July 17, 2013

Anti-science sentiment on the Left

It's no secret that many conservatives, or at least their congressional representatives, are at odds with facts on which scientists agree, from evolution to global warming to whether raped women can get pregnant. But the left should hardly claim the scientific high ground without addressing certain anti-science movements in liberal ideology.

One common belief is that we liberals are so in touch with our bodies that we know when something hurts/helps us even when medical science disagrees. Examples of this include the gluten-free movement, advocates in the existence of chronic Lyme disease, and the belief in homeopathy. Intelligent individuals allow advocacy of these unscientific diseases and remedies to become such an integral part of their identity that changing their opinions in the face of contradicting evidence (or lack of supporting evidence) would amount to losing part of their sense of self. I do not have proof that backers of these ideas skew to the left politically, and if presented with evidence that this isn't true, I would have to change my mind. But it's been true in my experience.

Another common belief is that people were better off in the past. Strains of this belief run through a lot of environmentalist thinking. While liberals are all for moral progress, they often are hesitant to support technological progress. Kevin Kelly recently wrote an excellent book on technological progress (review will come when I finish it), which addresses concerns that such progress brings more harm than good. I will defer to him in countering these arguments, but I want to point out that this hesitancy is purely conservative, even if held by liberals. For being "liberal" is not the same as being "progressive".

It seems to me that progressives accept change as inevitable and try to push it in as good a direction as possible, while conservatives try to slow it down or even reverse it (note that by "conservatives" I do not necessarily mean political conservatives, though those groups often do overlap). Note that both groups see a potentially dangerous future which they try to avoid. Historically it seems clear that conservatives cannot succeed, but that does not ensure success for progressives.

Right now the generic liberal position seems to be progressive morally but conservative technologically. This would pair nicely with the (politically) conservative position being conservative morally (which it is) and progressive technologically, but this last position certainly isn't uniform. While capitalism is an element of technological progress, so is the science through which we learn about global warming and evolution, so the (politically) conservative position seems split on technological progress.

This does not seem to bode well. We can only hope that we will do our best to steer the technological stampede, instead of planting ourselves in its way, only to be trampled.

No comments:

Post a Comment