The Mister Burns Problem

Montgomery Burns laughing fiendishly. Excellent!

Okay. This is another strange essay brought on by, in equal measures, pop-tarts, the death of Jerry Falwell, reading odd websites and doing laundry in the small hours of the morning.

As stated elsewhere on this site, I believe that aging is a disease that will be cured one day. I hope it will be within my lifetime but I see no law of nature that forbids us from curing it eventually. But, at the moment, I’m thinking of this in terms of Jerry Falwell, his legacy and what has been termed the Mister Burns Problem.

Let’s try to understand the damage to science that people like Jerry Falwell have done.

There is a significant number of his followers who believe in nonsense like the biblical story of creation.

Biblical literalists, many of whom are followers of Falwell and his ilk, did whatever they could to prevent their children from being exposed to such threatening concepts as evolution. Over the last forty or so years, many of them even constructed a whole separate educational system of home schooling and universities to prevent their children from ever encountering scientific ideas that might shake belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Think of how many potential scientists might have been among these chidren. What a loss to the world. Instead they graduated from academic jokes like Oral Roberts University or Liberty University.

And not only that.

Many of Falwell’s followers worked hard, and are still working hard, to warp US educational policy at the local, state and federal level. This harms not only their children but also the children of parents who are not followers of Falwell, Robertson and so on.

It’s hard to judge the damage of more than forty years of these erosive anti-science forces in the United States but it’s disturbing to think about. What did the country lose because of this?

Yes, Falwell wasn’t as bad as Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, Papa Doc, Kim Il Sung, the Shah, Khomeini and so on. But that’s really the best I say about his legacy. Mother Theresa he’s not. Heck, he’s not even Pope John Paul. Maybe he’s not even Billy Graham.

This brings me to the Mister Burns Problem.

The Mister Burns Problem is a phrase coined by Stefan Jones a few years ago to describe the social purgative effects of death. Monty Burns was a memorable character in the Simpsons known for his wealth, his obstructiveness, his silly, evil plans and his great longevity. Stefan was clearly thinking of how Springfield might have been improved if Burns shuffled off this mortal coil.

Now, imagine if anti-aging treatments were given to Jerry Falwell. Imagine many more decades of the machinations of a restored and vigorous Mr. Falwell.

And before we think that he would have rejected such treatments, being as they are based on stem cell research, genetics and other biological concepts based on evolution, let’s remember the ideological double-think fanatics are capable of. I don’t know how many Biblical literalists still accept blood transfusions, chemotherapy, heart operations and other modern medical treatments despite their ultimate connection to heresy like evolution but I’m guessing it’s a pretty large number. We could call these people hypocrits or at least inconsistent but fanatics can rationalize anything.

Lisa Simpson with the weight of the world on her shoulders.

On the positive side, perhaps, we could imagine a youthful, healthy Mr. Falwell eventually changing his mind and renouncing many of his stupid positions as the decades rolled on. Also we could imagine the Lisa Simpsons of the world, who’d also benefit from a cure for aging, working over the centuries to contain the dangerous stupidity and demogoguery of the Monty Burnses.

Anyway it’s something to think about.

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