The Party of Science?

American politics are becoming increasingly absurd. The only word that describes the ongoing project of American progressives is “unreality.” There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of leftwing media to pridefully advance arguments that have nothing to do with observable reality. Now, the great philosophical question of our age is the degree to which committed partisans of the left genuinely subscribe to the narrative versus those who do so purely as a means to an end. Regardless of their sincerity, progressives everywhere agree that a counter-narrative to the status quo forces of oppression must be passionately sustained via the pent-up anxieties of the oppressed.

The left’s Marxist flame – their one and only “big idea” – finally petered out at the end of the 20th century, at least officially. Communism and collectivism were declared dead, the “end of history” pronounced, and it was assumed that the long bickering over classes and accumulation and distribution were settled. History however, does not cleanly dispatch with the “losing side” in almost any conflict. Within a generation of losing their claim on the colonies, the United Kingdom was back to burn down the White House and lay waste to Washington and Baltimore. The American South was not exactly docile in defeat, nor were they keen on sudden and immediate implementation of the 14th amendment, leading to their utter annihilation. The failed German revolutionaries of 1848 decamped to the American Midwest intent on importing the nouveau fads of progressivism and the welfare state into the American psyche. So it was with the Marxists and the class-warriors and the otherwise ignorant elites of the 20th century who decidedly did not abandon their ideological presumptions in response to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Whether the newly homeless Marxists migrated en masse to environmentalism or divvied it up so that elements of their tribe could be present in almost every facet of public life (the bureaucracy, the academy, the media, the Hollywood) is not really the point. What matters is that there was nothing approaching accountability. There was no mea culpa from elite liberal media for being wrong about totalitarian socialism. To this day the left refuses to acknowledge that the Soviets had an active and operational spy network in the United States during the Cold War, and pretend not to know of Alger Hiss. For the left, the number one priority is making their opposition look bad. Consistency and sound logic are subordinate to demonizing and discrediting. “So and so DESTROYS [conservative politican X]!!!” is a staple of fever swamp progressive internet because to the emotional and insecure for whom politics determines identity, it is more important to feel superior to your opponent than it is to be right on a given issue.

Status-signaling has replaced thinking on the left. Standing opposed to Israel or misogyny or bigotry is the price of admission into the cool cliques of campus or coastal liberalism. After purchasing yourself some coveted status as a tolerant and enlightened non-conservative, all you have to do is stick to the script. Master the hashtag and learn how it’s about feelings over facts. Thus will you arrive on the battlefield backed by an army of groupthinkers to slay the latest exhibition of privilege.

The dust-up over vaccines brings this tendency to bare. Rather than a sober mining of the data about who, exactly, are these Americans refraining from vaccinating their children, leftist partisans jumped on the comments from Chris Christie and Rand Paul as an opportunity to impugn Republicans – yet again – as the Neanderthal party of “science deniers.” Never mind the minute detail that the anti-vaxxer craze is predominantly a feature of the left, particularly the well-heeled, coastal enclave left. Upwards of 50% of kindergarteners are not vaccinated for MMR at schools in San Diego and Marin counties. Oregon and Vermont have the highest per-capita populations of anti-vaxxers. Yes, elements of the libertarian and home-school right are wary of government assurances on vaccinations. But to pretend that this is a phenomenon only of the right whereas the left sits on the side of empiricism and reason is just too much. By itself it is nothing, a meaningless and annoying distraction of white noise coming from the left about how Republicans are such morons. With the performance of the institutional left of late, it probably helps the cause of anti-statism for leftists to continue insisting how awesome and smart they are and how stupid and hopeless we are, for the simple reason that logic has a way of prevailing in the long run and all logic would suggest that these people are just charlatans with an agenda, hell bent on lying to the masses they so disdain in order to fool them into acquiescence. At some point, the ruse will reach its sell-by date and the tempest of lies and distortions will at long last wear itself out.

Until then, we will have to endure more attacks and more distortions, likely of an increased intensity. Hell hath no fury like a smug elitist challenged. The left operates under an unspoken assumption that they will always hold the loudest public megaphone due to their permanent residence on the moral high ground. Their moral righteousness is an illusion, however, and deep down they know it. At the heart of the progressive project is hatred of capitalism. They view that system of voluntary cooperation with suspicion and contempt and cast themselves as quasi-holy warriors out to eradicate injustice through the exalted Hegelian state, where the state exists as a metaphysical entity and possesses a metaphysical conscience by which the enlightened will erect plans and designs for the greater good. It is much harder in 2015 to hold this position with a straight face, after the failures of the collectivist experiment last century. Even for the most committed socialist, it is difficult to deny this history. And yet the left shows every sign it intends only to buff the lens and retain its ridiculous perspective of the world. A left that knows in its bones that the collectivist project is dead yet nevertheless retains its hatred of capitalism is going to look ridiculous. Further, the evolution of the left since Marx has seen it place its emphatic hatred not just on capitalism but on conservatives. It’s not so much the system but the proponents of the system who need to be fought and defeated. It is not hard to see how a philosophy that focuses on personal antagonism more than the system supposedly manufacturing oppression itself will eventually lose its focus.

