Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day

Friday, August 16, 2019

August 16, 2019
Orwell’s 1984 is a fantasy, but this country under Trump is beginning to have an eerie and worrisome similarity to Oceania under Big Brother.  The novel described the mind set of a citizen:
In the ramifications of Party doctrine she had not the faintest interest.  Whenever he began to talk of the [party line], she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing.  One knew it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it?  She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all that one needed. [58]
That could fit anyone at a Trump rally; this could describe the Base:
In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.  They could be made to accept the most flagrant violation of reality, because they. . . were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.[59]
The parallel is not complete; the political situation in Oceania more nearly resembled that of the USSR under Stalin than of Trump’s America.  Big Brother had control the Donald only can dream of.  However, his faithful do seem to be limited to knowing when to cheer and when to boo.
The Appendix to 1984 describes the principles of Newspeak: “words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion had simply ceased to exist. . . .” Without much exaggeration, we can say that they have been suppressed in Trumpland as well, with the exception of “religion,” which has been redefined into a category of politics.  In addition, “all words grouping  themselves round  the  concepts  of  objectivity  and  rationalism  were  contained  in  the  single  word oldthink.”[60]  That certainly fits.  “Ultimately  it  was  hoped  to  make  articulate  speech  issue  from the  larynx  without  involving  the  higher  brain  centres  at all.”[61]  Appled to written speech, that could describe Trump’s tweets.
Why do Trump’s followers swallow his lies?  There are several factors: fear, bias, resentment of the “elitism” of liberals, a sort of class solidarity, but also ignorance about history and political concepts, a failing shared with much of the population.
As to the public’s ignorance, various studies have found the following:
• only 13 percent knew when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, even on a multiple-choice exam, with most thinking it occurred in 1776.
• 60 percent didn’t know which countries the United States fought in World War II.
• 57 percent did not know how many Justices serve on the Supreme Court.
• 37 percent believed that Benjamin Franklin invented the lightbulb.
• 12 percent thought General Dwight Eisenhower led troops in the Civil War; 6 percent thought it was the Vietnam War.[62]
• only half of adults could name the three branches of government. [63]
• more than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
• half believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 were before the American Revolution;[64]
• 41 percent could not identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration or extermination camp.  As with other surveys, young people were less well informed than their elders: among millennials, 66 percent could not identify Auschwitz.[65]
Does a college education help?  Not much, apparently.
• One-third of college graduates were unaware that FDR introduced the New Deal.
• Nearly half did not know that Teddy Roosevelt played a major role in the construction of the Panama Canal.
• Over one-third could not place the American Civil War in the correct 20-year time-frame.
• Nearly half could not identify correctly the term lengths of U.S. senators and representatives. [66]
There’s more, and it’s all depressing.  How can a democracy function, how can rule by a demagogue be avoided if so many citizens know so little?  The internet can’t be blamed for all of this; the educational system, top to bottom, needs attention.


58. 1984, Part II, Chapter 5; in the omnibus George Orwell, p. 836
60. Id., at 921
Id,. at 923
62. ship-test/
63. ow-less-you-think-180955431/#Aim8aA7mLsEUFsHX.99
64. ledge/340761/
65. millen nials-dont-know-what-auschwitz-is-according-to-study-of-fading-holocaust-knowledge/
66. society

Saturday, August 10, 2019

August 10, 2019
Do climate-change deniers read newspapers?  It’s tempting to think that they don’t or that they believe reports are, to quote our leader, fake news; that could explain their continuing to deny in the face of headlines like “Greenland is on track for a record melt year, having already lost 250 billion tons of ice.”  Wilful ignorance certainly is a factor.
Many who are not outright deniers may be unaware of the scope of the problem because of poor reporting.  I watch NBC news most evenings and, whenever a story about extreme weather is included, I wait for a connection to be made to climate change; it almost never comes.  The headline I quoted is from an August 8 article in The Washington Post , which mentions that glacier melting leads to sea level rise — a reportorial step in the right direction — but does not suggest why that might be a problem for people living in coastal areas.  Yes, it may be necessary to draw pictures; another recent article reported that homes still are being built in flood zones.[50]
On July 30, the New York Times, describing floods along the lower Mississippi, made the point: “Climate change is increasingly turning the extraordinary into the ordinary. Extreme floods and snowfall, at times moving to extreme heat and droughts, are forcing cities and farming communities across the country to grapple with the threat to their homes and livelihoods.”  It quoted an endangered species biologist on the flooding: “This is biblical proportion.”[51] Allowing for forgivable exaggeration, comparing the effects of climate change to the Flood in Genesis is apt: climate change may render the earth uninhabitable.  That, however brings us to another impediment to belief in climate change: religious doctrine.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote a book a few years ago entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future .  For him, the Flood, or its aftermath, is an argument against doing anything.[52]  In his book, he dealt with scientific fact by pretending that it didn’t exist and twice cited Genesis chapter 8, verse 22 to prove that climate catastrophe cannot happen.[53]   That verse is part of a description of the aftermath of the Flood which Noah, family and animal pairs survived on the Ark.  Here’s the relevant passage (using the King James version which Inhofe no doubt prefers):       
8:20 And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

