We can have political debate or politicized facts, but we can’t have both

First the bad news. In The New York Times, Leslie Kaufman reports on how zoos and aquariums are struggling to communicate the facts of climate change in a political climate that considers scientific facts to be matters of partisan dispute:

American zoos and aquariums enjoy a high level of public trust and are ideally positioned to teach.

Yet many managers are fearful of alienating visitors — and denting ticket sales — with tours or wall labels that dwell bleakly on damaged coral reefs, melting ice caps or dying trees.

…  At the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Brian Davis, the vice president for education and training, says to this day his institution ensures its guests will not hear the term global warming. Visitors are “very conservative,” he said. “When they hear certain terms, our guests shut down. We’ve seen it happen.”

When people “shut down” in response to certain terms or certain facts, those people are not being “very conservative,” they are, instead, just being anti-fact. Conservatism — even a hyper-partisan conservatism — is about how to respond to facts. Politicizing facts isn’t “conservative” politics, it’s a rejection of the very possibility of politics.

This polar bear is neither liberal nor conservative. It’s just a polar bear. (Photo by Ansgar Walk via Wikimedia Commons.)

In a healthy political climate, people from different political parties or different sides of the debate will argue about how best to respond to the facts. Liberals and conservatives will disagree about that response. Such disagreement may be partisan, heated, angry, vicious and unyielding. It may get personal and uncivil, with red-faced partisans screaming at one another, employing profanity, hyperbole and insult. It may get really nasty.

And all of that is OK.

Such nastiness may be a sub-optimal expression of healthy democracy, but it’s still an expression of healthy democracy. Now matter how heated the argument over how best to respond to the facts, that argument is evidence of a people still capable of self-government.

But when the argument shifts from how to respond to the facts to become an argument over the existence of the facts themselves, then self-government is no longer possible. The news from the zoos suggests that we no longer have a healthy political climate — that our capacity for democracy is ailing.

We all love to see polar bears at zoos and aquariums. They’re beautiful and wicked smart and dangerous and just generally very cool. If we had a healthy democracy, then liberals and conservative could admire those creatures and argue about how best — or even whether — to respond to the shrinking habitats threatening polar bears in a warming Arctic. We would bring different ideas and ideologies to that argument, different visions of the scope and scale and substance of an appropriate response, different notions of which public or private actors ought to be most responsible to address those facts. It would be an argument, a debate, a disagreement.

But we don’t seem to be capable of having that argument. We don’t seem capable of achieving disagreement because, right now, the facts — reality itself — have become partisan and politicized. When the facts themselves are politicized, then politics itself becomes impossible.

That’s bad news for polar bears and bad news for democracy.

But here’s some more encouraging news, from South Carolina. Grist’s Jordan Haedtler reports on local news weathercaster Jim Gandy, “Heroic weatherman talks climate in a red state — and viewers thank him for it“:

In 2011, Gandy partnered with George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication and the nonprofit Climate Central to develop a program called Climate Matters, a segment that places his weathercasts in the context of climate change. Gandy also blogs regularly about climate. Broadcasting in South Carolina, Gandy was well aware of the risks. “I’m not from a red state, I’m from a dark red state,” he told us. Like his friend and peer Dan Satterfield, a weathercaster based until recently in Huntsville, Ala., Gandy began speaking out about climate change fully prepared to face backlash from his politically conservative audience.

But a funny thing happened: The backlash never came. Rather than facing an onslaught of angry phone calls, Gandy found that many viewers were fascinated by his reports connecting climate change with their daily lives. His report on climate change’s impact on poison ivy, for instance, received praise from viewers who stopped him on the street to thank him.

… Presenting established science to viewers and broadening the context of weather reporting isn’t just doable — it’s welcome, and sorely needed.

By reporting the facts of climate change, Gandy makes it possible for us to have the political debate over how to respond to those facts. The facts do not settle that debate, they merely allow that debate to begin.

That’s what is vitally important for a healthy democracy — not that the debate is settled one way or the other, and not whether it is conducted with the utmost politeness, just that the debate is taking place at all. (Civility and friendliness are Good Things, of course, and all else being equal, it’s nicer if we’re all nicer. But niceness and honesty are not the same thing, and only the latter is necessary for political debate in a democracy.)

That debate cannot happen if we choose, instead, to consider reality itself as subject to debate. We cannot have political disagreement if we are, instead, disagreeing over facts — if we pretend that the facts are subject to dispute and denial.

Jim Gandy’s example also reminds us that people like to learn the facts. Facts turn out to be immensely practical, useful things. They also tend to be interesting.

The essential facts of climate change due to human activity are beyond dispute. Some of us are liberals and some of us are conservatives, and thus we are bound to disagree, intensely, over how best to respond to those facts. That disagreement — how to respond — is the debate we need to be having. That is the debate we would be having, right now, if we were a healthier democracy.

That debate will involve plenty of conflict and confrontation, and moving forward will involve plenty of compromise — as it always does in a democracy. And at every step of the process the argument will continue along the same lines as it always has. If, for example, part of the eventual compromise response involves some sort of carbon tax — an idea now favored by both many reality-based conservatives and liberals — the choice to implement such a carbon tax wouldn’t end the debate.

It would, rather, launch a new round of political debate — a new variation on the old perennial argument between liberals and conservatives. Liberals like me would come to the table with one set of ideas about what other taxes could be offset or abolished with the revenue from this new carbon tax. We’d want to replace existing regressive taxes, like the payroll tax, that fall more heavily on the working class. That’s our thing. Conservatives, on the other hand, might see the revenue from a carbon tax as a substitute for capital gains taxes or corporate taxes that they believe stifle economic growth. That’s their thing. We’d have a big old fight — a very familiar big old fight — over the proper balance between those competing concerns. That fight would likely involve lots of angry shouting, name-calling, derision, huffing and puffing, and all of that would be evidence that we are governing ourselves in a healthy democracy.

