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The Great Derangement

by Donald Prothero, Nov 16 2011

The Great Derangement (book cover)

Many readers of this blog will recognize the name of Rolling Stone writer and journalist Matt Taibbi. A gonzo investigative journalist in the style of Hunter Thompson, he was a regular correspondent on Real Time with Bill Maher during the 2008 election. He routinely cracked up the panel with his witty and savage comments, and has also appeared frequently on The Rachel Maddow Show. Famous for his lacerating political commentary and analysis, he has a long track record covering not only U.S. politics, but also he was embedded with the troops in Iraq (described in the book reviewed here), spent a number of years in Moscow as a correspondent, and has worked all over the world as a journalist. He even played professional baseball in Moscow and professional basketball in Mongolia, and had to flee Uzkbekistan after offending the president.

Even though it is now a few years old, I finally got the chance to read his 2008 book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics and Religion, which spent many weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. The events described in the book occurred from about 2005-2008, so they seem a bit dated in the perspective of what has happened since the 2008 elections. But in most respects the same groups are saying and doing the same things, and in some cases, the actions of people and the events since 2008 are even more deranged and unhinged than they were when  he wrote his book, so his wickedly funny analysis is even more apropos.

The premise of the book is that American politics is so dysfunctional, and the American people are so  disillusioned and jaded about the political gridlock in Washington, and its inability to respond to the needs of everyday Americans, that we have turned to all sorts of false prophets and bizarre notions in order to find comfort and comprehend a complex world that defies simple explanation. Taibbi begins the book by covering the way the U.S. Congress acts today, and it’s a disgusting portrait. During the daytime a few politicians in the nearly empty House and Senate chambers waste the taxpayers’ money and time doing meaningless business,  bloviating about naming post offices and honoring police officers or firemen to get their names in The Congressional Record. That’s why watching CSPAN these days is a sure cure for insomnia. The real business of running the country goes on after  hours and behind closed doors, when powerful committee chairman of the majority party get to write the bills that favor their biggest donors, and stick in their pet projects and earmarks where there is no oversight. The bills are often written to accomplish the exact opposite of their official purpose, as when Taibbi describes how Texas Rep. Joe Barton (infamous for calling President Obama a liar during a speech) pushed a bill ostensibly for Hurricane Katrina relief that had nothing for the victims or hurricane safety and readiness. Instead, it was a thinly disguised effort to give polluters a big break from taxes, regulation and emissions controls. The minority party tries to challenge some of it, but as long as the majority party has the votes in place, no one has the time or inclination to read the fine print on bills once they emerge from committee with no warning and only minutes on the House or Senate floor before they are voted on. That’s how our great democracy works, folks, and the hypocrisy and sleaze applies to both sides. Taibbi starts by describing how slimeballs such as Tom DeLay and Barton got away with it before they lost their majority in the 2006 elections, but after the Democrats took over, it was almost as bad.

Given the American public’s justifiable loss of faith in Congress, it’s Taibbi’s premise that they turn elsewhere for answers and comfort. The heart (and best part) of Taibbi’s book is when he puts on his undercover chameleon disguise and “embeds” himself as a new member of fundamentalist Reverend John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Hagee is famous for being the fundie preacher who founded “Christians United for Israel”. His pro-Israeli stance is not based on any real love of Jews, but because having a Jewish state in place is important to End-Times prophecies. Taibbi provides a hilarious, snarky description of the contradictions and bizarre thinking of a typical Hagee sermon, which has the usual fundie demonization of secularism, evolution, science, homosexuality, and abortion. Then, with no apparent connection, Hagee rails against anti-Semitism or attacks on Israel. But the funniest part of the book is Taibbi’s detailed account of pretending to be a convert in the Hagee Empire, where cult-like indoctrination is a big part of the process. He goes through the motions and prayer meetings and confessionals, gets anointed and baptized, and “speaks in tongues” (actually, instead of babbling the meaningless gobbletegook of “tongues,” he chants song lyrics in Russian). He even attends a fundamentalist boot camp, where they break down your connections to your family and former friends, and force you to accept their church cult as your only source of comfort and community. (Here the infamous Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort make their appearance, peddling creationist nonsense). Throughout the entire exercise, Taibbi’s snarky comments and witty analyses point out the absurdity of the entire process. Even more disturbing, when he says something to his new church friends that is sarcastic or might make them think or question their absurd beliefs, they completely miss the point and cannot comprehend what he is talking about. To me, that is the scariest part of the whole book. These lonely, broken people who are simply looking for answers or comfort or some sort of community that accepts them get sucked into this huge political machine which indoctrinates them into believing that anything they hear outside the Church is the work of the devil. Not just the usual villains, like homosexuality and abortion and evolution, but even science and—believe it or not—philosophy are the work of Satan, too. When you come to think of it, that shouldn’t surprise us, because these church dogmas must be believed without question or reason, and anything that might allow the individual to challenge the dogma is diabolical to their way of thinking.

