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OCCAM'S SLEDGEHAMMER
Democrats: Get ready to offend the ignorant

By Avery Walker | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

As several small nations prepare to evacuate because of rising ocean levels, and the Pentagon draws up arms-transfer scenarios after India’s fall to climate change, Americans prefer to believe that all of this is simply the product of left-wing lunacy. My "problem with authority," is difficult to overstate, but even I have to admit that these people clearly have their reasons.

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So I wonder: Exactly how much evidence does it take for Americans to be convinced that a thing is true? And how much evidence to the contrary does it take for Americans to abandon an established belief? When I look at America’s widely held beliefs on subjects like global warming, drug safety, or even evolution, the only answer I can come up with is, “An arkload.”

I hate to break this to whoever the much-needed new leadership at the DNC, but it might take more than four years of deprogramming to make any rational view acceptable in American political discourse. The good news, I suppose, is that there isn’t even going to be an opportunity to re-take the Senate for at least ten years. So, feel free to spread the truth, and piss some people off, starting now.

Let’s start with a fairly shocking statistic, merely as an example of how difficult your task will be: Polls have repeatedly shown that fewer than forty percent of Americans believe in evolution—and even fewer received detailed instruction on the subject in a public school. Let’s think about this for a moment. We have a fossil record clearly showing a progression of the genus homo into anatomically modern man, complete with several evolutionary splits and dead-ends, or as I like to call them, “God Goofs.” We also have no fossil evidence of anatomically modern man until the end of this progression. The same fossil record reflects similar change for most species over time, and shows that species that are particularly resiliant have changed very little in this time. One might think that's enough.

More importantly, however, we can actually test the reality of the driving force of evolution: genetics. If genes are eliminated from or introduced into a population, the offspring reflect that. It’s that simple. Gregor Mendel proved this in 1865, and scientists have spent the last half century reaffirming that the process did indeed drive change in our own species.

Many farmers who claim not to believe in evolution actually use it to breed livestock in between harvesting genetically-altered plants. No one would ever dispute that two Asian people would produce all Asian offspring, while two people of mixed race would produce mixed offspring. The same can be said, to a lesser degree, of short and tall people; this is reflected in certain populations, as well. In fact, the same could be said for virtually any physical trait.

Yet still, when we apply the word “evolution” to this known reality, less than half of us believe it’s true, largely because our educational system has been politicked into treating something that is a fact as pure speculation. They get away with this because those on the other side have been brainwashed into believing that if you say you don't believe something for religious reasons, then your point must be considered logically valid. Otherwise, you might hurt someone's feelings, and we can't let a little thing like an honest, informed education for our children make us do something so crass as to tell people that they're just plain wrong.

And the illiterati have three very, very big allies in this battle against reason. First, they have the human ego, which says that it cannot possibly have evolved from a form of life it now views as lower. Second, they have some within the religious community who seem to think that Michelangelo’s sixteenth century vision of Adam is somehow religious canon, and therefore, if evolution happened, there is no God. And they say these people are simple-minded. And, finally, they have a few professionals who have devoted their lives to proving the theory of evolution to be false. So far all they’ve been able to prove is that if we change half of what we know about the continental drift and exclude all other data (like tree ring records that go back far earlier,) it is possible for the Earth to be 6,000 years old. Also, they've invented something called a "missing link" that has no basis in reality, but cooks up nicely with a good red herring.

Luckily, religious scientists have come up with a happy medium—creationist evolution. It sounds like a bullshit name, I know. And it’s fitting. "Creationist evolution” is just a way of acknowledging what should be obvious to anyone in this genus—that at some point in reconstructing the creation of the universe even scientists have to just throw up their hands and go, “Um, I guess God did it!” Their point is fairly obvious, but at least it shows they’re thinking.

Not believing in evolution won’t hurt anybody (as long as you’re not working on the human genome project). But is too much to ask for a Democrat who'll stand up for science? It shouldn’t be a major campaign issue, of course, but… It would at least be a show of sanity.

These chromosomally-challenged crusaders are only assaulting our intellect. A few warning labels on public school books (I wish I was kidding, but one text company actually began doing this last month,) promotes ignorance, but it doesn’t kill anybody. Unfortunately, these fact-feigning activists to whom some kind soul was gentlemanly enough to grant a degree also come out of the woodwork when there are urgent problems to be addressed, and always with the same message: Don’t worry, do nothing.

Three “reports” on global warming came out this week. One was from the University of Washington using data from England’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, which reaffirmed that the lower stratosphere is heating up as quickly as the Earth’s surface. A Reuters piece on climate change in Asia quoted scientists on such diverse and happy topics as alternating drought and flood / hot and cold snaps on the continent, to the total disappearance of some island nations under rising ocean waters. All of this, at the current rate of warming, will occur over the next fifty years.

Another, released by a conservative think tank and paid for in part by Exxon, laughably suggested that global warming could have positive effects for man. I mean, haven't you always wanted to go scuba diving through the streets of Calcutta? It also reportedly included head shots of the responsible scientists, along with demo reels and a press kit for their latest book, “How Beating Your Head Against a Wall Can Rid You of Brain Cancer.”

At least they acknowledged that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, though. They had to; they’re from England, where not doing so would be downright crazy. It’s something our President has yet to do. When confronted about global warming, Bush either denies it has anything to do with greenhouse gas emissions, or pulls out his favorite non-argument: “We don’t really have enough information at this time.”