And that would be much, much healthier than where we are now.

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  • Carstonio

    While I agree with Fred’s overall point,  I suspect a zoo or aquarium that depends heavily on both donations and entrance fees is naturally going to be very wary of offending anyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     I think that’s the point he was making with that reference: that we’ve reached the point where pointing out things like that is likely to offend a lot of people. It would be like a US Civil War history museum that was afraid to mention the existence of slavery during that time period, because there was a large subset of visitors who don’t believe that slavery ever existed and would just shut down or storm away in anger at hearing anything contradicting that mentioned in public.  The idea that such a museum has to conceal relevant facts about it’s whole reason for being is bizarre and alien; if a museum really was like that (an actual museum, not a Creationist one or something like that), no one would take it seriously.

    It’s the same thing with an aquarium or a zoo having to conceal relevant facts about their whole reason for being. I get why they would have to do it — they can’t stay open at all if they alienate too many visitors, but it does create a problem now.

    The sheer number of facts that have been politicized keeps growing and growing; it’s not just evolution now; we’re also divided on the exact chemical operation of the birth control pill, the prominent role of John Quincy Adams in the American Revolution (which started when he was 9 years old), and a whole host of other stuff that isn’t even policy-related in nature but has become a flashpoint for partisan bickering. Eventually, if it’s not checked somehow, educational institutions will be sharply limited in what they can still comfortably teach, as more and more pieces of information will have to be discarded because they’ve suddenly, randomly become tokens in  the “culture wars”.

  • Carstonio

     My hope is that this nonsense is essentially the work of a small but vocal minority, mostly Fox News Geezers.

  • EllieMurasaki

    the prominent role of John Quincy Adams in the American Revolution (which started when he was 9 years old)


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    It was a Michele Bachmann thing. She clearly misspoke, intending to say “John Adams” (who actually was an adult at the time and generally recognized as a Founding Father) instead of “John Quincy Adams”, his son who was not really active in military or politics at the age of nine. A normal person would have laughed off the completely innocent slip of the tongue and kept going, but Bachmann and her supporters dug in their heels, constructing this elaborate alternate history scenario where John Quincy Adams was his father’s sidekick and had an active role in the war effort.

    The problem isn’t so much that she flubbed her line, but that she absolutely would not admit to making even a trivial, completely irrelevant mistake. She couldn’t apologize, or, failing that, simply brush off the question and move onto her larger point; she absolutely had to convince her interviewer that she was right. It would be the equivalent of Barack Obama insisting that there really were only 47 states and trying to argue against the legitimacy or the existence of three states, just so he didn’t have to acknowledge his misstatement.

    That’s what we’re dealing with. It’s one thing to do this in order to win a political argument, but we’re at the point where these guys feel like they have to rewrite virtually anything, and pretend as if there really is legitimate debate over things like that.

  • Carstonio

    People like Bachmann are virulently anti-intellectual, and I suspect they’re terrified of being labeled as dumb or ignorant by the intellectuals they resent. Admitting they made a mistake of fact may be, for them, like a defeat.

  • Daughter

    I’m not sure that’s quite accurate. She was making the claim that the Founding Fathers were strong abolitionists. When told that they weren’t, she insisted that John Quincy Adams was (which he was, but he was not a Founding Father, and was not involved in abolition until his adulthood).

    So it  wasn’t a slip of the tongue, but an initial attempt to re-write history (insisting that the Founding Fathers opposed slavery), followed by an attempt to make the facts fit her pre-existing narrative.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RAPF5V3YPOUWAZGAJ2VCQM76Q Alicia

    Yeah. She was clearly trying to blend the two people together in a composite character to support her narrative. Her real mistake wasn’t confusing the two but letting the thing go on for that long. She could have made a generic argument that the Founding Fathers supported ‘freedom’ and left it at that, but got too specific in an arena that she really didn’t know anything about. 

    It was like watching a sparrow trying to operate a nuclear submarine, or Rick Perry holding an intelligent conversation with a sentient creature. Confidence quickly melts into bafflement which solidifies into frustration and embarrassment.

  • Tricksterson

    My prefered phrase is “like watching a monkey do algebra”.

  • TheFaithfulStone

     Weirdly, I’m going to quasi-defend Bachman and point out that JQ Adams was in fact an ambassador for the Washington administration (and thus the first American ambassador to several different places) and that Washington consistently praised him as one Americas finest young diplomats.

    I don’t think that quite qualifies him as a “founding father” but it isn’t like he wasn’t alive when nation was founded, or that he didn’t have a significant hand in it’s early development.

  • Tricksterson

    That’s probably just confusing him with his father.  On the other hand it shouldn’t be a matter of debate because it’s something that can be corrected in a few minutes by checking wikipedia (or, if one is a Luddite a good, old fashioned hard copy encyclopedia)

  • lowtechcyclist

    Gah.  The format still sucks.

    Please, Patheos, come to your senses.

  • Donalbain

     I am sure, if you are willing to fund Fred’s mortgage, food, college funds, car, etc etc, he will be happy to go back to a system whereby you do not have to go to the extra-ordinary effort of pressing a button on your mouse. Otherwise, quit moaning.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.com/ D Johnston

    Pretty sure Fred doesn’t have anything to do with it. Patheos controls the templates, and I doubt that the money from the extra ad impressions is trickling down.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    (nods) Which is why, I suspect, the original comment Donalbain was responding to was nominally addressed to Patheos, although of course the folks at Patheos will never read it. I suppose it provides Fred with some concrete way of saying “my readership dislikes this change,” though.

    I wonder if publicizing Patheos’ feedback page would be useful.