These churches violate all sorts of tax laws, since they are openly political when they endorse certain candidates and demonize others. During Taibbi’s stint, Hilary was The Great Beast that struck fear in their hearts, but it’s easy to see now why so many conservative Americans believed garbage (back during the Bush years) about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and yellowcake uranium or (more recently) about Obama being a Kenyan Muslim—and they still do, even though all of these things have been shown to be patently false. These people don’t need to get it from Fox News. They don’t even watch the news or read the papers in the first place. They learn everything they know about the world from their church community, so when their church leaders demonize the President and tell lies about him, they don’t have any other source of information to provide a reality check. Likewise, when they’re told lies about evolution and science for their entire lives, it should not surprise us that no amount of proper coverage of evolution in the schools or books and blogs by us “secular atheists” do not even reach them, let alone influence them. On a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher and Keith Olbermann made fun of the conservative “information bubble” where people only heard news as distorted by Fox-Limbaugh-Beck conservative echo chamber. They had an “typical Republican voter” sitting in a large lucite sphere, eyes glazed over and unable to hear Maher and Olbermann shouting demonstrably true statements at him. But if Taibbi is right, that “bubble” is even more hermetically sealed, since these conservative churches are the only source of information about the outside world for most of their followers. Most things they encounter are considered to be Satanic and should be shunned. In some ways, they are like the Amish of Pennsylvania: sheltered, isolated, adhering to an outdated dogma, yet shunning anything about the modern world that their church does not condone.

As a counterpart to the insular world of fundamentalist churches, Taibbi provides an interesting insight into the looking-glass world of the “9/11 Truthers.” Instead of going undercover, Taibbi attends their meetings, reads their blogs and literature, argues with many of them, gets deluged with their hate emails and death threats, and gets deep into the intricate and strange debates over minutiae of 9/11. Like the fundies, this group is a dedicated extreme subculture with its own peculiar dogmatic view of the world that cannot be shaken by outside reality, and bizarre notions (that the Bush Administration was competent enough to carry off such a great conspiracy; that all the conspirators have managed to keep their silence after a decade; that the Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a passenger jet, while C-130 transports rained jet fragments and body parts down on the Pentagon lawn in broad daylight—and no one saw them; that the passengers of the Pentagon jet are being imprisoned somewhere) that are not even remotely plausible when subjected to any kind of common sense or scrutiny. But plausibility and reality have no meaning in the deranged world of 9/11 Truthers. The bizarre stories they concoct, and their conspiratorial view of the world as run by the Trilateral Commission/ Illuminati/ Freemasons/ “black helicopter” set fits their paranoid conception of the globe controlled by mysterious unseen forces. These weird ideas make sense to them in a world where everything else is equally deranged to their point of view. Apparently, Taibbi views the 9/11 Truthers as a leftist counterpart to the fundamentalists, but the parallel doesn’t run true. Certainly during the Bush years it appealed to some with leftist sympathies, but the 9/11 Truthers are stronger than ever in the Obama years. They don’t have a clear political leaning, but the entire idea mostly appeals to people who view the world as controlled by big, unseen government forces. This is a right-wing nightmare, not a leftist fear.

