Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Moving past the facts

Because we all need something more to be pessimistic about regarding the incoming administration's choices for leadership roles, we have: a nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services of an anti-LGBT ideologue who sided with BP when the Deepwater Horizon well blew out, fouling the Gulf of Mexico with 210 million gallons of crude oil.  He referred to the White House's drive to secure funds to recompense businesses and homeowners whose property was damaged by the spill a "Chicago-style political shakedown."  Worse still, considering the job he's been nominated for, he belongs to a group that is not only virulently anti-vaxx, but believes that President Obama used hypnosis and mind-control techniques to win the 2008 and 2012 elections.

It's hard to imagine a worse choice for HHS than Tom Price.  (Yes, I know, I've been saying that sort of thing a lot lately.  Each time I think, "Okay, that's the worst choice I've heard yet," the bar keeps getting raised.)  Dana Liebelson of Huffington Post writes:
Over the years, Price co-sponsored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  He voted against a bill that banned employers from discriminating against gay people and a bill that fought anti-gay hate crimes.  He called the Obama administration’s guidelines allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, “absurd.” 
Price went out of his way to back Kelvin Cochran, an Atlanta fire chief who was terminated in January 2015 after employees received copies of his self-published book, which equated homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality.  The city’s mayor claimed Cochran was fired for his “judgment and management.”  But Price, along with five other Georgia lawmakers, signed onto a letter asking the mayor to reinstate him.
Price belongs to the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, which sounds pretty innocuous, but is a fringe group whose beliefs border on lunacy.  Over at Mother Jones, Stephanie Mencimer writes:
Yet despite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society.  Think Glenn Beck with an MD.  The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943.  Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand.  Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis.  The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery.  Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police.  An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming”—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.
Of course, I suppose this is the kind of thing you get when you have a President-elect whose spokespeople think -- and this is close to a direct quote -- "there's no such thing as facts."  Trump spokesperson Scottie Nell Hughes, who appeared three days ago on the Diane Rehm Show, made the following astonishing statement when asked about the President-elect's penchant for making statements that are outright lies (and I'm including her entire statement, so you can see that I didn't take it out of context):
Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion.  And that’s — on one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies, but on the other half there are many people that go, no, it’s true.  And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts, they’re not really facts. 
There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.  And so Mr. Trump’s tweet amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth.  When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up.  Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.
No.  No, no, no.  For fuck's sake, there are facts, and they matter.  When Trump claims that there were "millions of illegal votes" that cost him the popular vote, it is simply untrue.  So are his statements that there was "serious voter fraud" in Virginia, California, and New Hampshire -- coincidentally, all states where he lost.  So was his claim that President Obama "screamed at a protester" at a Clinton rally.  So was his claim that "14% of resident non-citizens are registered to vote."  So was his statement that under Hillary Clinton, the State Department had six billion dollars "lost or stolen."

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

These are not ideas or opinions.  These are statements that are demonstrably false, and that since he continues to defend them even after they were debunked, are actual outright lies.  Despite what Ms. Hughes claims, there is no such thing as a statement that is truth for "a large part of the population" and false for the rest of us.

The problem is, once you start to doubt the facts -- hell, to doubt that facts exist -- you can be convinced of literally anything.  You are set up to fall for any sufficiently convincing demagogue who makes statements that "seem reasonable," by which I mean "conform to your preconceived notions."  You are set up to buy that vaccines don't work, that LGBT individuals are more likely to be pedophiles, that Obama hypnotized people into voting for him, and that the people who live along the Gulf Coast deserve to pay for the damage of an oil spill from a multi-million dollar petroleum corporation out of their own pockets.

You are also, apparently, set up to believe that a candidate whose platform was "Drain the Swamp" is still living up to his word when every single leadership appointee he picks is either a donor or an establishment insider -- for example, the wife of a prominent conservative senator (Secretary of Transportation), a hedge fund manager for Goldman-Sachs (Secretary of the Treasury), a billionaire investor nicknamed "the king of bankruptcy" (Secretary of Commerce), a long-time senator with distinct racist leanings (Attorney General), and a pro-privatization multi-millionaire with zero experience (Secretary of Education).

The whole thing is profoundly terrifying, mostly because it's so hard to combat.  Once you've adopted this viewpoint -- that facts don't matter, or that facts are what you say they are -- you're stuck, and no amount of evidence will persuade you.  And after that, scary things can happen.  As Voltaire put it: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

No comments:

Post a Comment