  • Donalbain

    Pretty sure Fred doesn’t have anything to do with it. Patheos controls
    the templates, and I doubt that the money from the extra ad impressions
    is trickling down.



    Not all blogs have gone this way. Over on the new WWJTD blog, he states that he gets paid per page view. If you have to click through rather than read the article on the main page (as you could with lots of Fred’s stuff before), then that is more page views for Fred. More page views for Fred = More money for Fred.

  • El Durazno de la Muerte

     As an aside, I think the new format is pretty helpful now that Fred is putting out so much content.  There’s likely to be three or four new posts each time I wander back here, and now I can quickly scroll down to see how much catching up I have to do.

  • The_L1985

     First world problems, amirite?

  • Adrienne Sanders

    It occurs to me that the right answer isn’t to tiptoe around the folks who want to argue with/against established facts, it’s to get the folks who *do* agree on the facts and want to figure out what to do with them more involved.  Right now we seem to do a lot of the former and very little of the latter, be it in aquariums or in national politics.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    …reporting the facts […] makes it possible for us to have the political debate over how to respond to those facts. The facts do not settle that debate, they merely allow that debate to begin.

    Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes.

  • LoneWolf343

    Part of the problem is that no one really trusts the press anymore. Everything is regarded with suspicion, especially to the reporter’s motives.

    Of course, it doesn’t help when certain parties say stuff like this, which appeared on my Facebook the other day.

  • The_L1985

    …”we won’t let facts get in the way of that mindset?”

    At least he admits he’s lying to himself.

  • LoneWolf343

     If I didn’t have to maintain a professional relationship, I would have torn that up. I HAVE torn that up.

  • Nekouken

    Jim Gandy to the rescue!

  • Michael Pullmann

     Go Jim Gandy.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    As Stephen Colbert said in 2006, “It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the President because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?…”

  • AnonymousSam

    The news from the zoos suggests that we no longer have a healthy political climate — that our capacity for democracy is ailing.

    You had to get that from zoos and sad, sad polar bears? I got it from the Texas GOP officially and publicly declaring their intent to repeal the Voter Rights Act.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    When politicians are doing dishonest, hurtful things, it is merely because it is thursday. WHen they are doing flagrantly dishonest things and bringing the wheels of democracy to a screeching halt, it is a particularly bad thursday.

    But when the state of our political discourse is SO broken that the *zoos* no longer work, then our entire civilization is so broken that “burn it to the ground and start again” starts to drift out of the “unthinkable” zone.

    (“How bad do things have to get before ‘burn it to the ground and start again’ becomes the right answer?” is a question i’ve been mulling over a lot for a while. It tempts the dark places in my psyche, but of course I know that the great mass of people right now, even the ones who are catastrophically, destructively *wrong* don’t deserve the pain that would cause. But if we got the Permanent Republican Majority we’ve been edging toward? If we got the Ryan Budget, the repal of ACA, the repeal of women’s rights, the repeal of gay rights, the end of medicare, the end of consumer protections, the end of environmental protection? I’m not sure that wouldn’t shift the answer from “Try to hold civilization together and hope it gets better” to “fuck ’em. They brought this on themselves. Let it burn.”)

  • VMink

    I’ve sometimes had similar thoughts.  “If they want Thunderdome so bad, let them have it.”


    What brings me to a screeching halt is the fact that the people who are (apparently, even if they aren’t willfully or knowingly) pushing for us to get to that kind of society where “Two men enter, one man gets health care!” are not even in the majority of our society.[1] They’re just the loudest and most obnoxious and in short have no idea what they’re really asking for.  (Unless they have a lot more resources available, and I don’t mean just plain money which will be worthless, they’re going to be Objectivist Jerky[2] before the second reel.)  To let far less than even a plurality of our society impose that sort of society on everyone would be immoral and inethical, or at the very least, not really a good way to go.

    Which is why I’m starting to think that letting them secede would be more humane, except that means they’ll be taking with them a good chunk of people who don’t have the ability to move out of Douchebaggia, and will likely be laying claim to all the military hardware that sits in that territory, besides.

    It’s a very frustrating thing, but the only real solution is to continue to try to oppose the worst and most egregious of these philosophies.  Which can be even more frustrating. :(

    [1] – I’m going with the general idea that one quarter of our country are firmly liberal, one quarter are firmly conservative, and half are “Leave me alone.”  Further, I’m going with the general idea that much less than half of the ‘firm conservatives’ want a society that looks like it’s dog-eat-dog, “We only want the Juice,” Tina Turner in chainmail.[3]  Most people I know, even most conservatives, like civilization and are rational enough to know that eliminating all government spending (and, therefore, of necessity, all taxation)  would result in an untenable society.
    [2] – Thank you, John Scalzi!
    [3] – Mind you, I have nothing against this last bit.

  • connorboone

    @VMink, Sadly, your numbers are off.  When you ask people to self-identify, you get 40% independent, 40% conservative, and 20% liberal.

  • VMink

    Hum, those were the numbers I somewhat remember from relatively recently.  I could be wrong.  Well, that’s depressing.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    However, when you ask people about which side’s policies they prefer – without stating which side is which – the results are quite different.

  • AnonymousSam

    I still think we’re past even that. When it’s gotten to the point where one of the political parties is publicly declaring that there shouldn’t be discourse, that discourse is irrelevant and they should just get their way regardless of what people think, I don’t think we’ve got a democracy at all anymore, much less a bad one.

    And yes, I’m with you in that dark place. I said it before and I wasn’t entirely joking: the end comes in fire, but not as the consequences of their actions: as the solution.

