|Credit: Chris Gash|
"We hold these truths to be self-evident": the rest is a contentious matter, for at the time the revered words were written, the rest of the sentence "all men were [not] created equal," Native Americans, women and my ancestors chief among them.
"Self-evident": this is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father and scientist. It was an edit from Thomas Jefferson's original "sacred and undeniable," a reflection of the scientific revolution at the time, homage to Sir Isaac Newton and "the analytic empiricism of Franklin's close friend David Hume." The American experiment, though far then and now from perfect, would be based not on divine right or dynastic succession, but reason, facts and currently bereft in the public sphere: logic.
It is incredible that Scientific American would take such a stance, but it has to be taken. There are elements of our society that promote "creating their own reality"; the backlash to the Cosmos reboot; Creationism versus Evolutionary Biology; the Flat Earth Society; Young Earth Creationism with more dangerous, unscientific thought on the horizon for exploitation by cynical politicians or the latest flimflam artist.
This year's election is unique as one political party has nominated such a flimflam artist as its candidate, that has made no bones about his hostility to science: "climate change is a plot by the Chinese against American manufacturing." As the New York Daily News opined on his loose 2nd amendment comments: "this isn't funny anymore."
This is an assault on fact versus fantasy, science versus psychobabble; sanity versus insanity. Flimflam's persona non grata interviewed on Alex Jones - the KING of conspiracy provocateurs - as a casual search of YouTube on his rant compilations attests, many right wing pundits have, as he's complained - mainstreamed his views in the public sphere without crediting him, only nourishing a faux ecosystem around Mr. Flimflam. FF sometimes quotes him verbatim, which Jones says admirably is "surreal."
What is surreal is that as a nation, we've crossed the Rubicon. What started as a political tactic to - as Barry Goldwater said "hunt where the ducks are," getting votes from a disgruntled south that couldn't take the changes the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Fair Housing Act (1968) ushered in, the Dixiecrat ducks came: John Birch Society cum Southern Strategy cum Reagan Welfare Queens cum Faux News cum Birther Movement cum Alt-Right Movement mainstreamed in an echo chamber. Like a cult, they created their own realities. When Bob Jones University's policy against miscegenation (interracial dating) no longer worked selling themselves as a Christian institution, they found a suitable substitute in abortion opposition. The GOP's platform opposing gay rights - despite the American Psychiatric Association's removing it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - is evidenced by its insistence on the quackery of "reparative therapy."
What is surreal is our measure and substantiation of information as citizenry, and how we make decisions as a republic respecting reality, facts, data, evidence, REAL THINGS: what truths are self-evident, or quackery we'll follow over a cliff.
"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone." Rod Serling, Season One Intro.
“If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”
Four years ago in these pages, writer Shawn Otto warned our readers of the danger of a growing antiscience current in American politics. “By turning public opinion away from the antiauthoritarian principles of the nation's founders,” Otto wrote, “the new science denialism is creating an existential crisis like few the country has faced before.”
Otto wrote those words in the heat of a presidential election race that now seems quaint by comparison to the one the nation now finds itself in. As if to prove his point, one of the two major party candidates for the highest office in the land has repeatedly and resoundingly demonstrated a disregard, if not outright contempt, for science. Donald Trump also has shown an authoritarian tendency to base policy arguments on questionable assertions of fact and a cult of personality.
Americans have long prided themselves on their ability to see the world for what it is, as opposed to what someone says it is or what most people happen to believe. In one of the most powerful lines in American literature, Huck Finn says: “It warn't so. I tried it.” A respect for evidence is not just a part of the national character. It goes to the heart of the country's particular brand of democratic government. When the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, scientist and inventor, wrote arguably the most important line in the Declaration of Independence—“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—they were asserting the fledgling nation's grounding in the primacy of reason based on evidence.
Donald Trump’s Lack of Respect for Science Is Alarming, The Editors
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