Why the GOP Loves Science

Republicans on the whole don’t seem “anti-science” so much as “anti-democratization of science”. GOP-leaning Industries like finance, agribusinesses, manufacturing and defense are intensely scientific — imagine the math and precise tools needed to engineer genes and molecules. Likewise science-based is the carefully mapped and calculated redistricting known as “gerrymandering”.

In that sense, being “skeptical” of climate change is really just denying legitimacy to any science coming from outside centralized and industrial interests.

What democratization does mean, in science as elsewhere, is creating institutions and practices that fully incorporate principles of accessibility, transparency, and accountability. It means considering the societal outcomes of research at least as attentively as the scientific and technological outputs. It means insisting that in addition to being rigorous, science be popular, relevant, and participatory.

Will this paradigm hold with how the GOP handles the challenge of promoting STEM education and those science-entrepreneurship mashups like MakerSpaces? Partially. Whatever science the GOP considers important for GOP priorities (e.g. industrial applications, defense) can always be subsidized.


I like the article linked above because it is about patterns. The evolution of scientific practice and thought is inherently part of the same Pattern encompassing trade and communication. It’s a pattern of connectivity, of technology, of exchanging ideas+services+products, and of adaptation. It is an independent and uncontrollable progress, even though it parallels certain civilizations more than others.

Those parallels are coincidental: if the people that became “Great Britain” had occupied a land with different resources (e.g. less metal, coal) and a less defensible geography (e.g. not an island), the Industrial Revolution could have happened in a totally different way and in a totally different society. (Read The Years of Rice and Salt for an example”).

The truth is that power-seeking parties can align themselves with this Pattern and sometimes try to control the flow (i.e. who gets what benefits). But ultimately those who try to go against the Pattern are also the ones who lose their leadership position.

So it’s interesting that, according to the Atlantic article, the GOP attempts to take advantage of the global scientific community’s shift towards more openness and accessibility of results, data, etc. That is not an easy tiger to ride. You can’t easily promote openness and transparency while keeping your own secrets. That’s what the internet has been about — once you give people new tools to communicate and investigate and innovate, you’re stuck with the consequences.

So whether you read history through the lens of the Bible or the Lancet, you know what happens to rulers who try to monopolize unfair control over what people can do, say, and think.

Kings of Nothing: Steve King, Geert Wilders, and Western Civilization

“[Dutch Prime Minister candidate Geert] Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
Rep. Steve King, Twitter

“They’re importing a different culture, a different civilization — and that culture and civilization, the imported one, rejects the host culture…They are supplanting Western civilization with Middle Eastern civilization.”
Rep. Steve King, speaking to Breitbart

If I were “Western Civilization” on trial, I would not want Rep. Steve King as my defense attorney. That would be like Ben Affleck defending “Acting”, Guy Fieri defending “Eating Vegetables”, or Kim Jong-un defending “Not Being So Crazy You Make Charles Manson Sound Like Neil deGrasse Tyson”).


Rep. Steve King is correct, if you accept that “Western Civilization” is more of a narrative construct than a real thing — that means if you buy into post-modern thought, narrative constructs, the inherent subjectivity of all human experience (all those being things that Rep. King probably wants to cram into a rocket and blast into the sun revolving around a flat earth).

In that sense, the experience of “Western Civilization” under attack is really the experience of people who are suffering real and perceived harm from changes — “how you feel about the world and your place in it” changes, quality of living changes, “affordability of essential healthcare” changes, “competition for resources and jobs and money” changes, “the old ways don’t work for me anymore” changes, etc.

But Rep. Steve King is scientifically and historically ignorant about “Western Civilization” when measured by his own standards, the instruments & intellectual schools of thought central to (and emergent from) that very same “Western” Tradition:

  • e.g. the Socratic method, Judeo-Christian religion, Newtonian physics, Aristotelian inquiry
  • e.g. the language and numbers of demographics, anthropology, math — measured with the naked eye and augmented with technology

Rep. King is also politicizing that ignorance, something frowned upon by every “Western” icon from Moses to Mr. Winston Churchill.

