P.Z. Myers on Science and the Irrationality of Religion

Several months ago, Wakefield made the following remarks on P.Z. Myers’ view of religion and theology, and wondered about a response to them:

‘Second, I wanted to follow up from where he’s written elsewhere that in his mind there is no real methodology to religious belief. For something to hold water and muster, it must be rigorously researched and demonstrable. Failing this, Myers places things in the “Creationist” box, which (apparently) is a rather large
residual category for every idea or notion (certainly faith qualifies) that does not meet with scientific rigor to this man’s liking. His many defenders of course would claim these rules supercede Dr. Myers and despite Dr. Myer’s antics, still apply to science at large, whether we religious types like them or not.

Observe, that when “Creationists” (meaning anyone believing God had something to do with the Known Universe, and not just “literalists”) get “cornered” on the “facts” of biology and life and the failures of prayer, whatnot:

(Quoting verbatum from Jim Lippard’s blog honoring PZ’s many insights)

They resort to,

Key features:

1. Conspiracy
2. Selectivity
3. The fake expert(s)
4. Impossible expectations
5. The metaphor
6. The quote mine
7. Appeal to consequences ’

I’m sorry I’ve taken a while to get round to answering this. However, let’s examine some of these statements and the underlying assumptions.

Firstly, Myers seems to make the Positivist assumption that science is the supreme method for acquiring knowledge about the world, and that it is indeed the only true form of knowledge. However, there are real problems with this. One major criticism of the Positivist position is that science, by itself, cannot prove that only science alone provides true knowledge of the world, contrary to the claims of philosophy. Indeed, in order to demonstrate that science provides true knowledge of the world, it requires philosophy and metaphysics, which Positivists like Von Carnap in the 1920s rejected and denounced as ‘disreputable’. So in these, areas, the Positivist claim for the unique ability of science to provide information about the true nature of the Cosmos fails.

There is also the problem in that science is merely one of a number of different methods of acquiring knowledge about the Cosmos, and that there are areas of knowledge and experience where its methods are inapplicable. For example, in history the primary method of investigating the past is through the study of texts. Now clearly science can and does add immensely to the study of history. Psychology can provide insight into the minds and motivations of the people involved in the events of the past, and archaeology has provided immense information on the development of past societies, the way they lived and their culture. The primary source for history is still historical texts, as one cannot recreate the great events of the past in a laboratory. Moreover, the philosopher Mary Midgeley has also pointed out that other areas of human culture, such as poetry, will also produce great insights about the nature of the Cosmos before or apart from those of science. So there are areas of human knowledge, investigation and experience, where science cannot be the primary method for discovering truth.

Now let’s deal with the statement that religion is somehow wrong, because it doesn’t use the methods of science. This attitude is mistaken, because it attempts to promote the scientific method, or judge one area of human experience and culture, by scientific methods that may not apply to it. As philosophers of religion such as Martin Buber have pointed out, at the heart of religion isn’t the attempt to provide a coherent, rational description of the universe, but the sense of a personal, transcendent presence within its phenomena or beyond it. Thus the ancient Egyptian religion included a number of different gods, some of whom, offered different explanations for the phenomena they observed. Yet this did not lead to friction within the religion as the religion was based on a personal experience of these deities, not whether they simply provided a rational explanation of the Cosmos.

Now religion is a highly complex phenomenon to the point where it is difficult even to give a precise definition of it. Despite this, there are certain forms of religion – or religious investigation – that may be highly rational. For example, Neoplatonic philosophy in ancient Rome attempted to use reason to lead one into the contemplation of God, described as ‘the One’ or ‘the Good’. It was a philosophical school, but has been described as ‘the mind’s road to God’, and in this sense it could be described as a philosophical religion. So, in the case of Neo-Platonism, there certainly was a rational method of inquiry and investigation at the heart of a form of religion.

Furthermore, different religions do possess different rules governing experience and observance. Subsequent revelations or statements from transcendent entities may deepen the basic revelation at the heart of that religion, but they may not contradict it. In the Mosaic Law, any prophet who demanded the worship of any other gods than the Lord was to be rejected, as this violated the basis of Judaism in monotheism, and the revelation that there was only one God. Similarly, St. Paul recommends that Christians test every spirit they encounter, because not all spirits are from God, and some of those spirits encountered may deliberately give wrong information to mislead Christians. Judaism, Christianity and Islam also developed distinct methods to govern the interpretation of Scripture and religious worship and observance. Thomas Aquinas discussed whether theology was a science, and concluded that it was, as it possessed a distinct methodology of its own. In fact, during the Middle Ages theology used the very same methods that contemporary scientists also used in their studies – Aristotelian logic, and discussions of natural theology very often included discussions of scientific subjects and phenomena. Thus in the Middle Ages, at least, science and Christian theology certainly did possess some of the same methodology and features.

Theologians have also used science to ascertain whether some religious phenomena – miracles – are genuine. In the 18th century, the Roman Catholic clergyman leading the official investigation of reports of miracles, Prosper Lambertini, later Pope Benedict IX, compiled a handbook for their proper examination. Lambertini stipulated that this should include an examination of the miracle and the evidence for it by scientists and doctors, and his handbook has remained one of the standard, if not the standard text for the investigation of such phenomena by the Vatican until today.

Thus, while religion is a completely different area of human experience to science, nevertheless it also possesses its own relevant methodology and may include science and its methodology in order to discover the truth about some phenomena, which may be considered supernatural.

Now let’s deal with the list of seven features Myers and Lippard feel are typical of Creationists.

1. Conspiracy

This probably refers to the tactic of some Creationist groups of using two different approaches to have their views accepted by secular and religious schools. For example, some of the Creationist groups produced two different versions of their textbooks according to whether they were to be used in the public, state schools or by Christian schools. Those for use in the state schools stressed the scientific aspects of the case against evolution, but did not contain any references to the Bible, while those intended for use in Christian schools did contain references and arguments from Scripture. I suspect that Myers and Lippard consider this a conspiracy in the sense that the Creationist groups who adopt such a tactic are deliberately disguising their true intentions to reintroduce an explicitly religious doctrine into schools. Now, while some Creationists probably would like to see religious education re-introduced into schools, other Creationists traditionally didn’t, preferring that their children should be taught a view of the creation of the world and its creatures based on a literal interpretation of Genesis outside of school. These people distrusted attempts to establish a particular religious view through legislation. Thus, such tactics are only used, or have traditionally only been used, by some, but not all, Creationists.

It’s also the case that some groups critical of Darwinism have stated that they don’t want a particular view of Creation taught in schools. Members of the Discovery Institute, for example, have repeatedly stated that Intelligent Design makes no statement over who the Designer is, and don’t want a literal view of Creation taught in school or even see Intelligent Design itself taught, just the arguments against Darwinism presented alongside those for it. Now clearly many supporters of Intelligent Design are religious, but that does not mean that the arguments for it are necessarily flawed, or that their reasons for questioning the philosophical naturalism in some textbooks are unreasonable.

2. Selectivity.

This probably means the deliberately use of specific examples from biology and palaeontology to challenge the general Darwinian account of the development of life, without discussing or excluding the evidence for it. The problem with this is that while there are undoubtedly some texts that may be highly selective in their presentation of information and arguments, there are other that present a variety of arguments and information from a number of different approaches and sources. Michael Denton’s book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, which inspired the Intelligent Design movement, presents a number of arguments against Darwinism, as well as various examples from biology, where it could be argued that Natural Selection is inadequate as an explanation.

3. The Fake Experts

I’ve absolutely no doubt that there are a number of Creationist writers, who have little scientific expertise and who present spurious information and arguments to the public. A number of them have been strongly criticised by various Christian groups and writers on the net, who maintain websites attacking them and their views. This does not, however, mean that all the experts who reject Darwin are fakes. Some of the scientists who rejected Darwinism are extremely distinguished, such as Dr. Duane Gish, Wilder-Smith and Dr. Leonid Korochkin of the Institute of Developmental Biology of the former Soviet National Academy of Science.