  • Albanaeon

    Honestly, I think Liberals and Progressives need to stop avoiding these sorts of fights.  For example conversations with my in-laws.  FIL is still pretty out there on somethings, but not commenting to keep the peace really meant that he could dominate conversations.  Calling them out made things better because he couldn’t just get himself worked up and have an echo chamber.

    Sure there is going to be some unpleasant moments, but is it really better to wander around, gritting your teeth, to please people who are trying to wreck everything that you care about?

  • connorboone

    My FIL is really out there, and challenging him just makes him angry and causes him to yell.  I decided that I could never, ever talk politics with him when he told me that he believed Hillary Clinton was a murderer – you know, the whole “Vince Foster and everyone else they killed” thing.

    Challenging his ‘facts’ just isn’t worth it.  My FIL is a piece of work.

    …I hate going to family gatherings, because that’s when the echo chamber really comes into play.  One of him is bad enough.  When there are a dozen, I occasionally fear for my safety.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

     This is why I don’t go to family gatherings unless it’s just me and my grandparents and mom.  My grandparents actually listen when I say “No we’re not going to talk about that.”  And then we don’t; and we go back to something we CAN talk about.  Same with my mom.

    Other relatives though… you can’t argue with them.  If you call them to the carpet with facts, they explode, if you let them rant, they start trying to goad you into fighting with them, if you walk away, they MAKE SURE TO TALK REALLY LOUDLY SO YOU CAN TOTALLY HEAR THEM.

    It’s infuriating, and why I haven’t attended a big family gathering outside of one Christmas since my grandpa’s 82nd birthday (which got wrecked because of a verbal fight between myself and another family member.  A fight I kept saying I didn’t want to be having.)


    I think this is a good time to bring up what I’ll call the Driftglass doctrine:

    There is no convincing a really dedicated ‘conservative’* of anything.  They are fact-immune, logic-immune robots in a sense.  They are programmed by Rush Limbaugh and the like, and whatever noxiousness he spews this weak is The Law, and it doesn’t matter if it contradicts everything that went before, it’s still The Law, and has always been The Law.

    So the key isn’t to convince them, because you can’t.  Instead the key is to go after low information types, centrists, and non-voters and push them in the right direction, because they CAN still be convinced – if with some effort.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect; but it beats ramming your head into a brick wall getting nowhere against people who live in an alternate reality with satanic baby killers and islamocommunazis**.

    *And they aren’t.  This bugs me too, because I can deal with a legitimate conservative – but the radicalized types who dominate today?  That ain’t conservatism.  Burke would weep.

    **I really, really think they do this shit just to piss us off.  It’s too stupid to believe; so there has to be an ulterior motive. … right? …  Please tell me I’m right.

  • Michael Cule

    Thing is, people have always seen the facts and the interpretation of facts that suit them.

    Consider the years leading up to the American Civil War (or the English Civil War for that matter but let me stick to the one most of you will know better).

    The Abolitionists saw families broken up, the lash falling on backs, the degredation and ongoing poverty for everyone that slavery brought to the South, the moral corruption of the owners. Those were the facts for them, clear and undisputed.

    The slaveholders of the South saw prosperity based on rescuing those poor primitives from Africa and giving them Christianity and a purpose in life, they saw contented slaves and benign masters, they saw interfering Northern prodnoses who didn’t understand Anthing about the South. And those were their facts.

    There are very few facts that everyone will concede. Can’t remember who said it (Ben Franklin, maybe) but there’s a line about even the Law of Gravity being put in doubt if there were a commercial motive to do so.

  • Rizzo

    Interestingly enough, I just read an article a week or two ago that says polar bears have been through this ‘Arctic melting’ thing before.  Turns out they just go south and crossbreed with grizzlies until things turn cold enough for them again.
    Not that it makes global warming any better or anything, but it’s still interesting.

  • The_L1985

    They…crossbreed with grizzlies.  Well, yes, that has been happening lately, but with Kodiaks, not grizzlies.

    But does this guy mean that, on a regular basis, polar bears go down, crossbreed, and that….the offspring somehow go back to being polar bears?

  • Rizzo

     Nope I’m pretty sure it was grizzlies and the evidence they found was genetic from a while back, not recently.  Not on a regular basis, just when the ice cap melts and they can’t live there. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    In light of that, I’d like to encourage our American friends to donate to the Dems, if they can:


    I got that in a recent email – someone put me on the maillist way back and I just never bothered to ask to be taken off :P

  • JustoneK

    Can we have _not_ politicized facts?

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

     I do believe that would be ideal;  but I think the point is that right now, one side is no longer operating within the framework of reality, and that makes it impossible to engage on some issues.  When they come up we’re dealing with a full blown alternate universe where global warming doesn’t exist, tax cuts can’t cause deficits, and foreign aid is a massive chunk of the US budget… except none of that’s true.

  • LL

    I’m guilty of not calling people on the stupid shit they say. I live and work in the Dallas area, which may not actually be the capital of Stupidland, but it’s surely a major destination there. I vote (Democratic, nowadays) and try to keep up with the galloping stupid people are pimping, just so I know what other people are thinking, however depressing that knowledge is.  The people I work with are pretty apolitical (as far as I can tell), but even if they weren’t, I would hesitate to call them out on stupid. I have to work with them. I work FOR a few of them. It’s generally not a good idea to call coworkers and supervisors idiots. My family (in Oklahoma) tends to skew Republican. My mother is a big-time Obama hater, but usually I ignore the emails she occasionally sends me. A couple months ago I did respond to one of  her “Democrats/Obama will destroy us all” emails with one of my own (can’t remember which one, but it was not a glowing recommendation of Republican talking points), and copied everybody she’d  sent the email to, which I assume included some of her church colleagues. I haven’t gotten any anti-Obama email from her since, which was kinda the point. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t changed her mind. It just wouldn’t do any good. 

