Category Archives: reason

Truth and Conspiracy Theories

 

I have a theory about conspiracy theories.

America is so filled with conspiracy theories it is difficult to decide where to start and where to end. They are ubiquitous. They are literally everywhere.

I have been trying to explain why in my opinion that is so. I believe it is because of their particular devotion to believing without evidence. That devotion has been around so long many don’t even see. Many people think it is normal to believe wild theories without evidence.

Here is a theory I endorse: the more unlikely a statement, the stronger the evidence we should demand before we believe it. The weaker the evidence in support of a theory the more suspect we should be about it. For example, if someone says Barack Obama was born outside the United States that is a statement that is hard to believe, but it is not so outrageous that it could not be true. I would require some evidence though, because it is not obviously true. If you say that Barack Obama is part of an international conspiracy of elite pedophiles that are attacking very young children to kill them and drink their blood that is a pretty wild statement. Such a statement requires deep evidence to be believed. Nothing else will do.

Yet to a lot of people such a statement about Obama is made and it is believed. It does not matter how outrageous it is, if it sort of fits in with their own world-view they believe it without any evidence at all. These believers live in a world of conspiracy theories and they find the current world very congenial. They fit in. Increasingly, those who demand evidence don’t belong in this new world. Increasingly, the new world is a world of make-believe or FantasyLand. According to a recent study, 25% of Americans believe Qanon theories while another 24% are not sure about them! What is there to be unsure of?

Believing crazy theories without evidence is good evidence of not cherishing truth. A country that is soaked in conspiracy theories without evidence is a country that does not respect the truth. That is a country where truth is dying.

What is Conspiracy Theory?

A conspiracy is the activity of a group of people acting in concert to accomplish a heinous act. Bad things happen. They always will. Sometimes they come about because of a conspiracy of bad actors to bring them about. Sometimes one person does it alone. Then there is no conspiracy. I am not talking about such a conspiracy.

For example, in the 2016 federal election for president in the United States there was a conspiracy, spear-headed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia and those who worked with him to interfere, illegally and immorally in the American presidential election to discredit Hillary Clinton and favor Donald Trump. They conspired in secret but the evidence is overwhelming. The Mueller inquiry clearly and unequivocally determined this to be the case. A joint non-partisan intelligence report reached the same conclusion.

This is not the type of conspiracy I am talking about. The reason this is not what I am talking about is that the belief in the conspiracy was reasonable and backed up by a mountain of evidence.

 

The type of conspiracy theory I am talking about now is the paranoid or unreasonable belief in a conspiracy. The key is the lack of reasons to support the belief. In such a case, the evidence does not support the belief in the conspiracy. The belief in the conspiracy is thus not justified. It is a paranoid belief in other words because it is based on an unreasonable fear.

Fears are important. Fears can be bad and they can be good. If a fear is based on evidence it is a justified fear and we should pay attention to it. Reasonable fears should not be ignored. For example, when scientific evidence is overwhelming that the climate will change dramatically unless we change our ways, we should follow the evidence. When 97% of the scientists or more say that irreparable damage to the environment and our society will result from our failure to act, we should pay attention unless we have an even better reason to do otherwise.

Reasonable fears can protect us from harm. Unreasonable fears can cause us harm. We need to know how to distinguish them. That is not always easy to do. For a while, that was hard to do with evidence about climate change. For a long time now the evidence has mounted to such an extent that it is no longer reasonable to ignore. Reasonable fears can lead us out of danger. These are good fears. Unreasonable fears can lead us into danger.

Unreasonable fears should be ditched. The sooner the better. Sometimes that is hard to do. I have an unreasonable fear of heights. That is a called a phobia because it is unreasonable. All of us know that when we are in high places where we might fall down, we must be careful. That is a reasonable fear. Sometimes the fear is above and beyond all the evidence. That is the type I have. That is a phobia. I am not proud of it, but there is nothing I can do about. I know when I am in a glass elevator there is nothing to fear, but I can’t stop being afraid. My fear is not based on reasons. That is why I can’t reason my way out of it. I wish I could. That fear sometimes is debilitating.

Recently Republican supporters had a garden party at the White House to meet and greet the Republican nominated candidate for the Supreme Court. It was held outdoors, but the attendees did not practice social distancing and most of them did not wear masks. A significant number of those in attendance contracted Covid-19 after that event. The event may have been a super spreader event of the Covid-19 virus. That was dangerous and unwise on the part of the reckless attendees. It may have caused president Trump or others to get the coronavirus. A reasonable fear of the disease could have led a number of those in attendance to take reasonable precautions.

A current conspiracy theory is being promulgated by QAnon, and others, that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Tom Hanks, George Soros, and other elite liberals are all part of a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that drink the blood of babies. They also believe that Donald Trump is the saviour who will protect the innocent children from this conspiracy. This theory is about as absurd as a theory can get, but many people believe it entirely without evidence. This is the type of conspiracy theory I want to talk about.

When it comes to conspiracies we need to be able to detect the reasonable theories from the unreasonable ones. That means we have to carefully analyze and sift through the evidence in support of theories or that might contradict the theories. To do that we must exercise our critical thinking or reason. That is our best tool for this purpose. Not faith in the promulgator of the theory. We are entitled to take into consideration the reputation of the proponents of a theory, but only to a limited extent. Even experts can be wrong. It is much more important to look at the evidence and the analysis and reach a conclusion. Sometimes we can’t do that. Then we should look at all the evidence we can and consult as many experts as possible and reach a tentative decision about the theory, and be prepared to discard or amend it as soon as the evidence leads us to do so.

 

Inventing America: Dreamers and Doers

 

As I write this during the American election campaign you may notice things are getting crazier and crazier in the good old USA. Why is that? That is the issue I have been trying to explore.

 

The Puritans started to call themselves Pilgrims. According to Kurt Andersen, they saw themselves as “extremists of a better social station—talked themselves into leaving England and creating their own American religious utopia.

The Puritan were interesting fanatics. Of course which fanatics are not interesting? For one thing they did not cross the ocean to improve their economic well being. They had dreams of ideas! When you think about it that was amazing. Remember all the hardships they had to endure for their ideas! They wanted to create a New World. What did that New World entail? They wanted a theocracy where they could banish those evil Catholics that had persecuted them in England. They also wanted to banish Church of England clergy, for they were not better than the Papists in their eyes. They wanted religious freedom where everybody could be just like them.

John Winthrop was their first leader and he created a great myth that was constantly revived by leaders like Saint Ronald Reagan. He said in his famous sermon, “We are as a city upon a hill endlessly happy.” Saint Ronald Reagan used this mythology to enhance his claim to Sainthood. It worked. Yet, many Americans have forgotten that this means they must be better than everyone else, not that they are better than everyone else.

As Andersen said about the Puritans,

“If one has enough belief in the supernatural plan, if one’s personal faith is strong enough, false prophecies are just unfortunate miscalculations that don’t falsify anything. If you’re fanatical enough about enacting and enforcing your fiction, it becomes indistinguishable from nonfiction.”

FantasyLand was born and America is living the dream. Or is it the nightmare? The Puritans wanted a place where no one would knock them for their crazy ideas. That was America. They created America—a place where crazy ideas came home to thrive. Anderson called them “the most literal-minded fantasists ever.” The world they created was truly FantasyLand for adults. For both good and ill.

Now its time to look to see what  they created.

Puritans: The First Extremists

 

Many of us who know and love America as I do, have been perplexed by the all out mania of their extremism. Americans do nothing halfway. It is all in or all out. No medium in between. That may be a product of their birth.

