Francis Wheen over at the L.A. Times has a great little rant on how modern Americans tend to be an overly credulous lot incapable of reasoning their way out of a wet paper bag. There’s nothing said that I’ve not said a hundred times myself, but it’s said well and worth a read.
Over the last 25 years or so, after two centuries of gradual ascendancy, Enlightenment values of reason, secularism and scientific empiricism have come under fierce assault from a grotesquely incongruous coalition of radical deconstructionists and medieval flat-earthers, New Age mystics and Old Testament fundamentalists.
The space vacated by notions of history and progress has been colonized by cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of gibberish. A Gallup poll in 1993, for example, found that only 11% of Americans accepted the standard scientific account of evolution, whereas 47% maintained that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” Another poll revealed that 49% of Americans believed in demonic possession, 36% in telepathy and 25% in astrology. It is as if the Enlightenment never happened.
There have been astonishing scientific advances in the last quarter-century, exemplified by the creation of the Internet and the mapping of the human genome. In spite of this — or, more likely, because of it — millions of Westerners now seek consolation from mumbo-jumbo merchants and snake-oil vendors.
Alas these days I feel that folks like us are just howling into the wind for all the good it does. Yet I keep on howling just the same.