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