Barking mad loons.

A recent piece in Salon documents the glaring delusions, distortions and detachment from reality on display when the lizard brains of those afflicted with Conservative Personality Disorder are triggered.

Earlier this week, when the CDC announced a record low in the teen birth rate, it listed two possible causes: “The impact of strong pregnancy prevention messages” and “increased use of contraception.” The Guttmacher Institute came out with an even stronger message: “The most recent decline in teen births can be linked almost exclusively to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use,” the organization said in a press release, which pointed to another CDC study for evidence.

But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from claiming that the drop is a result of, you guessed it, abstinence education and, paradoxically, an increase in abortions.

What these reactions make clear is that no evidence — whether it’s on the benefits of making contraception widely accessible or the positive impact of comprehensive sex ed — will stop the war on sex.

Conservatives have a real problem with evidence:  except on vanishingly rare occasions where evidence appears to support one or another of their cherished dogmas, they do not like evidence one bit.  And in the face of it, they will blatantly lie, distort, spin, and just make shit up:

Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America expressed her outrage over the CDC analysis: “They don’t even mention the fact there’s been a tremendous increase in effectiveness and pervasiveness of abstinence education…”

In a piece titled “Credit Abstinence With Helping Reduce Teen Birth Rates,” on the anti-choice site, Kristan Hawkins writes, “While the birth rate has fallen, it must be made clear that the CDC is looking at the birth rate and not the pregnancy rate in teens,” and then claims that the teen abortion rate has increased, without citing any evidence. She must have missed this headline from February: “Teen Pregnancy, Abortion Rates at Record Low” — that’s according to research from Guttmacher.

“It cannot be stated enough that 50% of women who are using some form of contraception find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.” Again, [Hawkins] offers no citation…

Here are some claims about reality that have actual evidence to back them up:

  • The majority (86%) of the decline in the teen pregnancy rate between 1995 and 2002 was the result of dramatic improvements in contraceptive use, including an increase in the proportion of teens using a single method of contraception, an increase in the proportion using multiple methods simultaneously and a substantial decline in nonuse. Just 14% of the decline is attributable to decreased sexual activity.”
  • The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).”
  • Every year, roughly nine million new STIs occur among teens and young adults in the United States. Compared with rates among teens in Canada and Western Europe, rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia among U.S. teens are extremely high.”

The subject matter of Tracy Clark-Flory’s article just happens to be the Wingnut War on Fucking, which like all Wingnut Wars is a complete and disastrous failure.  But the truth is that Clark-Flory’s topic might as well have been global warming, single-payer health care, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, environmental destruction, women’s and LGBT equality, science education, state/church separation, or virtually any other issue vital to the wellbeing of the nation’s citizens and the human race.  From a liberal or humanist perspective, conservatives fall on the wrong side of all of these issues morally, and it has been extensively well-documented that conservative minds operate under a different moral system than liberal and humanist minds do.  For example, conservatives tend to instinctively value obedience to authority, punishment (capital, corporal, forced birth, torture, etc.), unrestricted capitalism and the privatization of state institutions (such as prisons, schools, the military, public infrastructure), sacredness/purity, abstention from sensual pleasure, and blind conformity to tradition, as morally good.  Conservatives hold these values despite or even because of the human suffering that government policies and individual actions based on these values engender.  Worse, they stubbornly advocate for conservative policies even when they are unequivocally shown to be counterproductive to their stated goals—such as reducing the incidence terrorism or drug abuse—or teen pregnancy.  To a great degree any moral system tends to be self-reinforcing, due in no small part to the spectacular ability of the human mind to compartmentalize, rationalize, justify, minimize and/or ignore information that would, or should, undermine the foundations of its moral reasoning.  But regardless of what sustains it, to date we have seen little indication that a conservative moral system in any individual — once rigidly entrenched in adulthood — can be altered to any significant degree, absent extreme mental or physical (i.e. brain) trauma.  On the other hand, an individual liberal or humanist moral system can quite easily morph into a more conservative one, at least temporarily, when triggered by fear.  (See, e.g., collective liberal pants-wetting after 9/11.)

Fortunately, there is some evidence that the effects of a widespread conservative moral system’s impact on society can be mitigated: the decrease in racism and homophobia over the last half-century are particularly apt examples.  Like all conservative dogma, racism and homophobia yield little if any benefit to society at large, and have many demonstrable downsides for the oppressed and for the wider human civilizations in which such -isms thrive (which includes the oppressors themselves).  It is clearly not the case that racism and homophobia have been eradicated from the population at large, but it should be uncontroversial to say that (a) those who express racist or homophobic sentiments are generally subject to social sanction to a greater degree than ever before, and (b) younger people are markedly less likely to hold racist and homophobic views than older generations of Americans.  Further, this latter trend suggests that traditional conservative values such as racism and homophobia can be thwarted from taking root in the first place.

So all we can say about conservatives’ moral wrongness at this point is that, at least insofar as the evils of racism and homophobia are concerned, traditional conservative values are remediable to some limited extent in adult individuals, and remediable (or perhaps preventable) to a significant extent in younger individuals.  Even if we do not know exactly what explains this shift, we can certainly posit that something does, and given what we know of the complex interplay between human psychology and culture the explanation will likely turn out to be a combination of various factors wielding more or less influence in individuals.

It makes a certain amount of perverse sense to acknowledge that if you fervently believe, for example, that the enjoyment of sensual pleasure is intrinsically, morally wrong, I am unlikely to convince you otherwise.  Although you may be able to give a rationale for why you feel the way you do, your moral impulse to condemn sensual pleasure as wrong does not originate from a rational analysis:  you do not conclude that sensual pleasure is wrong because of X, Y and Z.  You feel it is wrong in your “gut,” and then justify that judgment by reference to X, Y and Z.  I am unlikely to talk you out of your moral judgement precisely because that judgment is not, technically speaking, a rational one.  But moral wrongness is one thing:  factual wrongness is another.  In the Wonderful World of Wingnuts, the compulsion to stubbornly maintain factual falsehoods in the face of flat-out, demonstrable wrongness is truly remarkable.  No amount of evidence — no matter how obvious, compelling and overwhelming — can change a conservative’s fiercely held, factually wrong belief.  In fact, presenting such evidence to a conservative can cause him or her to hold that belief even more fervently.

This is, of course, lunacy.  But it is nothing compared to the lunacy of letting individuals whose minds are damaged in such a profound way anywhere near government power.

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