Home > Uncategorized > The decline of science and reason – posted 11/15/2020

The decline of science and reason – posted 11/15/2020

One peculiarity of our time has been the explosive growth of belief in conspiracy theories. Science denial has become a staple of the Trump era. Clear thinking is out. We have become like the Enlightenment-in-reverse.

A conspiracy theory is a falsely derived belief that the ultimate cause of an event results from the plotting of multiple omnipresent and omnipotent actors working together in pursuit of an often malevolent, unlawful and secret goal.

The number of conspiracy theories actively at play in our lives now is staggering. These theories have moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Evidence and science have taken a back seat.

We can begin with the 2020 presidential election. There was a heated contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Joe Biden won. But Trump and many Republicans say the race was stolen. Trump tweets about deleted and flipped votes. The Trump campaign complains about dead voters and massive voting machine fraud. He and his allies have orchestrated a “Stop the Steal” campaign across the internet.

The fact that there is no evidence of fraud – none – does not seem to bother him or the Republican Party. They continue with bogus lawsuits.

Trump had previously said the 2016 election was rigged even though he won. Again, proof did not matter. Trump had already manufactured the phony birther argument against Obama.

In the 2020 election, Biden won by over five million votes and he has a comfortable electoral college advantage but still Republicans indulge the fantasy that Trump won. They say illegal votes were counted without any specificity about what votes were illegal. Possibly this is intended to sow doubt about the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency much as birtherism was used against Obama.

The darker thread is the idea promoted by authoritarians that you cannot have trust in democratic institutions. This is a way to discourage belief in the vaiidity of voting. It is hard not to wonder if one future agenda of authoritarians on the political right is promotion of dictatorship based on inability to win a popular election. Voter suppression and control of the courts have not gotten them to a majoritarian result.

Of course, the fantasy that the presidential election was stolen is nothing compared to the Q’Anon delusion of a Democratic Party of satanic pedophiles operating out of a pizza parlor in Washington DC. Q’Anon has to remain the gold standard for collective insanity but it does show the degree of distrust of government that so many believe it.

A USA Today poll found half of Trump supporters believe in Q’Anon. One Q’Anon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, got elected to Congress.

I am reminded of the Voltaire quote:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

The pandemic is another current example of science denial. Trump acts like COVID-19 is a plot against him. He has said that the CDC had exaggerated the COVID threat to weaponize it and use against him politically. Right before the election he claimed that the media would only talk about COVID and that they would stop on November 4, the day after the election. Trump fans online claim that the pandemic spread was a result of a conspiracy between the Democratic Party and the Chinese government.

Without evidence, Trump assumed the Pfizer vaccine was delayed to hinder his re-election chances. For many months he has falsely said the end of the pandemic was “right around the corner” while hawking quack cures like hydroxychloroquine.

Instead of relying on science we have close Trump allies like Steve Bannon suggesting that Dr. Anthony Fauci be beheaded. Trump pedals the junk science of Dr. Scott Atlas with his theory of herd immunity which has resulted in an absolute disregard for human life with skyrocketing deaths.

Tens of thousands have needlessly died. If the government had had the simple scientific message of masking and social distancing, many thousands of lives would have been saved. Masks should be no more controversial than toilet paper as a public health item.

Know-nothingism is the new normal. On the environment, under Trump, climate change denial has ruled. Trump has called it a “hoax”, a “scam invented by the Chinese” and “a bunch of bunk”. Even though there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists about the reality of the climate emergency, Trump has said,

“I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

The Trump Administration has failed to make the link between the more powerful hurricanes, catastrophic firestorms and rapid ice melt and climate change.

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century undermined the authority of monarchy and the Catholic Church. Reason and the scientific method became increasingly hegemonic. Part of the Enlightenment was the promotion of individual liberty and religious tolerance.

For all our technological innovations, we now live in a world where knowledge is becoming delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. We have been dumbed-down. We are not proving to be worthy successors to our Enlightenment heritage.

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