The Idea Stands Alone

As the U.S. presidential election continues to heat up over the next couple of months, I’m sure I will be tempted to jump into the turbulent and bloody waters of political blogging. I am trying my best to resist the temptation, if only to try to remain within the purview of a travel blog. But as I said in my post about the feasibility of moon bases, I believe that the exploration of new and unique philosophies is just as important as exploring new and unique places.

One of my pet peeves, one that has continued to grow over time, is the coupling of an idea with its creator or main proponent. On a physiological level, this makes a lot of sense. From scientific studies that have mapped the neural pathways as a person is reacting to a political speech, we know that the first center to “light up” is the emotional center of the brain, followed shortly by the one determining logic and rational thought. As such, our emotions dictate how we logically perceive a speech, not the other way around. It is called confirmation bias; we listen for facts that confirm what we already believe, and disregard the rest.

This natural bias is one that is almost impossible to combat, even if one is completely conscious of it. For me, as a liberal, to agree with a conservative candidate I have to listen extra carefully and fight my negative emotional gut-reaction. However, this is not nearly as dangerous as having to fight my bias against people with whom I generally agree. A little bit of skepticism is very healthy on both fronts.

Confirmation bias is a fact of life, and it colors all of our decisions, but we can still make an effort to combat it. A good place to start would be to agree to not disagree about everything. While most Americans are moderates, either shaded pink, sky blue, or purple, our politicians are increasingly radicalized on both sides. The American media only exacerbates this polarization by presenting two sides to each issue, and (more or less) presenting each side as equally valid. But herein lies the problem. Not all sides are equally valid. Some sides are just factually inaccurate, and it should be the media’s job to elucidate the public when there is strong compelling evidence supporting one side over another.

This, of course, doesn’t happen.

There are two topics–evolution and global warming–which I have covered extensively, but apparently not extensively enough. Neither should be a political issue, as both have withstood the necessary (and countless) scientific tests. And yet, they are both still issues, and both relevant to this discussion.

Detractors of evolutionary theory like to link the idea to history’s villains, including, of course, Hitler. (The same tactic is also used when discussing atheism, which is both untrue and irrelevant). The argument goes, “Since (insert villain here) believes in Darwinism (or social Darwinism), it’s a bad theory.” The statement is supposed to evoke an emotional response, but it has nothing to do with the logic or factual basis of the theory.

I must admit that this is a good tactic, if one side is trying to undermine facts with which they happen to disagree. People generally believe what they want to, not what is supported by evidence. The idea that we have been evolving with the rest of life on this planet for the past four billion years can be deeply disturbing, and has direct religious connotations. Unfortunately for the creationists, there is no amount of hoping that will ever make evolution untrue.

Moreover, the applications of evolutionary theory, such as social Darwinism, do nothing to disprove the original theory. Social Darwinism, with all of its repugnant immoral implications, is merely evolutionary theory as applied to the social sciences. It is not scientific theory, and does nothing to support or detract from the original idea. The idea stands alone.

Global warming, while not as much of a religious issue, has frightening consequences in its own right. I believe the reason why the global warming denial is so popular is because of the enormity of the problem. It is much easier to say, “Let’s wait on more evidence before making any drastic changes.” (I will ignore, for the moment, the huge energy companies who have a stake in muddying the waters and promoting denialism). To successfully combat global warming, we need to drastically change our lifestyles, radically change our infrastructure, and invest massive amounts of money into new technology and energy sources. Never mind, that does sound horrible, I think I’m now going to be a global warming denier.

Regardless, evidence, including a recent study by a former global warming denier, overwhelmingly points to a warmer planet, and that the warming is predominately caused by humans. The cited study, conducted by physics professor Richard Muller at the UC Berkeley, just shows the power of science in action. When new evidence arose, Muller changed his opinion to fit the facts.

Unfortunately, most environmentalists are not nearly as well respected as Muller. Instead, the movement has taken hold in the American left-wing, so conservatives see it as “just another liberal cause.” Now, we have two sets of “facts” about global warming. Obviously, only one conclusion can be true. Again, the idea stands alone, regardless of the implications or its proponents. To survive as a species, we need to evolve, and learn that some things are debatable, but there are a great many things that are not. We need to come to a consensus about which facts are not debatable, so the debate can begin in earnest: what do we do about these agreed-upon problems?

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