Even though the  events of the past three years have changed the political landscape a bit since the book came out, so much of it (Congressional gridlock and ineffectiveness; the Fundamentalist echo chamber; the 9/11 Truthers) still remains relevant today. But Taibbi continues to write about the foremost political and social events of our time, including his new book on the financial meltdown, Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the most Audacious Power Grab in American History. Typical of his prose is a description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of  humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. In addition, there are his stories in Rolling Stone, and his continuous blog posts. Perhaps his best recent writing is his coverage of the Tea Party movement during the 2010 elections. He argues that the Teabaggers have no coherent leadership or message. In Taibbi’s view, they are merely older middle-class white folks who fear the demographic and social changes that are coming to this country, and resent the idea of minorities getting any government aid (even as they cling to their own Medicare and Medicaid). Taibbi suggests that this is why they parrot meaningless ideas like shutting down the Federal Government as a solution to complex economic problems, or radically cutting the Federal Government (not realizing that most of the federal spending is for Social Security and Medicare, which they don’t want cut). Or they fall for ploys like the flat tax or Cain’s “9-9-9″ plan, which are regressive rather than progressive, and will raise their own taxes but radically reduce the taxes of the rich.

So if you enjoy reading a sarcastic, snarky, extremely witty and perceptive gonzo journalist analysis and insights into the world of Congress, Fundamentalists, and 9/11 Truthers, I heartily recommend The Great Derangement.

 

Recommended Reading

62 Responses to “The Great Derangement”

  1. Pete Moulton says:

    Excellent review of a terrific book. Taibbi’s a gem, one of the last of a nearly extinct species: the Great American Journalist. Not many of the self-proclaimed journalists in the US can seriously make the claim to be doing actual journalism; stenography is pretty much the extent of their ‘skills’.

    One quibble, though. It wasn’t Barton who infamously called the President a liar; that was Joe Wilson. Barton became (more) infamous for his public groveling at the feet of Tony Hayward during the BP oil disaster ‘hearings’.

  2. MikeB says:

    OK. So now I have to go to the University library to get a copy. Thanks for the review.

  3. Max says:

    I’ll sometimes read Taibbi’s stories and just assume that the truth is the opposite.

    For example, “[Hagee's] pro-Israeli stance is not based on any real love of Jews, but because having a Jewish state in place is important to End-Times prophecies.”
    No, it’s based on Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” That’s in THIS world, not in end times.

    “[Taibbi] argues that the Teabaggers have no coherent leadership or message.”

    The Tea Party Caucus has 62 Representatives and four Senators, as opposed to the Occupy Wall Street protesters whom Taibbi now says he “learned to love.” I bet dollars to donuts that a disproportionate number of them are 9/11 Truthers.

    • Beelzebud says:

      The left doesn’t have a lock on the 9/11 truther movement. Ron Paul’s crowd seems much more frenzied on this topic than any liberal I’ve ever heard from.

      • Max says:

        It would be interesting to poll them about it and see who has a larger percentage of truthers.
        Donald said, “the entire idea mostly appeals to people who view the world as controlled by big, unseen government forces. This is a right-wing nightmare, not a leftist fear.”
        Make it government-Zionist-military-corporate forces, and it’s a leftist fear.

        Not to mention OWSers who celebrate 9/11 — after all, the WTC symbolized Wall Street.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7oEqtB68TI
        Reminds me of Teabaggers who praised Joe Stack for flying his plane into an IRS building.

      • I’d actually agree with Max; I’ll bet the “far left” has more 9/11 Truthers than the “far right.” Antivaxxing is probably a bit more far left, though in its antigovernment angle, it gets its share of far right support.

    • Well, he’s right on Hagee, or the ilk of Hagee. Gen. 12:3 is not their only source. Romans, where Paul says “all Israel must be gathered in,” is actually much more important. And, that one IS an end-time issue.

