If It's Good Enough For Kevin …

In South Carolina, a mammoth dose of dumb
The Senator outside Anderson University, affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention

The renowned Canadian weekly MacLean’s recently asked a very good question: “Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?”

Exhibit A in the prosecution’s case: South Carolina.

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection.

Charles Darwin’s signature discovery—first published 155 years ago and validated a million different ways since—long ago ceased to be a matter for serious debate in most of the world. But in the United States, reconciling science and religious belief remains oddly difficult …

If the rise in uninformed opinion was limited to impenetrable subjects that would be one thing, but the scourge seems to be spreading. Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive. Common-sense solutions to pressing problems are eschewed in favour of bumper-sticker simplicities and blind faith.

Thankfully, and miraculously, the bill headed to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk last week absent any reference to the Creator. But it's still disheartening that there was a debate in the first place. The state senator referenced above is Kevin Bryant, a pharmacist in Anderson and deacon at Concord Community Church, a congregation that “believe[s] that the Bible is the inerrant written Word of God” to be used “as our authority in all circumstances.” Bryant is, according to his website, “a born-again Christian, having trusted Jesus Christ as personal savior not by works, but through faith. He came to this saving knowledge at 8 years old.” In case you were wondering.

Elected to office in 2004, Bryant was a pioneer in the hurling of dungclods at the president of the United States, starting before he was even elected. He’s a founding member of the so-called “William Wallace Caucus,” an exercise in right-wing spleen and juvenilia whose members want to nullify federal laws and allow South Carolinians to carry handguns in public without permits. Bryant is the guy assigned to hand out sword lapel pins to new members who’ve been symbolically “disemboweled” on the Senate floor by saner colleagues.

He’s held his Senate seat for nearly a decade.

This seems an appropriate time to let Col. Henry Drummond speak. You might want to cue this movie up sometime soon during a House of Cards season break or something. Not much has changed, except people then spoke and dressed better, even without air conditioning.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest