Conservatism used to be intellectually respectable. As a teenager in the early 1960s I regularly read serious stuff by William F. Buckley and other deep thinkers in National Review.
My mother was a die hard Republican. I shared her commitment to conservatism until I went to college. Back then, there wasn't any conflict between "conservation" and "conservatism."
But now, right-wingers have a well-deserved reputation for being anti-scientific, dedicated not to reasoned arguments and facts, but to shrill sound bites with no substance.
Crazy conservatives would, though.
And this is demolishing the credibility of a political philosophy that used to appeal to admirers of science like my mother. Now it is extremely rare, in the United States at least, to find a conservative who wholeheartedly accepts scientific truths.
Evolution. The big bang. Global warming. These are facts. Ignore them, and it is impossible to be in tune with reality. That's a huge handicap for a politician.
As is falling prey to basic thinking errors. Such as, something is either right or wrong; there are no shades of gray to truth, no gradations of correctness. Isaac Asimov wrote a great essay about the "relativity of wrong."
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong.
The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." The implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.
My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.
Thus the global warming-denying crazies are going wild over the stolen emails from a climate research center. They've seized upon a few comments by scientists that supposedly cast doubt on some conclusions about global warming.
Actually, this isn't true. The American Meteorological Society says that the emails don't have any impact on the society's position on climate change science.
For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.
Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.
Yet Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other mouthpieces of the conservative movement ignore facts and keep on preaching their gospel of unreality. Here's the You Tube proof that they're as stupid as Beavis and Butthead.
Fortunately, there's a strong argument that global warming deniers are going to pay a big political price for their idiocy.
Reality has a way of biting back. It can't be Swift Boat'ed in the mindless fashion today's conservatives like to play their political games. The deniers will do anything to confuse the public, just as the tobacco industry tried to obfuscate the dangers of cigarette smoking.
However, the Earth can't be fooled.
When it keeps warming, as it almost surely will, voters will see even more clearly what is becomingly increasingly obvious: the conservative movement in the United States is the party of know-nothing (as well as no-nothing, since they're against everything important that needs doing: health care reform, job creation, energy independence, and so on.)