President Obama is fond of using the phrase “the arc of the moral universe,” a line derived from Martin Luther King Jr’s longer quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
King, in fact, lifted the often-used sentence from earlier Christian ministers. They, in turn, apparently borrowed the optimistic adage from its originator, Theodore Parker, a mid-nineteenth-century transcendentalist preacher. Obama also frequently favors sayings such as “the right side of history” and “the wrong side of history,” even though these Marxist nuggets refer to the supposed inevitable and morally overdue triumph of statism. Another favored presidential expression is “settled science,” as if natural inquiry always meets the end of history and becomes frozen in amber.
There is an underlying theme in these expressions of President Obama: predetermination. When expressing and implementing his views on government services, taxes, social awareness, racial relations and diversity, gay marriage, foreign policy, or global warming, the president often seeks refuge in the notion that cosmic forces both agree with him and are unimpeachable. As a consequence, further debate is futile. Sophisticates understand that finality; rubes do not.
Let’s take his “settled science” claim first. Unfortunately equating a current preponderance of transitory scientific opinions with eternal truth is precisely the way science does not work. There are some absolute truths in science, like the laws of atomic weight, but much else is up for debate and exploration. The etiology of ulcers and the effects of sunlight on the skin are explained differently today than they were in 1980—and perhaps will be explained differently still in 2080.
Most landmark breakthroughs in any field are not the product of consensus, but the unanticipated work of lone wolves, who were once derided as feral outliers barking at the moon. Had Obama used his majority arguments for settled science against Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin, we might believe that the earth was created 5,000 years ago, gravity did not exist, and the planets revolved around the earth.
That last is precisely correct; not only in science but technology. Plenty of people thought Steve Jobs was nuts when he pushed Apple engineers to come up with the iPod, but it revolutionized how we listen to music. Plenty of hardcore computer types thought Bill Gates was nuts with his “computer in every home” vision, and his idea to aggressively pursue the home PC market – and you can see how that turned out.
President Obama does indeed like to talk about the “arc of history,” but there is little evidence that he understands past examples of how great civilizations travel that arc. The USA is now at a dangerous crossroads, in that its people find it increasingly acceptable to surrender fundamental liberties in exchange for physical and economic securities.
If you want to see where that ends up, see Venezuela.