Friday, August 26, 2011

Dawkins on Perry

I'm not particularly enamored of Richard Dawkins, for the most part. I admire the efforts of damn near anyone whose goal is to make science and reason - as opposed to faith and "morality" - the cornerstones of modern society; but his zealotry on behalf his own atheism is often a bit too close to what it aims to oppose. However, when he's right... he's right.

Writing for the Washington Post, Dawkins takes current GOP frontrunner Rick Perry to task for his evolution-denialism; but in the big-picture he's really calling out the strain of anti-intellectualism (masquerading as "anti-elitism") that has infected the modern "conservative" movement in American politics. I find this passage particularly inspiring:

"What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job."

To me, regardless of whose saying it, that sums up damn near everything wrong with not only Republican politics but American society in general - we've allowed "normal," "average" and "common" to be seen as not just benign traits but POSITIVE ones. A society that equates someone who attains greatness - particularly intellectual greatness - as somehow being LESS qualified than a "normal" person or a "common-sense" approach is a society that is doomed.

Are we to be a people of Knowledge, and continue forward into the future? Or will we be a people of Belief, consigned to the ashbin of history alongside whatever arcane superstition we refuse to relinquish?


motyr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
motyr said...

Thank you.

Zacqary Adam Green said...

People always prefer someone like themselves. Especially for a position of power over their own lives.

It's satisfying to just write off the "common folk" as idiots, but the uncomfortable truth is that they outnumber us, and our only choice is to get them on the same page as us. Only when reason is common sense will it ever win out.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

I really have nothing positive to say about the current state of the Republican Party and want nothing to do with them anymore. I even re-registered as an independent after the Zadroga bill disaster. It's been taken over by a bunch of crazies who don't seem to have any long term goals other than to be crazy. And since the Tea Party helped win a couple elections, all the Republican politicians are tripping over themselves to pander to them.

Fortunately it seems like sane, moderate conservatives are starting to reestablish themselves. The sudden rise of Ron Paul, of all people, I think is proof enough that the majority of conservatives have had enough of the Tea Party's theatrics and won't stand for that in a national election... If Ron Paul loses the nomination, however, I fully expect the Republican party to collapse in on itself.

Perhaps American conservatism will go in a constructive direction after that.

Just Gavin said...

I'd rather someone does the job of President who can do the job, rather than someone like me, because guess, what, I can't be President!

Ryan said...

I think it's important to distinguish between Republicans and Movement Conservatives. The latter are a hateful group of parasitic lowlifes (Rick Perry, I'm looking at your $25 Billion dollars from the Federal government you keep ragging on that you used to "create jobs"), but the former are perfectly reasonable social conservatives and capitalists. Ron Paul, who just went on TV and said that the Federal government shouldn't help Hurricane victims, is probably not one of those reasonable people, though.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Ryan

I had baulked at the idea of voting for Ron Paul in the '08 election, so I do appreciate the irony that I now think of him as a return to sanity for the Republican party and I can't honestly say I particularly want to vote for him now (as several of his policies are just as off-putting as ever, and the man clearly lacks any sort of leadership ability). But, he is a strong shift away from the insanity that is the Tea Party. Perhaps it's just a different brand of insanity, but at least it's a step in the right direction... or at least a some what less repulsive direction.

biomechanical923 said...

Voting Fiscal Conservative: getting a government that doesn't want to tax the shit out of my already meager income.

Voting Liberal: getting a government full of progressives that believe middle-class white men are the root of all evil, and that I should feel terrible for being in any of those groups.

Hmm... I wonder which one would be in my best interest to vote for....maybe the group of people that isn't trying to see me wiped from the earth for having the audacity to be male.

john said...

Are we to be a people of Knowledge, and continue forward into the future? Or will we be a people of Belief, consigned to the ashbin of history alongside whatever arcane superstition we refuse to relinquish?
Or are we, alternatively, to eschew stupid dichotomies clung to by obnoxious loudmouths with chips on their shoulders and be anything we damn well please?

Varya said...

Great post, but I have to disagree on Dawkins zealotry being anything close to religion or faith. Yes, he's outspoken and sometimes harsh, but he always uses reason, science and facts and in the end that makes all the difference. Atheism is not a religion.

Markus Aurelius said...

Believe it or not, there are some of us "conservatives" who honestly believe that the government that governs least, governs best; that the best vehicle for job creation is a private sector allowed to do its thing free of intervention; and that all that puritanical moralism exemplified by the religious right is bullshit best left out of public policy.

Crazy, I know.

alan_ferrett said...

Belief does not stop intellect, or thought, or anything, really.

I'm currently doing a double degree in chemistry and chemical engineering and my main belief is that science doesn't know half of what mainstream people think it knows.

Belief is for the soul, the place to go to for centring of one's emotional being.

Science is for the mind, the place to go to for the centring of one's understanding of their place in the cosmos.

Different roles. Its like saying you can't have shoes because you wear a hat.

jojjo said...

I agree completely (even though I hold Dawkins in slightly higher regard then you seem to), but being Swedish I can tell you this: it is worse over here. Not the religious side of it of course, we're quite spared from that; but the anti-intellectualism is indeed greater. You'd be hard pressed to find a handful of MP:s in Sweden with any form of college education, or someone who actually had a real job. Even in the current center-right government (which I support for the most part) there are several people who are obviously incompetent; and it's much worse in the social-democratic party. Their last leader, Måna Shalin, was pretty much the intellectual equal to Bush, except she didn't even finish high-school! The current leader is not much better, and one of his former rivals for the post, Veronica Palm, is such a complete idiot she makes Palin look like a sensible and intelligent woman. Just thought you should know.

Dave from canada said...


"but his zealotry on behalf his own atheism is often a bit too close to what it aims to oppose."

How? I've heard this criticism multiple times but noone has EVER bothered to explain it in detail.

What opposition are you referring to? And how is he in any way like it?

Dave from canada said...

@ alan.

The second I started reading your post I thought "this guy HAS to be some kind of engineer".

Engineering the bible belt the scientific profession.

Your analogy is faulty. I know I have a head and feet, and thus shoe and a hat are useful. There's no evidence for a soul and indeed a great deal of evidence for everything traditionally associated with the soul to be explaneable by science.

TheAlmightyNarf said...

@ Dave from canada

You're kind'a splitting hairs on "souls" there. The word doesn't necessarily mean some form of super-natural essence, but it could be used as simply a metaphor for the unconscious mind. It's still more or less the same idea.

antecedentless said...

I don't know how you got stuck on this whole "those TEA bagging barbarians are trying to 'sneak' God (back) into classrooms because they are against people high intelligence (e.g. elitist)" thing...

There was a real anti-intellectual movement in the not too distant past: one where students were literally told to go murder their teachers. It had little to do with limited government and economic freedom, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the One who endows all men with "certain inalienable rights."

Arturo said...

It's like we're in medieval times all over again

Ryan said...


No, it isn't.


These are the end times, because I totally agree with you, both that the Conservative Movement (aka The Tea Party) isn't anti-intellectual so much as they're against social responsibility. Belief in God is just one more way to avoid it for them. I also agree that Totalitarian Communism is exactly like Totalitarian Theocracy, in that both of them are all about preventing people from noticing that the entire basis of their society is a lie. (Communism's Lie: working out of terror is the same as working out of altruism, Theocracy's Lie: there is a God who cares about people and it matters what you think about that)


I kind of love the idea that if I moved to Europe I'd be perceived as a reactionary conservative, no matter how much of a raving liberal I am here.


Voting Conservative: Protecting rich dudes on credit

Voting Democrat: Protecting rich dudes and having them pay for some of it

Voting Liberal: Not actually an option that I've seen in politics

jojjo said...

You wouldn't really. Things are just as reactionary over here, they're just more wasteful ;)

David said...

How DARE politicians try to relate to us! What kind of self-respecting voter would support someone who has PERSPECTIVE on what being a middle class citizen was like?! Remember the good old days, when our leaders were all born into royalty, lived in constant wealth and were largely cut off the outside world? Why can't it be like that again??

Most illogical. -_-

Now, turning off the sarcasm and switching to the other half of the topic...

I've heard this "republicans are stupid and people WANT republicans to be stupid" topic brought up by people like MovieBob many times before, and it's all well and good. Just one problem,

WHAT STUPIDITY? Seriously? WHERE'S the deficiency in intelligence? You talk like there's a pipe stuck in their head. Where is it?

Look, here, look, see what Rick Perry has done and learned:
He's lived a pretty constructive life.

Now let me clarify, when I ask 'why do you think republicans are stupid?' I'm asking rhetorically. In truth, I know EXACTLY why people like you say this all the time:

They have different political opinions than you. They do all the things liars and frauds (that have been planting things in your minds since childhood) said were eviilllll things.

You then go about rationalizing this to yourself with two things:

One: They have southern accents. Really, it's no more complicated than that. Obama talks intelligent, so he's smart. Bush has an accent and a baby-face, so he's dumb. You're reeeeeally helping to advance the progressive and tolerant world here.

Two: They're Christians. As alan_ferrett said, you can have a belief and still be a smart person. Again, you sure are a lot like the intolerant dicks you keep bashing all the time.

Varya said...

I can't agree with you on Sweden. I'm also a Swede and I believe we hold education in high regards, especially if you compare it to american politics. Yes, of course we've had stupid politicians, but I think you are exaggerating. We live in a country were everyone can get a collage education, which is more than you can say for a lot of countries, and our level of education is high compared to others. And while politicians often try to connect with people without higher education, I have never, ever, felt that Sweden is a country where education is frowned upon. In fact, a country where facts and reason is held in such high regards is hard to find. We are one of the most secular and atheistic nations in the world. So, in fact, not only are you wrong, but dead wrong.

SonofRyan said...

1. Narf, Ron Paul is not a moderate, he's a fringe wacko. He wants to go back to the gold standard (economically and practically impossible besides being a bad idea) and doesn't believe in evolution, he's as much, if not more of a crazy fringe figure than evolution. Oh and he's a strong believer in alternative "medicine" which I cannot support.

2. Biomechanical(Etcetc) You're gross misrepresentation of the belief that the government should take an active role in helping those who are victims of bigotry doesn't deserve a rational response, as it isn't even intelligible, you sir, deserve to be ridiculed.

3. Antecedentless you are correct in your assertion that the Chinese cultural revolution was a very bad, anti-intellectual movement. This in no way negates Perry's anti-intellectualism. And you didn't link to the Cultural Revolution which was the movement you meant to refer to, but to the original Chinese communist takeover, which was different. You want to use history use it right.

4. David, please don't pretend christianity is under attacked or that christians are oppressed in the US. As a Jew, a member of religion that knows what actual oppression is, it's laughable and borderline insulting to hear the largest and most powerful religion in the world pretending that they are victims of intolerance (outside of some particular places in the middle east, mid-northern Africa, and east/south-east Asia) David, there are a host of reasons why the current Republican establishment is very antiintellectual.
A. Their support of anti-science climate deniers.
B. Their branding of people who want to force evolution, that is, good science, to be the only thing taught in the science classrooms of America as "elitist"
C. The support by candidate Michelle Bachman of the belief that vaccines are harmful, possibly leading to a decline in vaccination rates and, therefore, the deaths of children.

Those are some of the many, many, reason why the republican party is anti-intellectual currently. I could go into others (embrace of gold-worshipping monetary policy, supply-side tax policy, and conspiratorial fear of the UN) But it is not their accents as, for example, Bill Clinton had an accent just as thick as Bush's and I don't think he was anti-intellectual. And while many republicans do have views I disagree with, the fact that they actively hold views that are in blatant contradiction with scientific fact and empirical evidence and infer that people who tell them otherwise are in an "ivory tower" and are "elitists" is definitely a sign of anti intellectualism.