Friday, November 30, 2007

Our stupid nation: a jeremiad

Not surprising, perhaps, but still sad. I will never understand why people so eagerly embrace fantasy while flushing reality down the nearest commode as fast as they can. [jeremiad] The American Century is definitely over. In the 21st century, expect precious few great achievements from these shores. We'll be an intellectual third world country, as dependent on other countries for our scientific advancements and quality of life as we currently are for our oil. [/jeremiad]


  1. Martin, your jeremiad is spot on. This article is our very own version of An Inconvenient Truth. The United States is in the midst of an intellectual crisis. The heaving glaciers of American technical and scientific achievement are melting fast away from the heat of a thousand flamethrowers--the myriad forms of religion, superstition, and credulity embraced by so many of our fellow citizens.

  2. It may be worth noting that the economic supremacy the U.S. enjoyed last century also appears to be disintegrating. The U.S. dollar keeps dropping, the S&P 500 keeps stagnating, homes keep foreclosing, credit keeps tightening, college tuition and medical costs keep soaring--but gosh, investments in third-world countries are doing great!

    Perhaps the meek really shall inherit the earth.

  3. "I will never understand why people so eagerly embrace fantasy while flushing reality down the nearest commode as fast as they can."

    The truth is that, for many people, reality is difficult to bear because it is so unpleasant. When a society experiences alienation, where nearly everything is consigned to the mercy of the market, where poverty and destitution are a way of life, religion will be appealing because it can fulfill (or at least purports to fulfill) emotional needs that are of course very real; it provides people with a sense of meaning, belonging, grounding, or whatever you want to call it, where nothing else seems to. This is something we simply can't afford to ignore; as long as we don't acknowledge it, we will continue to be baffled by the simultaneous existence of religious fundamentalism and DNA sequencers. We will continue to shake our heads in amazement at the "idiocy" of people (though I would like to add that there is undoubtedly a lot of idiots out there). We need to look at factors like economic disparity, a lack of proper health care and sanitation, and exploitation. it will then become much easier to see why countries like Sweden are among the least religious, and those like Sudan are among the most religious. I think that religion has played a big role in spreading poverty and misery (or at least maintaining it), but I think it is much more the other way around. Until vast swathes of human beings can win just, secular governance to effect genuine change (and don't get me wrong - I think atheist activism and consciousness raising has a great part to play in this, but it will ultimately be a complimentary role, because it largely attacks the surface manifestations of underyling processes in a society) fundamentalism will continue to be a big problem, and one we will be powerless to stop it until we also seriously address these underlying issues. This is why I can't stomach - and and have little time for - Christopher Hitchen's stance on the Middle East. He apparently wants the US Air Force to "demolish" Iran in order to demoralise the Muslim world, without any real appreciation for WHY so many in the Muslim world harbour such hatred for the West. He seems to see only religion and its toxic effects, and in his zeal to immunise humanity from superstitious myopia, he has adopted his own myopia. On this issue, Hitchens has sold his soul to the devil, as far as I'm concerned, aligning himself with the Bush gang, trusting that the empire is above its leaders. But he ignores how the empire has often deliberately utilised fundamentalism when it was in its interests to do so, or otherwise set up the conditions in which fundamentalism looked like the only alternative to many people who had seen and felt the effects of imperialist aggression and who subsequently equated everything Western with decadence and evil. Taking a stance like Hitchens' is guaranteed only to embolden the most vehement elements, who will use the belligerence of the United States as an excuse to undercut and repress the secular forces who want to free their country of both imperialist interference and theocracy; America will continue to be seen as a maiden of death and destruction.

    The West has comprehensively screwed the people of the Middle East and Africa, propping up corrupt and brutal dictatorships when it served their interests and undermining the prospects for local, secular democratic movements coming to the fore who wanted to govern for the good of their people rather than Western capital. When these regimes were then overthrown by the people in popular revolutions, the power vacuum was filled by the most ruthless, well-organised elements, namely the fundamentalist groups, who then went on to crush the secular forces.

    I think I got a little side-tracked there, though you can see how it's all part of an interwoven nexus. I, too, am often bowled over by the raw inanity of religious belief, and am shocked and appalled (as well I should be) at how it continues to wreak ignorance and credulity among people who one would think should know better. But surely we need to look at the objective context that makes them easy pickings for archaic superstition with at least as much rigour as we look at the beliefs themselves. We need to look at what makes those beliefs attractive. We should never forget Marx's warning: that religion is the opiate of the masses, the sigh of the oppressed.

  4. Of course everything you're saying is right. Lui. I guess what I mean is that I find it sad that people accept belief systems that encourage them to agree that reality is so unpleasant that the way to deal with that unpleasantness is to run from it or even replace it with a different "reality" constructed solely of wishful thinking. Not coming to terms with things that frighten you is hardly the way to make them less frightening. We know that, of course, but then we're freethinkers.

  5. Lui, a comment with only two words? That's gotta be a record for you!


  6. What's ironic is that such resurgences in fundamentalist beliefs and superstitious practices are (at least in Christianity) labeled as "Great Awakenings."


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