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Long live parochialism

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday March 23, 2006 09:27 PM

Thus Tim D, in a comment a few days back:
The issue of intelligent design, in my opinion, is something for local school districts to decide individually. The pro-corporate, ultra-nationalist character of our de facto national curriculum is perhaps the biggest problem facing education today, since the facts of U.S. foreign policy, U.S. history and the U.S. political system are all ignored or white washed, leaving citizens wholly uninformed as well as ever willing to lay down their life for latest war for the cause of empire and the capitalist oligarchs' profits.
Time was I would have found this idea utterly wrong-headed. Maybe because I'm a Southerner originally, localism always seemed to me like a sure-fire recipe for reaction. Local school boards indeed! Hang 'em all from the nearest lamppost -- I was very much the centralizing Jacobin.

Lately, though, ideas like the one Tim articulates above have started to seem rather persuasive. I suspect one of the reasons that tom-fool notions like prayer in the schools, or the rights of the fetus, or "intelligent design" have started to seem important to people, is that the stances most of us would consider obviously reasonable on these issues have been imposed, not by the political process in which people can at least believe they have a role to play, but by the courts, which all sensible people despise and recognize for the undemocratic, daddy-knows-best institutions they are.

The fetus fanciers and the garden-of-Edeners have the built-in advantage of casting themselves as the defenders of bottom-up democracy, as against the top-down, authoritarian, legalistic paradigm favored by the people who are so strangely referred to as "liberals". If the obscurantists were fighting their neighbors instead of the ancestral enemy in Washington, they wouldn't have such an easy time of it.

But enlightened folks prefer to write a check to the ACLU and pray for a Democrat in the White House, rather than mixing it up with their uncouth, Bible-thumping neighbors in the local political process.

I had some thoughts about this, not as well-developed as I'd like, in Chapter 14 of my book-in-progress, Stop Me Before I Vote Again.

Comments (6)

J. Alva Scruggs:

If I skip over the part about malevolent design, I mostly agree with what Tim D says. The problem with ID is that the proponents want to elevate the assertion of faith as a valid disproof of things that are verifiable. Even without the motive, ID itself, if accepted as an intellectual position worth discussing seriously, raises seriously troubling religious and moral questions. It backdoor-establishes a hopelessly irresponsible, psychotic, big "c" creator, with all the implications that carry over to politics. When the basis of ID is entrenched, it adds a nearly insuperable delusional layer to every aspect of governance. Things become not so or not applicable because the bull goose says it's that way. His "mistakes" are God's will. Ignorance has its remedies. The inability to even recognize it does not.

ID proponents are locked into that particular dogma because of the xchianized culture they have to work with. But they'd be just as happy with any cultural button pushing, ex cathedra argument that trumped learning from mistakes and experimentation. They're not persuadable once they've been sufficiently cretinized.



The problem with ID is that the proponents want to elevate the assertion of faith as a valid disproof of things that are verifiable. Even without the motive, ID itself, if accepted as an intellectual position worth discussing seriously, raises seriously troubling religious and moral questions.

No quarrel with any of this, but let's look at it for a minute in a purely political way. Say you're an enlightened person who would agree with JAS, but you live in a school district where ID proponents are numerous. (What the hell are you doing there, I'm tempted to ask.)

How numerous are they? A majority? Or a minority numerous enough to ram an ID curriculum through -- if everybody else is indifferent? (You might call this the NRA or the AIPAC technique, depending on which lunatic lobby you prefer to honor.)

I think there's a case to be made that if people who don't want Genesis in the syllabus had to "act locally" -- if there was no other way to combat obscurantism and superstition -- then they'd get down to it, and I bet there would be, when the dust settled, very few districts teaching ID.And those who were would stop pretty soon when they found their high-school graduates couldn't get into a halfway decent college. Never underestimate the power of careerism, as somebody -- was it Bill Clinton? -- once said.

J. Alva Scruggs:

Fair enough. I hadn't thought about the power of careerism, and I did agree that hashing things out locally is a good. The appeal to distant authority is never a good thing, expedient though it may be, and it does inculcate a kind of helplessness, which ill serves people in democratic political disputes.


sorry to spoil this
localizing big jeff type love fest

i remain a jacobin

but only
if my class has the whip hand
round here it don't

Tim D:

I really do suffer from a kind of political schizophrenia. I mean on one hand, I consider myself a socialist, but on the other hand, I have some strong libertarian leanings. I think the biggest problem with the U.S. government is that it’s a winner take all system (that’s aside from the fact that there are only “viable” two parties, neither of which represents the will of the American people), which often makes the local unit of governance the only form of refuge from ultra-reactionary governments like the Bush administration – although obviously the effects of their extremist, theocratic, soak-the-poor policies are felt nationwide. As far as ID goes, I abhor it like the rest of you, but as Michael points out it’s a battle than can at least be won locally even if can’t be defeated nationally at this point. I fear, however, that it may go all the way to the Supreme Court during the appeals process of one of the current lawsuits against it, and that the reactionary justices that the Democrats failed to stop from taking a seat on the bench will legitimize ID – despite the fact that it’s in gross violation of the provision of separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution. I will admit that I was wrong when I implied that local school districts should be allowed to teach ID if they want, but I agree that in actuality, they have no right – constitutional or otherwise – to introduce it into a public system funded by public monies. It’s not really even a case where libertarian philosophy can even apply, but I guess my meta-point was that it’s good that there is still local control of things like education, where at least in our own areas, we can stop the rising tide of obscurantism.

J. Alva Scruggs:

The existence of wingnuts is the most powerful argument for a strong, central authority, which unfortunately has more use for wingnuts than it does for us, the happy and reasonable good guys.

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