Darwin In Plain Sight


To all those who do not believe in evolution as a guiding force for life in the world, I submit that the recent spate of incidents showing the reluctance of “conservatives” to wearing face masks presents a rare opportunity to see evolution in action. Will we see the portion of the population that believes in science ending up with an evolutionary advantage in being able to propagate their genes better than those who claim a constitutional right to march macho and bare-faced through the world? Many who decry the wearing of “face diapers” are far beyond the age of propagation, but it is clear that many of the younger generation are following the example of their elders, and are crowding into bars, and onto beaches.

Look, when I was in college, the lure of drunken parties was strong. There were parties advertised down in the cave at the southwest edge of town, where I managed one night to stumble home safely by following the railroad tracks. I was indeed fortunate to not fall victim to a steel chariot that would have borne me to the netherworld. I also survived the disco era, when bars were packed so tightly you had to turn sideways in order to avoid committing sexual assault. I know the appeal of these venues. But this is truly a once in a century pandemic, where it is necessary to believe in the power of microscopic viruses that defy detection by any normal means.

And thus the evolutionary challenge. To believe in science, with its dependence upon statistical trials demonstrating efficacy of treatments, or to not believe in science. Those who do not believe in the scientific method are prone to believe in anecdotal evidence hawked by those who use the internet to spread their own brand of phony facts. We will see whether there is actually a difference in the survival rates between these competing belief systems. My money is on those who do believe in science winning.

Into this discussion, a columnist from the New York Times brings up research that reveals why we may have this dichotomy of beliefs between liberals and conservatives. Thomas B. Edsall wrote a column titled “The Whole of Liberal Democracy Is in Grave Danger in This Moment” on July 22. He cites many papers and studies from social scientists, but the gist of his findings is that those who use facts and data to form their opinions tend to be more liberal, whereas those who are reluctant to change their opinions even when faced with contrary data tend to be more conservative. The whole of the column is damning against the conservative side of the culture wars, suggesting that the trend towards authoritarianism currently expressed by right-leaning political movements across the world can lead to the extinguishing of liberal democracy. Studies are cited that claim liberals tend to be more expressive in their writings, using complex words and thoughts to provide more nuance. Conservatives, it is claimed, use simpler and more absolute statements of fact that allow their followers to have absolute certainty in their beliefs, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

I tend to agree with the surveys that are quoted. In my own experience, it can be extremely difficult to engage in a substantive discussion with someone whose mind is closed to contrary evidence. I remember a member of my church choir, who in a huge misreading of my beliefs, said at the dawn of this administration that it was good to finally have an alpha male in charge. He must have felt I would agree with that assessment. At the time, I believe I called the soon-to-be inaugurated President an epsilon male instead of an alpha male. But I have no doubt that the person I was discussing this with felt no need to even consider my opinion as being worthy.

I do have a problem with the way the data was presented in the column, though. It provides fodder for those who decry the elites who think they are better than the common folks. Well, that is undoubtedly true. Those who have more education believe that their thought processes are more capable than those who just accept what is being spoon fed to them by their media masters. So this NYT column (if it were read at all by those of a conservative bent) would reinforce their beliefs that the elites of the world are against those who have common sense.

Look, there is a reason why Rush Limbaugh popularized the use of the term “ditto-heads” for his followers. No other term I can think of so masterfully expresses the anti-intellectualism that has come to govern this country. The movement has gained ascendancy with this President, and we have now seen that having someone totally averse to science and the scientific method being in charge of our government can be an existential risk. Which is why I think we are actually seeing an evolutionary fork develop here. Is there an evolutionary advantage to believe in science, and follow the guidance of scientists, or is there an evolutionary advantage to being macho and looking to stare down the virus through the mask-free exhalations of those who refuse to follow scientific recommendations.

The thoughts from the Edsall column have given me more pause for thought, though. My own writing is much more complex than that of our current ruling class, and thus I realize that I have no possibility of changing the minds of any people who are leaning conservative/authoritarian. We need other tools that can break through the intransigent mindset of those who believe this leader is doing God’s work. All of the tools I have, logic, irony, sarcasm, none of them seem to be seeping through the skull calcification preventing the acceptance of information that is disturbing to conservatives. I must see if there is some way in which complex thoughts can be presented in small twitter-like bits that fit within the attention span of those who believe themselves superior to libtards like me.