Thursday, August 7, 2014

Politics Has Been Making Us Stupid For Centuries

It can be depressing to think how politics makes us stupid. Whether it's evolution, climate science, or macroeconomics, politics drives many to hold fast to unscientific positions.

Has it always been this way? It's natural to think the answer is no. That people weren't always this stupid. That today's problems are worse. Then, you accidentally come across a passage in a history book that unintentionally reveals that human nature has a long history of ignoring science when it conflicts with ideology.

After the jump, what the life of Benjamin Franklin tells us about today's politics.

Reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin, I came across this passage, an aside to the main story, that made me smile.
[M]ost members of the Continental Congress were not quite as far down the road to revolution [as Benjamin Franklin was]. Many colonial legislatures, including Pennsylvania's, had instructed their delegates to resist any calls for independence. The captain of the cautious camp was Franklin's long-time adversary John Dickinson, who still refrained from erecting a lightning rod on his house.

So, over two centuries ago, politics was making people stupid, making them refuse to accept scientific advances like lightning rods because they were associated with their political opponents.

I don't know whether I should feel good about this (our own age's ills are a normal part of the human condition) or bad (because our ills are normal, it's unlikely we will ever be "cured"). I guess I'll try to feel good (we have more history to learn from than prior generations did, so maybe it'll eventually sink in).

Read history. It sheds light on current events even as it preserves the past.

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