      On OWS, I have no idea what percentage may be “Truthers.” I do know that more than 1/5 hold grad degrees, at least among online poll respondents. I venture those degrees are most likely either MBAs or JDs and that this portion of OWS protesters didn’t find Wall Street evil until it wouldn’t hire them. Ditto, most Adbusters probably didn’t see Madison Avenue as evil until it wouldn’t hire them!

      http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/10/ows-young-white-well-educated-latte.html

    • Ticktock says:

      “I’ll sometimes read Taibbi’s stories and just assume that the truth is the opposite.”

      Interesting approach to critical thinking.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    Believing that President Obama is a corrupt idiot means you’re a conspiracy theorist.

    Believing that Christians who support Israel are secretly trying to end the world means you’re a well-informed, rational person.

    Thanks for clarifying that.

    Apparently “Skeptic” now means “Someone who reflexively bashes any opponents of the Democratic Party.”

      • Trimegistus says:

        Oh, please. Once again: it’s not Republicans that have gutted the space program. It’s not Republicans who have destroyed public education in this country. It’s not Republicans who blocked genetically modified crops. It’s not Republicans who have blocked nuclear power for decades. It’s not Republicans who funnel huge amounts of money into crackpot “alternative energy” schemes. It’s not Republicans who backed the anti-vaccine movement.

        When Democrats accuse Republicans of being “anti-science,” what they mean is that Republicans don’t accept Democrats trying to wrap themselves in the mantle of bogus scientific authority to justify their corrupt, idiotic policies.

      • Marcus says:

        Can I get an AMEN! Thank you Trimegistus.

        Love how the rest of you wonderful “skeptics” filtering everything through your precious political lenses.

        Please go buy a tent and some weed and join the Occupy Wall Street movement…

      • Somite says:

        You are seriously going to compare outright evolution and vaccine denial to a dubious list that may or may not be attributed to democrats. I think you are stretching a false equivalency.

        Each of the points you list is complicated and have many sides. Evolution, vaccination and climate change as denied by main presidential candidates and congressional GOP do not.

      • Beelzebud says:

        I’m sure John Huntsman is just part of the liberal media, for decrying his own party for being anti-science.

      • He IS! Obama is actually paying him to stay in the GOP race! I read that on Andrew Dimbart’s website, or, was it Bachmann’s homepage?

  5. Shane Brady says:

    Typical of his prose is a description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.

    And those are the people Obama picked to run the treasury. Wonderful, but I guess that’s less important than lobbing ad hominem attacks, misrepresenting positions, and making stuff up about people whose politics you don’t agree with. Even better.

    • Ticktock says:

      Are you assuming that he doesn’t mention how Obama hired these blood suckers or have you read his Rolling Stone articles and since had amnesia? Just wondering.

    • And, that’s why I vote Green. (I’m not a registered party member, though; my skeptical nature won’t let me do that.) And why I find OWS engaging in protest for the sake of theater, rather than actually getting involved with looking at third-party options, maddening.

  6. Don and I are not only pals and collaborators on an upcoming book, but also share a great number of left-leaning personal political views in common. Nonetheless, for reasons of consistency, I feel obligated raise the same objection to liberal commentary as I do to political commentary from other ideological viewpoints. Doesn’t this seem awfully partisan for a science-based skeptics blog?

    • Somite says:

      Not at all for people interested in the (real) roots of the financial meltdown in the face of tons of misinformation.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Frankly it’s nice to see something about economics from a differing viewpoint other than Shermer’s “Regulation Schmegulation” libertarian nonsense.

