My next newspaper column:
Here's a heavily reworked piece from a past life. That it’s a mishmash reflects how thoroughly recent Trumptivity has smacked my gob:
America is losing its collective mind, so it shouldn't be surprising that med schools and even vaunted hospitals are offering "alternative medicine.” Some call it “complementary.” Give ‘em what they want, I guess. It’s as cynical as hiring Scott Pruitt to run the EPA.
It’s hard to figure how otherwise intelligent people become convinced of the efficacy of whatever “medical” woo they wish, even when studies have shown it doesn’t work. Why is truth so unattractive? Why isn't inquisitiveness universal? Doesn't realism confer survival benefit? Or would we all be jumping off cliffs if we didn't have mythology? Maybe that's it. Maybe too many skeptical realists have already jumped.
The neediness of the human brain, stacked against its obvious power -- the ability to create, to invent, to inquire, to love -- is a paradox. If it’s a stretch to write my way from frustration about “alternative” medicine to the destruction of democracy and the planet at the hands of Trump and Trumpists, they’re of a piece with climate change denial and the need to impose one’s religious views on others via legislation which flies in the face of separation. Because, I guess, when others don’t share one’s views, it threatens one’s ability to stave off dubiety.
As there are billions of people on the planet with vastly differing religious beliefs yet equally certain in their singular truth, it’s obviously a fundamental human need. Amazingly, for some, the cult of Trump is replacing their religion. Trump, of all people: a faker whose only religion is self-aggrandizement. He’s brilliant, though, at deceiving others to accomplish it. Happy was he to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, helping his enablers to feel ever closer to rapturing, while figuring they’ll remain Earth-bound, sending money even as he fleeces their flock.
At one time, believing the unprovable had survival benefits: when dangers were mostly natural and the advantages of grouping together were obvious, belief in all-powerful protectors were civilizing. But as society has gotten impossibly complex and the dangers we face are mostly human-generated, they’re becoming detrimental. Rather than encouraging people to cleave together and feel their common humanity as they once did, the increasingly hardened beliefs of a few are causing us to fall upon one another in hate and fear. Lies (Trump’s about the Iran agreement being among his latest) have, for half of us, become preferred over truth.
Magical thinking is who we are, I guess. If, in the medical world, it only served to enrich some at the expense of others, so what? But it’s hurting people; and it's pretty clear, with anti-vaccination for example, that it can hurt us all, not just the gullible or desperate.
When I see this mainstreaming of bogosity, I can't keep help thinking of the other side of the same coin: people murdering in the name of their gods, blaming natural disasters on gays, demonizing the educated, undoing environmental protections and human rights, ignoring climate change. They arise, seemingly, from the same shortcomings of the human brain.
In less than a lifetime, we've gone from Model T to Tesla, from Kitty Hawk to Mare Tranquilitatis, crystal sets to satellite radio. The power of science is obvious. Yet despite -- or is it because of? -- the amazing progress we've seen at the hands of science, people willfully and in increasing numbers simply ignore it; reject it in order to maintain their prejudices. Or, in the case of today’s Republican Party, by legislating their falsehoods into law, their cash flow. The draw of delusion is great; if straws they be, grasp at them we must.
But one shouldn’t get to pick and choose. Don't believe in evolution? Okay. Then don't get on an airplane. Earth is six thousand years old? Your call to make. But return your smartphone. Homeopathy makes sense? Drink it down. But put away that laptop, never avail yourself of GPS. Because if man and dinosaurs lived at the same time, if carbon-dating is bogus, atomic clocks don't work and organ transplants are impossible. If vaccines cause autism, and no-touch Reiki heals, Rovers aren't on Mars, Trump’s a truth-teller, climate change is a hoax, and nothing will happen when I click the button to send this in.[Image source]