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Lessons

by on February 18, 2022

Lessons

by Marco M. Pardi

Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.” Samuel Johnson 1751

All comments are greatly welcomed and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

Yeah. Capital punishment. That oughta teach ’em.” Tricia Nixon, daughter of then President Richard M. Nixon.

I remember being stunned silent by the “logic” portrayed in that utterance. But then, she was an ardent Republican, a cult not known for intellectual development. Nevertheless, as a first time parent and a relatively new college instructor it set me to thinking about other concepts of lessons. Until the age of 15, when I dropped the pretense of believing in a religion, I had been schooled by teachers who, despite their subject, found ways to inform and remind us that we all were born into Original Sin, condemned to Hell by Eve’s gustatory mistake unless we were absolved through a very specific line of baptism. Wait a minute. Wasn’t that Eve’s lesson to learn? How did I get dragged into this? So some guy commits a murder and we all have to line up for a seat on Old Sparky? It seemed that someone was conflating lesson with punishment. And when did group punishment become acceptable, beyond the actions of dictatorships on battlefields? At least the Romans practiced decimation. When a legion showed cowardice in battle the survivors were formed in ranks and every 10th man was killed, coward or not. And no one called it anything other than punishment. After all, it’s hard to say a dead man learned his lesson. Maybe the survivors learned a lesson. Those of us experienced in combat learned early that you can’t hurt a dead guy anymore, or teach him new tricks.

Around the same time the Nixon crowd was in the White House the “New Age” movement was quickly growing. Well, why not? In VietNam General Westmoreland had us looking for the light at the end of the tunnel – which turned out to be an oncoming NVA battalion. President Nixon was telling us that ketchup was a vegetable. And something is not illegal if the President does it. Disney World was opening in Central Florida. The ultra fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell started his Moral Majority (it was neither) movement and one-stop mega churches sprouted across the land like hallucinogenic mushrooms while televangelists bilked stay-at-home old folks out of their Social Security checks. The Scopes Trial was revisited as schools were pressured to give equal time to “Intelligent Design”. It was an era of Pick Your Fantasy.

But the New Age movement brought in a revised curriculum, revised because it altered a core religious idea (life’s purpose as a physical classroom to develop a spiritual entity, your soul, through certain approved lessons) and turned it to their own purposes. Whole forests fell to the demands of publishers hawking books on life’s purpose, and buying such books was high on many a list. I, however, had different priorities.

While taking a graduate course in Criminology I spent some time with road crew chain gangs in a Southern state. Group punishment was enforced on them when one of them, out hacking weeds with the crew, attempted escape. Sometimes one or more prisoners were unshackled so they could get into the sloping weeds. Of course, a guard on a horse could ride them down or shoot them before they got far. But the thinking was that the others must have known of the escapee’s intent and, not having snitched on him, they were deserving of punishment. That seemed to work, though it must also have inspired the escapee to try harder since he didn’t want a beating once returned to the prison. Logic. Not exactly a pleasant way to employ logic, but there it is.

More peaceful opportunities to employ logic presented themselves in the form of physicians I knew in one context or another. Several of them were very highly ranked in their field. Yet, although religion seldom came up I knew a few of them were devout believers, even some in what are considered the more primitive forms of religion, such as absolutely literal belief in the Bible.

These few devout physicians bothered me. Even those who believed in mainline religions seemed puzzling. I knew they must have been exposed to science at some point in their education, yet at least a couple of them believed the universe and all that’s in it was created in six days, all current life forms descended from those forms lucky enough to score tickets for Noah’s cruise ship, a virginal woman in the Middle-East got impregnated by a god and delivered a god. Something just didn’t make sense. But then……………the clouds parted and a thought came down.

These people weren’t scientists; they were highly skilled technicians. They were excellent at applying the lessons learned for them by scientists but they were not scientists. And that was a lesson for me.

