Kypton was a planet of peace and prosperity. It’s technology was unrivaled, its philosophy beyond thought. It was truly a paradise for the just and a haven for the curious. Yet, among all that knowledge and advancement there was still a blindness. Jor-El, one of their greatest scientists warned of the chain reaction collapsing the planet’s core. The people of Krytpon had pushed their home to the limit. Their utopia was built upon sand and denial, and when Jor-El pointed out their imminent doom they chose to close their ears to the truth. A society that values science chose to deny the findings of their most prominent scientist because they were inconvenient. Krypton paid the price for their silencing of science, so what chance does our planet have?
The Ranting Zone
As you may or may not be aware, this past week Donald Trump and his administration imposed a gag order on several US Government agencies, prominently the EPA, USDA, and the National Parks Service. The order prevented the agencies from sharing things like science findings and climate data with the public. Almost intermediately, most of -if not all of- the gagged agencies created unofficial twitters and rebelled against the order, but that is not the point we are talking about. What is worrisome here is the unprecedented and coordinated move by General Zod… err Trump and his conspirators to silence the scientific community. In fact, the order was so egregious that enough scientists actually rebelled. Now, we do not want to paint all scientists with a broad brush, but politics is not exactly something most scientists willingly engage in. This newest move, however, does not exist in isolation. It comes on the heels of the Trump transition team’s McCarthyian call for the names of people at the Department of Energy who had worked on Climate Change.
What all of this paints is a picture of a Presidential administration that is actively and personally opposed to science. Unfortunately, this tacit and willful misunderstanding is not anything new in American politics. Politicians have been known to deny everything from evolution to Climate Change, but what this new administration brings is a sort of denial-first policy, as if Donald Trump is immune or indifferent to objective facts. This stance would be an incredibly dangerous one for a high school teacher to take, let alone the leader of the free world.
The leaders of Krypton denied the findings of Jor-El, when he brought them proof of the planet’s imminent destruction. They, instead, chose to silence him, and disregarded his findings and his recommendations. When it turned out he was right, it was too late, and only one person survived -well maybe more depending if we’re counting Supergirl, or Krypto, or that stupid monkey. The point is that denying verifiable and quantifiable data has the potential to lead to disaster. Ignoring science and silencing scientists is a road toward ruin and bad SyFy spinoffs. Having a President that doesn’t even want the public to hear the opinions of science agencies because it might contradict what he believes to be fact is the first step toward a scientifically uniformed society. By the way, it is also the first step toward a society that is easily controllable.
The Bottle City of Denier
So, why would an administration or a planetary society want to ignore science? What would they gain from doing so? For Krypton, the answer was peace of mind. According to Paul Applebaum, former head of the American Psychiatric Association, “Denial is the deliberate, often psychologically motivated, neglect of information that would be too upsetting or anxiety-proving to allow into one’s belief system.” For example, look at climate denial. The idea of Climate Change is incredibly scary and an incredibly large issue. As one person, living a comfortable life, it is almost mind-mindbogglingly daunting to think about, let alone begin to make sacrifices for. It is the sort of nebulous boogeyman that most people would simply rather pretend was not hiding under their bed, because the alternative would be too incomprehensible and terrifying. Quite frankly, it is also hard to blame people for their denial. If you’re mind is full of momentary worries: paying the bills, keeping your journalism job, making sure the government doesn’t find out you’re secretly an alien visitor from another planet, etc… It’s hard to keep such larger and uncontrollable worries straight in your head. Its much less taxing to deny that they even exist.
The rulers of Krypton didn’t deny Jor-El’s findings because they were stupid or they hated him. No, they denied what he said because to do otherwise would have meant being force to change from their daily routine. Remember Krypton was a paradise. The people were happy. There was no want or discomfort. It was a utopia and that’s a hard thing to give up, especially in the face of vague threats you can barely perceive. Jor-El wanted the Kryptonian people to evacuate to the Phantom Zone, to leave their luxurious and easy life behind for the harsh unknown of a hostile dimension. When faced with those two choices the Kryptonian rulers chose to simply reject Jor-El’s findings. “He’s highly overrated. Very Sad,” they might have said. “He is not smart. I’m the smartest. I think the best thoughts. I know better,” another might claim. It’s easier to discredit the source than integrate the findings into your own mindset. That is just how denial works. It has nothing to do with intelligence.
The Last Son of a Denying World
Of course, intelligence is hardly a concern in Trump’s America. Anti-intellectualism has been on the rise in this nation ever since Thomas Jefferson proclaimed a fondness for the “wisdom of the common man,” then through the administration of the barely literate Andrew Jackson, and now culminating with the Trump presidency. There has been a myth in America that the college educated elite somehow do not have the best interest of the country at heart, and this label of “elites” very much includes scientists. That is why Trump is now able to do as he wants, including ban Muslim immigration and refugees, which also include foreign scientists and doctors.
Now, we are not saying there is anything wrong with the folksy wisdom of the common man, but there also must come a point where we acknowledge that the prominence of the United States is not built upon the gleeful deniers of science. No, the promise of America -our technology, our accomplishments, our prosperity, the fact that we were able to land humans on the moon- was made possible because of science. In fact, the very concept of America, our Revolution, our way of life is a product of the Age of Enlightenment. We are a country created by college educated elites, and in some ways we have been running away from that fact ever since.
Trump’s attack on the US government science community -and Climate Change in particular- is just another in a long line of science denial. Heck it is almost an America tradition, but it is one we can no longer sustain. This particular tradition needs to be discarded if we are to break the bonds of our self-imposed ignorance. Krypton ignored the findings of their top scientist and it cost them dearly. Their people died along with their planet, but for the United States the end will not be that quick or that painless. No, our fall will be much slower and more prominent. We will slide from the national stage, our leadership and innovation replaced by that of Germany or China. We will become more insular and less willing to accept the criticism of others, holding desperately to the belief that we alone are correct, and that we alone hold the answers to all questions. We will delude ourselves into believing that we are the bearers of absolute truth and anyone who says otherwise will be ridiculed and demonized. In a sense, the country will come to embody our thin-skinned, barely literate President. That will be the new orange face of America if we continue silencing scientist and denying what is in front of us.
Yet, unlike Trump our willful ignorance will catch up with us. The world will warm whether we believe it or not. Sea levels will rise regardless of how much we hide our heads. Then we will finally become like Krypton, nothing but a memory written in the stars of a distant world… With Donald Trump in charge maybe its time we start investing in rocket technology for our infant children.