• Otter Views: A sense of shame: Unclear on the concept

    by Tom Stevens

    A recent curry dinner party put me in exalted company for an evening and reminded me how worldly this peninsula can be.

    The hosts and guests had come to Monterey to teach in the area’s various graduate-level international studies programs. Most spoke several languages, had traveled widely and held multiple degrees.

    Their home countries included England, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Russia, Iran and Malaysia.

    An “armchair traveler” myself, I enjoyed their lively repartee, their collective knowledge of the world and its cultures, and their accounts of adventures in far-flung places. It was a conversational travelogue of the sort that broadens horizons.

    I thought of my dinner companions this week after reading the remarks of a veteran Congressman now running for the U.S. Senate. In a broadcast interview, he stated his belief that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy, because “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

    The comment is so wrong in so many ways there is simply not enough space to unpack it all here. But one reaction that has stayed with me all week is a sense of shame for America.

    It hurts me to think this is the best we can do. The “legitimate rape” theorist is not some marginal Nazi skinhead, but a 65-year-old family man popular enough to serve six terms in the U.S. Congress. His understanding of human reproductive biology is virtually medieval, but he stands a good chance of ascending in November to the U.S. Senate.

    I couldn’t help wondering what my worldly dinner companions must be thinking about all this. If this much-respected congressman who believes “legitimate rape” won’t cause pregnancy is truly representative of America, what a benighted country we must seem.

    If America’s highest elected officials are any indication, we are at least paradoxical. Tens of millions of voters are now represented by policymakers at state and national levels whose beliefs are as unmoored from reality as is the “legitimate rape” argument.ऀ

    For instance, many office-holders still believe the current president is an African serving illegally. Others maintain the unfettered sale of automatic weapons will reduce shooting massacres. Still others insist prayer will “cure” homosexuality.

    It further amazes me that the same nation capable of landing incredibly sophisticated rovers on the Martian surface has so little regard for science or for the geophysical record.

    Many millions of Americans believe human activity does not affect climate, and that any evidence of global warming is fictitious. Millions more believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and that humans shared it with dinosaurs. To help advance these views, a committee of prominent Texans has rewritten the nation’s history and science texts to reflect their own theological biases.

    As Americans, we seem to be returning to a place where belief trumps knowledge and where fervency out-shouts reason. We are “know nothings” again, and proudly so.

    If this backward march continues, I fear to think where it might lead. I imagine an America of the near future whose citizens believe that the earth is flat, and that the sun orbits around it. It will be an America where science is blasphemy, and where history is tailor-made.

    This may seem far-fetched, but I figure “legitimate rape” puts us at least halfway there. Ignorance that egregious makes me tremble for America, but my Monterey dinner companions would probably put things politely in perspective.

    Their civilizations have been up and running for centuries, if not millennia. By those standards, America is still a child. So, childish beliefs are to be expected, even in Congress.

    Does that help?

    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 24, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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