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  • More on Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 27, 2015

    Addendum and Clarification to Sunday’s Courier Column, “War on Drugs Has Gone on Long Enough.”  

    In my column last Sunday, I asserted that conservatives, in general, and hard right conservatives in particular, were anti-science, and too often ignore scientific truths in favor of their ideological bent.  

    I wrote:  “In spite of mountains of data, conservatives refuse to believe what science plainly reveals.   What they do instead: Ignore, deny, or re-interpret data to fit their delusional beliefs, roughly in that order.”  

    On second and third thoughts, that assertion needs clarification.  I will grant that both conservatives and liberals have been known to ignore researched facts when it doesn’t fit their preconceived beliefs.  Johann Hari ruefully points out in Chasing the Scream, cited in the column, even scientists ignore data when it conflicts with what they settled on as the truth of their own data—no matter how badly that data may be flawed.  

    Shame on those scientists, whether liberal or conservative, who of all people should know better.  Current research on drugs and the drug war yields some surprising and shocking truths that point to an entirely different approach to the war on drugs.   (See Chasing the Scream for the whole story.)

    In general, however, I will stand by my point that political conservatives oppose change more than liberals, and that contributes to a willingness to ignore facts.  One of conservatives'  defining traits is their adherence to tradition, a strong belief in keeping things as they are.   

    Anthony Gregory, writing in the September 12, 2012 issue of American Conservative, asserts, “Despite the prominent critics among their ranks, everyday conservatives have consistently revealed themselves in polls as more hostile to decriminalization [of currently illegal drugs] than liberals and moderates . . .Conservatives are still the main ideological barrier to drug liberalization.”

    This is a prominent conservative journal, and Gregory’s point is that conservatives need to understand that, to be true to their conservative ideology, they should start to lead the charge for decriminalization—beginning especially with marijuana.   He even sees signs that they are doing that, but also understands that conservatives abhor drugs and addiction more than they abhor the massive government intrusion that the drug war has become. 

    However, Gregory believes that current scientific evidence points to decriminalization on a large scale, and conservatives need to pay attention to that evidence, in spite of their natural inclination to continue our failed war on drugs.  

    As he puts it, “Perhaps Republican leaders—unafraid of accusations of being soft on crime, emboldened by a conservative movement increasingly skeptical of unlimited police power—are the ones most likely to lead the charge toward liberalization. This prospect leaves much to be desired, but for the first time in many years perhaps there is some hope on the horizon, and from an unexpected direction.”

    (See Anthony Gregory, “The Right and the Drug War,” American Conservative, Sept. 12, 2012)

    As  I said, one can always hope. 

    Go comment!
  • Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 22, 2015
    Here's this morning's (Sun. 3-22) Courier column. It's a bit more of a polemic than I usually write, but I'm getting weary of fantasy-based beliefs that seem pervasive.

    By "conservative," I don't necessarily mean Republicans, but anyone who decides that their beliefs are absolute and certain, and defends them vociferously against the facts.   
    They "conserve" their beliefs, based on certainty.  

    Even scientists fall victim to this temptation, as Johann Hari points out in his "Chasing the Scream" book on our failed "war" on drugs.  

    Conservatives’ rampant anti-science attitude began, I think, when curious and smart souls (aka scientists) began gathering data that shook long-established beliefs.  

    It’s certainly not new.  

     Galileo and Darwin, in 1610 and 1859 respectively, shifted the very ground upon which most people’s beliefs were anchored.  The earth moves around the sun?  Species appear and disappear depending on whether they adapt?  All of nature constantly changes, including humans?  Say it ain’t so, people said, and still say, though thankfully not a majority worldwide any more.  

     Except hard-right conservatives, who seem intent on maintaining their own ignorances. In spite of mountains of data, conservatives refuse to believe what science plainly reveals.   What they do instead: Ignore, deny, or re-interpret data to fit their delusional beliefs, roughly in that order. 

    Scientists search for facts grounded in research using a method which yields 
    truths that can be replicated and therefore used worldwide for all manner of applications and theories.   This “scientific method” deserves respect partly because it works, and partly because anyone with tools and knowledge can use it to make further discoveries, and have now for centuries.  

     Though hardly perfect, it’s the best means we have of finding reliable and valid facts.  We ignore and deny it at our peril.  

     That’s the malady of all true believers:  Certainty.  Scientists, if they stay true to their calling, admit new facts that change their world view.  

     A case in point:  the drug “war” that has ruined millions of lives world-wide.  Two recent books make a powerful case against current anti-drug policies.  “Chasing the Scream,” by Johann Hari, and “High Price,” by Carl Hart, reveal that hysteria rules this country’s attitude toward addictive substances, not science. 

     America’s Prohibition (1920-1933) was the first result, which developed into a full-blown national disaster.  Gangsters, bootlegging, mob killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations ruled that era.   

     As Mark Thornton (Professor of Economics at Auburn University) notes: 
    “Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became "organized"; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant.”

     If that sounds familiar it should.  Our current drug policies have become a full-blown national disaster as well. Drug lords, smuggling, gang killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations rule our era. 
    Prohibition is not working, and never has.  

     The most compelling account comes from Hari’s “Chasing the Scream” book, a highly readable account of how we’ve failed to either eradicate or control addictive drugs.  Hari reveals how politicians have ignored or dismissed solid research that points toward an entirely different approach. 

    The source of addiction is only partially chemical “hooks.” In fact, addictions exist with no chemical hooks at all—take gambling, for one example.  Feeling alone, outcast, berated, and punished does more to create addictive behavior than actual drug chemistry.   
    So what do we do to addicts?  We abuse, punish, imprison, and berate them. 

    We need a national awakening on drug policy, and it won’t come from conservatives.   

     A solution that has already worked once in this country needs to be brought back:  End prohibition.  When alcohol prohibition ended, so did the crimes committed because of prohibition. 

     The same would happen, both Hari and Hart insist, if we ended prohibition of banned substances. This doesn’t necessarily mean legalization, but it could mean de-criminalization.  It has begun with both Colorado and Oregon’s easing of marijuana restrictions.   That should continue nationwide.   

     It won’t come easily or quickly, but it has to come.   Science will help show the way, and a few enlightened conservatives might step up to help.  

     One can always hope.   

    Go comment!
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