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“A Very Dim View Of Humankind”: Ben Carson Thinks You’re The Crazy One

Of all the gifts that Ben Carson has given comedy writers and Twitter wags in the past weeks, it’s his stubborn belief that the Biblical prophet Joseph built the pyramids that’s captured the public’s imagination the most. Self-serious pundits, meanwhile, bemoan this spasm of ridicule on a subject properly relegated to strange-smelling occult bookstores and dusty UseNet forums. To be sure, there are other questions about Carson that have a more obvious bearing on his fitness to be president: his non-trivial attachment to the multi-level marketing firm and “glyconutrient” purveyor Mannatech sounds alarms not just about Carson’s medical judgment outside his field, but his willingness to benefit from a predatory business model (the profit of a different sort of pyramid scheme).

Since it hews to the general Judeo-Christian storyline, and it serves their electoral purposes, conservatives have been incredibly deferential to Carson’s theory. “All religious beliefs have some element of fantastical or absurd,” goes the defense. “Besides: ReverendWrightBillAyersBenghazi.”

Here’s the problem: Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t really religious, not in the sense that it is a part of official Seventh Day Adventist church doctrine. Carson appears to have extrapolated from official church doctrine regarding Biblical infallibility and Scripture as an “authentic and historical account” that the grain Joseph collected during the “seven years of plenty” must have been stored somewhere—and at some point he alighted on the same theory that briefly swept the world’s intelligentsia in the sixth century. (As one does.) Indeed, for a certain subsection of voters, Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t proof Adventists’ beliefs are a little strange, but rather have come around to polite society consensus in at least one respect—they’re not as virulently anti-Catholic they used to be. Hence, my personal favorite headline of the cycle: “Ben Carson Agrees With Gregory of Tours.

Carson’s belief is “religious” in that it borrows some characters from the Bible in order tell a story about a historical event. By that measure, the belief that there are no unicorns because they refused to board Noah’s ark is also “religious.” (Obviously, that’s a myth—unicorns appear in the Bible post-flood, so they must have been on board. Their disappearance is, thus, still a mystery that science has yet to provide answers for.)

The grain-storage theory is also “religious” in that it seeks to justify a conviction related to but outside the faith by borrowing the authority of the church. You may recognize this rhetorical strategy from such popular Judeo-Christian hits as “the Bible justifies slavery” and “the Lord commands us to appropriate Native American lands.” It’s only because it’s about the pyramids that it sounds weird.

But the real reason we should go ahead and mock Ben Carson about his pyramid theory is that the belief that anyone but the Egyptians (who told us they built them) built them is not a morally neutral assessment. Those who warn against passing judgment on Carson just because he has a non-traditional belief need to remember that this particular belief contains its own judgments on people —and they’re not particularly favorable.

First of all, let’s remember what Carson’s alternate theory is: aliens. To him, that’s the somewhat-plausible suckers’ bet he feels the need to dismiss. You might be tempted to believe it, he implied, because the pyramids were complex motherfuckers—“many chambers hermetically sealed” built with “special knowledge”—but, he assured the audience: “It doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

The pyramids’ existence solved a riddle that Carson made up for himself: “Joseph’s grain silos were so big, how can they have disappeared?” But Carson clearly sees the pyramids’ greatness as a riddle as well: “The pyramids are so complex, who helped humans build them?”

The thread of racism that runs through pseudo-archeology is well documented. Whether you explain the pyramids as the product of an alien civilization or a miracle from God, the underlying assumption is that it couldn’t have been accomplished by the (usually brown) people who claim to have done it. I don’t think Carson is racist. Carson doesn’t just think that the Egyptians couldn’t build the pyramids without help, I suspect that Carson doesn’t think humans could build the pyramids without help.

The notion that “with God, all things are possible” is supposed to invite ambition to reach beyond oneself; Carson’s apparent frame is, “without God, nothing is possible.”

When I look at humankind’s great achievements, I also see the hand of God, and what astonishes me isn’t that He had to literally and specifically intervene—it’s that He didn’t. The miracle of the pyramids and Machu Picchu and the Mona Lisa isn’t God’s literal presence, but the capacity for genius He instilled in every human being whether or not they asked for it, whether or not they think He exists.

There is an assumption of individualized divine intervention in Carson’s telling of his own life story, in the myths he’s created about himself. The fight with his mother, the knife hitting the belt-buckle: Carson has imposed a radical conversion story onto his trajectory, complete with miracles, because—I can only guess—the more mundane explanation (he was a smart kid who became a brilliant brain surgeon) is not satisfying to him.

