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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007


anti-intellectualism, left and right

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, August 15, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
I'm not sure what this signifies in a broader sense, but it's worth noting that there's a strain of anti-intellectualism in modern society running underneath both the left and the right. I think the right is more susceptible to it, by virtue of heavy weighting towards religious dogma. Usually, you see it among Christian conservatives, but I was rather surprised to see this sneer at panspermia theory from a well-educated, Jewish lawyer like Ron:

We can admit the preposterousness of the suggestion that life spontaneously began and then, after a few tough winters, turned into Albert Einstein, Merv Griffin and Alex Rodriguez on this lonely sphere, because we have an alternative “scientific” explanation: It “could have happened,” see, that life came to earth on magic flying incubator rocks, which are uh-infinity old.

How do “radioactive elements … keep[ing] water in liquid form in comet interiors for millions of years… mak[es] them potentially ideal ‘incubators’ for early life.” (”Potentially”?)

There are certainly valid critiques of panspermia to be made, but this is not a rigorous one.

Meanwhile, over at My Left Wing, a liberal community site, we see an argument that Science is overrated. Why? because it's sole purpose, apparently, is to wage war:

Science has not been cultivated in this country out of a love of learning. Its primary job is to make Stealth Bombers and Nuclear Weapons. This accounts for its funding.
If Science doesn't carry with it the potential to cure disease or blow up Hiroshima (or Iran, for that matter), we're not even having this conversation.

So if its value is a product of its potential for application, then the only way to determine whether it's overvalued is to consider the value of its fruits.

We need a balance sheet. Has it done more harm than good?

It astonishes me that anyone sitting comfortably at a personal computer powered by electricity 24/7 in a home with potable water on tap on demand, with education that Newton would have envied and a lifespan that is almost double their forebears (and including a productive and vigorous old age rather than senile frailty to boot) can even dare to ask the question whether science has done more harm than good. Again, there is a dogma at work here; the insistence and overshadowing of War as prime motive to Science that colors the view.

One might be tempted to counter with the question, has War done more harm than good? but the impedance mismatch would be too high to have a meaningful dialouge, it would just devolve.

Perhaps the greatest threat that these anti-intellectuals are really reacting against is simply the Rational process, which undermines their respective dogmas. And neither side has any immunity to dogma.

There is and has to be a counter to the purist Enlightenment argument that places Reason above all; there is a place for dogma. But the application of dogma above serves to stunt rather than constructively channel growth.


You're right, Aziz. It is not a rigorous one, didn't intend to be. It was an impressionistic one, a cultural observation, not a scientific critique at all. I am kind of an intellectual myself if I daresay and I like science a lot; studied quite a bit of homonid evolution at college and remain fascinated by cosmetology. I was just struck by the tone and the posture of the article I was riffing on, and no more.


I also like cosmology, by the way, but still, there's nothing like a well done cucumber treatment around the eyes.


Ron, you draw a direct equivalence between scientific theory and religion in your post. Panspermia - however science fictinesque it may sound - is not teh same as taking the shahada or communion; its not belief, its theory. Too few laymen, even those with affinity for intelletcualism, seem to understand what "theory" means and implies. Like it or not, regardless of your intent, your post adds to the burgeoning anti-intellectualism that runs rampant in modern political discourse.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.