Dennis Prager is an Idiot and the Republican Party is a Cult

A High Priest in the First Church of Anti-Liberalism

Let me tell you about a man named Dennis Prager. An extreme right-wing pundit, Dennis Prager is an idiot cloaked in a thin-veneer of intellect – a white-knuckle blowhard who has troubled telling the difference between loud voices and good arguments. But more to the point, he is also a High Priest in new religious order: The First Church of Anti-Liberalism.

Normally, it’s considered bad form to fill an essay with ad hominem attacks, let alone start with them. And rightly so – that sort of thing rarely gets us out of the woods and into a place where we can begin to understand one another. Yet it would be perverse to ignore a history of shoddy reasoning and wild fanaticism in assessing the value someone’s work.

In that regard, Prager’s partisan hysteria and thoughtlessness is the core issue. This is a man who has made a career out of enthusiastically mistaking his feelings about how the world ought to be for facts about how the world really works. He even runs a “university” dedicated to the practice. Human as that is, it is also very foolish. In a struggling representative democracy aching for serious, reasoned discourse, it is also extremely dangerous.

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Climate Change: A Dialogue

An aide walks into a Republican Senator’s office. She has just finished a report on climate change and is giving the Senator a brief summary of her findings:

Aide: If we continue to burn fossil fuels, there’s a good chance we’ll cause significant ecological, political, and economic disruption. It could get very bad.

Senator: But it’s not 100%?

A: No. But–

S: Okay. Let’s keep burning fossil fuels. Otherwise, some people won’t make as much money on their investments and others might need to find new jobs.

A: Well, if we keep burning them the changes in our climate could be extremely difficult to cope with. Entire species could go extinct. Storms and droughts and wildfires will worsen and become more frequent. Millions of people could be displaced, in which case tens of thousands will surely die. Likely more. Sea levels could rise and inundate hundreds of billions of dollars in property and infrastructure. Maybe trillions. Conditions will be ripe for civil unrest, even war.

S: But it’s not 100%?

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Combating Political Religion: How Small Government, Free Market Dogma Fails to Account for Observable Reality

There is growing sense that those interested in finding out what is true of the world are becoming a rarer and rarer breed. Everywhere we look, someone is trumpeting some blatant inanity. Vaccines cause autism. Adding flouride to water is a government conspiracy. Genetically modified organism are dangerous. Organic food is particularly nutritious. Christians are a persecuted minority. The 44th President was a foreign national and communist agent. The 9/11 Terror Attacks were an inside job. The world is only 6000 years old. Humans can’t influence the climate.

Nonsense is everywhere, but the impression that it is more prevalent than ever is mostly a matter of appearances. Humans are innately tuned to focus on the negative aspects of their environment. Good reasons for this abound, easily distilled in the recognition that it is far more consequential for us to spend our time thinking about the things that could be better than it is to spend it thinking about the things that are going just fine. On the landscapes of our ancestors, where decisions about what to pay attention to were a regular matter of life and death, it was vitally important to take note when things were about to turn sour – when herds of prey were about to migrate to a new territory, when seasonal changes were about to reduce the availability of edible fruits, when an unfriendly band of visitors turned up in your neighborhood.

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Conservative Non-Profits Use Disturbing Scare Tactics to Influence Voters


This is disturbing. It was produced by a group called People United for Privacy, who are funded by the State Policy Network (SPN). The SPN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit funded by conservative billionaires and millionaires who work to keep the electorate in the dark about their political influence.

Of course, having information about who is influencing policy decisions and political campaigns is essential to the democratic process. Regardless of how much they donate. But New Mexico SB 96, which this targets, doesn’t demand disclosure unless you spend more than $1000. In 2016, only 0.52% of donors gave more than $200 dollars to a political campaign.

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Ted Cruz Thinks Captain Kirk Would Be A Republican – He’s Wrong and Here’s Why

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Captain James T. Kirk

According to a recent New York Times interview, Ted Cruz thinks Captain James T. Kirk would have been a Republican. He’s wrong – and here’s why. (Naturally, we’ll file this is one of the more important topics I’ve written about.)

I’ll skip the pedantry of pointing out that Republicans and Democrats no longer exist in the future depicted in Star Trek. Instead, let’s get right to the heart of the matter – James T. Kirk is the captain of a starship on a mission of exploration for a socialist government, and Star Trek itself is a rosy-eyed depiction of a socialist utopia, crafted by and populated with humanists. The very essence of Star Trek should be anathema to the modern Republican.

