Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Dumb Conservatives

In exactly one week, I will be shoving my meager possessions and cat into the smallest rental truck available and driving 1,899 miles. GayProf should be spending his last week in Texas packing. Why, though, alter my usual method of waiting until the day before the move? So, in lieu of being reasonable, let's chat about some conservative silliness.

Claiming a conservative ideology does not necessarily imply a lack of intelligence. Likewise, the left can claim some pretty darn dim-witted people (that is another entry entirely). Still, it just seems to me that the modern U.S. conservative movement seems to almost take pride in being, well, kinda dumb.

Little Georgie Bush’s recent mishap with open microphones not only suggested his crassness, but again showed his basic lack of knowledge. When he wasn't sexually harassing the German Chancellor, he came to an astounding realization. Discussing the travel times of his fellow world leaders, Georgie seemed totally amazed at the literal size of the globe. He was shocked – SHOCKED – that others, like Russian Federation President Putin, could travel the same amount of time as he but not end up in the U.S. Georgie only represents the most visible component of this phenomena (though Ronald Reagan certainly used to give him a run for his money).

A strong wave of anti-intellectualism exists in the U.S. For all the reverence given to Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and the other eighteenth-century thinky crew, many modern American conservatives seem to disdain critical thinking.

GayProf can’t claim to know everything – yet. The emerging Israel/Lebanon war, for instance, is well beyond my ability and knowledge to discuss at great length. However, I want to know more and like to hear a variety of ideas. I also like to think that I am open to revising and changing my lefty ideas when I find better, smarter ideas.

Even conservatives might have some valid things to offer to these types of discussions. It’s hard to take conservatives seriously, though, when they actively despise learning and intellectual inquiry. Perhaps I have a personal failing, but I just won't seek out conservatives' opinion columns or blogs for this reason. If their ideological position can’t withstand intellecutal interrogation, perhaps they should not cling so tightly to it.

Conservatives have become so fearful that their ideas won’t standup in the face of actual thinking that they are now trying to legislate against critical inquiry. Florida’s legislature recently passed an education bill, signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush, that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” The law further names that history as “knowable, teachable, and testable.” Keep in mind that Jeb was supposed to be the smart one. Scary, isn't it? You can read more about this measure here.

Florida’s legislature responded to all of those pesky historians who have demanded that we interrogate the master narratives of U.S. history. Rather than presuming that U.S. History should only be the singular story of dead, white, straight men, these historians have the audacity to claim that others have influenced the course of human events both locally and globally. Moreover, they have an annoying habit of pointing out that inequality and injustice plagues the history of this nation. They ask their students to understand the past by interpreting events and a variety of view points.

Florida’s state government, however, took a bold stance against all of that. “No longer,” they more or less stated, “shall we suffer the hard work of having to think about things that challenge our assumptions. History shall just be about important names and dates and will never, ever question the rightness of the U.S.”

We on the intellectual left have a much harder case to make. The right calls ours vision of history an attack and a plot to split a common culture. We, on the other hand, question the assumption that a comon culture exists (or ever existed). Our position seems a lot less happy in comparison. Note to self: No job applications for GayProf in Florida this year.

Of course, conservative state legislatures don’t get all the conservative dumbness. The web-based group Protest Warriors claim to be battling us tricky and sanctimonious leftists. This right-wing group argues that leftists’ “self-righteous messages go silent quickly when the truth of history and reality is thrown back in their face.” Here, again, the right wants history to be equivalent to unquestioned “truth.” Yet, they also show that they know little about the actual complexity of the past.

Let’s take one of Protest Warriors’ t-shirts entitled “What has Western Civ Ever Done?” This little ringer-t celebrates “Western Civ” [read: White Civ] by listing its allegedly exclusively developments in world history.

At the top of their list, not surprisingly, appears “monotheism.” Obviously, one has to start out with a certain assumption that monotheism is automatically a good thing to even be persuaded by this t-shirt. That, much to their horror, is open to debate. We can set that aside for the time being.

What I find dumb about the shirt, however, is that they opted to put an image of the Parthenon on it. Greeks built the Parthenon in honor Athena, just one of their many, many, may gods. Using the Parthenon on a shirt celebrating monotheism strikes me as, well, dumb. Great Hera, what other word can I find?

Likewise, this same shirt claims intellectual developments that “westerners” actually borrowed from other groups of folk. Chemistry? Well, one might consider looking at ancient Persia first, after the rise of Islam. Early-modern Europeans certainly did.

How about literacy? Well, some South-Asian Hindu texts are at least eight thousand years old. Of course, China also has one of the longest, continuously used written languages in the entire world. I suppose 6,000 years of successive state organization will do that for you. China also provided the world with paper and printing (hey, they needed to use that paper for something). Literacy kind of needs paper and printing to work well.

Some time later, of course, Islamic tradition put a religious imperative on the ability to read the Qur’an. As a result, Arabic-speaking countries have most often had higher rates of literacy than elsewhere in the world for the past twelve centuries. So, claims of “western” literacy seem to be in their infancy.

One has to wonder if Protest Warriors would see these types of statements as “the truth of history and reality” being thrown back in their own self-righteous faces. I, however, am not interested in pointing out their lack of knowledge. That’s like shooting fish in a barrel, or something.

Rather, I am disturbed that they have a willful ignorance to the complexity of the world and its past. They don’t want engagement, but rather want to dictate what people should and should not know. They want history to be about them feeling good about their own identity and assumptions. They wish to silence dicussion over anything in the past that doesn't jive with their rosy view of the U.S.

Like Georgie Bush, these folk would be astounded by the size of the world. Moreover, they show themselves intellectually unprepared to grapple with its complexity.


Dorian said...

