Friday, February 19, 2016 10:19 AM
You know what? We got it wrong. That’s why there are so many reactionaries ready to follow Trump as he ‘makes America grate again’. For centuries, we were sure that children should be silent, obedient servants—when they weren’t working in factories. We knew that women were inferior to men and couldn’t be trusted to think straight, or vote. We had it on the highest authority that minorities, the disabled, and gay people all had something wrong with them—that they weren’t really people—that we could own them like cattle or lock them away in asylums. It made perfect sense that our preachers made rules about our sex-lives, our diets, and our dress-code. And war was the traditional method for a boy to prove that he had become a man. We had it all figured out.
Centuries, people—that’s how long we bought into all this bullshit—centuries. Part of the resistance against social progress is that all this idiocy from our past isn’t just a mistake—it’s a tradition, too. Like female genital mutilation—hey, what could be bad? We’ve been doing it forever. It’s okay to invent a new digital gadget every few days—it’s okay to transform society overnight with new technology—but changing our traditions just because our way of life for a hundred generations has been cruel and stupid? No, it’s important that we retain some standards of human ignorance—intelligence has its limits.
When I was young, we laughed at the new-fangled laws—imagine trying to make people wear seat-belts—or pick up after their dog’s poop. Imagine people being that precious. For years people laughed at these fripperies—until they started getting fined for them—that’s one good thing about money—you can use it to change peoples’ minds about taking a new rule seriously.
But there are no fines for being a bigot, a chauvinist, a homophobe, a religious zealot, or a war-monger—these things are not crimes per se—they only rate castigation when they lead to more traditional crimes like frauds, conspiracies, and murders. For many people, their ignorance isn’t a crime—it’s cause for bragging—like the Confederate flag, or support for traditional marriage.
When Galileo found that mathematics described a reality the world disapproved of, he gave in to the world—he recanted and allowed his thoughts on planetary motion to be suppressed by the church. He was right; as history has proved—but he wasn’t right enough to say it out loud in his own lifetime. Hard facts, like the solar system, and the Earth’s place in it, can be softened by the company you keep—if you are with someone who has no respect for knowledge, you might hear them say something wildly stupid, like the Earth being flat. There is no God of Science whose foot descends to squash anyone who says something that ignorant, or that wrong.
And so we have a world wherein information floats about, with some of us subscribing to some of it, some of us denying it for whatever reason, and some of us who dislike information in general because it sometimes goes against our wishes. That fact that it is information doesn’t matter—to many people facts are a matter of opinion. They won’t defy Newton’s Laws of Motion by walking in front of a bus, but they are entirely comfortable questioning any information that doesn’t weigh twenty tons and honk at them. Pluralism tells me that I should make room for these assholes—but they make me so tired.
Imagine being raised Catholic—told to believe in a ‘holy trinity’, in divine judgment, in an afterlife—to believe that one is always being watched by a supreme being. Now imagine you reach the age of ten and realize that none of this stuff makes any sense. Imagine your surprise when you find out that there are books that explained how religion is indeed nonsense—and that those books were written before your parents were born. Finally, imagine another fifty years of finding out about all the things that people choose to believe in, in the face of hard facts to the contrary—sexism, racism, bigotry, the ‘value’ of money, the ‘respectability’ of wearing a suit, the idea that America’s greatness makes us entitled rather than responsible—all that garbage that stupid people cheer for.
Imagine how tiring that is—knowing they’re wrong, but knowing that human nature makes them wrong, that there’s nothing you can do about it but sit and watch the human comedy pass by on the TV screen or the newspaper—people suffering, the world being squeezed dry, and bullying becoming a badge of leadership. At sixty, let me tell you—I’m tired. Freedom is a wonderful thing for someone like me—but it is also an irresistible temptation to people who wish to use their personal freedom to impose their will on others—paradoxical, but a natural consequence of personal freedom. All it requires is willful ignorance of, among other things, the whole point of freedom—to live and let live. The only people who seem to appreciate America are the immigrants—they know what it’s like to live without freedom.