Sagan's Warning

What follows is an excerpt from Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. When I first read it, years ago, I thought he was just speculating a worst-case scenario. I was wrong. He was all too accurate.
Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you're in love, you want to tell the world. This book is a personal statement, reflecting my lifelong love affair with science. But there's another reason: science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking.

I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time - when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers.

The plain lesson is that study and learning - not just of science, but of anything - are avoidable, even undesirable.

We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements - transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting - profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
                Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

You can see it today in the GOP's war on women, and their overt racism. You can see it in their disdain and suspicion of science and education.

When those who would hold the highest public office in America refer to colleges as "indoctrination mills", something is seriously wrong. When they confuse quantifiable, observable fact as mere opinion, it is dangerous.

They would casually discard everything we, as a people, have venerated for centuries, in favor of some twisted, corporate theocracy.

If they succeed, it won't end well for any of us. But make no mistake, it will end.

Grasping the Concept

Recently, a judge in Montana, Richard Cebull forwarded a racist email that referred to President Obama, which I obviously won't repeat here.  He has since apologized, saying,

  "The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama."

His apology seems sincere enough, except that he's apologizing for how the email was perceived, rather than it's substance. Still, it's not really the point. This man's sole job is, essentially, to use good judgement. In this case (and perhaps many others), he failed to do so.

He admitted that he read the email, and knew it was racist, but decided to forward it on to some "old buddies" anyway. A part of his job description is to maintain an appearance of impartiality. To me, his failure to do so makes every one of his rulings suspect.

This isn't about free speech, as the Republican senators in his state would have you believe. He is free to have opinions, and discuss them privately.  But this man holds the life and liberty of American citizens in his hands daily. To use such poor judgement precludes having a job with that kind of responsibility, and for that reason alone, he should step down.

If he can't see this, it's just another indication of his poor judgement.

Weighing the toad

Rush Limbaugh's most recent vulgar tirade caused, in his words, "a national stir".  I think a better term would be shitstorm.  At last count, 33 companies have pulled advertising from his show.  He's still on the air, doing his best to portray himself as the victim in all this.  Just a regular joe, under attack from the liberal elitists for trying to get the "truth" out to the American people.  The thing is, that six months, or a year from now, that's exactly how a significant percentage of people will see it.

It is they, not Rush Limbaugh, who I blame the most.  Limbaugh is a just a sad, unremarkable, little toad of a man.  The world is full of 'em.  The fact that this cretin has such an unreasonably large amount of influence over conservative politics, is due to those who listen to his hatefulness, his disinformation, his vulgarity, and his racism, and then point to it as truth. 

He represents their  twisted, obscene vision of what America should be.  He is the symbol they point to, to legitimize their fear, their hate, and their ignorance.

Rush and his followers figure that all they have to do is wait until the next new cycle, and they can go back to business as usual.

I say that if we don't draw a line here, and now, then there really is no point past which we won't go as a people.