When a “senior advisor” in the Bush administration reminded reporter Ron Suskind that Suskind was “a member of the reality-based community” noting, “We create our own reality,” he assumed he and the Bush apparatchiks were in the vanguard of reality creation. As Republicans carve out and build out an alternate reality where evolution is a wild idea rather than settled science, where climate scientists are conspirators rather than bearers of data, and where for any fact you’ve got they’ve got an ideologically compatible fantasy fact it’s important to remember the debt they owe to the groundbreaking reality denial work done in the former Soviet Union, the model for their own science and reality vs. ideology mode.
The Stalinists originated the snappy label “bourgeois pseudoscience” for the ideologically inconvenient fields of genetics, cybernetics, sociology, semiotics and comparative linguistics, all deemed ideologically unacceptable. Whether climate science ever ran afoul of ideological correctness at the time I couldn’t say. In Mao’s China, anesthesia was verboten, pain relief through acupuncture the only ideologically permissible means.
The specific practice of manipulation of science for predetermined ideological ends had its own name: Lysenkoism, after Trofim Lysenko, an agronomist whose principal research involved wheat seeds, but touched upon something called “acquired characteristics,” a bogus theory that inherited traits could be actively changed through intervention. Soviet ideologists thought the theory of acquired characteristics was swell, because they liked to insist and found it convenient to insist that heredity played little part in human development, and that through life under Leninism bourgeois and fascist instincts would be purged.
Mainstream economists are often astounded that conservatives and Republicans continue to promote “voodoo economics” or “supply-side” no matter how economically disastrous such policies unvaryingly are. Educated people everywhere are astonished at Republican rejection of human-caused climate change in the face of staggering amounts of evidentiary data supporting it, or shocked when conservatives seek to remove evolution from school textbooks or to equate Biblical narratives with scientific theory. When collective farming bombed in the Soviet Union and millions starved, Stalin told the nation when he eased back on the policy that the nation had “overfilled the five-year plan of collectivization by more than 100%,” and that, “some of our comrades have become dizzy with success.” How about them apples, James Inhofe?
Adapting the practices of dastardly dictatorships doesn’t make one as dastardly by any stretch. But it is a conspicuous indicator of a very bad turn in direction. It’s one thing when opposing philosophies differ on how to solve problems. It’s another thing altogether when one philosophy denies the problems even exist at all. It’s worthwhile to stipulate American conservatives haven’t done anything to equal the death of millions through the ideologically determined collectivization of agriculture.
But let’s be clear: failure to adequately regulate, or reducing necessary regulation of polluters or carbon emissions means the proliferation of particulates in the air, and the innumerable preventable deaths pulmonary disease will cause. Political demonization of the poor, propaganda designed to convince Americans dire poverty doesn’t exist in America or is mostly voluntary results in policies that materially and physically punish, even to the point of death. Endless denial of the correctible profit-driven deficiencies in the American health system, or dissemination of falsification and myth about superior single-payer plans around the world indirectly but literally kills no small number of Americans. What can be said for denial of warnings from climate scientists is that the window is rapidly closing for the necessary adaptions capable of preventing consequences potentially catastrophic.
Republicans with their massive media and propaganda machinery understand one thing at least that is undeniably real: the assumption since the Enlightenment that rational people will reject a hypothesis when contradicted by empirical evidence is much too optimistic. In practice, when data and belief collide it is often belief that wins the day. In other words, when pitted against Limbaugh and O’ Reilly, Bacon and Descartes do not fare well.
Whatever can be said about the current radicalized right’s antipathy to inconvenient science and perpetuation of distrust of science, and more broadly of academia and learning, it can be stated definitively we have passed the point of it being merely alarming.