It's official. A Republican member of Congress has now officially stated in front of cameras that he believes evolution is not merely wrong but is a liberal conspiracy to lead people to hell.
A lot of people have talked recently about changes in the character of conservatism. Some talk about how much angrier it is, some talk about the increasing religiousness of it. But I think they've mostly missed the real core change that's happened, and why it's there.
Classically speaking, conservatives were people who viewed new ideas with skepticism, questioning changes to the ways things had always been done. That's fine, I am by nature myself a skeptic, and when conservatives did that they were providing a necessary service. Some changes are in fact a bad idea, and somebody should be around to question them. That's actually a core value of science, as well as journalism.
What has happened lately is that conservatism is now at it's core driven by fanatacism, not skepticism. A fanatic is the opposite of a skeptic. He has a few ideas that he never questions at all, and he reacts against anything which threatens them. There is no authority which can convince him to change his mind, and his core ideas effect how he responds to every new idea which he hears.
I honestly think that if you look at polling data, that extreme sounding statement is pretty provable. A significant part of the Republican party thinks that the Earth is 6000-9000 years old. That's an utterly ridiculous thing to say in the face of modern science, but they believe it to be true, and I do not believe anyone will ever change their mind. Many Republicans fervently believe that birth control should never be taught in school and teenagers should never receive contraception.
Of course, we've known for a long time that countries which practice those things have lower rates of teenage pregnancy. It's such a well known fact that so far as I know, no conservative even tries to counter the science.
They just don't care about those facts.
A lot has been made about a 'reality bubble' that Republican exist in. There is a hard core of the base that watches FOX news and nothing else, and mainly chooses to associate only with other conservative Republicans. They are essentially choosing to segregate themselves from a society which they no longer feel they are a part of.
Demonizing the media, science, and education is the new conservative opiate. This 'opiate' is far more dangerous to the country than any drug we've produced.
The truth is, you can only deal with a problem once you admit it exists. And furthermore, it is only possible to improve yourself after you've realized something is wrong. The first thing you are told in any drug counseling program is that first, they have to admit that they have a problem. Until they've done that, there is no hope of recovery.
Conspiracy theories are popular precisely because they encourage you to believe that you haven't done anything wrong; it is all someone else's fault. That's what makes them
And once you have convinced yourself that every bad thing which is said about you is merely the conspiracy of some outside group, you stop taking responsibility for anything. And when that happens, the process of maturing and improving yourself simply stops.
As things stand today, Republicans are prepared to ignore scientists when they talk about the climate. They feel similarly about journalists who report what scientists say, and of course any politician of any outside group is distrusted. If a politician who they consider one of their own disagrees with them a little too strongly, today they are very likely to literally drive him right out of their own party. Any Republican who too strongly questions the perceived reality will be quickly be driven from office.
So politicians, journalists, and scientists are out. Teachers of course are perceived as liberal as well, and these days there seems to be a combative attitude towards even the idea of education in general. And with that, all of the pillars of society are now fruit from a poisoned tree.
Lately, we have seen the conspiracy theories increase in scope and become more and more ridiculous. Today, four years after his election, many Republicans are still convinced that Obama is a Muslim. That isn't simply disproven, it's absurd. It's such a stupid idea that most people would dismiss it immediately, but the idea lives on despite repeated attempts to stamp it out even by the party orthodoxy.
And if a poll gathered by the same means as the others which came before them tells them something they don't like? Well that must be just another liberal conspiracy.
What we are looking at is the growth of a kind of subculture that accepts nothing that the rest of the country produces without first filtering it into it's own reality, and this is a dangerous thing. I wish I knew how it would end, but I'm not sure that it will.