When I heard about that Florida law, I wondered what you would make of it. I was reading another article which compared this new law to an anti-Communism class Florida students were required to take to graduate high school. So an eagerness to stifle intellectual curiosity in favor of one master narrative is par for the course for the state, it seems.

Coincedentally enough, my site's recent change in slogan was prompted by a discussion of my site on the Protest Warrior forums.

Chad said...

"Monotheism?" So, in the Protest Warriors' bizarre cosmology, we can claim ancient Judaic civilization as part of the West?

jeremy said...

I like the simplicity. It makes everything so much easier to understand. How do I become a protest warrior?

Adam said...

That shirt is so ironic it cracks me up. Stupid White Men fail to remember that while the "europeans" were slinging shit at one another, living in mud huts, and eating thistle the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Persians, Phoenicians, etc had great empires and were living in palaces of marble and stone.

Blllarrgh. This myopic and narcissistic anglo-centric philanthropy is so infuriating.

pacalaga said...

Aw, c'mon now, it's not just stupid white men. There are stupid white women too. I'm still working against my conservative upbringing on that one. (It can't be all bad - my dad, a staunch Republican, started reading about environmental issues about ten years ago and switched party affiliations in his 70s. Turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, but only if he's willing to learn them.)
I think the weaker your theory is, the harder you have to cling to it in the face of cross-examination.

tornwordo said...

Have you read any Howard Zinn? He does a good job pointing out inaccuracies in the history of America as we learn it.

brett said...

oh my word.

wonderful post.

little something for you (though you probably already knew this)...

i love the tidbit about the parthenon being on the shirt for the obvious reason you mentioned, but especially since the greeks' polythieistic religion wasn't even wholly "western". the ancient greeks borrowed/stole/converted many of their deities and myths from ancient eastern cultures, from persia all the way to ancient china.

Glenn said...

I'll join you mathematically.

Great math was done LONG before the white boys of Europe started counting. Remember, if the white boys hadn't seen the superiority of the Arabic/Indian numbering systems, we'd still be using Roman numerals for everything.

The European system (even Ptolemy) had no real sense of place value or numbers. The concept of 0 as both a place holder and a real number only hit 4 centuries after polytheistic India mastered it.

Don't forget the Mayans, who figured out extremely advanced math TWELVE centuries before the Europeans.

Back to Ptolemy and Aristotle. They wrote in Greek, but what data did they use for their scientific writing? Babylonians. Even Fibonacci (whom I consider the father of modern math) just synthesized from the Indian sources.

Oooh, that shirt is making me mad! Maybe the front of the shirt lists all the bad things?

Christopher said...

I've never understood why so many consider it appealing that Dubya seems like "a guy you could have a beer with...like one of us." Why would these folks possibly want someone like them? I'm not smart enough to be president, and they certainly aren't smart enough to be president. I want a president who makes me feel like an utter moron so I can have a beer with my friends without fearing some assbag who flunked geography is bombing the wrong country.

Lorraine said...

Being afraid to think things through or even just to allow another opinion to exist does seem to be a hallmark of fundamentalism and by extension, these days, conservatism. Although, I've known my share of liberals who don't much like being challenged either.

And that said, I would suggest that western civilization has not been without it's gifs: French food and Colin Firth spring to mind.

Perspective of Pete said...

Well, one can make the confident conclusion that they've never traveled and actually seen a different culture in action. Their view of the world is a sliver, and they're walking around with their eyes affirmedly closed.

Dawn Of The Dad said...

Another fine post.
Can you ask my boss to give me time to look through your archive?

Roger Owen Green said...

Dumbness is why the liberal church (NOT an oxymoron) is losing people. It's so much easier to accept what "they" feed ya.

On the other hand, I've heard more than one place, the theory that W knew that Blair's mike was open and wanted a chance to say what he wanted. who nows?

CEM said...

Reading this post, I was reminded of a book a (slightly mutinous) teacher had us read in high school. For an all-white all-girls private Catholic school, it made an impression. Looking back through it, I’m surprised how much Orwell’s words continue to resonate, I had forgotten much of this book, and was glad to be reminded.

From George Orwell’s 1984:
'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.

Laura Elizabeth said...

I hadn't heard about that Florida law. Thanks for the link. I think.


Excellent post, as usual.

I hope you have a safe and unexciting move to the Great State of Massachusetts. If your journey takes you through Connecticut, (and it must), please wave to me.

Hm. New tee-shirt idea:

GayProf waved to me!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thank you for this piece on american movements of intellectualism - where arguements about world views are often met with "Why should I care what another country thinks" - I do find it interesting that at least three continents and a host of ethnicities are now lumped together as "Western Civ" - aka - the culmination of the white man.

America tries to emulate the Romans, yet the Romans were always aware of the accomplishments (and gods) there were stealing and who they were from.

There is something fundamentally wrong where national pride requires national flag underwear but where the population is happier NOT knowing where thier wealth and privilage come from, nor, if pressed, can they even identify, their own location or other national boundries on a map. ????? As I have heard more than once; War is America's geography education program.

Anonymous said...

It's terribly strange about 'monotheism' considering the first religion to practice it on a large scale - as a matter of doctrine, was the Zoroastrian faith. This of course started in Persia - precisely the place i think of as the very epitome of the west.

Oso Raro said...

Hey, they left out washing machines and automated dishwashers! All the mod cons, baby! Much more useful IMHO than monotheism. I mean, who cares about God when you have Cascade?

Good luck on your move, Mary. I hate moving, punto final. Stay fresh on the road, and try not to have *too* much internet sex assignation in motel rooms :-P

Anonymous said...

The shirt's main problem is that it needs to be a larger, Gator-sized, t-shirt to include the following highlights, which may have simply been printed on the inside:

long division
three bean salad
jello w/ carrot slices
manifest destiny

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