The first settlers to the New World found fertile ground for their extreme beliefs and ultimately for the imposition of those beliefs on others. Many were fleeing religious persecution in Europe so that they could impose religious persecution on others in that new world. Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand described early American religiosity this way:

“Yet unlike Roman Catholicism, with its old global hierarchy and supreme leader, the new Protestant Christianity was by its nature fractious and unstable, invented almost within living memory by uncompromising rebels who couldn’t abide interpretations and rules issued by expert super clergy. It was an innovative new religion successful at a time when innovations were transforming the rest of Europe’s cultures and economies. Protestantism was thus part of an exciting tide of novelty, along with the printing press, global trade, the Renaissance, the beginnings of modern science, and the Enlightenment. It’s unique selling proposition was radical. When official leaders lose their way, pious anybodies can and must decide the new improved truth on their own—that is, by reading Scripture, each individual determines the correct meaning of Christian fantasies. The Protestants’ founding commitment to fierce, decentralized, do-it-yourself truth-finding and spiritual purity led to the continuous generation of self-righteous sectarian spin-offs.”

I was born and raised in Steinbach. We had Mennonites and even more radical Pentecostals. Wild and whacky beliefs were in the air we breathed. In America the first extremists were the Puritans who built a society in the New World in their own image. They were given that name by the established Christians. It was not a complement. Many of them were Calvinists. They were nothing if not true believers. They came to establish a world of true believers. They wanted to be separate from the established Church of England. Soon they wanted to separate from England itself. First they tried the Netherlands but there was too much heresy there too so they sailed to the New World.  As Anderson said, “Ferociously believing every miracle and myth wasn’t enough.”

Steinbach was not that different. The Mennonites wanted to keep themselves separate and apart “from the world.”

As Andersen said,

“What really distinguished the Puritans from the mainstream were matters of personality, demeanor. To be a Puritan was to embody uncompromising zeal. (They were analogous to certain American political zealots today, who more than disagreeing with their Establishment’s ideas just can’t stand their reasonable-seeming manner. Moreover, a good Christian life, the Puritans believed, was one consumed by Christianity…In other words, America was founded by a nutty religious cult.”

They were sort of like Mennonites on steroids.

The natives the Puritans found in the New World did not matter. Those people were just not civilized. The people who mattered were the religious zealots. As Andersen described it, “The myth we’ve constructed says that the first nonnative new Americans who mattered were the idealists, the hyper-religious people seeking freedom to believe and act out their passionate, elaborate, all-consuming fantasies.”

And America has been hyper-religious ever since. And it shows. Welcome to FantasyLand.

 

A Home for the gullible

 

Much like the Spaniards further south many of the first English colonists in North America were looking for gold and they were not very successful. Yet that enterprise established an important principle. As Kurt Andersen described it in his book FantasyLand, “It also established a theme we’ll encounter again and again: around some plausible bit of reality, Americans leap to concoct wishful (or terrified) fictions they ardently believe to be true.” And they believed fervently without evidence. That was the key and that was the problem. This after all was the land of faith—robust belief without evidence.

Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the dreamers looking for gold, but also failed to find it. He eventually sailed to South America where his chances were better but again he failed. But he did not fail at selling fantasy. It is much harder to fail at that in England where many had dreams of getting rich in the New World or people already in the New World who wanted to believe. And evidence or the lack of it was no obstacle to belief.

Raleigh published a book filled with anecdotes that worked to amplify the dreams and make them real. As Andersen said,

“Raleigh helped invent the kind of elaborate pseudo-empiricism that in the centuries to come would become a permanent feature of Fantasyland testimonials—about religion, about quack science, about conspiracy, about whatever was being urgently sold.”

As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his magisterial Democracy in America in 1835,

“The entire man is …to be seen in the cradle of the child. The growth of nations presents something analogous to this; they all bear some marks of their origin. If we were able to go back…we should discover…the primal cause of the prejudices, the habits, the ruling passions, and in short, all that constitutes what is called the national character.”

