Response to “How America Went Haywire”

Follows is a letter to editors of The Atlantic in regards to an article it published: How America Went Haywire. Editor: Kurt Anderson argues that America’s crazies prefer to “disregard science in favor of [their] own beliefs.” No less a scientist than Albert Einstein disregarded the evidence for quantum mechanics in favor of his belief that God didn’t play dice with the universe. His colleague, Max Plank, noted that science advances not by a careful weighing of evidence, but “one funeral at a time.” Anderson misunderstands what it is to be human. It is human nature to disregard science in favor of our beliefs (more precisely, to disregard that which conflicts, whether empirical or not, with our beliefs). It is human nature to mistake our beliefs, our self-constructed metaphysics, for reality. Anderson, himself, does it, flagrantly. His entire argument, until he mentions a survey three-quarters of the way through his essay, is bereft of any empirical evidence.  He neither offers nor uses an empirically tested theory of cultural change or of human psychology that explains the changes he sees in America since the 60s. Instead, he gives us a sterling example of confirmation bias (another behavior eminently human)—selectively picking evidence that supports what he already believes. Another historian could offer an equally impressive array of counter examples. In essence, Anderson has built an argument based on what he “feels” is right. He has used his reason—as humans do—to, post facto, validate his worldview. His relationship to reality is no less blinkered than Esalen’s shamans. His advantage is that, at this point in time, his worldview more closely aligns with...

Sailing Stories

A while ago, Kainui and I sailed around the world (Kainui’s the boat, the beauty, and the one who did all the work). Come and hear tales of high adventure, soul-stirring beauty, and plenty of damn foolishness. We’ll get started at 7pm April 27 at the H. D. Moore Library in Steuben, Maine. Come for the stories or come for the beverages and goodies. Find the H. D. Moore Library here.        ...

Frostbitten Cheeks

One of the innovations that the Alaska Pipeline brought to the state were warm toilet seats. Understand that, in Alaska, plumbing is a challenge. If you live off-grid you don’t have any. And you need live only a couple of miles out of town to be off-grid. Your plumbing options are one: an outhouse. Imagine suiting up (parka, mittens, insulated boots, etc) to sally forth for your daily constitutional. Imagine putting your fish-belly white ass on a toilet seat that is ambient—say 30 below. You don’t spend much time paging thru last year’s Readers Digest; thirty below tends to make you exceptionally regular. Then came the Pipeline and, with it, blue foam insulation. My first two jobs on the Pipeline were laying 8’ x 2.5’ x 2”sheets of foam directly on the frozen tundra. Trucks backed up and dropped gravel on top of the foam to make the work pad. The foam insulated the tundra so that it didn’t thaw in the summer or with the weight (pressure lowers ice’s melting temperature) of the machinery working on the pad. It didn’t take long for a creative Alaskan to realize that cutting a hole in a square of foam and putting it on the toilet seat might substantially reduce the incidence of frostbitten cheeks in the state. It is effective—stunningly so. Within seconds of sitting on the foam, the warmth of your butt warms the foam which warms you. It revolutionized sub-arctic shitting. In Broken Angels, Annie and Ringer have foam on their seat. The outhouse at Ben’s cabin up the Alatna River, does not—to Kris’s distress. I turned off my...