Paul Broun and the 46 percent

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun: Evolution a lie ‘from the pit of hell’ (L.A. Times)

My reaction to this story is a big eye roll. That gesture is intended to communicate weary disdain both for Broun’s creationist posturing and for the predictable expressions of horror from people who just can’t fathom how there can be Americans in the 21st century who don’t believe in evolution–much less how such Americans could be walking the halls of Congress.

Yeah, well, that’s just the way the world is, folks. Stop being jaw-on-the-ground shocked about it, and accept it as part of the political facts-of-life you have to live with in this country.

In his L.A. Times piece, reporter Matt Pearce observes that “according to the latest Gallup poll, 46% of Americans think God made humans within the past 10,000 years.” If you find that number eyebrow-raising, take some comfort, perhaps, in this:

If it surprises you to find that nearly half of Americans are, basically, young-earth creationists–that’s because the 46% don’t have cultural influence anywhere close to proportional to their numbers. That’s what I find surprising. Certainly I understand why the existence of the 46% causes scientists and rationalists to sweat. But I don’t see that they have that much to worry about.

Evolutionary science enjoys a position of cultural privilege in America that I’m inclined to call “hegemony”–not that I’m using that Marxian term in a technically correct way, but I like its connotations of domination. Evolutionary science dominates American culture, in such a way as to render the 46% largely invisible. That’s why it’s shocking to people when a member of the 46% pops up in a place like Congress.

But why shouldn’t you find the 46% in places like Congress? If creationists were proportionally represented, nearly half of Congress would think like Broun. The fact that the number probably isn’t that high (though it might be higher than you would like) is a sign of creationist disenfranchisement–or, alternatively, perhaps, a sign that most creationists aren’t inclined to be activists. They’re reconciled, it seems, to living in a culture where their views aren’t taught in public schools, or represented in government, or aired in the media, or accommodated by the courts, as much as you might expect the views of 46% of voters and consumers to be. They seem reconciled, that is, to their dominated status.

I said I intended these remarks to be comforting. By that I meant that if you’re alarmed to learn that 46% of Americans don’t believe in evolution, you can take some comfort in knowing how effectively the 46% are dominated. Like any dominated group, they make trouble from time to time–they start little revolts which have to be stamped down–but evolutionary science clearly has the upper hand in this conflict.

But of course, that’s comforting in a backhanded way. Because I’m asking you to recognize, oh anxious outraged members of the 54%, that you are in fact members of a dominating class. I’m there with you, by the way, in case you were wondering. But I feel just guilty enough about it to reap a pleasant feeling of moral superiority over those of you who hear about Paul Broun and get discombobulated.

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