Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jumping the Track Revisited

Update: I think this text still holds up and can be applied to issues that we face in the 2016 election. My conclusions point to thinking errors that Bernie Sanders has inherited from a sorta pseudo liberal ideology that he calls Socialism, but is not in fact derived from classical Socialism. Indeed, Bernie's ideology owes much to the Distributionist ideology that in turn is based on Roman Catholic dogma. Distributionism was popular among American hippies during the 1970's and served as a basis of Amory Lovins' energy thinking and through Amory Lovins, it influences the work of Mark C. Jacobson. Thus, Sanders ideology might be described as "Hippie Socialism" and "Hippie Environmentalism".

I favor a two party or multiparty political system. The flaws of human beings are such that no single party is going to long persevere in power without flaws emerging.  The greater the power, the more troubling the flaws. As Lord Acton reminds us:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
The only protection we have against the corruption that power brings is a competitive political system, but an adversarial system brings with it the possibility of using hate as a motivating force in politics. It is easier to demonize an opponent by denigrating him to the electorate rather than to defeat his argument through the use of reasoned arguments. Thus laziness is a major source of fallacious reasoning in politics. Ideology is a system of reasoning that relies on a closed system of related or semi-related propositions to yield answers to all political questions. Again the expediency of ideology is the effort it saves in thinking though issues. In addition, a shared ideology allows for consistency and cooperation among people who share the ideology. Thus ideologies may be very useful to political parties. However, once an ideology is applied to a problem, the ideologue typically stops thinking. If the ideologically correct solution fails to correct the problem, the ideologue who focuses on ideology rather than fact, may fail to notice that the problem is not solved by the ideologically correct solution. Even worse, the ideology may make assumptions that are just plain wrong and lead systematically to political errors.

I take these problems to be both universal and human. The only way a political system can counteract these human tendencies to laziness, viciousness, and thoughtlessness is through a competitive system of leadership. I want to point to two political issues which illustrate the corruptibility of the politically minded and the inability of party and ideology to protect against that corruption. The issues are Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and the use of civilian nuclear generated electrical power. In the former case the ideological sin is committed on the ideological right and is associated with the Republican Party. In the latter, the sin is committed by the political left and is associated with the Democratic party.

There is little doubt that Global Warming skepticism is a conservative/Republican political cause. Global Warming skeptics have control of numerous media organs associated with the Republican Party and global warming skeptics are common among Republicans. A Pew Research Center Survey found that Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats or Independents to be convinced that Global Warming is not caused by human action. The disparity is even more striking among college graduates. 75% of Democrats and 57% of independents with college degrees say that the earth is warming and that this is caused by human activity. In contrast, only 19% of Republican college graduates agree that AGW is a real problem. Both Democrats and Independents who lack a college education are less likely to be convinced by AGW than their college educated peers, while the opposite is the case among Republicans who are not college graduates.

Most of these college educated Republicans believe that there is a real scientific debate on the causes of Global Warming. Yet numerous scientific bodies have adopted statements endorsing the AGW construct. These include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Medical Association, and the American Statistical Association. In contrast, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma has prepared a list of 650 scientists who are alleged to be AGW skeptics. But Inhofe's list is conspicuously unimpressive. Some named on the list are not known to hold advanced degrees in science and have no peer reviewed publications. The list also appears to be padded with the names of TV weather forecasters who are at best Meteorologists rather than climate scientists. Inhofe also has included a number of right wind economists on his list, even though their professional training would not qualify them to make judgements about climate science.

Republican Global Warming Skeptics take their cues from supposed experts like Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit. McIntyre's critics charge that his favorite tactic is to mis-represent his target and then, having set up a straw man, proceeds to demolish it. It is not my intention to debate the quality of Mcintyre's work, but to point out that it has been the subject of controversy and that, outside of Republican circles, Mcintyre is not regarded as a serious voice in mainstream science.

