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Our signature national trait

The classic statement about America may not have come from the pen of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, but from the mouth of Phineas Taylor Barnum, who said that our national characteristic is willful gullibility.*

The campaign against genetically modified foods displays one instance of that willful gullibility. Writing on the anti-GMO campaign at Slate, William Saletan concludes: "The deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It's full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They're counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust."

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For myself, I've always been suspicious of these claims. First, isn't everything we already eat genetically modified, by selective breeding or hybridization? Beyond that, the planet has billions of people to support, more every day, and I doubt that they are going to be fed by Whole Foods.

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This is of a piece with the anti-vaccine hysteria, also based on misrepresentations and discredited science, whipped up by people of questionable intelligence like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

To observe these phenomena is to recognize a crucial truth, that the affluent, politically liberal, college-educated upper middle class is every bit as susceptible to nonsense as those mouth-breathers in Texas who imagine that the Jade Helm military exercises are intended to impose martial law on the state, round them up, confiscate their weapons, and pen them in Wal-Mart concentration camps. Or the flocks heeding deluded divines bellowing that legalization of gay marriage is going to bring fire from Heaven down on the Republic.

GMOs and vaccines look to be pretty much safe. The president is not a Kenyan Muslim. Married same-sex couples do not besmirch or devalue your marriage.**

We have genuine issues to consider as citizens. The previous chief executive authorized torture, and the current one asserts an authority to kill American citizens overseas at will. There are people pushing us toward yet another war in the Middle East. Global warming is a graver threat to all of us than Monsanto's produce.

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Indulging in nonsense is a dangerous luxury.

*The Yale Book of Quotations indicates that P.T. Barnum did not actually say, "There's a sucker born every minute," but he did say, "The people like to be humbugged."

**Same-sex marriage is here to stay, not just because the Supreme Court ruled so, but because a majority of the citizenry favors it. There will be rear-guard efforts against it, as there were against the court's desegregation rulings in the 1950s and 1960s, but over time they will prove futile.

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