A dangerous mind

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum recently won the primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, solidifying himself as one of two serious contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Early on in his campaign Santorum was behind in the polls and many people, including myself, did not consider him to be a significant candidate. However over the past months he has gained popularity among many on the Right, a majority of these being Evangelicals and traditional Roman Catholics, due to his fundamental religious and socially conservative views. Although Mitt Romney remains the seemingly inevitable Republican nominee the recent popularization of Rick Santorum says a great deal about the values of the politically conservative in America.

The views championed by Rick Santorum form a virtual laundry list of the most misogynistic, discriminatory, sanctimonious, antiquated, and suppressive political positions in the American repertoire. In 2001, as senator, he preposed an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act, now known as the Santorum Amendment, that would promote intelligent design and call into question the legitimacy of evolution in public schools and was placed in the language of the act, although it carried no weight of law. By preposing this amendment Santorum clearly aligned himself with an irrational, pseudoscientific minority and exposed not only his own scientific illiteracy but also his outright rejection of the proven consensus view within the scientific community.

In February Santorum expressed his opinion on higher education in an interview with Glenn Beck. He called colleges “indoctrination mills” where students are purposefully secularized and claimed this was the reason President Obama had called for more Americans to seek higher education. According to Santorum universities are dangerous because they call faith into question and attempt to inform young adults in a secular, ideologically neutral setting. For him nothing could be worse than exposing the religious beliefs of America’s youth to the light of reason and critical analysis. What exactly his alternative to the modern university system would be is not clear to me, but whatever such a mind could envision could do nothing but harm higher education in this country.

Regarding contraception and sexual freedom Santorum’s views are positively Medieval. In October of 2011 he gave an interview to an Evangelical blog called Caffeinated Thoughts. In that interview he stated clearly that contraception is “not okay” because according to his personal interpretation of religious morality using contraception allows people license to engage in sexual activities that are abnormal, such as sex outside of marriage. According to Santorum it should be the president’s responsibility to regulate the personal, sexual lives of the American citizenship and therefore he would hinder the availability of contraception, eliminate proper sex education, and deny homosexuals the right to marry. To promulgate his personal, religious agenda he would attempt to abuse the presidency and infringe on the basic rights of Americans.

A great deal more could be said about Rick Santorum’s views on the separation of church and state (he doesn’t think it should be absolute), foreign policy (he would bomb Iran if they did not comply to American demands), environmental issues (he called the consensus scientific view on climate change “junk science”), and energy (he would “drill everywhere” for oil). I believe it can be said with certainty that this man’s mind is dangerous and therefore I could not be more thankful that Rick Santorum’s chances of obtaining the Republican nomination are very slim. What disturbs me is that a former United States senator and presidential candidate could be so close-minded, prejudiced, and utterly dim. And what disturbs me even more is that so many people in this country could entertain the notion that such a man should be president.

Arrogance and antiscience

Suppose a doctor, a family physician, informs you that you are displaying the symptoms of liver cancer and strongly recommends that you visit a liver cancer specialist to receive proper testing and diagnosis. You make the rational decision and visit the specialist who does blood work and takes a biopsy. After these tests the specialist informs you that you have Stage II liver cancer and require immediate surgery and subsequent chemotherapy. You make the rational decision and allow the cancer specialist to perform the surgery and treatment.

Why trust a family physician or liver cancer specialist? Why go through with the tests, surgery, and treatment? Because, as we can all agree, those are the rational decisions to make. We trust medical professionals because they are extensively trained and make recommendations based on empirical testing and evidences, and we allow them to take our lives in their hands because we are unqualified to treat ourselves.

Geologists inform us that the Earth is over 4 billion years old. Paleontologists inform us that eukaryotic life originated over 1.8 billion years ago. Anthropologists inform us that anatomically modern human beings evolved approximately 200,000 years ago. These scientists are professionals in their fields, are extensively trained, and base their conclusions on empirical testing and evidences. So why is it that so many Americans reject the conclusions of these scientists? Why do so many of us believe that we know better?

The United States is rife with antiscience. Based predominantly on religious beliefs, scores of Americans reject empirically verifiable scientific facts such as the age of the Earth, the origins of life, and human evolutionary history. Many of our politicians, including the majority of the candidates in the current presidential campaign, are not only scientifically illiterate but aggressively opposed to many of the important intellectual consequences of science. How else could travesties like intelligent design be seriously considered in American public education?

Arrogance is the root cause of antiscience. It is arrogance that causes fundamental religious adherents and the scientifically illiterate to deny proven scientific facts in favor of ideology. It is arrogance that causes so many Americans to distrust the scientific community and the invaluable information it provides. The medical profession that we exploit every day would not exist if not for the modern scientific method. Too many Americans, both politicians and private citizens, take the methods and products of science for granted all while they assault the most important information science provides us about our world, our universe, and ourselves.

American bigotry

What precisely is wrong with same-sex marriage? Why has the United States government kept this freedom from the LGBT community? Why are fundamental religious adherents and right-wing Republicans so afraid? What do they fear will happen if same-sex marriage is legalized throughout America? How long will this country proselytize the ideals of freedom, equality, and liberty to the world while these same ideals are suppressed at home?