Today’s left is the natural progression. They are thoroughly and obsessively concerned with what conservatives are saying and doing and basically agnostic on whether or not their prescribed solutions and programs have any efficacy whatsoever. All they are interested in is claiming the moral highground and ascendance appears to be promised only when all the wrong-thinking right wingers are defeated and/or silenced. They get really mad when conservatives have the temerity to point out when they run afoul of reason, logic and reality. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in matters of science.

On medicine, climate and biology the left is on the wrong side of the science. Kevin Williamson loves pointing out the amount of pseudo-science hokum that has wide popularity in leftist enclaves, from acupuncture and homeopathy to astrology and phobias about genetically modified food. You can throw Scientology and yoga in that mix as well. All perfectly harmless activities to which I have no objections other than that they are not backed up by science.

The climate change arena is riddled with groupthink and populated by anticapitalist ideologues. The much-touted “consensus” of scientists on the subject of Earth’s dire climate is great if you value consensus opinion that is thoroughly and comprehensively wrong. None of the models from the most renowned scientists have tracked even moderately close to the reality of climate over the past 20 years. That they only go back to the late nineteenth century to cull data while projecting their biased assumptions onto the millennia that came before it in order to produce the scary “hockey stick” projection of rising temperatures should be enough at the outset to question the infallibility of their data. With the “climategate” scandal at Britain’s East Anglia University revealing how scientists scheme to manipulate data to facilitate preferred outcomes, the petty “defamation” lawsuit brought by climate charlatan Michael Mann against Mark Steyn and CEI, and the recent revelation that Earth’s temperatures have remained flat the last 15 years, the green movement is exposed. The farce that is the State Department’s six year (and ongoing) review of the plans for the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than a nod by the administration to their wacko environmental base, which has tried repeatedly to offer scientific objections to the pipeline but which have all failed. The few reports that State has issued on the plan have all said that there is no environmental risk, but that has not caused the green left to relent, nor was it intended to. No one in the progressive orbit of Democratic politics is willing to allow the pipeline’s construction and none of their objections have to do with science. It is purely an aesthetic and ideological stance. Coastal elites think oil is yucky, yada yada yada, therefore the pipeline is an intrinsic evil.

Finally, the left stands in stark opposition to human biology, whether on the issue of abortion, gender, or human nature. In an sense this is understandable, as the left has always believed that man is malleable and can be shaped to function in their idea of the good society. But certain things in nature are non-negotiable. Science has essentially proven that babies in the womb can feel pain at 20 weeks and are able to survive outside the womb at that point. The science even suggests that viability perhaps occurs even earlier. But tell this to a pro-choice zealot and he will shriek and squeal about what a scoundrel you are for daring to suggest that a woman’s body is not in fact her own when there is another human inside it. This is virtually beyond scientific dispute now, yet the left won’t so much as countenance a discussion on it. In fact, they are more likely to echo the infamous Barbara Boxer line: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights.”

So babies are not yet human and not yet possessing of natural rights until they arrive home from the Hospital? How very sciency of you Barb.

The left claims the mantle of science for the sole reason that it can be used as a cudgel against conservatives. But the facts on the ground in 2015, allowing for the young-Earth creationists and the anti-vaxxers of the right (even though that contingent is most present in deep blue areas), are such that it would be impossible to designate the American left as “the party of science.” If the scientific method has life anywhere in American politics, it surely does not reside on the left. You can’t be the party of science if you think truth and reality are subjective. The persistent elevation of narrative inevitably leads to perspectives that end up only sneering at the truth.

Parallels in Propaganda

Vladimir Putin gave a rambling press conference today in which he insisted that Russian troops were in fact not occupying the Crimean region of Ukraine. Russian state-controlled media has bombarded Russians with accounts of Nazis and fascists on the march, while purportedly “independent” Kremlin-funded outlet RT blanketed its airwaves with the hilarious narrative that any military mobilization in Ukraine was expressly to do with protecting ethnic Russians.

Of course all of this is untrue.

There is a delicious and spectacular irony to the Obama administration’s exasperation at all this Russian deception. It is almost as if they are experiencing their karmic comeuppance for all the lies and propaganda they spew on the domestic front. Speaking from Kiev today, John Kerry was literally dumbfounded when told of Putin’s claim that the Russians hadn’t actually invaded Crimea. President Obama must feel betrayed after his 90 minute talk with Vlad turned out to be a bunch of misdirection and empty promising; imagine our president’s dismay at seeing the footage of Russian helicopters breaching sovereign borders after being assured by the Russian leader over the phone that no such thing, under any circumstances, would occur. Mr. Burns exhibited less naivete about foreign despots when he allowed Fidel to glimpse the trillion dollar bill.