Let’s set aside for now the idea of “restoring” something that never really existed. As if “Western Civilization” is some kind of older Operating System that we rashly replaced on all of our computers and smartphones, but can reinstall from a sacred backup (somewhere in “the cloud”)…because <SARCASM> an Operating System has nothing to do with the physical constraints of resources, a device’s purpose, the users, etc. </SARCASM>. Keep shoving that punch card into the HDMI slot.

You have to wonder about where Rep. King situates “Western Civilization” in earth’s geography and timeline, and its relationship to everything else. Is this a mashup of Evolution and Eschatology, where nothing precedes WC and nothing but destruction can follow it?

Is WC part of the same demographics of human migration out of Africa, where we now know humans first began working with tools for material function (industry) *and* artistic expression (intelligence)?

Is WC the same unified entity that has fought millennia of wars among itself over land, resources, power, trading rights, religious authority, and sometimes even just pride — including a war that almost ended with mutually assured nuclear annihilation (depending on whether you count the USSR/Russia as a member of “Western Civilization”, which Rep. King might because of their antagonistic engagement with Muslims)?

Is WC as incompatible with “someone else’s babies” as the mammals whose communities must continually bring new & foreign DNA into the gene pool — in order to stay healthy, productive, competitive, and resilient to environmental changes?

Is WC part of the same “host culture” as the Romans were to Judeo-Christianity, a Middle Eastern religious culture that so totally intertwined itself with the Roman Empire that it even today influences patterns of governance, trade, warfare and diplomacy?

Is WC part of the same intellectual history of Perception v.s. Reality as depicted by Greek playwright Sophocles in Antigone, where a mentally damaged tyrant hides his abuse of power and suppression of dissent with a distorted idea of “tradition”?

What would happen if people like Rep. King would really examine “Western Civilization” today on its own terms — as scientifically honest as Galileo, as intellectually critical as a Plato or a Socrates, as concerned with its soul as a Jesus, as mathematically exact as an Einstein, as precisely described as a Leonardo Da’Vinci, as unscrupulously analyzed as a Machiavelli, as economically minded as an Adam Smith, as politically passionate as a Lincoln or a Kennedy or a Reagan?

Then he would have to look at the facts, all of the facts, as they really are now. He would have to use every applicable tool and framework. He would have to factor in the known as well as unknown. He would even have to factor in new theories of the mind and of the history of the earth and the living things that inhabit it.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a narrative in the context of a larger narrative of Life and Luck, where people do really struggle to make good decisions against a world of physical restraints, biological impulses, natural-environmental pressures, cultural influences, institutional obstacles, etc.

Then Rep. King would have to look at “Western Civilization” as a framework or story to describe the experience of a particular self-identifying group that emerges successfully out of unique conditions, conditions that are definitely not totally controlled by that group (there’s a reason the Europeans were so fond of “Divine Providence”, especially when finding North America, a continent so exquisitely abundant with natural wealth and strong ocean barriers against invading armies).

Even if he just wanted to look at the experienced narrative of “Western Civilization”, he would have to admit that underlying the superficial “clash of civilizations” are fundamental patterns of reciprocity and mutually benefit…even if these patterns happen along a long “arc of history” stretching over years of death and destruction and ignorance and cruelty.

If he did that, then he would have to see his Tweets and Breitbart comments as highly questionable (at best) and outright ridiculous (at worst).

Arts and Craps

President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration are planning to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of a broader effort to substantially slash government spending, according to a report.
Source: Breitbart.com

“The evidence suggests that citizens were strongly expected to attend: by Aristotle’s time, a fund had been established to help poorer Athenians pay to attend the theatrical and civic festivals.”
Source: New York Review of Books

When today’s American conservatives say they want to want to cut government funding for the arts, they are cutting their ties with the very Western/Hellenic tradition they claim to defend. Public theater was subsidized by the ancient Athenians — who Conservative Thought considers the inventors of America’s democratic tradition and the inspiration to the Founding Fathers. In fact, attention to art and attendance of theater was culturally *mandatory* for all citizens.

So when you look at that history, and then look at the miniscule percentage of government treasury that actually goes to the arts, and then look at the increasingly positive growth of the U.S. entertainment industry (in which government arts subsidies play a crucial supporting role) and the growth of the global entertainment industry in general, and then look at the essential role of art in shaping the “narrative” of what it means to be American, there is no real case against public funding for the arts…

…Unless you want to appeal to raw emotion and confusion.

