Once more, for a third time, the same sentence from Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is partially quoted to help critique the modern American conservative movement — the “it” in the quote, though originally “it” meant the ultra-conservative government in power in the US in the 1840’s:
Why does it always… excommunicate Copernicus and Luther…?
I interpret Thoreau was using Copernicus (the father of modern astronomy) and Luther (the founder of the Reformation) as two examples of exemplary human intellect. Thoreau is accusing his ultra-conservative government of being anti-intellectual, as I am in this third part accusing modern American conservatives of being. I am saying that not only are American ultra-conservatives unpatriotic and non-Christian (An Expose of American Conservatism — Part 1 and An Expose of American Conservatism — Part 2), they are covertly or overtly anti-intellectual, as the conservative movement is replete with minds not so razor-sharp (e.g. Trump, Gingrich, Rove, Limbaugh, Perry, Romney). Any movement that houses people so dense as to actually believe that, say, for example, Obama is a closet Muslim, cannot be considered a drawer full of sharp knives. Just as compiling the three partial Thoreau quotes from the three parts of this critique (which I do at the end of this part) make a complete, accurate quote from his writings, the three thrusts of my critique of conservatism make a nice compatible whole, for no one with half a brain would call the founding fathers misguided (Part 1) nor would they ignore Jesus’ teachings (Part 2).
The “problem of smarts” does not lie with the detractors of modern American conservatism. It lies within the conservatives themselves.
Let’s be clear: we are not talking about formal education and academic degrees. Intelligence is not a function of how many diplomas one has and/or how high the levels of one’s diplomas are. Degrees only give one a higher probability of being intelligent; they do not guarantee intelligence. We are talking about common sense, insight, a sense of personal and collective history, an evidence-based approach to truth, and a personal epistemology based upon reason.
I will list some mental foibles of human political consideration to which I think American conservatives are more susceptible than any other American political stance. Those of high intelligence, the likes of Copernicus and Luther, are not afraid of pointing out these foibles; conservatives must either ignore these problems of their intellectual lives, almost impossible to do nowadays in our heightened state of global communication, or, they must push them outside the circles of their narrow minds; they must excommunicate them from their thinking.
American Conservatives are:
1) Susceptible to political propaganda, even the silly sort. Many American ultra-conservatives recently have believed that Obama is a Muslim, that he was not born in America, that the government is going to take away our guns, and that the government is going to tax our livestock for farting methane. More generally, they seem to be easily victimized by the classic tools of propagandists (logical fallacies) everywhere: non sequitur, red herrings, straw men, quote mining, and bait-and-switch.
2) Prone to the “great man” theory of history rather than the “great idea” theory. They are always in search for the perfect person instead of a person who may not be so perfect, but with great ideas. Of course, finding a perfect person for a leader is futile; they seem blind to that axiom, despite many disappointments over thinking they have found their messiah.
3) Much too prone to believe what people say instead of what people do. They have a hard time dealing with having to scrutinize anything said, written, or published. Distinguishing opinion from fact seems either beyond their capability or beyond their will.
4) Much too prone to accept authority. They are uncomfortable around statements such as: “Just because a priest, minister, teacher, parent, administrator, or group leader says something is so does not make it so.” They don’t seem to realize that Einstein was right not because he was Einstein, but because nature verified what Einstein said about nature. Non-authoritarian disciplines, like science and math, give them “fits.” I remember during the Reagan campaign and administration conservatives actually basing their critique of the theory of evolution upon remarks made by Reagan in a speech, as if he was an authority on evolutionary science. Again, I remember a conservative church member basing his/her view on evolution solely upon what their pastor said about it from the pulpit. Sometimes I get the impression conservatives are lazy in their thinking; it is easier and less bother to accept some authoritative statement than investigate yourself and make up your own mind.
5) Seemingly uncomfortable dealing with the “messy” issues and questions of life. They would rather have an answer, any answer, than have that answer postponed until we gather more evidence and facts. They tend to think in only one dichotomy, as if there are only two sides to every issue; everything is either black or white (no “gray”), right or wrong, this or that. Over and over again you see them making the mistake of thinking that one problem for one side means the other side does not have that problem; just because A is wrong does not make B right. More than two alternatives are seemingly so hard to deal with, they will sometimes avoid other logical alternatives so as to only have to deal with two.
6) Often disdainful of academics, displaying an awful anti-intellectualism without shame. Academics and the academic-minded (you don’t need a degree to be a scholar) are not always right; they are human like the rest of us, but they should not be dismissed because of their educational position; they should be dismissed solely on the weaknesses of their positions. I recall a church youth discussion in a conservative setting one time in which furthering one’s education beyond high school was considered questionable! College may not be for everyone, but that is for the young mind to discover for his/herself, not to be foisted upon that young mind as a dogmatic imperative of avoidance.
7) Exploitive of the gullible and uneducated in the electorate. The conservative rich have the nasty habit of weaving a web of deceit of how easy it is to become well-off from a station of poverty, how easy it is to “live the American dream.” By not being honest with aspiring workers as to what it takes to become wealthy, the rich can become richer off so many self-proclaimed poor conservatives living the impossible pipe dream instead of working toward realistic goals (e.g. getting people to sign off on loans they cannot afford). The American dream is not impossible; it is more improbable than conservatives would like the lower and lower middle classes to believe. If “get rich quick schemes” asking you for a modest investment at the beginning seem too good to be true, they probably are. The so-called Tea Party seems to me an example of the gullible and uneducated in the world of conservatism. Mostly made up of old white males (like me), the party has become a mouth-piece for the rich conservative “fat cats,” making a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
8) Often filled with a sense of entitlement, especially when well off. Their money turns them into some sort of elitist, whether it is a member of an “old original” family of our country or a member of the local country club or a powerful politician. They seem oblivious to the fact there is no aristocracy anymore, especially here in America; millions of people have died in history to eradicate aristocracy worldwide — the struggle is closer to completion than ever before. Like everyone else, rich conservatives have to earn respect, if they want it.
9) Seemingly oblivious to the world in which we live; they are oblivious to the changes all around them, preferring to focus on some nostalgic time in the past that was not as good as they like to remember (See Part 1). In other words, conservatives can be plagued with a bad case of anachronism (out of the times). In the 2012 Presidential election, the Obama campaign utilized electronic media and the social internet to identify and contact voters. The election’s outcome showed what a smart strategy that was. Instead of acknowledging they had been out-thought in campaign strategy using the internet, the Romney campaign laced its “sour grapes” with claims of how “questionable” the business tactics of computer companies are. Wow! It was like complaining that the invention of automobiles was robbing the horse business of steel for horseshoes. How out-of-time can you be? Not very smart. No wonder the ultra-conservatives actually thought they had the 2012 Presidential election won!
I think the list could be longer, but that is enough to get this third part across. Summarizing all three parts: Modern American conservatism, especially its ultra-conservative form, is un-American, un-Christian, and not very bright. Why would anyone want to be a part of it?
Here is Thoreau’s complete sentence, which is another, fantastic, succinct way to summarize the three parts:
Why does it always crucify Christ,
and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther,
and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?