4. Impossible Expectations

This looks like an attempt to counter the criticism of Darwinism that there isn’t enough supporting evidence for it. The assumption here is that people have too high expectations of the amount of evidence required to support Darwinian evolution. However, while there is indeed a vast amount of evidence to support Darwinism, some scientists have remarked that the evidence for it is not as complete or as strong as it has appeared, or was expected by scientists themselves. Thus, while some people doubtless expect too much from the evidence for Darwinism, there may indeed be real problems with it. Michael Denton, in his book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, indeed presents statistical arguments that there is a genuine lack of evidence for evolution, rather than the evidence exists, but has not been discovered yet.

5. The Metaphor

This might refer to the way people of faith, and particularly Creationists, view the world as an artefact created by the Almighty, often in terms very much like the way a human craftsman makes their products. However, merely because this view metaphorical does not mean it is incorrect, and that the world does not possess some of the characteristics of an artefact through its creation by an intelligent creator, in the same way that humans, who participate in God’s intelligence, also create artefacts.

6. The Quote Mine

This probably refers to use of quotes by Creationists by scientists discussing the lack of evidence, or apparent lack of evidence for Darwinism by various scientists, who may then go on in the following passage to address this problem. However, that does not mean that there isn’t a problem with the evidence for Darwinism, even if the view taken of this by a Creationist is different from that of the scientist addressing it.

7. The Argument to Consequences

This refers to the criticism of Darwinism and evolutionary theory by Creationists and other people of faith on the grounds of some of what they consider to be the social consequences of evolutionary theory. These include eugenics and the development of a worldview that apparently devalues human life, based on the view that if humanity is solely the product of evolutionary forces, then there are no transcendent values. For many people of faith, this worldview has resulted in a nihilistic culture that promotes abortion and divorce. Now the consequences of such an atheist interpretation of evolutionary theory does not mean that the theory itself is incorrect. It does, however, mean that the attempt to base morality purely on evolution, with no regard to the existence of objective, transcendent moral values, is severely flawed.

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24 Responses to “P.Z. Myers on Science and the Irrationality of Religion”

  1. Jim Lippard Says:

    Rather than creating your own summaries based solely on the *names* of the items in the list, it might have been better to read and respond to the summaries that Myers actually wrote, which you can find here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/09/the_denialists.php

    Note that it was a post about what constitutes “denialism,” not creationism.

  2. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Jim, thanks for the comment and the link.

  3. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Serendipity is so grand!

    I am sorry Mr. Lippard apparently feels the terminology and the very application of the lists is so ill-treated here. So, I apologize for that. Mea Culpa, sir.

    But, I’m guessing all is not lost here, in that without question that handy list as originally listed by the amiable psychotic PZ, would be HAPPILY applied to what is commonly called “Creationism”, a broad brush at that, which covers all manner of even the hint of a general statement about God’s place in the scheme of things. Do you think otherwise?

    Well, yes, it DOES refer to denialism, which on the DENIALIST blog (See Hoofnagle’s site on Science Blogs–though I can’t be sure about PZ’s opinions on all these matters), it seems to have taken on a life of its own to the point where if you “DENY” that socialized meds are superior to market forces (the latter being expensive, yes, but then I can get an MRI within the same hour often, whereas in socialized medicine you’re lucky to get it in the same year, etc) and other issues that are NOT exactly SCIENCE centered, but rather OPINION and POLICY centered. Matters of taste about who gets to have the pocket picked on behalf of THE WHOM is not science.

    Just a pointer here, while we’re on the highly charge accusation of “denialism”, which is a newbie in the dictionary and has more the force of philosophy than science, I’ll remind Mr. Lippard what I told a blogger named One Brow a while back when he referenced the DENIALISM sight to make some point about the glories of the Aussie or some other health system as “scientifically” documented as being the New Shining Path:

    I AM familiar with the crank and uber-leftist masquerading as scientist Mark Hoofnagle, over at Denialism. The fact that he references the George Soros-funded sites like RealClimate and other outlandish (or at least EXTREMELY compromised) agencies funded by radical and crank groups, or those engaged in milkwater socialist ethics and environmentalist claptrap, does not bolster much confidence in his accusations against others
    regarding “denialism.” Or much else.

    Mark has some valid points one can yank from in between the briar patch of what is mostly a philosophical dissertation on his pet projects, not pure science per se.

    But it is an Orwellian mind trick to try and use the “hard science” of those settled (mostly) issues like, say, mercury and autism, or acupuncture and the obvious 911 TruthOut nuts, etc, and then extrapolate to philosophical modes on issues that have a stronger political component than any valid scientific one. No matter how you chop up the style of the leaves and sort out the flavors of this particular socialist salad mix of public health insurance, the issue will always be control of people, NOT health per se. Because ultimately this is what things are about. Rationing of products and care–which the free market tends to avoid where possible, are the hallmarks of all programs that micromanage such care from the top down. I’ll explain later why the “crowding out” effect would still take place even under looser gooser Aussie systems. (look to Hawaii for the hint)

    Hoofnagle likes to claim, in typical leftie cum Orwellian style that “Denialism” is, in his cutie-pie faux Webster’s input (n): the practice of creating the illusion of debate when there is none.

    Charming set up. Clever, too.

    If this is truly the case, then shame on HIM on this “science blog” précis of philosophy for leaving out VAST swatches of context and ” hard core facts of the matter” that also happen to be utterly beyond dispute. And also for advocating something that is horribly ill-advised and not likely to escape bureaucratic clutches and control over resources.

    One pointer is that he conflates, in this instance at least on health care, PHILOSOPHY with the “facts of the matter.” Naughty naughty.

    The two can in some instances go hand and hand, and offer support of one’s position, but the impression Hoofnagle gives is that this issue is settled based on the “facts of the matter” regarding someone’s take on efficiency and cost.

    Far from the case.

  4. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    BR, you need to get to know Mr. Lippard.

    He has an interesting blog and apparently the ample time on his hands to ponder more than one topic ranging from puppy dogs needing new homes, to arguments over the Argument from Reasoning with V. Reppert.

    I rarely agree with much of what he has to say, but he takes the time to lay out in crisp form what he thinks, and why. He makes the occasional cameo appearance over on Dangerous Idea as well, probably not of his own choosing. He’s a great guy, even though I am not with him on the issue of …well….I’ll throw a dart at the board and pick one, it seems.

    I always try and give credit where due…even while wincing while doing it.

    –WT

  5. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    he referenced the DENIALISM sight

    I meant to say “SITE”

    …grief

  6. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    where if you “DENY” that socialized meds are superior to market forces (the latter being expensive, yes, but then I can get an MRI within the same hour often, whereas in socialized medicine you’re lucky to get it in the same year, etc) and other issues that are NOT exactly SCIENCE centered, but rather OPINION and POLICY centered……

    Meant to end this conditional phrase beginning with “if you DENY (socialized meds and other projects du jour), then you’re a “DENIALIST.”

    I can’t write worth a flip any more.. time to just go on to bed.

  7. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the comments and response to Jim Lippard’s remarks. Regarding Lippard writing a good, interesting blog, even if you don’t agree with what he says, that’s quite unusual, but not unknown. I can think of one or two journalists or media figures over here who I find interesting or fun to read, despite disagreeing with the opinions they express. I think it actually takes some skill to do that, and is the mark of a genuinely good writer or broadcaster.

    As for the term ‘denialism’, whenever I’ve come across it, it’s always been used to cover ‘Creationism’, as well as to link it with other doctrines, ideas or philosophies that may have little or nothing in common with it. This seems to imply that Creationism is merely an irrational denial of something which is obviously true, rather than a reasonable position regarding a subject – the origin and appearance of life and different creatures – on which it may be entirely reasonable to debate or doubt consensus opinion.