Demonizing Trump Demonizing the Media

Feeling pedantic so I got to jump on this antihistorical “Demonizing the press is how dictatorships start” meme going around (currently popularized by Senator John “Am I Criticizing the Right Thing? I Have Compromised my Values so Many Times I Don’t Know Anymore.” McCain).


Dictatorships don’t just “start”. They coincide with very dictator-friendly conditions — usually a history of strongly centralized authority over the press, finance, security, business regulations, movement across borders, etc. along with a culture of obedience (and sometimes even affection) for a Ruler. They coincide with conditions of significant anti-foreigner/anti-minority feelings among a mostly homogenous population, usually based in recent history of conflict and grievance…and not “they took our jobs” grievances but “they took our territory” grievances. Jews in Germany for example were .75% of the population (~505k people out of a total population of 67m).

Remember this was some of the founding logic behind the American experiment: use geography and a constitution to break out of the old context/pattern of Feudal/Monarchical Europe.

So when Hitler, Stalin et al. do “start” their dictatorships, that doesn’t begin with demonizing the press as an institution. They amplify the xenophobic anti-liberal popular sentiments that already exist in the press and use that to take over or shut down the smaller, more politically progressive press institutions. Dictators aren’t known for their original ideas, but for being a kind of Thug Celebrity that rallies and popularizes and organizes bad ideas and their adherents into a powerful movement. Hitler, that Poster Child for Evil, got a lot of his ideas from the free press of the era (for example, the popular sentiments of Austrian mayor Karl Lueger).

Now as to the “demonization” of the press in the USA…that is a question of degree once you look outside the Red Cloud of Rage most of us get when viewing the @RealDonaldTrump Administration.

The “new press” displacing/reforming the “old press” is a recurring pattern in the USA, not a little bit tied to who is literate enough to read them, how much time they have to read, and how enfranchised they are to act on what they read. Start with the competing maelstrom of pamphlets in the American Revolution, enter the Muckrakers, and then the explosion of alternative online media in our recent years.

If the “traditional press” was doing such a fantastic job, then why the popularity of Huffington Post, Radio Free America, Wikipedia, the Daily Show/Colbert Report, the Daily Kos, Mother Jones, etc.? Because most existing media is usually catering to/captured by established interests. That’s what happened during Vietnam, during the Civil Rights Era, and during the Bush ’43 Administrations. Folks seem surprised that “alternative media” isn’t just a tool for progressives and the Left.

Anyone remember the interaction between the Occupy Movement and the mainstream press? And how many of us today pull our news from our preferred online sources, or even our preferred online *summaries* of other online sources? Anyone paying attention to the role of sites of 4chan and Reddit in the online vanguard of @RealDonaldTrump’s pre- and post-presidential propaganda?

None of this is to defend President @RealDonaldTrump. This is to add a little clarity to the phenomena of dictatorship and anti-press press in the USA.

Because you can’t out-lie a liar. I get the value of narratives and stories, but that doesn’t work when you start talking about history — especially not researchable history.

Clarity matters, especially if you want to hit President @RealDonaldTrump where it counts: in his patterns. Specifically, the patterns of thought and power that he emerged from into the highest political office in the USA: a false paradigm perverted by age/income/gender/ethnic biases; misguided distributions of rights, wealth, information, and trust; unjust exclusion from markets of ideas and goods; and other crap.




Viking We All Just Get Along?

Started watching The Last Kingdom. Ah peaceful Denmark: lowest Gini (income inequality), highest level of happiness, and home of the raping, murdering Vikings. Their violent pursuit of trade and farmland conquered the British isles until the 11th century.

It’s a history worth considering in this era of collision. Brussels and Donald Trump, Syria and Ukraine. Migration as seeking a place to live as well as a place to take over — to make one’s own. Violent invaders whose legacy 1,000 years later is a television drama, costumes and the names of days.

We want to pretend that we can stop the clock — the borders are drawn and the land is settled! No more migrations and conquests! We can work everything out with politics and trade! Hey, what are you doing, why are all these masses coming over the border, why are some of them attacking us?

