The Dogma-Based Party

One of the Democrats’ most annoying conceits is that they are the party of empirical reason, while conservatives are a bunch of faith-based “anti-science” snake-handlers. 

Now, most of us know better.  And among them, writing at that noted conservative tool The Atlantic, is Mischa Fischer:

In his first State of the Union Address in 1790, George Washington told Congress, “There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature.” He went on to call science “essential” to our nation. Two hundred and twenty years later, in his first inaugural address, Barack Obama vowed to “restore science to its rightful place.”

The president’s insinuation plays into the common perception in the media, electorate, and research community that Republicans are “anti-science.” I encountered that sentiment routinely in nearly a decade working for Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it has become more commonplace in the broader political discussion.

And of course, it’s not that no problems exist:

I’m the first to admit that there are elected Republicans with a terrible understanding of science—Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, an M.D. who claims evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell” is one rather obvious example—and many more with substantial room for improvement. But Republicans, conservatives, and the religious are no more uniquely “anti-science” than any other demographic or political group. It’s just that “anti-science” has been defined using a limited set of issues that make the right wing and religious look relatively worse. (As a politically centrist atheist, this claim is not meant to be self-serving.)

The two solitary issues on which the left banks this meme are evolution and global warming.

As to evolution?  A Christian with a literal, fundamentalist reading of the Genesis story is going to object to the idea of evolution.  But the allegorical interpretation – which is the one the vast majority of contemporary politically-conservative Christians follow – is not in any way incongruent with the idea of evolution.  People of faith – including Christians – have always been leaders at scientific enquiry:

Members of all faiths have contributed to our collective scientific understanding, and Christians from Gregor Mendel to Francis Collins have been intellectual leaders in their fields. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, wrote a New York Times bestseller reconciling his faith with his understanding of evolution and genetics…Yes, an embarrassing half of Republicans believe the earth is only 10,000 years old—but so do more than a third of Democrats. And a slightly higher percentage of Democrats believe God was the guiding factor in evolution than Republicans.

And I’m going to hazard a guess that that percentage breaks down along “allegorical vs. literal reading of the Genesis story” lines. 

And then there’s global warming – the left’s current “which is heavier, a witch, or a duck?” meme:

On global warming, conservative policy positions often seem to be conflated or confused with rejection of the consensus that the planet has been warming due to human carbon emissions…Of the many Republican members of Congress I know personally, the vast majority do not reject the underlying science of global warming … Conservatives believe many of the policies put forward to address the problem will lead to unacceptable levels of economic hardship. It’s not inherently anti-scientific to oppose cap and trade or carbon taxes. What most Republicans object to are policies that unilaterally make it more expensive in the United States to produce energy, grow food, and transport people and goods but are unlikely to make much long-term difference in the world’s climate, given that other major world economies emit more carbon than the United States or have much faster growth rates of carbon emissions (China, India, Russia, and Brazil all come to mind).

Beyond that?  The Left rejects science – or embraces ideas that are no less faith-based and anti-empirical than the most zealous biblical literalist, particularly under the rubric of “social science”, which is frequently less “science” than “applied rhetoric”  – on a raft of issues:

  • Pro-infanticide activists plead that life begins when a “fetus” exits the womb, whenever that is, and that a “fetus” in the uterus at 38 weeks gestation is just a mass of tissue – ignoring that preemies born as early as 22 weeks have gone on to live normal, healthy (if very difficult, early-on) lives, and that keeping preemies born after 28 weeks alive is, if not “routine”, at least very common.
  • Gender-Identity Feminists have tried for decades to obscure and ignore the fact that men and women are physiologically, biologically, emotionally and intellectually different – and to enact that enforced ignorance in policies that go beyond “equality before the law”. 
  • Gun grab activists are almost to a person allergic to valid statistics. 
  • Green Energy activistshave gotten the government to “invest” billions in “green energy” scams that can not and will not in the foreseeable future ever address our society’s base power needs, while turning hatred of nuclear power into a near-religious expression of faith over empirical fact. 

And many more; the article compares the two sides’ relative commitment to hard science, and you should read the whole thing.

Moral of the story?  Next time some lefty bobblehead calls himself part of the “fact-based” community, smack ’em with a beaker.