  8. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding the comments about socialised medicine and other political issues on the Hoofnable’s Denialist blog, I think most British people – the vast majority – firmly support the NHS over here, though there are, admittedly, problems with it. Britain also has a number of private sector medical companies, the biggest and best known of which is BUPA, which also seem to be attempting to expand at the moment and which has adverts running on the commercial channels over here.

    However, regardless of difference of opinion and perspective on this particular political issues, I think you’re right in that there is a danger in attempting to define one set of views on a particular political issue, which may be supported with facts and statistics, as irrational. It implies and reinforces the view that only those who agree with one’s own views are rational and intelligent and contrary opinions may simply be dismissed without any real investigation or examination of them. It’s quite often the case that there are good arguments both for and against a particular policy, and that merely because someone holds a different opinion from one’s own certainly doesn’t make them stupid or immoral.

  9. beastrabban Says:

    I also think there’s a profound problem in trying to link politics to science. Now clearly politics and political decisions are informed by science, particularly in areas such as public health and disease control. However, there’s a real problem in assuming that politics as a whole can be solved using the methods of science, or that scientists, as members of a uniquely rational discipline, are the best qualified to solve political problems and formulate government policies. There have been attempts by scientists to claim that they are in fact able to do this. The British biologist, Denis Alexander, in his book Beyond Science notes that there were a number of scientific conventions in the 1970s, which did try to claim that science and its methods were better than the usual means of government, and that scientists had a better grasp of political issues than normal politicians and so could be relied upon to provide better policies and government. Alexander noted, however, that there were profound differences of opinion between the various scientists themselves at these conferences, and these differences were so great that they in fact seemed to demonstrate that scientists didn’t have a better understanding of political issues and wouldn’t govern any better than anyone else.

    Government is different from science and engineering in that it goes beyond the investigation of particular objective problems in nature, but also involves questions of morality, and the philosophical basis of the nature of government, society, human rights, and the relationship of the individual to their community and society. There’s also a question of practicality, as well as desirability. These aspects cannot always be reduced to simple scientific questions. Indeed, one politician who was involved in agricultural development and the provision of better services for poor, rural areas in America during a conference at Columbia University on Science, Religion and the Democratic Way of Life stated that quite often he found that it was the clergy who had the best grasp of the impact a particular policy or course would have on a community, because they understood the human dimension and realities behind the issues, rather than the scientists or engineers who developed various technical solutions.

  10. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    I agree with you BR, that the merging of science and politics, even for putatively “good” purposes, can be a VERY risky venture, as the late Michael Chrichton (of Jurassic Park fame) pointed out in various speeches about the whole bruha over “climate change.” It is the power to bring out the big guns to be leveled against both business and personal matters on the new carbon demons as well as a whole host of what should be personal matters. Only in the case of proven harm should we void the automatic default setting to freedom, as C.S. Lewis pointed out when he said it would be better to live under the fist of the old “Robber Barons” of the 19th century than moral do-gooders. These can range from the censorious Carrie Nation who smashed saloons with an ax in the wild West and told people she was but bulldog at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He does not like. Or it can take the more lingering effect of government meddling that even as we speak is taxing the oblivion out of business and providing what we yanks call “the curse of the unfunded mandate” in trying to limit carbon and alter lifestyle–all the while giving our competitors in China and India and a host of other “Asian Dragon” locales a virtual free ride in this area.

    I cry foul.

    AS to the NHS, it seems per one public radio broadcast the other day coming home, I got some more insight (assuming this author was correct) about why Britain’s path was different than ours, and whatever comes next, while duplicating some aspects of the NHS and other systems, has to evolve differently. For one, other than a half-wit attack on Atlantic City by German U-boats, the US has not come under large scale attack since the Redcoats left, and unlike most all of Europe and Asia has been mostly spared the horrific destruction and carnage of war other than the sad tales of servicement not destined to come home when the Army brings a certain letter to the door of a grieving wife. It seems the NHS evolvd during those dark moments when the British people and certainly Londoners were scrapping from day to day under the fire of the V rockets. The NHS evolved as a rapid way to deal with the emergency needs where private care was abandoned along with everything else. So government felt it HAD to take up the mantle of emergency care and then extended the reach to primary and other preventative care as well.

    While I don’t like that system’s continued existence, its evolution is understandable. In the US the problem with the system is not quality, or even availability, but COST. And the worry here is something called (see the state of Hawaii’s experience on this) “crowding out”, where, like Britain and Canada, while TECHNICALLY we’ll still have private insurers, the problem is that with cost controls, limited pay, and rationing inevitable under such systems, you might as well just stick with the “single payer” (RE: Government) plan instead.

    Why pay hundreds of pounds or dollars per much even for great care if you’ve weighted the odds and decided that minus a heart attack, you can just go with more mediocre care from the local government-run clinic???

    Human nature kicks in fast here when you’re on a budget.

    In the US, the private carriers ARE pricey, but what exactly is the cause of this?

    Precisely because they are INSURANCE companies. While still more expensive than a single payer system like Britain’s, a “pay as you go” system would remove these behemoths and probably bring down the rates to something more acceptable.

    More insurance is not the answer, nor choices among them. We need to REMOVE insurance carriers from the whole situation. Doctors charge to the limit of what is payable precisely because they CAN–and the average person CANNOT. See the problem here?

    In the days of FDR, when salaries and wages were capped, the unfortunate unforseen consequence was that companies engaged in benefits’ wars with each other about compensation packages, and started to include all manner of coverage in the mix. Looked like a great idea at the time, but according to many observers is actually the biggest part of the problem. Is it really necessary to charge 1200 dollars to remove an ingrown tonail (my sister’s issue) or charge 1000 USD for an MRI (me, recently), and 800 USD for a series of x-rays?

    Having said THAT, keep in mind the other side of the coin here, BR. I got that MRI offer within the HOUR. Same day. Then I drive home that afternoon. I challenge the Brits and Canadians to tell me that an ordinary guy like me with no political pull and money bags for bribery or flights scheduled across the Atlantic, that that can happen under the NHS.

    Rather than weeks and often months later.

    I’m only 43. But just for shiggles, I asked my pulmonary specialist about my prospetcs of treating lung disorders after, say, age 65 and the wait times (even if available) in Euro-Canadian styled “single payer” forms of health care, for follow up care should something ugly be found in the MRI (it was not, thank God).

    He just kinda smirked and said: “Where would you like to be buried, Mr. Tolbert?” The rationing typical of “single payer” government care means that after a certain age you’re welcome to pick out burial plots if you get certain kinds of cancer, not receive treatment.

    Probably better to be in hock to the doctor and owe them money bags than be 6 feet under, is the attitude some Americans retain on such possibilities.

    Now. Even accounting for the fact (also not taken into account in most conversations about duplicating the Euro-Canadian model of health care reform) that in the US medicine is very COST intense because it is very RESEARCH intenese. Think about how many agencies the world over depend on the findings of the CDC and the usage of private money that flows into pharmaceuticals??

    More than we know. That concerns me also.

    Let’s also take a look at some demographic numbers people like to mention. Longevity and birth issues. No sooner than I hear people complain about infant mortality rates in the US (in a society not readily comparable to the more homogenous populations of most of Europe). I ALSO hear so-called medical “ethicists” complain in the next breath that perhaps we DON’T need to save every premature baby’s life, or for that matter create a virtual IV tree out of some older folks and extend life beyond, say 70 or so. As this “wastes” valuable resources better spent on younger people with more productivity to the interests of–who else–the State and tax revenue. Hmmm. I wonder what THAT would do to already sour stats? Having said this, the UN and other agencies are known to gather stats as given, and each nation in turn gathers those with differing methodologies. For example in the US we pull out most all the stops to save the lives of premature babies, and when some of them predictably die, it is of course listed as a death of a erstwhile living being.