For the woefully uninitiated, here’s bit of a primer. Star Trek takes place in the 23rd – 24th centuries, following the adventures of men, women, various aliens, and even a few androids, operating on behalf of Starfleet, the exploratory/defensive wing of a massive, centralized bureaucracy called the United Federation of Planets. Member planets in the UFP are in many ways autonomous, but are nonetheless bound by the dictates of the central authority of the Federation. Society is classless, and the economy operates without the exchange of money.

Star Trek depicts a world in which values closely aligned with progressive humanism have triumphed. The Vulcan philosophy of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” is celebrated, and collectivist phrases like “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” carry the weight of moral compunction. The motivating force behind the mission(s) of the starship(s) Enterprise is a search for knowledge simply for sake of knowledge – and at great personal risk and material cost.

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The Vulcan symbol for diversity. Spock describes it as follows: “The triangle and the circle – different shapes, materials, and textures – represent any two diverse things which come together to create truth or beauty – represented by the jewel.”

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, put the spirit of diversity that drives Star Trek quite forcefully:

Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms… If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.

One can be forgiven for thinking these are values individuals inclined toward conservatism – at least as expressed by the modern GOP – don’t really appreciate. People who think members of the LGBT community do not deserve to share the same rights as everyone else are miles away from delighting in “those small differences”. They are expressing the sort of regressive attitude that will forever keep the most plausible, most reachable aspects of the future depicted in Star Trek forever grounded in the world of science-fiction.

Likewise, Republican rhetoric is often firmly rooted in a celebration of individual self-interest and anti-establishment sentiments that are contrary to the submission of individual needs to the collective good. Nor can it be said that people who cut funding to organizations like NASA and the National Science Foundation come off as particularly big fans of the quest for knowledge.

Hell, even free market capitalism, approached with near religious reverence by the modern GOP, is portrayed as an artifact of humanity’s childish past in the universe of Star Trek. Its primary practitioners are the Ferengi, hideous aliens who are variously treated as predatory, lascivious villains and greedy, bumbling clowns. The Koch brothers, Donald Trumps, Mitt Romneys and Herman Cains of the Star Trek universe are greeted with scorn and distrust. Their motivations are viewed as sordid and puerile. But for the modern Republican, capitalism and the quest for profit is the glue holding the moral architecture of the universe together.

So why does Ted Cruz think James T. Kirk, the equivalent of a NASA mission commander working for the government of the Netherlands, is a Republican? To begin with, there seems to be a natural human tendency to paint our heroes and role-models in the subjective palette of our individual values. Cruz is projecting his ideals on the charming space-rogue that is Captain Kirk. According to Cruz, Kirk is “working class” and “a passionate fighter for justice”. What exactly “working class” means in a classless society is, and shall remain, mysterious. But Cruz is dead-on when he describes Kirk as a passionate fighter for justice. He’s just wrong in thinking that characteristic makes him a Republican. There are passionate crusaders for justice on both sides of the aisle – they just have a few differences of opinion concerning what qualifies as “justice”. I have a strong suspicion that Kirk might be a little more sympathetic to the liberal/progressive perspective on justice than the conservative one.

In the interview Cruz says that “readers of science fiction are interested and attracted to the future. And politics is a battle for framing that future.” The future depicted in Star Trek is one in which the pillars of modern Republican ideology – Christian theology, free market capitalism, nationalism, traditionalism – have been cast aside in favor of the ideals espoused by progressive humanists. Christianity is properly viewed as a collection of myths – a comfort blanket for humanity’s infancy. Economic and monetary interests have been entirely subordinated to the will of the state and the society it serves. Multiculturalism is the rule of the day and the shackles of tradition have been broken away and replaced by context-sensitive humanistic ethics.

Let me reiterate: there’s no reason the conservatively inclined shouldn’t like Star Trek. The world depicted in Mad Max is a morose and violent hellscape. But those movies – the latest entry in particular – are great entertainment. I just wouldn’t want to live in that world. Based purely on observations of their behavior and stated political beliefs, I suspect something along those lines captures a person like Ted Cruz’s appreciation of Star Trek. It’s fine from a distance, but he sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, his political record is that of a man who works diligently to prevent it from ever happening.

