This week I went to the Ghosts in the Machine exhibition a the New Museum, which traces the history of the relationship between machines and art. When I walked into the room that contained one of Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Boxes, I found myself riveted, but it took me a while to understand why.
Eventually it came to me that the Orgone Box — a therapy tool based upon spending time within a metal-lined wooden box to focus sexual energy as a way toward general well-being — epitomizes to me a peculiar trend in American culture, a trend that peaked around forty years ago.
Until around the mid 60’s, technological progress in the U.S. was seen as an unambiguously good thing. Then Vietnam happened, and advanced technology began to be associated by liberal intellectuals with a larger pattern of brutal and unjustifiable military intervention.
This caused an odd split. Young liberals began to reject actual science and replace it with pseudo-science (some new, and some recycled). Nutty ideas like Toth pyramids, ESP, theories of alien visitors and Orgone Boxes became all the rage. Cause and effect as well as evidence-based reasoning were rejected by many young liberals, replaced by a kind of “Cargo Cult” version of science.
Now, forty years later, things have shifted dramatically. Liberals embrace the scientific community and its careful adherence to evidence-based reasoning, whereas political conservatives take an anti-intellectual stance (or, in the startling case of Rick Santorum, an anti-intelligence stance). The Tea Party rejects the carefully accumulated evidence for climate change, and even the overwhelming evidence for evolution.
So the liberals are now on the side of science, and the conservatives are on the side of anti-science — a complete reversal from forty years ago.
I wonder whether this is a cyclic phenomenon. Perhaps every 80 years or so liberalism coincides with respect for evidence-based science. Just a thought.