The Descent Of Man

A couple of good articles this week have commented on the ramifications of Joe & Josephine Public’s lack of intellectual curiosity.

First up is David Colqhoun, whose article Science in an Age of Endarkenment was picked up by the Guardian Science site. He comments…

The enlightenment was a beautiful thing. People cast aside dogma and authority. They started to think for themselves. Natural science flourished. Understanding of the real world increased. The hegemony of religion slowly declined. Real universities were created and eventually democracy took hold. The modern world was born. Until recently we were making good progress. So what went wrong?

The past 30 years or so have been an age of endarkenment. It has been a period in which truth ceased to matter very much, and dogma and irrationality became once more respectable. This matters when people delude themselves into believing that we could be endangered at 45 minute’s notice by non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

It matters when reputable accountants delude themselves into thinking that Enron-style accounting is acceptable.

It matters when people are deluded into thinking that they will be rewarded in paradise for killing themselves and others.

It matters when bishops attribute floods to a deity whose evident vengefulness and malevolence leave one reeling. And it matters when science teachers start to believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago.

He then goes on to bemoan the increasing popularity of quack medicine such as homeopathy and crystals despite any hard evidence for their efficacy.

In a similar vein, Charles P. Pierce’s article in Esquire, entitled Greetings From Idiot America, was originally written back in 2005, but has even more relevance today. He tours through the nonsense surrounding creationism, and the onset of the Iraq War, while lambasting modern society for valuing gut instinct over fact and showing a willingness to believe what they’re told without applying any critical thought to the matter.

The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It’s not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they’re talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

Richard Dawkins also has a new documentary entitled Enemies of Reason which is now showing on Channel 4 in the UK. I’ve downloaded the torrent of the first episode to watch later tonight. Should be interesting. Beats the reality shite hands-down!