8:21 And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
God promised not to smite every living thing or curse the ground; does that say we can’t ruin everything?  Assuming that verse 22 is part of the “quote” beginning with verse 21, there will be seasons as long as the earth remains; giving that the interpretation most congenial to Inhofe’s theology, it is a divine guaranty that there will be some periodic variation in weather: seasons.  That does not rule out drastic change.  Think of the Ice Ages, although Inhofe may not believe in them either.
Then again, he probably does.  Here’s Inhofe in a speech in 2016: “One of the smartest things the other side did is when they got rid of, they quit talking about, global warming and started talking about climate change. Don’t get caught in that trap. I’ve had to say this on the Senate floor many times: That climate is changing. I mean, look at it archaeologically, spiritually, scientifically. Climate always changes.”[54]  Presumably “archeological change” refers to such periods as ice ages.  Inhofe prefers “global warming” because it allows him to refer to winter weather — see, we aren’t warm! — and to prove there is no warming by bringing a snowball into the Senate.
Senator Inhofe isn’t unaware of what, at the simplest level, is occurring; he noted recently that, “Over the past few weeks, Oklahomans around the state faced record rainfall and severe weather, leading to widespread destruction and flooding.”[55]  He just can’t take the next step because he would be forced to face other, unacceptable facts, and rethink his reading of Genesis.
I’m laboring this not because I think that we should make environmental policy based on Biblical exegesis, but to demonstrate that a core argument by a leading denier is nonsense.  He is not the only one who employs a theological approach to politics, nor is this the only subject which receives that treatment. For further clarification, I’m not attacking religion or, specifically Christianity; I’m suggesting that what passes for the latter, in the context of current political discussion, often is a gross distortion.
A story the Senator told on a radio program perfectly encapsulated his mind set and that of other diehard deniers:  “Senator Inhofe told the Eric Metaxas radio show this week that his granddaughter once asked him, ‘Pop I, why is it you don't understand global warming?’ ” His response: “[T]he stuff that they teach our kids nowadays, you have to un-brainwash them when they get out."[56]  Don’t learn, remain dangerously ignorant and pass that on.
The Senator’s rejection of climate change mirrors the attitude of the Trump administration, which also pretends that it doesn’t exist, going so far as to ban use of the term.[57]   Dealing with climate change requires political change, soon.


50. flooding. html


52. For more on the Inhofe philosophy, see my note of December 6, 2014.

53. The Greatest Hoax , pp. 75, 174



56. about-climate-change-484651

57. See discussion at: _change.php

Saturday, August 3, 2019

August 2, 2019
Television news is a window into a dismal present, a summary of the characteristics of a culture in crisis. Nightly we see shootings, instances of police brutality, floods and other signs of climate disaster and, to remove all hope for the future, Trump’s latest demented threat to make it all worse.
For entertainment, we can be spectators at the contest between the United States and the United Kingdom for the status of most self-destructive nation.  The elevation of Boris Johnson has allowed the UK to close the gap.  He and Trump are in a competition to determine who can more completely isolate his country from the rest of the world.  Not being at Trump’s level of ignorance and inexperience, Johnson’s bad ideas are more clearly manipulative.  According to a profile in The New York Review of Books, he didn’t make up his mind until the last moment whether to support or oppose the Brexit referendum.  However, even Boris, of Eton and Oxford, has his lapses, apparently believing that, after withdrawing from the EU, the UK still would be a member of its governing council, the sort of delusion one would expect of Trump.[48]  By design or lapse, the Two Stooges are leading their people to the cliff edge.
As different as they are, a description of Johnson’s performance applies as well to Trump’s: “an act, a turn, a traveling show.”  That show is designed to entertain and fire up the base: “In this theater of the absurd, it never matters whether the stories are true; what matters is that they are ludicrous enough to fly under the radar of credibility and hit the sweet spot where preexisting prejudices are confirmed.”[49]
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates are having such fun tearing each other down, and even trashing the Obama administration, and the House leadership is so determined to oppose impeachment, that the odds of another four years of decline and danger on this side of the Atlantic are increasing.  Actually, “leadership” is the wrong word for Speaker Pelosi.  She appears to waiting for a popular demand for impeachment.


Fintan O’Toole, “The Ham of Fate,” August 15, 2019 Issue