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Why Does the Right Embrace Ignorance as a Virtue?

Dismissing facts and science has become a staple of conservative ideology.

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Take Rep. Jeff Miller’s recent appearance on MSNBC. It was a performance that has become standard on the right when talking about climate change: Dismissively wave away the scientific consensus and spout ignorance in the most condescending tone possible, as if nothing could be sillier than those scientists with their interests in facts and research. Miller repeatedly dismissed decades of scientific research showing the reality of global warming as “foolish." Then he went above and beyond the call of duty, really showing off how proud he was to know so very little. “Then why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Were there men that were causing — were there cars running around at that point, that were causing global warming? No,” he said, full of contempt for people who aren’t nearly as stupid as he is.

If Miller wasn’t such a major idiot, he would know that, in fact, the death of the dinosaurs was caused by an outside force that disrupted the Earth’s atmosphere; not cars, but a meteor that hit the planet with such impact it caused a massive cooling and then—wait for it—major global warming effect that wiped out 70% of the species on the planet. It’s one of the major reasons we know that outside forces, whether meteors or cars, that have major impact on the planet’s atmosphere can create temperature changes that permanently affect life on this planet.

The problem here is that someone who is not only so catastrophically wrong but downright proud of being an ignoramus is not going to actually bother to listen to an explanation like that. That’s why the wall of ignorance is such a powerful rhetorical tool. When you have nothing but contempt for the facts, attempts to educate you will only make your pride in your own ignorance grow stronger. The more you try to educate the proudly ignorant, the dumber they get.

At the end of the day, the problem is one of identity. The conservative identity is one of being opposed to everything liberal, to the point of despising anything even associated with liberalism. As liberalism has increasingly been aligned with the values of empiricism and reason, the incentives for conservatives to reject empiricism and reason multiply. To be a “conservative” increasingly means taking a contemptuous view of reality. And so the proudly ignorant grow more belligerent, day after day.

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