Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Liberal Thoughts Finally Solidified

So, I've been having this ongoing argument with one of my teammates about various conservative vs liberal topics. Since my personal political leanings are so bizarre (I describe myself as the only libertarian socialist in the world), sometimes I'm not entirely certain on where I stand. Well, the topic of global warming came up the other day, and I did some research, then we argued about it some more, and I am happy to say that I have finally figured out the insidiousness of the conservative argument.

My thoughts start with Deborah Tannen, who discusses the binary nature of American thought: for any argument, there must be a counter-argument. In the interests of fairness and debate, topics are presented as an either/or choice. Either there is evolution or creation. Either there is global warming or there isn't. (based on human behavior...) So, the problem is that because of our efforts at "fairness" in these debates we present both sides, even when the preponderance of opinion is on one side or the other. So, even though almost every biological scientist in America believes in evolution by natural selection, we feel we have to allow "equal time" to the creationist argument (sorry, Scientific Creationism, I mean, Creation Science, err, Intelligent Design...?). This legitimates the idea of Creationism, et al. Enough on my own peccadillo - we do the same with global warming (err, global climate change?) We have two camps, the "settled" and "not settled" group. And the "settled" group says yes, there is global climate change, and yes, it is a result of human activity. The "not settled" has about 10% of the membership of the "settled" group, and says a variety of things, from "it's not happening at all" to "it's a good thing." But we insist on giving both sides a say.

First off, I would like to point out that in some ways, I myself am in the "not settled" camp, simply because I don't know climatology well enough to read the evidence or know the people involved. After having read about what's happened with AAA and the Human Terrain System, I realize that there are some pretty powerful membership institutions that can quash debate in order to satisfy their own agendas... but that's a different post.

For now - here's the insidious part. You point out to a conservative that organizations like the Natural Resources Stewardship Project are funded by "big energy" (to steal a phrase), their response is "well, yes, but how many of the climate change people are funded by environmental groups or other organizations with a vested interest?" Its not exactly hypocrisy, and frankly, when you're in the middle of an argument, it seems a perfectly rational response that makes you think. But I've finally realized that this is one of the main problems with the conservative viewpoint (so much that I can't be a conservative. I had a friend who once said: "I agree with the Republicans on most issues, social welfare, free market economy, government spending. I just can't get past the fact that the Republican leadership are a bunch of duplicitous assholes" - very eloquent). The conservative movement has taken up the mantle of crazy post-modernist in a way that would make Jacques Derrida proud. Everything is biased, they say. Christian groups, big corporations fund research, the lobbyists inform their delegates how to vote, of course the liberals do the same. Everything is relative, everyone is biased. William Saletan describes this quite well with a Slate article on Rush Limbaugh's view of the universe, and how he can criticize Michael J. Fox and then be perplexed when people get upset.

Which leads me to my final point. John Stewart in 2004 went on Crossfire to tell them to stop. I remember, though, when there was a debate show that presented true debates, and not the Crossfire/Hannity&Colmes yelling the party line at each other. My first introduction to Firing Line was one of those afternoons when there was nothing else on TV. I turned on the TV, flipped the channels, and there were eight people debating evolutionism vs creationism. They were polite, they were thoughtful, and they debated, they didn't argue. Even though I began this rant with a complaint about presenting creationism as the equal and opposite of evolutionism, the tone of that show was always respectful and considered. It was about making a point and defending it with evidence, not taking a side and yelling at the other. There are so few people in this country ready to think about their beliefs and not indulge in blatant partisanship.


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