It doesn’t work that way. The humans who left Africa found an environment conducive to faster growth and technological development, and they exploited that advantage Viking-style to take huge amounts of land and resources elsewhere.

Such forces created modern China, Europe and America. So much land. So much natural defensive capacity. This gave space for more development, more art, more science, etc. — those created benefits for everyone they reach…albeit unequally.

But that was a bubble. We cannot recreate the conditions of the past. We cannot undo the worldwide distribution of populations, of of technology, of knowledge. Nor can we undo our awareness of how lifestyles affect each other across tens of thousands of miles.

If you can’t talk about what made “greatness” possible, you can’t talk about America’s responsibilities or the future of the USA. I don’t care how much money you imagine you can carve out of the country’s budget with taxes and magic decimal points.

Truth is: we didn’t use the last window as well as we could have. We made improvements, but did harm as well. Now we take the impacts. Tech-enabled terrorism. Deadly bacteria and viruses. Food scarcity. Climate change. Small wars becoming large ones.

Poverty, and the Discussion of Poverty, are Bad in the USA

I really like reading Tom Murphy over at the excellent Humanosphere (http://www.humanosphere.org/) but I think this article does a terrible job describing the real issue of how “poverty” is perceived in the USA:

There are two competing narratives about poverty in the United States. One is summed up best by commentator and TV host Bill O’Reilly, who argues that poverty is not all that bad in the U.S. and the majority of the poor benefit from the “free stuff” given to them by the government[…]The opposing view is detailed in the recently published book $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by researchers Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. Their research finds that there are 1.5 million American households living on less than $2 per person per day — below the global extreme poverty line. About half of these households do not access the public benefits such as welfare and food stamps.
Link: Poverty in the U.S.: It’s worse than you’re led to believe

Putting a quote from Fox’s Bill O’Reilly up against a scientific publication of data and analysis is a strange way to frame a debate when there are numerous academics arguing all sides of the issue. Besides that the article’s author misses a great opportunity to discuss the “O’Reilly Narrative”.

It isn’t just about how you interpret data but also how your politics, historical perspective, informs your definition of “poverty”.

For example there are those who define poverty one way, say those whose frame of reference is a firsthand experience or romanticized image of the Great Depression. They might see poverty as “not having stuff” (a house, clothes, food, being able to walk into an Emergency Room).

That’s quite different from the poverty of “having stuff but not having the right stuff” (not having access to the same level of education, food, medical care etc. afforded to most other people).

In an extremely anecdotal but very illustrative case, someone who grew up in the kind of “poverty” where they wore cardboard shoes might have trouble seeing someone as “poor” who wears sneakers and carries a cell phone.

That seems pretty clear in the O’Reilly quote, “This myth that there are kids who don’t have anything to eat is a total lie”. Is it about really not having anything — no house, no job, no food? Or is it about having the worst of those things — eating extremely unhealthy food, living in a rat/roach infested dwelling at the mercy of a price-gouging landlord, struggling to keep a job because of unscrupulous bosses or poor health caused by the aforementioned living/food situation?

Another missed point about the “O’Reilly Narrative” is that it is intensely political. In U.S. politics “poverty” is a problem you fix with welfare and progressive policies on the Left — or job creation, faith-based charities and individual initiative on the Right.

Just listen to the GOP and Democrat presidential candidates. They will fix “poverty” by stopping immigrants from taking jobs or stopping companies from shipping them overseas. They will fix “poverty” by privatizing education or by spending more on public schools. They will “fix” poverty with more handouts from the government or by cutting off all forms of government assistance.

Perhaps most important is the historical perspective: our point in space and time, as well as our point’s connection to all the other points in the universe.

One’s morality (not just religion) might push one towards seeing the “poor” as inherently incapable/unworthy of being helped (God wants them that way), or towards narrowly defining the “poor” as those who are literally naked, starving and helpless. Or one’s religion could push them to donate generously to charity.

Unaware of how the world works, one could think that America could easily go back to a manufacturing-led economy. Or one can see reasons for this social and economic hardship by looking at geography, the distribution of favorable climates and natural resources, the patterns of trade and demography, and the human animal itself.

Stats are important. But this isn’t a simple matter of “numbers versus fantasy”.