Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Winter Wonderland

Recent posts at Metacomments and Pharyngula, about the Right's ongoing attempt to remake education in its own image, got me thinking about fascism's insistence on public assent to the irrational, which got me thinking about Hanns Hörbiger's Glazial-Kosmogonie, and its central dogma of the Welteislehre, or "Cosmic Ice Doctrine," which eventually became the official Nazi cosmology.

Hörbiger was an Austrian refrigeration engineer; as such, he was intimately familar with ice. Too much so, perhaps. The moon looked like ice to Hörbiger; therefore, he reasoned, it must be ice. The stars looked icy too...and if the moon were ice, then why not the stars, and why not the Milky Way?

The Nazis doted upon this sort of inexorable illogic, and they accordingly loved Hörbiger. He had demonstrated, they believed, that Aryan "ice men" were superior to the tropical races, and would dwell in a glacial paradise once the frozen moon crashed into the earth. Hitler himself believed that the cold weather of 1942 confirmed Hörbiger's theory, and according to Heinrich Himmler, anyone who dared to go against Hörbiger was a "scientific hack." As Joseph Ashbrook reported in his Astronomical Scrapbook:

Disciples would disrupt scientific meetings with shouts of "out with astronomical orthodoxy! Give us Hörbiger!"
The famous selenographer Philipp Fauth championed Hörbiger too, and railed against the "degenerate selenography" of Great Britain. By the mid-1940s, most of the German population accepted Hörbiger's doctrine. Even as late as 1953, a substantial amount of the population believed in it.

To the Nazis, a primary attraction of Hörbiger was that his theories dovetailed with and justified the propositions of ancient myth. Therefore, this was a debased form of natural theology, and is pertinent to our current debates over creationism. (When I say "debased," I mean that natural theology, coherently practiced, must treat scientific findings as a form of revelation, and adapt to them, rather than making science subservient to scriptural dogma, as Biblical literalists do). There was no proving Hörbiger wrong with science, because the desire to contradict him proved that the scientist was a bad person, and no amount of facts and evidence were sufficient to excuse bad intentions.

Today, a lot of people on the Left are hoping that we can overcome the Right by presenting facts (I've been known to believe it myself). It's really not true, because our best thinking, and our best evidence for the correctness of that thinking, proves that we're "bad," and is precisely what they're rebelling against in their quest for "national rebirth." It's not so much that people are ignorant, or are sinking back into a Medieval worldview, as that they're engaged in active, conscious rebellion against reason itself. I think this is a very important distinction to make, and that people who ignore it are adding to the Left's problems.

How far this rebellion will go is anybody's guess; the idea that the current Left represents a serious obstacle to it is, I think, a mistake. To the extent that we come armed with statistics and facts and pro-science polemic, we're more or less toothless. The only likely counterbalancing force to fascist irrationality is some sort of emotional appeal to "otherworldly" values like compassion or the sense of community, which is probably why BushCo fears Michael Moore much more than it fears scientists who disagree with it.


Anonymous said...

The sleep of reason creates monsters.


Anonymous said...

I was astonished when Democratic leaders backed away from Michael Moore. He was one of the best things we had going for us. His movie was propaganda, but the images didn't lie, and some folks were persuaded by it to change their views. I told everyone I could that Dems should embrace Michael Moore, not distance themselves from him. So much of the recent campaign was about raw emotions, not about reason, and Moore knew this. He was much smarter than the high-paid consultants.

robin andrea said...

"they're engaged in active, conscious rebellion against reason itself"

i had not thought of it that way, but yes, i think you have it right. so does that mean we should shift to grappling in archetypical language and emotional appeal? are we painted as "evil?'

Cervantes said...

Hey Phila, glad to come across your blog! Dread Pirate Roberts told me you'd posted on this subject. Since I don't know if I can track back using blogger commenting, I'm gonna double blogwhore. I've just written about creationism on stayin' alive , my angle is how harmful it is to individuals and society for children to be raised to reject the truth.

And I think you will be interested in a team project, if Dharma Bums haven't already told you, called Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems . I'm gonna bookmark you and I hope we'll see you around.