#ClimateMarch: A Campaign of Hypocrites And Fearmongers

So over a week ago, a large number of people went marching in New York City with the hashtag #climatemarch. The idea was to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming – excuse me, climate change – and get people, specifically politicians, to act on it. How? To be honest I’m not sure of the specifics, but it always seems to come back to higher taxes, more government control over the economy, and doing away with capitalism.

Nevermind that capitalism is why they even had a New York City to have the climate change march in.

I want to lay out a few disclaimers before I continue, to outline my views on climate change. These will take the form of a Q&A.

  1. Is climate change happening?
    Yeah. I mean, everything changes, so it would be silly to say that the climate doesn’t change. Nothing is truly static except death and taxes, and we may be getting close to getting rid of one of those.
  2. Is it anything to be worried about?
    Not really. Sure, there will be things here and there that climate change will affect that we’ll have to adapt to, and it may lead to some minor detrimental affects in some parts of the world, but overall it’s not something to get your panties in a twist over. It isn’t going to lead us to extinction, it’s not going to be the end of the world. Humanity has adapted for several thousand years, and I think it will adapt for several thousand more (unless superintelligent AI get us.)
  3. Are humans the primary cause of climate change?
    I don’t find this plausible. I can accept that we’re a tertiary or even secondary cause of climate change, because we definitely have an affect on the environment. But even if the planet is warming, can we really blame it on us? What other natural processes are out there? Have you ever looked up and saw that giant ball of exploding gas in the sky and wondered, “Hmm, could the sun have anything to do with it?” Earth is far larger, far more resilient, and far more complex than I think most people give it credit for.
  4. Should the government do anything about climate change?
    Absolutely not! This is the government, mind you, that screwed up the Middle East, spent over $600 million on a website, can’t keep track of billions of dollars of its budget, regularly violates civil liberties around the world, and is deeply in bed with large corporations in a cronyist scam that has gone back for decades. The last thing anybody should want is giving this incompetent bloated organization any more power than it already has – especially over such important things as the energy and the environment.

There, now that I have that off my chest…

The Hypocrisy

The first thing that really gets me about the climate march types is just how hypocritical they are. Pray tell, how many carbon dioxide tons did they spew into the air in order to get to New York City? They took planes, trains, and automobiles – diesel, gasoline, and other fuel sources emitting gases into the air. How much cleaner would the world be if all those hundreds of thousands of people, instead of taking this trip, just stayed home? Oh, yes, they care about the environment. They care about it so much they helped pollute it even more.

And then there are the images of the trash they left behind. How many Starbucks cups did they throw out? How much plastic did they use? It’s disgusting. Care about the environment, do they? Yeah right.

There’s also this image of a climate march interview going on above a sleeping homeless woman. Now I can’t actually verify if that body in the background is a sleeping homeless woman, but still, the imagery. That’s powerful. Here are some upper middle class white folks having an interview about how they must do something to save the environment because it’s oh so important, and yet there is a person on the ground right behind them that they’re ignoring who doesn’t even have a proper place to sleep. It sort of encapsulates the entire movement, in a way.

The Absurdity

One of the big reasons I personally can’t take climate change and the #climatemarch seriously is how it’s being blamed as the cause of everything. Open up any newspaper and you will see an article saying that “climate change” is the reason for the political instability in the Middle East. (Subtitle: “Why are deserts hot?”) Hurricane Sandy and local weather patterns have all been blamed on climate change and global warming. The bees are being blamed on it too, even though it strikes me as yet another media panic. Even the European Space Agency is now saying that global warming is affecting Earth’s gravitational field.

I can’t even.

And now the New Scientist magazine is saying that we’re on track for the “worst case” scenario. One Tweeter made the case that we’re headed towards extinction because of this. The problem with the article and the evidence, in my view, is that it isn’t really based on empirical data. It’s based on models:

The bleak image is brought home when emissions over the last few decades are plotted against projections for the future. Models predict how much the world will warm depending on how much we emit in future. Scientists typically look at four different possible futures, ranging from an uber-green society to a worst-case scenario, in which no action is taken to combat global warming. Le Quéré and her colleagues show how today’s emissions are near-perfectly in line with the worst-case scenario. This means that, according to scientists’ best estimates, the world will be as much as 5.4 °C warmer in 2100 than it was before the industrial revolution.

The chart in the article begins in 1980 and ends in 2100. Here’s a massive problem with this:

There’s no way you can predict what the world will be like in 2100!

