Among the news flashes this morning, I read a report that the Heartland Institute, a Libertarian-leaning think tank in Chicago, is funding the development of a K-12 “science” curriculum that will tout the non-existent “controversy” over global warming. The Heartland Institute, according to this article, is funded by biggies like AT&T and Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Jon Carroll’s column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle discusses the End Agenda 21 movement. Agenda 21 is a United Nations white paper (that is, it’s not even a policy statement, it’s just a set of recommendations) on ways to promote sustainable growth. That is to say, attempting to curb the more disastrous of human enterprises so that our great-grandchildren may perhaps have something to eat besides sand and toxic waste. There are apparently people in the United States who feel that Agenda 21 is a vile encroachment on their individual freedoms.

What’s going on here? How can so many people be so disastrously and willfully wrong-headed? How can they be so evil?

I can see several contributing causes. Wrap them all up in a ball together, and the prospects are truly frightening.

First, freedomolatry. A significant slice of the Republican electorate worships individual freedom. They don’t simply value it — they worship it. Now, I value freedom too. I also value health, justice, tolerance and respect for individual differences, a safe community, the ability to assess facts in an intelligent manner, and a stable economy in which even the least capable and most troubled among us are housed, fed, and provided with health care.

In the real world, a balance must often be struck. I may need to give up some measure of individual freedom in order to live in a safe or pollution-free community, for example. To a freedom worshiper, however, none of those other values is of any importance. Individual freedom is the only thing that matters, and any public policy measure that would diminish freedom is to be heatedly opposed.

The conspicuous exceptions being, of course, women’s reproductive freedom and the freedom of homosexual couples to marry. When these topics are broached, suddenly freedom is off the table. Suddenly the worship of “traditional values” takes over. I’m not entirely sure what traditions are being invoked here; the Bible explicitly endorses polygamy, concubinage, slavery, and forcing a woman to marry her rapist. Evidently God approves of these practices, a fact that gives the devotees of “traditional values” not even a moment’s pause.

But let’s not get into Biblical interpretation right now. The embrace of traditional values stems from the bizarre and mistaken notion that complex real-world problems can have simple, one-size-fits-all solutions. This is the second factor that contributes to the madness that has infected (or sprung from) conservatism.

The worship of freedom is, of course, a good example of how this craving plays out. “If we all embrace freedom,” the thinking goes, “all of those other problems will magically vanish!” A quick survey of recent trends in conservative thinking can give us other examples: Is immigration from Latin America changing the face of your community? Build an electrified fence along the border! Is the global economy teetering on the verge of collapse? Return to the gold standard!

And of course, everybody should be required to adhere to the tenets of Christianity as currently articulated by fundamentalists (of both the Protestant and Catholic persuasions). Christianity itself is a one-size-fits-all solution to complex and often difficult moral and emotional problems. Don’t think for yourself — just do what your bishop or minister tells you to, and life will be wonderful again. All of the problems in the world are caused by people who ignore what your bishop or minister is telling them.

The third factor contributing to the madness is an unrelenting barrage of corporate propaganda. A government-run health care option would deprive giant insurance companies of huge amounts of revenue, so it’s portrayed in the propaganda as an encroachment on freedom.

The campaign to deny global warming gives us another fine example: The winners, when the electorate is bamboozled into ignoring reality, are the top managers of giant corporations, whose profits might be inconveniently squeezed were they required to operate in a more environmentally responsible manner. To avoid the calamity of reduced profits, they craft devious messages that play on people’s worship of freedom and their craving for simple answers to complex problems. The simple answer being, in this case, “Nobody knows whether global warming is real, because the scientists disagree with one another — so we don’t need to do anything.”

This thumbnail summary hints at the fourth factor: a stubborn refusal to admit one’s own ignorance. A significant slice of the Republican electorate seems genuinely to be convinced that their ignorance is irrelevant. Their opinion, they insist, is as valid as anyone else’s, irrespective of how little knowledge they may have, or how suspect the sources of their supposed knowledge may be.

