Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on March 1, 2015
“In 1951, a young William F. Buckley, Jr. articulated a strategy for opposing the consensus that supported New Deal policies. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’” was a sophomoric diatribe by the Catholic son of a wealthy oil magnate, published by the small right-wing Regnery Press. In it, Buckley rejected the principles that had enabled social progress for centuries and laid out a mind-boggling premise: The Enlightenment, the intellectual basis of Western Civilization, was wrong.
That …thinkers must stand firm on what he called a new “value orthodoxy” that indoctrinated people to understand that Christianity and economic individualism were absolute truths. Maintaining that faith in reasoned debate was a worse “superstition” than the Enlightenment had set out to replace, Buckley launched an intellectual war to replace the principle of academic inquiry with a Christian and individualist ideology.”
― Heather Cox Richardson, in Salon
The watchword for today is “peak duplicity.” Everywhere we turn for news or information, we encounter lies and deception. And as we see above quote, it has an extensive pedigree.
It is become axiomatic among left and right that the “lame-stream media” is less than useless, stenographers to power and jammed full of eager, freshfaced sucklings only too eager to oblige their CIA – vetted and planted editors in the career-building enterprise of sticking a shiv in truth’s back. And even alternative sites are often rife with disinformation; some seem to exist solely to seed confusion, the better to convince skeptics that rejection of the received wisdom is the stuff of nutcases.
This inability to trust traditional sources of information is made even more critical by the decades-long right-wing assault on science, reasoned debate, and the truth. Recall the recent flap that arose when Scott Walker, the Koch brothers’ viceroy in Wisconsin, tucked a phrase into a budget bill that would change the mission statement of the University of Wisconsin from “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth, ” to “meet the state’s workforce needs.” Scotty backtracked in the face of the resulting shitstorm and ill-timed national attention, what with an upcoming beauty contest at CPAC on his schedule. Walker claimed the new language was a “drafting error.”
This was no “drafting error,” and no mistake. As a recent article in Salon makes clear, nothing offends the sensibilities of the conservative brain trust more than reasoned debate. That’s why they have mounted a war against the scientific method, reasoned debate, and the facts for the past 40+ years.
For two generations, Movement Conservatives have subverted American politics, with increasing success, by explicitly rejecting the principle of open debate based in reasoned argument. They have refused to engage with facts and instead simply demonized anyone who disagrees with their ideology. This is an astonishing position. It is an attack on the Enlightenment principles that gave rise to Western civilization.
Make no mistake: the attack is deliberate.
The ideals of rationality that arose in the wake of the Enlightenment, itself a reaction to the excesses and deprivations of the 30 years war in Europe, papal interference in politics, and the Holy Office (otherwise known as the Inquisition) revolutionized science, culture and politics, and gave rise to the modern world. Movement conservatism has no use for any of that. Starting in the 50s with Buckley, and continuing in a line running through McCarthy, Goldwater, Reagan, and too many Bushes, not to mention the current bag of misfits currently found on the floor of the House of Representatives but better suited to a carnival tent, the war on reason has been relentless. Facts, evidence, and reason conspire to argue for protection of workers, elevation of the common good, and regulation of industry, each anathema to business owners. Hence the big lie as we encounter it today, reinforced by hundreds and hundreds of little lies. Let’s consider this week’s most egregious offenders.
Those who frequent the Diner Forum and other places where climate change deniers are active often come face-to-face with the truth of Upton Sinclair’s famous quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Many people in the extractive industries have a built in economic bias is to accepting the verdict of what most experts regard as settled science, but then our conservative friends have had six years of continuous difficulty accepting the results of the last two presidential elections.
It comes as no surprise that the extractive industries have stood up their own policy and content shops to generate climate change denying reports, PowerPoint decks and other products of mischief. You’d think they might be more deft at covering their tracks.
Ti-Hock “Willie” Soon, a favorite scientist of climate-change deniers for his theory attributing global warming to variations in the sun’s energy and not human activity, has accepted more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry in the last decade, the New York Times reports.
Soon’s corporate funding has been known for some time, but newly released documents, obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal just how close Soon is to the industry to which he lends his ostensibly objective support.
Corporate contributions, the Times reports, were pegged to specific papers: The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received $335,000 from Exxon Mobil, $274,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, and $230,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Guardian reports. The documents reportedly show that the Kochs and other donors used an anonymous trust to give Soon another $324,000.
Little surprise that when dirty deeds are done, Koch Brothers money is at the bottom of it. Nearly $1 million of extractive industry money will buy a lot of “deliverables.”
Meanwhile, as the climate change deniers are stacking up deliverables, and those who conflate climate change with winter weather are saying, in effect, “climate change can’t be happening, because it’s cold where I am,” (the moral equivalent of denying world hunger because I have food in my refrigerator) Greenland ice continues melting at record speed.
Scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven mapping elevation changes of Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers have found ice sheets are melting at record pace. Per year, the ice sheets dump some 500 cubic kilometers of ice into the oceans. The researchers say that compares to an ice sheet that’s 600 meters (1970 feet) thick and covers an area as big as the German city of Hamburg – or the Southeast Asian nation of Singapore.
The research team headed by Veit Helm used around two years’ worth of data from the ESA CryoSat-2 satellite to create digital elevation models of Greenland and Antarctica.
Compared to data which was collected in 2009, the loss of mass from the Greenland ice sheet has doubled. The rate of ice discharge from the West Antarctic ice sheet tripled during the same period.