Look at predictions from 90 years ago. How many were somewhat on track, and how far off were the rest? Could anyone have predicted the rise of the Internet, of Twitter, of the smartphone and now the “smart house,” of Dropbox and Spotify and global air travel and drone cargo ships and the private attempts to colonize Mars? In some places they may have gotten the basic gist of things – although, even in the case of Mars, they screwed up badly – but in the vast majority of cases they hadn’t a clue what the world would be like in a century.

That’s the same thing here. You can point to your models, but they’re just that: models. You can play around with models all day long, change them, tweak them, etc. German reporter and podcaster Fabian Scherschel made this point when he brought up his skepticism of climate change alarmism on his podcastLinux Outlaws (which, as you can imagine, doesn’t usually wade into this subject.) The data we have really only goes back two hundred years or so, not long enough to judge how the climate is being affected, which has been going on here for millions and millions of years.

And yet #climatemarch activists want to parade around and demand we end capitalism and the modern world because some model someone dreamt up said that we’re all going to die. Well, I have a model that we’re all going to die, but I can save us – if you just give me $5,000. Will you march for me then?

Oh, and by the way: sea ice has been increasing lately.

This isn’t activism. This is pure fearmongering.

The Insanity

One picture sums up a lot of insanity surrounding #climatemarch and what this is really all about:

This isn’t really about environmentalism. It’s about attacking the free market and trying to reinstate socialism. They’re watermelons – environmentally green on the outside, socialist red on the inside.

Let’s not forget what capitalism has brought us:

What has socialism given us?

  • Mass starvation
  • Authoritarian regimes
  • Gulags
  • Economic depression
  • Widespread violence
  • 100 million dead
  • Widespread environmental damage
  • Peasant conditions for many, especially in pre-modernized China

Capitalism isan economic order — any economic order — that emerges from voluntary exchanges of property and labor without government intervention (or any other form of systemic coercion).” By that, it means that individual people are allowed to control their lives, make their own decisions, and fulfill their dreams.

Socialism is “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production”.  And by that, what it really means is that the state becomes a dictator, takes away all the decisions from you, and uses you as a tool whose human worth is little.

What the protestors in that image are saying is that they hate people and want to inflict misery and suffering on them. Being an adult human who can make his or her own decisions, be autonomous, and enjoy one’s life is apparently a disease. That just shows you how nutty these folks are.

The Alternative to #climatemarch

Ronald Bailey of reason has done a much better job than I could ever do knocking these guys off their pedestal. See his story on #climatemarch here and his story on #FloodWallStreet here. He takes aim at their assertions and blows holes in them rather efficiently. They don’t even know the best strategies to address their own problem. The whole thing is just ridiculous.

What’s the alternative? I’m honestly not sure. I think, for starters, we can continue to utilize capitalism to experiment with new technologies in the energy sector, as well as lab-grown meat that would cut emissions by 96%. There are plenty of free market environmental alternatives out there that could be explored, but one thing that is important is having private property rights. Nothing halts environmental degradation better than by avoiding the tragedy of the commons. But I don’t really know what will fix the environment, if it truly needs saving. But you know what? That’s okay. The beauty of being a capitalist is that you don’t have to know everything; you just have to know that you have a system that is designed to discover and find things out, that champions experimentation and innovation.

That’s the alternative. It doesn’t rely on fearmongering. It isn’t based in hypocrisy. It’s not absurd. And it’s not insane. It’s just dealing with human beings as individuals. You don’t need to march for that. You don’t have to do anything special. All you have to do is respect other people as individuals, and live your life.

Featured photo licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC. Photo Credit: John Minchillo, via the Climate Change Network International Flickr page.

3 Big Thoughts on Libertarianism

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stereotypical libertarian and conservative (and libertarian conservative, and conservative libertarian) approach to various topics in modern American politics. It’s pretty weird, and this will be somewhat longish, but I have to get it out of my head. [WARNING: Words ahead. Lots and lots and lots of words.]

First off, there is a huge focus on taxes, mostly accentuated by the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, their leader, Grover Norquist, and his little “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” (whereby signatories refuse to vote for any tax increases. Ever. Or something.) The end result is we pontificate endlessly about marginal tax rates and the Laffer Curve, and how we should cut taxes to boost the economy and employment, and yadda yadda yadda.

The problem with this approach, though, is that it’s misplacing the blame. The real problem with the government is not taxation. While I agree that taxation is an issue, and there can and should be significant tax reform (flat tax, anybody?), government spending and command and control regulation are way more important and far more serious. Government spending creates huge distortions in the market by moving money around in the private sector that wouldn’t have been if we left decisions up to private citizens, thus negating their power of choice in the market as producers scramble to lap up the government money that is spread around. Meanwhile, government regulation prohibits Americans from doing sensible things every day, not just by changing incentives as taxation does, but by literally saying “No, you can’t do that.”

