“Conservatives” and Reality Contact

Life as a “conservative” is so difficult in the modern United States. The British colonies in North America adopted wholesale the ideas of English philosopher John Locke, whose political philosophy informed our revolution and whose empiricist epistemology is our primary theory of knowledge.

Empiricism is now so obvious in the United States that it hardly seems worth explaining, but it is the simple idea that the best way to gather knowledge for humans is to rely on the information we can gather using our five senses, suitably enhanced, where possible, with instruments that improve on our senses in their ordinary operation without distorting the incoming information too much, such as microscopes and telescopes, to name only two. Empiricism is the basis for the scientific method and implies a commitment to following the incoming sensory information wherever it leads.

The problem with conservatism, both in its original articulation, and in its bastardized, U.S. articulation, is that it posits a commitment to resisting change on principle. Empiricism offers no opinion about the value of any particular change or of change in general, except possibly the observation that change is constant in the world around us, with a few basic chemical elements finding seemingly endless new ways to combine themselves, up to and including the evolution of life forms into the variety of species we see today, of which humans are only one.

In the United States, as in most western societies, most conservatives, the real ones or the faux, U.S. ones, are Christians, Christianity being the oldest continually operating ideology in western culture and by far the most powerful, although it is finally starting to loses its grip. Christianity appeals to conservatives because both operate with a refusal to accept aspects of reality that conflict with their ideology. This has particularly pernicious effects on our politics and policy.

So Christians in every group, except African Americans and Hispanic Catholics, voted over 55% for Donald Trump. He won so large a percentage of the votes of no other identifiable social group. Christians believed, more than anyone else, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that Trump would make a good president. Some significant proportion of them apparently believe he is doing a good job as president, again despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Other examples of the Christian conservative rejection of reality in our politics and policy include such bad ideas as the claim that tax cuts will pay for themselves; that schools should teach “intelligent design,” or the idea that a single divine entity created all current species, rather than evolution; that climate change is in doubt; and that schools should teach “abstinence only” sex education because teaching teens realistic information about sex and birth control will encourage them to have sex.

But perhaps the most harmful, unrealistic ideas our “conservatives” harbor involve abortion. They like to claim that statutes regulating abortion and abortion providers help protect women, and that prohibiting abortion entirely will stop it from happening. What really happens when states prohibit abortion is that rich women can still get them and poor women suffer in various ways as a result of the prohibition. But Christian conservatives don’t care much for the poor.

Young women, or any woman, who has suffered a rape and is pregnant as a result, cannot get an abortion under the most extreme recent statutes. Women still seek abortions, as they always have, and instead of getting a safe abortion at a legal clinic from a licensed practitioner, get unsafe, potentially deadly abortions from illegal clinics by practitioner with dubious credentials.

A new, long term study shows that women who have abortions suffer no ill health effects from the procedure, while women who seek abortions, but fail to get one, do suffer ill health effects, including death from pregnancy related complications in some instances. Given that the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world — to repeat, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world — a data point the pro life crowd doesn’t seem to care too much about, forcing women to carry pregnancies to term, or as close to it as they can get, can amount to a death sentence too frequently in the United States.

This information is the result of empirical studies, as above. People go look at what they want to find out about and use their five senses to gather information about it. Good “conservatives” do not want to hear this information. They are committed to the proposition that prohibiting abortion is the best policy choice and they will hear no argument to the contrary.

“Conservatives” and their lack of reality contact are bad for the republic and for their fellow humans.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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