The Pro-Ignorance Movement

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There is the pro-choice movement – meaning an organized effort in favor of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

These days there is also the pro-ignorance movement – meaning a willful determination to stay uninformed on any subject one chooses while simultaneously speaking out about it.

Mr. Carson

Meet Mr. Know-it-all

Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neurosurgeon– which means he operates on the one organ of the body responsible for thought – gave this explanation on CNN Wednesday morning when asked by Chris Cuomo about homosexuality:

CC: Do you think being gay is a choice?

Dr. C: Absolutely

CC: Why do you say that?

Dr. C: Because a lot of people who go into prison…go into prison straight and when they come out they’re gay. So did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.

Ummmm.. what?!

Ummmm.. what?!

It’s unclear whether Dr. Carson is referring to prison rape turning the average inmate gay or whether it’s the temptation of solely being around so many people of the same sex so consistently over so long a period of time that causes the great change. If the latter, it certainly does cast a giant rainbow flag over the world of professional sports, not to mention the military. If the former then as an MD is he prescribing extended confinement and sexual relations with members of the opposite sex in order to turn a gay person straight? Or does it not work the other way around? One’s mind reels at any of the possibilities.

Before one writes off Dr. Carson as a right wing crazy, it is important to note he graduated with a psychology degree from Yale prior to attending medical school. He then became a pediatric neurosurgeon who in 1987 led a 70-member team that successfully separated conjoined Siamese twins; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Pres. George W. Bush in 2008; and wrote six best selling books, the last of which, One Nation, was on the 2014 NY Times bestseller list for 20 consecutive weeks where it outsold Hilary Clinton’s Hard Choices. It is also relevant to report that last month he formed a well-financed exploratory committee to run for US president and was one of the most popular speakers at the recent CPAC Convention, the first great test for all emerging 2016 Republican Party presidential hopefuls.

I'm not even sure how to react to this

I’m not even sure how to react to this

The fact that Mr. Carson issued a long apology for his CNN interview that very night, admitting he can’t claim to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation, meant little because he never admitted the most crucial point under discussion – that his original statement was incorrect. There was no denial that going to prison or the right involuntary gay encounter behind bars could soon make said individual long for a voluntary one. There was only the pronouncement that he (Dr. Carson) was a supporter of gay rights (Note: Though only up to a point) and that he couldn’t possibly know what made EVERYONE gay.

For one to counter that rape is considered by almost every medical expert across the board as a crime not about sex but one of violence and control or to cite the overwhelming consensus from the AMA on down that sexual orientation is not a condition that can be changed is truly beside the point. What is more to the point is that Dr. Carson, who is certainly a learned man with at least an above average IQ, seems to have somehow been absent when the general subject of human sexuality was covered not only in medical school but out in the Zeitgeist over the last, oh, say 30 years.

So it's not this simple?

So it’s not this simple?

The truth is that as s a public speaker, writer and man about town with all of his five senses intact – not to mention his admitted lifelong almost superhuman hand-eye coordination – it is more than likely that Dr. Carson has heard a lot of the above scientific facts and anecdotal evidence about human sexuality during that time and has willfully chosen to ignore them. Either that or he has followed some sort of doctrine of alternate magical thinking that he has instead willfully chosen to believe in.

James Randi is an 86-year-old retired illusionist, writer and professional debunker of magicians and charlatans who try to pass themselves off as clairvoyants and faith healers. I remember him as The Amazing Randi – a guy who was often featured on one of my favorite weekend TV programs of the 1960s, the kid’s show Wonderama – where he performed tricks I could believe in and escaped from the most seemingly inescapable boxes, ropes and otherwise confined spaces I’d ever seen.

Preach!

Preach!

Little did I know that in the 1980s Randi would do some of his most important work in the field of magic. As the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and recipient of a Macarthur Foundation genius grant he became a full time debunker (Note: He prefers the more polite term, investigator) and set his sights on televangelists such as Peter Popoff – a man who was making $4 million per year in a nationally syndicated show where the sick, the elderly and many young people who were either handicapped or suffering from terminal cancer diagnoses would attend tent-like revival meetings (albeit in an air-conditioned soundstage) where they came to him desperately hoping for a cure. As Mr. Popoff preached about the healing powers of The Lord and pranced from one side of the stage to the other he’d forcefully hit audience members on the forehead and pull away their crutches and walkers, banishing The Devil from their bodies and presumably restoring them to health.