What is really stopping American business from hiring more workers and reigniting the nation’s economic engine? It is corporate income taxes, or is it a bewildering and byzantine system of government regulations at the federal, state, and local level, that make it a nightmare to hire anyone or even to do business itself? You can get around taxation through creative accounting, and indeed, many major companies have done it so effectively they never paid corporate income taxes for years. So clearly, taxation is not the biggest problem. Government spending and regulation, which breeds cronyism, lobbying, and corruption (talk about being redundant), and prevents people from pulling themselves up on the social ladder (what eggheads call “income mobility”), is–or, at least, is bigger.

There are three more considerations to think of when it comes to taxation. The first is the debt and deficit, which are massive problems today. Would cutting taxes do anything to fix them? Au contraire–they would only exacerbate the problem! Cutting revenue would only make the debt grow larger, because you can guarantee there would be no corresponding cut in spending. So that’s a big no-no. Second, by and large the American populace accepts taxes as the cost of living in America. Sure, they want that cost to be lower, but they’ve accepted it as just the way things are. It’s like grocery shopping; you’re going to shop around the lowest price, or maybe even try to haggle for a lower one, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to buy your food. At the end of the day, Americans are going to pay their taxes because they like America, with all of its flaws and blemishes, and they want it. Running a messaging campaign that myopically focuses on taxes may gin up some support on the passionate right, but it doesn’t quite reach out to middle America and makes you look like a fool in debate with leftists, who can rightly point out that the tax rate was much higher back in the day, but millionaires and billionaires still stayed in America and made things.

The third issue is much more severe. There are many other issues out there which are far more serious and injurious to your liberty than taxes. I happen to think that being thrown in jail for unlocking your smartphone, shot and imprisoned for smoking a joint, spied on by domestic intelligence agencies through drones and wiretapping, living under the cloud of indefinite detention by the military, or potentially even being assassinated by your government, are much bigger problems than having to pay a 25% marginal tax rate. In comparison, the tax problem seems fairly mundane and just simply pales compared to the decimations of civil liberties going on today.

These thoughts started percolating in my head after reading this comment to a really long Popehat post on right-libertarianism vs left-libertarianism. As I kept thinking about it, it made more and more sense. I’m not the only one, though. Reading this page at Libertarianism.com, I’m struck by how many libertarians say “Ignore taxes; spending is the real problem.” Jeffrey Miron, who I admire for a multitude of reasons, says “Slash expenditures; then lower taxes will follow.” Congressman Ron Paul, who has his issues, notes that the real discussion is the proper role of government, not taxation; on that I completely agree. And finally, Lawrence Reed of FEE states that the “real problem is spending. We tax because we spend and if government spends too much, no resulting tax system could be called remotely ‘fair.'” Right on, Mr. Reed, right on.

In summary, we libertarians (and conservatives) focus far too intensively on taxation. We’re missing the forests for the trees, in some sense. That’s not good.

This indirectly also leads into my second topic I’ve been thinking about, which is a basic income and libertarian justifications for it. Basically, a basic income (see what I did there?) is a minimum income, or floor, provided by the state to keep people from becoming too poor. Naturally, libertarians are against this, because it consists of the state taking money from some people to give to others. Normally, I would agree…except for a few things.

One, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, two of the greatest libertarians of the 20th century, were both in favor of a universal basic income. (Hayek especially. Milton Friedman a bit less so.) So is Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, though he supports it only as a “second-best” system to no welfare at all, and a far superior model to the bloated mess we have today. Matt Zwolinski, of BHL fame, also makes a strong argument for a small basic income. That’s fair, and definitely one reason why I’m becoming attracted to it.

The second thing is that, while libertarians emphasis “negative liberty” and “negative rights,” if you can’t feed and clothe yourself, they don’t mean much. As one libertarian philosopher puts it:

Most, if not nearly all, libertarians emphasize negative liberties. These rights, for the most part, mean the ability to pursue an activity that does not cause harm to other parties. Thus, the right to vote, to earn a living, to read, to pursue an education, to speak freely, to enter a contract with another agent, and other similar rights are rights that may be pursued without the enslavement of others by means of force and or coercion.

One of the most common criticisms of negative liberties is ‘so what?’ Indeed, it is easy to see the dismal of the negative right to free speech when one is hungry, poor and unemployed. Negative rights for agents in those derelict conditions mean not that much, if any bit at all.[9] For those in the said conditions the offer of positive rights, the right to be free from hunger, to an education, to a home, and to a job are understandable preferences. So of what relevance is the libertarian with his mantra of negative rights to the person in desperate need?[10]

Most right-libertarians take the standard of self-ownership, which most declare to be an axiom, as the sole foundational pillar of libertarian thought and political philosophy. As long as you own yourself and your property, that’s all that matters. But as Matt Zwolinski has been pointing out lately at Libertarianism.org (different site than the one cited above), that’s really far too simplistic and isn’t really adequate.

