Not content with merely waging war on women, Republicans are targeting another enemy of conservatism: education. New Hampshire state Republican Jerry Bergevin recently railed against science and the atheist eggheads who call themselves teachers: "I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It's a world view and it's godless."
While New Hampshire didn't end up passing Bergevin's anti-evolution law, Tennessee did. Its new statute allows – even encourages – teachers to express scepticism toward, as the bill says, "scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and global warming". The American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the National Centre for Science Education and all eight of Tennessee's members of the National Academy of Sciences oppose the new law, calling it "miseducation". But what do these no 'count heathen elitist PhD Darwinites know? The government of Tennessee wants you to know they ain't kin to no monkey.
Tennessee, you will recall, is the proud home of the famous "Monkey trial" of 1925 in which John Scopes, a high school science instructor, was prosecuted for teaching evolution. These days the forces of anti-thinking don't simply deny the science, they demand that ignorance be given equal time. David Fowler, a former state senator and head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, who helped craft the bill aided and abetted by a creationist front group called (with no discernable irony) the Discovery Institute, complains that Tennessee textbooks call the Genesis story a "creation myth" – as opposed to revealed truth. Moreover, teachers don't present a "balanced" view of evolution. They don't present a "balanced" view of the laws of gravity, the speed of light and the fact that the earth revolves around the sun, either.
"And there you have it: the conservative attitude to knowledge. No reading, no exploration, no empirical evidence, no learning, no free play of ideas. Just rumour, Fox News and the Bible. Why think? It'll just make you unhappy."
And speaking of heliocentrism, James Inhofe of Oklahoma likes to compare himself to Galileo Galilei. He's persecuted for proclaiming that "global warming is a hoax". The form of his persecution is somewhat unclear: he's a US senator rolling in cash courtesy of oil and gas corporations. This somehow qualifies him to say that while 97% of climate scientists accept anthropogenic climate change, that "doesn't mean anything". His peer-reviewed journal of choice is the Bible: "Genesis 8:22: 'as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night'. My point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."
God better get a move on with Florida. It's the state most vulnerable to the effects of melting ice caps and rising sea levels, what with it being a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. More than 2.5 million people live on the coasts and might soon find themselves sharing digs with dolphins. Nevertheless, Florida's Republican governor just vetoed a cap-and-trade bill that might have begun to address the issue. Perhaps he's looking on the bright side, anticipating the day when Disney World will be ocean-front property.
In other parts of America, the enforcers of know-nothingness have decided they want doctors to lie to their patients. Lawmakers in Kansas and New Hampshire have mandated that physicians tell women seeking abortions that the procedure causes breast cancer. Never mind that it's not true, at least according to the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organisation, the National Cancer Institute, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
In Arizona, Republicans in state government have rewritten basic biology, decreeing that pregnancy actually begins before conception. Instead of waiting till Mister Sperm does the Happy Dance with Ms Egg, Arizona wants to define being with child as "calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period", which means you could be officially preggers a week or two before you have sex. Why, you may ask, do Arizona lawmakers want to do this? Because a pregnancy of 18 weeks' duration could thus be defined as 20 weeks – and abortions are outlawed after 20 weeks. Genius.
But the state has not confined itself to the endorsement of mere medical stupidity, it embraces censorship and historical misinformation as well. Republicans in state government, worried that children "of a particular ethnic group" (they mean Latinos) were being taught that the gringos stole their land, outlawed "ethnic studies" in 2011. Of course, the fact is gringos did steal their land – Arizona was part of Mexican-ruled Alta California until the expansionist Americans invaded in 1846. According to the 2010 census, Latino kids now make up the majority in Arizona's state schools, but teaching them about their heritage is apparently tantamount to advocating the overthrow of the US government.
Jon Stewart's Daily Show interviewed Arizona school board member Michael Hicks, who said how Latino high schoolers only liked that divisive Mexican-American studies programme because their teachers gave them free burritos. He defended its dismantling: "If there's no more white people in the world, then OK, you can do what you want." Not that he knew first-hand what really went on in those burrito-fuelled classes: "I base my thoughts on hearsay."
And there you have it: the conservative attitude to knowledge. No reading, no exploration, no empirical evidence, no learning, no free play of ideas. Just rumour, Fox News and the Bible. Why think? It'll just make you unhappy.