Part of the problem with being a vocal advocate for critical thinking is deciding just which facet of nonsense to spend time fighting. The forces of anti-reality present a huge number of fronts, making triage a necessity.
As an astronomer I of course have certain pet projects; I’ve taken on astrology, Moon landing deniers, cosmic doomsday promulgators, and geocentrists. But a background in science allows me to broaden that approach, and I will happily help shoulder the load to debunk the claims of climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, homeopaths, and young-Earth creationists.
Some of these present a more pressing need than others, of course. Astrology is a minor issue compared with, say, someone who supports abstinence-only education.
But they’re all there, all the time, creating a background buzz of hogwash, an atmosphere of denial of science, evidence, and rational thinking … and that can have devastating consequences.
We are awash in that miasma, where people can say almost anything, no matter how ridiculous, and not be confronted, not be challenged. Many of these purveyors of poppycock wind up surrounding themselves with throngs of people willing and eager to suspend their disbelief and support the foolishness. Cults certainly can form in such an atmosphere … and when the person spouting the nonsense is a politician, that’s when things get very sticky indeed.
And now here we are, with Donald Trump the nearly inevitable champion of the Republican Party.
This is no coincidence. An interesting if infuriating article in New Republic very clearly lays out how the GOP has spent decades paving the road for Trump by attacking the science that goes against their prejudicial ideology. I strongly urge you to read it, but one section jumped out at me in particular:
There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.
Yes, precisely. This is exactly what I have been saying for years now. When we erode away at people’s ability to reason their way through a situation, then unreason will rule. And not just abut scientific topics, but any topics. We see nonsense passed off as fact all the time by politicians, including attacks by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, on theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, claims by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that there’s been a pause in global warming, the GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood, and more. People will still believe what these politicians say, long, long after the claims have been shown to be completely false.
Months ago, early on in the presidential campaign, I made light of Trump, saying that his particular candidacy would crash and burn when he inevitably said or did something so outrageous and horrific that people would flee his side.
I was wrong. I underestimated just how thoroughly the GOP had salted the Earth. Philosophical party planks of climate change denial, anti-evolution, anti-intellectualism, intolerance, and more have made it such that Trump can literally say almost anything, and it hardly affects his popularity.
The good news is that even the party elders are terrified to support him, and many seem to be accepting what looks like the inevitable wave coming this November, and instead are hoping to recoup in 2020.
Perhaps that will come to be. Trump’s numbers are certainly slumping, and I see no way he will be able to pivot toward anything resembling reality, no way for him to gather more middle-of-the-road votes. His racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic narcissism is too firmly entrenched for it to be otherwise.
The GOP isn’t to blame for Trump existing—we can lay that at his own feet—but the path he’s taking was certainly smoothed by them.
The fact is, this is the candidate the Republicans have sown, and so shall they reap. My hope is that the majority of the electorate will see through the nonsense, the distortions, the lies, and use their critical thinking skills on Nov. 8. Reality doesn’t give a damn about our beliefs, and so we must instead give a damn about reality.
Want to know more about how to think critically? I have some thoughts on that:
- How Critical Thinking Affects Society
- Qualia Soup: Critical Thinking
- How to Get Kids to Think Critically
- Vaccines: Opinions Are Not Facts
- Some Bad Science Can Make You Laugh, and Some Kills
- The World Is Subtle, and That's Why It's Beautiful
Tip of the candle in the dark to Zack Kopplin.