    The best thing Democrats can do now is get excellent turnout. “Debating” the facts isn’t going to do much good (though I don’t blame people for trying). When you get mad at a zoo for telling you a truth you don’t want to hear, you clearly don’t give a shit about truth. 

    I agree somebody needs to call people out on bullshit. And those somebodies need to be institutions. Universities, including private universities that are not affiliated with religious institutions (or those that are, though I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath on that). Scientific institutions and organizations. Medical organizations. The entirety of the media, for fuck’s sake. Their refusal to acknowledge reality and call something a lie when it is demonstrably false is really unforgivable. Where the hell is the 21st century Edward R. Murrow? If he was alive today, he’d be ashamed of, at least, everybody working in TV news today.


  • Mike Timonin

    I heard an interesting interview a couple of weeks back. The guy was arguing that if we left the concept of “climate change/global warming” out of the debate, a vast majority of Americans are actually in favor of enacting the policies that would reduce climate change – increased use of green energy, etc. I’m not sure quite how we get to a point where society can engage in the pursuit of positive ends through mutually amenable means without discussing the fact that those ends and means are directly connected, but it’s a nice idea.

  • Daughter

    A readers discussion on The Daily Dish once discussed the question of how to talk to your hyper-right wing relatives at the holidays, and most people came down on the side of, “don’t bring up politics or religion to keep the peace/not alienate people you’re related to.”

    But one person said something like this: “If not you, who? If you, who they know and love, can’t bring these things up, then what success is a stranger or someone they don’t love going to have? And in the same way that you can’t easily disown them for having opinions you find abhorrent, they can’t easily disown you. No one is better positioned to challenge their beliefs than you.”

    I think that’s a good point to remember.  Of course, my family’s pretty liberal, so I’ve never had to have these discussions about politics. But I have had to have tense talks with family about relationships I was in, or other choices I’ve made, that they (read: my mother) didn’t approve of.

  • LL

    Sure, I get that. But if I disagreed with something dumb my mother said every time she said something dumb (ie, something she got directly from the right wing echo chamber), almost every visit with her would be unpleasant and end with her angry. I don’t get angry, SHE gets angry, because for a lot of people, you can’t disagree with them at all, in any way. They (she) wants you to either agree with everything they say, or they want you to say nothing. Usually, I choose to say nothing. My mother knows that I think what she says is fucking ridiculous. She knows. I have said something a couple times, when I couldn’t sit there and just listen to it anymore. 

    One Christmas dinner (last year? year before? can’t remember which) she was saying something about Leon Panetta (the Secretary of Defense) traveling somewhere on a military airplane at great expense. I said something like, “Uh, isn’t he the Secretary of Defense?” And she answered with some claptrap to indicate that his travel was unacceptable because, of course it is since he’s not anointed by Fox News (she didn’t say this last part, but it was understood). I responded with something to the effect that did she have a problem with it when Donald Rumsfeld was traveling the country at taxpayer expense? That made her mad, of course. Because, again, if you don’t agree with her, she wants you to shut up. See, to my mother, the current Secretary of Defense traveling on a military aircraft is bad because … fuck if I know, she didn’t (or couldn’t) explain why it was such a scandal. I do know she didn’t have a problem with anything Bush Jr. or any of his cronies did. Only the evil, America-destroying Obama and his minions. 

    “Debating” my mother wouldn’t do any good. She doesn’t debate. She says something stupid, I ignore it (most of the time) and try to change the subject (or someone else does) and we move on. You can’t debate people who say stupid shit on purpose. And they won’t admit it’s stupid. They’ve convinced themselves that what they’re saying makes sense, like when somebody thinks they can sing and they really, really can’t. I don’t know what kind of cognitive dissonance can make people supposedly believe the stupid shit Republicans believe, I just hope it never happens to me. 

  • Lori

    It’s both distressing and comforting, in that “misery loves company” kind of way, to hear someone else describe my experience so exactly. Imagine living with your mom full time and you have my life. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Ugh, my sympathies, such as they are. It disturbs me to imagine how life would be like if I still lived with my parents, now that they’ve gone off the deep end after living in Texas and watching Fox News near-continuously.

    The last telephone conversation I had with my mother, she, as a self-proclaimed atheist, argued that she believed Obama was the Antichrist and cited his memetic popularity and unnaturally engaging speech mannerisms as proof.

    “Have you ever listened to him speak, and how people get so into him? Even I do it! It’s just not natural. I swear, Sam, it’s some kind of mind control.”

  • Tricksterson

    If she’s an atheist (is she still?) how can she even believe in Anti-Christ as a valid concept, much less that Obama is it.?

  • AnonymousSam

    I wish I knew, so that I could better debate it. I think she cherry-picks what she wants to believe — she doesn’t believe in organized religion, but UFOs? Atlantis? Merpeople? Anunaki? Reincarnation? All good. Perfectly plausible. Apparently atheism for her just means opposing theism while constructing a worldview that still encompasses the things she can’t grasp about life.

    Which is, at least in theory, something I’m not necessarily opposed to, but it does make her all the harder to approach for a conversation that doesn’t end in her sighing in frustration and uttering the words “I don’t know, Sam,” in that tone which says between the lines, “Why don’t you understand how perfectly logical this is?”

    The most progress I’ve made so far is getting her to stop insisting that evolution is a false theory and that we were created by aliens. She didn’t quite grasp that whole “several billions of years” part of evolution.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Has your mother been reading Left Behind? (<_<)

  • AnonymousSam

    Both of us read the series at the same time, actually. So “yes,” but unfortunately, that’s not the entirety of what’s to blame.