    This is NOT necessarily the case in most nations–particularly Scandinavia, where the infant “mortality” rate looks ever so low, and yet preemies are often not counted as people. They just become NON persons and shoved off the books. As to the other end of life, the US has a high murder rate, and these stats are mixed into the usual soup of things that eventually nail us all. So is it really all that true, then, that we flounder that badly when the average life expectancy is, say, 74, vs, the the 75 and 76 years of some other industrial nations NOT enganged in gangland shootouts??

    Adding to American frustrations and questionable stats on availability of health care and costs is something other nations are not pondering to my knowledge–the additions of 30-50 million illegal aliens now also vying for “free” health care if they can so much as hide long enough from the NIS to sign up. It seems all but certain this will not be difficult.

  11. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    As to Lippard’s posting of PZ’s Denialism metrics, yeah, those are the common retorts to “Creationism”, which is like I said a very BROAD brush that applies to any notion of God, not just some kind of literalism about origins from dust, etc.

  12. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Yes–Hoofnagle certainly has some points. Indeed how could he NOT????

    The authors of ScienceBlog writes millions of words a year, and so by default if nothing else and pertaining to the Law of Numbers would cough up something of interest. But the injection of opinion and the damning of capitalism has now the veneer of “science” behind what is primarily an opinion about how best to ration things like health care.

  13. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Alexander noted, however, that there were profound differences of opinion between the various scientists themselves at these conferences, and these differences were so great that they in fact seemed to demonstrate that scientists didn’t have a better understanding of political issues and wouldn’t govern any better than anyone else.

    I think it was Allen Bloom who noted in The Closing of the American Mind that while many scientists have long mocked the very notion of “political science” as a distinct discipline at the modern university, at the same time they can be PASSIONATELY political on those areas they feel the public is amiss at doing something about (e.g. resource depletion, biodiversity, global warming, teaching science in schools better, etc).

    The problem, however, is that somehow this always defaults back to a state of being where it is elites who must take the ultimate reigns of power from the ignorant masses at the helm, thus short-circuiting all their bruha about “democracy in action” and other such claims. Of course, the claim is that we must be taught to participate better. Of course, there is that backup argument.

    But even if some harms are ultimately proven to need collective attention and make short some freedoms, the other problem here is that we still end up with a coddled populace that for whom as long as some benefits are flowing their way, could care less about such abstruse matters no matter how much the prodding to do the “right” thing. This is the very problem, as Mark Steyn pointed out, with the existence of big government. The people revert to an infantile state of being. At a certain point the governing authorities assume that silence on some issues equals complicity and this can have deadly consequences and subverts true democracy. Thus for example the ratification of the Rights of the Child (UN) has language in it that undermines regional authority and outlaws things important to some groups in some circumstances, like freedom of religion and homeschooling, to name a couple. When the vote came up and the choice for some to join the European Union got knocked down, it is reported that one of the heads of state curtly responed that the populations don’t know of what they voted against, and declared “If the vote was yes, we move forward with this unity, and if the vote is NO, we ALSO must still move forward.”

    It used to be only in thuggish tyranny like in El Salvador or Nicaragua that a vote was preordained regardless of what the slips of paper said. And I think democracy is to be preserved (see the example of Proposition 8 in California and the battle with the courts) even IF in some cases someone can demonstrate harm to nature.

    Another problem here, as Julian Simon noted, is that much of the “science” (as we saw for example in your precis about stem cell research) has much scare and hyberbole behind it and has more to do with, say, modernist sexual ethics and other political concerns than real science. Global Warming, deforestation in general, DDT, Alar, Acid Rain, and the Cancer Scare of the 1970s come to mind.

    One of Simon’s more interesting example is the bruha surrounding rain forest depletion where the full context of Brazil’s reckless chopping is actually done to mostly fund its socialist policies–NOT enrich cattlemen, as the common charge is.. …(killing life to enjoy Burger King, etc)

    So context is key as well.

    regardless of difference of opinion and perspective on this particular political issues, I think you’re right in that there is a danger in attempting to define one set of views on a particular political issue, which may be supported with facts and statistics, as irrational. It implies and reinforces the view that only those who agree with one’s own views are rational and intelligent and contrary opinions may simply be dismissed without any real investigation or examination of them. It’s quite often the case that there are good arguments both for and against a particular policy, and that merely because someone holds a different opinion from one’s own certainly doesn’t make them stupid or immoral.

    I have to agree. It is an ugly propogandistic business:

    Mixing the soup here by using, as does Hoofnagle does, very real issues like the unkind scare over mercury in Themerisol for vaccines accused of causing autism, with the unproven benefit (when all is weighed, which is how all medical advances and science investigations should be evaluated) of slight carbon reductions when many claim that a net carbon gain from unlocked resources might be of some benefit to life on earth, growing seasons, and the fact that cold is the more reliable killer of humans than heat. (humans are tropical animals). Or for that matter unproven claims about sea level rise projected decades into the future, but yet no real alternatives are given.

  14. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Another angle I forgot to mention on the “single payer” issue that many consider a political fallacy and the “tipping point” that brings a nation (some claim) to the point of “no return” down a socialist path, is the cost issue.

    Proponents of government mandated and paid health care often claim tha the US has the worlds “most expensive” health care but gets “less” out of this than some other nations.

    Yes and no. National Review’s John Goodman mentions a couple of things here in response. First, many nations HIDE their costs under various program funding that spreads the costs on the books over a wide set of departmental areas. The power of government artificially suppresses the income of doctors, nurses, and other direct access personall and so the aggregate costs look smaller from this angle. Costs need not be direct to show up if we know how to search.

    Another issue I NEVER hear mentioned in the local press or anyone else’s is the lost productivity we have in some other systems. How much productivity is found in those cases where care is delayed by hours, whereas in the US one can at least see the doctor and get follow up care in the same session? Is this cost not computable?

    It is, but no one does it. Lost productivity for delayed service or the need for separate follow-up appointments due to bureacratic paperwork issues and the predictable cases of care rationing requisite of socialized medicine cannot be ignored for any serious side-by-side comparisons.

    But these costs don’t hit the provider directly, nor the patient. Just the businesses waiting on the return of their workers and thus by extension the society at large.

  15. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the comments and observations on socialised medicine, big government and politicised science, Wakefield. I feel I should clear a few things up. First of all, I was making the comment that because a particular view is opposed to one’s doesn’t make it irrational actually against Hoofnagle. While I would agree with him about the benefits of socialised medicine, I think it’s dangerous for anyone to claim the sole monopoly on reason when discussing or arguing for a particular issue. That’s especially the case for some of the militant, intolerant atheists, like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who do claim that they, and only they, are rational, and vehemently deny that theists have any claim on their part to rationality as well. Their claim that theists are fundamentally irrational really doesn’t stand up, and more often than not proves the opposite by the irrationality of the arguments they use to try and support it. That’s really all I meant with the comments about Hoofnagle.

    As for the stuff about climate change, Denis Alexander has a few comments about the doctrinaire political intolerance of many scientists concerning the application of policies to tackle it in Beyond Science . The book was written in the 1970s when the fears of the population explosion and the radical depletion of the Earth’s resources were growing, and in some quarters had reached almost apocalyptic expectations. He notes the recommendation of the scientists involved in the emerging Green movement that people should be restricted to having only one child, and that certain products considered harmful to the environment should be banned. Alexander comments that if scientists wanted to see how unpopular they could be with most of the population, they should try to get in power and enact policies like that, so that people could see their second child taken away from them and their household amenities banned or confiscated. He felt that this would make scientists far more unpopular than they were then.