Also, I recently read John Tomasi’s book Free Market Fairness, examining a “middle way” between libertarians and classical liberals on one side, and Rawlsian “high liberals” on the other. Tomasi notes that a better basis for a libertarian polity, with free markets and a “thick” conception of economic liberties, is not the self-ownership principle. Rather, it is the ability of each citizen to be a “responsible self-author,” able to write his own story and lead his own life. (I don’t have my copy with me, unfortunately, having lent it to a friend, so I can’t give you a page number, but it’s there.)

The way I see it is this: you’re on the street, homeless, starving, and begging for food. Nobody will give any to you, though, and you won’t steal from anyone because you have principles. You end up starving to death. Now, the self-ownership principle was followed, but were you really free? Of course most libertarians would argue that yes, you were, and that is is a horribly over-simplified scenario–which they’re right about, it is over-simplified–and that “positive rights” serve only to enslave others because for that to work you must force someone to provide you with food…but if we have a society where people are starving like this, is that justifiable? Can libertarians really accept such a thing? And if your number one need is survival, if you’re living hand to mouth and living on a subsistence diet, are you really free?

I myself am torn on this, in terms of moral issues. I don’t know the answers to the above questions. I certainly don’t think, though, that targeted economic interventions and wealth redistribution as the left always promotes is the answer. We’ve seen what that has done over the past century, and it’s nothing good. Therefore, in terms of consequentialist issues, I’m totally onboard; it may be “second-best,” as Murray puts it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we have today. I’m also in favor of it from a purely PR perspective; Americans do indeed care about the poor, and a movement and/or political party that seems to just want to let the poor starve on the streets is going to be ignored at best, and vilified at worst. A basic income would remove that weakness.

As for how to actually implement…hell if I know. The standard basic income system is simply not feasible, ever. Even if we replaced all other government spending, giving $15,000 to every American, at a population of 300 million, would cost $4,500,000,000,000–that’s $4.5 trillion a year. I don’t think that’s something we can afford, even with a rapidly growing economy (which, as it turns out, we don’t have right now.) Probably the only way we can do this is through a form of the negative income tax. Originally proposed by Milton Friedman, I think Jeffrey Miron has come up with a slightly better version. That one might actually be doable.

At the very least, though, this is something that libertarians and conservatives should be taking seriously. As Mike Munger notes in the abstract of his article on basic income, “A distinction is made between libertarian destinations and libertarian directions.” Basic income may not be–and probably isn’t–a libertarian destination. But to me it seems it sure as hell is a libertarian direction.

Finally, one last thing, again from the left-libertarian playbook, are some thoughts about our environment and natural resources. I’m not what Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear would call an “eco-mentalist.” I don’t think increased government regulation over the environment is going to solve anything. I don’t think global warming or climate change is a serious problem (and even if it were a problem, I don’t think government would be the answer.) I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, and I don’t go into any of that crap. I like my big engines and my big burgers just like any other red-blooded American. But I am very sympathetic to an idea amongst left-libertarians that the world is common property.

The basic gist is that left-libertarians are totally free market libertarians, like everyone else, at least until we get to natural resources and the environment. This kind of left-libertarianism is known as “Steiner-Vallentyne libertarianism”–at least on Wikipedia–after it’s two major proponents, Hillel Steiner and Peter Vallentyne. This turns into a strong defense of self-ownership, but holding an egalitarian view on natural resources. I remember reading about this a long time ago when I first researched Henry George and the “Georgist” school (which also has led to geolibertarianism.)

To break it down, wilderness and natural resources are, in their “initial state,” unowned. They become owned when, as John Locke and Robert Nozick put it, someone “mixes their labor” with it. Henry George disagreed with this analysis, pointing out that we own something when we make it, but nobody “makes” or “creates” land; it is just there. How then could we own it? Although he was writing in the late 19th century, before automation and global industrialization, his viewpoint is very appealing to me. It makes a lot of sense.
I should also note that I’ve always considered myself to be a “green-libertarian.” While I’m definitely a libertarian first and foremost, I also care a lot about the environment. That’s why I don’t want to entrust it to the government. That’s probably why I’m feeling sympathetic to this view of “common ownership” of the Earth.

But while the view that we can’t own land–we can merely “rent” it from the rest of the community–because we don’t create it is appealing, it also has significant flaws. First, what’s to say that one must create something in order to own it? Why not mixing your labor with something that is unowned? If someone discards something in the trash and another person claims it, does anyone care? I don’t think so, and I think you would be hard-pressed to say that the latter person doesn’t “own” it because it took it and it had no owner.

But a more fatal argument is the tragedy of the commons argument: that without a clearly defined, individual (or a very small group) owner, the whole ecosystem will go to pot as people overexploit the area. You must have some incentive for people to take care of the land.

Of the three points presented here, this is the weakest and the faintest one. I’m just not sold on it like I’m sold on a pivot away from tax obsession and the idea of a basic income. It is merely an interest. We’re stuck in a rut right now between global warming eco-mentalists on one hand who think we should all go into “deep ecology” and hard-headed conservative types who can’t even dream that the environment may be having problems on the other. There has got to be another way to break out of this. I’m just not sure what at the moment.

I definitely think that we, as a liberty movement, can use some strategic adjustment. I think the vehement opposition to any sort of income redistribution is going to stop us in our tracks; sure, it works fine from a high philosophy standpoint, but nobody on the ground really cares, and anyways, you can make a case for libertarianism with a bit of that as the crowd over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians have shown. (Heck, even Adam Smith, godfather of capitalism, was not as market-dogmatic as modern libertarians.)

Well, those are my two cents, anyways.

Welcome to the Future, Part 1

27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012.

This is truly a great list here from the folks at BuzzFeed. The past year–indeed, the past decade–have seen some amazing technological leaps and discoveries. The science fiction world of even the 1980s, or even the mid 1990s, is within our grasp. And I suspect that by 2022, only ten years from now, ideas that we have floating around now in our heads will be within our grasp too.

The only thing I quibble with is 18. No doubt that’s cool. But are solar panels really reaching the point where they’re competitive with fossil fuels? No. Not by a long shot. I don’t care if that thing is half the price of traditional solar panels. You need more than just the input cost to make that kind of evaluation. What kind of energy levels do you get out of it? Is it anywhere near enough energy to supply the world? I don’t think so. Robert Bryce in the Wall Street Journal notes that demand for electricity increases so fast we would have to add one Brazil worth of power generators to the energy sector every year. You can’t do that with solar panels; they just don’t generate enough.

Also, 13, 19, and 26: they’re cool and all, but is that really the “future”? Hardly. They are discoveries out there, but the “future” is really predicated on technology. That stuff is just seeing things from very far away and in the past. Even though 19 is really cool.

Otherwise, though, a stupendous list. I look forward to the next article BuzzFeed writes in 2013.

You may ask why I put down “Part 1” in the title. That’s because I was originally planning on doing a “Welcome to the Future” post in January, after the apocalypse ended, because in 2013, that’s when the notion of the “future” in terms of science fiction really hits home. But I’ll save that for January.

Until then, welcome to the future. It’s already here. And it’s getting better all the time.

Political Religions Of The Left & Right

I swear to Jim Butcher that my next blog post on here will be about fiction I’m working on–honestly–but after the hullaballoo over Chris Hayes and the war dead, I could not help but think about how all of politics has basically devolved into religion, and how much it sickens me.

What the incident has shown me is that both sides of the American political sphere–the so-called “left” (AKA “liberals,” “progressives,” “pink socialist commies”) and the so-called “right” (AKA “conservatives,” “fundamentalist right-wing populists,” the “1%”)–are by this point nothing more than religions, with their own tenets, gods, and apostles (not to mention heretics and unforgivable sins.) They are, in a phrase, “political religions.” The guy who wrote the book on them (though I haven’t read it, unfortunately), Emilio Gentile, defined them as a:

“more or less developed system of beliefs, myths, rituals and symbols” that creates an “aura of sacredness around an entity belonging to the world and turns it into a cult or object of worship or devotion.”

Both sides of the political sphere today put down the government as essentially their core deity. Although they have other gods they more directly worship, the government–the state–is their Absolute, their Ultimate, the Neoplatonic Ideal to which they aspire. It is, quite frankly, sacred, and their give their devotion to it.

I’ve identified at least two political religions on both sides of the aisle off the top of my head. For the progressives, there are the churches of global warming/environmentalism; Keynesianism; and simple wealth redistribution. For the right, there is, well, an actual religion–fundamentalist Christianity–plus the veneration of the military, which sadly has infected even some of my more libertarian friends.

