Medieval Minds

     There’s no better way to understand Sarah Palin than to read Carlo Cipolla’s introduction to his “Economic History of Europe – Volume 1, The Middle Ages.”
     That’s because Palin’s worldview, like George W. Bush’s, is essentially medieval. Medieval society, Cipolla says, was ruled, and its wealth controlled, by two groups, “the clergy and the warlords.”
      “Their respective ideals were to pray and to fight. … But it was inconceivable for members of the two ruling groups to spend their lives in the production of wealth. Wealth had to be produced by the lower orders, the serfs. The ‘betters,’ the clergy and the warlords, had the right to take over all or part of this product while devoting themselves to the noble activities of praying and fighting. Production was a means. Devotion and gallantry were the ends. Social esteem and reward were given to those who were successful in pursuing the noble ends, not those who were successful in providing the vulgar means.”
     That’s a good explanation of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, too.
     People have been yammering for years about the “de-industrialization” of America, and the rotting of our bridges, highways, electricity grids, railroads, sewers, and other vulgar infrastructure.
     In the past few weeks it’s become clear that this de-industrialization was accompanied by financial theft on a titanic scale. The money that should have been spent, or loaned, for productive purposes was skimmed by corporate warlords, sanctified by holier-than-thou politicians whose theology of deregulation made it possible.
     By the way, Cipolla’s 8-volume history came out in 1972, so he cannot be accused of making a sneaky attack on the McCain-Palin campaign.
     Nowhere is Palin’s, and Bush’s, medieval mindset made clearer than in their contempt for science. It was science, and scientists, who freed the world of the plague, who alleviated the suffering and deaths caused by other diseases, and hunger, and famine, and by so common a thing as childbirth.
     Until the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States was the undisputed world leader in science, especially the biological sciences. That’s no longer the case.
     A highly regarded scientist who recently returned from an international conference in Europe, which he organized, said the changes were remarkable. Just a few years ago, all the brightest scientists from around the world, particularly biologists, wanted to come to the United States to finish their studies, to do their post-doctoral work, perhaps to stay, perhaps to return with their knowledge to their homelands.
     Today many foreign scientists no longer want to do that. Part of it is contempt for our brutal and incompetent foreign policy. But it’s also because of our nation’s sudden, and very unfortunate, contempt for science.
     Banning stem-cell research, suppressing and altering scientific reports, muzzling and firing climatologists and space scientists who won’t toe an ideological line, demanding that the Bible be used to teach biology, since it’s just as good a theory as Darwinian evolution: it’s all reminiscent of Stalin’s suppression of biological sciences in the old Soviet Union, a senseless and stupid jihad that crippled Russian science for generations.
     The results of this worldwide shift in science and science funding away from the United States are not so obvious as the results of the war in Iraq, or the crimes on Wall Street, but in the long run they could be just as devastating.
     U.S. political campaigns these days, and the reporting on them, tend to be fatuously reduced to reporting on personalities rather than issues. I always thought that was pointless, but I am changing my view.
     It’s clear that many of our nation’s continuing disasters stemmed from George W. Bush’s personality, and from Congress’ refusal to prevent him from acting upon whim. Bush’s, and Palin’s certitude and determination increase in tandem with their ignorance of a subject. Palin insists that human beings walked the Earth with dinosaurs, for God’s sake. Such a woman should not be allowed anywhere near a nation’s science policy.
     In their contempt for science, for history, for informed expert opinion, for the vulgar common people who produce our nation’s wealth, and in their wholesale alliance with priests and warlords, Bush and Palin are medieval characters. They believe, and state frankly, that world events are not examples of general laws that operate everywhere and at all times, but are special occurrences that they can decipher with their pre-medieval beliefs. They actually believe, and say right out loud, that God has singled them out for special purposes.
     This is a childish belief. To become an adult is to abandon this delusion. It is to realize, and accept, that none of us is a divine exception, and that we cannot truly improve the world by imposing our whims upon it.
     Children who hold such beliefs should not be given the power to make laws, or to enforce them, or to order armies about, or to direct science policy, or to control nuclear weapons.

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