I keep getting emails from conservative friends and acquaintances who are obsessed by what they call political correctness. In these emails, some kind of sarcastic parody is made regarding an alleged trend to ban the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas”.  Neoconservatives latch onto this like barnacles on the bottom of a tramp steamer. Inside their pointy heads they imagine that a cabal of liberals are scheming to take their guns and their religion from them.

If other liberals are like me (an admitted dissident), then not only do we not want to deprive them of  their damned firearms and bibles, but we want to put as many miles between us as possible. At least out of shooting range.

Christmas has a secular component and practice that even a bitter, crusty, non-religious liberal like myself can feel comfortable with. But as far as possible insensitivity to Jews and Muslims, well the decendents of Abraham will have to work that out amongst themselves.

In my limited sphere I don’t know of a single liberal who is trying to replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays”. Only conservatives carp about this.  It’s a red herring promulgated by that famous yapping vaudevillian cur himself, Rush whatshisname, in the name of ratings.

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I’m moved to comment on what makes some people liberal.  A recent article in Slate was written by a conservative, Daniel Sarewitz, who seems to be genuinely perplexed at the apparent trend of scientists, or at least academics, to be liberal. It is though he is talking about a smallpox epidemic.  While I have no idea as to the C/L ratio of scientists and academics, I can say that from my perch on a small and obscure branch of the tree of science, liberals like myself are rather scarce.

Indeed, most of the industrial chemists I am in contact with are libertarians or evangelical conservatives or plain vanilla orthodox conservatives. So, from my limited data set,  Sarewitz’s complaint appears specious.

He probably refers to the life and eco-sciences, earth science, astronomy, big-time-physics, etc. I suspect that the balance is different in these fields.

But why would scientists trend towards a liberal viewpoint?  I have some ideas. First, the scientific approach to the world relies heavily on study and measurement.  Scientists tend to study analytically or, to use another term, critically. Critical study of the physical world requires a willing suspension of belief.  A scientist must keep a loose grip on beliefs because experimental results frequently force one to re-examine fundamental assumptions.  Fame and glory in science goes to those who tip over the apple cart of concepts with contrary results.  All scientists are excited at the prospect of looking at something in a new way.

I would offer that one attribute of a liberal person is the ability and willingness to reexamine ones fundamental assumptions. A corollary to this is that liberals are eager to acquire a new perspective on things in general. It is simply an artifact of curiosity.

Conservatives whom I know also appreciate study and measurement. But I think there is more of a trend towards devotional study rather than critical study. It’s about a greater knowledge of doctrine or greater fidelity with a catechism of policies.

Religionists upset with the notion of the separation of church and state often assert their right to be heard and to express their religiosity in public spaces.  Some liberals might take this as a simple matter of freedom of speech. And if that is all the religionists want, that would be fine. But if you look closely, they don’t want simple speech, they want to hold services in public spaces. They want to bring the civil sphere into alignment with their doctrine.

Religious services are about the veneration of the sacred. But “sacred” means that which is beyond question or understanding.  In a real sense, holding something sacred is to set apart a concept or doctrine from critical analysis. Religionists are not interested in a public critical analysis of their precepts. They are only interested in broader devotional covereage.

A liberal person is compelled to do critical analysis.  The very notion of sacredness is antithetical to one who seeks analytical truth. The policy that some concepts are beyond analysis is simply a form of thought control and is more suited to the Iron Age than the present.

For a good many people, college is a time and a place for intellectual experimentation and openness.  The university is an institution where critical analysis of the great world systems takes place.  The active examination of our world is the realm of the progressive.  Progressives push the boundaries of knowledge irrespective of where it might lead. Sometimes our analyses reflect well on our human or national institutions and sometimes it does not. But knowledge hidden is knowledge abused. That universities are loaded with liberals is a natural outcome of the shared intellectual adventure students are taking.

Merry Christmas from your liberal friend,

Th’ Gaussling