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Wise words from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Resoundinngly Reject Science and Constitutional Values

A recent Salon article provides a synopsis of the views the GOP’s current 2016 presidential hopeful hold regarding evolution. In aggregate, they take a bold stance against science and reason, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Jeb Bush holds the most enlightened view by a considerable margin, accepting evolution on the one hand and arguing that it should not be a part of school curricula on the other. Compared to his fellow presidential hopefuls, this is a remarkably intelligent and nuanced position, but it still ultimately boils down to sycophantic pandering to the far-right religious zealots the GOP depends on to remain competitive. That anyone holding any of the views expressed by the GOP’s potential 2016 candidates – even Bush’s milquetoast appeals to the lowest common denominator – has some chance of securing the presidency is exceptionally disheartening.

The worst offenders – Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum – have adopted a position in abject opposition to all measures of rationality and evidence, essentially casting their lot with emotional/ideological preferences rooted in flimsy interpretations of ancient myths and, I suspect, deep fears regarding their own cosmic insignificance. The sad thing is that there is a significant proportion of the U.S. electorate that finds this sort of vehemently stubborn,  fact-averse religious fanaticism appealing. According to a recent Pew poll, some 31% of Americans reject the reality of human evolution. This is disconcerting, but offset by the 35% or so (depending on who you ask – Gallup comes up with a different number) who recognize that evolution by purely natural means in the best explanation for human origins. Still, the 31% who more or less reject everything the best evidence and most coherent theory tells them regarding the origins and diversity of life on the earth should not be written off.

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Pew survey results on acceptance of human evolution. Ideally, the public views would mirror those of AAAS scientists.

Not being a Jedi master/mind reader, I can only speculate about the motivations behind the GOP candidates’ stated beliefs. I get the impression that the four gentlemen mentioned in the previous paragraph aren’t being anything less than genuine. They are religious fanatics, pure and simple. The actual beliefs of the other candidates are harder to discern, clouded as they are in the nebulous miasma of obfuscation and pandering that seems to follow career politicians wherever they go. All of the candidates endorse some breed of “teach the controversy” nonsense (read: allow Christian creation myths to be taught in science class), and obsequious attention to the right-wing base seems like a plausible motive. Though the 31% of the population that rejects evolution aren’t likely to decide an election on their own, it’s worth noting that their votes aren’t evenly distributed. Results of a Gallup poll indicate that 58% of Republicans endorse the Creationist view that humans were created by god within the last 10,000 years, as opposed to 41% for Democrats. Consequently, pandering to anti-evolution religious zealots is essentially mandatory for anyone hoping to secure a chance at the Republican presidential nomination. The relationship between religious belief and party affiliated tells a similar story. 64% of white Protestants reject evolution; 67% of white Evangelical Protestants are registered as Republicans. The exact degree to which these two subsets of the white “I find reality intensely unsettling” demographic overlap is unclear, but I suspect it is considerable.

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In any event, the outlook for modern Republicans with presidential aspirations is bleak: grovel at the feet of superstitious troglodytes or lose. But perhaps I’m being too partisan in my analysis. Certainly the fact that Republicans can’t win an election without pandering to the one of the most stubbornly ill-informed subsets of the modern American populous should be properly viewed as stain on their party: the only way they can maintain their brand is to sell snake-oil to eager dupes. More disconcerting, however, is that any member of any party has to invest energy in either placating or pleasing society’s most grossly ignorant factions. No one who expresses any of the views enumerated in the Salon article should have a chance of becoming the president of the United States – or any other 21st century, for that matter. The answer, of course, is not to disenfranchise the ignorant. Rather, it is to work to eradicate ignorance by remedying the flaws in our educational system and the broader social milieu in which it rests that have allowed that ignorance to persist. In a supposedly advanced, modern society with near-instant access to endless information, the proportion of the population that rejects evolution, believes GMOs are unsafe, thinks vaccinations are dangerous, or any number of the hair-brained, lunatic fringe notions that have taken up residency in the popular consciousness should be 5% or less.

From this perspective, there is some reason to be hopeful. The proportion of the population that accepts naturalistic evolution is up to 19% (from 15% in 2012) even as the percentage of the population that takes the nonsensical creation myths of the Bible serious has dropped to 42% (from 46% in 2012). Slims improvements, to be sure, but I’ll take them enthusiastically. Viewed through properly rose-tinted glasses, this is a silver-lining that can be magnified, unfolding into a future in which presidential candidates don’t have to pander to religious zealots, and sincere religious nuts don’t even register as even far-shot options for the presidency. Maybe it’s a long shot, but I’m not quite prepared to abandon hope.

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