Republican AGW skeptics seem to explain the lack of credibility of their AGW skeptical position by there being a vast conspiracy through which "liberals" control the views of mainstream science, and that the idea of AGW is part of the "liberal" conspiracy. I regard this as most unfortunate because I disagree with mainstream Liberal thinking about Global Warming Mitigation. My view, which I would characterize as radical, is that the main line "liberal" thinking about AGW is highly distorted by the same sort of ideological cant that has taken hold of Republican discourse on climate.

Democratic discourse on AGW mitigation is full of talk about "efficiency", "sacrifice", "renewable energy", and "clean energy". Readers of my blog might appreciate that I have attempted to analyze mainstream Democratic notions on AGW mitigation and to demonstrate that they are overly expensive, as well as unlikely to be effective. In addition, Democrats appear to assume far to much reliance on government regulation and subsidies and far too little on normal economic mechanisms. Let me hasten to note that as a Liberal Democrat, I by no means reject regulation out of hand, nor am I an uncritical admirer of free markets. I just happen to think that overly intrusive regulations are less likely to work as mitigation approaches than lower cost market based mitigation approaches that are also likely to win broad public acceptance.

Since Republicans are more amenable to the mitigation strategy that I favor, I would like to see them at the table when mitigation is discussed. Instead, like a group of defeated Japanese Samurai, Republicans seem to be lining up to commit political Harakiri via Global Warming denial. Indeed, the Republican Party would quickly be demolished due to Republican stupidity were it not for the fact that Democrats are equally stupid about mitigation issues.

So what is going on? Why do Republicans jump the tracks on Global warming and Democrats jump the tracks on mitigation? Are they simply crazy? Blogger Erich Vieth puts his finger on the problem, although being a Democrat, Vieth fails to apply the lesson to his own party.
Dogma wears two hats. . . . dogma facilitates bonding.

The assertion of group-approved-nonsense looks and sounds ridiculous to outsiders, but uttering it loudly in the presence of one’s group proves one’s loyalty to those insiders. The more nonsensical the dogma is, the tighter the bond it is capable of generating among those willing to utter it. . . .

Uttering officially-approved nonsense in front of one’s group identifies one as a bona fide member of that group. Uttering absurd things is a display that one desires to be a member of that group so incredibly much that one is willing to utter the sorts of things that will trigger social ridicule from learned outsiders. . . .

Therefore, uttering nonsensical dogma is not primarily about conveying the truth of the matter asserted. Rather, it’s about sending out a sonar signal in order to identify allies and enemies. It is a herding mechanism.This deep need to be accepted by a group is so deeply wired into humans that, in most people, it even overcomes the urge to follow evidence where it leads. Unfortunately, the literal meaning of the dogma doesn’t entirely dissipate. Therefore, we have lots of Republicans who still refuse to act on the threat of global warming. . . .

Raising one’s hand to swear allegiance to scientific nonsense is usually done in full view, but such it actually functions like a secret handshake.

If you want to feel the glow of acceptance by a big group of Republicans, all you’ve got to do is say the magic phrase: “Global Warming has not been proven.” Say it just often enough to piss off Democrats. Don’t say it too often or too loudly, or even the Republicans will think that you’re weird. With those magic words denying global warming, you’ll get smiles and pats on the back from total strangers who will buy you drinks and regale you with stories about how they outwitted stupid Democrats; they’ll laugh at your jokes and they’ll tell you that you’re smart. . . .

Here’s an experiment that demonstrates what I’m claiming. Take a Republican off to the side and talk to him one-on-one. Be cordial and non-threatening. He’ll eventually settle down and you’ll find him somewhat reasonable on many topics. Then allow him to wander back to his group of fellow Republicans and listen to the dogma start to fly again–the same guy who (minutes ago) was starting to make sense (when it was just the two of you) is now spouting nonsense like he’s absolutely sure of himself. . . .
When Democrats start talking about energy efficiency, clean energy, renewables, and dangerous nuclear power, they are being no more rational than Republicans are when they claim that "AGW is hype".

