With apologies to Theodosius Dobzhansky.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across a number of stories, tweets, threads and the like which ask two related questions:
- How can conservatives make so many false and/or hypocritical statements?
- When conservatives engage in eliminationist rhetoric, do they really mean it?
This type of behavior is nothing new or shocking to anyone who has dealt with professional creationists–and they have been doing this for a very long time (both conservatives and creationists–the overlap is not insignificant). I’m not talking about the rank-and-file, but the professionals here. They are and always have been willing to tell little lies in service of their Big Truth. The professionals are smart enough to understand the counterarguments–and they just don’t care. They will make up non-troversies out of whole cloth, and repeat easily refuted claims, to the point where biologists built a website that allows people to easily find the false claim and debunk it. They misrepresent, take things out of context, and flat out lie because they believe the consequences of losing are too great.
So, to address question #1, it’s what they do. It’s clear they don’t see lying in the service of Truth as immoral. As there are no consequences for this behavior, they don’t stop. Regarding question #2, I don’t think they mean it, in the sense people who aren’t part of the movement would interpret ‘mean it.’ These are largely symbolic and emotional appeals that are declarations of faith, not plans for action (though all one needs is a single lunatic with a gun, of which there are too many in the U.S.). As I noted years ago about the rise of Palinism:
In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas). A good, and possibly familiar example to ScienceBlogs readers, is when, during the Dover creationism trial, one defender of creationism declared, “Two thousand years ago someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” One could argue that every Sunday, millions of Americans do take a stand for Jesus. Oh, and what the hell does this have to do with biology? Certainly, on the merits, this is a weak argument. But it’s a very good emotional and symbolic appeal. It’s also romantic: it invokes a noble stand on behalf of the oppressed (as ridiculous as that is in an overwhelmingly Christian country).
So how do we stop this? It’s not easy, as most will not change their minds based on a stunning tweet or blog post. Usually, what is needed is a personal betrayal (boldface added):
We observe pseudo-science, demonization of opponents as ungodly degenerates (e.g., ‘evolution = pornograpy’–not kidding), and a willingness to assault disciplines outside of the immediate target (e.g., attacking geology or physics to defend creationism). Another similarity to creationism, not mentioned by Rich, is that movement conservatism has developed elaborate mechanisms to actively avoid reality: ‘alternative’ media, their own ‘unskewed’ polls, and an insular book and internet market. Again, not only is their substantial overlap between creationists and movement conservatives, but the ways they cope with an inconvenient reality are similar.
Once one realizes that it’s the same phenomenon, strategically speaking, compromise makes little sense–it provides them with nothing more than a beachhead. In terms of convincing people to ‘leave’ movement conservatism, it becomes obvious, as is the case with creationism, that this is part of an entire worldview, one that is extremely resistant to change. As Sarah Robinson pointed out years ago, logical arguments will not find much, if any, purchase. Typically, people will not change their minds without a personal shock or crisis, often a betrayal by an authority figure or benefactor. For instance, David Frum, who is now some progressives’ favorite ‘fallen’ conservative, really didn’t speak out until he was fired from conservative faith tank AEI over his support for Obamacare. I write “some”, because Frum had no problems demonizing those opposed the Iraq War (by the way, we were right, and he was wrong. And with so many needlessly dead, that tastes like ashes in my mouth). It took a personal betrayal (firing him from what many thought was a university-like position, but turned out to a doctrinaire propaganda mill) for him to become an outspoken critic of movement conservatives.
Even if we knock Palinists/Trumpists out of power, they still will be here. The only possible way to change their minds–other than the betrayals (e.g., Trump’s farm policy, abandonment of the Kurds)–is to make them irrelevant. That means Democrats will have to govern if or when they take back power. It also means we have to make it clear that the only reason their ideas should be taken seriously is when they have power behind them–there is no validity to the ideas themselves. It won’t convince the believers, but it can convince opinion makers (many of whom cravenly fall behind those with power anyway).
There will be no Year of Jubilee, only a very long, slow struggle.