BY VERN TURNER
At the extreme, intellectual cowards – also known as “true believers” – surround themselves with voices very similar to their own that say all the things that make their belief system comfortable and reassuring.
I think it’s part of the tribal instincts we still carry with us after a few hundred millennia of evolution. The individuals in the true-believer community are “fellow travelers.”
One of the most common behaviors of a believer is the avoidance of opposing facts. When a true believer is confronted with those opposing facts, they are most inclined to become even more embedded in their belief system to the point of absurdity.
The climate change deniers come to mind. When mountains of hard data from decades of deep, scientific research shows trends toward the warming of air, land and sea, the deniers search for ways to debunk this data with false claims, perverted interpretation of history and outmoded scientific theories and conclusions.
Even when 97% of the peer reviewed scientists keep producing even more data to the overwhelming conclusion that human activity is directly responsible for the global environmental changes [not limited to temperature alone], the deniers will tell us that carbon dioxide is not harmful and good for the environment because plants take it up. Of course, they miss the point that all living things, even plants, produce carbon dioxide as a waste product because it IS toxic.
When it comes to politics, and cultural norms, the conflicts become even more divisive because less real science and more opinion are involved. This is where intellectual courage becomes even more important; as the subjectivity increases, the courage must also increase.
Sadly, though, the opposite is more often the case. Read the editorial pages of larger newspapers that offer a “balanced” view from contributors and you will see an utter lack of resolution.
Progressives tend to be more intellectually honest and courageous than conservatives because they use the scientific method to move forward to more positive and long-lasting solutions to problems. They attack the cause of problems rather than pander to the special interests of moneyed elites.
Theodore Roosevelt was a progressive and a Republican. He promoted the betterment of mankind through government assistance. Today, so-called conservatives label him a RINO, a derisive term for someone who is not a true believer.
The opposite of progressive is not conservative – in any context. It is RE-gressive, or backward. Trying to go backward to a time that was when everything supporting that “then” has changed is folly. It is intellectually dishonest to label someone who thinks backward a conservative when they are just backward thinking.
Humans got to this point in physical and social evolution by looking forward, not backward. We tried out new things, found and used those that worked and discarded those that failed. That is called progress.
People who practice these kinds of improvements in all things are called progressives, not conservatives. To be perfectly honest, though, there are those who are politically conservative, but are socially progressive.
Supply-side economics, Reaganomics or “trickle-down” economics has failed in every country, including our own, every time it’s been attempted. Yet the tenets for this failed system continue to be touted by so-called political and economic conservatives as that which sets us all free.
Unregulated free-market enterprise is the meme for right-wing economists and politicians. The lack of intellectual honesty here is profound. It is a battle of ideologies with the stakes being the betterment of society and the well being of its people. The rancor, however, permeates all ideological camps, because they all are retreating into their own echo chambers.
This is the situation our nation finds itself in after almost 40 years of wedge politics introduced by the likes of Karl Rove, Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes. These are political operatives and strategists, not great men.
Great men, like Mohandis Gandhi, say things like, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
Those are words from someone with great intellectual honesty and courage. We are in short supply of such courage and honesty, but all of us are obliged to try.
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.