Friday, December 02, 2016

Political References in Popular Science Writings


While reading Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Danel C. Dennett, in a discussion of possibilities, I was brought up suddenly by the following:
Historical impossibility is simply a matter of opportunities passed up. There was a time when many of us worried about the possibility of President Barry Goldwater, but it didn't happen, and after 1964, the odds against such a thing happening lengthened reassuringly.
 One wonders why he didn't use the worry about a second term for Lyndon B. Johnson, which split the Democratic party and led to the election of Richard Nixon. The fear there was that the Vietnam War would continue unabated, fomenting increased social unrest and costing the U.S. more blood and treasure. Johnson's decision not to run created that particular historical impossibility--a second term. But clearly, Dennett is signalling something--his membership in the sensible people of the center left.

I encountered this same sort of thing in Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Dawkins frequently brought up his support for the Labour Party as a salve to his readers who might otherwise think he was some kind of mean Conservative.

Now Michael Shermer is libertarian(ish), and I don't remember seeing such stealth signalling in The Mind of the Market. In fact, Shermer describes his libertarian background extensively, and then goes on to write in a way that panders to center-left thinking, promoting "free and fair markets." No true libertarian would be concerned that free markets wouldn't be fair.

Much has recently been made of the bias in academia (see Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind), and that bias has certainly leaked into popular science literature. It behooves us to be careful of these concealed nudges to the left.

Finally, I have to say that Barry Goldwater was my last political love affair. That put me on the road to conservatism, then libertarianism, and now market anarchism with a heavy flavoring of evolutionary epistemology. I escaped from politics in January, 1967, with the help of Robert LeFevre, and never have cast a ballot to choose my master. I owe the start of my journey to my Sue Dame, now Sue Montgomery, whom I will never forget.

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