      • Donald Prothero says:

        Remember, this is a BOOK REVIEW, folks, not necessarily MY opinion (although I happen to agree with a lot of it). Everyone seems to have ignored the bulk of what Taibbi’s book points out: the paralysis of Congress; the fundamentalists and their weird view of the world; the 9/11 Truthers and their pathology. Those ARE topics we discuss frequently on SkepticBlog, and yet everyone missed the point of the book review. The comment about Tea Partiers from another Taibbi blog is not even from the book in question, and represents HIS views, not necessarily mine.
        As such, when we do a book review, we are summarizing the essence of the author’s writing and ideas, most of which (in the case of this book), were typical SkepticBlog topics (fundamentalists, 9/11 Truthers) and not really political. I wrote the review only to point out that people who agree with Taibbi’s view will love those books; those who don’t can ignore it.
        But, as I have learned over the past few months, if there is even the remotest political implication of a blog post (such as when I discuss the scientific reality of global warming), the discussion immediately degenerates into left/right name-calling, none of which reflects what the blog actually said…

      • Phea says:

        Personally, Mr. Prothero, I appreciated the review. Thank you for taking the time.

      • You're Wrong says:

        Yes, thankyou. I honestly enjoyed the review greatly, and am quite sick of the partisan, unskeptical, and frankly rude approach some people take rather than skepticism to any mention of a political opinion. Not to mention the obvious point you made that the review does not necessarily reflect your opinion.

        I couldn’t find the other review mentioned with the search feature, was it by any chance of Generation Kill? It sounded like it, just by the mention.

        Thankyou, again, loved the review, going to see if my local bookstore has some of his works.

    • badrescher says:

      I have to agree. This grabs my interest early with a discussion of ineffectual government, but it quickly erodes into a discussion of what’s wrong with how Republicans think – politicians and citizens – and ignores what’s wrong with how Democrats think or what’s wrong with the political system in general.

      If the book were about how group dynamics (diffusion of responsibility, polarization, etc.) and partisan politics (in general) lead to bureaucracy and waste, I’d see it differently.

      • Ticktock says:

        Is this an assessment of the review? Because I’m not seeing this. I think Prothero did a fine job mentioning that both parties have been a disaster, but even if he didn’t, must we mention that there are sometimes bad allopathic doctors every time we mention alternative quacks? Why must politics be held to a false equivalence in the realm of skepticism and no other subject? Is it because we are truly worried about bias or because we are meta-worried about bias?

      • badrescher says:

        “Is this an assessment of the review?”

        Since I haven’t read the book, it’s an assessment of the review, but if I know Dr. Prothero, he didn’t cherry-pick, so it’s also an assessment of the book.

        Although, it’s really neither. It’s an assessment of how suitable the post is for a blog about skepticism. What my comment definitely is NOT is a value judgment about the content or quality of the post.

      • You're Wrong says:

        The assessment should be pretty bloody obvious. The book discusses 911 truthers, and fundamentalist preachers, who have political leanings informed by end times prophecies.
        Those are things frequently discussed on SkepticBlog-Those are our bread and bloody butter. And the semantics of what is and isn’t skepticism are exhausting:

        How about this: If you question whether something is a skeptical topic, you aren’t a very good skeptic. (Yes, now I’m calling names and being rude, and not very even handed or skeptical myself, but by this point, I think it’s time for an emotional Appeal to Reason: We don’t have to agree, but we can at least listen and not talk past each other.)
        You can use rational principles and skeptical thinking and apply them to all of your beliefs, and political beliefs are not exempt.

        There may be no right answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t analyze what is wrong. Whatever your political leanings, we can agree about the issues with fundamentalism and anti science in the GOP, and the pervasive influence of CAM and pseudoscience in the Left-these should inform the decisions people make, which is very definitely a skeptical matter.

      • Somite says:

        The problem is that the GOP anti-intellectual and anti-science stance should be exposed as part of our skepticism. This is not just partisan ideology and it is based on policy and statements originating from the GOP. See:

        http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2011/11/are-the-tea-party-candidates-anti-intellectual-yes-part-3-reality-and-authenticity/

        and Chris Mooney’s upcoming book that looks into the psychology of the republican brain.

        http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2011/11/announcing-my-new-book-the-republican-brain/

        It is important that ideologies do not become a defense against exposing falsehoods or anti-scientific statements.

