Monday, August 22, 2011

Ideology versus facts: the Republican rejection of reality

Global warming. Evolution. Sexual orientation. Gay parents. Abstinence education. These are a few of the hot-button topics where Republicans and Democrats differ. Do you remember the last presidential election where every Republican said he didn't believe in evolution? Apparently, they really DO "make their own reality."

There's a video of Rick Perry being challenged about abstinence education, in which he obstinately insists "it works!" despite the evidence that it doesn't (like Texas having a huge, huge rate of unintended teen pregnancy).

Steve Benen shows the clip, and points out that this represents a fundamental issue in the modern Republican party.
In a case like education and lessons on sexual health, the left tends to look at this in terms of results: what works in preventing teen pregnancies and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases? For the right, the question is philosophical: what’s consistent with their morality?

The exchange in the clip is amusing because it makes Perry look foolish, but it actually offers a peek behind the curtain: the right believes programs work, even when they don’t work, so long as ideological goals are being met. Real-world implications are meaningless.
It's quite stunning. The facts don't matter, as long as there is ideological purity.

We see this in the challenges to marriage equality, the opponents completely ignore the data. That was made abundantly clear in the Prop8 case, where they actually had to admit as much. But in court, facts DO matter, and just because you say something doesn't make it true. (This is probably one reason they are desperate to keep the tapes of the Prop8 trial hidden, since their lies were so clearly exposed).

That otherwise intelligent Republicans (a category that I do not believe includes Rick Perry) are supporting this worldview to placate their fringe is extremely disheartening. Is there no honor left in public service?

Can the intelligent Republicans really justify supporting people who at worst, lie, and at best, are intellectually challenged, and facilitate the collateral damage they will cause, for the sole purpose of power?


Paul said...

With respect to abstinence only education, there is another layer of reasoning we need to be aware of. When liberals talk about lowering rates of underage pregnancy, they are really making an argument about poverty. Early pregnancy tends to take people out of school and thrust them into the workforce before they are ready. That is a serious problem in the 21st century, where opportunities for unskilled labor are vanishing fast and not coming back. I had a friend who researched poverty in the Mississippi Delta. He told me that increasing the age of first pregnancy by even a year or two would make an enormous difference to these kids.

The evangelical motivation is quite different. They are not interested in pregnancy or poverty, just the sex. The point of abstinence only education is to reduce or eliminate extra-marital sex. The pregnancy thing is just the threat (or punishment) that accomplishes that end. Any program which is not focused on this objective is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst, because it is not focused on this moral objective. (To me, reducing poverty would be a moral objective, but I guess that is why I am a hopeless liberal.)

I agree with your larger point, which is even more disturbing when viewed in the framework of this fundamentalist mentality. These people view the Bible as the Source of All Truth. They don't reason from facts to arrive at a conclusion. They are starting with The Answer and supporting it in any way they can. They use argument the way a lawyer does, in the service of a pre-determined conclusion. This is a post-modern approach to truth which rejects the modern, scientific point of view. The difference is fundamental, and frightening.

Counterlight said...

I understand that Trofim Lysenko is now a Southern Baptist.

JCF said...

To add to Paul's argument, you could say that evangelicals don't care if a 17 year-old has sex, only that the 17 year-old is married (preferably before sex, but soon after discovering pregnancy is almost as good).


Actually, I want to take this away from so debased a conversation as politics.

I'm more interested in the idea of the evidence-based worldview. [I was having one of those late-night conversations w/ myself---forgive me!]

"The facts don't matter, as long as there is ideological purity."

I was thinking to myself, of some of my dialogues (that may be an overstatement) w/ atheists, ala "Why NOT believe in a Higher Power? An Afterlife?"

...and the answer (I imagine) is "There's no evidence of it."

Which then takes me to the question, "Why base your WORLDVIEW upon evidence?" [As opposed to instrumental questions, for which evidence is ideal] "Do the Most Important Things (Love, for example) require empirical proof?" Where's intuition, poetry, inspiration?

Just the things I think about. FWIW. ;-)

IT said...

Well, JCF, I have evidence of love, intuition, and inspiration, and a shelf full of poetry books.

JCF said...

I suspect your evidence of love, IT, is a lot like my evidence of God (who is Love). If you pointed to BP as your evidence, I would say "Your having your BP is evidence of God"! :-)

Paul said...

Part of my worldview is based on data, or facts. Science, engineering, economics, history and so forth have to be approached that way. To do otherwise is to plunge the world back into the dark ages.

That doesn't apply to everything. Art, literature, poetry, music, drama, and the love family and friends have for each other certainly fall into that category. That doesn't imply that they are less real. A student of literature can write an essay analyzing the love demonstrated by actions in a work of fiction. We can do the same analysis in real life.

I can also see the love of God made manifest in a human life. It is very hard to meet Desmond Tutu, for instance, and come away denying the power of God in his life. I am afraid that my life doesn't meet that standard, or even come close.