Others, specifically the mega church pastors cited above, seemed to have learned a lesson as well. Thumbing through my worn copy of Lord Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy I again came across his explanation of how the early rock stars of science, Kepler, Newton et al, pulled us from the abyss of the Dark Ages. Remember the Holy Roman Empire, the seamless blend of singular and dogmatic theology with autocratic politics? Russell explains how The Reformation fractured the hold the Roman Church had on Europe, allowing the formation of multiple dissenting churches, each too weak to control national politics in their home countries as the Roman Church had for so long. Thus, more books were published and fewer developing scientists went up in smoke at the stake.

But it seems no good lesson goes unturned into nefarious ends. Falwell proclaimed credit, largely due, for getting the Ronald Reagan cult into the White House by absorbing the then Republican party as a largely owned subsidiary. But the power brokers in the Evangelical movement realized their lasting strength could come only from the ground up. They began infiltrating local school boards, library boards, county commissions, election boards, local media and all other institutions of influence on the public mind. As national media conglomerates expanded and solidified more and more local markets found themselves narrowed into echo chamber offerings which, in the case of television, became peppered with “eye candy” faux journalists and college drop-outs.

Furthermore, long sworn denominational enemies who had engaged in some of the bloodiest internecine warfare in history, overcame their animus through discovery of common ground: abortion, contraception, and the threat logical science posed to their fantasies. The growing distrust and outright hostility to science played well for the primary funders of the Republican Party, the fossil fuel industry, and its cover up of the deadly climate change they well knew was coming.

Once again the stage was set for holy combat with science and the dangerous powers of the free and logical intellect. Today we are seeing books and videos banned, even burned in a reenactment of Fahrenheit 451. I remember the priest announcing the weekly book and movie ban at each Sunday Mass during the 1950’s. As far as I know, the Roman church stopped doing that as they might have noticed how it boosted sales. Today no conscious person can have missed the furor over “Critical Race Theory” in K-12 schools, a non-issue since almost no one knows what it really is and it isn’t taught below the college level. Several States have re-engineered their voting laws to ensure that people likely to vote Democrat, and thus support efforts to curb climate change, are less able to vote. Draconian anti-abortion and even anti-contraception laws are proliferating across those same States. But the Ring Which Binds Them All, at least for now, is the issue of common sense defenses against a very dangerous and easily transmitted virus.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against stupid people dying. I do have an issue with stupid people seriously damaging or killing those who try to act responsibly. I have an issue with stupid people filling up hospitals and thereby denying needed care to those with serious chronic or emergency conditions. I do have an issue with stupid people conflating freedom with lack of responsibility.

So what lesson do I take from this? Keep my mouth shut and my head down, or speak out? I hope you are asking yourselves the same.

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19 Comments
  1. Mike Stamm permalink

    Thoughtful as always, particularly in these decadent, self-indulgent, anti-intellectual days. (Actually, it’s hard to remember a time in the US when anti-intellectualism wasn’t the order of the day, overtly or covertly). And it is increasingly incumbent on us all, whether we like it or not, to resist these trends openly and vocally. (PS: it’s nit-picking, but the “tomato as vegetable” idea is a product of the Reagan administration, not Nixon’s; and it actually grew out of an FDA notion late in the Carter administration stating in so many words that (among other things) pickle relish could be considered a vegetable as far as school dietary requirements were concerned.)

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  2. Thanks, Mike. I was sure I remembered it from the Nixon administration. Lesson learned.

    Yes, I remember the nasty comments made about Adlai Stevenson. Anti-intellectualism probably goes back to the Founding of the country.

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  3. From Mike: Yep. Today’s GOP hasn’t claimed the title in so many words, but the 19th-century Know-Nothing party would recognize them in a heartbeat. Taking pride in such a name, such an approach to life, must be another aspect of the death-wish drive that makes people refuse the COVID vaccine even when they know that doing so will mean their deaths.

