why we need evidence-based politics
A new poll of New Jersey found that conspiracy theories with absolutely no basis in fact, and some reaching in the realm of the supernatural, are very prevalent among the state’s residents, prompting a very disturbing an important question about the current state of, and the future of political discourse. How do you govern and maintain a high level of public discourse when the conversation in the news is dominated by people who steadfastly refuse to get a grasp on reality or educate themselves on the facts involved?
Now, the interesting thing not mentioned about the poll in question is that it didn’t just ask conservatives why, or if, they think Obama is the anti-Christ. The pollsters were actually looking to evaluate how many people on the right and on the left had what could be considered irrational beliefs, like religious gloom and doom and Birtherism on the conservative side, and 9/11 Truthism on the liberal end of the spectrum. The full results are pretty disturbing on both sides. While 35% of self-identified Republican voters are either sure or think that it’s possible for Obama to be the incarnation of temporal evil and 52% think he either wasn’t born in the U.S. or that Birthers could have a plausible theory, some 51% of Democrats think that the Bush administration had “advance knowledge” of the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, the poll didn’t try to find out whether there was a full blown Truther on the other end of the line, something it should’ve done to get an accurate proportion.
Of course we know there are plenty of Truthers out there along with all sorts of liberal movements who vocally rebel against science. The proponents of alternative medical woo and anti-vaccination activists are great examples of the left’s rarely mentioned disdain towards scientific reality. And while Schaeffer and Maddow so narrowly focused on fundamentalists in their political subjectivity, they missed the chance to discuss how the country could be governed despite millions of people who ardently refuse to accept facts and believe that their opinions matter more than objective data. Even worse, today’s news shows only serve to stoke their fires and make them louder and more rabid about their dearly held beliefs, turning bad ideas into even worse dogmas that are being pushed on us from every other current events headline. This disturbing trend has taken a firm hold on politics where everything seems to be a controversy, or a conspiracy, or fuel for outrage that tends to be so ill-informed and logically baseless, you can physically feel your IQ dropping after being exposed to it.
What will be the biggest challenge in trying to return some objectivity to public debates, is to convince people who grew up on the idea that every opinion is as good and as valid as another no matter what, that this is not the case and never was. When scientists talk about evolution or cosmology, they have good evidence for their theories. Someone who wouldn’t know matter from antimatter if the latter exploded behind his rear end, is not going to have a valid opinion on the topic. However, rather than recognize experts and facts, we glorify opinion and angry polemics. The result gives us entertainers instead of news analysts, most of them egomaniacal, self-serving and unapologetically loudmouthed, especially on topics they know nothing about. They’re good at scaremongering, spewing hate and interviewing people who agree with them. And pretty much nothing else.
Surely there are conservatives out there who oppose certain liberal policies on nuances more detailed than screams of “death panels! communism! Soviet Russia! socialism! totalitarianism! booga booga booga!” but you’re not going to hear them on Fox News or any other news network. Droning on about policy matters and detailed statistics is boring for TV execs who want to see political talk shows be more Jerry Springer than a nightly news program and today’s crop of blathering heads on the tube lack the patience and skill to develop these sorts of discussions. But these are exactly the discussions we need to be having. Yes, in the words of the late George Carlin, some crazy people should be kept around for entertainment. But not every crazy person should have his own little media empire…