Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[politics|culture] Opinions and those inconvenient facts

Among other political and cultural hobby horses of mine, I rattle on a lot about evolution denial in education. Likewise the gross historical revisionism of the Texas Textbook Commission. There's a reason for that, beyond my dedication to intellectual honesty and my aversion to hypocrisy.

Opinions, even those that come in the form of sincerely-held, passionate beliefs, do not substitute for facts. Especially inconvenient facts that contradict those opinions.

Yet when we teach kids in school that the objective evidence of the natural world can be disregarded for a subjective religious belief, we are teaching them exactly that. We are fundamentally undermining critical thinking and replacing it with magical thinking.

Magical thinking is something you see all time in adults. I don't know a single writer who doesn't indulge in it as part of preparing their writing mind. (Myself included.) Anyone who has a lucky hat, or cannot write without their tea in a special mug, or any other ritual, is doing this. But most of us understand that. I'm feeding the mythos part of my mind when I say I can only write on the Mac laptop, not the Dell. There's no objective reason I can't do it the other way around.

But I know I'm doing this. I don't confuse my own rituals and magical thinking with the objective reality of the world around me.

One of my big quarrels with the contemporary conservative movement, both in its media form (FOX, etc.) and in its political form (GOP, Tea Party) is the pervasiveness of magical thinking they indulge in, and their overwhelming tendency to confuse opinions with facts. Yes, that's human nature, and we all do it, but movement conservatism has institutionalized this as policy.

Note this item from a recent New York Times/CBS poll of the Tea Party:
Regardless of your overall opinion, do you think the views of the people in the tea party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans? 84% of the self-identified teabaggers said yes. Only 25% of the general public agreed.

These people honestly believe their view is a majority view. They're not interested in facts. These people also honestly believe that Obama is a Muslim and was not born in the this country.

And outside of the fringe, you see the same magical thinking. Every time the Republican leadership gets into the media and talks about America being a center-right nation, they're wrong on the face of both the polling and the electoral results. It's a narrative they believe in, and need to be true to back their political stance, but it simply isn't true. Any more than their narrative that a majority of Americans want to repeal HCR is true. Similarly, back in the 2000 election, when the Clinton economy was going strong, Bush advocated tax cuts to stimulate further growth. When the economy began to collapse in the face of an oncoming Republican victory, Bush advocated tax cuts to combat economic contraction. That's like saying you use the gas pedal in your car both to speed up and slow down.

All this confusing opinions with facts? A lot of it comes down to how you're educated and socialized in the first place. The conservative attack on education, which in its current form has been in play since at least the Reagan years, is about nothing more or less than raising citizens who don't know how to question their own position, who will uncritically accept passionate statements as truth, and who, like evolution denialists, eagerly embrace their own opinions as facts, unswayed by the reality of the world around them.

Censoring reality is profoundly unAmerican and unpatriotic, and it's a core conservative value, starting in the grade schools and going right on to the memory hole of FOX News, the GOP and the Tea Party. Reality is unforgiving, those opinions still aren't facts; but politics is infinitely malleable, as the activists and leaders of this movement well know.

Tags: culture, politics, process, writing
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