    China also has its own environmental problems. Two years ago the BBC ran a documentary series on the country, simply called China , covering contemporary China and its problems. The programme noted that the major rivers in China – I think this includes the Yang-tze and the Yellow Rivers, are extremely polluted, with a very high incidence of cancer and appalling physical deformities among the villages along its banks. According to the programme, if the Chinese were to attempt to clean up their rivers to something like an acceptable standard, the cost would wipe out their economic expansion over the rest of the world. Clearly the Chinese government isn’t going to do that, but that’s not going to help the people or the environment in that part of China.

    As for Mark Steyn on big government, I like Steyn’s writing. He’s an interesting, stimulating writer and his comments about the current crisis in journalism in America to journalism students at one of the American universities – I believe it might be Columbia, but you’d have to check his website – are very interesting and insightful. Now I think he’s right that some policies by big government do infantilise the population, but I think that by expanding that to the nature of big government itself in each and every instance he’s vastly overstated his case.

    Now, regarding your comments on the NHS, you’re right in that the experience of the Second World War did encourage the growth of government provision of medical services, partly because injury from enemy bombing affected everyone, regardless of social class or income. However, the state had taken a limited role in the provision of health care for the poor before the Second World War in the form of panel doctors, in which people below a certain income were to be treated free of charge, rather like Medicaid/ Medicare. It was also involved in medical research nearly two decades before the War with the foundation of the Medical Research Council in 1920. Medical research is carried out in the NHS in its hospitals and other institutions. Furthermore, many European countries had state medical care long before Britain – Sweden in about 1905/6, and Germany c. 1925, for example.

    Now, as I said, the vast majority of British people, including Conservatives, support the NHS. One of the big parliamentary rows between Labour and the Conservatives occurred a few years ago before one of the elections when the Labour party, or one of its members, claimed that the Conservatives planned to privatise it. This was fiercely denied by the Conservatives, who demanded a retraction of the statement from the Labour MPs who made it. I have to say that I don’t really want to get into an argument with you about it, as I don’t think either of us will change our position, and I’d much rather discuss something in which we’re more likely to reach an agreement on. There are other issues I’d rather tackle. However, if you want to debate the pros and cons of socialised medicine, then I’ll do so, though as I said, I don’t think there’d be much point.

    I’m sorry you’ve been unwell recently, Wakefield. I hope you’re improving, and will get better soon, if you haven’t already. 🙂

  16. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi BR–it is not so much illness presently (though that was the case a couple of weeks ago) but the fact that I’ve been very busy.

    My comments about the NHS were to the effect that all nations have differing reasons and methods for approaching a type of nationalized health care regimen. As to Britain, the commentator I got that from was merely discussing the fact that the NHS more or less evolved out of Britain’s war experience where private HC would not have sufficed, and the regimen stuck around. As to the favor it has with the British people depsite my understanding of MRI wait times, procudural difficulties, etc, I really don’t have an answer for that perception.

    Americans are people who tap their feet at the speedier cooking of a microwave, so we have to take cultural differences as read on perceptions of waiting times on other things, I suppose 🙂

    As to Hoofnagle, I actually agreed that his automatic connections to other issues not readily congealed down by hard numbers as a form of advocacy is a devious form of propoganda.

    Science/Rationality vs. Ignorance and mental muddlefuddle

    It’s a clever tactic.

    The last comment I’ll make, regarding National Health Care or so-called “single payer” health care, is that while I’m not sure how Brits perceive the inner workings of governemnt, and it seems at least some of them on the Right (I’ve talked to some UK libertarians, and they can be angry people when it came to Blair and Jacqui Smith, whom they call a tavern mutt” :)), I am NOT sure you guys have experience the mistrust we Americans have honed to a fine art.

    And for good reason. We get lied to quite often. Whether the issue is the prevarication on guns or health care or even car taxes and carbon credits, there is no end to the incessant qualifiers and shrugs offs when people start asking questions.

    Thus for example only recently, unless one knew some high level people and/or did some extensive digging into handy quotes (which are denied) or looked at the advocacy groups’ comments, the fact is we got fibbed to regarding nationalized health care. Over and over and over we were told it would be more along the lines of Austrialian care and not Brit or Canadian. While the last two have private insurers, for most practical purposes they don’t figure much in the issue of the average person. Indeed why would they. They can be pricey. Which is OUR problem now. In the Aussie model advocated (so we were told), we’d have competing factions, of both private and public health organizations enter into bidding wars, etc.

    If only. Russ Feingold and some other senators of late more recently let the cat out of the bag to the effect that ONE system was always the final and only goal here.

    So whatever the merits of any issue, we can’t start a debate-and do not get listened to–on topics ranging from confusion over everything from carbon credits to the controversy over gun laws being revisited, etc.

    As to Mark Steyn, for brevity I’ll only add that his take is that SM is the tipping point because at THAT point, in his opinion, the average citizen takes it as read that government all but dictates the primal functions of life. If costs are to be controlled, then government involvement in what you eat or drink and lifestyle issues is paramount as a “preventative” health issue, etc.

    Britain is well involved still in war and high stakes politics, so her case could be different, bt at this “tipping” point, notice that the “biggest” issues in some parliaments these days is health care issues, paternity leave now coming about, and other personal issues like vacation time.
    Steyn says that when this happens and little of national importance is being discussed, at this point government need no long bother asking about the larger questions.

    So the irony is that on these visceral, primal issues now subcontracted to government, the larger issues become, as Charles Murray said, “mere irritants.” Elections for larger concerns make no difference.

    I happen to know that many Britons would spit on Smith if they could, and ill regard her PC nannyism. My understanding is that she and some of her cronies are on the way out.

    Now having said this, it might be a stretch, as of late many Europeans are doing a double take on such issues as immigration reform, Muslim extremism, and even calling on some rollbacks of various benefits in order to be more austere and efficient in goverment, etc.

    As to the comments from D. Alexander, THAT WOULD BE a VERY interesting experiment indeed!

    I recommend the works also of the late Julian Simon, and a rather expensive and long book called “Rational Readings In Environmental Concerns” (ed. Jay Lehr, PhD)

    Some of the info is dated, but it goes through the scientific debate but ALSO details the epistimological history of the modern ecology movement, tracing it back to such thinkers as Earnst Haekel and John Muir and radical movements in pre Weimar Germany. It is a form of faith, taken as such, now trying to recast itself as being undergirded by the Aristotelian scientific method and cold hard facts, when nothing could be further from the truth, and the main success is not so much due their “findings” (they are all refuted) but rather the influence of media parroting and government busybodies–and fear.

    The authors are not pollyannas and do not say there are no problems to be solved, but rather warn that these challenges are best examined without hysterial, and contra the tactics of the Greens and others, the hysteria is not helping but rather setting up a “cry wolf” syndrome when real problems emerge and the public is jaded on the false alarms like Alar, acid rain, Global Warming, PCB, DDT, etc. Simon is also a contributor, and points out for one example the issue of deforestation is not so simple as we’re led to think, even if the result is ugly.

    Simon is famous for discussing the real nature of resource supply as it relates to price, and why much of the fears about depletion are scaremongering and hype, as well as utterly taking apart what you alluded to above in the so-called “Population Bomb” of Paul Erlich fame–the guy who warned that right about now half of us would be dead, if not more, and we’d be taking gondola rides to the Empire State Building.

    As to PZ Myers, while Lippard made note of where he got that handy list from, it seems that is a common list around the Net, and I think PZ just congealed it on Science Blogs for convenience.

    I’ll examine your thoughts on that later.

    Thanks.