  • Lori

    My folks don’t believe that Obama is literally the anti-Christ in the L&J sense. That’s not because they have a less severe case of Fox News induced ridiculousness than your mom does, it’s because their religious beliefs do not include a single, literal anti-Christ in the L&J sense. They do believe that Obama has the “spirit of anti-Christ” in that he is clearly not a Christian and is opposed to The Lord. (I think they’re doing a better job reading their book than L&J do, but that’s really not much comfort.)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    argued that she believed Obama was the Antichrist

    “So, you’re voting for him, then?  The Antichrist has to seize power before Jesus can return, after all.”

    (Semi-seriously, WOW.  Unless we can develop a vaccine against Fox News, I fear for the future of humanity.)

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Conservatives, on the other hand, might see the revenue from a carbon tax as a substitute for capital gains taxes or corporate taxes that they believe stifle economic growth. That’s their thing.

    It’s a “thing” that is factually wrong. When the poor and working and middle classes have more money, they recycle it into the economy, thus leading to a healthier economy. Rich people don’t. They already can buy what everything they need and want, so they sit on their money. These things are actually proven facts. A healthy democracy would acknowledge them as readily as it acknowledged climate change.

    How did this happen, anyway? How did conservatives become the blind lapdogs of big business and rich people at the expense of everything else? (Thus hurting even big business and rich people in the long term.) That’s not a traditionally conservative position. I think we need to stop calling them “conservatives” — the Democrats are the actual conservatives in the U.S. 

  • Carstonio

     How are you defining conservative? The traditional definition is opposition to change. But one party is basically defending privilege based on economic status and personal characteristics, and the other professes opposition to privilege but doesn’t do enough to reduce it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NR2MMC4EJXJWJMLH6IF457XL64 Alex B

    To quote Cracked: “Because money makes you nod your head at inappropriate times”

  • Julian Elson

    The Onion’s Stan Kelly drew about this (warning: it is almost impossible to tell if Kelly cartoons are parody or standard right-wing stuff):

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RAPF5V3YPOUWAZGAJ2VCQM76Q Alicia

    It’s hard to do a parody of political cartoons. They are so superficial, smug, simple-minded, and heavy-handed that they really can’t be exaggerated for humorous effect.

  • sigmabody

    Global warming has been politicized; it’s nearly impossible to have a rational debate about possible actions (government or otherwise) related to global warming without getting into politics. This is unfortunate, since there’s a lot of science to suggest warming is happening, and although it may not be human-caused, there are valid items for possible consideration (eg: should we try to terraform the Earth to counter what are likely natural cycles in temperature change?).

    Want someone to blame? Think back, if you can, to the singular person responsible for politicizing global warming for his own benefit, and through his intentional distortions convincing people that scientific fact was subjective and arbitrary. If history is just, that person will be considered the #1 enemy of the environment, for turning what might have been a rational scientific debate into a partisan political mess. That singular person, who’s name rhymes with foul gore, has done more damage to rational debate on scientific issues in the US than any other entity, religious or otherwise. May karma catch up to him some day.

  • Daughter

    Just how did Al Gore turn this into a partisan political debate, other than by being a Democrat talking about the issue? And how did he do this for his own benefit? The environment had long been an interest of Gore’s, before he was even VP (he even wrote a book about it).

  • Carstonio

    The fossil fuel companies have stood to benefit far more from stonewalling environmental legislation, which is why they’ve financed the “maverick” self-appointed experts to deliberately throw doubt onto climate change.

  • sigmabody

     Al Gore took the scientific evidence, and distorted it for his own benefit. For example, he took the (then and still) controversial hypothesis that the observable warming was a result of increased CO2 emissions, and made that the “objective” basis for promoting government programs like carbon credits. This, in turn, was to his direct benefit, as the first and largest provider of said credits. In effect, he took the scientific data, added his own BS, co-mingled the two to fool people into thinking his agenda-driven theory was [equally] supported by factual evidence, then used it to hawk his snake oil. In doing so, he not only turned Global Warming from a scientific area of exploration into a religious partisan minefield, but set back science in public policy for decades.

    Moreover, he did such a good job promoting his religion that many otherwise intelligent and reasonable people got caught up in thinking it was based in something more than agenda-driven fantasy. This, in turn, continues to cause otherwise rational people to made unsubstantiated, dumb assertions in defense of the ideology, and condemn actual scientific analysis with derogatory terminology, such as labeling rational analysis as “climate denial”. It’s not the first the the interjection of religion into public policy has made a complete mess of a situation, and unfortunately it probably won’t be the last.

  • swbarnes2

    For example, he took the (then and still) controversial hypothesis that the observable warming was a result of increased CO2 emissions,

    You are doing denialism wrong.

    It’s  a stone-cold fact that were are taking high energy long carbon chains (trees, coal, gas, oil), breaking them up for their energy, and putting the CO2 into the air.  That’s not controversial.  And it’s just a physical property of CO2 that it is transparent to visible light, and traps heat.  There’s no controversy there.

    Denialists have to deny, but you are denying the totally wrong thing.  You are supposed to say that even if it is warming, and even if that makes West Nile virus endemic to New England, we still shouldn’t do anything about it.

  • sigmabody

    I’m sure I’m not up-to-date on my denialism 101… although to be fair I never claimed to be a denialist. What I will claim is that using a couple specific chemical reactions and physical properties as the sole basis to substantiate a very grand hypothesis about an extremely complex interdependent system such as the ecosystem is akin to saying that the Bible was really written and has real words, therefore it is all 100% factual.

    Your religion isn’t any more (or less) valid than anyone else’s religion, in my opinion, and you’re certainly entitled to it. It’s a testament to the susceptibility of humans to belief systems that you think your religion is “truth” or “fact”, just as many believers in most religions do. As I said, though, your (and others) inability to separate science from religion in this area is really the root cause of the inability to have rational debate about public policy with regard to Global Warming.

