I recently posted on Facebook a link to a story out of Texas about students walking out of an anthropology class over the discussion that modern humans evolved in Africa. I got push back that this was unfair to Texas, on overblown story because only a small number of students walked out of a class of 390, etc. Then I realized that what disturbed me about the story is that there is a percentage of our American citizenry who is truculent, ill informed, proud of that lack, and suspicious of “elites”. Elites which include not only the people who work in our institutions of government, and those institutions, but scientists and the facts that science discovers and explains. To quote Neil DeGrasse Tyson
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
Which brought me to the discussions I shared with George R.R. Martin over dinner last night. We enjoyed one of our wide ranging talks — everything from Wild Cards, writing — what it means to us, TV shows we are watching, and of course the election which has both of us obsessed. We talked about the fall of the Roman republic and what was really behind the collapse. (We were in a role playing game run by Walter Jon Williams for a number of years and ended up reading a lot of history about the period.)
Point being — it wasn’t the orgies. It was the concentration of vast wealth in the hands of an elite few which sent citizen farmers to Rome once they lost their land, and the most profound gridlock created by an insane political structure. Two consuls serving on alternate days, often with incompatible ideas, and ten tribunes any one of whom could veto any legislation passed by the senate.
That brought me back to a fascinating interview with former Supreme Court Justice David Souter about the dangers of an uninformed electorate. Here’s a link to what was said and clips from the Maddow show where she highlighted this interview. Souter Warning. Here is a portion of what the retired Justice said:
“I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’
It’s this that makes me worry for the country, and why my linking to the story about students objecting to anthropological facts is relevant. In 2014 a Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe in creationism rather than evolution. In these complex times we need a well educated populace. We have to understand the dangers of climate change, how monetary policy really works, how tariffs help fuel the financial collapse in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, the concept of herd immunity and the efficacy of vaccines, etc. etc. etc.
Let us contemplate the words of Benjamin Franklin at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention when asked by a lady… “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”