Tocqueville was an astute observer of America. He also pointed out “It was…gold-seekers who were sent to Virginia. No noble thought or conception above gain presided over the foundation of the new settlements.” Of course most of those gold seekers died, but that did not stop those who brought them to the New World lying about it in the Old World. After all there was money to be made off those suckers. Even though no gold had been found and even though 2/3 of the first hundred gold seekers promptly died, the captain who brought them returned to England claiming to have found “gold showing mountains.” Andersen described those early visitors from England as people who “tended to be the more wide-eyed and desperately wishful.” These were the American ancestors.

 These were the people who shaped the new world of America. Professor Walter McDougall in his book America, Freedom Just Around the Corner described the newcomers this way: “Most of the 120,000 indentured servants and adventurers who sailed to the [South] in the seventeenth century, did not know what lay ahead but were taken in by the propaganda of the sponsors.” In other words, they were duped.

 Historian Daniel Boorstin described it somewhat more charitably than I do. He said, “American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising.” Andersen concluded, “Western civilization’s first great advertising campaign was created in order to inspire enough dreamers and suckers to create America.”

 The new world was built on fraud and it has continued that ignoble tradition ever since. And the gullible believed, because they wanted to believe. Evidence was irrelevant.

That was what the New World was like, and in many ways the New World has never varied much from its origins. It continues to shape and even haunt that new world.

 

Why is belief is all-important?

 

Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand argued that it was necessary to go back 500 years to explain the New World. He started with the new religion that was born—Protestantism. It was of course just a version of the old Catholicism, but it had some important innovations that had important long term consequences. Martin Luther was particularly vexed by,

the regional archbishop, in order to cover the costs of celebrating his elevation to cardinal, has encouraged local Christians to pay money to be forgiven their sins (and the sins of deceased loved ones), thereby reducing or eliminating the posthumous wait in purgatory.”

 

After all it really didn’t make sense that paying money for prayers would put us in front of the line in heaven.

Luther was also upset by the holy relics found in his local church. Most of them of course were fake. The relics included:

 “a piece of straw from baby Jesus’s manger, threads from His swaddling clothes, a bit of Mary’s breast milk, a hair from adult Jesus’s beard, a piece of bread from the Last Supper, and a thorn from His crucifixion crown. The young theologian, appalled by the church’s merchandising, writes an impassioned three-thousand-word critique in proto-PowerPoint form, nails it to the door of the church on All Saints’ Eve, Halloween, and for good measure sends a copy of his screed to the archbishop himself.”

 

The church had been selling fake news. It’s not popular now; it wasn’t popular then.

The manifesto that Luther published in 1517 also had a profound effect. Andersen described its genesis this way:

“Luther’s main complaint had been about the church’s sale of phoney VIP passes to Heaven. “There is no divine authority,” one of his theses pointed out, “for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately [when] the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.”

That didn’t have much to say for itself either. But Martin Luther had 2 extremely important ideas that actually had some long-term pernicious effects. The first of those ideas was that,

clergymen have no special access to God or Jesus or truth. Everything a Christian needed to know was in the Bible. So every individual Christian believer could and should read and interpret Scripture for him- or herself. Every believer, Protestants said, was now a priest.”

 

This allowed everyone to create his or her own truth. While I am no advocate for relying on authority, this idea had some dangerous consequences. Some people in time abandoned the notion of truth entirely, or at least substituted the idea that anyone could claim truth for any idea, no matter how hair-brained.

Luther had a second important concept to bring forth. This was the idea that belief or faith was all-important. It did not matter what one did, if one had the right faith or belief. You could not buy your way into heaven but why were beliefs or faith so important? I have never quite understood that. Maybe someone can explain.

 

Andersen describes the new attitude of Protestantism this way:

“…out of the new Protestant religion, a new proto-American attitude emerged during the 1500s. Millions of ordinary people decided that they, each of them, had the right to decide what was true or untrue, regardless of what fancy experts said. And furthermore, they believed, passionate fantastical belief was the key to everything. The footings for Fantasyland had been cast.”