  • Joshua

    although to be fair I never claimed to be a denialist. 

    No-one claims to be a denialist, because they’re deluded lying idiots. As here.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Lost your job with Big Tobacco, eh?

  • Lori


    If history is just, that person will be considered the #1 enemy of the
    environment, for turning what might have been a rational scientific
    debate into a partisan political mess.  

    What reality were you living in where there was a rational scientific debate, or any real hope for one, before a certain someone came along and screwed it up? It’s not this reality, that’s for sure and I’m curious about what other differences there are between the two. Does your world have shrimp?*

    *Obligatory Buffy reference.

  • MaryKaye

    The_L1985 wrote:

    But does this guy mean that, on a regular basis, polar bears go down, crossbreed, and that….the offspring somehow go back to being polar bears?

    Stickleback do this.  There are saltwater stickleback up and down the Pacific Coast on both sides.  In nearby freshwater there are freshwater stickleback, with distinctly different morphology (bony plates on the sides) and other adaptations to freshwater.  They look like different species.  However, if you connect a fishless lake to the ocean, within 7 stickleback generations or so it will contain freshwater stickleback, and in terms of their overall genome they will be related, as all of the freshwater populations seem to be, not to other freshwater populations but to the nearby saltwater population.

    A speaker at the Evolution Society meetings called this the “Star Trek Transporter” effect.  The adaptations needed to be a freshwater stickleback are present in the saltwater population at a low frequency (probably they are recessive) and can be quickly reassembled when the opportunity arises.

    I know nothing about the genetics of polar bears, but it does not seem completely impossible that such an effect could happen between them and brown bears.   20th century biology had a monstrous prejudice against hybrids and hybridization, but perhaps it’s not as bad as all that.
    I would hate to have to count on it, though.

  • Gotchaye

    I didn’t see anybody talking about the DNC in other threads here, and what I’ve got to say is relevant to the topic.

    I had a long, wide-ranging argument with a super-conservative friend of mine last night after Clinton’s (fantastic) speech that opened with him being taken aback at just how brazenly the Democrats were lying to the public.  With the media’s help, of course.  And the Republicans just don’t have the guts to play as dirty (this is mostly why he doesn’t like the Republicans; they’re wimps that let the Democrats push them around).

    He’s a smart guy, but these are his facts, and (unconsciously, I think) he was Gish Galloping all over the place in response to my attempts to explain how particular things Clinton said weren’t lies or how particular things Republicans say are.  The sense I get is that the Democrats are so wrong on everything that particular examples of times when they may arguably have something right are pretty much irrelevant (they’re a drop in the bucket of unspecified wrongness).  In short order we were arguing about whether or not Europe’s economic troubles are basically due to socialized health care.

  • Tricksterson

    Aye, I remember when “cap and trade” was, if not a conservative, at any rate a libertarian idea.  I first came across it in Reason magazine.  Now one can debate whether it’s a good response to global warming or not, IIRC the EU tried it with shaky results, but at least it was a response but then the Democrats started talking about it and, it instantly became anathema, in fact the simple fact that it was “a European idea” (which it wasn’t) became a reason not to even consider it.

  • Emcee, cubed

    For example, he took the (then and still) controversial
    hypothesis that the observable warming was a result of increased CO2

    Um. For anyone who actually deals with the actual science of climate change, this is not now, and has not for a very long time, been controversial. It is actual fact. The only people who are creating “controversy” over this idea are people who stand to lose something when we try to address the fact, or people who don’t want to acknowledge that they personally are part of the problem, so deny there is a problem. But this is the same “controversy” between Evolution and Creationism.

  • sigmabody

    I will leave the topic of what is justified by actual scientific research as an exercise for the reader; it’s not hard to figure out, if you’re paying attention. Instead, I’ll offer a layman’s distinction between scientific study and religion, for consideration. The former accepts alternative theories, tests hypotheses, rejects claims without basis, and is open to constant revision as new data becomes available. The latter presents a complete story as irrefutable “fact”, resists attempts at verification, minimizes dissenting viewpoints, and demonizes those who question it.

    I would agree that it is, in effect, the same “controversy” between Evolution and Creationism, although perhaps not as you perceive it.

  • NiceCajun

    Back to the bears:  whether we agree or not, whether we discuss or not, change will happen and in due time there will be no disagreement.  Just lots of folks having to move from the coastal areas and many, if not all, dead bears (and other species)
    Secondly:Intrade, today:Obama 63.7 per centRomney  40.3 per centhahahahahaha heindeedy    hahahaha

  • Julian Elson

    sigmabody writes:

    “[Scientific study] accepts alternative theories, tests hypotheses, rejects claims without basis, and is open to constant revision as new data becomes available.”

    “What I will claim is that using a couple specific chemical reactions and physical properties as the sole basis to substantiate a very grand hypothesis about an extremely complex interdependent system such as the ecosystem is akin to saying that the Bible was really written and has real words, therefore it is all 100% factual.”
    Real scientific challenges to current climate science wouldn’t just say, “well, it’s all a very complex interdependent system.” (Which is basically what you did.) They would actually discuss those complexities: would increased carbon dioxide concentrations lead to more plant growth? Would vaporization of water lead to more cloud cover which could increase the Earth’s albedo? Conversely, real challenges to current climate science might also challenge it from the other side: maybe the current consensus is underestimating the speed of global warming. Maybe the release of methane from tundra will accelerate the process more than climate scientists are accounting for.

    Of course, such challenges and new theories are constantly being incorporated into the corpus of current climate science, so it’s unlikely that some idea beyond the basics of “more CO2 = more radiative forcing” is just being ignored and you’re the first to think of it. Still, there’s a lot of uncertainty still (on both sides of current estimates).

