Report From NYC Satellite March for Science
Regular people embrace science, truth, facts, not so much "social justice"
Posted Apr 23, 2017
Well, I marched in the NYC Satellite March for Science. This post is peppered with my own photos, and here is what I saw and experienced:
Widespread Opposition and Genial Hostility to Trump
There has been a lot of talk lately about whether science in general, and the Marches in particular were partisan. The people marching were clearly partisan. Now, I marched in NYC, which is itself overwhelmingly Democratic. Also, much of the rhetoric among Democrats and liberals involves explicitly embracing science (even though evidence is accumulating that they are often just as biased in their interpretations to scientific evidence as are Republicans).
But back to The March in NYC. First, just as lots of men marched in the March for Women, lots of nonscientists marched in the March for Science. Free speech and all that. They are (quite) allowed to express whatever hostility they like to whatever politicians or political views or political views they like. Of course, so are scientists.
So, yes, there was lots of open hostility to Trump and to Trump's proposed budgetary cuts to science funding. There was ample mockery of Trumpian alternative facts" and characterizations of news reports he does not like as "fake news." A lot was done with humor; I did not see much in the way of vitriol.
It may not be visible, but this sign says:
Null Hypothesis: Trump is Clueless
Specific Aim 1: Gather the Facts
Specific Aim 2: Impeach Trump
This next sign is similarly amusing (keeping in mind that it was also Earth Day, a day that often generates all sorts of environmental activism). That pretty much captures the spirit of the March as I saw it.
Two main ideas seemed to be be merged: 1. Trump is bad; and 2. Facts actually count. And this gets me to...
Social Justice Warriors Mostly Not In Evidence
There were a few sign like this, but not very many. Despite the March Organizers' controversial emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and use of radical academic (and often) illiberal dogwhistle leftist terms, such as "intersectionality" and "privilege," identity politics was pretty much at a minimum at the March in NYC.
Which gets me to:
Facts, Reality, Truth, Democracy, And Western Civilization
Politics is often about cherrypicking, distorting, and making stuff up to appeal to enough voters to win. Most politicians do that to varying degrees, though my view is that Trump raised "making stuff up" to unprecedented levels, starting with his unfounded calls for Obama's birth certificate and continuing through much of his campaign rhetoric and hot air promises (drain the swamp? Trump has more family members and well-connected millionaires and billionaires running the goverment than ever before).
I concur with conservative editorialist David Brooks, who wrote: "More and more governments, including the Trump administration, begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-based commercial clans."
But the people, certainly the people at the March I attended, and I think many informed and thoughtful Republicans, as well, want facts. We may sometimes disagree over facts, but less so than many people may assume. For example, about half of all Republicans believe climate change is real, human-caused, and support government actions to do something to stop it.
There was (in my view) considerable misunderstanding of what science actually is, and I may return to this in a later blog. However, the widespread affirmation of the importance of facts, evidence, and the existence of objective truths that we can actually, sometimes discern, and that science is usually the best way to do so, is something that I hope has legs. That emphasis offers some hope of countering dysfunctions from both the right (Trumpian lies, distortions, misrepresentations, alternative facts and characterization of mainstream news as fake) and left (especially the extremist academic illiberal left's denial of objective realities). And if you think that goes too far, here is a quote from a petition sent to the President of Claremont McKenna University:
“The idea that there is a single truth–‘the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.”
This assault on truth and facts from the left and the right is toxic to science, democracy, freedom, education and, indirectly, probably to pretty much everything constructive in Western Civilization. (If you are not crazy about the democratic West, try living in almost any nonWestern country for an extended period).
Hannah Arendt captured this beautifully in The Origins of Totalitarianism:
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.”
As Brooks put it in his NYTimes clarion call to defend Western Civilization:
While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.
The faith in the West collapsed from within. It’s amazing how slow people have been to rise to defend it.
Indeed. Some of the greatest accomplishments of Western Civilization are science, democracy, and bedrock protections of human rights. However imperfect those accomplishments may be, they all beat the Hell out of the alternatives (superstition and uninformed opinion, authoritarianism, police states and mass murder).
But signs like this, and the earlier one, "Facts are stubborn things", and others (such as a simple one declaring 2 + 2 =4) give me hope.
They give me hope because, though the marchers were surely generally left in their politics, there was only a hint of the toxic forms of "social justice" here that threaten speech, science, freedom, and democracy. Overwhelmingly, instead, there was a simple affirmation that there really are facts, that everything is not power and exploitation and oppression and subjectivity, and that the truth actually matters.
Women's Studies, Cultural Anthropology, (various, choose your preferred) Ethnic Studies, English Departments, and Social Constructionists and social justice warriors everywhere, you might want to take note.
Truths may not be simple to discern, and in complex human social and political relationships there may well often be many truths, rather than a single Truth!, and, sometimes, it might be very very hard to know for sure just what the damn truth really is. And we all may have our biases with respect to figuring out those truths, so that many things that you or I (or your family and friends or the faculty at your college) think are true may not really be completely true. And, even if they are completely true, they may not be the whole story.
But my impression was that most of the crowd both believed in truth and in its importance. And, more important, they were standing up for the importance of truth not just in science, but in politics and in society. At least, I hope so.
And, if so, the March for Science might just constitute one of the first steps down what is likely to be a long and difficult road to preserve the best of Western Civilization, and protect it from the corrosive power of the "alternative facts" of the Trump administration and from the denial of objective facts from the radical and illiberal academic left.
Or else we may all end up going to the dogs.
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