Denying a principle human right exclusively on the basis of personal opinion and prejudice is simply bigotry. Denying the LGBT community the right to marriage is no different than denying women the right to vote or denying African Americans the right to attend public universities. This nation begrudgingly made social progress by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and although these laws by no means eliminated bigotry they paved the way for future equality. Legal recognition of same-sex marriages is the next step that must be taken in the war against bigotry in the United States.

I did not marry my wife because of our ability to procreate. I married my wife because I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her. Why should anyone be denied the right to legally unite themselves to the person they love? Bigotry can not be overcome in the United States until we stop discriminating based on archaic and anachronistic religious doctrines. Our government must be secularized so the equal rights denied by religion can be guaranteed to all of us.

Authoritarianism and the bomb

Nuclear weapons are one of the most imminent dangers to the continual survival of humanity as we know it. Never before in history has a technology had such a potential for mass death and destruction. According to estimates by the Federation of American Scientists there are over 20,000 nuclear weapons across the globe, 8,500 of which are the property of the United States government. Currently at least eight nations have first strike capability and more have begun the process of developing nukes. For any nation-state that wishes to be a political power in the current international community, possession of or access to a nuclear arsenal is a must.

After the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in 1945 humanity was promised that nuclear technology would change our world for the better. Nuclear weapons represented the pinnacle of scientific progress, and some believed that they would prevent another world war. The possibilities seemed limitless. Over 70 years later many of the promises made regarding nuclear technology have failed to come true. Instead, we have been left to contend with the most lethal military technology ever produced in history.

The destructive nature of nuclear weapons demands they be contained within an authoritarian, hierarchical system, to ensure proper care, maintenance, protection, and possible utilization. Nuclear weapons can not exist securely in a democratic system, in fact their hazardous qualities would increase exponentially if their use was subjected to the democratic process. Nuclear weapons have an inherent political ideology, and that ideology is authoritarian. In the United States, as in all nuclear-weapon states, control of the nuclear arsenal rests in the hands of the military, which is itself a hierarchical and undemocratic organization, and not in the hands of the people or their elected representatives.

I believe humanity should live in a world free of nuclear weapons. No technology of such a destructive nature should exist, and no government should possess such a technology. The United States and the global community must work towards the goal of total nuclear disarmament. Americans, as the citizens of a nuclear-weapons state, are living in an authoritarian technocracy. This country is subject to the authority of a single technological entity and as long as our government continues to hold nuclear weapons they will dominate our politics and policy.

The Tree of Liberty

“The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” – Thomas Jefferson

If there is indeed a tree of liberty it has been well refreshed in the past year. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, and other Middle Eastern states have been engaged in protests, demonstrations, revolutions, and civil war. According to an article published by U.S. News and World Report last November, an estimated 35,000 or more have died in the various revolutions and protests of the Arab Spring. Many more have died since November. Plenty of blood for Jefferson’s tree.

Our country’s most eminent Founding Father was correct in asserting that revolution, and the bloodshed it invariably brings, is sometimes necessary. Dictators or tyrannical governments that take liberty, peace, health, or the right to life away from the citizenship should by all means be overthrown. Tyrannical entities are not overcome without some resistance, and often not without a great deal of very fierce resistance. Principled people always seem to be willing to fight and die to end a dictatorship in any form.

I can not claim to be anything close to an expert on Middle Eastern politics of the last century. I do know that Libya was ruled by Muammar Gaddafi for 34 years. Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali siezed power in a coup and remained president for 24 years. Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt for nearly 30 years. As of this month one of these dictators is dead and two have been ousted from power. Massive riots are currently taking place in Syria where president Bashar al-Assad has sanctioned the murder of over 5,000 protestors. The authoritarian government in that country may soon fall. The Arab dissidents that shed their blood in these numerous revolutions have won major victories and may soon win more. The promise of representative government in the Middle East seems very close.

Unfortunately there is no promise of freedom in the toppling of a dictatorship. Many dictators rallied support and seized power from former dictatorships, all the while promising freedom to the people. The Arab Spring may be a very positive move towards liberty for millions of Arabs who have lived under tyrants for generations. But one very potent enemy of freedom remains in the Middle East: Islam.

I feel I must say that I do not believe all Muslims are stupid, barbarous, ignorant, superstitious, or opposed to freedom (at least not any more than many Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc). I do however believe that the theology and ideology of modern fundamental Islam promotes tyranny, subservience, and devaluation of human life. Pan-Islamists, Muslim hard-liners, and terrorists wait in the wings as revolution topples governments across the Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood has gained serious influence in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria, where in some cases they had been previously criminalized. Rebel commanders during the Libyan civil war claimed that a large number of their recruits had links to al-Qaeda.

Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood claim to support democracy and political freedom. But how can they support freedom while simultaneously supporting the institutionalization of fundamental Muslim law and the unity of Muslims under a single state, possibly a new caliphate? The National Transitional Council of Libya promises a new constitution and political liberties. But how can liberty be promised when those who fought to oust Gaddafi have ties to a terrorist organization that promotes the creation of a new pan-Islamic theocracy and is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocents across the globe?

Only time will tell if the Arab Spring will bring about positive political changes in the Middle East. Blood continues to be shed, but is it truly for the cause of liberty? Is the Arab Spring the same as what Thomas Jefferson spoke of? If idealistic revolution leads to theocratic tyranny and the continuation of ignorance and ideological servitude I do not believe the price in human life was worth paying. My hope is that this will not be the case.