Admitting that we don’t know — or worse, that we may have been wrong — can be extremely uncomfortable. Rather than give in to the discomfort, millions of people embrace the worship of freedom, cling to supposedly incorruptible “traditional values,” or blindly accept whatever lies are flung in their faces by corporate-owned mass media.

Beyond that, the embrace of ignorance arises when innate human worth (in which, indeed, we are all equal) is interpreted to mean that your opinions, views, and beliefs are just as valid as anyone else’s.

Not all opinions are created equal. Not all beliefs are created equal. To the extent that your beliefs and your ignorance cause suffering, your beliefs are evil. If you cling to your ignorance and refuse to learn, then you are evil.

How are we to combat these forces? I wish I knew.

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2 Responses to Freedomolatry

  1. Lawless says:

    Evil?? What do you mean “evil”? Global warming is not a “controversy”. It’s a religion.

    It was years ago that I was astonished to learn that the human-induced global warming has not been scientifically proven. I thought: oh my god, I wish all those ecofanatics would read this. That would shut them up for good. Some time later, I heard a university professor openly admit that it’s not scientifically proven indeed, and it doesn’t have to be. In order to justify imposing all those costly restrictions on people and businesses, he said, it’s quite sufficient that the human-induced global warming be POSSIBLE.

    I was speechless, and I realised that the environmentalists and I don’t seem to belong to the same species.

    Your “sustainable growth” is merely a method of imposing guilt on people, in order to advance various interests of the politicians. They are the ones who are evil, not those who insist on policies based on facts and logic.

    Even if the global warming myth were true, just how much good do you think it would do if one tenth of the humankind would freeze in their homes in order to save electricity, wash less frequently in order to save water, have several trash cans taking up space in their kitchens, pay outrageous fees to the garbage monopolies, buy “ecologically clean” products of hugher price and inferior quality, and waste huge resources on complying with ever-tghtening environmental legislation, and nine tenths of the humankind goes on wasting and polluting all they please?

    • midiguru says:

      I’m not going to delete your silly response, because I figure dialogue is good. First of all, it’s not a religion. It’s a scientific fact. We need to make a distinction here, which you have heedlessly glossed over. Global warming is quite real. What is _not_ scientifically proven is the extent to which it is caused by human activity. It’s true that the Earth has been conspicuously warmer millions of years ago, at a time when the human species did not exist. We also know that there have been ice ages, again with no contribution from human activity. However, we also know that human activity today produces enormous quantities of greenhouse gases (among other atmospheric pollutants). It’s very reasonable to believe that said greenhouse gases are contributing very significantly to global warming. No religious conversion is required to understand this — all that’s required is common sense.

      I don’t know what species you belong to, if you’re trying to differentiate yourself from the environmentalists. Possibly you’re a clam. I understand they shut down completely in the presence of unknown dangers.

      Guilt is useful as an inducement to improved behavior. Any mother can tell you that. It’s a bit difficult for me to determine what “policies based on facts and logic” you’re advocating, since you haven’t advanced any proposals.

      I quite agree with you that in the long run none of our efforts at slowing or reversing human-caused environmental degradation will do a damned bit of good. Unless a wholesale change in attitude and behavior takes place (and that’s vanishingly unlikely), our species is doomed — and before too very much longer — simply due to overpopulation. That said, if you think “nine tenths of humankind goes on wasting and polluting all they please,” you clearly have not thought for a moment about conditions in Third World countries. Americans and Europeans are just about the ONLY people who can do that. Most of the world lives in dire poverty. If everyone on Earth lived the kind of heedlessly polluting lifestyle Americans enjoy, this would be a dead planet already — dead seas, no breathable air.

      One point of focusing on global warming as a primary issue is that slowing the use of fossil fuels may slow the consumption of other irreplaceable resources in a sort of chain reaction. What we really need to do (aside from reducing the human population to about 10% of its current level) is reduce consumption across the board. If we fail to do that ourselves, nature will do it for us. And your grandchildren won’t like how that plays out.

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