 

Good ideas are not often enough to launch a revolution in thought on their own. In Luther’s case he took advantage of an astounding new technology—the printing press. As Andersen said,

“No new technology, during the thousand years between gunpowder and the steam engine, was as disruptive as the printing press, and Protestantism was its first viral cultural phenomenon.”

 

Reminds me of the disruptive effect modern technologies like social media have had. Are we on the brink of another revolution in thought? What will it’s long term consequences be?

Facts are not stubborn enough

 

The election of a new president in 2016 was the culmination of a 500-year history of disparagement of reason. That is the point Andersen wants to make in his book FantasyLand. As he said,

“Despite his nonstop lies and obvious fantasies—rather, because of them—Donald Trump was elected president. The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable. As particular fantasies get traction and become contagious, other fantasists are encouraged by a cascade of out-of-control tolerance. It’s a kind of twisted Golden Rule unconsciously followed: If those people believe that, then certainly we can believe this.”

 

Andersen argues, that a 500-year history of denigration of facts and reasoning in favour of belief without reasons has gradually led us to our particular modern circumstance where some can claim, truth is dead. He puts it this way in his inimical style:

“Each of the small fantasies and simulations we insert into our lives is harmless enough, replacing a small piece of the authentic but mundane here, another over there. The world looks a little more like a movie set and seems a little more exciting and glamorous, like Hitchcock’s definition of drama—life with the dull bits cut out. Each of us can feel like a sexier hero in a cooler story, younger than we actually are if we’re old or older if we’re young. Over time the patches of unreality take up more and more space in our lives. Eventually the whole lawn becomes AstroTurf.”

 

That history has landed us squarely and uncomfortably in FantasyLand. It is a world where we can believe whatever we want. Again, our wants are supreme. In the 1700s John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” But the fact is they are not stubborn enough. Fantasy can trump facts. No one knows that better than Trump.

 Instead of being bound by facts, as Andersen says:

 

“…we are freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever or to pretend to be whomever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, a matter of personal preference. There is a functioning synergy among our multiplying fantasies, the large and small ones, the toxic and the individually entertaining ones, the ones we know to be fiction, the ones we kinda sorta believe, and the religious and political and scientific ones we’re convinced aren’t fantasies at all. Scientists warn about the “cocktail effect” concerning chemicals in the environment and drugs in the brain, where various substances “potentiate” other substances. I think it’s like that. We’ve been drinking bottomless American cocktails mixed from all the different fantasy ingredients, and those various fantasies, conscious and semi-conscious, intensify the effects of others.”

 

Andersen does not deny that fantasies are abundant elsewhere too. A quick look around is all you need to realize that. Yet, for some reason, fantasy does seem to be deeper and more powerful and all consuming in America than anywhere else in the world. As Andersen said,

“This is not unique to America, people treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously. We’re just uniquely immersed… nowhere else in the rich world are such beliefs central to the self-identities of so many people. We are Fantasyland’s global crucible and epicenter.”

America is awash in fantasy and the world is awash in America. This is Andersen’s précis of 500 years of American history that has brought it to become the lord of fantasy:

“America was created by true believers and passionate dreamers, by hucksters and their suckers—which over the course of four centuries has made us susceptible to fantasy, as epitomized by everything from Salem hunting witches to Joseph Smith creating Mormonism, from P. T. Barnum to Henry David Thoreau to speaking in tongues, from Hollywood to Scientology to conspiracy theories, from Walt Disney to Billy Graham to Ronald Reagan to Oprah Winfrey to Donald Trump. In other words: mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled…how deeply this tendency has been encoded in our national DNA.”

 

The result is the modern world. Goya says “the sleep of reason brings forth monsters.”  The modern world is here to prove him right.

 

That is the real problem.

