Friday, August 18, 2017

When Other Things Take Precedence

First of all, I would like to apologize for taking so long to publish another blog entry.  Between teaching my summer physics class, traveling to Florida for a week, and trying to get our current house sold so we can move into a new house, I've been rather busy.  I was all set to post a review of Al Gore's latest movie An Inconvenient Sequel, but something happened this past weekend that made global warming actually seem temporarily insignificant, even to somebody who has a blog devoted to global warming.  Of course I'm talking about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a series of marches that included people carrying Nazi flags and saluting Hitler led to the death of a counter-demonstrator who was standing against prejudice and bigotry.  To make a bad situation much, much worse, our President utterly failed to quickly denounce and distance himself from the groups leading the demonstrations, and in fact portrayed both sides as equivalently antagonistic. 

I started this blog to combat ignorance on a subject I know quite a bit about and care very deeply about.  Extreme ignorance takes on many forms, but whether it leads to direct acts of violence against people who are different or it compromises the long-term health of our planet, it is very dangerous.  I used to believe that ignorance would expose itself; people would simply see it for what it is, and our society as a whole has experienced too much too ever again let it gain a meaningful foothold.  I can remember when I was a graduate student at the University of Delaware in 1993, and the Ku Klux Klan were holding a rally in the heart of the town of Newark.  A lot of people attended the counter-demonstration, which significantly outnumbered the Klan rally, but a friend and I instead opted to attend an alternative rally emphasizing harmony and diversity.  Creating something positive out of a negative situation certainly has its merits, but circumstances have changed since then and made me question whether that was really the prudent thing to do.  Ignorance and hatred can spread just as easily as true knowledge and empathy can, and combating the people who propagate these things requires reaching out to people with a greater and more relentless passion.  The stakes right now are very high.  In the case of hatred and bigotry, neo-Nazis salute Trump along with Hitler and feel emboldened by the results of the 2016 election.  In the case of climate change, people who refuse to acknowledge the scientific reality of global warming now dictate energy and environmental policy from the executive and legislative branches of our government.

So what, then, can we do?  For one thing, we need to call out ignorance whenever we see it, regardless of the form that it takes.  Yes, you can certainly argue that those who are ignorant of our history are doomed to repeat it.  You can also argue that those who consider Confederate soldiers to be heroes worthy of monuments are ignorant of our history.  Similarly, you can argue that people who insist that a case remains for reasonable doubt on climate change are ignorant of the decades of research that have led scientists to draw a very different conclusion.

I also believe that it is very important to not give in to our most angry and violent impulses as we resist hate and ignorance.  You don’t need to be Christian to see the disarming strength in loving your enemies, blessing them that curse you, doing good to them that hate you, and praying for them that spitefully use you.  And to quote Martin Luther King, the greatest enemy of hate and ignorance that this country has ever produced: “the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding.”  The goal is not to defeat bad or misguided people, but to defeat bad, harmful, ignorant ideas and make all of us better people in the process.  Tell the truth.  Love, and include.  Be calm and respectful, but above all, be persistent and undaunted.

We’ll talk further soon.

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