  17. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the reply. I’m glad you haven’t been ill, and hope that whatever it is that’s been keeping you busy for the past few weeks or so settles down a bit. Unless, of course, you’re being paid extra for it. 🙂

    Regarding your remark

    My comments about the NHS were to the effect that all nations have differing reasons and methods for approaching a type of nationalized health care regimen. As to Britain, the commentator I got that from was merely discussing the fact that the NHS more or less evolved out of Britain’s war experience where private HC would not have sufficed, and the regimen stuck around.

    you’re right about the reason, or one of the reasons, why the British NHS system developed, and that different nations have various reasons for the development of their own health care systems. Aside from the specific issue of the NHS, there has been a lot of debate by historians and political scientists about why Socialism generally hasn’t taken off in America in the way it has in Europe. I think that part of the answer has been that, like 19th century Britain, America has become a major power – indeed, now the world’s only superpower – through captialism and free trade. Also, during the American Revolution and the subsequent development of the American political system, Americans rebelled against feudal privilege and constructed a democratic government, while Europeans had to wait much longer during the 19th and 20th centuries for that to occur. I got the impression from this that capitalism is thus generally viewed as a liberating system in America against the forces of arbitrary government and class privilege, and also democratic in the sense that it’s considered that anyone is capable of succeeding through talent and hard work. In European countries, however, capitalism may instead be viewed as part of an oppressive class system because of the way the feudal social order continued to persist, or was perceived to persist. I also think you’re right that Americans have a much stronger distrust of government than Europeans, which I’ll try and discuss below.

  18. Beastrabban Says:

    As to Hoofnagle, I actually agreed that his automatic connections to other issues not readily congealed down by hard numbers as a form of advocacy is a devious form of propoganda. You did, indeed, Wakefield, and I should probably have acknowledged that fact in my last post. I didn’t, as I wanted to tackle some of the issues I felt were contentious, and that meant that I didn’t mention it, even though it tied in with some of the other comments you made.

    Regarding the works of the late Julian Simon and Jay Lehrer’s Rational Readings in Environmental Concerns , that does sound very interesting and one to look up. What it says about Ernst Haeckel and radical enviromentalism in Weimar Germany sounds very interesting indeed, and doesn’t surprise me. The Nazis ‘blut und boden’ – ‘blood and soil’ ideology viewed evolution as being directly and influenced by the organisms environment, and so to preserve what they considered to be the distinguishing features of the Aryan race they attempted to preserve and even to recreate the aspects of the German environment that had produced them. The British journalist, Jon Ronson, in a programme on BBC Radio 4 a few months ago documented the way the Nazis, as part of this programme, had attempted to recreate the aurochs, the massive Iron Age cattle, through selective breeding. A few years there was real concern in parts of the radical section of the Green movement over the way the extreme Right appeared to have infiltrated it. Now I do think the environmental degredation is a real issue, but there’s certainly an increasing amount of scepticism as well over this side of the Atlantic over some of the extreme claims of environmental destruction. Also, over here most of the coverage of climate change/ global warming is uncritically supportive. Channel 4 did broadcast a documentary criticising it and the science it was based on, but it was widely criticised in turn, and I’m not aware that there have been any further TV documentaries taking its line.

  19. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding your frustration with the government, and the way the administration suggested that it would choose the Australian medical system, rather than the British or European model when it had already decided on the latter, this seems to me to be the general conduct of politicians right across the political spectrum, regardless of the specific policy. The British former Conservative politician and Spectator journalist, Matthew Parris, in his book Great Parliamentary Scandals describes his own dismay and sadness at this when he and a Labour politician were escorting a delegation of workers from the Midlands to parliament to hand a petition to the then Prime Minister, John Major, protesting against a government decision that would result in the closure of their factory. One of the ladies leading the delegation remarked to Parris that she was absolutely certain they’d be listened to as they had important politicians like him supporting them. Parris said that at this point he felt extremely depressed and wretched, as he knew that the decision to close the plant had already been taken, and that nothing he nor anyone else would do that day would change it. Looking at the behaviour and the comments of some of Britain’s politicians, it seems that they view the business of government as pushing through the reforms and policies they want, regardless of whether they are in fact wanted by the people, and then attempting to alter public opinion so that they support these policies. There was a lot of talk by New Labour politicians and policy advisors about getting the message across to the electorate, and it does seem that increasingly politicians view themselves as distant from the electorate, who are required to support them, rather than it being their duty to properly represent the electorate and their interests.

    As for resentment of Labour politicians, there’s certainly a lot of it, not just amongst Libertarians and the traditional Conservative Right over here. A lot of people generally have found their attitude actually rather arrogant, and that they’ve ignored the wishes and sensibilities of ordinary people. Part of this has been due to the scandal over MPs’ expenses. A very large number of MPs across all, or nearly all the parties, were found to be making very high expenses claims for personal items. The husband of one Labour MP – possibly Hazel Blears – put in a claim for the cost of a couple of porn films he’d watched on one of the cable channels, while a Tory MP claimed for his moat to be cleaned. You can see how well this is all going to go down during a recession when ordinary people are worried about having a job next week, or if their business is going to be forced to close, or having to take a cut in wages. The attitude of a lot of politicians has been that they’ve done nothing wrong – which technically, they haven’t, as however questionable the morality of it was, the rules actually allowed them to do it. One senior Labour MP made herself very unpopular on one of the BBC’s political programmes, Newsnight or Question Time by not only denying that she and her colleagues had done anything wrong, but also that the public had no right to question them and criticise them for making these expenses at all.

    Also, it’s fair to say that Gordon Brown’s government has become extremely unpopular because of the current banking crisis. Brown supported deregulation of the banks and a reduction in state supervision, when it’s considered that the government should have been most closely watching the banks for the way they contracted extremely large amounts of ‘toxic debt’. Furthermore, as in America, the government has responded by nationalising and providing vast amounts of government funds to the banks worst affected, which were responsible for the crisis. The thinking was that if the government provided the banks with the necessary financial support and credit, they in turn would pass this on to their customers, who needed it, thus restoring the flow of money and credit. This didn’t occur, and many of the bankers instead refused to lend on the money, while awarding themselves massive pay increases and bonuses. The most notorious of these was the chairman of one of the former banks, nicknamed Fred ‘the Shred’ because of the way he’d destroyed some of the relevant documentation, who gave himself a multi-million pound pension fund, partly from the government monies he’d received after the bail out. If the government has allowed his bank to collapse, he’d have been left with a few thousand, or nothing at all. I think it’s fair to say that during this crisis, the government has been perceived as being lax or incompetent in its policies, and rewarding corruption, irresponsibility and gross mismanagement and incompetence in the financial sector.

  20. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding your observation that the British, with the exception of Libertarians, don’t have the same basic distrust of government as Americans, I think that’s true. I think that some of this is due to the different political cultures in Britain and America, coupled with the fact that only one British Prime Minister has ever been assassinated, and no Prime Minister, however unpopular, impeached. These seem to have been the events in American history in the 20th century that badly damaged most Americans’ respect for the presidency and faith in their own country.

    I got the impression that much of Americans’ distrust of government and of strong central authority is based on the events of the Revolution. British rule was resented as distant, arbitrary and not based on the proper representation of Americans themselves in the imperial political process, quite apart from the economic complaints that British mercantilist policies were contrary to and harming American commercial interests. After the Revolution, although many of the Founding Fathers were mistrustful of democracy, they were also very much concerned to avoid the emergence in America of a strong, oppressive central authority such as a monarchy or military dictatorship. Indeed, the Constitution was drawn up to prevent this ever arising in America.

    Now the American Revolution was part of a general debate over the nature of government, popular sovereigntyand representation, the source of political power and the best political constitution that occurred across Europe. The Founding Fathers based their ideas on radical 17th century British theories that had developed during the British Civil War and Interregnum. However, while many British people sympathised with the Americans during the campaign for Independence, especially the lower classes who were generally excluded from the British aristocratic political system, British radicalism was severely damaged by the outbreak of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The atrocities committed by the French Revolutionaries, and warfare with France and the threat of invasion made radical politics extremely unpopular. When constitutional change did occur in the 19th century, it was through a process of gradual reform and the slow extension of the franchise as the British constitution was adapted to suit the new, industrial society, rather than a rapid political transformation. Fuirthermore, the monarchy itself became far more popular as it reflected the moral values and industrial and technological interests of the emerging, respectable middle class. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a very happy marriage, which reflected contemporary middle class ideals, rather than the sexual immorality that had been notorious amongst 18th century politicians and aristocrats. Prince Albert also took a great interest the development of British industry and technology, and was keen to promote them in his official capacity as Prince Consort. Thus the monarchy was identified with the general interests of British commerce and society, and, except for a few years in the middle of Victoria’s reign, Republicanism in Britain was very weak.