39 thoughts on “The Dogma-Based Party

  1. The remarkable thing is that although Democrat (as well as Republican) pundits, operatives, and politicians tend to have degrees in the humanities rather than the sciences, Democrats and liberals still tend to get the humanities wrong. Standard thinking in history these days, the ‘consensus view’, is that history is not teleological. History is something people do, not something that happens to them. MLKs remark that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” is not a statement about history, it is a religious statement. Geographers reject the idea that geography is destiny, despite what liberals may believe about the source of the (very real) north-south division of wealth and productivity in the world, and despite the popular books of Jared Diamond. Economics, political science, and the law likewise have no purpose other than what we choose to give it.
    Occasionally some academic on the Left will remark about this — I think Stanley Fish has done it once or twice — but he is ignored, at least by other liberals.
    Personally I believe that the Left’s belief in some controlling power over the physical and moral universe is a holdover from monotheism (good luck getting them to admit it).

  2. As has been evidenced by the more Leftish commenters here and throughout the internet, the Left has a lot tied up in their real or imagined intellectual superiority over their opponents. This superiority generally does not lead them to instruct or try to educate their opponents but instead just mock them.
    Rarely have I seen a Lefty actually do the heavy lifting of science where hypothesis is followed by experiment to prove the hypothesis and others replicate the experiment. More often, it’s just some claim like “typhoons are more numerous and more powerful than ever and will get worse and more powerful!! For proof you get “uh, hello, Typhoon Hayain, Science! denying wingnut! You’re ‘Teh’ Stupid!11!ty”
    And then this happens…
    But the Lefty professor will continue to catch grants and appear on TV and never is heard a discouraging word regarding his Science!

  3. Regarding climatology and who exactly is “averse to science”, I’ve always maintained that good science always points to the results, not the consensus. Pointing to consensus is a “tell” that the science isn’t any good, and the numerous scandals regarding how the evidence has been generated and presented do little to change this view. Note that the standard explanation of Darwinism also points a lot to consensus; just sayin’.

    But it is nice to see that even secular moderates/liberals are starting to see that the guys who got Ds in college science (like Al Gore) en route to flunking out of theology school probably aren’t the best arbiters of what is good science, and who understands it.

  4. …turning hatred of nuclear power into a near-religious expression of faith over empirical fact.

    As my former nuclear-plant-worker father likes to say, “More people died at Chappaquiddick than have in nuke plant accidents in the US.”

  5. While you may be correct that most conservatives reject the notion of Manmade Global Warming because the “cure” is far worse (economically) than the disease, I think far too few are objecting for the REAL reason they should be objecting, namely that there is ZERO evidence that the “cure” will work! Why spend $70 trillion on eliminating manmade CO2 when manmade CO2 has ZERO proven effect on global temperatures?

  6. I think the heart of the anti-elite argument is thus:
    You, the highly educated elite, know a great deal about many things that universities teach. Despite that, I, a member of the unenlightened middle, do not grant that your education makes you capable of judging best how I should live my life, and I reserve judgment as to whether you even know best how to organize society. I am suspicious of any freedom (economic, political, or otherwise) that the elite takes from me ‘for my own good’, even if I stand to benefit economically. I find the differential in salary between the elite and my class is unjustified by what I can judge to be the value of their education. I expect to work for the elite, but I expect to be treated with respect at work, and as an equal outside of it. I frequently find the elite insufferable and condescending, and my first instinct will be to knock them off their high pedestals whenever they take on airs (especially you, Barack). I am satisfied enough with my economic condition to choose leaders with an attitude I admire over those who might make my world a marginally better or richer place. I will always resent the elite, no matter how meritocratically their status was conferred, because I am human, and resenting those more successful is what humans do.

  7. Emery, you left out: I don’t respect your elite credentials because i know they often mean less than you think, whether because they were bought by a legacy (Al Gore) or given for social promotion (Barak Obama) or simply for serving time in a meaningless major before law school.

  8. Emery wrote:
    I think the heart of the anti-elite argument is thus:
    You, the highly educated elite, know a great deal about many things that universities teach. Despite that, I, a member of the unenlightened middle, do not grant that your education makes you capable of judging best how I should live my life, and I reserve judgment as to whether you even know best how to organize society

    Emery, my problem with the ‘elite’ that sit on the IPCC is that they use crappy arguments “very likely = 67% to100% chance of occurring”. This is crap math meant to impress the politicians and liberal arts majors who write policy. If an event had a 23% likelihood, would it have a 23% to 100% chance of occurring?

  9. If a member of the elite is chosen by advancing him to Columbia from Occidental (where he received ‘so-so’ grades), than an elite is elite in the sense that the old aristocracy was elite. You are given a elite position because you support the status quo that empowers your new peers, not because you are especially smart or well-educated.

