When the death of Phyllis Schafly was announced, there was plenty of “Ding, dong! The witch is dead!” sentiment. I understood the feeling, though, and it wasn’t only because she was the antithesis of everything I believed about equal rights for women, being the leader of the successful anti-Equal Rights Amendment faction in the 1970s.
I had started reading Chris Mooney’s 2012 book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality” this summer, and only got 50 pages before getting too busy. Still, on page 1 of the Introduction, Equations to Refute Einstein, Mooney introduces us to Conservapedia, “the right-wing answer to Wikipedia, and ground zero for all that is scientifically inaccurate, for political reasons, on the Internet.
It was created by Andrew Schafly, “a lawyer, engineer, homeschooler, and one of six children of Phyllis Schafly.” While his mother used mailing lists and newsletters, Andrew would “marshal ‘truth'” through the web.
Conservapedia includes “items attacking evolution and global warming, wrongly claiming…that homosexuality is a choice, and incorrectly asserting… that abortion causes breast cancer.”
The site not only spends 6000 words “debunking” Einstein’s theory of relativity, but it also claims that liberals have “‘extrapolated the theory’ to favor their agendas.” Never mind that GPS, PET scans, and particle accelerators, for three, rely on an understanding of relativity.
It has fanned the flame of people operating with their own “truth” so that what I had assumed was unpoliticized “fact” often comes into question for a wealth of issues, from the identity of the President of the United States to the current status of the economy, to the United States being “Christian nation,” to evolution.
Mooney says, “The rise of the Religious Right was the epitome of conservatism on a psychological level – clutching for something certain in a changing world; wanting to preserve one’s own ways in certain times, and one’s own group in the face of difference – and cannot be explained without putting this variable into play.”
Thus Phyllis Schafly is the godmother of the current conservative movement. Both she and her son Andrew are Harvard educated. She excelled in school at a time women were not often given a chance, which would suggest a budding feminist, but she became quite the opposite.
Mooney says of Andrew: “His own words suggest that he’s arguing to reaffirm what he already thinks (his “faith”), to defend authorities he trusts, and to bolster the beliefs of his compatriots, his tribe, his team.”
And liberals, including President Obama, fail to understand the psychology of conservatives. Someone I know recently referred to him as the most arrogant President ever; this makes no sense to me at all, from my mindset. But if you see the world in a much different light – one this book that I’m only a sixth of the way through promises to explain to me – then it’s a much more plausible viewpoint.
Phyllis Schafly, more any almost anyone else, helped create the alternative world of “facts” that have made fruitful discussion of the important issues of the day so difficult to achieve.