      • badrescher says:

        “It is important that ideologies do not become a defense against exposing falsehoods or anti-scientific statements.”

        True. But when it comes to politics, it is far too easy to cherry-pick, rationalize, overgeneralize, and so on. In this case, I believe the line was crossed.

      • Trimegistus says:

        Somite, do you get paid or something for every time you call Republicans anti-scientific? It’s BULLSHIT! This is a marketing maneuver by the Democrats! They’ve slapped a big “NOW WITH SCIENCE!” sticker on their corrupt, flailingly useless party. Instead of scrutinizing the ingredients, you’re just chugging it down.

      • Somite says:

        Why is this not true? At best you could argue the dems do it too. However, we know this is not true. GOP policies have curbed important stem cell research and peddle the proven incorrect abstinence only education.

        http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/11/scott-walker-wisconsin-abstinence-jobs-plan

      • You're Wrong says:

        Who gives a f*** what the motive inspiring his post is? The GOP are unscientific, they have a tendency to make policies based on religious principles, and many of their support comes from fundamentalist and creationist leanings. There are equal problems with the left, they tend towards an acceptance of CAM, and anti vax nonsense.

        But remember: Prothero’s post was not even about this: Are you people so sensitive that you can’t tell the difference between a book review of a book that happens to cover both politics, and skepticism, with an attempt at starting a flame war between partisan supporters of opposing political factions. And if you dislike the concept of the book, then read it and put up a review of your own.

    • Ticktock says:

      Daniel,

      While Matt Taibbi is decidedly progressive, he takes aim at both parties and is generally against bullshit. This is why I’ve been saying that he should be invited to TAM and other engagements and welcomed into our circles. I’m so glad to see this review.

      I do think you should read his books before commenting that they are overly left-leaning. I don’t think there’s anything more important than learning the embarrassing facts about our politics and economy. And until somebody proves Taibbi wrong with equally compelling evidence, I will continue to appreciate his commentary.

      • Ticktock says:

        Also, in TAM’s defense, I’m pretty sure that they’ve invited Taibbi but his speaking fees are too high. Hey Matt, if you’re reading this, could you cut TAM a discount? Thanks.

      • I’m not offering an assessment of Taibbi’s views, as I am not familiar with his work. But I don’t think a fair reader could come away from this post seeing it as presenting a neutral point of view. Because I also hold a strong liberal ideology, my temptation is not to care about political partisanship unless it comes from a viewpoint I dislike. Nonetheless, I feel obligated to resist the temptation.

      • Donald Prothero says:

        And how is this different from the strong political statement that Shermer posted just 2 days ago? I realize that this blog is not supposed to be overtly political, but if we are dealing with topics (like climate change, evolution, 9/11 Truthers) with political implications, we should not shy away from them for fear of espousing a point of view! Even some of my most innocent posts seem to immediately set off a long chains of left vs. right sniping, none of which was relevant to my post, so I don’t see how we make SkepticBlog completely apolitical….

      • Somite says:

        In my opinion politics is a field that would benefit greatly from applying skepticism. The problem is that people don’t like it when the facts and their interpretation do no match their ideological preconceptions.

      • And how is this different from the strong political statement that Shermer posted just 2 days ago?

        Well, that’s really my question. How is it different?

        I don’t see how we make SkepticBlog completely apolitical…

        We all have our ideological commitments, and no opinion is ever completely free of them. No one has a magic objectivity wand. Many of the tools we do have—extensive use of citations, review by experts in the field under discussion, and so on—are difficult to make full use of in a fast, informal context like Skepticblog. And, of course I absolutely agree that Skepticblog should discuss any and all scientific topics, regardless of any political implications those topics may have.

        All the same, I can’t very well object only to political ideas I don’t share (such as libertarianism). If I did, wouldn’t I just be expressing another level of bias?

