The Shutdown: Knowledge vs. Belief

04/08/2011 03:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2011

A destructive, disruptive federal government shut-down hinges on the outcome of an ideological argument over funding for Planned Parenthood. Apparently, similar ideological arguments over "killing Big Bird" and de-funding EPA re climate change have been at least temporarily resolved.

Most progressives are pro-choice people; we're livid that the Republican far-right would do this.

But the Republicans/Tea Party extremists willing to inflict enormous damage to the nation and their own political careers believe they are fighting for "God's will" -- i. e., a moral issue of transcendent importance. Actually, they are fighting with their nth strength for belief to prevail over knowledge.

In mankind, the basis and strength of conviction is often, at the Darwinian/DNA-level, a dominance issue. A person who has the answer to a question that perplexes you, is ipso facto higher on the ladder.

I'm originally a physicist. As a 2 year old, I must have wondered why a ball -- or a glass of milk, for that matter -- always falls when let go in mid air. In high school, I learned the answer: Newtonian physics. Ever since, my brain has informed me with 100% conviction that this is the answer -- certain knowledge -- that anyone claiming that each time an object falls, it is the work of a living super-being in the sky ... such a person is being ruled by irrational belief only. (Now, I must admit: all my life, the huge philosophic question as to just how Newtonian physics got that way has been front-and-center in my mind, to the extent that I minored in philosophy in college, and have always viewed physics and philosophy as two sides of the same coin.)

All the arguments made by the political right revolve on their fight for belief over knowledge. This is fueled to white-hot flames by their sense that we progressives believe we're absolutely better than they are -- that we believe we're more evolved, smarter ... more powerful and therefore dominant.

In that respect, they're absolutely correct..