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  4. Dana permalink

    Marco, here is a wonderful comment from Tilly in Canada:

    “Marco, your point about physicians who are also devout believers being more technician than scientist, as well as your issue with stupid people clogging up the healthcare system are both very valid. I’ve often pointed out throughout the pandemic the false logic employed by the anti vaxxers. They refuse to embrace the proven science behind an effective vaccine, but yet they are the first in line to fill up precious hospital beds in order to take advantage of medical science in order to save their own lives. If one looks up hypocrisy in the dictionary one finds: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. Sound familiar???”

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    • Thank you, Tilly (and Dana). Indeed, the hypocrisy you cite is manifest in so many ways. The “Right to Life” people predominantly attempt to cut vital social support to infants and families, making them Right to Birth and birth alone supporters. The people who chant Freedom as a mantra are the first to restrict the right of selected people to vote. And we can certainly go on. If people had even a fundamental grasp of the life saving services our collective efforts provide there would be little or no resistance to doing something for the public good. But scorched earth personal greed seems to drive the rancor we see increasing today.

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  5. From Tilly: In Canada right now there’s a disturbing trend with the “Trucker Convoy” protests across the country. “Protesters” have occupied the nation’s capital for the past month and are now being forcibly evicted by law enforcement. They have also blockaded border crossings. They say they are fighting for freedom and yet their actions restrict the freedom of others at every turn.

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  6. Thanks, Tilly. And there have been reports that U.S. citizens are participating and funding the activities. It is very easy to think these people are just primitive, and no doubt many are, but I think we should look behind the scenes for the economic and political motives. The Trump cabal was and is expert at “rabble rousing”.

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  7. jkent33 permalink

    You certainly captured the tone of messages coming from thousands of churches. I was reared in the south attending both Methodist and Baptist churches who had to follow certain guidelines established by their founding sponsors. The Methodist were notably more liberal, to the point that the Baptist refused to take communion with any of us labeled Methodist. The idea that we even went to church with each other was because of a practice called “union” services. It seems there was a serious shortage of pastors during the Civil War to the point that whoever had the time they met at any church who could afford to keep a leader. None the less, it was apparent to me that I needed to only follow the teaching of the Methodist in order to keep my affiliation with any church to be accepted in my community. It was quite evident that the Baptist was more concerned by our thought patterns, length of the skirts of our females, amount of lip stick and of course if any of us imbibed strong drink. That ended when I moved away from that community when I attended college in a much larger city with a grand Methodist church whose pastor was liberal in nature that I found highly acceptable. He was educated in the north under extremely liberal teachings. We even had gay singers in the choir, a smattering of blacks and others and even a part-time female minister! I soon put my past to bed and certainly enjoyed the camaraderie of like believers. Along the same time, I tried to find and read as much as possible about banned books and a host of others things banned. We had peace marches at my college that was a private college sponsored by the Methodist church. That was the same time I cancelled my commitment to join the Air Force because I wanted to fight communism in Vietnam. When I saw what happened at Kent State my whole life took a firm turn to the “left”. I started following the activities of Jerry Falwell who was under attack of Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame. I even went to far as to visit the infamous Thomas Road group of churches. However, I was turned away at the gates heading up to Jerry’s mansion. I drove head on into the guard shack being manned by thugs pointing an GE electric machine gun planted in a parapet directed at me. I decided it was too risky. Of importance, I switched my political beliefs from GOP to Democrat. Guccione was writing at the time about the so called Dixie Mafia that was supported by Falwell and many others. That opened my eyes to everything I had believed about religion at that point. Like many I waffled about that decision. After surviving an acrimonious divorce, it occurred to me that my beliefs in a higher being were totally ignored, leaving my butt exposed to a rough period of time. I grew stronger and more dependent on my personal thoughts to guard against perils we face each day regardless of our beliefs in a higher being. To borrow a line from Ron Reagan of the Freedom From Religion Foundation: I am no longer afraid of burning in Hell! Today, I firmly believe that our greatest fear comes form everything Marco wrote today. We need to keep a watchful eye of anything coming from the religious right. There is a concerted effort to destroy our very democracy. Marco, you have again brought out into the light info that is important to follow and learn the next move by those behind that growing threat. You have since I first met you continue to challenge my mind to apply critical thinking analysis to every thing I both read and hear daily!! KUDOS for our efforts!