  10. For better or worse, since Newton the best technology of came from universities and labs from Oxbridge to MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, and the like. A few discoveries came from garages, but most of those were informed by an education from these universities.

    Some conservatives think that merit is impossible to measure through things like degrees and past performance. And yet once Monday Night Football comes on, most conservatives are experts in assessing merit.

    The kinds of conservatives that engage in this kind of “anti-elitist” warfare are simply whiners and back-seat drivers that are looking for excuses to question sub-optimal performance. Being educated doesn’t mean one becomes infallible or possesses good judgment. But glorifying the opposite–good judgment absent education–is backwards thinking.

  11. Well, what do you think an ‘elite’ is, Emery? My definition has nothing to do with education or intelligence. An elite is someone who believes that they can judge a non-elite in some way that matters, but whom will never, ever consent to be judged by a non-elite in any way that matters.

  12. There is a class of people from whom both parties that collect money. That elite benefits from:

    1. Overly generous intellectual property rights.
    2. Tax-preference for income derived from investment.
    3. An education system that creates a labyrinthine and expensive path to placing ones’ children in elite schools and elite jobs, while refusing reforms that would allow bright poor kids to climb out of poverty.
    4. Corporate governance that over-rewards senior executives, who are chosen by the elite from the elite.

    An actual populist would campaign against these systems. I see nobody in either party moving to threaten any of these pillars of inequality.

  13. For better or worse, since Newton the best technology of came from universities and labs from Oxbridge to MIT, Cal Tech, Harvard, and the like.

    The Edinburgh Renaissance, the most vital surge in science, engineering, arts, humanities and general knowledge in human history and the basis of much of what we now call “modernity” was almost entirely a product if self-educated men.

    You’re begging the question, Emery – using the conclusion (lots of big things come from “elites”) as evidence for a conclusion (elites are a worthy meritocracy because, doggone it, they are elite!).

    We’ve spent 100 years telling our people that big things are the job of our “elites” – and educating them to live down to that standard.

    Many “elites” deserve the distinction – I’ll defer to a Cal Poly Tech engineer, at least on questions of engineering. But for most, including our current President, the BEST thing it says about them is that they had the foresight to play the paper chase between ages 14-17 well enough to impress an admissions committee, knowing that it’d get them the most important byproduct if an Ivy League education – access to that alumni directory.

  14. Mitch- Cal Poly is not an elite school (unless you are an agricultural engineer). I think you mean Caltech.
    Emery has a different definition of ‘elite’ than most conservative non-elites do. It has nothing to do wit money, though that is a kind of an elite (like being an NBA player).
    The social and cultural elite is what most conservatives oppose. The attributes of this group are an impulse to manage the lives of others and, importantly, to choose who will be allowed into their club. Intelligence and schooling have nothing to do with entering this elite, it’s a wannabe aristocracy.

  15. Re elites: in the course of my career, I’ve had bosses who were graduates of the following schools:

    Washington University of St. Louis
    Providence College
    Oklahoma State
    UW-River Falls

    The most intelligent and effective boss of the group, by a wide margin, was the guy from Oklahoma State, which is widely derided as a cow college, even in Oklahoma. The Harvard guy was kinda meh. Mitch’s point about the paper chase is largely correct.

  16. Pingback: In The Mailbox 11.14.13 : The Other McCain

  17. I very strongly suggest that anyone who believes that Obama is an elite by virtue of his intelligence read one of the few available examples of his writing as president of HLR:

    This letter to HLR is remarkable for two things: Obama’s admission that he has benefited from affirmative action policies in academia, and the poor quality of the writing. He was a 3L at the most elite law school in the country when he wrote this letter. The style is overblown and there are errors in grammar, caused, perhaps, by trying to write above his level.

    (” I must say, however, that as someone who has undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action programs during my academic career, and as someone who may have benefited from the Law Review’s affirmative action policy when I was selected to join the Review last year, I have not personally felt stigmatized either within the broader law school community or as a staff member of the Review. “)

  18. Regarding Emery’s claim, there was a study after WWII that found that the technologies which, along with a lot of blood and iron, won the war were predominantly developed by physicists and chemists, not engineers.

    But that said, you’ve got folks like Henry Ford, Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Edison, Karl Benz, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, Ernie Pyle, and a host of others who all attained preeminence in their areas without a degree. And quite frankly, I’m not terribly impressed by (see Powhatan’s point) with the past four Ivy Leaguers we’ve had in the White House, either. We need more guys out of places like Eureka College, methinks.

