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percy-l - Re: [percy-l] Percy-L Digest, Vol 59, Issue 2

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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion of Walker Percy

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  • From: Wade Riddick <wriddick AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] Percy-L Digest, Vol 59, Issue 2
  • Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2008 02:03:51 -0600

Love in the Ruins predicted all of this  the split in just about every group in America. Religious, political, especially. The Leftpapas and the Knotheads. What more accurate description can you give the state of American politics today? Both 2000 and 2004 elections were essentially 50-50. While Obama seems to be a few points ahead, Im wary of predicting outcomes even now after the last two elections. And, its still too close to 50-50 due to the ideological split in American society.

Why  because of paradigm shift a couple of hundred years ago (a la Kuhn) in which science and a literal interpretation of creation and the rest of the Bible seem to conflict. So, what do you have? A group of people (religious fundamentalists and political conservatives) who wont let go of an outdated and disproven paradigm  and a group of people who, having faced reality, realize that that paradigm is outdated and disproven, yet have no paradigm to replace it that contains a set of morals and values that can guide our lives and actions (the reason Percy chose the Catholic church). There is no reigning paradigm in America today  only the conflict of two.

Splits are nothing new in politics, even the American variety. Realignments come and go - and they do mark the end of one order and the start of a new. The last realignment occurred about 1968, if you use the model of my old U.T. professor, Walter Dean Burnham. The '68 election ushered in a Republican realignment in the South (to marginal party dominance in most Southern states due to the backlash against desegregation) and a rise of independents throughout the rest of the nation, thus giving Republicans an edge at the presidential level. New Deal Democratic dominance was so considerable after 1932 in the House, that this reality didn't finish rolling across congressional districts in noticeable fashion until 1994.

Unfortunately these Republicans never knew what they were really *for*; they only knew what they were against: the federal government. I'll leave off discussing all the internal contradictions that plagued their coalition and the crazy glue that held it together (e.g., tax cuts and budget deficits).

What's coming on Tuesday has all the hallmarks of one of those realignments. New issues and new groups will be organized in and other issues and groups will be organized out of the new order. Abortion and evolution may not fade but many Christians have come to see global warming, income inequality and health insurance as central to serving the poor as well.

The anti-intellectual Southern militants relying on the "prosperity gospel" (the Dominionist heresy) are in trouble. The hatred they've directed against the federal government over desegregation and abortion no longer makes sense to the new voters coming along. New critical issues haven't been addressed; the pressures haven't been resolved by the system and now the plates will shift in a political earthquake.

>From this perspective, what we've seen the last eight years kind of reminds me of something Gramsci said: "There is a time when the old has died and the new cannot yet be born, and in between all manner of pathologies flourish."

Fundamentalist backlashes to technological ("secular") change and external threats have long been common in America. It's part of a self-renewing process. These waves float in and out of the political spheres (prohibition, abolition...) with varying degrees of influence. Some changes take (abolition); others don't (prohibition). People looking for secular salvation in politics are inevitably disappointed.

The world comes to an end for all of us one at a time - through illness or violence or old age or accident. To pretend we know the end of *the world* and the end of time itself is arrogance. Millenarianism always fizzles out - but with technological advances, the risks of all of us getting burned in a flare are getting greater. The president of Iran hails from an apocryphal Shia sect. What will he do with nukes?

As to the disorganization of American spiritual belief, America has always had a free market in religion. It's messy and it produces some very strange phenomena from time to time but it keeps the state out of religion (at least until George Bush started funneling large sums of cash to religious endeavors) and when there is secular change that grips the state it doesn't undermine religious belief the way it does in other countries. The two forms of appealing to legitimacy are kept largely separate, even if they intertwine from time to time.

In the 21st century, a county adjacent to mine actually had a legal proceeding approved to insert into a high school science textbook that evolution was only a theory. The ignorance involved in this is unspeakable. First of all  the definition of theory was not understood by any of the parties involved  of course evolution is a theory, as is all of scientific paradigms, it is just the best explainable theory we have as it is supported by the most evidence. That is what we call science  only the best explainable theory that we have today, based on the most congruence to the evidence available today. Second of all, the insertion of religious paradigms, scientifically unproven and with little congruence to available scientific evidence and facts, into a public scientific classroom funded by taxpayer dollars, is amazing.

I seem to recall several statements from the Catholic hierarchy in support of evolution and a scientific, rational understanding of the material world. There are only two reigning paradigms in America if we let there be two but I know plenty of people who don't accept that - although this hasn't prevented the state of Louisiana from drastically undermining science education in the last session.

I know it strikes many as a trivial issue but evolution can be a life-and-death matter. If a president doesn't believe in evolution (and, quite frankly, when I look at George Bush I begin to have my doubts about it too) what happens when that president then looks at a request for money to study ways to prevent infectious diseases from evolving resistance to the drugs we use to control it - whether it's malaria or strep?

If I add the right mix of chemicals, I can coax some of my cells to reverting to their embryonic stem cell origins. According to the laws some of these jokers have passed, I ought to be locked away for knocking myself up and experimenting with the fetus.

Life only gets more complex and while simplicity has its charming appeal, letting guys who flunked freshman biology determine public policy has created a rich set of ironies for writers to exploit.

This is less to do with the Second Coming (or a second coming) than it is with splits. A lack of moderation in every way. Anticipation of a fulfillment of scriptural prophecy like an Armageddon and the second coming is a scary scary thing in that some say that some conservative politicians will try to precipitate this to fulfill scripture and feel no compulsion to quell (some even say are actively involved in sparking) unrest in the middle east.

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