Fundamentalist Politics

“Faith is…the evidence of things not seen.”

—Hebrews 11:1

Paul Krugman’s latest column is very kind to conservative Republicans, calling them,

The Ignorance Caucus

Ignorance, you know, is curable. And some of us think that what ails the Republican Party these days is not so curable. Krugman was sort of taking it easy on them.

In any case, he pointed out a few things that should scare all thinking people:

Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

On Eric Cantor’s “major policy speech” last week, Krugman said,

when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.

Krugman adds:

the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.

In his speech, Cantor said he supported medical research, but Krugman points out that,

he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.

The federal government, since it runs a rather large health insurance program—Medicare—and since it partners with the states to run another rather large insurance program—Medicaid—and since it operates a rather large health care system—the Veterans Health Administration—might be interested in the comparative effectiveness of health care treatments. But Republicans, preferring ignorance and thus incompetence, want to keep government in the dark.

On climate research, Krugman notes the usual attempts by Republicans to kill it. And even when they don’t kill it, even when they consent to some meager research, they still can’t help themselves from asserting their fondness for ignorance:

Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.

That would be like trying to assess the dangers of playing football but prohibiting the use of the words “brain damage.”

Here’s more conservative-embraced ignorance via Krugman:

House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.

On guns and violence:

…back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue.

Why should Republicans fear knowing things? Because knowing things is often an enemy of fixed beliefs. And the GOP has a lot invested in those fixed beliefs. Related to that, Krugman hits on something of fundamental importance that all Americans need to make an attempt to understand because it is responsible for much of the lack of progress we see:

The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.

Epistemology is a big but necessary word because it is critical to our advancement as individuals and society. Epistemology comes to us from philosophy, and all philosophers by the nature of their discipline have, or should have, something to say about it. In short it is “the theory of knowledge,” which involves thinking about what “knowledge” is, how we get it, how we know it is genuine—heck, if even there is such a thing as “genuine” knowledge.

Krugman referenced the Texas Republican Party’s rejection of critical thinking skills. He wasn’t kidding. Here is the original language in the party’s 2012 platform:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

What Texas Republicans did was advance their own theory of knowledge, their own epistemology, which has “fixed beliefs.” And their theory of knowledge is based on the following, also part of their platform:

Traditional Principles in Education – We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems. 

This Republican epistemology—which has authoritarianism and inerrant biblical religion at its core—is not limited to Texas Republicans, although they feel free enough in that state to unabashedly share it with the rest of us. The theory of knowledge that says there are fixed beliefs that critical thinking should not explore is a feature of all fundamentalist religion, and, sadly, it is today a feature of what we can confidently call fundamentalist politics.

And whether we call it ignorance or something else, we have to recognize that fundamentalist politics represents a threat to our progress and our national well-being.

13 Comments

  1. This dismissal of critical thinking is, we know, a major hallmark of the Dark Ages. In it brutal feudalism and a corrupt Church ordered what could barely be called “civilization.” Heck, even Donnie Rumsfeld knows we have to do responsible research — or perhaps I’m giving him too much credit when I quote “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” It’s painful to acknowledge there are people in positions of authority in 2013 who might just prefer the knowable unknowns to remain unknown.

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  2. Duane,

    So the Republicans put the “pis” in epistemology — Knowledge bathed in a golden shower. Understandable, given what John Dean and others have said about this new generation of Conservatives. But more than understandable, this is very dangerous stuff. Dismissing critical thinking as a threat to first principles sounds very Marxist to me.

    Conservatives with this mentality tend to side with the flippant Jack Nicholson, who admonished Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, “You can ‘t handle the truth!” But that’s not the scary part. The scary part is where Nicholson follows up with this: “You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”

    This, of course, is the epitome of authoritarianism. Do as we say. And don’t question anything. Just Follow orders.

    Perhaps the bible-beating Conservatives might benefit from this little piece of scripture: John 8:31 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Herb

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  3. Outstanding post, Duane, and outstanding comments, Generalist and Herb. You leave me with little to add, except my jaw is still dropped from the blatancy with which the Texas GOP rejected critical thinking. I don’t know what to suggest, except that Orwell’s “1984” needs to be on every school’s required reading list. If ever there were “known knowns”, Generalist, that book’s got ’em.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  February 11, 2013

    Duane,

    I AGREE with this blog, essentially 100%. It is for just such a reason that I began calling myself an independent conservative about two years ago. No not all members of the GOP feel this way. But when you look at the “hoops” that a man like Romney was forced to jump through to gain the nomination of the GOP, well read the above and weep, for not only the GOP but the country at large.

    On the other hand, can the GOP be “saved”? Of course it can, just like the Dem Party recovered from left wing radicalism in the 70’s and 80’s. The country itself did not change much during that time but the Dems sure did, at least the ones of “McGoverns Party” that I bet your ranted against all the time, back then!

    Anson

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  5. I think it’s important to understand that much of conservatism, especially social conservatives I think, like Rick Santourum are not pro-freedom, though they’ll claim that.

    What they’re promoting is that authority held by non-government actors including church; business; and the patriarch headed family be interefered with vary little by the state.

    That leaves plenty of room for authoritarianism, and abuse of authority. Outsiders should keep their nose out.

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  6. Robert J Roberts

     /  February 11, 2013

    Duane,

    You get an ATTABOY for this post.

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  7. RDG,

    Sam Tanenhaus’ “Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people” (New Republic) has been making the rounds.

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112365/why-republicans-are-party-white-people#

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    • Good article at your link, Juan.

      House construction is an on-going activity in my neighborhood. Down the street, two houses are going up and foundation work continued through last weekend, never mind the Super Bowl. As I was walking the dog at sunset I observed a lone figure toiling with the concrete blocks, loading them into a wheelbarrow, running the gasoline powered cement mixer. A Hispanic man was working the whole thing alone as the shadows deepened. I don’t know how long he worked that night but he was back again the next morning, as though he never left, never ceased his toil.

      When many think of minorities they think of disparaging stereotypes, out-of-work lollers disposed to crime and looking for the easy life, and such do exist of course, but it is just such people who draw attention. The lone toilers who abide by laws and work hard, those who endlessly do society’s grunt work, are hardly noticeable there in the background, laying the bricks, making the beds, cleaning the offices, picking the fruit. But it would be a mistake to dismiss their ambitions for themselves and their families. They are aware, and it is not merely the hourly wage that drives their focus and long labor. Such people yearn for what those in the party of Calhoun already have, and they have become a force that will not be denied.

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  8. ansonburlingame

     /  February 12, 2013

    The article linked by Juan above is good reading and accurate. But it is also alarmist to a degree as if the world was falling around the heads of all the GOP and “white people” in general, at least southern white people along with a few in the Plains and Mountains!

    However a similar article could be written it would seem to me by someone accusing the Democratic Party of being simply an amalgamation of “minorities” as well. Forget the color of his skin, Obama has for whatever reason slanted his policies or attempted to do so to just such “minorities” who together today have created a political majority.

    Today, and in my view, our political system has DEVOLVED, not evolved, into one in which the haves battle the have-nots. It has become an almost revolutionary type debate now and Obama has clearly taken one side in the debate. And we are heading towards bankruptcy or at least significant national decline with his insatiable demand for more money for big government.

    Clearly Obama and people in this blog do not believe that American society alone, without government force, will ever take care of have-nots.

    And it won’t, take care of all the needs for all the have-nots. And neither will the federal government. Society and government must prioritize how it spends its money and recognize financial limitations, economic limitations. Some needs are more important than others.

    I put, for example, Sat mail delivery at the bottom of any current needs list for America today. But read accompanying thoughts on that subject herein and one would think we will fail as a nation if granma does not get her get well card on Sat.! $2 Billion is, well $2 Billion that can be diverted to better needs in my view, like keeping a pension fund solvent in the future or paying high HC costs later on.

    Attempts herein to make the “dumb white thrash” seem to be dominating the GOP would be akin to me trying to equate the Dem Party to a “bunch of…….”.

    My hope is that our political parties and others will get off that kind of disparagement and stick to policy debates for the good of ALL, and I mean ALL Americans, not just political slices of some people. United we stand, divided we fall is a motto of significance to ALL Americans today, in my view. But I see neither political party advocating such today.

    Anson

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  9. ansonburlingame

     /  February 13, 2013

    Juan,

    A prediction of something that may happen (or may not happen) is not a fact, it is a prediction, first of all. Remove the prediction for 2013 from the linked graph and then……?

    I instead have expressed my concerns about debt expansion over the long term. I analyzed and wrote recently that Real GDP has grown by about 300% since 1960 and debt has expanded by about 1000%. Those are simple facts, not spin and with no predictions whatsoever. You as I recalled termed that observation of mine as “voodo economics”. Just do the math using figures from government web sites.

    Here is a recent observation, a quote, that I found. “The media love sudden drama, even as the grand trend lines of history are often gradual and economic”. I would add that politicians do the same thing, look for “quick fixes” to long term issues.

    Anson

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    • Anson,
      What? Were you absent the day your recently audited econ class discussed how to read graphs? I am scratching an ever widening bald spot trying to figure out how removing “the prediction of 2013” changes the obvious fact concerning deficit reduction in very recent years. I would think you’d find this a positive trend.

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