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I am really amazed. This month's Discover has an interview with Newt Gingrich. Yes, Newt Gingrich. Who, I was stunned to learn, has been a life-long follower and supporter of science. Being a Clinton Democrat who watched the Republican "Contract With America" unfold after the '94 midterm elections, Newt has always been squarely in the villain column of my mental score card. I need to rethink this. I didn't agree with everything he had to say in his interview, but even where I disagreed, his position was sane.

I was particularly impressed with the following, part of his response to a series of questions on the cultural gap between people in science vs. people whose primary model is expression. Here he veers off to talk about our government and science.
The biggest thing that's evident both in the White House and on Capitol Hill is the lack of a time horizon. The generation that fought the Second World War had fought in the First World War. They had 20 years to think about the Second World War. When they came out of the Second World War, they thought about the cold war. So, their sense was, you know, over a 15- or 20-year period we do A, B, C, and D and invest methodically. The founding of the National Science Foundation -- all of the things they did up to the early '60s were done with a practical, real-world knowledge of long-term capital development. That's totally missing today. Just as Wall Street has degenerated into an overfocus on quarterly reports, Capitol Hill has an overfocus on this year's budget skirmishes.

In your estimation, what percentage of Washington policymakers, meaning Capitol Hill plus the executive branch, have that longer-term perspective?
Less than one. We are in an enormous mismatch between our governing elite and reality on a bipartisan basis. I'm certain not more than 1 percent of this city has a clue.

The emphasis is mine -- because I think Gingrich is absolutely right. And, I think he brushed on something that, IMO, has a lot to do with the state we're in. Notice the verb he used to describe how the people in the first half of the 20th century digested two world wars. They thought about them. Listen to public discourse today. What verb do you hear? People feel. They feel about everything. My intent is not to be a linguistic Mr. Pickypants; I think that this shift is meaningful. As Gengrich describes a social schism between scientists and literati, I see a shearing away from rational thought toward emotion. And the thing about emotion is that it is much easier for others to manipulate than reasoned thinking.

I'm very pleased that I didn't let my biases cause me to blow by Gingrich's interview. It's provided me with a new perspective on the man, and a lot of food for thought. I'll finish up with a quote from Dune; something to digest while you ponder the difference between a society that thinks vs. a society that feels:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)
Not to be too simplistic about the issue, but do you think that perhaps the invention of television has anything to do with the increase in "feeling" and the decrease in "thinking" in our culture?

Having had cable TV for all of two of my adult years, I can say with certainty that I read and discuss far more when I don't have the boob-tube at my disposal.

What thinketh you?
Sep. 19th, 2006 02:10 am (UTC)
The TV angle could be part of it. TV news is certainly all about emotion and very little thought. TV ads, which are also highly emotional, are IMO, a symptom means of propigating the underyling ill...

The root problem is that, back at the dawn of the Cold War, Ike and Co. decided that we must engage in a program of perpetual economic growth (as a bulwark against the appeal that Soviet Communisim had among economically depressed people). In order to drive perpetual economic growth, the policy of the government shifted from encouraging production to encouraging consumption.

But there's a problem with a consumer-driven economy -- thinking people do not spend, spend, spend, for the sake of buying stuff. Thinking people budget, and save, purchase what they need and allow themselves ocassional treats. Emotional people can be provoked into spending by appealing to their wants and fears, and that's what all of advertising has transformed into: an appeal to wants, desires, fears, and encouragement of emotion-driven impulse buying. All in service to the consumer economy.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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