Rhetoric and Truth
I just left a comment on this post over at pharyngula, a blog I really enjoy even if I can't understand a big chunk of the science stuff they talk about- I'm a science fan but I have no formal education in it and so when they get down to the nitty gritty, I tend to get lost.
In my comment I talked about how truth is only a rhetorical tool for those on a certain side of the evolution debate- if an argument that happens to be true supports your argument, then you can use the fact that it's true to support it, but you don't limit yourself to true arguments, nor are you any more convinced when someone else's position is supported by such arguments. I don't believe this use of truth is confined to that one side or that one issue. I think that to a greater or lesser extent, all politicians, everywhere, have to see everything through the lens of rhetoric. Why? Because they live or die on public perception, and convincing people of your position is the bailiwick of rhetoricians, not scientists. It has always been thus and it will always be thus. If my argument is true and yours is convincing, who is going to convince more people? There is a clue in those words. How can those of us who value truth take any solace, if what is true will not necessarily triumph? Because truth can become a key component of any rhetoric if the audience demands it. When you're speaking to a bunch of five year olds, you don't discuss global macro-economics, even if somehow what you’re trying to convey has something to do with that subject. So you can either talk down to them- which is what politicians have done since they invented themselves, or you can bring the level of your audience up. Education. The key to the success of a society is the education it's people receive, not just because a better educated populace will be more productive, but because they will demand more productive leaders.
And thus it comes full circle- the evolution/creation debate. This is an issue for Americans more than anybody, those of us in the rest of the western world don't have any serious worries on this particular issue. I take an interest because it's interesting, and because if the U.S. takes a nosedive we Canadians will not be unharmed. The point is that the educated, intelligent Americans, and there are many of them, have to win this fight for the minds of their children. Evolution must be taught, not merely because it is a vital part of understanding biology, but because of the truth it stands for. Lose on Evolution and what will be next? Win on evolution and maybe you can take back some of the other ground that has been lost. Every American who grows up with a real understanding of the theory of evolution will get with it a host of other benefits, like the ability to think critically, and an easy window into the irrationality of those who claim to be creationists, among other things. Every one of those will demand a modicum of reason and truth from those they vote for, and the more such people there are the more the politicians will have to address truth. Make truth a part of the political landscape and the rhetoric will adjust- Darwinian fashion- to survive.