Our science fictions
Nobody likes science. You can tell by the fact that they teach it in school. There aren’t any high school courses in pizza, pot smoking or car chases.
I don’t like science either. I mean, it sounds good when you’re a kid with the fingerprint kits and the baking- powder volcanoes, but by 10th grade, you realize it’s just math with special effects.
But for some reason, only conservatives get blamed for hating science. Which is weird, because conservatives are, by definition, the ones who are supposed to hate strange new things. They hate foreigners, video games, rap and -- from what I could gather from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s speech Tuesday -- talking to adults.
People on the far right don’t believe in evolution, global warming or doing stem cell research. Most of their opposition is rooted in the fact that these ideas challenge the Bible, which is the oldest book they know. I’m guessing Greek conservatives are OK with killing your dad and making love to your mom.
But since I moved to L.A., I’ve discovered that liberals hate science just as much as conservatives, and they talk about it a lot more. They’ll reject any study that contradicts their Mother-Nature-is-perfect myth, which is oddly similar to the conservatives’ thesis: Both sides think the past was purer than the technologically corrupted present. Except the liberal vision of the idealized past is a pre-insecticide, pastoral paradise where loving animals ran free and people had shameless sex. So, basically the same as the conservatives’ version, plus untainted apples and some gay stuff.
Liberals have an irrational fear of inoculation and genetically engineered food, no matter how conclusive the science is on these topics. They believe that the body needs to be detoxified with foot pads, colonics, mud wraps and maple-syrup-and-cayenne-pepper fasts. They take echinacea and Emergen-C, heal themselves with crystals and magnets, and believe that energy flows through different “centers” of their bodies. They practice, I swear, a form of healing massage called reiki in which the masseuse usually doesn’t even touch you. I believe my wife and I have a reiki marriage.
They suspect modern medicine is part of a corporate conspiracy, while dangerous recreational drugs are OK because they come from stuff that grows in the ground, man. These are people who will feel virtuous about drinking Kool-Aid as long as the bottle has the words “vitamin water” on it.
I’ve been in rooms where a normal discussion of organic versus local food suddenly turned into an engineering analysis of how the Twin Towers could no way have fallen just because two giant jets hit them. That’s the part of the conversation when I suggest we run an experiment in which we see what happens when two giant jets hit the two idiots talking.
Facts are weak things when they face personal philosophies. It’s scary to let go of your assumptions of how the world works, to be left with only a set of incomplete, seemingly unconnected data points. It is far easier to ignore or dispute a study from Princeton’s physics department than to readjust your core beliefs about where the universe came from. Especially when the Princeton study is impossible to read and Genesis tells two awesome, different stories.
And science is vulnerable to being disputed, because, as Nietzsche argued in “Human, All Too Human,” we’ve mistakenly elevated it to another form of salvation, so it’s just a watered-down religion: “Modern science has as its goal: as little pain as possible, as long life as possible -- thus a kind of eternal bliss.” An eternal bliss that is full of hanging out in a lab and never meeting girls, so really more eternal than bliss.
Maybe the best we can do is join in a bipartisan agreement to engage only in the harmless type of science-hating everyone can love: UFOs, psychics and underwater kingdoms that appear on Google maps.
Sure, the right’s aliens are anal-probing, cattle-vaporizing invaders, and the left’s are giant-headed, soil-sampling messengers of peace, but there’s room for compromise. Maybe, for instance, we keep the anal probing but flick on some didgeridoo music, throw in some scented oils and call it detox. If nothing else, those rules would keep any sane alien from landing here.