85 percent of Greenland is covered with ice – melting ice sheets contribute to rising sea levels
“If you combine the two, they are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year. That is the highest rate observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago,” said glaciologist Angelika Humbert, who co-authored the AWI study.
So if you “believe that faith in reasoned debate is a worse ‘superstition’ than the Enlightenment replaced,” there’s clearly nothing for you to see here. Carry on, and know that because of you, 30 to 40 percent of the area where humanity lives will be submerged by rising oceans within the next hundred years.
And I’ll see you in hell.
It is not just the shock troops of an intellectual elite who lie to us, or a lazy and corrupt media. We lie to ourselves. We assert that we are a “Christian nation,” yet at the federal, state, as especially the local level, we enact policies that could not be less Christlike than if worship of Mammon were enacted by executive fiat.
Jesus is said to have uttered, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
We insist that we are decent people; good neighbors; good and devoted friends; honorable employees. We content ourselves with comfortable myths about ourselves, yet we enact policies that if applied to us would result in instant and implacable outrage.
Despite a lack of affordable housing and emergency shelter, many of these communities are implementing laws that ban homeless residents from sitting or lying down in public, loitering, sleeping in vehicles, and begging for money or food.
“More cities are choosing to turn the necessary conduct of homeless people into criminal activity,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). The law center has tracked homelessness criminalization laws in 187 cities small and large since 2011.
During that time, city-wide bans on camping in public — which can include sleeping outside on the streets or in a tent — have increased 60%. The number of cities with laws prohibiting or restricting people from sitting or lying down in public has jumped by 43%, and bans on sleeping in vehicles have surged 119%. Meanwhile, laws prohibiting people from begging in public and loitering have climbed more than 20%.
And these laws are popping up even when people have few other options for survival, the NLCHP argues. In Santa Cruz, Calif., for example, sleeping in vehicles and camping, sitting or lying down in public, is criminalized — even though a local survey found that 83% of homeless people don’t have access to housing or shelter.
An article at Alternet describes laws meant to punish the homeless. “Beginning in the 1980s when the federal government slashed the affordable housing budget, cities have enacted thousands of laws to criminalize basic human needs such as resting, sleeping, standing, and sitting, as well as acts like panhandling and food sharing.”
In a society when politics equals racketeering, the only crime is to be poor, so we punish the most vulnerable among us?
WRAP (the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a network of homeless advocacy groups on the West Coast) found in an earlier report that between 1979 and 1983, federally funded affordable housing was cut by approximately $50 billion, an amount that has never been fully restored. With homelessness on the rise ever since, cities have resorted to criminalization to appease residents and businesses and to give the appearance of having solved the crisis.
“I grew up in San Diego where there’s a huge homeless population,” (Marina, a researcher for the project) Fisher said. “People would complain all the time to the police and government about, ‘I went downtown and there was a bunch of homeless people.’ So I think cities feel a lot of pressure to do something. It seems easier to say that you’re doing something by passing a law than investing millions of dollars in housing or counseling programs or retraining your police force to work differently. It’s shortsighted. And I think one of their hopes has been, that if they’re more restrictive than their neighbors, maybe they’ll push the homeless people out of their city and into neighboring cities, which at a state level doesn’t do anything; it’s counterproductive. But at a city level, it encourages a kind of race to the bottom.”
“Race to the bottom,” indeed. It is at times like this that our thoughts turn to those least able to fend for themselves, at a time of bitter cold and hardship. I live in a city in southeastern Virginia whose mayor famously proclaimed the objective “to end homelessness in Norfolk.” One of our city’s more ballyhooed initiatives was to remove the benches in public parks, lest the homeless or poor be tempted to sit or lay down on them. Overall, the city’s policy seems to be to send them across the river to Portsmouth, where they belong.
But my above question asked, “what kind of society are we?” Maybe THIS kind of society:
We seem to think that the evil done abroad in our name doesn’t really count, or doesn’t matter, or doesn’t really apply to us if we’re not aware of it. Our foreign-policy has been hijacked by neocon fantasts who wish to set one group up against another in a stunning variety of foreign lands, arm both sides, then let them kill one another off so that we don’t have to. And we think that this cynical and depraved indifference to human life, coupled with drone warfare and other forms of “death from above” are excusable BAU as long as they result in obtaining OUR petroleum which happens to lie under THEIR sands.
Iraq proved a fertile proving ground for weaponry and techniques that have been brought home. We made much note of the sonic cannons, heat rays and other “nonlethal” means used for “crowd control,” but this week made note of the fact that Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have come home as well. In remarkable reporting, The Guardian broke the story of what is alleged as a “black site” in Chicago:
The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.
- Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
- Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
- Shackling for prolonged periods.
- Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
- Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
This is an article well worth reading. See the rest of the Guardian’s reporting on this, with updates here. For those who think that, in the words of the late Frank Zappa, “it can’t happen here,” it already has. For those who have found themselves in the streets protesting the policies of Empire and its associated costs, little here will surprise. The brutality shown to Occupy during many local police encounters is well-known. But kidnapping, indefinite detention, and the like occur in large measure because we have become accustomed to denying the truth. If we don’t vote, if we accept repressive measures like the National Defense Authorization Act without so much as a bleat of complaint, we ought not be surprised when Chicago law enforcement turns into the Argentine junta.
As noted above, our politics depends in large measure on denying the truth, and turning logic and reason on their head. And it has happened because we always prefer a comforting fiction to the unpleasant truth. It’s Morning in America™…
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.