Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[politics] Magical thinking

One more pass at the habits of thought thing, then I'm going to try to drop this topic for a while.

As I said before, placing oneself in the mode of unquestioning acceptance of counterfactuals develops extremely poor thinking. I'm not talking now about faith itself, which as far as I can tell can co-exist with reason just fine. People are very good at tolerating ambiguity and contradiction.

Per my earlier post, I'm talking about the kind of faith that requires evolution denial as key point. That faith has a high degree of coincidence with a very materialistic, entitlement-driven form of Christianity that bears only the loosest connection to the Bible I was raised with — the "Don't pray for a Mercedes, pray for a red Mercedes" injunction of Tammy Faye Bakker.

In short, it's magical thinking.

Where do we find magical thinking in overreaching abundance? Movement Conservatism, and the Bush administration. Where do we find Evangelical political support in overreaching abundance? Movement Conservatism, and the Bush administration. It's that same habit of thought — obedience to arbitrary authority, combined with unquestioning acceptance of blatant counterfactuals and an "if you're not with us you're against us" sense of persecution by nonbelievers.

Remember when Bush was a candidate back in 1999 and 2000, and the Internet Bubble was still driving everything upward? He told America we needed tax cuts because the economy was doing so well. Then the Internet Bubble collapsed, the economy tanked, and President Bush told America we needed tax cuts because the economy was doing so poorly. That's magical thinking.

Perhaps the most explicit example of the Administration's magical thinking is in this 2004 New York Times Magazine story by Ron Suskind, where he quotes a senior advisor to President Bush:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

When I first read that three years ago, I was surprised. It sounded like so much New Age claptrap. Then I realized that this is faith-based thinking. Because they believe something, it will be true. This White House figure was quite literally dismissive of "study of discernible reality."

That's where the kind of thinking that justifies evolution denial eventually gets you: People in positions of the highest responsibility who lack basic logical and reasoning skills, and are proud of it. Why would anyone with the intelligence to crawl out of bed in the morning think this is a way to run a vegetable patch, let alone this country?

And so we've reached a point where a conservative administration has betrayed virtually every principle of conservatism (except tax cuts), created the most profoundly irresponsible fiscal situation in American history, gutted our military on a foreign adventure itself based on falsehoods constructed to justify magical thinking, and squandered our foreign power and diplomatic influence for at least a generation.

Which, if you think about the "drown government in a bathtub" ethos of Movement Conservatism, is perhaps precisely what they meant to do. But it's the magical faith-based thinking of millions of voters, and thousands of Administrations loyalists, who got us here.

Hence my basic statement about the pernicious influence of religion on public discourse. The current vogue for Evangelical style faith-based thinking has made us stupid and dangerous as a nation. Why do we even contemplate raising another generation of Americans with this same basic intellectual flaw? Just because you believe it doesn't mean it's true. Reality wins, every time.
Tags: culture, politics, religion

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