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King: Irrational beliefs should be challenged
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What do you say when you have said it all before? You repeat yourself, of course, but you better have a new twist or a catchy sound bite.

Today, I am at the bottom of the barrel. I know I won't change anyone's opinion. We're a nation split down the middle. People's minds are made up, and all they want to do is defend their position.

This is true throughout the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, right or left, and to question political or religious orthodoxy is looked upon as disloyal, un-American, even heresy.

"The Believing Brain: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer looks at our attachment to the irrational in the face of evidence to the contrary. What makes us do this? Probably because there is a survival element in a strong belief system. It provides a degree of solidarity within a group, and a source of reassurance in difficult times.

So when doubt arises we resort to denial: "If I don't admit it, it isn't there." But if we don't doubt conventional wisdom, if we can't question orthodoxy, we become boxed in. We are incapable of change, and so we repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

A religious fundamentalist or a committed party member doesn't doubt. The Republican Party can read the polls as well as the next guy. They know the majority of Americans want abortion to remain legal, at least in the early months of a pregnancy, but politicians also understand the emotional appeal behind the anti abortion movement; and they understand what's called "the pain factor." The anti-abortionists make more noise, attract bigger crowds, and make bigger single issue campaign donations than the quiet majority.

The Republican party also knows, or should know, that today scientists are in greater consensus about climate change than ever before: The earth is heating up, and human activity is largely responsible, but they have attacked this position for so long they can't change and so go deeper and deeper into denial. Unfortunately, their campaign has been successful. More and more of the public believe that climate change is either a myth or of no importance despite a greater and greater degree proof to the contrary.

I'm sure the Democrats have their own myths, but they have been less successful at establishing them with the public than the GOP. In short, the Republicans are better strategists, and they have been at it longer. The Democrats, as usual, are slow out of the gate.

Now to my own positions: Believe me, I would love to see nuclear power succeed. I was always a science junkie and a futurist. I was 13 at the dawn of the nuclear age, and I claimed it for my own. There is just one problem: We have created something that does not go away.

Wood rots, flesh decomposes, metal rusts. The land changes. Mountains wear away, but nuclear waste will be with us virtually forever. The scientists have made a pack with the devil. On the other hand, I could be wrong. Perhaps the humanity will adapt to radiation. Maybe mankind will be forced into space to escape the growing contamination. I suppose any number of things are possible.

Meanwhile, Japan is hasn't even begun to get control of their damaged reactors. Some even predict that the island itself will become inhabitable. In Nebraska floodwaters are lapping around the Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Plants. Photos are on the Web.

Federal officials say the plants were designed for the current flooding, and there is no need for concern. Two points here: They are talking about current, not future flooding levels, and once again, you have to hope the authorities have got it right.

I could be wrong about all of this. I'm open to dialogue, but please back your argument with verifiable facts and sources.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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