Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cassandra had it easy

Our species has had wild success in the natural world, to such a degree that much of the world draws its nature from our designs. Most of that success has come in the past few tens of thousands of years. Often, we self-flatteringly credit our intelligence for this result - when we're not claiming even more self-flatteringly that god made us special.

We have souls, fer chrissakes. That makes us and us alone eligible for eternal paradise. God made us in his own image, so we're like so goddamn good-looking that it's a wonder satan doesn't hit on us. (Oh, right, he does. Yeah, in your hairy butt cleavage dreams.)

So we have to be the most intelligent species that ever could exist. We have to believe in human exceptionalism. We can't admit that eating and breathing and fucking and shitting and dying make us pretty much exactly like every other mammal, reptile, or amphibian that ever lived. Where's the wanking self-flattery in that!

In thirty years, we Americans have gone backward on accepting the plain truth that humans have existed longer than 10,000 years:

[T]he ”prevalence of this creationist view” has remained essentially unchanged since 1982.
The underlying Gallup poll shows that both religiosity and Republicanism damage American reason, but the damage doesn't stop there by any means. Four in ten Democrats believe god spat in a handful of dust and made Adam, navel-free and special. Never mind anything we might have learned since a bunch of scientifically illiterate Jews found their promised messiah. Never mind that Genesis is so filled with errors of fact that Bible literalism is falsified.

One thing that has changed in the past three decades: The profusion of fools in media has increased the ability of fools to assert they know things that just ain't so. Their tribe tells them to know nothing, and they do, not quietly, not ashamed of their ignorance, but ardently asserting it. They aren't stupid. But they willfully deny confirmed truth. They choose to bear the tribal markers of that chosen ignorance with pride.

It's not our intelligence that has made us successful, not in the sense of our ability to do science. Science is extremely recent, too recent to have been the evolutionary goal of our intelligence. Not many people can do it - or even understand it.

The big brains that permit us the pre-scientific intelligence to dominate the world, to proliferate across it, to alter the landscape and the atmosphere, evolved because social cooperation was so important to a weak and slow primate - perhaps the least physically imposing large primate. Weapons were (and are) important, but we needed language most of all. No one of us could bring down a mammoth. We needed a tribe. It took a village.

Tribalism has been very successful, and conservatives try to sneak it back in even when we've excluded it:
 In 1990 a colleague at the College of Charleston, where I was a math professor, pointed out that the South Carolina Constitution prohibited atheists from becoming governor.
Since the U.S. Constitution bars religious tests for public office, I asked a local ACLU lawyer how this obviously unconstitutional provision could be removed.
South Carolina's wackaloon voters were not going to elect an open atheist anyway. It's doubtful they would even consider someone who professed evolution guided by god. But it was tribal to continue the plainly illegal prohibition, the treatment of a group of citizens as second class, as outside the tribe:
I assumed, in my political naïveté, that state officials would consent to bring South Carolina into compliance with federal law. They didn’t. Governor Carroll Campbell said, “The South Carolina Constitution was fine as it was because this country was founded on Godly principles.”
When a social scientist tells you that conservatives are loyal and value authority, that sounds positive. But it isn't. Loyalty to the tribe can destroy ardor for the truth. Valuing authority to the exclusion of all else inevitably puts shameless shamans and charlatans in charge. Or royalty, if there's any difference.

In the immortal words of Kay:
A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
I've been expecting too much rationality from our society and our politics. Most humans just aren't built to examine their cherished beliefs. They're built to rationalize in order to stay right with the tribe.

Cassandra had it easy.


Anonymous said...

tribe not cutting your way? "Democracy died today, man." WI FTW.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes teabaggers are individualists, sometimes mindless groupies, whatever the argument's exigency. How about this: respect for the individual coheres conservatines into a workable society. For antonym, see OWS.

lovable liberal said...

Most teabaggers are typical doctrinaire, incoherent wingnuts who have always lived on the fringe of conservatism and are now its dominant thread.