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Op-Ed

Me-ocentrism: A national illness

September 2, 2022

I have spent years trying to understand why half the U.S. Congress and nearly half our voting-age population are so entranced by an ignorant sociopath and confessed sexual molester. I believe I have found an explanation — through astronomy.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Two thousand years ago, the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy tried to explain why some planets occasionally seem to move backwards from their usual path across the sky.

Ptolemy thought these planets did not move in simple elliptical orbits around the Earth: they move in curlicues, loop-the-loops: whirling counterclockwise daisy chains within clockwise elliptical orbits.

That seemed to “solve” the problem of retrograde planetary motion — for a while — but the theory fell apart because it was built upon a false premise. The premise was that the Earth is the center of the Solar System, and of the entire Universe.

It took more than 1,000 years for Copernicus and then Galileo to abandon geocentrism and Ptolemy’s curlicues, by stating that the Sun, not us, is the center of the Solar System. (Corollary: We’re probably not center of the Universe either.)

The varying sizes of planets’ elliptical orbits, and the differing stretches of time it takes each planet to complete a circle around the Sun explains the apparent retrograde motion of planets. 

This theory nearly got Galileo burned at the stake, because the Catholic Church clung to Ptolemy’s false premise. And Ptolemy wasn’t even a Catholic.

Then a year after Galileo died, Isaac Newton was born. His discovery of gravity would add a theoretical basis to Galileo’s heliocentrism, and illustrate that Ptolemy’s loop-the-loops were physically impossible.

This brings us to today, and the bizarre grip that a malignant, lying narcissist holds upon half our country.

The false premise is that a serial liar speaks truth, and only truth, and that the world entire should be judged by whatever he says next. 

Need I say that this is a false premise, no matter whom or what we are discussing? Yet it seems to be the law today, by statute or diktat, in Russia, China, India, North Korea, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Myanmar and Turkey. Of these we may be sure. There are others.

These 10 countries contain 3.2 billion people: 42% of the world’s population. And we’re not even counting Kentucky.

In “Types of Men” (1922) H.L. Mencken wrote of the Skeptic: “No man ever quite believes in any other man. ... In the highest confidence there is always a flavor of doubt — a feeling, half instinctive and half logical, that, after all, the scoundrel may have something up his sleeve.” 

I need hardly tell you that congressional sycophants and many of our fellow Americans are not skeptics. They are True Believers.

I have written recently in this space about belief and fact. There is no need to believe in a fact. Facts remain, no matter how hard you bludgeon them with no matter how hard or diaphanous an imaginary sledgehammer. But beliefs, I have come to see, also remain. No matter how hard you bludgeon them …

Mencken wrote about The Believer in “Types of Men”: “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable. Or, psychoanalytically, a wish neurose. There is thus a flavor of the pathological in it; it goes beyond the normal intellectual process and passes into the murky domain of transcendental metaphysics. A man full of the faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass: he is actually ill.”

Our country today, as a body politic, is actually ill. We see it in the mass murders at schools and grocery stores and churches; in the fantastic, repeatedly disproven claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, so Republicans must rig the next one; the paranoid claims that public schoolteachers do not try to educate children, but to destroy them and their families. We see it above all in Republican candidates’ ugly campaigns, which day by day, month after month, are increasingly based upon stirring up hatred.

Now let’s look at it from another side.

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, recently switched sides on “clean injection sites,” where drug addicts could toss out their old syringes and needles and get new ones, in the interest of public health. He was all for them a year ago and now he’s against them.

If I were a guy who thought that clean injection sites were the most important thing in the world, then I might claim that Newsom was betraying me and the one thing I hold dear, and that he is not to be trusted.

But that would be insane.

Newsom flipped because he’s thinking of running for president in 2024 or 2028, and didn’t want to give Republicans a club with which to thrash him. No conspiracy there. No invisible deep state of Gollums.

No matter what the problem is, there’s usually a reasonable explanation or explanations for it. And none of them are Me-ocentric: the false premise that an entire country rotates around one guy.

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