Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ben Stein, Expelled and "Two Minutes Hate"

Reading some of the nasty comments around the web directed at Ben Stein and his upcoming film relating to intelligent design called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, I was reminded of the concept of "Two Minutes Hate" in George Orwell's 1984. I was further reminded of Stephen Jay Gould's article "Return of the Hopeful Monster," published in 1980, which begins:

Big Brother, the tyrant of George Orwell's 1984, directed his daily Two Minutes Hate against Emmanuel Goldstein, enemy of the people. When I studied evolutionary biology in graduate school during the mid-1960s, official rebuke and derision focused upon Richard Goldschmidt, a famous geneticist who, we were told, had gone astray. Although 1984 creeps up on us, I trust that the world will not be in Big Brother's grip by then. I do, however, predict that during this decade Goldschmidt will be largely vindicated in the world of evolutionary biology.

Goldschmidt, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's decimation of German science, spent the remainder of his career at Berkeley, where he died in 1958. His views on evolution ran afoul of the great neo-Darwinian synthesis forged during the 1930s and 1940s and continuing today as a reigning, if insecure, orthodoxy.

He continues later:

I want to argue that defenders of the synthetic theory made a caricature of Goldschmidt's ideas in establishing their whipping boy. I shall not defend everything Goldschmidt said; indeed, I disagree fundamentally with his claim that abrupt macroevolution discredits Darwinism.

Sound familiar? The whole article is worth a read. Gould even takes a shot at a leading biology textbook that misleadingly "expresses its allegiance to the conventional view."

This is how Orwell put it, in part:

Goldstein was delivering his usual venemous attack upon the doctrines of the Party - an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it. He was abusing BIG BROTHER, he was denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the Revolution has been betrayed . . .

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. . . . But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were - in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State. . . .

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. . . . The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. . . .

Even Gould sees the actions of the scientific establishment as analogous to Big Brother. Emmanuel Goldstein also sounds a lot like Michael Behe and his dastardly and dangerous intelligent design movement. You may begin screaming now.

If the phrase "desire . . . to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer" sounds familiar, perhaps you are thinking of this.