Monday, September 19, 2005

Look to Heaven for Relief

    "Bush's efforts to chloroform public opinion with superstition and fatalism are meant to distract attention from the actual scientific understanding of events such as Hurricane Katrina."

The author of this excellent article nicely captures the new bread and circuses flavor of the Bush Administration response to the opportunities presented by Katrina.
    The denial of environmental problems has disarmed the population in the face of real dangers. A serious attempt to deal with global warming would require not only a major shift in the sources and methods of energy production, but a massive investment in social infrastructure to guard against disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, something the American ruling elite is unwilling to carry out.

    There is, of course, a more immediate and sordid aspect of the appeal to religion. It is used to justify the funneling of federal monies to religious groups, in particular to right-wing Christian fundamentalist outfits that are close to the Republican Party and serve as a principal base of the Bush administration. Bush announced in his speech that part of the money that is being raised by former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will go to religious organizations...

    The administration sees the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to push its efforts to integrate church and state and to promote government financing of “faith-based” groups in place of social programs for those most severely crushed by the workings of the capitalist system.

    Aside from these more immediate political calculations, the administration'’s relentless promotion of religion serves the long-range goal of undermining science and polluting the public consciousness with superstition and backwardness. To the extent that mystification of both natural and social processes gains the upper hand, the masses of people who are victimized by the policies of the government and the financial elite are ideologically and politically disarmed.

    Invocations of God serve to impede a serious examination of the causes of the Katrina disaster, —above all, those which arise not from nature, but from the dysfunctional and socially destructive workings of the capitalist system, and the role of the parties, media organs, and government institutions that uphold that system.

Worth reading in full.

And in Salon last week, The Know Nothings examines the alliance between the pro-business republicans and the religious right based largely on Chris Mooney's new book The Republican War on Science.

Of particular interest is the discussion of the history of the "teach the controversy" strategy currently being deployed by both the creationists and the opponents of global warming. This rhetorical trick is a lot older that I had realized.
    Mooney quotes an internal strategy document from the tobacco company Brown and Williamson, written around 1969: "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." B&W and the other tobacco giants achieved no better than a stalemate in their long battle against government regulation, but whatever chain-smoking, skinny-tied executive wrote that memo ought to be beatified by the conservative movement. With those two sentences he became its accidental Karl Marx, launching an antiscientific counterrevolution that rages around us today.

The second leg of the current stategy is the appeal to balance:
    Perhaps most effectively of all, the right's war on science has exploited the mainstream media's fetish for journalistic "balance," regardless of its relevance to reality. Despite the overwhelming consensus of mainstream science on global warming, newspaper articles and TV reports still dutifully call upon the shrinking universe of contrarians like Michaels.

A good analysis of what's wrong with this can be found here. And the attempt to line up enough experts to create a plausible veneer of controversy led to a hilarious response by the National Center for Science Education. NCSE's Project Steve is compiling a counter list of scientists who support evolution and who happen to be named Steve (616 signed up so far). They even have a fine pythonesque theme song!

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