As preposterous as this may sound, Mr. Popoff convincingly evoked Bible passages with the smoothness of a saint or, well, at least a would-be politician. He also made a fortune doing it and had audiences traveling from all over the world to his studio so he could save them from clutches of death.

Put down your purse!

Put down your purse!

It took The Amazing Randi’s sharp magician’s mind to quickly prove these people were not being saved by God but were instead being taken in by a phony. Attending one taping, he was able to pick up a high radio frequency and overheard Popoff being fed private information about each of his subjects that turned out to be transmitted via a small earpiece he wore that his wife was speaking to him through from backstage. The setup was that people had to fill out audience cards prior to the show with pertinent information about their maladies and the best TV ready ones were carefully chosen to be candidates for his – or as he would put it, The Lord’s – magical cure.

This might not be the same thing as Mr. Carson’s magical assumption of how a person might be turned gay but it is certainly follows just about the same type of creative, non-scientific logic. Oh, and side note: it turns out that James Randi himself is gay and recently married his partner of almost 30 years. Having grown up at a time when coming out was impossible in a career like his, he says he was inspired to finally give up that final illusion after seeing the 2008 film Milk, the biopic on slain San Francisco supervisor and early LGBT advocate Harvey Milk. (Note: This and a lot more is revealed in a new documentary about his life — An Honest Liar – now playing at a theatre near you).

The Amazing Randi today

The Amazing Randi today

As for Dr. Carson, he is a lifelong devout Christian and though I am not privy to his most deeply personal beliefs, he has frequently spoken and written about his close relationship with God, proclaiming to Sean Hannity on Feb. 8 that he will run for president If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it.

He has also spoken out in the last decade in favor of what he terms traditional marriage – until recently equating those who engage in homosexuality to individuals who practice bestiality or advocate the sexual unions of adults and children. At the very least this appears to be it’s own kind of magic thinking. At the worst, it’s insulting, vicious and dangerously guilty of inciting those far less educated and intelligent than him to more potent hate speech, not to mention hate crimes.

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Still, it’s a free country so the man can say what he wants. But what he cannot do is twist his words into a kind of poisonous pretzel logic and go unchallenged. In a speech on Friday, Vice-president Joe Biden began to address Dr. Carson’s views on the subject but at one point became frozen in his tracks:

Every ridiculous assertion — from Dr. Carson on…

Biden stops mid-sentence, laughs to himself, shakes his head incredulously, presumably at those assertions. 

I mean Jesus, God.

Silence as the veep thinks some more, then tries to stifle a guffaw. And continues.

I mean — oh, God. It’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?

It is reassuring to have rational thought on this issue in the current White House when Oklahoma state lawmakers have just proposed the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015 which would allow anyone, including religious and secular businesses, to discriminate against LGBT people as long as not doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

where do I even begin?

where do I even begin?

To say nothing of the oral arguments next month scheduled before the US Supreme Court on whether states lawmakers can ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee despite the shifting legal rulings and national tides to the contrary.

Dr. Carson has famously said in the past that in advocating same-sex marriage, its supporters are trying to tell him that two plus two equals five when everyone knows the correct answer is four. Well, he does have the correct answer to the mathematical problem but as comedian Russell Brand countered back to him in a YouTube vlog last July, you can’t compare a social and civil idea like sexuality to an objective system of signs like arithmetic.

Which begs the question of whether Dr. Carson has truly studied the issue or is just vamping in the public arena until God tells him what to do. I, for one, prefer to think of his situation this way – it’s a choice to remain ignorant in the age of Google – and a bad one. As a physician, Dr. Carson has made a lot of bold, life-saving decisions. But as a rational thinker on the world stage and as a potential policy maker, signing up to the pro-ignorance movement is the poorest choice of them all. And certainly not a good one for the next potential decider-in-chief. Or for, well, any of the rest of us.

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