    You might plead that you’re not a climate scientist, so you don’t know the details of the challenges to current climate science, but the problem is that every denier post I’ve seen has used a structure similar to yours: don’t say what’s actually wrong with current climate science, just allude to uncertainty and skepticism, attack specific personalities (like Al Gore and Rajendra Pachuari) involved in climate science and/or policy activism.

    You aren’t being scientific just because you say “well maybe P53 doesn’t induce apoptosis in cells with damaged DNA. Let’s be open to alternative theories and the revision as new data becomes available. Apoptosis is a very complex process and there are numerous enzymes with interdependent activating and inhibiting effects in every cell.” You have to show that there’s  evidence against P53 inducing apoptosis in cells with damaged DNA.

  • sigmabody

    I’d agree with almost everything you are saying. The issue, at point, is that in current climate science, there is broad consensus on climate change occurring, and broad disagreement on causation. For the implied causation hypothesis to be valid (ie: that man-made CO2 emissions are a significant factor in climate change), one would need to establish a historical baseline of [cyclical] change, then show statistically-significant variation from the expected variable range established by historical patterns, and posit a causality theory which could be shown to be more plausible than alternative theories (eg: variations in ground cover owing to human construction are radiating more heat into the lower atmosphere than natural ground cover). To the best of published unbiased research, at least that which I have read, the latter two points are far from consensus in the scientific community.

    All that being said, though, that’s not even the root problem (imho). The root problem would be the politicization of the hypothesis, before or absent the scientific data to support it. This has poisoned the water, so to speak, of the public consciousness, especially for those of us not indoctrinated into the religion. Thus, whereas normally a mere majority opinion might be sufficient to establish relative validity, in this case a proponent would need to overcome the hurtle of disbelief that was created the first time the snake oil was pitched. Which brings us to the current state, wherein attempts to engage in rational debate and analysis are typically shouted down (virtually or otherwise, see Joshua’s post for reference), and you have an intractable divide on roughly ideological lines. C’est la vie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    The disagreement about the cause of global warming is not broad, not among people aware of and honestly engaging the basic facts of the situation.  People and organizations who’d stand to lose wealth or power if they accepted those facts have spent a good deal of time and money trying to pretend otherwise.  Find me two or three professional climatologists arguing that the steadily rising temperatures and shrinking ice caps aren’t related to human industrial pollution, two or three climatologists who aren’t on the payroll of a coal company, right-wing think tank, or Koch brother.  

  • arcseconds

    There isn’t broad disagreement amongst the experts on causation.   Details of the causation, yes, but not the principle cause.

    If a plane crashes we consult aircraft engineers; if we’ve abdominal pain, we consult a doctor; if we’ve an idea for a new mobile app we consult a programmer.  If we’ve consulted every doctor in town and they all say it’s bowel cancer, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to our drinking buddy with a lapsed first-aid certificate who tells us tomato juice will fix it.

    Anway, you seem to think that your handwaving about complex systems allows you to ignore the known and well-understood fact that absorbing and radiating substantially more infrared radiation than nitrogen and oxygen is a fundamental physical property of CO2. 

    (It’s so well-understood that it can be demonstrated from first principles.)

    Knowing only this alone entails that if you increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, you will increase the temperature of the planet.

    The temperature of the planet has increased.

    The CO2 content of the atmosphere has increased.

     So CO2 certainly does account for at minimum some of the warming.  Being wrong about that is like being wrong about the earth having a magnetic field or wrong about how refrigerators work.

    In fact, if the planet hadn’t warmed, then we’d have a puzzle on our hands: why, when the atmosphere is absorbing more infrared radiation, hasn’t the earth heated up?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    one would need to establish a historical baseline of [cyclical] change,
    then show statistically-significant variation from the expected variable
    range established by historical patterns

    Surprise, I saw a chart like this back in the 1970s/early 1980s in a Highlights magazine, when I was a kid.

    Not exactly peer reviewed stuff, but well before any claims of political ‘massaging’ of the CO2 numbers.

  • AnonymousSam

    *Nods* Studies have been going on for decades now. It’s only relatively recently that it went from “yes, this is a thing and we need to stop it” to “it’s a myth perpetrated by liberal fascists to DESTROY CAPITALISM!” I’m not sure how much of a consensus we really need (or, for that matter, fail to already have) before we start at least making precautionary changes to the way we treat the environment.

  • Tricksterson

    I first heard of global warming in the 80s when it was still politically neutral.

  • Donalbain

     You know who was one of the first major western political figures to accept the reality of human caused climate change and the need to mitigate it?

    Margaret Fucking Thatcher.

  • TheFaithfulStone

     Those three words should never be used together.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     I remember seeing political cartoons mocking George Bush SENIOR for his unending ‘Further Study’ food-dragging on global warming. 

    That would’ve been 1988 – 1992.  So, a minimum of TWENTY YEARS AGO.  How much more Further Study do we need before we are allowed to start trying to save the environment?

  • EllieMurasaki

    First a Koch brother has to realize that there’s more money in saving the environment than in wrecking it.

    I am not at all convinced that that is actually true, which decreases significantly the chances of getting him to realize that it is.

  • Donalbain

    To be fair, the idea of humans causing climate change is something of a contraversial proposition. I mean, on one side you have the scientific academies of most nations, you have the vast majority of scientists operating in the field, you have have a vast number of scientific papers. And equally, on the other hand you have the oil companies.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    People used to think humans DID induce climate change.

    “The rain follows the plow.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I also find it curious that even after Huckabee’s totally douchebaggily dismissive statement regarding women’s traumas, confirmed Republicans here haven’t thrown up their hands in utter disgust.

    That could be your sister or mother or girlfriend or wife, for chrissakes. Do you want some asshole telling them they should think of a child conceived via rape as “still someone special”?

  • Robert Martin