Deepak Chopra and Considerations of Us vs. Them

Yesterday I commented on Chopra’s latest posts at Huffington Post. Normally I am spared the trouble of writing very much to refute Chopra as various writers at the Science Blogs normally get to him before I do, but this time I was first. Pharyngla got to it today, and this post stems from a comment I added to their post. PZ Myers has similar objections to Chopra’s writing as I expressed, including the manner in which Chopra pleas for support by offering silly false dichotomies. He writes, “The flim-flam artist is losing his magic–I’m beginning to think his exposure at the Huffington Post might not be such a bad thing after all.”

Myers has a point that the more Chopra lays out his beliefs, the clearer it becomes how absurd they are. Before he started attacking science at Huffington Post, my suspicion is that most liberals had very little idea of what Chopra believed, and might have expressed vague approval in order to be open minded about his new age beliefs in order to be consistent with liberal views on freedom of religion. His views were mysterious, with no reason for liberals to necessarily care or be offended.

The more Chopra describes his views, the clearer it becomes that he is not just a writer expressing his personal religious views. Many of us are accustomed to just ignoring those whose religion is used to fill in the gaps left by current scientific knowledge. If they want to say a god initiated the big bang or set evolution in motion, there are the obvious logical problems but the view is harmless, as long as such a view doesn’t interfere with science ultimately answering these questions and making such religious beliefs as outdated as those who blamed earth quakes on the anger of the gods before we understood plate techtonics.

The problem with Chopra is that his beliefs compel him to attack both established science and the scientific method. Even worse, Chopra quite frequently repeats the exact arguments used by the religious right when he both attacks evolution and argues for the existence of a creator (or that the universe is conscious).

The more Chopra gives specific descriptions of his views, the less they are a vague new age viewpoint which we can just ignore and the more they are clearly attacks on science and reason which are every bit as dangerous as those which come from the religious right. His tactics also become obvious with the manner in which he is now ending his posts with false dichotomies. Intelligent readers will realize that neither choice offered by Chopra is the one that is most plausible, and will see the logical fallacies inherent in Chopra’s views. Chopra offers creationism versus random chance as the only choices, obfuscating the fact that evolution provides a non-random alternative which has been verified by experimentation and application of the scientific method. He is similarly falacious when he offers random chemical reactions as the only alternative to his view that the universe has a consciousness of its own.

Even before I left The Democratic Daily in protest over their inexcusable defense of Mel Gibson following his anti-Semitic tirade, there was already conflict which was causing me to consider leaving the blog over Chopra as Pamela defended him because he is a liberal (and as she feared that criticism of Chopra would harm her new age business). In forming this blog I purposely avoided using a political party identity in the name, and even have mixed feelings about using Liberal. The problem with any label is that it lumps together people who might have major areas of disagreement, and also separates those who do have areas of agreement.

At Liberal Values I often try to look at ideas beyond those discussed at the major liberal blogs, often by redrawing the lines as to who is on “our side.”I hope it is clear that I use Liberal in a more classical sense rather than as signifying knee jerk adherence to any particular political views. I use liberal thought to find the most reasonable solutions in a manner analogous to how the scientific method, as opposed to religious revelation, is the most reasonable way to solve problems in the natural world. While I remain devoted to the original meanings of liberalism as supporting liberty, and in the origins of liberalism in the enlightenment, I do not necessarily back any particular individuals who might be labeled liberal, such as Chopra. Nor do I feel constrained to knee jerk support for any particular views which might have been attributed to liberals or Democrats in the past.

In approaching political issues in this manner, I often make a point of shifting the line from the typical divisions seen between “us and them.” Under normal circumstances I would support individual candidates based upon their views as opposed to supporting a particular political party. The last couple of election cycles were unique in that, for the most part, one party was on the wrong side of virtually every issue, and Democratic control of Congress was a major priority as the best means to reestablish the checks and balances devised by the founding fathers.

While I might have voted for candidates I had disagreements with, such as Harold Ford if I had lived in Tennessee, this does not mean a continual policy of supporting one group purely based upon party identification. I immediately opposed Charles Rangel, despite his party affiliation, for his support of the draft on both philosophical and pragmatic grounds. I cannot see any justification for opposing the religious right on the teaching of intelligent design, while simultaneously defending Deepak Chopra when he quotes the same arguments used by the Discovery Institute. I find it inconsistent for Democrats in California to demonize Arnold Schwarzenegger while supporting Diane Feinstein. While I agree with voting for Feinstein to achieve Democratic control of the Senate, both Schwarzenegger and Feinstein are centrists who I have agreements and disagreements with.

I tend to look for more areas of agreement when discussing the deceased, both as it is often pointless in arguing with the dead where they disagree, and as changes in the Zeitgeist often erases disagreements which existed when people lived. Therefore I have posted favorably about Barry Goldwater in light of our common disdain for the religious right, and give him credit for changes in views such as on the Civil Rights act of 1964 in his later years. When Milton Friedman died, I noted his opposition to the draft and the drug wars as reason to see him as a defender of liberty despite his Republican affiliations.

What my consideration of all these individuals have in common is the need to look at their views. Favorable comments about Barry Goldwater and Milton Friedman might be unexpected on a liberal blog, but it seems perfectly natural when done from the perspective of our areas of disagreement in opposing the religious right, the draft, and the war on drugs. Similarly, although Deepak Chopra is labeled a liberal, the more he lays out his views the clearer it becomes that we disagree on a very fundamental level. The more he describes his views at sites like The Huffington Post, the clearer this is likely to become to other liberals who consider what he is saying.

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