  19. The elite speaks!
    (Hat tip Andrew Klavan)
    This is not a joke. The author has PhD and is a professor of communications. She is an elite. She wants to radically alter the way people think about animals.
    Emery wrote: The kinds of conservatives that engage in this kind of “anti-elitist” warfare are simply whiners and back-seat drivers that are looking for excuses to question sub-optimal performance. Being educated doesn’t mean one becomes infallible or possesses good judgment. But glorifying the opposite–good judgment absent education–is backwards thinking.
    There is nothing in this abstract that is unacceptable to the elites. Far from it, it will be examined to determine whether it enhances or diminishes their power (like AGW theory).
    An uneducated yokel can tell that it is bullshit, an elite can’t. They have no basis to reject it.

    This talk seeks to radically alter trajectories by which the term ‘animal’ is understood, both in nonhuman and human incarnations. It is founded on the urgent ethical imperative to think animality differently and beyond humanism in order to project ecosophical futures. It is premised on two key themes: an absolute critique and repudiation of speciesist discourse, and a desire to liberate subjectivity from human discourse and subjectification. The paper asks: what can the human be as its own animal, at once no longer fetishising non-human animals, and also giving up the majoritarian species category human toward ahuman theory — an ethics of absolute alterity? What takes us from human systems of thought, acknowledging ourselves as lives without the intervention of excluding and oppressive human discourse? The catalysts for this are limitless. Some examples could be found in certain forms of art encounters, libidinal events, abstraction, literary and filmic experiences, political activism, transgressive practices, ecosophical and chaosmotic becomings, any examples which take us to the outside. Ultimately the question of care toward material alterity, ethics and care is: “what makes possible our thinking beyond thought within a human episteme?” This question is one which must be addressed in order to truly liberate all organic bodies from oppression toward freedom of expressivity and becomings.
    Patricia MacCormack’s principal research interests are in continental philosophy, particularly the works of Deleuze, Guattari, Irigaray, Foucault, Bataille, Serres, Lyotard and Blanchot and she has published extensively in these areas. She has also written on a diverse range of issues such as body modification, performance art, monster theory and European horror film.

  20. Yes, it’s very easy to find foolish things on the Internet. Now that you’ve had your turn, do I get to discredit every crackpot, fascist, and nihilist? That’s pretty easy too.

  21. Please do so.
    But please restrict your list to people who are invited to give talks on the topic of their insanity at major public universities, as Ms. MacCormach will be giving her talk at UC Santa Barbara.
    Real elites. not wannabe elites.

  22. I’d be curious to see a more granular breakdown of your elites. I personally think our system discriminates heavily against a few character traits that would have little effect on lifetime performance if our institutions weren’t so heavily skewed against them. For instance, I think we discriminate heavily against late maturers, there’s a lot of very successful people who had dissolute youths that later reformed themselves. Neither Lincoln or Bismarck had there stuff together sufficiently to make a mark till later in life. What’s your path to the elite if you don’t have your stuff together till your 30?

    In addition, I think we skew heavily against the naturally cautious and those that value family over career. How can you get into the elite today if you’re not willing to take on debt? You might do well building up small businesses to become a low level millionaire but you’re probably not going to get to elite college if you insist on paying your way and are working to put yourself through school. There’s also no way into today’s elite if you want to be home 5 nights a week for family dinner. This is about the exact opposite of older elites that put family first and thought that people should have some time to settle into things. I’m not convinced that we’re better for not providing good roads into the elite for people with different character profiles than what we’re selecting for.

  23. Emery, you’ve got to be kidding. I have already written in this thread ‘an elite is someone who believes that they can judge a non-elite in some way that matters, but whom will never, ever consent to be judged by a non-elite in any way that matters.’

  24. PM: It sounds as if you’re saying the elite are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans. Some of the points are valid –there are networks of smarter, motivated people — but the argument then and now depends too much on discussing why people are smart, meaning inheritance, and doesn’t address in a sufficiently substantive, convincing manner the obvious point that society is also more open. It’s odd that liberals are interested in breaking down the barriers that keep groups out of the cognitive elite while conservatives pursue policies that increase social inequality.

    Places like the University of California or Stanford University (just to take two obvious examples) offer at least as good an entry into the meritocratic elites. Note that Silicon Valley did not arise in Massachusetts or New York. And, unlike the Ivy League schools, UC’s admissions don’t include points for having alumni for parents. You may have the benefit of a home where education is valued and encouraged, but you still have to make the effort on your own. That provides a lot more churn in the composition of the elites that arise among their graduates.

