Saturday, January 26, 2008

Intellectual blasphemy, climate catastrophism and counterknowledge

Todays post highlights two excellent commentaries from the Spiked review of books.

In the first, Alexander Cockburn talks about the response to his perceived intellectual blasphemy when he question the climate change consensus and unleashed a tsunami of moral outrage. Cockburn finds the evidence for natural and dynamic climate change to be compelling and he is bemused as to the strength of the AGW ecomyth and its political support by groups normally more diverse in their perspective. He refers to AGW as the most prominent example of environmental catastrophism and suggests that both it, and the hope that it will lead to political change and justice, as fantasies. Indeed the effects are likely the direct opposite of what many would hope:
  • More generally, climate catastrophism is leading to a re-emphasis of the powers of the advanced industrial world, through its various trade mechanisms, to penalise Third World countries.
  • What is sinister about environmental catastrophism is that it diverts attention from hundreds and hundreds of serious environmental concerns that can be dealt with...
  • One way in which critics are silenced is through the accusation that they are ignoring 'peer-reviewed science'...Peer review is frequently a way of controlling debate, even curtailing it. Many people who fall back on peer-reviewed science seem afraid to have out the intellectual argument.
In an upcoming book, Cockburn examines the link between fearmongering and climate catastrophism.

In the second post, Damian Thompson discusses the implications for intellectual discourse that posed by ecomyths such as climate catastrophism: a fatal mixture of counterknowledge, wherein fiction replaces fact, mixed with a heavy dose of political correctness. Thompson sees counterknowledge as creating an epidemic of gullibility, with the internet as the principal media for infection and the real villains being the perpetrators of the myths:
  • ...the governments, universities, medical professionals, major publishing houses and newspapers that circulate patently false empirical claims....
  • The crucial conflicts of the future may not be between ideologies, but between fact and fantasy.
And as added confirmation of both posts, Rob Lyons has this comment on the continued efforts by the UK government to tackle the non-existent obesity epidemic.
  • In truth, however, there is no 'obesity epidemic'. What really lies behind the government's obsession with our waistlines is not a burning necessity to slim down an apparently waddling nation, but rather a deeply unhealthy urge on the part of officialdom to monitor our lifestyles and attitudes.
So how do we break out of this pattern of fearmongering, counterknowledge and intellectual intimidation? Ultimately, the solution is political. We get the government we elect (or in the case of those countries without democracy, allow to persist: yes I know overcoming oppression is not a simple process, but it is a process that has to be engaged for freedom to exist).

Political reform. Two thoughts. Firstly, what prospects are there for meaningful change within the race for the US presidency now that Fred Thompson has withdrawn? Not saying Fred Thompson is the second coming of Cicero, but his campaign did represent an alternative approach and one based on principle.

Second, this past Monday was Martin Luther King day in the United States. Is there any one political leader anywhere in the world at present with the principles and stature of a King, a Mandela, a Ghandi or Churchill?

There is a dearth of real leadership in all facets of human endeavour.
  • Leaders can accomplish little without understanding and engaging the qualities of the heart. Daniel Goleman
  • Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Martin Luther King Jr.