  • Global Warming/Environmentalism: This one is fun. Even if you get past the people who say that Brooklyn will be underwater by 2050 (which might not be entirely bad*), you find a great number who have done the impossible: they have placed their faith in science, or more accurately, scientists. Of course, science is not based on faith, and to do so is to reject science, but they have done it anyway. This is observed whenever you start really asking questions about how global warming is going to kill us all, and they begin contorting themselves into absurd positions in order to defend it, when the rational mind would have said “This is stupid” long ago and jettisoned it. A great example is when the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report saying that the glaciers in the Alps were melting. They based this evidence on…an unpublished paper by a grad student, who in turn based this on…some anecdotal quotes from hikers who said, “Yeah, the glaciers look a bit smaller than the last time we were through here.” Science, people. This is science.
  • Keynesianism: This one is even more fun, in a way, but more aggravating. Keynesianism, in a nutshell, is the idea that the government must “prime the pump” of the economy by injecting loads of money into it. Of course, this totally ignores the fact that the only place the government can get the money in the first place is from the economy itself, so it’s just taking money out of the right pocket and putting it into the left pocket (and there’s never any consideration of what happens when stimulus must, invariably, end.) This religion’s foremost prophet is Paul Krugman, who has repeatedly demonstrated that not only he is a fool, but he’s also quite ignorant of human life itself. Of course, Keynesians like to hide behind mountains of models that “prove” their theory correct, but in the end, they never seem to translate well to the real world, and are thus very similar to such works like the Bible and the Quran.
  • Wealth Redistribution: Similar and linked to Keynesianism above, the Triumphant and Occupying Church of the 99% wants more money to be taken from those who are wealthy and redistributed to the poor. It literally hates success and wealth and constantly engages in class warfare. Never mind that income inequality has not changed at all over the past twenty years. They will promptly ignore that, and just call for more taxes on the rich–even though they’re the guys who ultimately get everyone else in this country jobs. They will literally put their fingers in their ears and
  • Fundamentalist Christianity: The only political religion on this list which is based around an actual religion, the fundamentalist Christianity that conservatives mostly follow is not, I would argue, actually devoted to serving Christ and their fellow man. It is, instead, a play for power in the halls of government, a way to keep one set of cultural values superior to all others, by using the force of government to impose said values. When you ask people who want to force their anti-gay beliefs and pro-life stances upon others why don’t they follow the “Render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s” maxim, you get the same sort of contortions (or just outright “that doesn’t matter”) you get from environmentalists. You can’t criticize it; you’re just a heathen.
  • Military: This one came out in force over the weekend with the Chris Hayes’ controversy. It largely comes down to “You shall not criticize the military” and “You shall DEFINITELY not say ANYTHING on Memorial Day. Just. Shut. Up.” I’ve already gone over this in the past two posts, so I won’t spend all that much time on this particular entry, but only that it is extremely prevalent and is becoming more and more dangerous.

The reason all of these stances go beyond ideology and have become political religions is that ideologies can change, adapt, and evolve, and that people can do so via the power of reason. Religion, on the other hand, is against reason. It is entirely based on faith, which is “X is true and I believe it with all my heart and soul and if it turns out to be false I’ll end up like these guys.” The radical environmentalism and global warming believers don’t use reason to evaluate their statements, and the Keynesians have long ago discarded reason in order to stay in bed with their government overlords (a weakness that was well explained in Public Choice Theory.) Arguably, there was never any reason applied to either the Wealth Redistributionists or the fundamentalist Christians, and the lack of critical thinking towards the military has not yet overpowered reason entirely–as evidenced by the pushback, even from military veterans themselves, on the issue–but it is growing and has been accelerating in particular over the past decade.

Without reason, we can not advance, we can not develop. It was a lack of reason and slavish devotion to the Church and feudal lords that kept Western civilization mired in the Medieval period for so long (which, while good fodder for D&D campaigns, is not so good for real life.) The lack of reason that led to the Soviets and Communism in general led to hundreds of millions of deaths. And the lack of reason that is permeating the entire “discussion” over how to deal with the financial crisis, the recession, and the looming disintegration of the Eurozone is only promising more danger, more failures, and a harder fall in the future. On the other hand, using that giant brain of ours gave us fire, the wheel, electricity, democracy, free markets, the computer, the iPhone, space shuttles, abundant food supplies, and Pokemon. (Okay, bad example.)

This is why I’m both a libertarian and an atheist (and why I’m really, really irritated that so many atheists have basically swapped out Jesus with the state; they’re not “really” atheists, they just call their god Capitol Hill). It’s also why, for the first time in many years, I’m actually getting very worried about the direction of this country. Ultimately, while many terrible things have happened over the past decade or so, it always looked to me that eventually, libertarianism and the free market would win out. People see how things are failing miserably, give it a shot, and would revel in the new found freedom and prosperity. Our logic, in the end, would be inescapable and irrefutable, although it would take a long time to get there. But that only works if people are open to reason, and if they’re not–if they’re just following political religions, which they cannot disagree with or else they will be excommunicated, their lives destroyed–then we don’t really have much of a chance. You can’t reason with them. You can hope to convert, but that’s a long shot.