  25. Emery,

    That’s great – and it’s irrelevant to the point of the post.

    Dems are no less science-averse than Republicans.

  26. Well, the Dems don’t like to talk about it, but the largest minority groups that make up the Democrat coalition, Blacks and Hispanics, are notoriously poorly educated. It is uncomfortable to talk about, but many uneducated people have odd, paranoid, conspiracy driven ideas about how the world works and why things are the way that they are, and no one seems to be in any hurry to correct their thinking.
    People who support the Tea Party, FYI, tend to more educated than those who do not.

  27. So, it’s a given, then, that Marilyn Monroe was the mastermind behind the plot? Like a black widow spider, weaving a web of deceit behind the scenes. “Some Like it Hot”, indeed!

  28. So go this from the PJmedia website:
    Matt Yglesias ✔ @mattyglesias
    Laying down the marker—Obamacare implementation’s going to be great and people will love it:
    5:23 AM – 17 Jul 2013

    I’ve got a new column up about the White House’s plans for the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges and I wanted to once again take the opportunity to lay down a marker and say once again that Obamacare implementation is going to be a huge political success.

    Yglesias is a poster boy for our elite class. Son of a two novelists (mother an editor of The Nation in its 60s anti-war days). Went to the private Dalton school as a boy, graduated Harvard Magna Cum Laude with a degree in philosophy, was editor of the Harvard Independent.
    The problem wasn’t that the damn ignorant hillbillies don’t appreciate merit, it is that they have rightly determined that being a member of the elite, however measured, does not imply anything about merit. Yglesias was not only wrong, he was wrong for a stupid reason. He likes Obama, likes his policies, and wants him to succeed. What kind of ‘elite school’ education taught Yglesias that this was proper grounds for judging whether a policy will succeed or fail (and he predicted success, not that it would be good if it did succeed)?

  29. The Nation is an out-and-out commie rag. I don’t think they ever even got around to repudiating Stalin.

  30. The Yglesias piece, written last July, has to be read to be believed. He basically transcribed what Obama flacks told him at a briefing. A high school kid could have written this:

    But conservatives are certainly fooling themselves if they’re expecting a backlash driven by problems around implementation. The law is structured to be financially beneficial to a large majority of people, and the infrastructure is in place to make that clear to a critical mass of them. Snafus will be real enough, but broadly speaking, the rollout is going to be a huge success.

    Yglesias is the perfect symbol of the American elite class. Heavily credentialed, short on accomplishment, born to the right parents, and an utter failure at the area that he thinks that he is an expert in.

  31. Having watched Dr. Strangelove, I can’t help but think of Purity of Essence: that our moral fiber has been corrupted by government interfering in our water by adding fluoride for dental health but really as part of a “commie” plot to sap our essence. Our Purity of Essence is being destroyed. As Dr. Strangelove makes sadly clear: you can’t argue with crazy. And of course there is no point to a Doomsday Machine if you don’t tell anyone about it.

  32. What are you talking about, Emery? You are the only one who is writing crazy stuff here about ‘purity of essence’. You are flailing. It is a habit of yours; when you can’t make an effective counter argument you simply repeat a cliche or aphorism.

  33. Lighten up Chief. I failed at an attempt to bring meritocracy into this partisan rant about “Liberal Elites” What would SiTD be without “red-meat”?

  34. I never used the phrase ‘liberal elites’, and my comments directly refuted the idea that our ‘elites’ exhibit merit in, well, anything to do with politics or culture. Yglesias is a great example because he could be the poster boy for the elites. Yet, if you were the sort of person who said ‘gosh! I really need to know how this Obamacare thing is going to work out! I’ll check with a reputable source, say the economy and government correspondent for Slate, because that guy graduated magna cum laude with a degree in philosophy from Harvard! If there is anything that a degree in philosophy should teach you, it would be to carefully parse and measure information and arguments!”
    And you would have read Yglesias and you would have been incredibly misinformed. Have you read the Yglesias piece? He doesn’t even say why he thinks the Obamacare rollout will be great — other than that Obama’s people wold him it would be.
    If you can’t trust a guy like Yglesias to at least be informed on the topic he’s writing about, how can anyone trust what any of the elite say about anything? It’s not as though Yglesias has been fired or repudiated in any way.

    Here is Yglesias writing about conservatives and science:
    After the train wreck of his Obamacare rollout column — it would be hard to be more wrong, and to be wrong for more stupid reasons — how can anyone with a brain take Yglesias seriously? You might as well read a random post on the topic on Usenet.

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