The overt rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of various senior administration officials long before September 11. Despite these doubts, concerns, and grounds for ambivalence, I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president’s performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.1
Change of mind will not erase the effects of those thoughts and beliefs.
Why would I decline to debate with Creationists? Would you, if you were a geographer, agree to have a debate with a Flat-Earther? There comes a point when you have to say you are — by agreeing to appear on a platform with somebody like that — you are giving them status. If a real scientist appears on a platform; if say, a reproductive scientist appeared on a platform with an advocate of the Stork Theory…
But, I will say this: that I’ve never actually dared to use the formula that my colleague, Robert May — Lord May — who’s one of Britain’s — actually, he’s Australian, come to think of it — most distinguished scientists. He was the government Chief Scientific Adviser for a while and then president of the Royal Society. What he says when he’s asked to have a debate with a Creationist, [affecting an Australian accent] “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine.” 2
You can get away with saying what you want to say while claiming not to say anything at all.
From here, we could enter into a conversation about the value of experience and about the metrics for even a shared experience and the value of fact both for one’s personal edification and for the same in public discourse. We could also begin to talk about the corrosion of elite attitudes, in some contrast to the practice and instruction of expertise, toward discourse.
Most adults should, by a certain age, know about fraud and crankery in religious sales circles, and of the various guises taken while these sales people make their earnest pitches in the public market of ideas.
Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.3
How acquainted are we, meanwhile, with some of the barbarity and crankery of those engaged in the business of selling a particular brand of “Science” — and never the instrumental ‘scientific method’, by the way, or, say, the ‘means of reasoned investigation’, but of a nominalized and objectified Science, ephemeral cult dedicated vaguely to a “Modern” propping up of effervescent feelings of awe and wonder and of shooing away the necessary and permanent connections between reason and ethics, reason and experience, reason and Other 4?
We could call the difficult conversation, that which brings these uncomfortable, constitutive parts back together, — the “tools”, rather, of this conversation — “Philosophy”. Thinking. When thus identified, we might briefly get away with herding it to pasture, maybe bloodlessly putting down a caricatured idea of Philosophy in the middle of the night when no one is looking.
Once the questions have been asked, however, they cannot be unasked. Just try to put away Philosophy, if to remain enamored of and attached to your own feelings of awe and fear and superiority; destroy Philosophy and you destroy everything that Science would or could ever pretend to, as often it, as Religion and Spirituality always does pretend. That wouldn’t look so great on your CV, eh?
- Glenn Greenwald, How Would A Patriot Act?: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. Working Assets Publishing (San Francisco, 2006) ↩
- Richard Dawkins. “Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth”, Berkely Arts and Letters, 7 October 2007, online video of book promotion lecture; FORA.tv, (accessed 2007-10: http://fora.tv/2009/10/07/Richard_Dawkins_The_Greatest_Show_on_Earth) ↩
- Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Twelve Books, 2007 ↩
- “Other”, as in: “not us”, “not me”, “self as foreign object”, outsiders, foreigners ↩