      • tmac57 says:

        Maybe I missed it Daniel,did you level the same sort of criticism about partisan politics toward Shermer when he wrote blatantly political posts?

      • Somite says:

        Points of view should not be neutral! They should be truthful and cards should lie as they may.

      • A “neutral point of view” and “truthful” are not opposites.

      • Somite says:

        Can you provide an example? We are talking here about statements of fact. What is the truthful neutral point of view between creationists and biologists, climate change deniers and >90% of climatologists?

      • Fair, well-contextualized, well-cited statements of demonstrable fact are the neutral point of view. Our tools for minimizing bias in science and scholarship are not perfect—all voices are editorial—but they’re the best we’ve got.

      • Somite says:

        I believe Dr. Prothero’s post and Taibbi’s work is “Fair, well-contextualized, well-cited statements of demonstrable fact”. They just happen to coincide with a liberal POV.

        Do they cease to be neutral if the inescapable conclusion agrees with a liberal position?

      • You're Wrong says:

        I’d agree: Some events and facts certainly coincide more with certain points of view.

        Of course, when I read the review, I saw some elements I’d describe as something concerning to the Right parts of my psyche (I don’t care for either camp by any particular margin), the paralyzation of government, and the uselessness of large government systems, without transparancy.

        But it’s true, most of Taibbi’s works do come down on the Liberal side of the fence. That doesn’t mean that presenting a well reasoned Liberal point of view is wrong, just like presenting a well reasoned Conservative, Libertarian, Authoritarian, Green, or whatever, point of view, isn’t wrong. There may not be one answer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t remove the flaws in the arguments. As long as at the end, people can agree to disagree amiably, and not devolve into anti-intellectual name calling, bickering, and semantics where we should end skeptical thinking.

    • Like Beelzebud said, Daniel. Tell Shermer to … STFU about so much libertarianism first. Sorry to put it that bluntly, but, it has to be said that way.

      • This isn’t the first time I’ve said this to you, SocraticGadfly, but I routinely challenge skeptics about presenting libertarian ideas in skeptical packaging, both in person and in public. (I discussed skepticism’s libertarian influence in a 2009 Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe interview, for example.) But I don’t carp about libertarianism because I’m not a libertarian: I critique its influence upon skepticism as a matter of principle. Skepticism should be partisan only for the best available science. As I put it in 2007,

        A politically aligned, partisan skepticism (even a skepticism perceived as political) is crippled, its scientific credibility destroyed. We are a lobby for unbiased, evidence-based reasoning itself. Any political leaning, any hint of systematic bias, and we may as well pack up our toys and go home.

        In the case of Don’s post, it’s not that I don’t like it, nor even that I think he is wrong. I just felt obliged, for consistency’s sake, to briefly mention the principle I’ve stood for so often in the past.

      • Well, I’ve responded back that some bloggers here should try to start a new skeptical blogging site! Tell Bob Carroll to expand, or Massimo Pigliucci! (That said, with who Massimo has already, with him and Michael De Dora as the lead, I find more thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating overall than here, on average.)

      • You're Wrong says:

        I’d agree, as a movement, skepticism can’t be political. But that doesn’t mean that skeptics are apolitical, most of us aren’t. And having conversations about skepticism and politics isn’t a bad thing unless we feel the need to present our opinions on politics as the only rational ones, and claim a monopoly on truth. So long as it’s restricted to thought provoking converstions on the subject, rather than pointless bickering, then I see it as a force for good and the betterment of knowledge.

  7. Wesley Goodford says:

    I really have a hard time feeling sorry for the American voting public. They’re the ones voting the scum bags in office, so they’re not to complain.
    Foreigners affected by US policy however do have my sympathy.

