New Column: Michael Pierce Issues “A Call To Arms”

Michael Pierce exhorts all those who subscribe to the future to stand firm against the forces of ignorance in this, his inaugural column.

I sure hope I’m not stepping on Jeremy’s toes here, but what I intend to talk about today is definitely political. It’s unusual for me to talk about politics, you know — I’ve always subscribed to the Opinions Are Like Asses* view of the topic — but this really isn’t a red-versus-blue issue.

What we in America fear most today is the spread of fundamentalism, the clouding of minds with infallible and inalterable dogma. Curious it is, then, that we have elected and continue to elect few into positions of power that are not themselves fundamentalists. This fact, of course, has had a profound effect on our culture and laws over our two centuries of sovereignty, but the nature of that effect is changing.

Once upon a time, in the formative years of this nation, there were enacted the “blue laws,” and they were among the first in a long line of religiously-motivated pieces of legislation. While the idea of restricting the sale of alcohol on the Christian sabbath day does chafe my libertarian hide, it’s a relatively inconsequential right to have taken, all things considered. However, even the Puritans of yore would have blanched, I believe, at the thought of blocking scientific progress or revoking the rights of others that might be objectionable to one’s personal religious beliefs, yet that is just what we see happening today.

We’ve watched as stem cell research has been shot down time and again, and abortion looks to be headed the same way; drugs are illegal while alcohol and tobacco are not. In any nation worthy of the freedoms we do retain, there’d be outrage, but there is not. In fact, the majority — at least, the voting majority — seems in favor of these restrictions on our liberties, and that is what is most frightening of all. For all of our futurist navel-gazing, what is the point of it if, in the end, the preponderance of the population is content to ignore science and reject dinosaurs and slowly turn our nation over to theocrats?

The Intelligent Design fight is just another front of this battle. It’s not a debate over the legitimacy of evolution, it’s a group of zealots trying to inculcate the youth of our nation by legislating religion — their religion — into the curriculum. It should be said, though, that they appear already to have won this fight: a 2003 Gallup poll found that nearly half of Americans believe “God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Distressing.

Science has tamed nature, put men on the moon, and is well on its way to solving the mysteries of the universe, yet a majority of Americans still refuse to take stock in it. Even the modern conveniences — cell phones, cars, home appliances — have not swayed them (not to say they don’t take advantage of these things). Considering the political bent of most futurists, it’s ironic that we appear to have won the war and lost the peace.

We’ve shat the bed here, and we have slept in filth long enough; now it’s time to change the sheets. It is imperative that we declare war, not on religion, but on ignorance; not in the classroom (though it wouldn’t hurt), but on the streets. We need to stop tolerating the spread of misinformation and begin actively to disseminate truth in its place. Not everyone needs to be a Penn Jillette, shouting out arguments until hoarse, but everyone needs to do his part.

It’s tough to be a futurist today. We skeptics and free-thinkers are an imperiled minority. No, we’re not being stoned in the town square or clapped in irons, but our way of life is under attack. So far we have not mustered a counterattack, but I feel it’s high time that we did.

* “Opinions are like asses: we all have them, and they all look dreadful in white slacks.”

4 thoughts on “New Column: Michael Pierce Issues “A Call To Arms””

  1. Good call, Michael. We have similar problems here in the UK, although they manifest in slightly different ways. In my opinion, a lot of this stems from a ‘blame culture’ in which the willfully ignorant are actually rewarded and cosseted for their refusal to think for themselves, while obstacles are strewn in the path of those who actually use their intellect in the name of advancing the human race. The litigation revolution hasn’t helped; why think for yourself if there’s a chance of getting paid handsomely for your own stupidity?

    It is ironic that means-tested welfare has actually had the opposite effect to the one it was designed to have. Rather than helping out those who have the greatest need, it has created a system that encourages people to find inventive reasons they should get more free money for doing nothing.

    The incursion of business interests into national and world government has not helped either; an ignorant population is not only an sitting target for pointless products, but is easy to bamboozle into believing biased reportage, by using the same black-and-white polarised invective that politicians are so good at – remember ‘you’re either with us or against us’?

    The really sad thing is that people don’t want their illusions shattered. I strive to get people to look further than the headlines, using supporting evidence whenever possible. It’s not that people are incapable of seeing the truth, it’s that they don’t want to have to deal with the truth. Hence the near-ubiquitous shrugs, and comments like, ‘well, it’s terrible isn’t it, but what can you do?’

