DC forum member El Goodo has done some excellent detective work on Obama’s so-called economic czars, wading through dirty pools that other so-called muckrakers refuse to tread. The first person he’s looked into is “green jobs” czar Van Jones. In typical Wikipedia fashion, the checkered past and political extremism of a politically liberal public figure is almost completely discarded and that which is left is played down. As noted by El Goodo, Jones is a former communist who was radicalized by the 1992 Los Angeles riots and has continued to associate himself with groups on the far left, including the Free Press, which advocates government control of the media, and the radical Oakland community organization Speak Out Now! As extreme as these groups may be, they’re still a far cry from the “revolutionary” groups Jones used to associate himself with, such as the now defunct Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM). I’m willing to accept that Jones may have changed his political tune somewhat. After all, Ronald Reagan was firmly on the left before he started shifting towards the right, and the term “neoconservative,” before the term became an Anti-Semitic code word among both the far left and right, was originally used to describe formerly left-leaning political and social scientists who found that following the facts led them away from socialism and modern liberalism. Still, even if he has begrudgingly admitted the realities of the free market, Jones not only continues to deploy socialist rhetoric, but embraces some decidedly specious ideas.
Jones’s Wikipedia entry notes that he is a fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Founded by astronaut-turned-parapsychologist Edgar Mitchell, the Institute declares itself in mission statement to be “a nonprofit membership organization located in Northern California that conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness.” It also goes on to say that it “explores phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models, while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigor.” The first part of that statement is correct, but as far as commitment to scientific rigor goes, you won’t find it at this institute. The main areas of research are “extended human capacities” (just a fancy way of saying spoon-bending and reincarnation), “integral health and healing” ( not just the expected quack remedies and therapies, but even worse “distant healing” methods as well), and “emerging worldviews” (which combines ecological extremism with New Age spirituality). Members of the Institute’s board of directors and extended faculty include Bishop Desmond Tutu, professional pseudoscientist Rupert Sheldrake, religious left guru Michael Lerner, and the Clown Prince of Quackery himself, Deepak Chopra. You’ll find Van Jones listed as a fellow on the board of directors page, along with “collective consciousness” scholar Chris Bache and former Noetic Institute president James O’Dea, who currently runs a variety of “spiritual” retreats and workshops.
What is the extent of Jones’s involvement with the institute? It’s hard to say what the extent of his current involvement is at this point; he recently canceled his appearance at the Noetic’s 2009 conference, but there are still records of his association to be found throughout the Web. Jones made a radio appearance with O’Dea in September of 2008, where they discussed their “personal journeys” and how they feel we are ultimately on the verge of a new age of “collective consciousness”. Then there’s this video sponsored by the Noetic Institute in which Jones bemoans the “socio-economic,” “ecological” and “spiritual” crises we’re “faced with”, and offers vague exhortations for a new “world view” to solve them. Particularly telling is at the end when Jones tries to get the audience to tell themselves “I don’t care what the facts look like!” They probably say that to themselves a lot at the Noetic Institute. “The world as it is, is not the world as it has to be” indeed!
Why should we care about Jones’ affliation with these Noetic nutbars, you may ask? Because he’s been placed in charge of an assignment which requires that complex problems be solved with hardnosed facts and commitment to the scientific method, that’s why. Instead, Barack Obama has demonstrated with his choice of Jones that not only is he willing to continue placing politics above science, but he’s perfectly willing to appoint his own personal George Deutsch in a key position where science is supposed to be paramount. Don’t think that Jones is alone among the antiscience Left, either. With the Natural Law party no more, and the Green Party currently in even worse disarray than the Republicans (the official Green candidate Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader, who ran as an Independent, managed to receive less than 1% of the popular vote combined in November), you can expect the New Age eco-nuts to try for even closer rapproachment with the Democratic party. Which is fine by us if it helps the Republicans win more elections, but bad for the country if they actually get to implement their agenda.