Promiscuous Devotion to the Untrue

Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand diagnosed the problem as an attitude. This is how he described it:

“What’s problematic is going overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, each of us free to reinvent himself by imagination and will. In America those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts.”

 

Andersen believes, as I believe, that the roots of fantasy are deep and it is important for us to understand them if we want to understand where we are at in the modern world. As he said,

“Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the last half-century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become. The cliché would be the frog in the gradually warming pot, oblivious to its doom until too late.”

And the consequences of giving ourselves over to fanciful thinking are not innocent. They are very dangerous and we are paying the price now. We are paying it bigly. As Andersen explains:

“Much more than the other billion or two people in the rich world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and miraculous, in Satan on Earth now, reports of recent trips to and from Heaven, and a several-thousand-year-old story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago.

We believe the government and its co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous truths from us—concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of AIDS, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more.

We stockpile guns because we fantasize about our pioneer past, or in anticipation of imaginary shootouts with thugs and terrorists. We acquire military costumes and props in order to pretend we’re soldiers—or elves or zombies—fighting battles in which nobody dies, and enter fabulously realistic virtual worlds to do the same

And that was all before we became familiar with the terms post-factual and post-truth, before we elected a president with an astoundingly open mind about conspiracy theories, what’s true and what’s false, the nature of reality.

We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole.

America has mutated into Fantasyland.”

As a result of this attitude, 500 years in the making Americans, and to a lesser extent their little cousins, Canadians, have come to believe in a large host of wildly extravagant  beliefs, when you really think about it. About 2 out 3 Americans believe that angels and demons are active in the world. About a half believe that a personal god is looking after them no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. At the same time about a third of Americans reject the science of climate change even though 97% or more of scientists assure them it is real. In fact many Americans believe climate change is a hoax or an evil communist plot against them. About 25% believe that vaccines cause autism. These are just a few of their wild beliefs. We will look at lot more. About 20% believe that the government adds secret mind controlling technology to television broadcasts. None of these beliefs are benign. They all have consequences. The problem is that Americans and Canadians too, have what Andersen called a “promiscuous devotion to the untrue.”

Savagery Exposed: Empathy Shredded

 

I already commented how America has abandoned reason. By that I mean to include much of the west, but not always as excessively as America, who seems particularly susceptible to dumbed down politics.

Of course, we have abandoned more than reason. We have also abandoned compassion. Nowhere is that more evident than in America, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. In that country compassion has been shredded. That has become sickeningly obvious in 2020 with the Covid-19 crisis.

As New York Times commentator, Charles Blow, put it: “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” So far, during this crisis the power elite have showed no compunction about putting the poor at the leading edge of danger.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times quoted a 75-year old retiree from his home state of Minnesota who decried this evolution. This is what she said to the Washington Post:

“We were the leading country in everything when I was young…And what are we now? We’re mean. We’re selfish. We’re stubborn and sometimes even incompetent. … It seems like some of these other countries almost feel sorry for us. … We can’t get out of our own way. … There’s no leadership and no solidarity, so everybody’s doing whatever they want … which means everyone who’s vulnerable is losing big.”

 

Friedman blamed the Republican Party and its erratic leader:

This erosion of our collective societal immunity has been fed by many sources over the years, but none more than a Republican Party that has simply jumped the tracks. Donald Trump’s election was a byproduct of our lost immunity, but his leadership has now become a giant accelerant of it.

At a time when we desperately need to be guided by the best science, Trump’s daily fire hose of lies, and his denunciations of anything he doesn’t like as “fake news,” has contributed mightily to the loss of our “cognitive immunity” — our ability to sort out truth from lies and science from science fiction.

At a time when we need a globally coordinated response to a pandemic, Trump has wrecked every alliance we have.

At a time when we need high social trust in order to have a coordinated response at home, Trump’s political strategy of dividing us and playing everything both ways — even telling people both to rise up against their governors and to lock down according to his guidelines — is the opposite of the “all in this together” approach we need to win this battle.