Julia Ioffe, The New Republic’s resident Russia expert describes the bubble Putin lives in:

For the last few years, it has become something like conventional knowledge in Moscow journalistic circles that Putin was no longer getting good information, that he was surrounded by yes-men who created for him a parallel informational universe.”They’re beginning to believe their own propaganda,” Gleb Pavlovsky told me when I was in Moscow in December. Pavlovsky had been a close advisor to the early Putin, helping him win his first presidential election in 2000. (When, in 2011, Putin decided to return for a third term as president, Pavlovsky declared the old Putin dead.) And still, it wasn’t fully vetted information. We were like astronomers, studying refractions of light that reached us from great distances, and used them to draw our conclusion.

Sound familiar? To what other politician or ideology can we ascribe a fondness for propaganda? To the man who said “you know, I actually believe my own bullshit” perhaps? To the political party obsessed with constantly portraying their opposition as culturally backward, intolerant, sexist and racist? Whether the culprit is President Obama or the wider progressive movement, the inescapable fact of 21st century American politics is that the left’s coalition accepts the powerful utility of propaganda and deploys it mercilessly. The Obamacare Deception has been well documented to the point where it is now wholly uncontroversial to cite Obama’s “lie of the year” or mock the incessant failed promises that accompanied the law’s sales pitch. And yet the administration clings to the same false and meaningless explanations and technicalities regarding the “if you like your ______ , you can keep your ______” lie, and continues to maintain sites offering helpful FAQ answers to the pervasive “myths” surrounding the law. Leftist hacks, media, and the administration have all thrown fits of late whenever the CBO has trashed their claims and destroyed their propaganda. On the consequences of raising the minimum wage, on the effect the ACA will have on the labor market, on the real unemployment environment, on the Benghazi talking points distortions, and on the apparent scourge of all things democracy known as the Koch Bros, the left’s propaganda is currently suffering through its first prolonged expose. Yes, the internet and the proliferation of 24/7 news is a major factor in checking the left’s monopoly on disseminating information. But the larger reason for the weakened posture of the left’s Ministry of Information is reality. The truth usually does win out, and no matter how sophisticated the scheme, operations based on propaganda and lies usually fail.

Which is why the clash of two epic champions is so exciting. Who is going to out-deceive the other? Who is better at keeping a straight face while telling outrageously tall tales? Will the Russians under Putin prevail with their stories of fascists arriving in Crimea from Western Ukraine (even though the bus’ license plate is Crimean and the thugs were Russian plants)? Or will American progressives win the prize for Harry Reid’s suggestion that “all” Obamacare horror stories “are untrue“? Sadly, even Stephen Colbert has received his marching orders and, being the good little progressive mouthpiece he is, has answered Reid’s bat signal.

Ultimately there can be no winner in a battle of shameless propagandists, particularly when the scale of the campaigns are so different. For the Obama administration and the left, their “messaging” is intended solely for a domestic audience. They couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks; as long as they’re winning the propaganda war at home, the progressive cause is secure. For the Kremlin, Russian propaganda fights a two-front war, at home and abroad. They must convince their Russian citizens that intervention in Ukraine is a noble endeavor to protect ethnic Russians longing for the motherland, and at the same time tell the world that they haven’t actually done anything and that it’s all the fascists’ fault.

The result of juxtaposing these two great propaganda powers is somewhat counter-intuitive: one would assume that the country with the state-controlled media and the censorship would be better at hiding its duplicitous deeds, yet the world and the Russian people alike are clear-eyed about the corruption of their government and seem reflexively allergic to trusting much of what Putin says. Meanwhile, the country that prides itself on a free press – a press meant to antagonize and check its government in order to foster accountability in its representatives – has evidently stopped caring very much about the role of the fourth estate in extracting truth from government. Instead, most American media are increasingly political and aligned with progressivism, and have concluded that occupational integrity is subordinate to political gain. Most of our media are part of the cause, and if a little lying is necessary in furtherance of the cause, meh.

Nonetheless, truth does win out, even against rigged games and long odds. Propaganda cannot win in an information era like the one in which we are now living. It can be harder to identify and to quash, as the cacophony of voices and opinions can sometimes be as unintelligible as it is noisy, but ultimately propaganda is going to be exposed for what it is. Vladimir Putin is currently testing the boundaries of the alternate universe he has crafted for he and his cronies, whereas progressives and the Obama administration are rapidly discovering that their fantasy version of America is being rejected by those not susceptible to fairy tales and witless propaganda. And they did not anticipate that there would be so many…

I am somewhat sympathetic to the toxic clouds of frustration billowing out of the White House, Pentagon and State Department this week. No doubt, it must be infuriating to listen to a strong man ruler of a kleptocratic petro-oligarchy talk in circles to the global community. It must be exhausting to witness a country fabricate out of whole cloth and in plain view of the international community a false motive for invading a sovereign neighbor. And it must be excruciating to have to deal with a world leader who consistently over-promises and under-delivers. And yet all one can ask of Obama and the progressives is “how does it taste?”

In Vladimir Putin and all the lies that come with him,  it is simply a taste of their own medicine. Liars meeting their match by way of confrontation with other, better liars. Considering the political and ideological forbears for all concerned though, should we be at all surprised that the radical left and the ex-KGB elements in the U.S. and Russia deploy similar tactics in messaging?