It is November 9th and that usually indicates the annual post of it being Carl Sagan Day. But in the light, or lack there of, of resent events and this years political landscape as a whole I am Canceling Carl Sagan Day do to a lack of critical thinking, rationality, and skepticism.
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
This is not just because of our new president elect but also because of all candidates that made it this far and, particularly, the way it was all handle by the public. Credulity abounded at all sides and when someone finally says the truth it is lost in the chants of rhetoric (which a great leader once said “judge a man by his action not his rhetoric”).
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
Setting aside all policies, Trump would make statement the would challenge the most skilled of contortionist by putting his foot in his mouth while his head was up his ass and gazing at his own navel, patting himself on the back and shrugging all at once. But were, you or I to do that it would be a failing of character but for him it is quote “him telling it like it is” even though the numbers don’t support that. PolitiFact, love or hate them, has evaluated 331 claims by Trump. 70% were found mostly false, false, or pants on fire. Compared to Clinton’s 293 with 26% being some level of false or Obama’s over the course of 8years 596 also at 26% false. This is not an endorsement of them being better choices it is more condemning the lack of accountability or more aptly the wanting there to be and willingness to accept accountability on the claims he made. Johnson and Sanders were nailed to the wall for not being able to back up there more outlandish claims.
“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements — transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting, profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
Scientific American got a list of 20 “refined by a group of scientific institutions representing more than 10 million scientists and engineers” and graded the 4 major candidates with 5 being the most points that could be award (one question was not graded because it was on immigration and they felt if was outside the scope of the magazine to pass judgment on that topic) for a total of 95 points. The scores are as follows Trump 07; Clinton 64; Johnson 30; Stein 44. Now it is not a requirement for a leader to also be phd in the sciences but in a complicated world of climate change, vaccine denialism, and growing reliance on the STEM field it should be a requirement to understand the scientific processes and hold respect for it.
“Those who seek power at any price detect a societal weakness, a fear that they can ride into office. It could be ethnic differences, as it was then [Alien and Sedition Acts], perhaps different amounts of melanin in the skin; different philosophies or religions; or maybe it’s drug use, violent crime, economic crisis, school prayer, or ‘desecrating’ (literally, making unholy) the flag. Whatever the problem, the quick fix is to shave a little freedom off the Bill of Rights.”
Everyone was wiped into a state where the prevailing moods were fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. They all wanted this. Everyone of them. And we all felt it. Trump wanted you to fear and hate foreigners. Clinton wanted it to be Trump. Johnson wanted you to fear government. Sanders the wealthy. Stein…. um… well…. I don’t know want she want… I did not pay that much attention to her… Lets just say it was novelty welcome mats she wants us to fear. It became an election about negatives and differences. No one wanted to lead they wanted to win. So reason had to take a back seat.
“Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
Carl Sagan mainly stuck to science and skepticism in his writing and tried to inspire a sense of wonderment in the grand future we could have. But occasionally he would turn the themes of critical thinking towards politics and the best example I can think of is his book ‘Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark‘. (Which I have it on good authority if you google it followed by ‘pdf’ you can find it to read for free). Now, sadly I have not reread it recently so I can’t call this a full BS Adult Book Report but for this special purpose I should be fine. If you are going to read one book from Carl Sagan or on the topic of skepticism or science communication this is the one. In it he goes through how we know what we know in science and more importantly how to detect when someone is trying to deceive us with false science. It also talks about why people are willing to believe in weird things and how they get deceived and not in a negative way. A basic primer on skepticism. It, though prone to tangents at times, is not written for a science major or someone in the deep end of skeptic moment. It is for the beginner and has enough topics for you to find one of interest for you. But also, he takes the time to explain why all of it is important, not just personally, but to a nation and world as a whole and that is were the political and social studies comes from. In it he speaks highly of the Founding Fathers particularly Thomas Jefferson, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. He thinks leaders should be intelligent and the citizens should be even more so and I can’t disagree with that. He also thinks our freedom our constantly under the assault of be removed, either by those seeking power for powers sake or by those seeking to profit through tricking us, I also cant disagree with that. And his solution is simple and obvious after all of this: just be aware.
We have failed Carl Sagan. We are letting the candle burn out and the cold, unforgiving dark creep in. People are distrusting science and letting the comforting myths of old sink in. It is almost a joke but there are people in the first world that believe in a flat earth and there is no excuse for that. The “religion of nationalism” has taken holed were a political party is more important than political good. But there is time turn back. And we can’t predict the future. Maybe it is not as bad as it seems and we will have a great next 4 years. Only time will tell. Maybe it was all a ploy to shine a light on how easy it is to be deceived (please, please let it be that…..) I will leave with a few more quotes from Demon-Haunted World that I find appropriate but could not find a place for otherwise.
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…”
“When we consider the founders of our nation: Jefferson, Washington, Samuel and John Adams, Madison and Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Tom Paine and many others; we have before us a list of at least ten and maybe even dozens of great political leaders. They were well educated. Products of the European Enlightenment, they were students of history. They knew human fallibility and weakness and corruptibility. They were fluent in the English language. They wrote their own speeches. They were realistic and practical, and at the same time motivated by high principles. They were not checking the pollsters on what to think this week. They knew what to think. They were comfortable with long-term thinking, planning even further ahead than the next election. They were self-sufficient, not requiring careers as politicians or lobbyists to make a living. They were able to bring out the best in us. They were interested in and, at least two of them, fluent in science. They attempted to set a course for the United States into the far future — not so much by establishing laws as by setting limits on what kinds of laws could be passed. The Constitution and its Bill of Rights have done remarkably well, constituting, despite human weaknesses, a machine able, more often than not, to correct its own trajectory.”
Ryan S. Brewer is the co-host and editor of the Bored Shenanigans podcast (when he releases one) available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of Brewer’s Shitty Writing very sporadically here or as episode descriptions. Also he has nothing else to enjoy anywhere else, but you can find Cody’s poetry blog here or download his e-book here. Be sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or the Faceyspace.