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Evolution and Fear Mongering

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Message Michael Leon
Olivia Judson has a nice piece in the New York Times (November 6, 2005) in which she explains how evolution may soon offer to unbelievers a stark proof of its existance in the form of H5N1, aka the bird flu virus.

Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, writes that "If we're unlucky, this virus will give us a nasty demonstration of evolution in action," should it mutate or reproduce with other viruses and enhance its ability to infect and kill us.

Lethality, the capability of an agent to kill, harbors the power to change beliefs, though usually through fear and not the rational process involving facts, logic and evidence.

But for those among us - progressives - advocating a post-enlightenment approach to national coversations on public policy, lethality and real and invented threats demand a rational response.

Being rational is a political winner too if only our politicians who know better - Kerry, Biden and H. Clinton - muster the courage to engage in this type of discourse with the backward Bushies.

Before the potentially deadly H5N1 virus infuses itself through our collective host bodies via the evolutionary process, consider how the American population views biological evolution and how this belief was used politically in the last presidential election.

The most striking point of agreement between John Kerry and George W. Bush is how each dealt with the intellectual perversity of the anti-evolution creationists, some 55 percent of Americans.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing several scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison on the issue.

Said Ronald Numbers, the Hilldale and William Coleman professor of the History of Science and Medicine, "Science Magazine interviewed both presidential candidates and asked them whether they thought intelligent design and other 'scientific' alternatives to evolution should be taught, and the answers were virtually identical: 'This is a local issue.'... A lot of political candidates simply do not want to deal with this head-on."

Though Kerry has post-election taken to indirectly ridiculing intelligent design vis a vis evolution after Bush opined that the "jury is still out," biological evolution perfectly represents how to deal with fear in a head-on, post-enlightenment fashion.

For many white, working-class Americans [an underperforming segment of the electorate for the Democrats], evolution is frightening to their world views; more frightening than terrorists, Iraqis, blacks, even more frightening than gays.

But does Kerry say: "Look, evolution is the foundation of biology. It's everywhere. It's mysterious, like a force itself. But there is no need to be afraid. Let's explore and discuss evolution's nature together, and by all means teach it in public schools and not confuse the issue with religion"?

No, Kerry cowered from the issue.

Going to war with Iraq. Kerry should have voted against it and said, "Look, war is obscene. I know, you do NOT want to go there. Don't let Bush scare you into war!"

Or gay marriage. Kerry could have said, "Your marriage, your family have nothing to fear from gays getting married. This is all about hate and fear. My family knows many gay people whom we love. Don't give into fear and distractions."

Bill Clinton used this tactic, if you want to call it that. On Clinton's affairs with women, Clinton's response in essence was: Hey, this has nothing to do with getting a job in this changing economy. Don't get distracted!

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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at
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