Thursday, November 04, 2004

Election Reflection

Americans have chosen to be ruled by ultra-conservatives for another four years. Like many others, I'm very concerned by this.

I'm concerned about what it means for science. We've already witnessed the political vetting of science advisors, censorship of politically unfavourable reports (esp. regarding environmental issues), and the spreading of lies to further the conservative agenda (e.g. against condoms and abortion). I doubt it will get any better - and it may well get worse, if the Bush administration carries out their threat to punish scientists for speaking out against them during the campaign. The American Journal of Bioethics blog offers a more specific forecast.

I'm concerned about what it means for secularism. The separation of church and state in America appears to be eroding. Faith-based initiatives, spending millions on intercessory-prayer studies, the increasingly-vocal "Intelligent Design" movement... Bush senior once said that atheists should be considered neither citizens nor patriots - you surely couldn't get away with saying that about any other minority group. America may be becoming a "Christian nation", a nation where atheists are persected and even killed for their (lack of) beliefs. Bush's re-election brings America one step closer to that theocratic dystopia. (I hope I'm just overreacting here, but religious extremists really scare me - Christians no less than Muslims.)

Most of all, I'm concerned about what this election result means for morality. People are saying the key issue in this election was "moral values", and that this overwhelmingly favoured Bush. That's really scary. It suggests that there's a large portion of the American populace whose moral compasses are completely fucked up. (A point made more eloquently at Obsidian Wings.)

The ultra-conservatives brought us Abu Ghraib. They sent an innocent Arab-Canadian to Syria to be tortured, and they've tried to pass a bill to make this common practice with terrorist suspects. They're even better at killing Iraqi civilians than was Saddam Hussein.

But geez, I guess none of that compares to the horrors of gay sex. Bigots turned out in droves to enforce their twisted values. Now they can rest safe in the knowledge that marriage has been protected from those who want to marry. (Though I do have a bit more sympathy towards those who oppose abortion, the other big conservative 'moral' issue. I think their position is misguided, but at least not evil.)

Many have noted that we can't blame Bush anymore. He was chosen by a majority of voters. We'll have to change them instead:
Ultimately we will have to fight values with values. I honestly think we have to figure out a way to convince more rural, heartland Americans to think like good secular liberals -- i.e., to come to celebrate (or at least accept) differences in race, sexual preference, religious belief, and so on. (I said it wouldn't be easy.)

Crooked Timber discusses whether Democrats should instead make more concessions to religion (and conservative religious values). I hope it doesn't come to that.

On a more positive note, at least Bush will have to deal with the consequences of his own mistakes (especially the mess in Iraq, and the huge economic deficit). Though some have suggested that conservatives will still find a way to blame the liberals anyway.

P.S. Go read Timothy Burke's take on the 'moral values' issue. It's the best post-election post I've seen yet.

Update: Fafblog is brilliant as ever:
FB: Now everybody up til the election thought the biggest issues were gonna be Iraq an the war on terror but funny thing, it turned out it was more important to stick it to gays. Huh! What do you guys think about that?
FALWELL: Well if you think about it, homosexuals ARE a sort of terrorist, Fafnir. Terrorists... of the family.
FB: Not the family! That's where we keep all our babies!
JESUS: [bursting in] Stop, stop! This is obscene!
FB: Jesus, please. We already did your interview.
JESUS: [overturning interview tables] I told you to love your neighbors as yourselves, not withhold their civil rights! I said blessed are the peacemakers, not the warmongers! I said my kingdom was not of this earth, not to make laws and bribe officials and overrun governments in my name!
DOBSON: Can you please have security remove this man?
[FB:] Why does Jesus hate America?


  1. I am a student in (and citizen of) the US and though your comments do have some evidential grounding, I fear they are much exagerrated. I am no fan of Bush and (like you) am worried about the influence of his religious devotion, positions on social issues, etc. However, (1) he is not an "ultra-conservative", (2) science will continue forward just fine (though perhaps slightly impeded), (3) there will be no murdering of atheists (are you serious?), (4) America isn't even close to a "theocratic dystopia", and so on. It saddens me when seemingly intelligent people receive their information selectively (since when are internet blogs a reliable source of info...they often seem to be the opposite of fair, informed, and accurate) from biased sources, and who come to hasty, polemical conclusions (this is especially true of "analytic philosophers" who somehow leave their careful, critical minds behind when discussing ironic). Now, I don'e mean to personally attack Richard (trust me), it's just that I am sick of such reactions and I am bombarded enough here in the US with ridiculously one-sided, ill-informed propaganda. The truth is just as far from the "far-right" as it is from the "far-left". There is cause for concern with the current administration (though I'm not sure Kerry would do that much better), but flinging irresponsible "facts" and creating political/moral straw-men around is not the solution. These issues just are not all that clear. We need to check our emotions and check our sources. 

    Posted by Brian

  2. 1) I wasn't just talking about Bush. The American political scene has taken a definite turn further towards conservativism this election. (And they weren't exactly 'liberal' to begin with.) I wouldn't have thought this one a controversial point.

    2) If science is being impeded then that is not "just fine". Scientific progress will still be made, sure. It's not the end of the world, sure. But it is a bad thing. I don't think there's any denying that either. There is some cause for concern here. That's all I was saying - along with some specific examples of problem areas, which you seem to be dismissing as mere "facts"(!?).

    3) Of course atheist-killing is not going to become national policy or anything. But it has happened (just follow the link), and that is indicative of the cultural climate in America. Nothing like that would ever happen here in NZ. Atheism isn't tolerated well in some parts of the US, and electing Bush isn't going to help that.

    (4) Sure, America isn't a theocratic dystopia yet (and hopefully never will be). All I said was that Bush brings them one step closer. If you listen to what some of his (more extreme) supporters want, it's downright scary. Kerry would have been better for secularism. Perhaps my rhetoric was exaggerated, but the general point is (I think) a valid one.

    So, overall, I don't think what I wrote was "ill-informed propaganda". Perhaps my tone was a bit inappropriate in places, but the content still strikes me as justified. 

    Posted by Richard

  3. 1) Conservative, yes. "Ultra-conservative" (whatever that means), no.
    2) I said "science will continue foward just fine" and if impeded at all, only slightly (e.g. limits on stem cell research, etc). I did not say it was "just fine" if science is impeded generally. I'm a (semi-religious) devotee of science just as much as you. Science has and will continue relatively unabated into the future...dont' worry, the universities and private research institutions are not under some sort of "big brother" government agency watch.
    3) Yes an atheist has been killed by a radical fundamentalist. That is unfortunate and sad. But if you think that ONE extreme (and rare) example is anything close to being an indicator of the cultural climate in America, you not only have faulty inductive skills, but also a widely off-base perception of America (trust me, I live here). After all, the murderer wasn't congradulated, but condemned.
    4) Just because America might be "one step closer" to a theocratic dystopia in some vague minimal sense, so what? It's still incredibly far from ever being anything like a theocratic dystopia. What's your point? Was France's decision to ban Muslim headresses from schools a significant "step closer" to becoming a state which murders and rapes all religious folk? My point is simply that your language is (a) misleading even when sufficiently qualified (b) overgeneralized.

    Like I said before, just be careful about one's sources (blogs? extreme cases?), and don't let one's secular-moralist zeal cloud one's critical reasoning faculties. 

    Posted by Brian


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