Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Boloney with Your Spam

Our Lives as Atoms is one of the better kept secrets behind the Time Select wall, and today Mark Buchanan talks about why Al Gore, almost as much as HHHillary, remains the man the punditocracy and the the wingnut-o-sphere loves to hate.

Let's paste a little bit here:

Most people have reacted enthusiastically to Al Gore’s new book, “The Assault on Reason.” He seems to have hit a nerve with his assessment of what ails our democracy – the unchecked power of special interests backed by big money, the pervasive influence of mindless and addictive television, and the relentless triumph of image and style over content, which makes us read more articles about John Edwards’ haircuts than about our failing education system. “Gore understands our problems,” as one reviewer put it, “as does no other politician of our time.”

But not everyone shares that view...

Ironically, of course, these reviews actually illustrate Gore’s central point. They cast him as a liberal monster who aims to suppress free speech, or they make fun of his writing, his sighs or his professorial manner, rather than focusing on his arguments. They aim to win with image and rhetoric, not content.

Which is great as entertainment, but not so great for understanding issues that really matter: how and why we’ve slipped from first to sixth in global business competitiveness, why our infant mortality rate ranks down there with Latvia’s, or why the Chinese are graduating more engineers every year than we are.

Surely a good share of the extreme animus against Al Gore comes from the far right, who seem to hate him viscerally, and from powerful business interests with no particular desire for widely ranging debate amongst an informed public. These interests like to paint Gore – and his idea of government that would use rather than abuse knowledge – as the products of some kind of demented science-crazed lunacy bent on shackling the human spirit with equations or computer programs, and luring us into a scientifically planned hell-on-earth.

Unfortunately, this kind of image seems to resonate with other fears that people have about science. And I wonder if this resonance doesn’t explain, at least in part, why Gore has in the past been demonized in this way so effectively.

Implicit in Gore’s argument is the notion that science shouldn’t merely be a source of knowledge about, say, the environment, or the hazards or potential benefits of nuclear energy, and so on, but should also be seen as a source of knowledge about how social systems function — including political systems. Especially important, in his view, is the way the human mind is susceptible to modern techniques of persuasion, based on scientific insights from psychology and neuroscience. Surely we ought to use science not only to manipulate people, but also to bolster our republic and make it function better?

Many people seem to think that science should have boundaries. They’re O.K. if it stays in the familiar realms of physics, chemistry, biology and geology. But there’s an innate distrust when science begins poking around our lives, thoughts and behavior, and near alarm at the idea that science might possibly show that we, like the rest of nature, obey law-like regularities – even if we might learn from them and in so doing help ourselves...

Apparently Mark is posting his last for the Times. No more facts for Pravda. He has his own blog, The Social Atom. Check it out.

Rationality is what sets human beings apart from beasts. When government, or those who would rule instead of govern, cease to rational they behave like beasts. As a professional scientist, I think that science and methodical thought benefit people everywhere.

However, often individuals, corporations, and governments use pseudo science and fallacious reasoning as an excuse to take control over others. Hence we are barraged with pseudo logical buffoonery like Communism (which really wasn't), Socialism (which really wasn't either), Capitalism (which really is state-run socialism for big corporations in this country) and Social Darwinism (which is about as poor a description for a pack of lies as Intelligent Design). For a quick primer on how to use logic to spot the lies all around us, let me direct you (again) to Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection kit at http://www.xenu.net/archive/baloney_detection.html .

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