Monday, November 29, 2004

Do Liberals Have a Problem With Knowledge?

Yes, according to the subhead of this bit of pabulum from Gene Veith of World magazine. We consider his remarks in full:

“How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” That was the headline in the British tabloid Daily Mirror announcing the reelection of President Bush. American liberals are asking the same question, concluding that the 51 percent of the public that voted against their man is just not smart enough to appreciate the liberal agenda.

When someone like Veith uses the term “American liberals”, he is not referring to an actual group of people. He means only the shadowy cabal of amoral monsters who are so frequently scapegoated in fundamentalist literature. Thus, he starts with a snide quote from a British newspaper (one which surely couldn't care less about John Kerry or his agenda (liberal or otherwise) but rather couldn't believe that so many Americans believed Bush's manifest dishonesty in the buildup to the war and his equally manifest ineptitude in conducting the war somehow earned him a second term), and simply attributes the same view to his favored bogeyman. Lovely.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd goes so far as to say that with the reelection of President Bush “we're entering another dark age.” She and others are saying that a majority of Americans have rejected science (by which they mean belief in Darwinism or support for destroying human embryos for stem cells). We have embraced superstition (by which they mean Christianity). And we have become intolerant and oppressive (by which they mean not agreeing with same-sex marriage).

A single line from a single New York Times columnist. That's the sum total of his evidence. That's the excuse to lay out the series of caricatures that fill out the paragraph.

So let's take them one at a time.

Bush has stated publicly that he supports teaching creationism in public schools, and he has limited embryonic stem-cell research. He has also taken an ostrich-like mentality to global warming (I'm surprised Veith didn't mention that one, since global warming is as good as evolution in providing chum for the right-wing sharks). These are all serious issues, but the problem goes deeper than this. There is Bush's propensity for stacking science advisory panels with people willng to tell him what he wants to hear. There is his administration's disturbing references to the “reality-based community”. There is his notable anti-intellectualism, and his preference for faith over reason. The problem is only partly the specific policy positions his administration has taken. It is also the administration's attitudes about how wisdom is obtained.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a single liberal who equates Christian belief generally with embracing superstition. But the sort of fundamentalist beliefs espoused by Bush and his supporters certainly are no improvement over superstition. When religious belief is used as a shield to avoid having to think about difficult moral or scientific issues, liberals are quite right to cry foul.

And their opposition to gay marriage is one reason to view fundamentalists as intolerant and oppressive, but it is hardly the only one. There is also their silly idea that the separation of church and state only goes one way. Not to mention their belief that their particular form of religious belief is a perfectly sound basis for public policy.

There was a time when the Democrats billed themselves as the party of the common man, appealing to the down-to-earth common sense of the masses against the aristocracy of wealth and privilege. That was before the party was taken over by the aristocracy of wealth and privilege represented by academics, special-interest crusaders, and “knowledge workers.” By definition, those who consider themselves intellectuals think they are smarter than the vulgar masses. This disdain, condescension, and disconnect with ordinary Americans is the main reason today's Democrats keep losing elections.

Excuse me? Mr. Veith is lecturing other people about disdain and disconnect?

It's news to me that academics represent wealth and privilege. No one goes into academe in the hopes of getting wealthy, and it is not clear to me what privileges I enjoy fo rhaving taken the plunge. For example, as an academic I am expected to defend my beliefs with meticulously collected evidence. Fundamentalists, by contrast, are allowed to get by with appeals to the Bible. Who's the privileged one here?

Special interest crusaders are hardly the exclusive domain of either side of the political spectrum. And I'm not exactly sure what a knowledge worker is, but judging from the sneer quotes I'm sure it's not good. This sounds like standard anti-intellectualism to me.

And considering yourself an intellectual means, by the definition of something or other, that you believe you're smarter than the vulgar masses? That's just another slur and another crude stereotype, but apparently that's all people like Mr. Veith are capable of.

Intellectuals think they should rule, but whenever they do, the result is disastrous. Plato's Republic imagined the perfect society ruled by philosophical “guardians,” but even in theory this manifested itself in eugenics, immorality, and the elimination of freedom. Real-life states dreamed up and then implemented by the fascist intellectuals and the communist intellectuals also eliminated freedom, rejected moral absolutes that would limit what man and the state can do, and sought to design the next stage of evolution.

Intellectuals not only think they are smarter than everyone else, they also think they should rule? Fascism and communism were the product of intellectuals run amok?

When people like Nicolas Kristof say that liberals need to be more respectful of red-state values, is this the sort of thing he has in mind? Veith has nothing to offer beyond vicious smears and delusional stereotypes. Yet he is published in a prominent evangelical magazine, whose editor, Marvin Olasky, has the ear of the President. Just lovely.

And that's only the first half of the article! Stay tuned for part two tomorrow!


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