With the passing today of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, I got to thinking about my ideological and political leanings, and how they relate.
One of the things that has most disturbed me about the rise of the radical right wing in this country is the stark and often aggressive anti-intellectualism that has come with it. We have entire state school boards now teaching creation myth as science. We have federal legislators insisting – at the behest of their donors – that climate change is a myth, and even if it isn’t it’s not influence by human activity. Genetically modified crops now constitute as much as 95% of the US supply of staple crops like maize and sugar beets, and most of us don’t understand why that’s a bad thing. Abortion, which most of the industrial world has accepted as a necessary thing even though anyone would prefer that it wasn’t, continues to be not just a contentious issue in the US, with fourteen states having anti-abortion laws deemed “harmful” by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Worse than that, you have a major party vice-presidential candidate who insists that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape, and a federal congressional candidate who believes that a woman’s body will automatically prevent pregnancy in cases of rape.
One of the most powerful state school boards in the nation recently adopted language explicitly condemning the teaching of critical thinking skills. Right-wing ideologues and their tea party acolytes push the idea that education itself is “liberal indoctrination,” holding “parental authority” as a higher value than actual factual information.
Bitter and misinformed cynicism has replaced reasoned skepticism in the political sphere, with people insisting – not realizing that their opinions are being driven by right-wing manipulation – that there is no difference between the major parties, that Obama is the same as Bush is the same as Romney, or that 9-11 was an “inside job.”
Since Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind,” here in the US (and increasingly in other parts of the world, especially those with a strong anglophile influence), we have been taking giant leaps backward in science, technology, and education overall. Our information sources, once considered the bastions of objectivity and factuality, are now sold to the highest bidder and promote whatever agenda is dictated by the people who pay the bills. The political center in this country has shifted so far to the right that a pro-corporate, anti-individual group like the Libertarian Party can credibly cast itself as champions of individual liberty even while overtly promoting an agenda that is directly destructive to that liberty.
As I think about Armstrong’s passing today, I’m reminded of the reasons why I chose to study communication as a major, and political science as a minor, rather than the other way around – because while we unquestionably have political problems in this country and around the world, those problems are not rooted in politics but in how we communicate about politics. Our culture has been so manipulated by right-wing and fundamentalist demagoguery that we can no longer hold claim to primacy in any field of intellectual achievement or advancement. The space program which put Neil Armstrong on the moon is at great risk of being entirely defunded. Our exploration has slowed to a crawl while other nations are racing to surpass us.
All because a small but vocal minority, backed by some incredibly powerful and wealthy manipulators who spend billions of dollars to keep us, the people, from recognizing how destructive they are to our liberty and our progress, have successfully purchased the national dialogue.
Facts are not “liberal.” They are facts. Education is not “indoctrination.” If reality clashes with the way you see the world, then it is you, not reality, that has the problem. Parental authority is not the be all and end all of childhood, and as the thousands of cases of abuse and neglect in this country every day amply demonstrate sometimes it should not be respected at all. The fact that you can make a baby doesn’t make you an expert on anything, and it doesn’t qualify you as an authority on anything. The fact that “your God says so” does not mean a single thing in questions of fact and science.
Our loss of the ability to recognize these simple things is why in today’s world, there are no Neil Armstrongs out pushing the boundaries and exploring new frontiers.
And that is, indeed, a catastrophic tragedy.