    I got the impression that despite the suspicion of oppressive central authority in American politics, most Americans still had faith in the essential goodness of the government until the Kennedy assassination and Nixon’s impeachment. There’s a set of statistics around that demonstrate how badly those two events affected Americans perception of their government. Before Kennedy’s assassination, the vast majority of Americans overwhelmingly believed in the fundamental goodness of the presidency. With Kennedy’s assassination, and the way it remained unsolved, or appeared to remain unsolved, an increasing number of Americans responded to similar official interviews that they did not trust their government. This proportion massively increased after Nixon’s impeachment.

    While there have been attacks on the lives of British politicians, including the Prime Minister and cabinet, the vast majority of these were caused by Irish Nationalists, and were part of the conflict over the demands for Irish independence. Unlike Kennedy’s assassination, there were no rumours or allegations that these assassinations were arranged by dissatisfied elements within the state itself. Furthermore, no British Prime Minister has been impeached, and so while British Prime Ministers can be extremely unpopular personally, there isn’t the perception that they are intent on destroying or undermining the British Constitution for their own personal gain in the way Nixon was perceived to have done. Also, for much of the 20th century British political culture was deferential and paternalistic. It was believed that, whatever the problems presented by specific policies, politicians generally acted for the good of the people. That relationship changed in the 1960s, when the media became much less deferential towards politicians and there were a series of exposes where the state had apparently acted to exploit its citizens. Despite this, I think there is still a fundamental belief in British society in the value of government, even when particular administrations and policies are attacked and extremely unpopular.

    I got the impression that over here, Libertarianism appeared under the influence of some of the radical critiques of the role of the state that emerged in America in the 1980s. Ayn Rand is known over here, but she isn’t as popular or as well-known as she is in America. I also don’t know how many British people have heard of Rothbard or Nozick outside of those with a very strong interest in political science and philosophy. I’m not saying that their ideas haven’t had an impact along with the ideas of Libertarian economists like Von Hayek – indeed, Margaret Thatcher was a fan of Von Hayek’s. It’s just that they’re not the household names that they are in America.

  21. beastrabban Says:

    You’re right about there being an increasing debate and concern over immigration and Islam in Britain, Wakefield. Black and Asian immigration has been an issue since the 1960s, and the first attempt to restrict it was by the Conservative PM Edward Heath after an extremely controversial, vehement speech by the Conservative MP Enoch Powell. It was concerns about immigration that contributed to the rapid expansion of the National Front in the 1970s. At one point they were expected to become Britain’s fourth major political party. However, their expansion was halted partly by the election of Margaret Thatcher’s administration. Thatcher introduced further restrictions on immigration, but also succeeded in creating and promoting a British patriotism that was apart from, and rejected, racism, and so took support away from the National Front by providing a centre-Right form of patriotism, away from that of the extreme Right. Immigration has again become an important political issue with the development of mass immigration in the 1990s, possibly as a result of globalisation and improvements in global transport, as well as increasing numbers of people attempting to escape tyrannical regimes around the world. There have been demands to reduce benefits, particularly to immigrants and asylum seekers, to dissuade them from coming to Britain. However, the organisation Immigration Watch recently stated that the British benefits system weren’t a factor in attracting immigrants to Britain. Possibly many economic migrants come to Britain simply in the belief that it’s a prosperous country where they’ll find work and succeed.

    There’s also increasing concern about the development of radical Islam in Britain. It’s been a cause of particular concern after 7/7 and similar incidents, as when a pair of Islamic terrorists attempted to bomb Glasgow airport during the G8 summit the other year. There has considerable controversy over apparent support for radical Islamist groups from supposedly moderate Muslim organisations, and speeches and addresses attacking non-Muslims, gays and feminism from various British mosques. Apart from this, there is a general concern about the rise of radical, separatist Islamic groups, and multiculturalism has been criticised by both the Left and the Right as contributing the development of these separatist ideologies and the refusal by some immigrants to integrate into British society.

  22. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s discuss Steyn’s contention that state involvement in health care reduces people to dependency on the government, draws attention away from issues of national importance and provides a pretext for further government involvement in the private lives of its citizens to combat issues like the obesity epidemic as a form of preventative care.

    Firstly, the statement that debates in some parliaments are more about issues like health care, paternity leave and so on, rather than issues of national importance is actually a question of perspective and priorities, rather than a question simply of important parliamentary time being devoted to comparatively minor issues. Most governments are concerned with the health and wellbeing of their citizens, regardless of the amount of state interference in the medical sector, if only in the basic sense that they are concerned to prevent the outbreak of serious epidemics with the consequent harm to society and industry, quite apart from the personal suffering of those afflicted. In Britain the state began to become involved in health issues in the late Victorian and Edwardian period through a concern with national efficiency. It was feared that the poor health of working class citizens was a danger to the effectiveness of the British army, and would lead Britain to fall behind her foreign competitors in industrial productivity. So some basic provisions were made to improve the health of the poor, such as free medical care for the poor, and free meals and milk in school. In this instance the resources of the state were being used to benefit its poorer citizens partly in the interest of the state itself in the form of the armed forces, but also to support the country’s industrial interests. Industry itself remained private, and there was no intention by those who formed the policy of attempting to damage private industry.

    As for the debates about paternity leave, although they may be comparatively unimportant in themselves, they’re part of a wider, more important debate about the nature of society, and specifically about gender equality, so again these issues are important in the sense that they are part of this wider debate. Moreover, some of the arguments for paternity leave and other, similar benefits are that they’ll also benefit society as a whole by making it fairer, while many of the arguments for gender equality state that industry will also benefit. I am not saying these arguments are necessarily valid, only that they have been made and that these debates have emerged and are taking up parliamentary time because of the immense importance the policians engaged in the debate feel they possess. I don’t think it’s simply a case of comparatively unimportant issues taking up time that could otherwise be better used to discuss more important issues. If the other issues were felt to be more important, then more time would be devoted to discussing them, rather than health care and equality issues.

    Now let’s deal with the statement that socialised medicine provides the tipping point for government involvement in people’s private lifestyles. Now you’re right in that the government has become much more involved in telling people what to eat. There were posters up around Britain earlier this year and last year advising people on the maximum amount of salt to eat per day. At the moment there are adverts running on British TV advising parents to feed their children less, and make sure they get plenty of exercise, as a way of avoiding the obesity epidemic. And yes, there have been some extremely stupid and immoral suggestions that those who are obese or smoke should be refused medical care, or certain forms of medical care, in order to keep costs down. I don’t know how serious the latter suggestions were, and I suspect that they didn’t have any serious support beyond the individuals who made them. Now I believe that regardless of the amount of state involvement in the provision of health care, there would still be official attempts by the state to change people’s lifestyles because of the harm to industry and wider society of a chronically unfit population. In many of the debates about health issues, one of the points always raised to demonstrate how serious the problem is the damage these illnesses may have on industrial productivity. For example, media reports covering the problems posed to the country through back pain or injury may give the number of working days lost per year through workers having to take time off because of it, along with official advice on how to remedy the problem, or demands for greater medical resources to be allocated to its treatment. In this instance the pressure to alter personal lifestyles comes from private industry, and so, by the same logic Steyn uses to claim that state medicine represents a threat to personal autonomy and responsibility, one could extend the argument to conclude that private industry also presents a similar threat, as there is pressure from a collective section of society demanding official expression and the implementation of policies to correct it on the individual. The expense of providing care for certain types of ailments is merely part of a number of arguments concerned to force people to change their eating and smoking habits in the interests of the country as a whole.