For the first time in a long time, I’m a pessimist.

Another Example Of The Folly of Blind Belief

A Year After the Non-Apocalypse: Where Are They Now? | Culture | Religion Dispatches.

The above is a fantastic essay on what happening to all of Harold Camping’s followers, how they were deceived and how many suffered enormous financial, social, and emotional damage from the belief that the world would end in May on 2011…and then didn’t.

I think this is a lesson for any large belief structures. This includes Communism, American conservatism, the Most Holy and Triumphant Church of Environmentalism, and any belief in big government. Rest assured, with the way things are going, their worlds are going to come tumbling down…and when they do, they’re going to be in just as bad a shape as Harold Camping’s misled followers.

And people wonder why I’m an ignostic.

Climategate 2, Electric Boogaloo?

Probably not, but it’s back in the news again:

A new batch of emails and other documents from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climatic Research Unit has been released on the internet.

There are more than 5,000 emails, while other documents include working papers relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A similar release in 2009 triggered the “ClimateGate” affair and accusations of fraud that inquiries later dismissed.

Now, as then, the release comes shortly before the annual UN climate summit.

The university says it has “no evidence of a recent breach in our systems”, and says that the sheer number of documents – posted on a Russian server – makes it impossible to confirm that all are genuine.

“These emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks,” it said in a statement.

Well, that’s more than likely true. There’s all sorts of shenanigans that go on nowadays that aren’t being done by governments or large corporations. One thing the Internet and modern technology has done has empowered ordinary citizens, on the both the left and the right.

What I find very interesting, though, are some of these messages that indicate that “consensus” on climate change may not be so ironclad after all (via Tallbloke)

<1939> Thorne/MetO:

Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical
troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a
wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the
uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these
further if necessary […]
<3066> Thorne:

I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it
which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.
<1611> Carter:

It seems that a few people have a very strong say, and no matter how much
talking goes on beforehand, the big decisions are made at the eleventh hour by
a select core group.
<2884> Wigley:

Mike, The Figure you sent is very deceptive […] there have been a number of
dishonest presentations of model results by individual authors and by IPCC […]

I focus on this bit because I’m always hearing how “well all scientists agree on global warming” and how we totally have “consensus” on this issue (even though we actually don’t. Also, make sure to read about Ivar Giaever and Hal Lewis, two scientists who quit the American Physical Society over it’s support of climate change and labeling it “incontrovertible.” Now I realize they are not “climatologists,” but are physicists; but in that case, why would the organization of physicists in America take a stand on it, then? And isn’t physics the backbone of just about every scientific field, since it actually studies how the universe itself works? And maybe they’re just objecting to the process behind these claims? We can’t dismiss them out of hand.) Yet, it seems the consensus is somewhat fictive–nevermind the fact that it would be an example of the bandwagon fallacy to argue this way.

Don’t get me wrong; I definitely think there is global warming or climate change of some sort going on. Our planet is not a static snapshot, it changes frequently. What I disagree with is how bad everyone thinks its going to get, and I’m just not convinced it is necessarily anthropogenic (though I’m willing to accept that it might be.) When people are screaming that the polar bears will be dead by 2020, the coral reefs will all be gone by 2050, and we’ll be extinct in 2090, well, you have to take it with a grain of salt. 95% of the time, such hyped up claims of disaster turn out to be two things:

  1. Ridiculously exaggerated
  2. Plays for more power

This brings me to public choice theory, a form of economics that tries to answer questions posed by political science, namely, “Why on earth do these legislators act like such numbskulls?” (My first answer would be “Because they’re reptiles from Omicron Theta,” but that doesn’t really have the intellectual du jour for discussion.) Basically, the answer comes down to “to maximize their own self-interest.” Politicians do dumb things because they know it will be popular with voters and lead to them getting re-elected (mostly because voters are not educated on the issues.) It’s similar with scientists, unfortunately: most of them depend on government money in order to fund their projects, and will likely lean towards publishing reports that give a greater role to government agencies and a problem for them to solve, which will lead to more research funding for solutions to said problem.

When Climategate 1.0 emerged, I asked people: Why did these scientists massage the data? Why did they apply these algorithms and equations to the data in order to change it? I just wanted a straight answer, because I figured there would be some reason. However, all I received were very vague statements, handwaving, and “go read this site, it explains it”–which it didn’t. It convinced me that there was no scientific basis to it at all–it was political, in order to better obtain more and more funding from taxpayers.