But, then, what evidence do we have, really? Well, for starters, we know that water vapor, CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap heat, which can be proven quite easily in any setting. We also know that our atmosphere is made up of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, one percent argon, as well as traces of water vapor, CO2, methane, and other heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases. We know that these gases hold heat from the sun. And, finally, we know that in the last 250 years, we have increased the concentration in our atmosphere by 31 percent. So, one would expect that this would cause the temperature of the Earth to increase, as more heat is trapped in the atmosphere. Doesn’t take a genius—or a “think tank”—to hypothesize the outcome of this grand experiment. Lo and behold, it seems that our non-genius is right: the temperature of the Earth is, indeed, rising—by .08-.22 degrees centigrade since 1979.

But the fringe theorists that the current Administration so loves to reference trot out one irrelevant piece of speculation after another to offer other explanations for why the these climate changes are occurring, without ever addressing the clear and obvious logic of the actual argument. Volcanoes? The position of the Earth? Aliens? Anything will do, so long as it buys a little more time for Bush’s big oil cronies to drill til the well runs dry (which, by the way, should be about the time India becomes an island nation). Just so long as the American public is spared the inconvenience of breathing cleaner air and driving a car that gets three times the gas mileage they’re getting now, they won’t put up much of a fight. How do they do it? That old, mostly Republican stand-by: “We still need to sort out all of this data… There is no scientific consensus.”

Well, guess what? There is a scientific consensus, Americans just don't want to believe it, the same way we didn't want to believe that the terrorists were coming. If someone hasn't posted a comment calling these predictions, which were even the supported by a recent CIA report, "left wing paranoia" or overstatement, I'll be shocked. But this consensus is one reason why scientists overwhelmingly supported John Kerry for President, and oil families overwhelming supported George W. Bush. I think that perhaps Democrats should take this time out of power to convince American voters that ceasing this rush toward doom should take precedent over kissing up to the oil and auto industries.

They should start now; it may take some time to sink in. If I hear one more person in Southern California deny global warming by saying, “Seems like it’s getting’ colder to me,” Totally ignorant of the fact that that is a predicted effect of global warming on that region, I’m going to bang their head against that of their Representative in Congress. Hard.

But at least those morally and logically deficient, paid superstar experts have good reason to spread industry propaganda: They’re getting money and undeserved attention. The good folks at the FDA are posing the most immediate danger to the American people, and they’re doing it for an afternoon of golf and a Pfizer tote bag. 3,000 people died on 9/11; 55,000 died from Vioxx. Merck, who was well aware of the drug’s dangers since 1998, killed 18 times as many Americans than al Qaeda. Enjoy your 1,320 virgins, boys. I suppose as long as none of them were fetuses, the mathematically and morally deficient Bush Administration finds that number to be acceptable.

Drugs are constantly approved, rejected, or even made illegal for entirely political reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the danger they pose to the consumer. Is it too much to ask that a Democrat stand up and call for a total overhaul of this politically-driven system? Aspirin kills 200 a year (an acceptable risk, given its benefits). Vioxx killed 55,000 (clearly unacceptable). I don’t use marijuana (hard to believe, I know,) but even I know that it only kills people in government propaganda films made by people who seem to believe it has roughly the same effect of an LSD, PCP and horse tranquilizer cocktail. When Republicans, and the vast majority of Democrats, for that matter, are confronted with the subject of legal marijuana, out comes the “Further analysis,” card. And when it comes to the “good” drugs, they have consistently allowed pharmaceutical companies—which have made huge profits keeping low-cost generic drugs out of the hands of dying poor people—to police themselves when it comes to safeguarding America.

Speaking of those generic drugs, one statistician made headlines this week by claiming (perhaps rightfully) that African political instability due to the HIV epidemic is a greater threat to national security than global warming. While the comparison itself probably shocks many Americans, what should be shocking them is the way that conservatives immediately turned the doomsday warning into, "See? There's no problem with global warming. Political fallout from AIDS will get us first!"

I know that to many readers these three subjects may seem unrelated. But, I assure you, they’re not. Because, Republicans (and spineless Democrats) get away with eschewing science, logic, and morality in these cases simply by taking advantage of the laziness of the American people. We really don’t wanna think about anything too hard, so we’ll generally accept any two sides of an argument as legitimate, even if one or both are clearly absurd. I call it Occam’s Sledgehammer: If someone says something, and you want to believe it, you’ll take their reason as valid. After all, not believing they could be right might hurt their feelings, and we can’t let a little thing like hurtling toward our doom force us to make the opposition feel invalidated.

Thus, Republicans are particularly good at taking an argument—any argument that they can’t win with logic—and muddying it with misinformation just enough to give their loyalists something to shout to their neighbors, thereby calling it a draw. And, when an argument is a draw, error is always on the side of conservation. One might speculate that we err on this side in order to play it safe. But, then, one might also note the staggering degree of intellectual laziness it takes to accept these “arguments” as valid, and see that people are likely to be lazy in other ways, too. Thought takes effort, yes, but change… Change might actually require getting off the couch.

Democrats, you have about two and a half years, starting right now, to not worry about making the American people feel uncomfortable. It’s time to bring on the reality. Bring on the science. Make yourselves the bearers of the painful truth, and more importantly, of practical solutions. After all, now that they’re in charge, they can't blame these things on you.

 



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