  23. beastrabban Says:

    As for socialised medicine making people dependent on the state, the NHS was established because large sections of British society didn’t have adequate health care provided by private industry. It wasn’t a case of people being forced into a dependent relationship, but simply of providing a basic service that many people at that time seriously lacked. As for being infantilised, part of that argument assumes that everyone has the ability to find out and decide for themselves what they can do regarding their health and specific medical issues. Yet in many, perhaps most cases, the medical knowledge required to make an informed decision is extremely specialised and such that an ordinary layman could not be expected to know or easily be able to find out. In this instance, state involvement does not infantilise the individual as the premises on which this view is based has an unrealistic view of ordinary people’s ability to find out and decide for themselves important issues regarding their health, when in fact they have to rely on the advice of their doctor. Furthermore, one could argue that state intervention allows people to become more responsible. At the moment, doctors are concerned that more people should consult them regularly to combat certain diseases before they become a major problem, such as cancer. Yet if the costs of health care are such that people are worried about being able to afford it, they may not seek the medical help they need. In this case, the lack of state care encourages people to act irresponsibly by neglecting their health.

    I also have to say I’m extremely suspicious about some of the comments about the ‘nanny state’. This first started to appear in the last years of Mrs. Thatcher’s administration and John Major’s government, which pursued a policy of privatisation. This suggested that the state as an institution was a danger to personal autonomy at the very time when the state was being removed from large sections of British industry and society. It’s a contradictory statement. I suspect the problem wasn’t in the nature of the state, but in the changing nature of British society, in which politicians were required to support policies specifically geared to promoting certain, very specific groups or issues, and as a way of micro-managing the population after the retreat of ‘big government’.

  24. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi BR.

    My time is limited, and while you mentioned several topics, I can’t cover it all, and I’ll have to get back to the other issues regarding PZ and Co. later. A few things have come up that will require more of my attention and I’m behind on some work issues….

    I think, overall, and without trying to continue the issue of the NHS, etc, Steyn would retort that life requires a balance in the public and private spheres, and his point was that with socialized meds (and not even getting into the issue of rationing the care, which is important but I’ll have to leave for the moment) is that not only is there a cost consideration that Americans are not used to that shows up in the deficit spending concerns already burdoning us, but that this is the point at which whatever oversight committees are in charge MUST make vital changes to lifestyle, etc. Some might consider this good, others point to more intrusion.

    No one here denies the need for the poor and the indigent in other ways to have access to health care. The problem is really the structure and size and SCOPE of such things. In the attempt to cover it all and make 800,000 doctors cover the needs in an already hectic schedule for 250 million clients, we are to now move to no more doctors but rather 300 million clients. I understand yours and others take on the requirements to look after, say, more preventative care, etc, and to cover more people.

    But we ignore the math at our peril, and unfortunately when it comes to boosting the other end of this dark equation no one on either side of the aisle (as we say of our two parties) is advancing HOW to stimulate more turnout of quality doctors or defray the massive costs of medical school.
    Right now the path to a MD is costly, and lengthy, and with little incentive other than big bucks at some future date and with the prospects of paying for college loans and med school loans into your 50s in some cases.

    The polls taken that purport to show wide support for some massive change are understandibly biased to the effect that NO ONE, including me, is really happen about the (almost literally) exploding costs of health care and coverage. This IS one of those cases where the respondents can be made to show anything, because obviously SOME form of change will be occuring whether I wish it or not, and the blame is on the fact that US health care continues to be undergirded by the insurance industry. Some have stated this is a mistake and a better approach would be to REMOVE insurance from the whole puzzle and make the payment less complicated. This would disadvantage some, yes. But overall it would probably drive costs down.

    In other words, doctors charge the maximum precisely because they CAN do so if they know the coverage will be repriced to their desires. Getting private insurance that covers what you mentioned for example about preventative care is horridly expensive. The problem is that this rich coverage is now an assumed part of corporate compensation packages and this drives up the market rate for those of us self-employed. Like myself.

    Another thing to keep firmly in mind is that for over 1/2 century now, the US has partially removed the burdonsome nationalized costs of her allies in Europe and Japan and other places under presumptive NATO and other alliance protection ever since the rebuilding days of the Marshall Plan by spending far more on military gear and personnel and pledging the ultimate “backup” plan for life and limb if the Soviets or Chinese ever caused any real trouble.

    Some may argue the efficacy of all this. Including myself. Others say it was not necessary at all and ever since Stalin and Mao died we’re just enriching the military, the Pentagon pencil-pushers, etc, and no one needed to fight off paper tigers.

    Nontheless, the money was and is still being spent, and those small percentage points difference make a world of trillions over the 5 plus decades in question. So in turn one might say, as some economists have, the European lifestyle up to and including medical services, is made the more affordable on the American taxpayer’s dime.

    I don’t want to delve too much into THAT, because while important still does not address the main thrust of nationalized health care, but Steyn did raise the issue of something else. If this aid is cut off and the world becomes a darker place and then sans American money–then what??

    And then what about the massive dollars that American private industry has flowing into research and develeopment of the latest drugs? Who will be the “fallback” position if this were to end or be sharply curtailed?

    I noted American’s broader mistrust of government, and agree with your observations about the main reasons. In the past, Americans merely admired wealth accumulation and only under extreme duress would glare a yellow eye at those with more. The separation of rich and poor was seen in Calvinistic terms and part of the routine of life, and so the differences had to be perceived as wretched and so grievous that SOMETHING had to be intentional in the class structure before Americans got hot under the collar about such disparity.

    I have little admiration for the “name it and claim it” crowd of Christianity saying that if you’re in God’s will, you’ll be showered with a Jaguar and diamonds, and stacks of cold cash and coins. Nonsense. No Scriptural reference, from the days of Job to Paul and everyone in-between, supports the notion that faith brings wealth any more than it brought automatic relief from Paul’s legendary Thorn In The Flesh.

    The so-called “robber barons” of the railroad the trust age had a longer time coming under fire, even though we too had utopian communities like Oneida and calls for bettering society. Many oversight agencies and calls for action took quite a while to gain steam. The argument being that any government (paraphrasing T. Jefferson) that was powerful enough to grant you a better life by law and fiat was powerful enough to remove your life’s other attributes completely. Americans distrust the almost native chicanery of government more so than the errors of private enterprise for the very reason that in the latter case no corporation on earth can force you into purchasing a product or service and there is always some form of choice, even if not readily apparent.

    Government, however, has a natural monopoly on force.

    Also, I think in fairness, while often hypocritical, of course, Americans have a lower threshold and tolerance for scandal and what constitutes such. Take our own SC governor Mark Sanford, now caught on the horns of an adulterous affair with some Argentine woman. He makes mockery of his own Christian ideals and down home style. For a French politicians (though I think the Brits are more discerning about such matters of the flesh), this is not as big a deal, and some of their pols even introduce their charming mistresses to the media, with the wife at the side.

    So cultural perceptions (other than blatant money abuse) are different across the Pond in some cases.

    PJ O’Rourke had a funny quip in the form of a question, to the effect that we all admire national and social goals that supercede us, but would you REALLY kill your mother in order to pave Interstate Hwy 95?

    Probably not. There are limits to self-sacrifice on behalf of national goals.

    But the other problem here is that these arguments are being advanced at a time when at least my nation has been caught virtually PRINTING money in order to advance something called a “stimulus” package when in fact many percieve it just a handout to various interest groups who work in or related to government padded jobs.

    So the untruth and the slick salesmanship bungle the very arguments that were suspect to begin with.

    I’ll get around to PZ in the next post, as there ARE some issues I wanted to hash out with you!

    Thanks!

    –WT

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