This has been a wild summer, politically, with a lot more then the usual hate and discontent in the air. Lots of anger and tons of fear have generated far more heat then light, and now it looks as though cooler heads may prevail, and even some Republicans may return from the child-state in which they spent most of the summer. What has really struck me, though, are the similarities the right wing anti-reformers share with both addicts and creationists.
An ex-addict, I recovered from alcoholism almost twenty years ago, and am still working with addicts on an ongoing basis as a facilitator for SMART Recovery, a worldwide secular self-help group. I am, and have been for many years a strong advocate of church/state separation, and am active in the effort to keep religion, especially creationism in all its forms, out of the public school system.
Working with addicts and debating creationists has been excellent preparation for dealing with this year’s crop of political extremists, the birthers and deathers. I don’t feel these terms need a definition, and although the fervor associated with them seems to be dying out, there are new manifestations of the same mindset appearing all the time, like those who have become convinced that Obama’s speech this week to schoolchildren is designed to disseminate liberal propaganda. What do all of these things have in common? Very simply, they are all examples of irrational thinking – the propensity to believe something is true when there are no supporting facts or evidence, and often in spite of existing facts and evidence to the contrary.
I have met addicts who are in prison for crimes they have committed under the influence, even some who have killed while driving impaired after several DUI’s, who will swear to you that they do not have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Men and women who have lost families, houses, livelihoods and virtually everything they have ever owned or hoped to be and are still telling themselves the same lies, and believing them! They tell themselves “I really don’t have a problem, so-and-so does,” or “I can quit anytime,” or “I’ll stop after one or two this time,” or, my personal favorite “Screw it, it doesn’t matter anyway.”
As you see, looking in from the outside, it’s clear that all of these statements used by addicts are examples of irrational thinking. If they were able to look dispassionately at the facts and evidence, they would see that their own history demonstrates that they cannot stop using once they start, have probably never been able to have “just one,” and that their using does matter, not only to themselves but to those around them, those who would employ them, and those who love them.
Chemical addiction has such a tremendous hold because it actually becomes tied-in with the most powerful drive in the human psyche – self-preservation, which is why, unless they become motivated to make a change, addicts will use until they either die or become incarcerated. The irrational thinking is generated by one part of the brain lying to another in order to obtain the chemicals it sees as necessary for “survival.”
There are several “flavors” of creationists; young earth, old earth, intelligent design proponents (really a sub-group of old earthers) etc., but they mostly use the same types of irrational arguments in making their cases. At some point, they all use the argument that modern science is not to be believed, and evidence gathered by real scientists is not only suspect, but in many cases downright tainted by the scientists total unwillingness to consider or admit any evidence that would indicate that any form of creationism were true. Some creationists dismiss virtually all scientific methods of dating samples, others admit the age of the earth, but discount most of the fossil evidence claiming that there are no “transitional” fossils, a ridiculous claim, to be sure.
One thing all the creationists have in common is that no amount of evidence will convince them, or falsify their beliefs. Looking at them from the outside they clearly start with a preconceived notion, and discount, ignore or rationalize away any evidence that does not support their belief. Of course, they accuse scientists of the same offence, that is, of starting with the belief that evolution is true, and discounting everything that doesn’t support it. This in itself is merely another irrational belief, coming, as it does, from a flawed understanding of what science is and how it works.
Creationists, in fact fundamentalists of any religious sect, really have no foundation with which to understand the self-correcting nature of science, as the very essence of fundamentalist religion allows no changes or corrections whatsoever. In fact, when debating creationists I have often mentioned that if there were any inkling of possible truth in a divine creation that could be proven by the scientific method, current “creation scientists” would be trampled in the rush of legitimate scientists in search of the Nobel prize awaiting whomever manages to overturn Darwin. They simply refuse to believe anything of the sort.
In the case of the creationist, it’s not a matter of “life or death” as the addict believes it is in his case, instead it’s a matter of competing worldviews that drives the irrational thinking. To the fundamentalist, if evolution is true, creationism is not. If creationism is not true, there is no Adam and Eve, no apple and no fall. No fall translates to no need for a savior, so what happens to Christianity? It has no purpose, no real reason for being. That, of course, is an untenable situation for the creationist, so they rationalize and justify, lying to themselves and believing anyone who will offer any support to their precious worldview. The “Creation Museum” that opened last year in Kentucky is a temple dedicated to irrational thought and rationalization.
Now we come to our birthers and deathers. The situation with them is a little more complicated then the addicts or creationists. For various reasons, all of the birthers started out wanting to believe that Obama was not really President of the United States. For some of them, it was racism, pure and simple, for others it was political ideology, but whatever the reason, they were looking for any excuse, no matter how insubstantial, on which to base their objections. What made the birther “controversy” so hard to understand for those us not caught up in it was that there were always three pieces of hard evidence contradicting the birther claims, and they ignored or discounted all three.
What made the birther thing even worse was the support the farce received from so-called responsible politicians on the right who, for purely political reasons, fanned the flames of truly insane behavior at town hall meetings all over the country by giving some credence to the lies.
The lessons the right learned in the birther controversy, they perfected during the deather hullabaloo. A constant drumbeat from right-wing media convinced a rather gullible segment of our population that they entire health care reform plan was nothing more then an attempt by the Obama administration to take over not only health care but all aspects of life in America, creating a liberal, Nazi, communist, fascist state. Never mind that most of those terms are mutually exclusive, they were all used to describe the Obama administration (regime).
From there, it was easy for the right to intentionally misinterpret a rather arcane clause in the health care proposal and claim that the proposal would set up “death panels” for the disposal of the old, frail and disabled among us. Never mind that Medicare had a similar clause that had been inserted by one of the same Republican who was now claiming it allowed death panels. Never mind that the proposal demonstrably did not say what the right was claiming it said. Facts didn’t matter! Truth didn’t matter!
The people so convinced would not give any credence to the facts or the truth, as what they were being told reinforced what they believed anyway. In the case of the deathers, I think it was more fear then anything else fear of the administration (reinforced by right-wing media), and fear of change.
In all the instances of irrational thinking we have examined, distortions of truth, outright lies, aid and abet the irrationality, but only if the propensity to believe the lies is already present. The addict lies to himself for physiological reasons, and the road to recovery starts when he is motivated to change and begins to see the lies for what they are and disputes them.
The creationist is being lied to, and will not dispute the lies as long as he feels his religion, and his very worldview is under attack. Most mainstream religions made peace with evolution long ago, and if the media would stop giving equal credence to creationist views and scientific fact, perhaps the fundamentalists would have no choice but to retreat from their fantasy world.
I’m afraid that the right wing has found a powerful new political weapon this summer, and as it has worked for them, there is no reason they should stop using it anytime soon. It makes use of all that is dark within us: Ignorance, racism and fear, combining them with emotionalism and violence. Their followers believe what they hear on FOX and talk radio not because it’s true, it’s far from that, but because they want to! They did not want Obama to win the Presidency, and are therefore willing to believe almost any prevarication their media chooses to disseminate.
As the mainstream media aids the creationists by giving credence to their fantasies, they have been aiding the right wing by giving serious treatment to almost all of their ridiculous claims. If a Republican Senator goes in front of a crowd and spouts deather nonsense, why does that have to be covered seriously on the six-o-clock news? Why does the mainstream press not give that Senator the ridicule he deserves?
No one with an ounce of compassion would give support to the irrational beliefs of an addict, knowing them to be such, why do we countenance the mainstream media giving support to the irrational beliefs of creationists and the politically manipulated? Isn’t it time we started supporting the rational in society rather then the irrational?