Dwight Eisenhower knew exactly what I was talking about over 50 years ago. Next to his military-industrial complex was a government-science complex that he felt was just as dangerous (bolded emphasis mine):

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

This is what I’m seeing with some of those messages up there. “Political spin.” “Deceptive.” Some of these scientists are worried, and there’s now further evidence that what is going on isn’t actually “science,” but is actually “pseudoscientific, politically-driven propaganda.”

Of course, one will likely say “But you’re not a scientist, how can you critique them?” Well, I can certainly do so when we have stories such as the EU scientists claiming that water doesn’t cure dehydration (and then criminalizing such claims with two years in jail.) When you have such absurdities, the credibility of science just goes out the window. When the public has concerns about your science, you do nothing to dissuade them, and then resort to handwaving, then your credibility goes out the window.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for ordinary citizens to question scientists, particularly since science is all about questioning. We should do a lot more of it, both of our scientists and politicians (and businesses as well.) Hopefully, digging through these emails and documents will shed more light on the situation, and let us make a more reasoned determination as to what to actually do about it.

Science’s real problem

I was reading this interesting article in the Independent about scientists, and namely, their lamentation that they are under “villification” by “polemicists” in the media. And that’s a fair question; science has been misrepresented and misconstrued for years. Journalists like big, definite things to sell to their readers, even when science doesn’t really have such a big thing, or it has misgivings or qualifications as to what it’s trying to present.

But the problem that the new president of the Royal Society brings up isn’t so much the media’s fault. Rather, I feel it lies at the fault of the scientists. We are both, of course, talking about “climate change” (or “anthropogenic global warming,” or what-have-you.) This is certainly a field full of controversy. But what exactly is Sir Paul talking about when he says that scientists are “under attack” and that he is shocked at the “vilification and distrust levelled at some scientists?” I don’t really see that going on. Sure, you have some blowhards on talk radio and late night cable saying some dumb things. Ignore them, they say dumb things about everybody. But in general, has there been vilification and distrust?

I argue against the former but tentatively for the latter. No, people are not “vilifying” scientists, and we are not going on a crusade against them. But there are a great number who are skeptical of what these scientists are saying, and are even more skeptical at their so-called “remedies” to our so-called “problems.” And is not skepticism the entire crux of which science depends upon? Is not science saying, “What is that, how does it work, why does it happen that way, and I’m not sure I buy that explanation“?

For this case, I point to the scandal at East Anglia. The article states that “four independent inquiries have cleared the scientists involved of scientific fraud or misconduct” but pray tell, what was the point of altering the data in such a fashion? No one has explained this to me. Not one. And I’m just supposed to buy that “this is how we do science?” Balderdash.

There are also serious questions raised over how they gained the data, namely over their temperature stations, many of which started out in rural areas but were then absorbed and surrounded by pent-up conurbations, particularly in China, thus distorting the data for later years. There’s the question of the IPCC’s inclusion of an unfinished grad student’s paper in their report, and their information on receding glaciers taken from casual remarks made by hikers.

There is undoubtedly a great deal of questioning about how much federal funding goes into projects to study “global warming” and into the supposed remedies for it. Let’s open up that can of worms; I’d be very interested in that sort of information, though I doubt Sir Paul and his ilk would be. They always croon about “global warming denialists” receiving money from the big bad oil companies, but has anyone done a serious inquiry into how much money government pours into the coffers of climate change scientists? And has anyone connected the dots and thought, if the scientists concluded that global warming was not happening, what would happen to said government funds?

And finally, there’s a very big question of: have their looked up recently? I can excuse the scientists at East Anglia for missing this–they do live in England, after all–but there is a very large body of burning gas up there that emits a huge amount of light and heat, and is one, if not the one, major factor in our climate. Maybe if they talked more about the Sun rather than us piddling human beings who cannot hope to blow this planet asunder–well, not yet, anyways–they’d get less dubious looks.

No, the real problem facing scientists is that they act shocked–shocked, I tell you–that the public has the temerity to doubt their assertions. Other intellectuals, fine, they’re used to that. But the public? The public is supposed to take their statements unquestioningly! After all, they’re scientists! This is their job! They cannot accept the public doubting their conclusions. They (probably) feel its going back to pre-Enlightenment times. That is the problem facing scientists today. And thus, the problem is not with science at all.

For the record, I do believe in climate change and global warming, however, I do not believe it affects us nearly as much as these scientists do. No, I believe that it will not be a serious threat to our existence for at least three or four centuries, most likely longer. New York City will not be flooded by 2050 (maybe if there was a god, it would be), the polar bears will still have glaciers, and demagogues will have other issues to complain about.

I welcome scientists who wish to enter the debate, and “take on” those “polemicists” in the “media” who distort what they say. But let’s all be honest about this. Otherwise, they’re being as polemical as all those other guys.