Thursday, March 10, 2005

Just Speculatin'

In October 2003, I appeared on "Talk of Alaska," a statewide radio call-in program that deals mostly with public affairs and issues of broad interest to Alaskans (e.g., where to find more oil, where to go shoot wolves from helicopters, where to lure bears with Twinkies so they can be shot and turned into rugs, where to spend the cascade of federal dollars that keep this state afloat, etc.). The topic that morning was the USA Patriot Act and a rather toothless joint resolution passed the previous May that clarified the state's opposition to any federal law infringing upon the privacy rights of Alaskans (rights which are specifically enshrined in the state constitution). One of my "opponents" during that program was a Republican representative from the Anchorage area -- the most populous region of the state -- who voted against the resolution for all kinds of nutty reasons unworthy of anything more than fleeting mention. At one point in the discussion, this fellow announced that he had heard some things coming out of my mouth that sounded "subversive of the government." However, this doddering sap was the lone voice of McCarthyite paranoia in the entire Republican delegation; the rest of his colleagues, under the suasion of the Black Helecopter quadrant of the Republican Party, voted with all the hippies to limit the power of "Big Guv'mint," perceived here less as a threat to the civil liberties of immigrants, library patrons and global justice activists than as a looming peril to the mighty Individual who collects assault rifles, grudgingly pays his taxes and fantasizes about living off the grid. This was the only way an anti-Ashcroft city resolution could be passed in a city like Fairbanks, where the local chapter of the NRA shared bong hits with the ACLU on their way to victory. That was a real Conan O'Brien "If they Mated" moment.

But there's one aspect of Alaska's Republican political culture that kneels in beneficent supplication to a power higher than the monadic Individual. I have just spent the last hour reading innumerable state Republican Party platforms, just to see if any come close to topping the cavernous stupidity of the Alaska Republican party stance on education. More specifically -- apropos of James' links to Dr. Dino's Creation Science page -- I was curious to see how many state GOPs vaulted the teaching of "creationism" to the highest levels of political sanctity, an idea as worthy of defense as the rocky, oil-stained shores of the Motherland itself.

In Alaska, this is what the GOP platform has to say about science:

"We support giving Creation Science equal representation with other theories of the origin of life. If evolution is taught, it should be presented as only a theory."

My own unsystematic research has turned up very few comparable statements in state GOP platforms around the nation. Missouri offers the following bit of guidance:

"[The state Republican Party supports] Empowering local school districts to determine how best to handle the teaching of creationism and the theory of evolution."

Here's Texas:

"Scientific Theories: The Party supports the objective teaching and equal treatment of scientific strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories, including Intelligent Design, as Texas law now requires but has yet to enforce.  The Party believes theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught only as theories not fact; that social studies and other curriculum should not be based on any one theory."

Iowa's 2004 GOP platform reads:

"We believe that the local choice to teach creation science, or intelligent design science, should be allowed in government schools rather than exclusively teaching evolution as the only viable theory. We also believe that tax funded libraries should include creation science materials on the shelves.

And finally, Oklahoma's 2004 GOP platform reads:

"We believe that in public schools where evolution is taught, creationism should be taught as well. We support disclaimers on any state-funded science textbook that treats evolution as fact rather than theory."

But few other states -- even the ones I would consider among the most pious, the ones most likely to retain steady population data after the Rapture -- have anything comparable. (Then again, isn't five enough? What if five states mandated that anthropologists teach Pliny as valid ethnographic "theory?") Kansas, at least today, does not have its official platform up on the state party website, so we can only imagine what kinds of Young Earth frothings might appear there. Nebraska and Colorado didn't have working sites, and Ohio, South Dakota, Florida, Georgia and North Dakota don't have links to their platforms at all. (Which leads me to wonder how someone like myself might actually find out if my beliefs harmonize with those of the Florida Republican Party.) But as for Idaho, Wisonsin, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Indiana -- just a few of the states that posted their platforms online -- nothing from 2004 had so much as a whisper about evolution.

To paraphrase Thomas Frank, "What's the matter with Alaska?" Why would a state whose political hue is so firmly derived from the predictably cantankerous, irreverent, crotch-grabbing political culture of the Trans-Mississippi West find itself so visibly committed to the proposition that Noah brought baby velociraptors onto the Ark? (Is that, incidentally, what happened to all the unicorns?)

I have a few unresearched, non-tested, lunatic theories of my own, but I'll save them for later. In the meantime, feel free to offer your own....