Do I Detect a Cultural Regression?
I’ve noticed an increasing number people suggesting that conservatives are being replaced by “regressives”. By definition, conservatives advocate keeping things the same or “conserving” the status quo. To them, any problems we have are caused by change. Preventing change prevents problems. Progressives believe problems are inevitable and their solution requires us to change or “progress”. We used to have a third group, almost extinct, called moderates who believed we needed to use both approaches in moderation. Lately, a new group seems to be evolving. It started out as a small faction on the far religious right but it’s rapidly assimilating much of the right, maybe the entire Republican political party. For this new group, everything about the modern world is a problem that must be solved by regressing to ideas discarded in the past. The name “regressive” has been suggested to describe members of this group. In a Nov, 2011 blog post, Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkley, described some differences between regressives and the conservatives they’re replacing.
What sort of regressions are we talking about? They want to take science out of education and replace it with religion. They want to roll back religious freedoms and replace them with a Christian theocracy. They want to turn back civil rights for women to days when women couldn’t vote and were property to be owned and used by men. They want to roll back regulations that protect the economy and the environment from the abuses of corporations. They want to roll back awareness of our place in the natural world, the importance of the environment, and any belief that the human race should work conserve natural resources. To quote Ann Coulter, “God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it.” They want a world where they can pollute the air and water, sell toxic foods and drugs with impunity. When they talk about deregulation, that’s what they’re after; rolling back any and all restrictions on business. At the same time, they advocate an authoritarian government that restricts freedoms, liberties, and privacy of individuals. They advocate government mandated, unnecessary medical procedures and other draconian measures to enforce their religion’s moral code on all citizens.
The regressives also want to roll back public education. They target education and science as “elitist” and frequently demean books, scientists, schools and teachers. If they really want to insult someone, they call them “professorial” or “academic”! They have already personally regressed to a time when the concepts of “believing” and “knowing” are conflated. In their view, science and facts are just sets of beliefs, like religion. This leads to a phenomenon known as denialism that seems to go hand-in-hand with regressionism. Because facts are no different than beliefs, there’s no reason to accept them if you don’t want to. Don’t like the latest theory of climatology? Deny it. Have pesky geologists and cosmologists determined the Earth is older than the 5,000 years you’d like it to be? Deny it. Don’t like that theory of Evolution that biology is based on? Deny it.
They deny medical facts like the efficacy of vaccines and the existence of AIDS; historical facts as big as the Holocaust or as small as Obama’s birthplace. I can think of no field of science or history immune to denialism. Instead of truth, they now see truthiness. And having lost their grip on reality, they seem to easily succumb to belief in every form of superstition, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theory. From Tea Party claims that electric utility Smart Meters emit “spy rays” to a resurgence in belief that the Earth is flat, I don’t remember any time in the past when so many people fall victim so easily to so many forms of quackery and nonsense. If you can choose what’s a fact on a whim, it’s easy to choose “facts” that reinforce your existing views and deny those than don’t. This creates a feedback loop, constantly pushing you to further extremes.
Ironically, denialism among fundamentalists has taken them so far to the right that they now see “liberal bias” in the Bibles that needs to be denied. They’ve started the “Conservative Bible Project” to rewrite the Bible without the dangerous “liberal ideas” that have “crept in”. Their new-and-improved Bible will be anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women’s-rights, anti-communism (apparently the word “comrade” is used too frequently in modern translations!). It will leave out “liberal falsehoods” such as Jesus defending a prostitute from stoning by telling the crowd that whoever is without sin should cast the first stone. Also to be dropped is Jesus saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Obviously, if God and Jesus were good conservatives they’d stick to the party line as understood by the modern right.
No better example of denialism exists than North Carolina’s bizarre new law that restricts the rate of sea level rise and limits the methods scientists may legally use to study it. It also forbids them from discovering that the ocean may rise at an accelerated rate in the future! Perhaps next they’ll make a law requiring the Earth to be flat or legislate gravity out of existence?
What’s the reason for this growing group of regressionists and their denialism? Is it just a chance coalition of religious fundamentalists and far-right facists? Is it our equivalent of the Taliban? Is something in the water making people stupid?
Perhaps regressionism is an over-reaction to the increasing pace of scientific and cultural change in the world; change that can erode traditional beliefs. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by change, especially when we hold on to a too-rigid world view that can’t adapt to new facts. Maybe it’s something else. I honestly don’t know. I hope we can find a way to fight it. If not, well, when the Regressive Inquisition kicks down your door and hauls you off to be burned as a witch for having too many books or “believing in” science, don’t say I didn’t warn you.