Richard Hofstadter . . .won a
Pulitzer in 1964 for his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.
Starting with the colonies, Hofstadter shows how the vast underlying stratum of anti-elite, anti-reason, anti-science Americans has frequently erupted into political and cultural action.
These are folks who never heard of the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and do not experience a lot of reason, logic or the empirical method in their daily lives. They live by “common sense,” personal relationships and superstition.
They have always been with us, and there are a lot of them.
Their outburst into today’s anti-science global warming mania would just be the latest chapter in Hofstadter’s book.
You might think that the revolution of Internet-blogging-networking technology would work to spread sound scientific knowledge more broadly, but you would be wrong. The new technology spreads a cacophony of voices in which the pre-Enlightenment folks are not only equal but more numerous and dominant than the voices of reason.
Journalist Charles Pierce not long ago wrote an essay on “Idiot America,” followed by a book of that name, in which he argued that “the rise of Idiot America today represents — for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power — the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they’re talking about.
In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage.
And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.”
Moreover, the new technology is not working alone.
You have the likes of oil interests such as Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil funding a phalanx of anti-science spokesmen, think tanks and lobbyists.
They put their money into sowing doubt about the scientific consensus, as many of these same people did on tobacco, ozone and acid rain, playing on the fact that the way science works is to set up repeated challenges of the evidence by peers but ignoring that scientific consensuses do indeed exist — otherwise, we would not have made the progress we did on tobacco, ozone and acid rain.