A liberally spread mistake
I like to listen to StarTalk Radio, it is one of the few media sources I have found that provides an impassioned and neutral look at the world and science’s impact on it (read: an overwhelming impact). One of the most recent episodes was about Science and Politics and featured Janeane Garofalo and it inspired me to discuss something that has always stood out in my mind when listening to liberal activists.
A bit of a disclaimer, I’m a utopian, I do not accept the idea that it is reasonable to expect violence from humanity but to find world peace and other positive global actions as unreasonable. To me it is a failure of the mind and only perpetuates because the stigma itself perpetuates to support it (a millennia’s old Catch-22).
I wouldn’t classify myself as a Liberal, and certainly not as a Conservative, but when it comes to which side more accurately covers the bases for me I would say that the Liberal group tends to. Janeane called it “Social Justice” the idea that you treat people like people and that some things are not up for debate. Rape is always bad (as a quick and easy example) and there is no argument to the contrary that is acceptable, ever.
She is a passionate person and can easily fall into a rut of endlessly ranting about the failures of the conservative movement and the corporatism that has replaced it. In many cases what she said on the star talk special could be backed up by data, but her fervor is misplaced I feel. When you are dealing with people who follow their gut instead of their brain you cannot win them over with facts. Sensationalism is king for these people and unless you are willing to stoop to that great low there is absolutely no way to outperform someone like, for instance, Rush Limbaugh.
The people she’s trying to reach, rational people (or whatever they should be classified as), are not going to be moved by quick snippets of a hundred different failures and problems with the alternative. I would imagine that most people would shut off immediately when this sort of snippy and impassioned discussion arises. Because the people who are motivated by soap boxing are not the kind of people that you can easily motivate to think differently.
The best option that I can see would be to be level headed and calm when discussing these matters. Perhaps even positive, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Feinman, Bill Nye, these are all people who push rationalism and are rather utopic in much of their speeches. These people have (and some still do) motivate hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, these are symbols of the intellectual growth of the world.
It’s obvious to how impactful their presence and presentation styles are, the politically violent backlash against intellectualism and science has been a result of their omnipresent potency. Tyson stated in this particular special that he is “Neutral” and believes that science always falls in the middle. It was misconstrued in the discussion to be an off hands centrist response but, perhaps erroneously, I took it to mean something entirely different.
Science lies outside human beliefs, you do not believe in gravity, evolution, global climate change, mathematics, physics, or any other scientific construct. These are things that “are” they are not things that “might be”. Indeed the actual mechanics could be something other than the currently agreed upon thesis but the impact of their influence has, is, and always will be (with perhaps the exception of the end of the universe).
Laws that force the tutoring of “alternatives” to science don’t make science any less correct. Rational thinking is not something that is up for debate. There is only one way that any event actually plays out (with some weird exceptions like light and quantum mechanics), it is not up for debate whether or not there were concentration camps, it is not up for debate if the US broke away from Britain, nor is it up for debate that the moon is in outer space. These are all things that are.
I agree with her base point, you cannot act as if “both sides” are equally right in their motivations. There is life driven by what is, and there is life that is driven by what if. This is extremely simplified and I’m being binary just for the small chance that I’ll finish this post sometime this century. Decisions that are motivated by the “if” are likely to never be the rational decisions and they are very unlikely to be the best decisions.
Spread these kind of messages by being level headed, optimistic, informed, and relaxed. In a war of sensationalist hyperbole (redundant?) there is no way to win while on the side of reality. The universe is a truly wild and exciting place to be sure. Truth is stranger than fiction, etc, etc. But these sort of overwhelming wonderful things need to be planted in the mind of others, they need to blossom on their own, trying to shove an entire concept into someone’s mind is just never going to work. Knowledge is hard and needs to be treated with respect, fantasy is easy and as such is more benefitted by shouting and information flood.
I suppose as a closing example. If your message doesn’t require data to back it up, you will always win the information game. Because in a debate you will never need to be informed. The advantage is always with your team. The 9/11 conspiracy theorists had an incredibly easy time because they could say whatever they liked, there was no data backing up the stories. They’d say something that sounded vaguely reasonable with an assertive tone and it was taken as fact. How would you argue against this? It would require knowledge in Engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Politics, and even Emergency Protocols. Immediately the “reasonable” group are at an amazing disadvantage. They need information from easily a half dozen disciplines and must understand this data well enough to present it in a debate.
In this respect Janeane is in a losing battle with her current plans. The burden of proof will always be with her because she is trying to use the same mechanisms for motivation that those she opposes are using. The problem is that their proofs require one or less sources whereas hers require upwards of dozens. I respect her drive but ultimately I hope that she does see the reason that popular scientists act in the way they do. If you can inspire someone to research on their own you will find an ally for life, if you must force them to see the forest for the trees you will be met with little more than resistance.
I know I much prefer reading when I want to as opposed to being forced to. Even the illusion of volition is enough to inspire.
Note: Binary is a fools errand, there are not just “two kinds of people” but in terms of voting populations this simple viewpoint is accurate enough to predict outcomes of elections. He who spends the most wins the most because you only need to net those in the fantasy pool. They are easily motivated by loud messages, what ifs, feel goods. Even though there might be 60 different kinds of people (obviously more) you need only grasp at the extreme ones and the easiest extreme group is the one Janeane appears to be most impassioned against.