    I believe in the potential of mankind, and in our future as a single unified race expanding into space. But there can be no fare-dodgers in that future – either we all work towards it, or we all die on the planet we’ve done such a good job of wrecking. Technology has aided this destruction, but it is our only potential tool for repairing the damage. And while corrupt politicians exploit ignorance for personal gain and the rewards of misused power, there will be few incentives for the average man to stand up and play his part. It is our duty as free-thinkers to do all we can to open the eyes of those around us who sleepwalk constantly. Sure, we may fail to make a difference. But if we don’t try, we guarantee that failure.

  2. Isn’t war on ignorance what we’ve been trying for, oh, the last hundred years or longer? And fundamentalism is increasing. It’s pretty obvious that arguing until we’re blue in the face isn’t gonna work. You know the definition of insanity (trying the same thing, expecting different results)?

    The important thing with fundamentalism is to understand the motivation behind it. Essentially, it’s a reaction against modernity. They’re spread (whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindi) tracks the spread of the modern world very well; the more the globalized economy, with its huge menu of previously unavailable life-options, incurs on their societies, the stronger fundamentalism gets.

    Fundamentalists of every religion understand that the modern world is toxic to their society – things like empowerment of women, the questioning of dogma, etc. They’re not against evolution because they don’t understand it (not the smart ones, at least); they’re against evolution because their societies won’t survive in any recognizable form if they internalize that particular meme-set. Rational argument won’t work, because they don’t rely on rational argument, they rely on faith. Like I said, the smart ones understand evolution, and know that it’s dangerous; the average ones might be ignorant on evolution’s finer points (but then, so are average people who accept evolution to be true.) Rational argument won’t work on either side.

    If fundamentalism ever dies out, it won’t be because ignorance is corrected; it will be because a science-compatible religion displaces it.

    Pieces like ‘Call to Arms’ are still important, not because they’ll convince any fundamentalists to loosen up, but because they give a bit of a morale boost to the rationalist parts of society. Always good to know there’s one more voice in the wilderness that isn’t succumbing to the attractions of turning off it’s higher brain functions.

  3. Though you do not come right out and say it, you seem to believe that religion is inherently negative. I hope that is not the case, as overgeneralization is antithetical to the free thinking you champion. Not all religion is against free thinking and scientific progress. Nor do all religious persons want to force their views on society. We do, however, want just a little respect.

    “Free thinkers” like you are in danger of appearing, want to reserve the right to free thought for themselves, but not for anyone whose free though runs contrary to their own. Rather, why don’t you reach out to the (in your evident opinion) the not-quite-so-free thinkers, the ones who may believe contrary to you, but are open to and value free discussion?

    I would like to think I am one of those people. I believe in something between intelligent design and creationism, but I do not believe my views should be taught in the schools. I believe that schools are obligated to teach only the currently accepted scientific theory, and if I happen to disagree with it I can teach my children my beliefs in my home. Indeed, it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure what my children are being taught is correct, not only within a religious framework, but in general, as teachers don’t always have their facts straight. It is my job to teach my children that it is okay to question both what I tell them as a parent and what teachers teach them in schools.

    Is this an acceptable middle ground, or do the free thinkers object to my right to teach my children something that runs contrary to “accepted scientific theory?” I hope not, as accepted scientific theory changes over time, too. I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that science is never to be questioned any more than I want them to grow up believing in my religion only “because Daddy says so.”

    Certainly it is difficult for science, free thought, and religion to coexist without friction. By nature these three forces tend to try and limit one another by establishing Truth. But none of these forces should ever (if even they can) destroy any of the others, as each tries to answer questions that the others have difficulty with.

    One question that science, free thought, and religion ALL have difficulty answering conclusively enough to convice the other two is whether or not there is a god. Each places a different value and emphasis on the question, but the question remains.

    Until the day comes when the question can be answered conclusively I hope we can all treat one another with a little more respect and learn how to maintain an open dialogue without continually backing one another into corners which we feel obligated to fight our way out of.

  4. Stem cell research has not exactly been “shot down” time and again. It is perfectly legal in the US, and some of it even receives federal money. Though many in the US have a religiously based belief that such research is wrong, it still goes on. And there are plenty of believers who have no objection to stem cell research of any kind. By framing the argument as “against the religious folk” enemies are made where none exist. This mindset only helps the fundamentalists you oppose, as does this statement:

    “what is the point of it if, in the end, the preponderance of the population is content to ignore science and reject dinosaurs and slowly turn our nation over to theocrats?”

    I seriously disagree with this take. The majority of people do not reject science. And who are these theocrats? This statement is aimed at dividing rather than convincing. If you truly believe in your stated mission as a futurist, and want people to understand science, such generalizations undermine your long term goal.

    ID should not be taught in schools, unless in a comparative religion class. But people must be convinced with reason, not insulted. Some will not listen, but that hardly means reasoned debate should be thrown out. (And ID has lost every court battle they’ve undertaken–signs of theocracy?)

Comments are closed.