You can see the “thug” tale as self-aggrandizing, but to me it is strangely self-denying—on some level, a kind of blasphemy. In making up a story filled with drama, he has failed to credit God for the original and true, if subtle, miracle within Carson: that a soft-spoken, nerdy young man born in inner Detroit did not have to become a thug at some point, that he was wise and respectful of his own potential without needing God to perform a parlor trick.

I believe that God will do for me what I cannot do for myself, but I also know He won’t do for me what I can do for myself—and my daily miracle is the extent to which His original gifts to me allow me to not call upon Him for specific, material intervention in my life.

I think it cheapens the idea of miracles to think that humans needed one to create the pyramids, or that Carson needed one to put his life on the right track. It speaks to a lack of faith in humans—and, in some sense, God. His creation is so much more awe inspiring than Carson seems to realize.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, November 8, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Egyptian Pyramids, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up Is Down: Michele Bachmann Distances Herself From Reality

Talk about cognitive dissonance. I went to a breakfast this morning with Alice Rivlin and lunch with Michele Bachmann. How to put this politely? If men are from Mars and women from Venus, Rivlin is from Earth, Bachmann is from Saturn. Someplace way out in the solar system and removed from reality.

Rivlin, a Democrat, is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve. She is, in short, a Very Serious Person and, like every serious person around, finds herself somewhere between disbelieving and aghast at the current crisis over raising the debt ceiling.

“Putting a limit on the debt and saying, ‘Hey, we made these decisions but we didn’t really mean it, we’re not going to pay our bills,’ is just an unthinkable thing to do,” Rivlin said at an event sponsored by Atlantic Media.

“This is outrageous, folks,” she told interviewer Linda Douglass. “The greatest democracy, oldest democracy in the world should not be behaving this way.…It’s embarrassing for us to have a government that is so dysfunctional and that has created this artificial crisis.”

And the consequences could be catastrophic. “Suppose the world has decided that [debt ceiling crisis] might happen again and this democracy isn’t quite as solid or thoughtful as we thought it was, so we not going to stop lending to the United  States but we’re going to charge more interest. As the interest bill goes up, two things happen. One is it’s must more expensive for the government to carry this large debt….But more seriously it means that everybody’s interest payment goes up….So we would be paying more on our mortgage, more on our car loans, more on our credit cards, more for business loans and that’s not good for the economy.

It takes nothing away from Rivlin’s considerable intelligence and insight to say that she is expressing the conventional wisdom.

Fast forward a few hours to Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota and Republican presidential candidate, addressing the National Press Club. Bachmann’s position is two-fold:

First, the debt ceiling should not be raised, under any circumstances. No deal could be good enough, Bachmann said, to induce her to do so. “I won’t raise taxes. I will reduce spending and I won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling,” she said. “And I have the titanium spine to see it through.”

Second, the United States will not default. “I want to state unequivocally I think for the world as well as the markets as well as for the American people, I have no doubt that we will not lose the full faith and credit of the United States,” Bachmann said.

Huh? Bachmann accused President Obama of employing “scare tactics” in warning of “catastrophic results for our economy.” But what do she and others in the titanium spine caucus think is going to happen when the United States can’t pay its bills?

Sure, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner could manage to pay off bondholders. But as Rivlin and others explained, it won’t be too long before the checks due exceed the amount in the coffers.

An analysis by former George W. Bush administration Treasury official Jay Powell by the Bipartisan Policy Center shows that if the administration prioritizes payments to bondholders, Social Security recipients, Medicare and Medicaid providers, defense contractors and unemployment benefits (total $172.7 billion for the month) then it wouldn’t be able to pay another $134 billion worth of bills, including military active duty pay, veterans affairs programs, federal salaries and benefits, food stamps and Pell grants. You can shift around the numbers all you want but the bottom line is that refusing to increase the debt ceiling is not a sustainable option.

Bachman said that “saying no” to an increase in the debt ceiling would be “saying yes to job creation and to the next generation.” Up is down in Bachmann-world. The credit rating agencies are already threatening a downgrade. The grave implications of that are clear, for jobs now and stretching into the next generation with the hangover of higher interest rates.

Bachmann spent a lot of time invoking Ronald Reagan, so here’s one from the Gipper back at her. “The full consequences of a default—or even the serious prospect of default—by the Untied States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate,” he wrote to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker in November 1983. “Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The nation can ill afford to allow such a result.”

By: Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post, July 28, 2011


July 29, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives, Consumer Credit, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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