  8. Several quibbles, riffing on Max, Somite, Barbara and others:
    1. Disagree with Don on affiliation of 9/11 Truthers, and on his claim (dunno if that comes from Taibbi or not) that they’ve increased in Obama’s time. As a Green Party voter who actually read about all candidates in 2008 before some dropped out, pre-national caucus/convention of the Green Party, I can fairly solidly say that 9/11 Truthers are still more a far-left than a far-right movement by fair degree, especially when either Bush/Cheney or Mossad are touted as the most likely “real bombers.” Now, the Birther movement is around today, but if you take away its rightwing noise machine airplay, is likely far smaller than the number of Truthers.
    2. While the GOP, overall, is definitely more antiscience, the antivaxxer movement is tilted more to the far left, though not as much, I think, as the Truther movement.
    3. Antigovernment conspiracy thinking has a history of alternating, to some degree, between far right and far left. (That said, in U.S. history, the government has by and large cracked down on the far left much, much more than on the far right. Federal troops were strikebreaking a decade before Haymarket.
    4. As far as churches’ involvement in politics, that cuts both ways, too. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 primary run almost camped out in black churches at times.
    5. The left has been antiscientific on other things, like the more reasonable pronouncements of evolutionary psychology.
    6. On the other hand, those “noted” scientific skeptics Penn/Teller have cut an online video for Ron Paul.

    This all said, I’ll say it before and I’m going to say it again. Beyond Shermer’s libertarian rantings, this blog is connected to a magazine where Shermer as publisher has two known racialists on the editorial masthead. Doesn’t matter if Frank Miele and Vincent Sarich don’t write about racialism for Skeptic. They, and their issues/baggage are known. So, why would we expect more from Shermer, or a Shermer project?

  9. Somite says:

    But how does a tenuous association of being left wing with anti-vaccination compare to actual presidential candidates plainly spousing anti-vaccination propaganda in a cable news channel?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/michele-bachmann-continues-perry-attack-claims-hpv-vaccine-might-cause-mental-retardation/2011/09/13/gIQAbJBcPK_blog.html

    How does it compare with a presidential candidate saying he is proud that creationism is taught in the schools of his state:

    http://my.firedoglake.com/edwardteller/2011/08/18/rick-perry-to-nh-kid-we-teach-both-creationism-and-evolution-in-our-public-schools/

    How does it compare with a presidential candidate saying climate change is not real (see Perry’s comments):

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/07/gop-debate-science-huntsman-perry_n_953185.html

    How does it compare with a party platform that passes disproven abstinence-only policies disregarding the research:

    http://thinkprogress.org/health/2011/11/03/360224/wisconsin-gop-senate-passes-abstinence-only-bill-that-prohibits-teachers-from-teaching-contraception/

    And most important of all, presidents enacting policy on biomedical research based on religious dogma:

    http://articles.cnn.com/2006-07-19/politics/stemcells.veto_1_embryonic-stem-cell-destruction-of-human-embryos-moral-boundary?_s=PM:POLITICS

    I challenge those that complain that the GOP is antiscientific to come up with a similar list for the deems, or somehow dispute the embedded video in each of the links.

    • Max says:

      Perry and his supporters turned out to be quite the pro-vaxxers in the spat over the HPV vaccine. The L.A. Times even criticized Perry for mandating vaccinations before the science was settled.
      http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/14/opinion/la-ed-hpv-20110914
      It’s a case of financial interests clashing with fundamentalist ideology.

    • Beelzebud says:

      No one will take on your challenge, because there is no comparison.

      That list you have there comes from the Republican party leaders. Show me one Democrat of power that says 9/11 was an inside job, or that getting vaccines will make you “mentally retarded”. They don’t exist. The left has its fringe people, but when it comes to the Republican party, the loonies are running the thing at this point.

  10. Daun Eierdam says:

    It was Joe Wilson, not Joe Barton, who called Obama a liar on the floor of Congress.

    • Donald Prothero says:

      Sorry about that–all those right-wing extremist Congressmen named “Joe” from the South get me confused…

  11. Me and my dad make models of clipper ships.
    I like clipper ships because they are fast.
    Clipper ships sail the ocean.
    Clipper ships never sail on rivers or lakes.
    Clipper ships have lots of sails and are made out of wood.