need to fight this ideological coup being carried out. Birth control is being attacked as immoral. The safety net is shredded to coddle the wealthy. Women are evil, harlots and the cause of our societal ills.WTF?
Christianity, the dominate religion is being persecuted. WTF?
Fight back against the establishment of a wilfully ignorant, repressive reactionary theocracy.
Stand together or burn at the stake alone after an actual witch hunt. The revival of the inquisition is not impossible.
Raise your voice.

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