You can no longer escape anti-intellectualism in this country. You can’t spit without hitting someone telling you about how ice ages prove there is no anthropogenic warming. You can’t follow politics without being versed in code words designed to placate the terminally ignorant and scientific illiterate. One of the two parties in this country has embraced anti-intellectualism as its way of viewing the world. It would be nice to attribute this as yet another consequence of the reign of Ronald Reagan, who himself was not a proponent of empirically based thinking. But the tendency is probably one of the cores of the American experience. You don’t have to go back to the Illuminati-conspiracy beliefs that sprang up in the wake of the French Revolution. It’s enough to know that a political party sported the name Know Nothings (which, of course, became part of the GOP).
At the beginning, however, there was great faith in science and technology. Newton was so revered that a general belief prevailed that a science of human relations would soon arise along the lines that Newton pioneered in several fields was inevitable. (The Federalist Papers is premised on the belief, largely drawn from Montesquieu, that social behavior could be studied.) Many of the early political leaders dabbled in science and engineering. Almost all had a keen interest in developments in agricultural sciences. Jefferson and Madison kept up a correspondence trying to prove that Buffon’s theory of New World degenerate life forms was incorrect. Thomas Paine spent much time devising an iron bridge. Robert Livingston expended much thought and money trying to invent a steam engine. British scientists, fleeing the reactionary pro-Church surge in the times of Pitt the Younger, like Joseph Priestley and Thomas Cooper, found Jeffersonian America to be a welcome sanctuary of intellectual tolerance and good sense.
Of course America had an original strand of native lunacy planted in New England. Puritanism in olden times burned witches. The strange combination of dissenting Puritanism which developed into establishment Calvinism combined with a reactionary political philosophy to produce Ultra Federalism. Reaction is aways willing to accept the aid of anti-intellectualism and dogmatic religion. Federalists burlesqued Priestley’s “dephlogisticated air” (oxygen) and his Unitarianism in order to show his liberal ideas were equally ludicrous. And, as we’ve seen in another place, Calvinism in the early Republic stifled intellectual inquiry to the point that Thomas Cooper, down in South Carolina, felt that it threatened his studies in chemistry. The fiery New England Calvinist and Federalist Jedidiah Morse was so steeped in conspiratorial confusion that he instilled into his son, inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, a hatred of Catholics, the Bavarian Illuminati and Free Masons, all based on a view that they were at the heart of all human evil.
Calvinism was the springboard of the first wave of anti-intellectualism, but the slavocracy and Baptists were behind the racism that underlie much of the anti-intellectual underbelly that followed. The white underclass has always been encouraged (by their “betters”) to vent its anger not at the class that exploited them but at the most exploited group in American history. The mechanism of this manipulation became the basis for the main threads of anti-Elistism–sponsored by and for the benefit of the economic oligarchs–as this form of reactionary “thinking” spread from the South to all parts of the country. Darwinism, reform, socialism, fluoridation of water, vaccinations, were all scorned by the Right as the dangerous, ungodly and un-American agenda of pointy heads and progressives. The mechanism, in its crudest form, still operates today as the operations of David H. Koch and his brother show. Those polluters and carbon emitters now hope to take aim at climate science. The current reactionary party is more than happy to ride the wave of anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-empiricism, so long as it can be harnessed in the service of the one real goal: a regressive tax system. That protection of wealth is the central concern of the GOP is patently shown by their all out campaign–on the eve of an election–to support tax cuts for the wealthy.
I bring up this sordid history only to show that the forces of the Anti-Intellect have become so comfortable that no scientific fact is now sacred (so to speak; forgive me Richard Dawkins). And who is the recent organization that hopes to roll back thought? No, this time it is not Al-Qaeda. It’s none other than long-time champion of the Anti-Intellect, the Catholic Church. And what are they taking aim at? None other than ancient nemesis Galileo Galilei. His recantation was not enough. A group has organized “The First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism.” For only $50 you can eat warm catered food at the Hilton Garden Inn, in South Bend, Indiana. “Near Notre Dame”! the flier announces. (Near also the center of northern KKK activity, the flier is silent on.) The organizers’ website can’t currently be accessed because “bandwidth exceeded.” Whether this is owing to an unanticipated demand or from those not believing that stupidity can command $50 per person is not shown in the error message. The following screen-capture, however, is from Ethan Siegel’s excellent physics blog, “Starts with a Bang!“:
For those who think that 14 hours is a bit long to listen to proofs of something as well established as a flat earth, keep in mind that you will be hearing about “Young Earth” and also consider that Dr. Robert Sungenis will be explaining how Urban VIII kindly took off from conducting the bloodiest war before the 20th century (to maintain the dominance of the Church in men’s hearts) in order to counsel the stubborn hell-bound Galileo and saved his soul!
Siegel’s post offers a cogent and well written explanation why these people are deluded, for those who want to bother with empirical facts. (I had never known of the proofs offered by the phases of observations of Venus.) Siegel’s blog in general should be a regular stop for those (including lay readers) who want to stay reasonably literate about physics. But that will not include the lambs who fall for the scares about the intellectuals or their plutocratic manipulators.
And yes, I know, they aren’t Flat-Earthers. They’re Earth-Firsters. But, taking a cue from the movement they are part of, I decided to sacrifice accuracy for making a cheap point.