Welcome to the Genomics Forum blog

Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Why Do They Think Like that?

As I write, happily it looks like Nadine Dorries' abortion amendement to the Health Bill is going nowhere...leaving us time to concentrate on everything else that's pernicious about it.

But I wanted to take a sideways glance at the controversy and to ask: Why Do They Think Like That?

Why does Nadine Dorries think that NHS clinics try to talk women into having abortions? They're not paid by the filling like dentists used to be...(or was THAT a conspiracy theory?) ...so why would she think like that?

Why does President in Waiting (at the moment) Rick Perry buy into the idea that "scientists" are a criminal interest group who use the chimera of climate change to fraudulently extort his tax dollars?

I'm working on a play at the moment, and if I'm going to have characters who think like that, I've got to get inside their skin.

I have to grit my teeth and imagine them feeling that way in good faith - something the evangelical right is quite incapable of when it comes to its "enemies".

But as a dramatist, I can't just say to myself, "well they're just evil...or just stupid...or just lying...so I don't have to think about it."

I have to imagine people like me who genuinely feel that way...Not because I'm fair minded at all. I'm not. But I have to give an actor a steer as to how to play the part.

Elias Canetti, in "Crowds and Power", an old fave, or Amin Malouf in "On Identity", a newer fave, both argue that identification with a group is most keenly felt and clung to when it seems to be under attack. That very often, identities only come into existence when that attack is felt.

"I never knew I was a (fill in identity here) till they made it illegal."

The evangelical right attack "materialist science" because they find it self aggrandizing to characterize the scientific project as being all about them - as being an attack on them. Charles Darwin hated God - that's why he saw what he saw. Stem cell scientists want to kill babies...climate scientists hate free enterprize.
It's not so much a conspiracy theory as a conspiracy feeling.

And I do know how that feels. When the phone never rings unless it's someone trying to sell you something, when you feel you have to act under the assumption that EVERYONE is trying to rob you ALL the time...I can see why the only way to maintain self worth is to decide that you're being persecuted because they are out to get you.

It's that sense of being attacked and defined by the attack...that feels real to me, and I suspect to an audience, so that would be the way to go.

Meanwhile, as so often, the comment boards on a story online are a lifting of the bandages to reveal the wounds in the public psyche.

"Scientists have only got themselves to blame," one opined. "If they weren't so smug and rich we might believe them."

Unpick that psychology at your leisure.

It's something of a theme for the science vs religion slugfest I'm presenting at the Traverse on September 30th...

Peter Arnott is Resident Playwright at the ESRC Genomics Forum April 2011 - April 2012. Appointed in partnership with the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Peter will be hosting a number of public engagements as he explores ideas and seeks inspiration for a genomics related play.

No comments:

Post a Comment