Edward Sapir noted 80 years ago that "the real" is to a large extent a socially constructed linguistic picture:
Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language, and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.
One of my most telling formative experiences occurred on the first day of the school year in a high school Biology class. Several of the students in the class were to go on to win National Merit Scholarships, which makes what happened that day so remarkable. The teacher began the class by talking about the study of living things, which is the subject. He mentioned several living organisms. Then he began to point to a potted plant that sat on his desk. He asked a member of the class if the plant was a living organism. The answer was "yes." Several other students were asked the same question and each answered "yes". Then, the teacher pointed to a student in the back of the classroom and asked if the glass in the classroom window was a living organism. The student answered "yes". Then the teacher asked the student who was sitting next to the first student, if the window glass was a living organism. The answer again came back "yes". The teacher then very calmly began to work his way through the classroom, asking each student in turn if the window was a living organism. The answer was always, "yes". Eventually the teacher reached the front row, where I had taken a seat next to Vanda, a girl with a truly astonishing anatomy. The teacher finally asked me, "Mr. Barton, is the window glass a living organism?" I withdrew from my teenage revery on Vanda's most astonishing features long enough to say "No".   I probably lost my chance with Vanda at that moment, but the teacher thanked me for the right answer.  I did not make an "A" in Biology, but several of the students who had said the window was a living organism on the first day did. Once they figured out how to give the answers the teacher was looking for in class, they did fine.

Giving the true answer, instead of the answer my peers had adopted, marked me as a socially maladjusted teenager. I probably still am.  Social groups can be corrupting because they have the power to make us deny truth.

Update: I want to add a note about what I think happened to Bernie Sanders. Bernie was one of those students who hung out at the back of the Biology classroom and when he heard all of his pseudo liberal peers denouncing Vermont Yankee, Bernie came up with the same answers to the teacher's questions. When, Bernie heard Meredith Angwin deny that Vermont Yankee was bad, he scoffed. When the teacher agreed with Meredith, Bernie thought the teacher was wrong. Bernie's ideological peers agreed with him and that is all Bernie needed to keep him from thinking.


Engineer-Poet said...

"So what is going on? Why do Republicans jump the tracks on Global warming and Democrats jump the tracks on mitigation?"

Because the false dichotomy serves the money interests which finance both so-called parties.  You can see the total hatred directed at anyone not serving this uni-party:  Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, the Tea Party, etc.  The Dems pretty much vote in lockstep with the agenda.

Charles Barton said...

Does Bernie serve the agenda when he vows to shut down nuclear power, offer free higher education and single payer health care, paid for no doubt by new taxes on the wealthy, and Wall Street. He does not have the votes in Congress and might as well promise free picknics on the Moon.

Engineer-Poet said...

"Does Bernie serve the agenda when he vows to shut down nuclear power"

Yes.  Every anti-nuclear sentiment serves the fossil-fuel interests.

Anonymous said...

I think you are both pretty spot on with your statements. Engineer-Poet is describing how a certain sector of corporate power has used money and the democratic party in order to capture and control the traditional green movement. While Charles is likely spot on with his analysis of why Bernie has taken the stance that he has on nuclear.

I seriously doubt that Bernie has ever given much consideration to the nuance of the energy issue. As a politician, he has to be vaguely knowledgeable on such a wide range of issues that he couldn't possibly be well informed on all of them. Given that his focus in the past has been on gender politics, race politics, and economic inequality, I don't think it is a far stretch to say that he relied on the opinion of someone he trusted to guide his statements on energy issues. He happened to pick the wrong person to trust, and he has been within that sphere of influence for so long that those opinions have been internalized as truth.

We are all guilty of that in some field or another. None of us have the time anymore to be well informed in everything, and we must ultimately pick and choose which areas of discourse that we will defer judgement to someone else that we admire.


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