At my local coffee shop, I had a prolonged discussion with a staunch conservative who adamantly denied the existence of global warming, as I attempted to write an earlier version of this article. As I kept trying to write in vain, he thoughtfully parsed through critiques of the "liberal propaganda"- which you might expect to hear from some burly former football player in a pressed-business suit and clean-cropped buzz cut at an Anne Coulter slumber party in the buckle of the Bible Belt.
Yet, this conservative looked more like a dude who wandered out of Haight-Ashbury circa 1968, with long-grey hair dangling wildly past his lanky shoulders. And, given that we were only a few miles from that counter-culture epicenter in San Francisco, the heart of the modern "liberal" movement, he just might have.
I shut my laptop closed to hear the Dude refute Al Gore's "manipulative data," and to provide a litany of experts who question global warming, but who have been silenced by the liberal media. The Dude cites studies, quotes experts, all pointing to the conclusion that the liberal "cause du jour" is nothing more than a delusion, a very successful mirage which all the mindless sheep buy into.
Except this time, the sheep "" the masses "" are liberals, and he, the conservative, is the rebel, the dissenter against the liberal power structure.
To many liberals "" and conservatives "" the Dude might seem insane. To deny global warming, a theory accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community, seems an outlandish concept.
The Dude might as well believe Hurricane Katrina was caused by Neptune, angered that not enough sheep were slaughtered in his name.
Yet to the Dude and many fundamentalist conservatives "" including "hockey mom"- and VP candidate Sarah Palin, who has "questioned"- global warming - not only is this view sane, but logical. As fervently as you believe in global warming, so does the Dude believe you're totally wrong, and will try to back it up for hours (trust me on this).
If only these sort of fringe views were constrained to the fringe of San Francisco. But that Sarah Palin can be seriously considered for the second most important job in the nation is what many of us find both baffling and downright scary.
More to the point, how can we have a serious contender for Vice President who is unconvinced by volumes of facts? Didn't we already have 8 years of a "maverick"- President who followed his gut, rather than empirical data?
And much like Bush, Palin is a fundamentalist, who by definition, believes in faith over facts, who has claimed that the War in Iraq is some sort of holy mission.
Palin is a symbol, sure. But what she represents is the popularity of pre-scientific thought which has plagued our nation the last 8 years.
Al Gore, in his bestseller The Assault on Reason, captures our bafflement, that pre-scientific beliefs are still a part of our democracy, claiming that "it is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse"-. As a case in point: five years after 9/11, "nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack,"- a demonstrated falsity.
And the Republicans continue to ignore facts with Sarah Palin, attempting to turn an anti-abortionist into a feminist. They laud Palin as a landmark for women everywhere, when she fervently believes in the word of the Christian God, a God who refers to Eve "" the first woman "" as man's "helper"-, and who states "Your yearning will be for your husband, and he will dominate you"-.
I imagine sitting down with Palin over coffee, as I did with the Dude. And as sincere as the Dude is with his beliefs, I imagine Palin to be.
And I wonder: how do I have a conversation with someone uninterested in facts?
I want to listen, to attempt to understand where the she is coming from, as famed UC Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff does in his bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant! Over years of study, Lakoff has attempted to divine the deeply held beliefs that underlie the conservative and liberal mind. And with this knowledge, Lakoff claims, we can come to understand how to better communicate our values to people with such vastly different beliefs "" this will win the election, and convince those unconvinced by facts.