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    • Thank you, Jerry. Your saga inspires and I hope it motivates others. Since 9/11 many people have demonized radical Islam for its desire to impose a theocratic state on the world, especially the United States. Yet, these same people fail to see and understand that a consortium of Christian denominations intend to do the very same thing, imposing government according to their interpretation of biblical precepts. It is ignorance which feeds this movement and ignorance upon which it relies.

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      • jkent33 permalink

        Thank you for the breakout. I’ve mulled around those facts for the past 20 years since 911. Everytime, I vocalize that I get some weird looks.

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  8. Your initial reference to Tricia Nixon immediately took me back to the Nixon years. I was a teenager then, Vietnam was in full battle, and the country had gone to Hell in a handbasket. Things were so bad, in fact, that I swore I would never bring another human into a world so filled with strife. The bit of stupidity that I remember best was called Nixonomics; freeze all the prices for a time to let the economy catch up, and then watch the disaster when that ended. The small price increases which are inflation in its natural state are far less disturbing than the large jump which happens all at once when you let the financial monkeys loose.

    I enjoyed your reference to Tolkien’s One Ring, it made me chuckle. As I recall, that ring allowed the wearer to become invisible, but slowly turned them evil. It seems a fair correlation to those who truly control what is happening today. They hide in plain sight, and while pretending to be moral and political leaders, are modern “ring wraiths” in disguise, attempting to destroy anyone who would oppose them in their efforts “to rule them all”.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Yes, I’ve long been gladdened when people formerly in hiding came out in plain sight. Of course, my concern is that the rest of the people understand what they are now seeing.

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  9. Dana permalink

    Marco, I wrote what I felt was a thoughtful response, and it was in an draft outside of this site. I used a keyboard shortcut and thought I was about to copy and paste it here, bur I’m tired and must have used the wrong shortcut. Sigh…… My next device will have a back-lit keyboard.

    For some reason what I wrote in the quotation marks below is all that remained. So perhaps that’s what I was meant to share for now. What spoke to me most about this entry from you was related to the Samuel Jonson quote. It can seem so much easier to mock others, rather than putting forth dedicated effort into viewing other perspectives, no matter how glaringly wrong those perspectives are.

    “Empathy and compassion can be a constant challenge for me, especially when they involve humans with whom I cannot agree politically, spiritually, and so forth. It’s so much easier to make fun of what I can’t imagine finding acceptable.”

    Thank you for continuing to speak out. While so many of us live self-indulgently and in self-pity, you are selfless. I don’t know anyone else like you, and I know I never will.

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  10. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, I was raised with my dad teaching me to think for myself and make my own decisions, I am very grateful for that. In a world, in my opinion, that doesn’t always make sense, it’s good to keep an open mind. It is difficult for me to comprehend the decisions of world leaders both in the past and present. I feel beliefs and cultures that are accepted in various countries have institutionalised these accepted beliefs that are clearly insane, for example extreme inequality, torture, etc
    The world will never be fair and as I admire your critical thinking, on a higher level than I am capable of, in the end we can only make our own decisions and live our own lives. However, having said that certain incredible people have made huge contributions to advancement of humanity.
    I hope I haven’t lost your message with my comment.
    I hope you are well in your piece of the world ❤

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    • Thank you, Julie. It is precisely people of your caliber who provide wealth to the world, not the money some lust for, or the power, but the character, morals, and intelligence to know how and where to use your critical thinking abilities. I hope you consider this site one of many forums for you, as that is what it is intended to be.

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  11. Julie permalink

    This comment of yours is so perfect!!

    Thank you, Jerry. Your saga inspires and I hope it motivates others. Since 9/11 many people have demonized radical Islam for its desire to impose a theocratic state on the world, especially the United States. Yet, these same people fail to see and understand that a consortium of Christian denominations intend to do the very same thing, imposing government according to their interpretation of biblical precepts. It is ignorance which feeds this movement and ignorance upon which it relies

    Like

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