Thursday, March 31, 2005

Intelligent Design, Evangelists, and Gore Vidal

In a recent Blog, Jesse Kornbluth kept repeating "so much to say." I have that feeling about this post too. Fasten your seatbelts"it's going to be a bumpy read. I can actually tie it all together, so that the title above will even make sense.

I found a thorough yet concise discussion of the debate about teaching "Intelligent Design" in schools in a Los Angeles Times op-ed column, "Not Intelligent, and Surely Not Science," written by Michael Shermer. As a school kid, I watched reruns of the movie Inherit the Wind, a fictional version of the actual 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial. The case was about banning the teaching of evolution in schools because it was not the biblical version of the origin of life on earth. To me as a teenager, this story of this trial seemed about as remote as a movie about the Middle Ages or ancient Rome, because the idea of learning a scientific idea, much of which had come to be proven through the years since Darwin wrote the text, was as obvious and normal as going to school in the first place. And the arguments in the movie, of banning the teaching of this science because of some religious zealots down south, well, that made for a riveting courtroom drama, but 1925 seemed like ancient history, and we were way beyond that kind of provincial backward thinking by 1960.

Skip ahead 40 years from my movie-watching, and 80 years from the "Monkey" trial, and the astounding debate rages on, with the religion proponents turning to the euphemism of "Intelligent Design" as what they want taught along with Darwinian evolution in our children's schools. Shermer explains the history and sociology of this debate:

"If intelligent design is not science, then what is it? One of its
originators, Phillip Johnson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, wrote in a 1999 article: "The objective is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism versus evolution to the existence of God versus the nonexistence of God. From there people are introduced to 'the truth' of the Bible and then 'the question of sin' and finally 'introduced to Jesus.' "

This leads me to the amazing interview with Gore Vidal which Mr. Korbluth cites in his blog. I love reading Gore Vidal, and I love hearing him talk. In the printed interview, we must be satisfied with imagining his intonation while discussing life, society, and politics in these here United States. Vidal is almost 80, as lucent and illuminating as ever and as anyone, perhaps more knowledgeable than most political and sociological analysts, surely more entertaining, and seriously warning about what "We, the people," have let happen to our fine republic. Answering a question, Vidal gives some meaning to the forces Bush appeals to in his push for his objectives:

'There's a palpable sense of mean- spiritedness about a good
deal of public sentiment, it seems'

Vidal: 'I wouldn't call it the
public. There are groups that rather like it. And these are the same groups that don't like black people, gay people, Jews, or this or that. You always have that disaffected minority that you can play to. And it helps you in states with small populations. If you get eight of those states, you don't get much of a popular vote, but you can get the Electoral College. He's not popular. I've just been reading a report on Conyers' trip to Ohio with his subcommittee's experts. Ohio was stolen. The Republican Congress will never have a hearing on it. But I think attempts are being made to publish the details of what was done there, and elsewhere too in America.'

The media of late are primarily concerned with the moment-by-moment developments in the live-or-let-die case of Terry Schiavo, who has been in a vegetative state for years. The religious right is calling for government interference in order to keep her alive despite any hope of her ever recovering. The polls show the enormous unpopularity of Bush and congress's trying to intervene with a sham law just to get some political points. Despite Bush's drop in the popularity polls, those whom Vidal claims are the majority consensus in this country--who don't see Bush's claims for the Iraq War, and Social Security overhaul, and looking for oil in all the wrong places--they are still seemingly powerless against the mighty big-business/government "coalition" that calls the shots.

How is this all connected with teaching evolution in the schools, and Bush's right-wing Christian base, and stolen elections etc etc? Two separate articles in the New York Review of Books tell how racism is a way to achieve and maintain power. In "The Illusionist," Tim Parks examines several books about Mussolini. Then William Dalrymple writes about India's politics through the years up to the present in "India: The War Over History." What's my point? In my yet unpublished book about the ideas of prejudice, bigotry, and racism in our society, I have been looking for new ways to understand the human nature of hatred of certain general groups of people by other groups or individuals. Is it in our genes, is it a learned trait, is it even deeper set--instinctual and part of our evolution? However this hatred becomes part of the human psyche, Parker's and Dalrymple's articles show that the exploitation of racism by state governments can achieve political power, and maintain it.

Dalrymple describes a leader in India in the 1930's, who "looked for inspiration to the Nazi thinkers of the 1930s," Madhav Golwalkar, also known as "the Guru,"

"Believed an independent India should emulate Hitler's treatment of religious minorities, which he thoroughly approved of"[Golwalkar wrote]"Germany has shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures having differences going to the root to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by "The foreign races in Hindusthan [i.e., the Muslims] must adopt Hindu culture, language--wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing--not even citizen's rights."

As for Mussolini's sudden change of policy to anti-Jewish in Italy:

"Aware, particularly after his visit to Berlin in 1937, of the mobilizing power of racism, Mussolini was now 'trying very hard to be wicked.' The anti-Jewish policy was 'aimed at toughening up the Italians' more out of desperate emulation than owing to any beliefs about the nature of 'the Jewish spirit.' "

The "mobilizing power" of racism may not be a new idea, however, my reading a juxtaposition of articles at the same time, about racism in India and Italy in the 1930's, did not seem accidental. I don't believe in coincidences. The conclusion--from the Scopes trial and it's modern debaters, to Vidal's examples of a small anti-minority group with a big voice in government, to classic racist Fascism of the 1930's--is clear and simple: When prejudice and bigotry can be exploited by one group in a society to maneuver and control another, the unscrupulous and opportunistic among the leadership of that society will use that exploitation to get and maintain power. The minority Christian fundamentalist doctrinaire right-wing who have Bush's ear and attention, for their and his gain, will exploit the fears of the rest of us against "non-believers," which at present include many groups: Muslims, who are already at risk because the perpetrators of 9/11 were from the middle east; Jews, who have always been the universal scapegoat; other of several minorities including Native Americans who are not yet converted to Christianity.

Those who promote the teaching of "Intelligent Design," or the biblical version of history, along with Darwin in schools, are the same instigators of limiting the rights guaranteed under the Constitution by ratifying the Patriot Act, closing borders to immigration, and turning backs on the treatment of political and military prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere without being charged with a crime and with no trial in sight--all basically throwing out what we have a Constitution for. It's all very clear, and it's scary and futile especially when you read Vidal.

I also believe it's all about human nature, and releasing our need to fear, and seeing and being in the light.

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