Sometimes the current administration in the U.S. is doing everything it can do to make things even worse during a pandemic. As this plays out Trump is quietly working to leave many of the front line workers, health care workers high and dry when it comes to health care. At least he is trying to do that. It seems incomprehensible but he is trying to take health care away from millions of Americans who started receiving health care insurance as a result of President Obama’s Affordable Care by challenging it in court. Trump’s administration has brought a case asking the court to through out Obama care entirely and That case is about to go to the Supreme Court this year.

As Friedman said,

At a time when access to affordable health care is extra-important — when frontline workers need to know that if they go to work and fall ill, they will have some safety net to protect them — Trump has been trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act enacted by President Barack Obama without even thinking through an alternative.

It seems crazy but all of this is playing out right now during a pandemic.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be

 

As we watch America flounder from afar some of us have pity for them. They are led by a President who is the least qualified President in history. He is a man who makes decisions on the basis of “hunches” and “instincts.” He has never given any indication that he ever read a book. He has said that his favorite book is the Art of the Deal which he wrote (with the help of a ghost of course.) He has no respect for science or expertise. He ignores the advice of his best advisors, such as the leaders of the various intelligence services. Instead he relies on people like Vladimir Putin because Putin tells him things “strongly.” That is good enough for Trump. It doesn’t hurt that Putin has no regard for truth either. Added to that, this is a President who has nothing but disdain for government so places no importance to having it run well. He has no respect for career bureaucrats who are often exactly what we need, particularly at times like this when the world faces an economic crisis and health crisis at the same time. He dismisses them as members of something called” the Deep State.”

But this post is not about Trump. Everyone knows what he is like. More importantly the American people knew before they elected him that this is how he was. The American people, even though not a majority of them, voted him in to power. About 55 million people voted for him nearly as many as voted for a much more obviously qualified candidate. Many of those people still support him.

That is the issue. The American people don’t care about science or expertise. They too are content to rely on hunches, instincts, feelings, and above all faith. That is what matters. They have faith in Trump and in fact have religious devotion to him. Trump said, truthfully for a change, that he could stand in Times Square and murder someone and his supporters would still support him. If that is not religious devotion what is?

Ignoring facts, reason, data/evidence, and science can only go so far. I think the United States is nearing the end. And Canada is not that far behind.

Thomas Friedman author and columnist for the New York Times, characterized this attitude as “Dumb as we wanna be.” Then he said the following:

This pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated the fact that over the last 20 years we as a country have weakened so many sources of our strength. We’ve simultaneously eroded our cognitive, ecological, economic, social, governance, public health and personal health immune systems — all the sources of resilience we need to get through this pandemic with the least damage to lives and livelihoods.

 

All these immune deficiencies are the logical outcome of how we’ve let ourselves go as a country, how we’ve let ourselves be dumb-as-we-wanna-be for so many years — devaluing science and reading, bashing public servants for political sport, turning politics into entertainment, not to mention adopting horrible eating habits that have left 40 percent of Americans obese.

Dumb-as-we-wanna-be is epitomized by the guy in Austin, Texas, who last week shoved a “park ranger into the water while the ranger was explaining to a crowd the need for social distancing,” as CNN reported.

Warren Buffett was right: When the tide goes out you see who’s swimming naked. And now it’s us. We are still exceptional, but now it’s in the fact that we lead the world in total coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19.

 

It seems remarkable that a country that has so many of the best universities in the world should have turned its back on them. How did that happen? It’s an interesting story. It didn’t happen over night. Kurt Anderson in his book Fantasyland described how that happened over about 500 years from the time of the arrival of Puritans on the shores of North America. It came gradually, very gradually, as a result of 5 centuries of the disparagement of reason in favour of faith and feelings and an array of temptations away from reason. It is an incredible story and all of us are now in 2020 suffering the consequences of that as we face a health crisis and an economic crisis at the same time . This is not a good time to discover that we have abandoned reason.