“When the bones of prehistoric animals began to be discovered and scrutinized in the nineteenth century, there were those who said that the fossils had been placed in the rock by god, in order to test our faith. This cannot be disproved. Nor can my own pet theory that, from the patterns of behavior that are observable, we may infer a design that makes planet Earth, all unknown to us, a prison colony and lunatic asylum that is employed as a dumping ground by far-off and superior civilizations.” – Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Ah, the Yin and Yang. From the sublime to the ridiculous. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m referring of course to my morning Internet experience – a daily intellectual and emotional roller coaster running the gamut from the lofty heights of science, reason, and humanism to the vilest depths of right-wing ignorance, bigotry, and stupidity. “Why bother with the latter?” you might ask, “It’s such a nasty job.” I know that, and I guarantee I would rather be doing just about anything other than reading, or reading about, the latest right-wing treachery. But the answer is I can’t help it – the threat from the right is so great, so imminent, that if at least some of us don’t pay attention, the bastards are going to get the best of us. Actually, they have been besting us for the past 30 years or more, for mostly apparent reasons (keep reading).
Yesterday, my morning Web fix began way on the high side with an hour of delightful YouTube enlightenment and entertainment from my favorite maestro of cosmology. But as they say, what goes up must come down, so after that I held my nose and choked down the obligatory dose of nastiness, malice, misogyny and racism from the Republican proto-fascists and their equally evil co-conspirators, the religious-right theocrats. You know, the coalition of ideologues who are hell-bent on destroying whatever is left of our crumbling democratic traditions, the psychopaths who want to reverse every last bit of humane social progress we’ve seen in the past 150 years.
In my previous column I wrote about the abortion/birth control “controversy” and promised to follow up this time; but then I had second thoughts: Haven’t Santorum and the other Republigoon fools already outdone themselves, shown their asses to such an extent that no further comment is necessary, at least not for now? I think so. The battle lines on these issues have been drawn for a long time, and most everyone knows where he or she stands. It’s not likely that the pandering Mitt Romney, the deluded Rick Santorum, or whatever new candidate crawls out of the right-wing slime is going to change anyone’s mind. In a rational, reality-based world, most of the right wing’s burning “moral” issues (e.g., abortion, birth control, homosexuality, church-state separation) wouldn’t even rise to the level of worth thinking about. Those issues would be seen for what they are, a toxic brew of selected bits lifted a la carte from an ancient and ignorant misogynistic text that approved of slavery and genocide and commanded the stoning of disobedient children as well as neighbors who picked up sticks on the holy sabbath. To mock the fool who may turn out to be their presidential nominee, “That makes me want to throw up.” And don’t even get me started on The Ten Commandments.
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Enough of that for the moment. Let me tell you, briefly, about yesterday’s Internet highlight, a wonderful talk on YouTube by the captivating theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss. On the slim chance you haven't heard of him, he is, unarguably, one of the most brilliant people on the planet, the author of hundreds of scholarly papers and several books, including the blockbuster, "The Physics of Star Trek." His new book, a New York Times' bestseller, has the provocative, science-based title, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing.
A Universe from Nothing is also the title of his mind-boggling YouTube video, wherein he takes us from the vastly remote origin of the universe to its astronomically distant future. I will never forget the quotation he opens with, which is usually but not definitively attributed to Kurt Vonnegut: "Things are going to get unimaginably worse, and they're never, ever going to get better again." Sound like Kurt Vonnegut to you, too? (I miss that man almost on the same level that I miss Carl Sagan. But it's scientists like Krauss and the equally inspiring Neil deGrasse Tyson who make me think that Sagan's death did not, after all, leave a void that will never be filled.)
In using that commencement-speech quotation, Krauss, a self-described optimist, was referring in jest to an unimaginably distant future trillions of years hence. Here's the spoiler: At some point all the galaxies will be moving away from each other faster than the speed of light; so, for example, astronomers in a nascent civilization somewhere in our galaxy will see no evidence of anything in space beyond our the Milky Way. It will look to them just as we thought it was as recently as the early 1920s, when Edwin Hubble finally settled the question of the existence of other galaxies beyond the Milky Way. That’s all I’m going to say about Krauss’s talk, except that I urge you to watch it.
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Now for the ridiculous, the bad, and the ugly – the specter of a detestable near-future brought to us by the political and religious Reich. One thing that keeps me up at night is concern that the bastards are exponentially working themselves up to a point of critical mass where they will no longer play by the rules, no longer accept the verdicts of voters and the rule of law. Unless of course they gain control of the government, in which case the law will be what they say it is, and there will be no going back. Think theocratic fascism. People like Krauss and Tyson and my friends, Steve Jonas, Don Ardell, and Iris Vander Pluym won't have a voice in that world – not if they know what's good for them. Either of the two scenarios – the bastards do or don't get elected – has nightmarish potential, although not elected is by far the lesser of evils and still offers us a fighting chance against their remorseless advance. Think I exaggerate? Just consider how far to the right this country has moved since the 1960s.
So if you haven't been paying attention, it's time to check in on reality: those ignorant, malevolent ideologues are for real and they are motivated, much more than we are. And they are well organized and well financed. And for the most part they stay on message, march in lock step, like disciplined soldiers in the culture war they declared. How successful have they been? According to Sara Robinson, in her three-part series at Campaign for America's Future, we could very well be poised at the tipping point of fascism right now. You no longer hear people saying, "It can’t happen here." At least not with a straight face.
I have suggested that the wingnuts' outrageous public statements are nothing compared to what they believe and regularly say among themselves. But recently they seem to be abandoning caution, revealing more of their true nature. Even their historically "responsible" public figures, say, presidential candidates, are sounding more extreme, more like Rush Limbaugh, who has become the role model for the generic conservative personality. Increasingly reckless statements keep "slipping out." And, led by Limbaugh, they are ratcheting up the rhetoric to very disturbing levels.
I hate to have to point out again that the media responds to all this with a huge double standard: With few exceptions, Republicans can say damn near anything and they get a pass – the underlying assumption being that that’s just who they are. I would argue that this tacit acceptance of bigotry and the politics of personal attacks is driven by numbers, by the existence of a huge and increasingly belligerent audience of “Dittoheads” that lends legitimacy to their most recklessly insane comments. Leaders of the religious right have been getting away with absolute insanity for, well, for as long as I can remember.
A recent example was Rick Perry's talk about secession being something Texans might have to resort to? That was said in public, for a national audience. And I don't think it was just some random brain fart on Perry's part: that's how those guys and their white supremacist buddies think and talk among themselves. These days everyone on the right is angrier than ever, if that’s possible, which is just what you'd expect, considering they are not in power and, mainly, there's a black man in their White House! So here’s my fearless prediction: If they don't win the presidency this time, or at least both houses of Congress, the angry rhetoric will escalate and lead to serious violence.
In such a short time politics have gone so far beyond Bush and Cheney, who were certainly scary enough. But these conservatives have taken things way past the psychological point of no return. They are so far gone there is no way they can make it back to participate in normative politics. Those days are gone forever, or at least until this culture war is resolved. And I’m saying it won’t be resolved peacefully. Of course I hope I’m wrong.
So what can we do? Get serious and organize, organize, organize. Our survival depends on setting aside our internecine differences and focusing our collective efforts on saving this country from impending fascism. That means defeating those proto-fascists at every level.