Monday, April 9, 2012

Opinion — The Monkey Trial: What Century Is This?

I watched a bio the other evening — William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe. I admire people who stand up in public and brave waves of unpopular opinion to fight for what they believe in. Kuntsler aggravated quite a few people and, over time, seemed to cherish a gaggle of cameras as much or more than doing the right thing. But most of the time, whether he won or lost the case, the criminal defense and civil rights attorney seemed to be doing the right thing — freeing the Chicago 7, trying to avoid the brutal and unnecessary massacre at Attica, and winning the Wounded Knee case for native Americans who stood up against a bullying government. He also defended as best he could innocent young blacks in the famous “Wilding” case. He lost that case and suffered attacks by an irate and irrational public throughout the trial. Seven years later, he was proven correct, and his harshly condemned and wrongfully convicted client was freed.

Whenever I think of these kinds of bigger-than-life people, I think of Cassius Clay, the one from the 1860s, who, as a relatively rich white guy, not only fought against slavery but also stood his ground no matter what the odds or what the world thought of him. The film on Kuntsler also made me think of my childhood hero Clarence Darrow, who fought redlining (preventing blacks getting loans to buy homes in certain neighborhoods), who, earlier than Kuntsler, fought against the death penalty, and who defended John Thomas Scopes, a teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who had the audacity to teach evolution as science to his students.

In this instance, Darrow lost the trial, but won public opinion and the century. He fought against former “cross-of-gold, Christian fundamentalist presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. If you watched the movie Inherit the Wind, you might have gotten the idea that Bryan’s ultimate moral defeat was the end of the debate. Unfortunately, a strange thing has happened. Even though we’re in a new century, the State of Tennessee has again seen fit to circumvent real science and elevate creationism, a subject that belongs either in Sunday school or in a class of Comparative Religion, this time as a “scientific” alternative to evolution. What are they drinking in Tennessee? Certainly not the good whiskey.

Now, as a confession or more accurately a concession, I was born and grew up in Indiana. It’s my state and I love it, but I’ve always found it a bit to conservative for my tastes. Lately, my home state has been behaving badly. Especially so. A short time ago, a Republican state legislative representative attacked the Girl Scouts of America as “a radicalized organization” that promotes homosexuality and communism. Before that little tantrum, the Republican-dominated legislature became the first state to defund Planned Parenthood. Hoosier lawmakers also tried to double-down on the already existing ban on same-sex marriage by passing another law to ban it (Is this a de-double ban?) and this time they added a ban on civil unions. This means that gays and lesbians may not enter into legal contracts that look like they contain any of the same elements found in “marriage.” In addition, several representatives of the state legislature demanded that special donor license plates with proceeds going to support troubled LGBT kids — bullied youth, children disowned by their parents, etc. — be denied that funding even though that funding was private charitable giving. To cap the crazy, hateful season Indiana’s House of Representatives tried to pass a bill to do what Tennessee appears to be doing with slightly more subtlety — teach creationism as literal truth. The bill in Indiana was allowed to die quietly, meaning that, compared to Tennessee, Indiana is a bunch of “zany” liberals.

But this foolishness exists on a national scale. We have the Republican presidential nominees wanting to stem not only women’s choice on reproductive issues after contraception, but also contraception itself. No matter the health consequences, women may not include any form of contraception as part of a health plan if their Catholic employer objects. And they do. Men may continue to have their Viagra covered. Can a repeal of women’s right to vote be far behind?

In 21st Century America, money is equated with free speech and corporations have the same rights as individuals, so says the U.S. Supreme Court. Women and LGBT people don’t, it seems. Now we’re watching as a déjà vu all-over-again moment comes back to haunt us. Tennessee revisits the famous “Monkey Trial” 87 years after the issue was settled to claim there is valid argument for the earth being only 6,000 years old and that Eve was literally formed from Adam’s rib and, further, that’s how we became humans. DNA be damned. Carbon dating, get out of here. Fossils? I don’t need your dirty rotten fossils. The Governor of Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslan has indicated he will sign the bill that essentially repeals intelligent thought. I can only hope that young students in Tennessee are smarter than their governor. Otherwise the pro-dumbness faction of the current Republican Party will continue to multiply. Soon, the earth will be flat again. Perhaps we can dispense with gravity.

Despite the fact that I believe that anything is possible, there are commonly held scientific truths. Two plus two might — just might, though there are incredible odds against it — be five. But I’ll go with four. And while I’m all for creativity and thinking outside the box, an alternative theory that two and two are five is something we should not give equal weight to in math class.

So where is this rant going? Here. We need some brave souls in what has become a soulless, mindless Republican Party to stop the hate and discrimination that has increasingly taken over. I’m certainly a liberal on most things, but I’d love to see a serious philosophical discussion among candidates for President, candidates who at least agree that our country is interested in equal rights for everyone, understand the separation of church and state and want to stop the bribery of our elected officials (through unlimited, unregulated funding by individuals, corporations and other organizations). We need to agree on at least that much before we try to engage in the real issues facing our democracy — health, education, the economy and other quality of life issues.

And what do William Kuntsler, Cassius Clay and Clarence Darrow have to do with all of this? The Kuntsler bio — and the corruption he fought against — got me all riled up and one thing led to another….

Update: (April 11, 2012) The Governor Haslan allowed the bill to pass into law without his signature. This is the coward's way out.

Captions: (Top) Poster from the documentary; (Middle) Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Monkey Trial; (Bottom) The first Cassius Clay, abolitionist and Ambassador to Russia.

No comments: