More on weak minds and the rise of environmentalism
By Ben Pile
This is an edited version of the comment Ben left on Geoff’s Weak Minds Think Alike post.
The rise of tertiary education Geoff raises as a possible factor in the rise of environmentalism is an interesting phenomenon. As one who did a degree relatively recently as a mature student, I was able to compare notes about experience of University with friends my age, my classmates, and friends who were as much older than me again. But perhaps a more significant development might be the transformation of the university itself, not just the number of graduates it churned out.
The expansion of higher education has come with a transformation of the University. As Jaime notes in the comments under Geoff’s post, the 1992 transformation of polytechnics into universities all but turned plumbers into ‘graduates’. Similarly, I noticed that older academics tended to have fewer advanced degrees. World authorities on Kant’s metaphysics in their seventies might be plain old Mister, not Professor, nor even Dr, whereas 30 year old lead authors of IPCC chapters on ‘sustainability’ had titles and tenure. It seems uncontroversial to say that the rise of tertiary education has not raised the level of education as much lowered the standard, and has not elevated ambitions or expectations as much as coincided with their catastrophic diminishing.
Dumbing down can’t just be the unfortunate consequence of squeezing 50% of the population into degree courses. It struck me also, that even the requirement of having advanced, albeit deflated degrees had not prevented some actually quite thick (in the head) individuals from arriving, so to speak, at the new campus. Thick, but nonetheless competent at compiling what was necessary to support prosaic insight. In particular, mediocre ideas were seemingly given weight by imploring social imperatives.
The most obvious transformations here, then, are the University’s descent to three year relief from the dole queue for middle class youngsters (i.e. Major’s legacy, ‘post-92’), and the expectation that research has to demonstrate its utility to wider society (Thatcher’s ‘relevance’ legacy). To cut some long stories short, we should also add Brown/Blair’s legacies: ‘Government of all the Talents’ (GOAT), and the development of relationships between business, government, the ‘third sector’ and academy. The elevation of academics to experts and technocrats came after a call from government.
A third transformation — the politicisation of the University — might shed more light on what’s going on than merely the artefacts caused by increased numbers of graduates in society. One cannot get a job as a “conservative” researcher at a school, established on a dead philanthropist’s legacy, which promotes research into ‘social inclusion’, or ‘equality’. In the same way, one cannot get a job as a climate sceptic in The School of Sustainability at New or Old University. Yet it is academics from these institutions who are called on to comment as ‘experts’, and who dominate, excluding a wider public from participating in arguably *political* debates, and rendering politicians merely ‘policymakers’, whose job it is to take advice from whichever researcher has produce the most alarming report. The politicisation of the academy implies a de-politicisation of wider society and public life, and recasting of the academic as a (willing) technocrat.
Weak ideas, it seems to me, have emerged from the academy, because of pressure from without, and from above, not merely because of the swelling of the numbers entering it. In other words, although tertiary education has expanded, environmentalism has remained an elite preoccupation. It’s true that there has been no major popular resistance to political emphasis on climate change (as some of us bored old lapsed bloggers have lamented), yet there is conversely no overwhelming support for it from even the barely-educated alumni. And everywhere its leaders are dullard toffs, from Jonathan Porrit, to the likes of Tamsin Omond. Green still smacks of daft and posh, not first-generation humanities graduates of red brick campuses, or former Polytechnics.
I don’t think environmentalism is a powerful idea, then. And I don’t think the era of university has made it the wellspring of ideas. Rather, the era is characterised by a dearth of ideas. “[Weak ideas] ability to spread without taking root”, speaks to the sterile ground they have colonised — the barest topsoil in the West gives ground to green ideas, whereas other parts of the world are prospering, largely by burning coal, and embracing unsustainability.
I offer three, extremely abbreviated, points that I think give us a clue about the nature of the political change that has in turn driven the change in the Western university, and its role in climate alarmism.
First is the emergence of the Neomalthusians in the 60s and 70s. Second is more complete development of the ‘sustainable development’ agenda by the UN in the 1980s after Brundtland, after which climate was emphasised by Thatcher. Third is the emergence of the green/left in the 1980s and 1990s.
Briefly: the Neomalthusians were Conservatives (and billionaires) whose time came only as the world plunged from postwar boom into oil shocks and deep recession. Brundtland, some time later, sought to establish ‘sustainable development’ for the sake of ‘future generations’ as the basis of supranational politics, largely because those institutions couldn’t speak to the present generation about development at all. Equally, Thatcher, having realised her domestic political project, found herself alienated. And the ‘left’, too, found itself incapable of engaging with the masses it had once claimed to speak for. In other words, behind every move towards environmentalism is an existential crisis that requires reinvention.
One way of explaining it, then, is to observe that any system of ideas, or any institution that needs a system of ideas of some kind to function with legitimacy, has a tendency to respond to its own crises of legitimacy and relevance by ‘naturalising’ its outlook. For an example of how far things have sunk, notice how war, poverty, criminality, and so on — categorically objects of study that are the domain of the social sciences — are now explained in terms of biology and increasingly as the consequence of climate change.
Hence it was ‘capitalists’ and their appointed agents, who, having unleashed creative potential, turned instead to the Natural Order of Things when the oil wells seemed to run dry, to account for their inability to make sense of and turn around economic chaos. Ditto, radical movements, unable to form enduring criticisms of capital, found authority in the same notion of natural limits, rather than by standing Against Nature, to overcome them; the “people” became merely unruly metabolic entities, not agents of their own future. It was the job of the green leftoid — with his degree, yes, but on orders from above — to merely feed, clothe and house them, not to put them in charge of the means of production (they would run amok in planes and cars, rather than take the bus and consume ‘responsibly’).
And the UN? It is telling that, for only a brief moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its narrative was optimistic. Without the geopolitics that had dominated the era in which it had been established, it was disoriented. But at the same time, whereas the foreshadowing of nuclear winter had driven its agenda, now ecological degradation presented an opportunity. The minute-before-midnight narrative returned to pages of UN reports, the mushroom-cloud-shaped hole in the hearts of UN hacks’ souls had been filled, and the institutions had been rescued from the threat of post Cold War optimism. Phew!
Green is the colour of political exhaustion and reinvention. Hence red, blue and even brown now put green first. What underlines this is the intellectual exhaustion of those who were nonetheless able to hold on to, and even build on the institutional wreckage that aimlessly bobbed about. Although stranded initially, they found each other, the melting ice caps serving as the new magnetic north for disoriented institutions, now that East and West no longer identified the coordinates of their ‘research’.
The problem, I have argued, with seeing environmentalism as an ‘ideology’ or doctrine of ideas is that it credits it — and its adherents — with far too much. Too much coherence, too much self-awareness, and too much of an understanding of the world. An overly ‘ideo-centric’ view of history presupposes that the engineers of ideas have a grasp on the world, whereas in fact people cling to ideas more often because they have such a weak grasp on things … Weak minds think alike. And don’t the angry and wild claims of environmentalists — and green academics in particular — look like tantrums at being unable to make sense of the world *at*all*, yet while carrying the burden of an undue sense of entitlement to say how it should be? Environmentalism is narcissistic, but not self-aware. It lives in its own fantasy, divorced from the world, not better connected to it. And its ideas are not coherent, but are invariably formed from the discombobulated and failed perspectives of eras past — everything “from Plato to NATO” has been repainted green. Bad ideas propagate when there are no better ideas.
Or, as Geoff put it, ‘Environmentalism, like Gravity, is a weak force which appears to govern the universe — until a stronger force opposes it.’ Clearly there is more going on than ‘ideas’. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that even when we convince people that we can save 2 billion lives at a stroke by demonstrating the overstatement of climate catastrophism, they nonetheless retreat back to the authority of the consensus.
This is why I have said to many sceptics, it really doesn’t matter how many hockey sticks we debunk. So, while I agree that the sociological (and historical, political) is essential — more fundamental than debunking the claims of palaeoclimatologists — I don’t agree that a certain and *broad* class and an ideology can be identified. Rather, we waste our time with Guadianistas, who are ultimately no more than a Reserve Army, whose vapid and disposable opinions are reinvented (or merely restated) as soon as they are debunked. The academy prospers so long as its policy-relevance flatters some number of policy-makers. The University might well now be an institution that fetters — shuts down, shuts up, and shuts out — ideas.
Green ideas, and the institutions that champion them, are not popular, even amongst the chatteratti… I went to have a look at a demo against fracking in 2012 — there were barely 300 people in central London, on a Saturday. A year or so later, Greenpeace brought only a couple of thousand people from across Britain to Westminster. And only a few multiples more buy the Guardian, which itself burns more than a £million a week — around £7.50 per hardcopy buyer — advancing its hackneyed positions.
Environmentalism is rear-guard action — the desperate moves of narrow and remote establishment players, trying to sustain their position with merely the dwindling resources and positions acquired a century ago. If the left, the right, academics, NGOs and even churches have gone green, it is because they are dead and have gone mouldy, or they are about to die, gangrene having set in. Anything resembling a popular green movement consists of alienated weirdos, not a mass of engaged individuals — people who refuse to vaccinate their kids, breastfeed them until they are 15 before weaning them onto lentils, and retreat from Brighton and London to undiscovered Wales on trust funds, to live ‘sustainable’ and ‘self-sufficient’ lifestyles.
We need more focus then, not on a broad class and its nebulous ideology, but on particular institutions and their populations. We need to ask what legitimises them, what crises they experience, and how their emphasis on existential, external threats — “global challenges”, as they call them — are at best self-justifications, not facts about the world. And we need to show how those institutions are able to close ranks against the rest of the population, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas.
Do you write this kind of stuff in the hope of being taken seriously, or because you know it won’t be taken seriously?
I’m also fascinated by your final paragraph. Firstly, in what way is their some kind of focus on existential, external threats? A great deal of what is done in Universities has nothing to do with anything that could be regarded as an existential, external threat. Assuming, however, that you’re referring to climate change, why are you so certain that it is at best a self-justification, rather than a fact about the world? Secondly, if we were to focus more on particular institutions and their populations, who would do the focusing, to what end, and how would you avoid massive political interference. Also, why are you so sure that they’ve won some kind of War of Position, rather than a contest of ideas (I will say, that you seem to think these institutions have a great deal more power and influence that I suspect is actually the case).
Is “and then there’s physics” [sic] asking to be taken seriously?
I can’t tell.
I’m serious about being fascinated by your final paragraph. What are you really suggesting?
“I’m serious about being fascinated by your final paragraph. ”
No you’re not:
“Do you write this kind of stuff in the hope of being taken seriously, or because you know it won’t be taken seriously”
One cannot claim that an argument cannot be taken seriously and that it is any way fascinating.
The fact that you abuse even your own words suggests it’s not worth indulging your misapprehension of mine.
No, I really am. I’m genuinely fascinated by what you seem to be suggesting. So, rather than suggesting that you can read my mind, you could try to respond to my original comment.
I don’t claim to be reading your mind, Ken. I can read your words. They’re here, in black and white.
If you are actually reading my words, you’re doing a really poor job of interpreting them. I’ll try one more time. With respect to your last paragraph (which I do find fascinating) who should be focusing on particular institutions and their populations and – once they’ve focused on them and drawn conclusions – who should be acting on the basis of what they conclude? Now, if you really don’t want to answer this, just say so. If you want to go on appearing to read my mind, then I’ll have to assume that you’re simply incapable of engaging in any kind of serious discussion.
“With respect to your last paragraph…”
… which is the conclusion to the preceding dozen or so. So read those.
Amazing — but apposite — that I should have to point out to an academic what the structure of essays is.
Yes, I realise it is the concluding paragraph to your essay. However, your essay – which I hve read – still does not explain who should do the focusing and who should decide what to do once they’ve done so. I guess I shall simply assume that you don’t actually want to answer the question and leve it at that.
ATTP, A hint: Ben Pile’s last paragraph was about all of the ‘actors’ who have ‘mainstreamed’ (two horrid words, both popularized by EU-funded academics and NGOs, as it happens) environmentalism, not just universities.
If you read it again with that in mind, you should be able to see that your fascination was misdirected.
That still doesn’t explain who the “We” is in the final paragraph and what should be done once the “We” in the final paragraph has finished their focusing on the “particular institutions and their populations”.
“…your essay – which I hve read – still does not explain who should do the focusing…”
The essay, Ken, is a response to Geoff’s, as it says, right at the top. “We” is who it suggests do the focusing, as indicated by the use of the word “we”, which is to say parties to this blog, and its sympathetic readership, to the extent that they believe it is worth understanding environmentalism as such.
“who should decide what to do once they’ve done so”
There was no suggestion made or implied that having understood environmentalism’s ascendancy, anybody was committed to any further course of action directed by some other person.
You’re an odd fellow, aren’t you. I don’t claim to be able to read your mind, but that you could read this bizarre claim into the text above, does suggest something ain’t quite right up top.
Thanks, that’s really all I was wanting to know. So just politics really? A group of people who have an aversion to those they regard as environmentalists (which appears to typically be anyone with whom they disagree) should spend time focusing on various institutions and populations with the aim of illustrating things that they already believe to be true?
Fair enough. I just assumed that there was some actual purpose to this. A group of like-minded people going around confirming their prejudices and calling other people “weak minded” doesn’t appear all that constructive or intellectually challenging, but each to their own.
If you don’t claim to be able to read minds, then maybe avoid telling people what they actually think, especially if it contradicts what they’ve explictly said themselves. I might also suggest avoiding calling other people “odd fellows”.
“So just politics really? A group of people who have an aversion to those they regard as environmentalists”
On the contrary, I point out that environmentalists — odd fellows, indeed — aren’t consequential, environmentalism having failed to develop as a mass movement, much less having developed a coherent perspective sufficient to realise the changes in domestic and national politics and policies that we have seen. Hence, I argued that emphasis is needed instead on understanding the institutions which have absorbed environmentalism, and what their green transformations are a response to.
Environmentalists are irrelevant as they are incoherent, as you demonstrate here, nicely, ta very much… Even the word ‘we’, repeated three times confused you:
“We need more focus … We need to ask… And we need to show…”
I’m not going to take lessons in ‘civility’ from someone whose opening claim is ‘you cannot be taken seriously’, followed by a demand to be taken seriously, and who then, when the contradiction is pointed out to him, complains about ‘mind reading’ and insists he was taking it seriously all along.
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Wotts is hard work, isn’t he? Shifts all over the place.
But, at root, I think he means well. He just needs educating about his own prejudices.
Well meaning? I don’t think so. Consensus enforcers will brook no dissent, and will tolerate no dialogue. If he had ever offered something other than ‘what do you mean by “we”‘ as a criticism, it would be harder to say. But ‘thick’ doesn’t even account for that level of self-deception, assuming the best of him.
I think it would be interesting to see what might be behind environmentalists’ internalisation of environmentalism’s claims. There clearly are some extremely motivated individuals out there, many of which have not logged off of CiF in over a decade, and who are so prolific, I wonder how they can keep a job. I think it would be too much, to say that was the whole of it. There aren’t actually that many of them.
‘I don’t think environmentalism is a powerful idea, then.’
Intellectually, I would agree not. Yet emotively, yes.
‘Bad ideas propagate when there are no better ideas.’
No doubt they do. Yet they still can when there are good ideas around too. Essentially those bad ideas that are easy to absorb and much more emotive, and despite (or maybe because of) their simplicity, can invoke existential issues very directly too. These have a great route into people’s psyches to garner support. Dictators, extremist politicians, and cultish religious leaders have variously and most obviously benefited from this effect.
‘ Clearly there is more going on than ‘ideas’ ‘
Agreed; the ‘bad ideas’ above are I think more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation, rather than the intellectual content we normally associate with being the most important thing about an idea. Such motivation can produce very strong social force, despite being intellectually weak. Typically a strong narrative gaining traction in this way will include a raft of mutually supporting emotive themes invoking fear, hope, anxiety and more, even say joy (in anticipation of a new world order, for instance).
‘… seeing environmentalism as an ‘ideology’ or doctrine of ideas is that it credits it with too much.’
Quite possibly, although there are differing interpretations of what ‘ideology’ means. The terms ‘ideology’ and ‘culture’ overlap (and some consider the former to be a subset of the latter), yet I think ‘culture’ is a more appropriate term for CAGW (environmentalism is maybe too broad and varied for either term to be accurate). ‘Ideology’ is often deployed to mean a propagandized secular culture with a formal constitution and especially from the nineteenth century onward, e.g. Marxism. While an ideology thus defined typically evolves from its original constitution (if indeed it ever satisfied that at all), e.g. rapidly to Stalinism in the USSR, there were theoretically at least powerful intellectual ideas involved at the start. The super-set of culture can include social entities that do not have a consciously expressed constitution or strong intellectual foundations, even while they do have an emotively powered (non-sentient, non-agential) agenda.
‘Environmentalism is rearguard action…’
I would like to think so, but I’m not sure about that. Emotively powered cultures can be extremely strong, and green environmentalism still has a lot of policy strength and moral buy-in. Whoever does or doesn’t openly advocate for it (and some are afraid to openly act against it), the policies are what affects people’s lives. I think it’s a long way from the moldering stage yet.
Re generic cultural strength: around 2.5 centuries on from the blossoming of science within the mainstream, during the ‘age of reason’, several major religions are still pretty healthy and a majority of the world still believes in some deity or super-natural spirit of some kind. Ultimately, CAGW lives on a secular invocation of similar emotive responses.
Many intellectual institutions which might oppose misconceived environmentalism do seem to be slumbering or falling prey themselves. Not good.
‘And we need to show how those institutions are able to close ranks against the rest of the population, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas.’
Indeed. One of the primary functions of a culture is to create a socially enforced consensus. This is an evolutionary advantage. When pretty much everything was unknown, a consensus that enables common action in the face of the unknown, is a pretty handy thing. Unfortunately the various disciplines who know most about how the mechanisms of closing ranks work, pretty much all believe that calamitous climate change is merely a matter of hard science, so they don’t think to deploy their knowledge to investigate it as a culture. It seems that knowledge of an effect, doesn’t necessarily grant immunity from it.
ATTP: ‘Firstly, in what way is their [sic] some kind of focus on existential, external threats?’
The main theme of the climate change narrative is that of an urgent existential threat, which is communicated by world leaders and governments and the academy and NGOs and many businesses and other orgs, and which includes a call to immediate action throughout society. A few snippets of the avalanche of messaging of same (from some leaders) is below. Whatever is happening in the actual climate due to ACO2 and whether this is good bad or indifferent, the certainty of imminent (decades) climate calamity is not supported by science. It is just a cultural story.
[OBAMA] Energy Independence and the Safety of Our Planet (2006) : “All across the world, in every kind of environment and region known to man, increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it’s here, and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster.” Speech in Berlin (2008) : “This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.” George town speech (2013) : “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.” State of the Union (2015) : “The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.” [FRANCOIS HOLLANDE] Paris climate summit Nov 2015 : “To resolve the climate crisis, good will, statements of intent are not enough. We are at breaking point.” [GORDON BROWN] Copenhagen climate plan (2009) : “If we miss this opportunity, there will be no second chance sometime in the future, no later way to undo the catastrophic damage to the environment we will cause…As scientists spell out the mounting evidence both of the climate change already occurring and of the threat it poses in the future, we cannot allow the negotiations to run out of time simply for lack of attention. Failure would be unforgivable.” [ANGELA MERKEL] to UN summit on Climate Change (2009) : “After all, scientific findings leave us in no doubt that climate change is accelerating. It threatens our well being, our security, and our economic development. It will lead to uncontrollable risks and dramatic damage if we do not take resolute countermeasures.” Same speech : “we will need to reach an understanding on central issues in the weeks ahead before Copenhagen, ensuring, among other things, that global eemissions reach their peak in the year 2020 at the latest.” And while president of the EU, on German TV in a wake-up call for climate action prior to 26 leader EU climate meeting (2007) : “It is not five minutes to midnight. It’s five minutes after midnight.” [POPE FRANCIS] Asked if the U.N. climate summit in Paris (2015) would mark a turning point in the fight against global warming, the pope said: “I am not sure, but I can say to you ‘now or never’. Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”
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I started to think about the environment around age 8 when I saw so many thousands of dead fish along the shore of Lake Ontario and signs warning of the health hazard to bathers. And then at age 13 or so when I explored one of the rivers from the lake shore where it seemed like my idea of hell to about 10 kilometers inland where it seemed like I could make a camp like the Indians did couple of hundred years before. And then when I discovered the bay that had been converted into a sewage treatment plant with floating islands of sludge so thick that bushes were growing on them.
Most of these conditions prevailed until about 1960.
Years later I remember seeing that a proper sewage treatment plant had been built, the signs had been taken down and the bathers had returned to the beaches. In the river valley, the hellish industrial waste had been removed to make way for a freeway planted on both slopes with trees and shrubs. The bay that once held the human sludge had become a mini-harbor for sail and motor boats.
As I understood from recent graduate studies in Earth science, the same scenes have been observed by others all over the US and Canada as well as Western Europe.
This is what environmentalists accomplished.
But once the great clean-up was accomplished, the environmental movement did not relax. Environmentalism morphed into something else, something that resembles a cult, and an anti-humanist cult at that.
So the problem seems to me not to be environmentalism per se, but environmental extremism.
And then there’s physics says:
“Assuming, however, that you’re referring to climate change, why are you so certain that it is at best a self-justification, rather than a fact about the world?”
“…a fact about the world?”
Of course climate change is a fact about the world and throughout human history. But it’s not sufficient reason to dismantle our modern urban-industrial civilization, nor is it sufficient reason to deny to the people of the world now living in poverty the health and welfare benefits of cheap energy.
The author, “then there’s physics” relies on physics the same way that geophysicists relied on physics when they held that the continents are not mobile. Until of course they discovered that the continents are mobile. Why did physicists reject the geological and paleontological evidence? Why did they rely more on theory than on empirical data?
To paraphrase the author of this blog, those physicists were able to close ranks against the rest of the scientific community, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas.
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Ben’s proposal in his last paragraph: “more focus, not on a broad class and its nebulous ideology, but on particular institutions and their population” is clearly complementary to the wider, less detailed analysis of the effects of the rise of a university class which I borrowed from Todd. There is no contradition between the kind of “macro-sociology” practised by Todd and the careful analysis of what’s going on in particular institutions proposed by Ben.
Todd’s approach has its origins in the classical sociological approach typified by Durkheim’s study of suicide. When Durkheim noted that suicides occurred more often at weekends and on public holidays, and coined the idea of anomie to explain it, he didn’t (didn’t need to) look at the experience of individual cases. He was asserting the explanatory power of sociological analysis, independent of individual experience. Which doesn’t mean that others (e.g. psychologists) shouldn’t analyse the individual cases.
Likewise, I think the idea of a university-educated class adopting (often unconsciously) inegalitarian ideas, and thus reversing centuries of association of education and radicalism, has great explanatory value. Todd observed it in the strong association of educational level on the Maastricht vote. I simply applied the same idea to support for climate catastrophism. The Brexit vote, and the subsequent outburst of disdain for the lower orders emanating from many Remainers tends to confirm the hypothesis.
Ben has been one of the most diligent analysts of the sociology of climate catastrophism, noting the élitist origins of many of its first generation proponents, and its utter failure to create a mass movement. ATTP would do well to read some of his output over the past eleven years. He might learn something.
Andy West writes:
“Unfortunately the various disciplines who know most about how the mechanisms of closing ranks work, pretty much all believe that calamitous climate change is merely a matter of hard science, so they don’t think to deploy their knowledge to investigate it as a culture. It seems that knowledge of an effect, doesn’t necessarily grant immunity from it.”
The idea of CAGW being a cultural phenomenon that has blossomed in spite of (perhaps, paradoxically, assisted by) the Age of Reason seems to be gaining traction. It would explain the extraordinary persistence of climate catastrophism in the face of the dearth of empirical scientific evidence for a significant anthropogenic footprint on climate coupled with the growing scientific evidence for naturally induced modern climate change. But then again, so would dishonest mass taxation and Marxist wealth redistribution.
In this respect, as Ben suggests, an examination of the institutions which promote hardest the idea of climate change being an existential threat might begin to reveal the inner workings of what is really driving climate catastrophism in our society, on the assumption that it is not merely, or primarily, hard science and data. Tyndall, LSE, Royal Society immediately spring to mind, though there are many others.
Andy West – “Intellectually, I would agree not. Yet emotively, yes.”
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that’s a departure from the excesses of environmentalism. “These have a great route into people’s psyches to garner support”… Well, that’s what greens say, to explain why people continue with carbon profligate lifestyles. But we were talking about politics…
“Dictators, extremist politicians, and cultish religious leaders have variously and most obviously benefited from this effect.”
Well, dictatorships tend to try to control the ideas in currency, by censorship, or by killing or locking up adherents to other ideas that threaten their hold. The extent to which ‘extremist politicians’ use ideas ’emotively’ is difficult to establish, that being a somewhat broad, and subjective category. And even populist radical political movements exist in particular historical contexts; they don’t emerge out of nothing, with nothing but the ability to push people’s buttons in the right way, to achieve power. And the power of cultish leaders is not the ability to brainwash people, but to find those already looking for ‘something’. The ’emotive’ power of certain ideas does not seem to me to explain these things in general or in any instance.
No doubt we would agree that climate alarmism is a politics of fear — i.e. is ’emotive’. But that would suggest to me a weakening of the hold that the alarmists have — i.e. ‘self justification’ and closing ranks, not an attempt to mobilise the baser instincts of the population, thereby producing a ‘very strong social force’, in your terms. That hasn’t happened. And the extent to which it has failed to happen cannot be understated. The attempt to create a green movement in that way has at least a half a century of history. It has had the resources of two of the biggest supranational political bodies ever to have existed. It enjoys cross-party consensus. It has been backed by billionaires, living and dead. It may well have convinced the Great and Good. But then, they were already convinced of their own importance. Their absorbing of green ideology is almost trivial; if climate change didn’t exist, they would have invented it. Put another way, green political ideas have been on the political agenda for more than half of the era of universal adult suffrage in the UK, yet have never been put to democratic test, and only one MP championing that cause has been returned… Herself coming from a uniquely non-industrial constituency that is equally uniquely, in world terms, the beneficiary of advanced capitalism.
— “Quite possibly, although there are differing interpretations of what ‘ideology’ means. The terms ‘ideology’ and ‘culture’ overlap ” —
No doubt there are many understandings of ‘ideology’. However, I was precise in my use, and was making a particular point. Hence, the word ‘ideology’ appears in quotes, and with the clarification that I’m speaking about it in the sense of a ‘doctrine of ideas’. The point being that there has been no green Marx, nor even Adam Smith that give foundation to a movement, or even help to describe a ‘culture’, as you have it. Rather, my argument is the opposite: that green ‘ideology’ (broadly) reflects the dearth of ‘ideology’ (as coherent doctrine); a natural perspective is the recourse of failed social perspectives; political arguments descend to ‘science’; debates defer to ‘expertise’. Environmentalism is degenerate.
It might be that looking at ‘culture’ gives us some clues as to what’s going on, but those would be insights into very narrow sections of society: street-level environmentalism on the one hand, characterised by alienation; establishment environmentalism on the other, characterised similarly by its remoteness. These disjunctures are fundamental. There is no broader culture of environmentalism that would help us understand its ascendancy. No doubt, a much broader look at culture might be useful to understanding the broader culture of the era and its politics. But not environmentalism, and not in isolation. Environmentalism is most interesting — it sheds most light on wider society — where it intersects with other debates.
— “I think it’s a long way from the moldering stage yet.” —
You think so? i always thought that, years hence, it would be climate change that fell apart first. Green precepts would decamp to some other environmental concern — likely one which was even less tangible than ‘climate’. But the carbon bureaucracies would have been established to serve those who had built them… They wouldn’t be toppled, but would fade away. It would be decades before we saw such a radical political shift. But now I think the EU Referendum has shown us just how weak the hold on power is, and how quickly politics can be transformed, and how political institutions established on extremely unstable social ground can topple. Arguably, a very, very large question mark now hangs over supranational political ideas, of which climate change is a characteristic plank. The political class which has, amongst other things, identified climate change as its cause — ‘self justification’, in other words — has just been given a colossal spanking, from which it may not recover. As it regroups, and tries to make sense of what happened to it, it will seek to eject from its fold that which most uniquely identifies its remoteness. If I were working at a Brussels-based green NGO, I’d be seriously wondering what else my degree in sustainability might be useful for, and I’d be looking for an opportunity to jump ship to something more real.
— “around 2.5 centuries on from the blossoming of science within the mainstream, during the ‘age of reason’, several major religions are still pretty healthy and a majority of the world still believes in some deity or super-natural spirit of some kind. ” —
Belief in supernatural things floating around isn’t equivalent to a religion, and today’s churches barely compare to the churches of the C18th — they have almost zero political power. In the West, the collapse of the church as an institution is almost as catastrophic as the collapse of trust in politicians or the press. Pretty healthy? I don’t think so. The endurance of religion doesn’t necessarily speak to the power of emotive ideas over reason. Plenty of Christians (in my experience, and I’ve met many, though I’m not one), don’t assert their religious beliefs in debates on scientific matters, nor cite the authority of the Bible in debates about public policy, and moreover, recognise the principle of secular government. If environmentalists were, similarly, to make environmentalism a matter between them and Gaia — though welcoming us, if we want to join them off grid — I would find it hard to criticise them. And that’s one reason why I’m reluctant to make too many statements about environmentalists in the broader sense, and would rather focus criticism on particular instances of environmentalism, in institutions.
–“One of the primary functions of a culture is to create a socially enforced consensus.”–
Maybe, but in the debate about environmentalism’s ascendancy, the observation is almost prosaic. We see how hard consensus-enforcers have to work to consciously control the campus, never mind the debate. Real authority — as I think Arandt observed — means not having to even raise an eyebrow, much less a fist, to assert itself over dissent.
— “the various disciplines who know most about how the mechanisms of closing ranks work, … don’t think to deploy their knowledge to investigate it as a culture.” —
Indeed. But their having embedded environmentalism speaks to the crises of those disciplines — the rearguard action is against their own declining authority. It’s hard not to notice, for example, it is the likes of Lewandowsky, from the likes of cognitive science, which most emphasise climate change — rather than their own disciplines — but which are most at risk from science’s looming crises: reproducability, political bias, etc.
This is not a coincidence. Lewandowsky cannot help but make external his internal sense of being under siege. He thinks it is the uneducated, unwashed hoardes tearing at the gates… So they become the objects of his ‘research’. But it is the academy’s own failure to discipline itself that is causing those ivory towers to crumble into sand. Being complacent, they didn’t think to use bricks made of stronger stuff. And even then, internet surveys seemed to be sufficient pointing, to save the structure. If the Academy has any sense, its upper strata would now begin to throw its excess weight over the parapet, NOT to sate the masses gathered at the gates — they are not there yet — but to begin to save the humbler structure, which is, in fact, worth saving. but which cannot take the strain of so many ‘experts’.
snip – off topic
>’Well, dictatorships tend to try to control the ideas in currency, by censorship, or by killing or locking up adherents to other ideas that threaten their hold.’
They do indeed; but this doesn’t speak either for or against emotive drivers that can assist the rise of dictatorships. Censorship plus locking folks up is not always acceptable or possible within the early stages particularly of such a regime, and some dictators are canny enough to stoke up existing emotions within the population in their favor, to assist with a power grab that then grants them these options. Frequently the stoking involves amplifying an issue into a wildly exaggerated fear (e.g. anti-Semitism). Yet more positive emotions can be stoked too (e.g. the pride and joy in a national identity), yet maybe to an unhealthy degree. Dictators often get an opening when society is already subject to stresses and so emotions are already running high, with a polarization of positions setting in (e.g. Germany around 1930 – 33).
>’And even populist radical political movements exist in particular historical contexts; they don’t emerge out of nothing,’
Absolutely they don’t emerge from nothing. Context is critical regarding what type of movement will emerge and how expressed. This doesn’t particularly speak for or against emotive drivers either. Yet natural selection of the most propagated themes of the time, where higher emotional response is a huge boon to such propagation, helps to explain the rise of major movements from small beginings. Even those from climate orthodoxy know about emotion being an accelerant for information propagation, for instance a 2012 Lewandowsky et al paper on misinformation says ‘But we have also noted that the likelihood that people will pass on information is based strongly on the likelihood of its eliciting an emotional response in the recipient, rather than its truth value (e.g., K. Peters et al., 2009)’.
>’And the power of cultish leaders is not the ability to brainwash people, but to find those already looking for ‘something’. ‘
I didn’t mention brainwashing. The exact ‘something’ that folks are looking for will as you note depend upon the historical context, but always some folks are more needy than others in any era, and deploying simplistic ideas that salve their emotional needs and / or stoke their emotional aspirations is a big part of the success factor of cults. ‘The close relationship between affiliation and emotional well-being reinforces compliance and continued ties to the group, without need for external coercion.’ says ‘Cults, faith healing and coercion’ by Galanter, which also says that two of the most important conditions for joining a sect are the degree of alienation and emotional stress in society before joining.
>No doubt we would agree that climate alarmism is a politics of fear — i.e. is ’emotive’.
Partly agree. While fear is a big factor, many emotions are invoked. The most successful cultures speak to various emotions and not all negative. In the emotive confessions of environmental climate scientists in letters and videos – I read about 65 of them – hope is a very big factor, and from recall inspiration not insignificant. There’s indication that some positive emotions are roused in the populace as well.
>But that would suggest to me a weakening of the hold that the alarmists have…
Maybe. Maybe not. Still hard to tell. I’ll be glad if it is and recent political events suggest harder times for CAGW on the way. Yet we have to acknowledge that most of the world’s leadership (see above) and media, and a vast amount of other orgs too, are still on-board right now. Hence we cannot really describe the leverage this culture possesses as ‘weak’, even if the underlying support might be ‘weakening’.
>i.e. ‘self justification’
Essentially all cultures are self justified, whether weak or strong. All cultures enforce a consensus too, hence closing ranks doesn’t necessarily mean failure, depending upon who is or isn’t netted into that consensus, and also into which layer of the consensus (cultures tend to have an onion structure, the nearer the center the less latitude on views there is). New cultures tend to be more open too, a mature one can afford to be heavier on the punishment and policing side. Yet I’d say most of academia is in-group not out-group, and ditto policy makers and government officials and politicians and several other key groups too. The closing ranks thing isn’t a conscious decision, cultures are emergent and work completely blind like all evolutionary processes. Yet given who is netted right now this seems like an ideal time from the culture’s PoV to consolidate and increase the close ranks action. More chance of preserving the majority authority network already won, and less of losing ground in changing times.
>’…not an attempt to mobilize the baser instincts of the population.’
There have been huge and ongoing attempts to mobilize the public. As you note climate alarmism speaks to our base instinct of fear, and alarmist messaging has poured out of every imaginable channel for around a couple of decades, from all the most important world leaders downwards (see above for tiny snippets of said leaders). Considering the scale of the effort (which you note), I’d say it has had limited / mixed success. There’s a great deal of innate skepticism in the public and in part because they probably detect that this is not about science and rather is a cultural takeover. Yet making a consensus fence is not incompatible with sucking in more public adherents; cultures achieve both together by demonizing the opposition (hence the whole denier thing, which even in the wider public has caused a feeling that climate change disbelievers are somehow cranky at best). This generic strategy of cultures achieves more membership but at the cost of building up enemies on the opposite side of the polarization. Its a blind process, while members still accrue it will continue, when they stop coming the next best thing will eventually get selected, if the culture survives long enough.
>And the extent to which it has failed to happen cannot be understated
Despite above limited success, I doubt we can call this culture a failure, though I guess it depends what we think the criteria for a successful culture actually is. The moral case for ‘sustainability’ and emissions reduction and clean energy appears to be established in the public consciousness, for instance. Climate skepticism is not polite in public. Laws are being changed in favor of climate policies and sustainability orientated morality. Trillions have been spent in the name of this culture – bear in mind that cultures have no ‘purpose’ as such, they merely survive via selective processes and if trillions sustain a culture yet without happening to achieve anything for the human hosts that parted with the money, from the culture’s PoV (a figure of speech, it is of course non-sentient and non-agential), this is still a great success. Fired up green movements on the streets are not the only measure of success. A couple of hundred years ago Christianity dominated almost every aspect of life, a very successful culture; yet the great majority of the public were very likely not fervent and not out on cold wet streets in support (except when they might win some Christmas cheer or something thereby). And no doubt many were quietly skeptical (there is written evidence of religious skepticism going back as far as writing goes back). Given the very short time (relative to mainstream religions say) that climate culture has been around, I’d say it’s doing okay, which is to say it’s nowhere near the success level of peak Christianity, yet even if it fades again in a decade or two I think it will leave an indelible mark on humanity. As for enjoying cross-party support etc (in some countries), this is the mark of a successful step of cultural incursion, not a sign of failure, whether or not it eventually translates to a wider public acceptance (and public acceptance is far from zero). Likewise, more cracks in the political acceptance recently (and more pressure from other issues such as immigration and terrorism), is certainly a sign that the peak point may be past.
>’Rather, my argument is the opposite: that green ‘ideology’ (broadly) reflects the dearth of ‘ideology’ (as coherent doctrine); a natural perspective is the recourse of failed social perspectives; political arguments descend to ‘science’; debates defer to ‘expertise’.’
I’m not sure how I’ve misunderstood you here, or quite what the clarified argument above means. Cultures are emergent and typically don’t acquire coherent doctrines until they start to mature, before that they are more fluid and frequently self-contradictory (some self contradiction often survives to be enshrined within doctrine, along with obscuring devices or such). This doesn’t prevent rampant dogma (which despite adherents saying it never changes, typically evolves all the time), and indeed appeals to authority (plus other rhetoric devices) overriding logical argument – I presume the latter part of above refers to this? Not quite sure how you’re applying ‘degenerate’ here either, but cultures can be both intellectually and socially degenerate at some phase of their existence. Anyhow I agreed that to call CAGW (and I guess environmentalism too) an ideology is under typical definition crediting it with too much. But the term culture (in the sense of a cultural evolutionary entity), is applicable to CAGW.
>Environmentalism is most interesting — it sheds most light on wider society — where it intersects with other debates.
I agree with that. And too that environmentalism being so wide and so mixed (to the point of escaping any reasonable definition I think), cannot be pinned down even approximately to a simple cultural envelope (despite cultural factors). It’s more part of the spirit of the times, an influencer. Yet I disagree about the clues cultural analysis can give us, which you think are at the narrow end. CAGW is a very much more defined beast than general environmentalism, and does tick all the boxes of a typical cultural entity, which cultural analysis can say things about generically, i.e. at the wide end. Down at the narrow end one needs more context and specific event timings and such. Cultural mechanisms are the driving force, but they don’t say what will happen in detail.
>>“I think it’s a long way from the moldering stage yet.”
>You think so? i always thought that, years hence, it would be climate change that fell apart first.
Yes I do think so. Look at it’s still high profile as of this instant. That doesn’t rule out a swift demise, but I guess it depends upon how many years we’re talking. And…
>Green precepts would decamp to some other environmental concern
I agree that (because cultures evolve always and endemically to circumvent opposition) many green precepts and including some that are more directly involved in CC, will evolve off in other directions. A cultural narrative is a co-evolving set of stories, and if the main consensus narrative is broken by whatever events, the individual stories therein will wander off in different directions.
>’But the carbon bureaucracies would have been established to serve those who had built them… They wouldn’t be toppled, but would fade away. It would be decades before we saw such a radical political shift.’
Ah, decades. Well we are close after all. With a high profile and high policy clout now, and decades to run, I stick with not moldering yet 😉
>But now I think the EU Referendum has shown us just how weak the hold on power is, and how quickly politics can be transformed,
I also agree that tipping points are very hard to predict. Yet in Europe and even the UK, there is still considerable buy-in to CC even from the right wing side; as you note above, cross-party consensus. Hence political change to the right will erode rather than erase, and I don’t think that despite a strong rump of public skepticism, there is any belly for a public upheaval over CC like there is about immigration for instance. It is quite morally entrenched.
>In the West, the collapse of the church as an institution is almost as catastrophic as the collapse of trust in politicians or the press.
Wow. The former is on a scale of a century and a half at least! Maybe a slow motion catastrophe 😉
>The endurance of religion doesn’t necessarily speak to the power of emotive ideas over reason.
It depends whether they clash or not. Mostly, one can practice science without religious contradiction, these days, in many countries at least, though not all I guess. That wasn’t always true, even in the west, and centuries of resistance to science including burning folks attest to that. Yet even now, if there is a clash, e.g. in the US over evolution, then there is resistance. And hard to be a doctor employing evolutionary principles if you don’t believe in that, and some of the anti-vaccers are religiously inspired. And this is generically true of cultures. Both right and left wing culture, at the further ends resist the science they don’t like, yet generally accept the science they do like, i.e. depending or not whether it clashes with their cultural values. The culture of climate calamity also resists proper science, as most readers of this blog are only too well aware. The fact that, world wide, religion is still a very significant force in this respect (though yes, less in the West), speaks to the endurance of cultures, should they get entrenched enough.
>’I’m reluctant to make too many statements about environmentalists in the broader sense…’
I’m with you on that, because it’s such a broad field. But one can about CAGW adherents / culture.
>We see how hard consensus-enforcers have to work to consciously control the campus, never mind the debate. Real authority — as I think Arandt observed — means not having to even raise an eyebrow, much less a fist, to assert itself over dissent.
I think that’s an idealistic comparison in the sense that it may never have been true for most cultural entities. Christianity didn’t get there without many purges and policings and the Inquisition and the Jesuits and the Pope killing off about a million heretic Cathars and much more in the same vein. Are you saying this is all a sign of weakness and decay? It was a big part of how the church gained ascendancy. The consensus policing of CC orthodoxy is pretty polite by those standards, despite the many mechanisms it employs.
>Indeed. But their having embedded environmentalism speaks to the crises of those disciplines
Yes, there are enormous crises in the social sciences, reproducibility and left-wing bias being but two. Part of the penetration of CAGW bias was no doubt via its alliance with the left in some countries (espc US). Their authority is rightly being questioned, yet ‘declining’ may be premature, and either way it does not mean that they can’t be chalked as a successful capture to climate culture by largely emotive means (below), even if one might consider them a soft target. Cultures will take soft targets first.
Memetics is boring, yields no insight that is not, at best, prosaic, as, I have realised, we discussed at sufficient length previously. Ditto, nebulous references to ‘culture’ are intangible, and turn to smoke at the lightest pressure. I find no more substance to engage with in your reply, which owes anything to the post at the top than there was in OKM’s alternative physics, perhaps for similar reasons. You want to peddle this theory of memes… Fine… But if you want to use other debates to propagate your own memes, you should at least attempt to understand to argument offered on its own terms.
Ben, quite simply GreenDream is a religion *(P3)
..Your analysis seems too complex to me, but has many good points.
#1 ‘Greenism seems to a western Toffs game’ – Yep, Environmentalism is a luxury ..you can’t do it until you’re rich.
There are probably more blacks in UKIP then in the Greens
…however Green movement is gender balanced. (so is UKIP ?)
#2 ‘Doesn’t occur in developing countries’ – Not true, it’s popular with middle class so green ideas are given lip service.
#3 “We need to ask what legitimises them”(universities Green/sustainable depts) ..true
Ben Pile explains about ‘institutionalised exclusion bias’ at today’s INCLUSIVE universities Green/sustainable depts.
## Yes that what you get when religion/dogma dominates an issue rather than proper evidence and logic.
Devil’s Advocate : Consider the complaint that Cooperatives and union don’t get a fair mention in the BBC business news, cos it’s institutionalised with all it’s mentions of stock exchange prices and interviews with bosses. I think that is a fair point and the mirror reflection of what you say about Institutionalised bias within universities Green/sustainability depts.
Likewise an atheist doesn’t get a job in the religious studies dept of ‘The Islamic University of’
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(P3) : Ben your view of Green here seems rather complex.
Mine is that there is a :
…a Fact world view + “We don’t know”
…A Religious world view
…. And theirs is the second one. GreenDream is a religious worldview which has both its demons and angels (magic renewable solutions)
@ATTP the half troll is also difficult to read, but was able to pick on your point about it ALL being existential threats ..but I think Green Depts threats are not 100% existential, but rather thinking religiously they are putting the proportions at the extreme end without any proper justification. And there is the angel ‘magical thinking’ side as well.
“who would do the focusing” he says
.. Well it’s all about THE SYSTEM challenging the university green depts, and holding them to the proper scientific method.
However the proper SCIENCE SYSTEMS are broken because many people within it are infected with this green religion and seeing protecting the religion as being a higher cause than truth itself.
@FREDERICK COLBOURNE is right environmental dept have done good things like cleaned up ex-industrial sites..but it is typical of religions/cults to be founded on a good thing, but then extrapolated badly from there.
The parallel religion with GreenDream is of course Communist Dogma as in the USSR it also to got so it could not be challenged.
Albeit not in detail, I recalled the prior discussion. Hence I chose not only to exclude all memetic terminology from my comments, but any concepts exclusive to memetics too, which none of my above points need. The broader field of cultural evolution does rest upon basics like selection determining to some extent (the field covers weak and strong) cultural trajectories, and along with other fields like social psychology, acknowledging the significance of emotion in biases and also emergent social phenomena, so being an influence on selection. In turn these rest in part on prior knowledge such as the power of ‘appeal to emotion’, which has been known since antiquity. My points above do need these concepts. While you personally may find this approach boring and intangible, my contribution in the climate blogs is strictly on-topic, geared to insights in this domain plus closely related issues (e.g. ‘denialism’, per my last guest post at Climate Etc). I think you raise some great points, many of which do not appear to clash with my own my approach (some may be tangled in differing definitions), and some of which I’m sure will help with my own understanding. I have most definitely attempted to understand your arguments (indeed noting above some agreements as well as differing angles / explanations), and while I may not have succeeded in all respects, this is what debate is for and my views are as valid to present here as those of anyone else.
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‘Likewise an atheist doesn’t get a job in the religious studies dept of ‘The Islamic University of’
‘but it is typical of religions/cults to be founded on a good thing, but then extrapolated badly from there’
Yes often they continue to claim the moral high ground long after that ground has disappeared from under them, or rather their evolution left it behind bar the window dressing.
Re above, it was just the image of the job interview that popped into my mind 🙂
Stewgreen – “Likewise an atheist doesn’t get a job in the religious studies dept of ‘The Islamic University of’”
I don’t know that he doesn’t. Or rather, I don’t know why he would care that he couldn’t, assuming that he lives in a secular liberal democracy.
The point was that “one cannot get a job as a climate sceptic in The School of Sustainability at New or Old University” because the University has changed. The Academy perhaps always suited the political order of the day to some extent, but now Universities make deliberate interventions in ‘governance’, and attempts to take measures of their ‘impact’, not without controversy all of its own… Nick Stern, for example this week published his report into how research is assessed and £billions of funding is allocated — https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lord-stern-sets-out-proposals-to-protect-and-strengthen-university-research . Just how woolly this all gets is easily shown…
“Recommendation 7: Guidance on the REF should make it clear that impact case studies should not be narrowly interpreted, need not solely focus on socioeconomic impacts but should also include impact on government policy, on public engagement and understanding, on cultural life, on academic impacts outside the field, and impacts on teaching.”
Clearly, the contemporary University is about more than merely developing a particular understanding of things, and now has a broader mandate, so to speak. The question I have is whether this contributes to an elevation (and broadening) of public debates, or whether it narrows them. In spite of the drive towards ‘relevance’, I am not convinced that the professor of sustainability has more to say about society than the plain old ‘mister’ who lectures on Kant’s ethics.
Moreover, why is it *Stern*, of all people, who is commissioned by (different) governments on both Climate Change and research funding? it’s not as if there are a shortage of Lords. Of course, both are questions of economics. But Stern surely has a stake in both policy areas, well beyond any normal level of interest. He is Chair of the CCCEP, and the Grantham Institute @ LSE — themselves the beneficiaries of large amounts of public and private funding respectively. And that research is almost exclusively directed towards policy-making, towards the interests of a particular industrial and financial sector. Write or speak critically about any aspect of that research even indirectly, and either your editor will receive a letter from that organisation’s Communications director, or a piece will be written about you, detailing your every last sin, and who you had a pint with in 1998, as reasons to ignore/not to publish what you said about wind farms. Stern himself wont descend to debate his own work, yet he pronounces, nonetheless, and this has consequences far beyond the fiefdoms he has established.
Stern is unremarkable, but he has in mind a particular *politics*. In his own words:
— Policy-making is usually about risk management. Thus, the handling of uncertainty in
science is central to its support of sound policy-making. — http://www.lorentzcenter.nl/lc/web/2011/460/presentations/Smith.pdf
I find that a very interesting statement, and cite it often, it representing the intersection of a number of things: climate change, the role of science in “policy making”, the emergence of ‘risk’ as a political concept, and of course, problems such as the ‘hiatus’, each of which I think deserve much scrutiny.
But more importantly, it is not scrutiny we’re going to get any closer to, either by endlessly debunking hockey sticks, or by digging around — sorry Andy — for ‘memes’. The circles that the likes of Stern move in have far too small a diameter to encompass something as broad as ‘culture’. So I shall repeat the point of the post:
— We need more focus then, not on a broad class and its nebulous ideology, but on particular institutions and their populations. We need to ask what legitimises them, what crises they experience, and how their emphasis on existential, external threats — “global challenges”, as they call them — are at best self-justifications, not facts about the world. And we need to show how those institutions are able to close ranks against the rest of the population, merely having won a War of Position, not a contest of ideas. —
More on thick academics… how they’re likely as much a pointless waste of time as CiFers…. can be found on the Nonversation.
Why ‘Sharknado 4’ matters: Do climate disaster movies hurt the climate cause?
Social scientists have made great strides in determining what factors influence climate denier attitudes and what kinds of messages have the potential to combat denial. Indeed, a burgeoning movement of academics and communicators are taking on the problem of climate denial with gusto, working nonstop to produce empirically based strategies for getting the message out to the public.
Academia means *nothing* if it doesn’t mean forming a critical understanding of a debate. Yet it increasingly means championing a cause, and intervening in wider society to further that cause, in spite of debate. The ‘great strides’ include a link to a Lew Paper clone: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118489
The authors at the Nonversation say,
At their heart, however, the “Sharknado” films are stories about climate change, albeit in a way that is scientifically flawed to a comical degree. It’s a genre – climate disaster films – we decided to explore as an emerging mode of communication in society.
Which is fine. Nobody can really object to merely asking what function Sharknado is playing in society. Unless they’re being asked to pay for it, that is.
One of the authors is a sociologist. The other has a BA in PR. No kidding. “Her role is to develop a curriculum in the newly-emerging discipline of public interest communications, which uses the tools of public relations and journalism to create positive social change.” The other says,
I’m passionate about using my research and communications skills to help make the world a better place. I love taking important ideas and breaking them down so that they’re accessible for everyone, and I love collecting and analyzing the data that leads to insights on pressing social issues.
Would the world be any worse a place if these researchers made cakes for money, and blogged about daft TV shows in their spare time? I think it must be a law that states the more a researcher implores us to believe that she ‘wants to make the world a better place’, the less able she is in fact to effect such change. Ditto, “research” which overtly states its intention to effect ‘positive social change’ is no less self-serving, or convinced of its own value to society, as if it were enough merely to have convinced yourself that what you want is what the world needs. But worse, there is the implication that anyone else wants to make the world a worse place — especially those who would ask what the value of deconstructing Sharknado to wider society really is. Don’t you know?! And you’re a bastard if you don’t know.
The problem is, even the Taliban think they want to make the world a better place. And academics that are no less convinced of their moral rectitude — not to mention their sense of entitlement that such valuable work be funded by the taxpayer — are no more interested in debate.
But I think we can say, without comparing the descent of Lit Crit signified by its preoccupation with over-interpreting trash TV to the emergence of fundamentalist Islamist movements, that academia is delinquent. This is merely one sign of the excess created by its redefinition that is in turn a response to its existential crisis — “what are universities for…”. It wasn’t a question that needed answering half a century ago; universities were surer of their social function, and didn’t need to signpost it so self-consciously.
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Ben acknowledges that tertiary education has played a large role in the rise of environmentalism, emphasising the mediocrity which resulted from swift expansion of universities. His potted history picks out three strands in the development of environmentalism; the neo-malthusianism proposed by a generation of concerned toffs; the sustainable development movement largely orchestrated at the level of international organisations of which the publication of the Brundtland report is the key event; and third, the emergence of the green left.
I’d suggest that all these movements can be explained in part by the rise of the university class, the Big, B.A.’d, B.Sc.dy band of concerned nerds who emerged from the baby boom – people like me who wasted their best years reading earnest well-meaning Pelican paperbacks about how the world was going to hell in a Chevrolet and only our informed worrying could stop it. The toffs could finance their Ecologist and Club of Rome reports, but they needed readers, and eventually, voters. They didn’t get the latter, but by redirecting their movement away from the kind of action that Frederick Colbourne well describes above to adherence to weak consensual ideas (or rather, feelings) about our fragile planet, they got the media, the politicians, the media, and academia on board.
To continue this analysis I feel I need to get more down home and Wiki’d. I’m starting with the Brundtland report, and I’ve got as far as the biography of its first (in alphabetical order) author, Susanna Agnelli, Contessa Rattazzi, sister of the owner of Fiat. “She was long a loyal fan of Robert Denning, of Denning & Fourcade, who designed over 15 homes for her in Manhattan, South America and Italy.”
And you think Porritt is a toff?
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>’…or by digging around — sorry Andy — for ‘memes’’
There’s no need to be sorry for this, disagreement is fine. Inappropriate comment aimed at disqualification, isn’t.
>’We need to ask what legitimises them’
Stern draws a big piece of his legitimization from the usual litany many readers here will be familiar with (from his state of the climate speech, Sept 2014):
“Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already higher than they’ve been for millions of years. If we go on increasing those concentrations, we risk temperatures over the next century or so that we have not seen on this planet for tens of millions of years. We’ve been around as Homo sapiens — that’s a rather generous definition, sapiens — for perhaps a quarter of a million years, a quarter of a million. We risk temperatures we haven’t seen for tens of millions of years over a century. That would transform the relationship between human beings and the planet. It would lead to changing deserts, changing rivers, changing patterns of hurricanes, changing sea levels, hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people who would have to move, and if we’ve learned anything from history, that means severe and extended conflict. And we couldn’t just turn it off. You can’t make a peace treaty with the planet. You can’t negotiate with the laws of physics. You’re in there. You’re stuck. Those are the stakes we’re playing for, and that’s why we have to make this second transformation, the climate transformation, and move to a low-carbon economy.”
As you note this is not a fact about the world, yet via the authority of hi-jacked science it is perceived as a fact (science can’t completely rule calamity out, yet the laws of physics by no means imply a certainty of calamity). I think it highly likely that Stern himself personally believes this is fact too, so there’s a real sense that this is not a trumped up self-justification. It is belief; innate self-justification so to speak. The honest belief in an existential threat is a very powerful motivator. Strengthening this likelihood, Stern closes his speech on a personal note:
“Our daughter gave birth to Rosa here in New York two weeks ago. Here are Helen and Rosa. (Applause) Two weeks old. Are we going to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we understood the issues, that we recognized the dangers and the opportunities, and still we failed to act? Surely not. Let’s make the next 100 years the best of centuries.”
This speaks to StewGreen’s point about a green religion. He notes the equivalent of demons and angels, and the above is an oft used – ahem – meme, which is the secular equivalent of salvation, deployed frequently by the orthodox side from James Hansen and Obama downwards, e.g. Obama at COP21:
“This summer, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand in our northernmost state, Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. And it was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it.”
I think your questions are great questions to ask. In answering them, I believe we need to bear in mind that the institutions and individuals you cite have not constructed their position over the years through entirely self-conscious action. Belief has played a major part, and strongly held common beliefs can glue institutions together for common purpose.
>’Ditto, “research” which overtly states its intention to effect ‘positive social change’ is no less self-serving, or convinced of its own value to society, as if it were enough merely to have convinced yourself that what you want is what the world needs. But worse, there is the implication that anyone else wants to make the world a worse place’
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Andy — “I believe we need to bear in mind that the institutions and individuals you cite have not constructed their position over the years through entirely self-conscious action.” —
I make exactly this point, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m impatient. “The problem … with seeing environmentalism as an ‘ideology’ or doctrine of ideas is that it credits it … with far too much”. And, ” Environmentalism is narcissistic, but not self-aware”, and that the green institution has a ‘tendency to respond to its own crises of legitimacy and relevance by “naturalising” its outlook’.
Unfortunately for our discussions, I see memetics as very much emerging out of that degradation, and the emphasis on individuals and their motivations a distraction from the political or sociological perspectives, heading, as it does for a pathological account. On that point, rather than ‘Belief has played a major part’, I argue *lack* of belief better accounts for, or describes, what is more a symptom of the ‘postmodern condition’: “incredulity towards metanarratives”… One can only trust the numbers in this malaise… certainly not the People, and definitely not the Ideologues.
So I am completely unconcerned about whether or not “Stern himself personally believes this is fact too”, the point being not “trumped up self-justification”, but that we can see existential crisis afflict almost every last institution of post-ideological times, and that there is a tendency for those internal crises to be perceived as external, and that the recruitment of the academy into the business of enumerating theoretical risks is a political thing, not a ‘belief’ thing. Climate change rises up the political agenda, not out of its own steam, but because of a vacuum at the top, where so many cling, with no visible means of support, such as we might expect people in such lofty positions to enjoy: a popular mandate. It follows that, any justification for that disparity will suffice in lieu of an actual mandate, hence histrionics rule the day: “we’re here to save you from inert gasses/obesity/Y2k/terrorists/yourselves”.
Geoff — ‘The toffs could finance their Ecologist and Club of Rome reports, but they needed readers, and eventually, voters’ … ‘I’m starting with the Brundtland report…’
One of the most interesting things in Brundtland is her emphasis on NGOs. In the political order she sketches, they displace the demos in a global polity, holding politicians to account on behalf of Future Generations. She calls for them to be funded, and invited to the top table.
Making the difficult choices involved in achieving sustainable development will depend on
the widespread support and involvement of an informed public and of NGOs, the scientific
community, and industry. Their rights, roles and participation in development planning,
decision-making, and project implementation should be expanded.
In many countries, governments need to recognize and extend NGOs’ right to know and
have access to information on the environment and natural resources; their right to be
consulted and to participate in decision making on activities likely to have a significant effect
on their environment; and their right to legal remedies and redress when their health or
environment has been or may be seriously affected.
Essentially, Brundtland conceives of a top-down, not bottom-up construction of civil society, to suit the compacts of a ‘sustainable’ political order — to keep democratic governments in check.
If I may say so, it mattered not one jot who the baby boomers voted for, since they weren’t able to vote for or against Brundtland (except in Norway, of course).
Your downer on memetics is loud and clear, but that isn’t needed for the above points anyhow. If you’re ruling out say the whole of cultural evolution and the parts of social psychology and psychology that emphasize the influence of emotions, then I guess that is indeed unfortunate for our discussions. I have assumed not. And I have stressed many times in my writings that the cause of CAGW is not conspiracy or hoax, and further that climate consensus adherents are not in any way whatsoever deranged or delusional or ill or impaired. The pathological path is a dead end, so we seem to be in agreement there, and in no way does a cultural explanation (or specifically memetics) invoke such.
I think amid apparently conflicting words we agree on much more, for instance:
>’emphasis on individuals and their motivations a distraction from the political or sociological perspectives’
Very much agree. Stern is someone we both used as an individual example, which is useful to glimpse the face of what we’re dealing with. Cultural evolution is all about the behavior of whole societies, and considers individual behavior only so much as necessary to confirm some underlying mechanisms.
>’So I am completely unconcerned about whether or not “Stern himself personally believes this is fact too”.’
If he were an *isolated* example, I would be unconcerned too. The point is that the academy is (most probably) saturated with Sterns, so to speak, and they staff other institutions too.
>’Climate change rises up the political agenda, not out of its own steam, but because of a vacuum at the top’
I think a vacuum at the top and the rise of new cultures to grab at that vacuum, are compatible concepts (rather than mutually exclusive). Or indeed old cultures revitalized by a shot of something new, like green. Whether or not that shot works out well. Climate calamitous culture is far from the strongest of the competitors within any particular country (though it has a strong international dimension), yet via alliance (e.g. in the US with Democrats) its agenda may partially express itself (while stand-alone green parties are comparatively weak). A time of uncertainty and political vacuum is often a pre-cursor to a change of power, absolutely.
Stern merely occupies the chair, and as you point out, a gazillion (mediocre) academics could fill the same space. It helps your career, though, if your brother is VP of HR at the World Bank. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2000/mar/17/3 . How quickly the Guardian forgot that story in its later deference to Stern! The notion that his reports might merely be a continuation of all that nepotism would be the central theme of their articles, had he nodded approvingly at coal. [This is all the more significant, as I can remember a time when Bretton Woods institutions were the most unspeakable evil on the face of the planet. I was very young, but they were hated by the very types that now cite them as authorities.]
I mean by ‘pathological’ any emphasis on mechanistic accounts, which is one reason why I’m reluctant to speak about cultural ‘evolution’ — I think it over-extends the genetic analogy. Even if the emphasis is on whole societies, I don’t think there’s any such unit in that sense. In the same way, I’ve said that ‘ecosystem’ is a problematic concept… As ecologists discovered in the 1970s. It has great political purchase, though. This reminds me of the claim that zoologists invented Thatcherism… http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/04/did-richard-dawkins-invent-thatcherism-and-environmentalism.html Geoff raises Todd’s theories there, too.
I’ve been thinking about some of this dis/agreement a bit more. I think we agree more, between Geoff, you and I, on the fact of bad ideas. But I’ve disagreed with Geoff, too, on what causes or allows them. In particular, we used to disagree about psycholanalysis. I didn’t see how it could yield any insight into climate alarmism (though I quite enjoyed some of what the then very trendy, but since very disappointing Slovoj Zizek had to say)… it seemed to be one of those C20th sciences whose promise had never been fulfilled.
But clearly there is a sense in which people internalise the climate debate, and what’s going on in culture has a bearing on the formation of individuals in various ways, such that greens invariably end up as they are. So I think I’ve been hasty in suggesting that the academy has given shelter to ‘thick’ academics. Mediocrity might be a direct consequence of dilution, of course. But I have argued elsewhere that, for example, that environmentalism never developed a culture of debate in the way that political ideas that developed in the democratic tradition have (to greater or lesser extents, and with exceptions) so we can’t be surprised that environmentalists are resistant to debate, democracy, etc. To (ab)use the genetic analogy: it’s not in their “DNA”… or rather, it’s just not in the constitution of certain institutions, to which their populations are attached and absorb from ‘culturally’.
My favourite instance of that is various greens conversion to nuclear power. Climate sceptics have given them an out for decades. Then, suddenly, about ten years ago, a number of them worked out that fission requires no CO2 emissions (apart from the concrete under the reactor) and began to take the yellow, “nein danke” posters down, and were accused by their erstwhile comrades of being ‘Chernobyl death deniers’. But they were no more amenable to debate, and no less critical of environmentalism, which they attempted to merely reformulate, like green Martin Luthers. The spectacle of a ‘debate’ between greens is a panel which accuses each other of ‘ideology’ in the face of ‘facts’ in front of an audience which fancies that it defers to ‘science’. The notion that their ideas could be improved by subjecting them to criticism from without is to them like the notion that good should dialogue with evil to find the best way forward. How to account for that intransigence?
To bring this attempt at some kind of synthesis back on topic, it seems to me that the *virtue* of the academy was that it ‘policed’ itself. Professor A and Professor B battled it out, until eventually someone developed some kind of insight that either ruled out or reconciled the differences of perspective. The institution merely enabled the battle. (Though Kuhn might shed some light on those notions). Now, the political establishment, so to speak, steers the priorities and practice of the academy towards ‘impact’, however. It might be then, that the academic is not merely thick, but has been bashed into the shape of thick. I still think the Sharknado sociologists are thick, but they have been elevated, whereas an expectation that academia’s contribution to society would emerge out of a more adversarial (than one in which HE’s contribution to ‘positive social change’/impact taken for granted) system, in which these ‘researchers’ had had to defend their work, would have had them chucked them out — or rather, improved them — long ago. Put crudely: the academic is shaped by the academy, and the academy is shaped by the political order’s whims, and the political order is out of control… Is that process or culture?
More deeply: the academic is in fact stripped of all that made their predecessor. The narcissistic Sharknado sociologists would be *nothing*, nothing *at*all*, without their institution. They are drones, flattered by the prestige of the hive, oblivious to any observation that what they’re producing is not honey, but mere shit — a commodity… a *vulgar* commodity… like any other artefact of consumer society, elevated only by the culture which validates the selves and their ‘research’ by its own arbitrary, diminishing standards. They might as well be celebrities, famous only for being famous. ‘Sociology’ is reduced to merely ‘doing good’, rather like the environmentalists who believed that they could do no wrong. In other times, thinkers and their works endured within or without the institution, whereas today, prestige comes with affiliation, not accomplishment.
So then, where I think we can agree, to explain how it works at *some* level of culture and its change… “‘the ‘bad ideas’ above are … more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation”… It’s not enough to merely observe that green is concomitant with some kind of atrophy or decadence — we want to see *how* it works. But as long as we limit this to those who are *actually* motivated, whereas outside Academe (and Greenpeace circles), it might be that these institutions are merely tolerated. We’d need a test of ‘motivation’. Not all academics produce work as vapid as Lew’s, or the Sharknado waffle, and many (including one of our hosts here) protest it. Ditto, we must be careful when extrapolating it to all postgraduates of red bricks and post-92 universities, which may well be a different ‘society’ on your terms, each member of which differently subject to a constellation of forces that institutions are shelter from. It might not be, for instance, that the putative demos (baby boomers and their offspring, in Geoff’s schema) acquiesced to academic or EU technocrats, but were excluded by a stitch up, only now finding their political voice.
I hope that we do “agree more, between Geoff, you and I, on the fact of bad ideas…” [than we disagree] and that our disagreements hold some interest outside our tiny circle. Not that our finding some kind of synthesis is going to change things, but it might help to instigate a bit of fruitful dialogue outside the academic straightjacket.
Ben’s analysis of the evolution of academia from ivory tower to Soviet shoe factory, instigated by Thatcher and exemplified by Stern, is surely correct, and is a good example of the kind of micro-sociology we can all carry out. It won’t win us any friends or PhDs, but it’s more fun than hunting Pokemons (Pokema?) and sometimes you learn something.
“Selfishness, self-centeredness“ in both leaders and in opponents of worldwide social movements is the root of cause of human suffering.
Today, I am pleased to report that unselfish cooperation among a few vocal opponents of the AGW fable promise a reconnection of society to reality at the London Conference on Climate Change on 8-9 Sept 2016, “A NEW DAWNING OF PEACE & TRUTH ON EARTH!
Click to access london-conference-volume.pdf
Oliver K. Manuel’s comment is rather off-topic and his link advertising a forthcoming conference is slow to download, so you might have missed something interesting in it:
“I am sure you have no desire to bring UCL into disrepute, or to cause dissension in the UCL community..”
Dissension? In Academia? Perish the thought.
My old university disgusts me.
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Speaking of ‘nein danke’, I found this today while tidying up an old database:
It’s a 1977 article comparing environmentalist “citizens’ initiatives” (activist NGOs and local lobby groups) in West Germany with similar groups campaigning about more everyday matters like daycare, schools, roads and so on. It also compares them with 1960s student activists. It might be useful for seeing how environmentalism has and hasn’t changed since then. (One example of what hasn’t, IMO: the ‘correct consciousness’ thing.)
Interesting link re Stern, I guess that would be more than a little helpful for him, I vaguely recall antipathy to the IMF, but it mostly passed me by.
Re ‘unit’: I should really have said ‘population’. In simpler cases that might indeed be a society, more usually a subset, and in more complex cases you probably need stats to tell you the boundaries of your unit relative to particular selection pressures. At any rate it’s always a large number of individuals. The complex case seems unintuitive to most folks who usually a compare to the ‘black and white’ / fixed unit model we think we know from biological evolution. In fact this impression is outdated; due to multilevel evolution and also at the lowest level, genetic material not being particulate in a variety of different ways, then essentially the same stats method has to be applied in some cases.
>”I’ve been thinking about some of this dis/agreement a bit more. I think we agree more, between Geoff, you and I, on the fact of bad ideas.”
I think there is considerable overlap. Sometimes when folks approach a problem (and we all think there is a problem of very similar shape, even if we have some divergence in how we think that shape arose) from very different perspectives, simple language and conventions result in artificial barriers that are surprising hard to overcome. I stumbled on your use of ‘pathological’ for instance.
Don’t know much about psycho-analysis, but I’ve spent a lot of time wandering through the weeds in Climate Psychology (yes there is such a subject 0: ) which I guess overlaps. Have some posts on this. It mostly comes across as a branch of social psychology (though treating climate anxiety and stuff at the individual end too), and pretty much everyone practising has extreme bias towards full-on climate orthodoxy. While this often leads to a huge range of cobbled up ‘factors’ and some pretty bizarre conclusions, there is also some surprisingly decent material that presents orthodoxy with some hard questions, and these are increasing. Mostly about climate communication at the moment. Best of the bunch is I think Dan Kahan. Plugs in a hard baked prior of climate orthodoxy, of course, but has developed some good tools on an open site (can see the process) and has some excellent data, some of which I’ve used myself. While the main effort for many practicioners is to find out what’s ‘wrong’ with skeptics of various stripes, or at least why the massive CC messaging has low public impact, Kahan in particular and maybe others are traveling in a direction that may one day lead to epiphany (though I’m sure he would deny this!) Interestingly, some of the cultural / worldview factors being glued to skeptics, are more or less applicable to the orthodox side (though via strong political alliance factors like in the US, there can be tribal behavior on both sides). So in a roundabout way there are insights to be had on alarmism, and indeed there is also the view of the orthodox themselves on alarmist communication for instance, with decent survey data.
>”But I have argued elsewhere that, for example, that environmentalism never developed a culture of debate in the way that political ideas that developed in the democratic tradition have (to greater or lesser extents, and with exceptions) so we can’t be surprised that environmentalists are resistant to debate, democracy, etc. To (ab)use the genetic analogy: it’s not in their “DNA”… or rather, it’s just not in the constitution of certain institutions, to which their populations are attached and absorb from ‘culturally’.”
Agree. It’s hard to debate fully and openly when one’s position ultimately depends on appeal to authority and other such devices, which is the case for CAGW and maybe for other elements of environmentalism too. That’s why debates are so often ring-fenced or cancelled or avoided, or become, like religious debates, a matter of unshakable faith versus fragile yet persistent skepticism. So…
>”The notion that their ideas could be improved by subjecting them to criticism from without is to them like the notion that good should dialogue with evil to find the best way forward.”
>”How to account for that intransigence?”
My own accounting, is per the above comparison, because the same social mechanisms are in play that support religious belief. I accept we may differ here, and also that this is at the generic end of an explanation, it doesn’t reveal detail. Yet the mechanisms that support strong cultural beliefs are not dependent on what the culture actually is, that is just a ‘detail’. Okay a pretty massive detail regarding the actual expression in society, who gets harmed and who gets rewarded, etc. But there are other secular examples than CAGW too, and many folks sense this underlying similarity and use appropriate language (for instance your own use of the word ‘evil’ as something you think they see – though don’t worry I won’t hold you to this as evidence of innate belief in the cultural explanation 😉
>Put crudely: the academic is shaped by the academy, and the academy is shaped by the political order’s whims, and the political order is out of control… Is that process or culture?
That’s rather well put, I think. And I think too it is also one of the right questions to ask. The answer could even be that it is both (in the wave – particle sense), depending on the perspective system one is using.
>So then, where I think we can agree, to explain how it works at *some* level of culture and its change… “‘the ‘bad ideas’ above are … more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation”… It’s not enough to merely observe that green is concomitant with some kind of atrophy or decadence — we want to see *how* it works. But as long as we limit this to those who are *actually* motivated, whereas outside Academe (and Greenpeace circles), it might be that these institutions are merely tolerated. We’d need a test of ‘motivation’. Not all academics produce work as vapid as Lew’s, or the Sharknado waffle, and many (including one of our hosts here) protest it. Ditto, we must be careful when extrapolating it to all postgraduates of red bricks and post-92 universities, which may well be a different ‘society’ on your terms, each member of which differently subject to a constellation of forces that institutions are shelter from. It might not be, for instance, that the putative demos (baby boomers and their offspring, in Geoff’s schema) acquiesced to academic or EU technocrats, but were excluded by a stitch up, only now finding their political voice.
This is very handy convergence. Re the motivation test, this is a great concept. It’s not entirely the same, yet testing the depth of belief (via using various public surveys and via my wanderings in climate psychology) yields indeed that ‘active’ belief in CAGW is much less than one would imagine. Most data comes from the US and hence that’s what one must use. But highly expressed belief in CAGW with simple questioning, drops dramatically when group identity is not challenged as part of the survey method, and drops still more when higher commitment is needed (e.g. paying even a trivial level of taxes, nothing that has any chance of helping with the existential problem). This angle is on my (large) back-queue to do more on, yet indeed there is toleration, and still more ‘convenient belief’, which via alliances means ‘belief’ only comes into play when cultural identity is called into question (e.g. the identity as a Dem / Lib). Kahan has honed this test device and used it in several domains, yet due hard baked prior in the climate domain his subsequent analysis is thwarted, gets more or less a backwards results.
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See also “The Clexit Campaign“ and this statement by Viv Forbes, Founding Secretary of “Clexit”.
“My old university disgusts me”.
My old university disgusts me too, not to mention personnel teaching in my old dept. actively censoring legitimate debate with tactics that wouldn’t be out of place in the Spanish Inquisition. UCL has disgusted me for some time. The university has become a hotbed for climate change activism. Witness Chris Rapley, ex director of the British Antarctic Survey, penning the ridiculous ‘2071’ climate change play shown on stage in a London theatre in 2014. It flopped, thankfully.
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Andy, the point of the test is to understand the limits of psychology — to establish its limits and domain, so to speak. This is important for a science which I think we say with confidence has far overreached itself, as, at the very least, the facts of Lewandowsky and other looming crises of reproducability speak to. More controversially, perhaps, my suggestion above and elsewhere is that we can understand that overreach by turning the microscope around, to look at the psychologist, his lab, his department, his science and the institutions he moves through. And that is where we discover the extent to which psychologists have been recruited into political projects.
You mention Kahan, who “has honed this test device and used it in several domains, yet due hard baked prior in the climate domain his subsequent analysis is thwarted, gets more or less a backwards results.” I agree! And he makes a good case study…
In ‘Why we are poles apart on climate change’, he argues:
— Understandably anxious to explain persistent controversy over climate change, the media have discovered a new culprit: the public. By piecing together bits of psychological research, many news reporters, opinion writers and bloggers have concluded that people are simply too irrational to recognize the implications of climate-change science.
This conclusion gets it half right. Studying things from a psychological angle does help to make sense of climate-change scepticism. But the true source of the problem, research suggests, is not that people are irrational. Instead, it is that their reasoning powers have become disabled by a polluted science-communication environment. – http://www.nature.com/news/why-we-are-poles-apart-on-climate-change-1.11166 —
Kahan’s first mistake is to forget the role of his colleagues in the social sciences, and blames the ‘media’ instead. He rightly turns the focus away from the public, but urges to “protect the quality of the science-communication environment from the pollution of divisive cultural meanings”. He’s only half right. He didn’t fully turn his sights on his own science, perhaps because he still wants the public as an object of study. As I point out on my blog:
— There are very good reasons why people with ‘different cultural values’ may end up diverging on the interpretation of evidence, as I’ve described here before. In brief: if you hold with a view that nature is in a permanent state of fragile balance and that human society is dependent on that balance, you will be more nervous of change in the natural environment than someone who believes that humans (especially in industrial society) are more self-dependent and robust. For entirely contingent reasons, these two positions roughly correspond to contemporary political trends that are nominatively/superficially ‘egalitarian’ and ‘individualistic’. (This idea of such a distinction is itself a bit of a red herring, but that is another blog post.) http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/08/environmentalisms-amoral-disorder.html —
The point being that Kahan puts “the social-group cart before the belief horse”. He looks for reasons for ‘cultural values’ without ever asking, “so you listened to the communists, the socialists, the capitalists, the greens, the social democrats and the anarchists, and you ended up centre-left, how come?” I.e. he doesn’t think people can give an account of their own beliefs, and that beliefs are formed rationally, even if they are transmitted socially. They can only use reason to identify the ‘wedge’ that makes them distinct to others. And he hasn’t escaped the problem of using climate change to elevate his own science:
— Culturally polarized democracies are less likely to adopt polices that reflect the best available scientific evidence on matters — such as climate change — that profoundly affect their common interests. —
It wasn’t enough to research the formation of beliefs. There had to be some greater social end served. He might as well have been writing about Sharknado.
Geoff’s criticism is more devastating
— Kahan’s article is no more authoritative than Brown’s, being nothing more than a puff for some research he’s done which apparently demonstrates that society exists, people influence each other. That a Harvard law professor should feel so cocky about having invented sociology from scratch is pretty frightening. —
We could leave it there. Later on, Kahan was surprised by research which found that ‘acceptance of “scientific consensus” in fact has a weaker relationship to beliefs in climate change in right-leaning members of the public than it does in left-leaning ones.’ As I wrote in reply,
— Kahan could save himself some head-scratching by reading this blog, of course. One can take the fact of the consensus for granted without committing to any of the imperatives greens would say it generates. The point being that there is a great deal between observing the effect of CO2 on the planet and claims about what it means — distance which has been obscured by many green advocates’ use of the consensus without regard for its actual substance. Kahan should have realised it, because he’s a relatively able critic of the 97% strategy. That is to say that the paradox is not that so many recalcitrant climate sceptics also hold with ‘the consensus’, but that researchers who aimed to measure the public’s understanding of climate have been largely ignorant to the nuances of the debate, if not extremely partial players in the debate. http://www.climate-resistance.org/2016/02/ask-a-stupid-question.html —
Psychologists, it seems to me, even those whose criticism of the likes of 97%ers we might agree with, are nonetheless preoccupied with understanding the debate through parameters that are not sufficiently objective, much less properly formulated, and with the intention of intervening in that debate, and do not reflect on their own prejudices, much less the problems of their own science.
It might be then, that psychologists are far more *motivated* by climate change than the broader population. Psychology — and environmental psychology, uniquely epitomise the problems of academia, science, and politics. As Jose Duarte et al have observed, “most of the findings reported by social psychologists are false” — by which he means not reproducible in 75% of tested cases. Such a science is not well-placed to ponder why the public don’t understand “the science”, the public ergo being rightly sceptical of “scientists” pronouncements.
I would be tempted to call time on social psychology, and to say that it is a failure. But then, we’d probably have to throw out so much more besides on the same basis. So perhaps it is worth rescuing. That would require more substantial reflection on the science before applying it. Establishing a test, and some other terms that limit psychology, to prevent the excesses we all know about, should surely be the first thing.
I wrote before that mankind has a soft spot for catastrophism and similarly for religion but there’s a stronger imperative at work – return on investment. Most creatures use it – is the fruit in that tree worth the energy and risk investment to get it? Mankind has gamed the odds by inventing more efficient ways to get what it wants but it still does the maths. Whether we know it or not we are all natural efficiency calculators.
In the past, religion seemed worth the investment but more and more people are coming to doubt that the celestial banana is up the piety tree and don’t think that a life of arbitrary rules are worth the potential reward. CAGW might have some more persuasive elements but the solutions offer little or no evidence of reward.
Of course there are people who will invest in religion or CAGW but their engagement merely signifies different value calculations. Someone who believes in God, thinks the cost of attending church/temple/mosque and following the rules worth the possibility that God does not exist. They consider other rewards eg community and good behaviour. Politicians thought that they would gain popularity and a safer future by following CAGW but instead they’ve got arguments, antipathy, high bills and zero success. The acting on CAGW calculation is looking sour.
For some reason, the psychologists don’t seem to understand the importance of this most fundamental part of our natures.
One of the fundamental flaws of psychology is that it can’t measure all the different things at play in our internal calculations. It often asks binary questions. How many times do you fill out a survey and think ‘it depends’ or just have a different opinion based on your mood that day or how you read the question? Or even just don’t want to tell the truth. If they ask the wrong question or don’t allow for the right answers, it would be hard to make sense of the results.
Society is even geared towards making us suppress our true fealings from ourselves. We are continually guilted over CAGW which might change our stated opinion but not our behaviour.
Bother, I read too quickly and took a wrong fork re your test. I assumed it to be connected to the top part of your paragraph, so testing folks to see the measure of true motivation or indifference for green.
>’…my suggestion above and elsewhere is that we can understand that overreach by turning the microscope around, to look at the psychologist’
I see. A much more tricky proposition, though I’ve dipped my toe into that. Will start if I may with Lew as you mentioned him. An interesting thing about cultural bias is that it domain orientated. Someone can be tremendously biased in one domain, hence not display objectivity when attempting to investigate this domain, yet essentially unbiased in another, say religion, and so able to investigate that in a reasonably objective manner. Psychologists are no exception, and Lew is a prime example. The papers he produces in the field of CC are not just shoddy but bizarre, and yet he has reasonable work outside this domain. Before jumping off the deep end into climate change and conspiracy ideation he produced various papers on emotive bias mechanisms, for instance, that seem fine (which is to say not with zero bias yet who can achieve that anyhow). This is much more mainstream work and overlapping various other papers, so perhaps a lot less glamorous than riding cowboy on the climate change fringe, which may be an attractor. Yet the point is that the work is not at all like the nonsense produced by the very same person for the CC domain. I think this gives a major clue as to what is going on for this particular example psychologist, and in this case it is the very nature of the preceding work that causes the problem, because all the bias mechanisms he worked on *occur within climate orthodoxy* in a major way. From my ‘Wrapped in Lew Papers’ series at WUWT that demonstrates these biases within the climate consensus:
“These posts arose from curiosity… …I ended up being surprised. Not only at the high degree of accuracy with which the Lew and crew papers explain and characterize the various bias effects that over the years have become a major feature of Consensus culture, but also at the highly plausible explanation these papers provide regarding why Lewandowsky would be unable to see this. Constrained so tightly by his own findings, wrapped if you will in Lew papers, and yet also possessing a worldview that is highly challenged by any questioning of the climate change Consensus, results in an impossible internal conflict, and one which cannot be admitted! Failing a realization of internal bias and so a wholesale rejection of the climate Consensus, an unlikely kind of St Paul moment, the only other route for short-term comfort is to reduce cognitive dissonance by ratcheting up the defense of the Consensus itself, and attempting to push its main challengers, the skeptics, beyond the pale, reframing them as way-out conspiracy theorists whom no-one should listen to. Hence the release of the highly controversial (even among some Consensus commenters) ‘Moon hoax’ and ‘Recursive Fury’ papers.”
Compared to Kahan this is something like the bad cop compared to the good cop, yet the entire ‘psychological police force’ indeed suffers from institutionalized bias when it comes to CC. And if we consider that the same kind of thing is going on with the rest of them as with Lew, yet to a lesser degree (Lew being an extreme example), this provides a plausible explanation as to why. To challenge the climate consensus view is to challenge their own worldview, not an easy thing for them to voluntarily do. We should see similar but lesser wriggles to exempt the consensus from any serious challenge.
I think your comments on Kahan’s piece are on this same trail, and for instance I would agree with an overemphasis on blaming the media, yet I emphasize some different issues that seem to me to be critical. Such as the fact that culture may not only pollute the science communication environment, it can pollute the science environment! And I think it surely has, to the degree that climate science has been entirely hi-jacked. I mentioned this on Kahan’s blog; he responded that this was a much lesser problem because science is self-correcting. Well on generational timescales, no doubt. Yet huge amounts of damage can occur meanwhile (for instance ~50 years of eugenics, or ~50 years of the saturated fats consensus that has probably caused serious health difficulties to hundreds of millions of people, and this latter one due to relatively minor social effects like the closing of scientific ranks and such, compared to the full-on effects as in the CC domain). In Kahan’s terms, if there’s an authority backed science consensus, it *must* be right, yet it is not Gallileo syndrome territory to point out that this has historically not been true many times. Mistaking a socially enforced consensus for a scientific consensus is fatal to any investigation.
>’There are very good reasons why people with ‘different cultural values’ may end up diverging on the interpretation of evidence, as I’ve described here before. In brief: if you hold with a view that nature is in a permanent state of fragile balance and that human society is dependent on that balance, you will be more nervous of change in the natural environment than someone who believes that humans (especially in industrial society) are more self-dependent and robust.’
Indeed. Yet these outlooks have become to some extent bound up in particular worldviews. And while beliefs may be formed rationally, they are only rational within the context of the cultural environment in which one occupies and the worldview so generated. This is why much more exposure to cross cultures, while challenging when it happens, tends to lead to improved objectivity. So while I agree with Kahan that we must use a yardstick to measure these cultural values, I also agree with you that the psychologist must take into account his / her own values, and take what may seem like excessive steps to extract these from the equation. Some of Kahan’s low level survey tools survive the bias and produce great data, yet it returns with a vengeance to short-circuit his later analysis.
>’Geoff’s criticism is more devastating’
Heh. A little harsh, but I can see where he’s coming from.
>’There had to be some greater social end served. He might as well have been writing about Sharknado.’
Also a little harsh. Yet I certainly can’t disagree that the aspect of the ‘ultimate moral high ground’ is a huge attractor for belief in climate change orthodoxy, and all those who sail in her, and too all those who fend off torpedoes with psychological defense systems. Unfortunately, a very much greater credibility than the Sharknado dissectors provides a much better defense system. A good cop working honestly without recoginition of his bias, is a much more formidable problem than a bad cop who long since has been bending the rules because he ‘knows’ its justified, or a vain cop who’s never really tackled a crime yet brags all the time that he has (the Sharknado case).
>’Psychologists, it seems to me, even those whose criticism of the likes of 97%ers we might agree with, are nonetheless preoccupied with understanding the debate through parameters that are not sufficiently objective, much less properly formulated, and with the intention of intervening in that debate, and do not reflect on their own prejudices, much less the problems of their own science.’
Notwithstanding the very significant problems with the field, there are good cops, bad cops, and many inbetween. So some forumlate well and some don’t, some produce dross, and some bravely reveal dross (thank goodness). Yet there is certainly major instiutionalised bias in the whole field. I don’t doubt that *some* ‘psychologists are far more *motivated* by climate change than the broader population’, yet most psychologists don’t even enter the CC domain. And to some extent it is the business of psychologists to be more interested than average in the subjects they are studying, elsewise it probably wouldn’t get studied. Though the 2 biases are linked, in the US particularly, the left-wing bias issue is a much more serious problem. If one’s worldview doesn’t allow for a challenge to calamitous climate change, that still leaves a lot of stuff one could investigate with reasonable objectivity (while I’m sure CC advocates want it to penetrate everywhere, it so far hasn’t by any means). Yet in such a polarised country as the US, where almost everything now has a left-right tinge, or downright stark color, how is an enormously left-wing social psyhcology (per Lee Jussim) field ever going to come up with anything useful??
>It might be then, that . Psychology — and environmental psychology, uniquely epitomise the problems of academia, science, and politics.
Maybe. No-one is watching the watchers.
>’As Jose Duarte et al have observed, “most of the findings reported by social psychologists are false”‘
A man who represents some hope regarding the younger folks in the field. Interesting that he believes in the climate consensus, saying:
“The reason I don’t buy skepticism is that I’m suspicious of overly convenient realities.”
To which I replied on his blog:
‘which is the real heuristic here? The highly emotive “we’re all doomed unless [carte blanche for host of massive policies]”, or the effortful thinking around “we don’t know nearly enough”‘
To his great credit, this belief does not seem to have damaged his objectivity. Maybe an exception proves the rule. I suspect his natural suspicions will fall upon the consensus narrative itself, one day.
Yet notwithstanding above lack of reproducibility etc, I agree with you we can’t throw out the whole field, or indeed as you mention the others we’d have to throw out too. We might inadvertently end up with a brutal step backwards, like the cultural revolution or something. There is a long history in many of these struggling disciplines, and we have to recall that despite many legitimate wrong turns (i.e. the kind any investigatory field would be expected to make anyway), there has been huge progress. The delete button doesn’t seem appropriate. Maybe revert to a prior system backup before the trouble, and start again from there.
>’Establishing a test, and some other terms that limit psychology, to prevent the excesses we all know about, should surely be the first thing.’
Seems attractive in theory, yet I think that’s probably much harder than it sounds. My own probably more unattractive alternative is to encourage a high turnover in the field, break academic comfort and privileged positions and the publication / citing system etc. Encourage a new generation, encourage those with opposite views into the field. If as I think (and I know you may not), cultural bias is the main problem, I don’t think you can extract such entrenched worldviews out of the academy. You may just have to regrow the system out of it. Yet there are ways to accelerate that growth without unleashing a revolution that might be worse than the problem.
Some of the factors you mention have been investigated within the context of religions, by various social science fields, albeit sporadically and not joined up as far as I know. The trouble is, none of these fields have twigged that the certainty of climate calamity is a cultural narrative, same as the religious ones like Wodin or the Sun God or the tooth fairy.
‘..more people are coming to doubt that the celestial banana is up the piety tree and don’t think that a life of arbitrary rules are worth the potential reward.’
Now that’s a phrase that is worth it’s place in history 🙂
Ben, This is an interesting essay. I have a further hypothesis about this. I think there may be a religious element to the rise of Environmentalism. As Christianity has waned further n the 20th century, elements of paganism have had a resurgence. Worship of Nature and treating animals, the Sun, planets, or parts of the earth as Gods has resurfaced in an atheist or agnostic context.
I agree, David, there is a religious element to the rise of Environmentalism. There is also an atheist element in denying scientific evidence of a higher power that made and sustains every atom, life and planet in the solar system.
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A useful theory IMO. And you are not alone, quite a few folks are coming to this conclusion. I think though a better way of expressing this is that culture is endemic in humans (evolutionary advantage), and the same baked in social mechanisms that support cultural entities such as religions, can also support secular cultural entities, with CAGW being an example. And indeed as the former wane, the latter benefit. Whatever is happening in the actual climate due to ACO2 and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, the certainty of imminent climate calamity is just a cultural story. This concept is not incompatible with Ben’s ideas on vacuum and degeneracy in institutions, although it has a different emphasis. http://judithcurry.com/2015/11/20/climate-culture/
oops, bug just landed on my keyboard, sorry if any odd characters and random likes as I squashed it!
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Bugs squashed. I have an edit facility that lets me do that.
The comparison with religions is often made; the threat of divine punishment; the call for repentance; the sale of indulgences; these are clear parallels. There are also similarities in the social origins of believers in CAGW and early Christians (the only religion arising in an urban environment whose early history we know something about). Treehugging hippies are hardly a persecuted minority as the Jews and Greek slaves were in the Roman Empire, but they can be counted as an ostracised outgroup.
Christianity spread fast among the educated Greek-speaking middle class, of merchants, scribes and functionaries, but never achieved a mass following until it was imposed from above by an Emperor with a Christian mum who saw its advantages. This corresponds strikingly with the rise of climate catastrophism.
What doesn’t correspond is the time scale (3 centuries for Christianity, decades for CAGW) and the fact that Climatism has never shown any tendency to split into rival sects. As long as it’s well-financed and everyone gets a slice I suppose it doesn’t need to. What happens when the flow of jobs for sustainability graduates dries up?
Enjoying the discussion here. On religion, the analogy as I see it is “you must do what the high priests say now, otherwise terrible things will happen to you in the future”.
Regarding the film studies pseuds at the Conversation, I have put a couple of brief comments there, that so far haven’t been deleted. One comment says that it’s they themselves who are in need of sociological study.
Kahan wrote a paper responding to the Linden & Maibach one mentioned by Ben and the movie-studiers that I blogged about, pointing out that their own data showed only a tiny increase (1.7 points on a 100-point opinion scale) in support for public policy action after being bombarded with climate propaganda. In fact if you go to the PLOS one paper, and click on comments, you can see Kahan’s criticism posted there, along with an infantile response from the authors calling (Prof) Kahan “Mr”.
Kahan, Duarte and Grundmann are the ‘good guys’, but I think it is a bit OTT to say “To his great credit, this belief does not seem to have damaged his objectivity”. This ought to be the norm in academia, that subjects are studied with balance, regardless of the researcher’s personal opinion. The fact that you can count on one hand the people that adhere to this just shows what a state the field is in.
If you look at religion as a very efficient means of state sponsored mind control, regardless of the belief in this or that sky/earth pixie, the parallels with CAGW become obvious. Few people (in the West) order their lives according to the diktats of an externally imposed state sponsored organised religion nowadays. But millions now live (voluntarily or not) in obeisance to the diktats of Big Green and its ongoing crusade to save the world from carbon-induced Thermageddon. There are very few aspects of modern life which have not been affected by the ongoing anti-CO2 hysteria and the populace are naturally forced to adapt their behaviours and ways of thinking to accommodate the often insane rulings sent down from Green High Command. Greenwashing has proven just as effective in mass zombifying the post-Enlightenment faith-resistant masses as was the erstwhile Catholic brainwashing of Europeans (circa AD100 to AD1750), as currently still is the Islamic brainwashing of Muslims here in the West and elsewhere.
It’s always tempting to say environmentalism is like religion. But maybe religion is too encompassing an idea. Political movements can be no less a 360-degree worldview. And so can science. For instance, nobody can fail to notice that in [ahem] some perspectives, the genetic analogy has become a Universal explanation, from creation through to destiny, via right and wrong. (Apologies, again, Andy). Ditto, the founder of that mode of thinking about culture, bears no small resemblance at times, to an angry Ayatollah. There’s nowt as religious and the anti-religious… And conversely, some good friends of mine have been evangelical Christians, but who outwardly demonstrated none of the excesses that are characteristic of environmentalism’s most pious adherents.
It *is* interesting, though, to see how environmentalism’s scripts bear more than a passing resemblance to medieval theology, and other pre-modern political theories. But surely nature-worship happened before climate change. What troubles me is the lack of a Book of any significance. There is no real Bible of environmentalism — it’s a hodgepodge creed, whose rag-tag bag of followers pick and choose from, according to how the latest database or press release suits them. Ask ten greens what “climate change” means, and you’ll get ten answers, each, likely a rehashing of whatever preoccupied them before the formation of the IPCC. Green’s like to emphasise “science” and “evidence”, but they are promiscuous with them.
Tackling climate change will, it seems, not only bring about World peace, end poverty, it will either be the toppling of capitalism, or its ultimate realisation, depending on whether you ask a ‘green socialist’ (or even a “Zen green socialist”, as one Green Party leader described himself) or a Green capitalist. Green capitalists and green Trotskyists never meaningfully disagree — the only interesting schism to have opened up is between anti- and pro- nuclear environmentalists, some of the latter formulating ‘New Environmentalism’, or ‘Eco modernism’, as their contribution to a green Reformation. Shellenberger is interesting, but that movement gets boring as soon as it hits these shores, with the likes of Mark Lynas showing none of the signs of Shellenberger & Nordhaus’ reflection. The reformation is merely pragmatic — how to sustain one’s political cake and eat it — even if the debate is superficially about how to have power, while solving climate change. The point being that environmentalism ceases to mean anything at all once the problem is defined such that it has technical solutions. As I’ve pointed out for years, a fraction of the money spent on undertaking the UNFCCC — $billions, perhaps even $trillions — could have unleashed a massive R&D effort with much less resistance than mitigationists have experienced. Entire campuses the size of the largest university could have been established to follow thousands of experimental pathways to nuclear and other energy. It may indeed have been wasteful, but far less of a waste than windfarms and PV arrays, and of human life sacrificed for ‘sustainability’ – it would at least have yielded some practical application. It wasn’t until establishment greens finally realised the impracticality of carbon austerity that they finally sought to establish a climate “Apollo Programme”, but ruled out nuclear power.
So here’s the most interesting thing, in my view. The possibility of abundance is the real death of environmentalism as a religion. Scarcity *disciplines* people — it enforces a social order, corresponding to a natural order of ‘limits’. Environmentalism’s search for those limits is a search for authority. If that’s religious, it is incidental — the logical consequence of eschewing the Enlightenment. The backwards step needs to be understood on its own terms. (Which is not to say that it’s not interesting or fun to observe so many green Taliban pronounce from such great heights, what kind of journeys are ‘necessary’, how many bins you need, and when is the right time to flush your toilet.)
Ben, Yes, Environmentalism ceases to mean much once the problem is defined so that it has technical solutions. That’s a key insight I think. In the past most environmental issues (British deforestation) have yielded to technology (cleaner fossil fuels). Coal’s pollution yielded to gas and other cleaner technology. There will be a post fossil fuel energy technology, the question is when it happens and whether it bankrupts us.
Ah but the lack of a Bible is even better. It means that anything can be part of the one true path, and no dirty denier can prove otherwise… or so they think. And there is a Bible of sorts, the IPCC report, but almost nobody has read it, let alone understands it. Sceptics have even quoted the IPCC report only to be dismissed as spouting dangerous denier lies. Purveyors of religion have rarely stuck to the spirit of the Bible either and largely interpret it to suit their own agenda. That there are some very nice modern Christans is more a reflection of modern peacefulness than influence from the dark history of religion.
Clive Best comes to a conclusion that the environmentalists won’t like – cookie cutter nuclear (HT Stewgreen)
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Interesting points by all above today.
I’ve emphasized throughout that we are talking about culture and cultural entities here, and religions are only one subset of these. Hence while noting some obvious generic features re CAGW, which are what many folks rightly sense, comparisons should not be too literal in various respects. Not only is there a large range of very differing religions (many of which throughout human history likely rose and fell without leaving much or any of a trace behind), there are various secular cultures too. For instance some more extreme political movements are largely driven by cultural mechanisms, hence we would expect these to also create broad-spectrum worldviews, which as Ben notes do indeed exist.
Hence when looking at a largely cultural phenomenon (i.e. one in which cultural features are dominant, they are by no means always so), like CAGW for instance, we certainly expect generic similarity because all the religions and all secular cultures are driven by the same underlying mechanisms. However, this doesn’t allow us to predict say that CAGW will last X years like Christianity, or have Y number of followers like the Bahai faith, or create specific structures such as cathedrals or wind turbines or the man-made mountains with which the Lambeyeque tried to control El-Ninos. Or to espouse specific tenets such as the abolition of private property or the ten commandments or the defining of CO2 as a highly dangerous pollutant. Nor indeed which particular individual adherents will be fervent, or only luke-warm, or even adopt merely convenient belief (usually due to cultural alliance). Yet we do expect a socially enforced consensus and a raft of other features concerning emotional investment, bias mechanisms, privelidges, existential threats and anxiety, salvation and hope, double standards, pressure / change to the law and the moral landscape, aggressively advocating fringes, demonization of dissenters, cultural cross-coalitions and much more, the relative strength and mixture of which will follow an evolutionary trajectory based upon the natural selection of cultural material. And we can use techniques to see how many in a population will be fervent or luke-warm or merely adopt convenient belief.
Environmentalism ticks some of these boxes, it has cultural features for sure, yet is too diverse / broad to class as a cultural entity; it fails at a socially enforced consensus for instance. Yet the limited subset of CAGW fits the bill well. Science does not fit the bill at all, unless it has been bent to, or maybe fully hi-jacked by, culture. As was the case regarding for instance the cultural entity formed by the alliance of eugenics with anti-Semitism and national socialism.
Cultural evolution goes back to Darwin and indeed before; Dawkins is not the founder of this discipline (Ayatollah is rather OTT but I presume you mean him). In fact ‘Origin of the Species’ employs a minor cultural evolutionary example (language trees) to help justify the proposal of natural selection in biology (there happened to be much work on this at the time, so was relatively well known in science). And I do not buy at all into the Dawkins led aggressive atheism, which ironically is an emotive expression related to a nascent (and hopefully short-lived) cultural assumption, i.e. that science cannot be contaminated by culture and that religion is a delusion (imho utter nonsense, not to mention contradictory to pretty much all cultural evolutionary theory). Should this brand of atheism gather mass support and succeed one day, it could do so only by becoming a fully fledged culture. Fortunately Dawkins’ impact on biological evolution (while providing a useful insight, ‘the selfish gene’ concept has massively overstepped that usefulness and distorted the field, which fortunately is now some way into recovery) is way more than influence in cultural evolution. Within the umbrella of cultural evolution, which deals with the above features, there are sub-fields / systems that try to tackle details about how precisely the selection works, and these systems cover both weak and strong Darwinian mechanisms. These systems introduce further concepts, and one (from the strong end) is memetics, yet this has quite deep roots too with various strands working towards it. There were a dozen of more terms for memes from various folks in the field before or contemporary to Dawkins’ contribution, and I guess a near miss at the name prize was the very similar ‘mneme’, which dates back to a book by Richard Wolfgang Semon (1921) ‘The Mneme’, indeed covering a very similar concept.
Ben> ‘It *is* interesting, though, to see how environmentalism’s scripts bear more than a passing resemblance to medieval theology’
Indeed it is.
‘But surely nature – worship happened before climate change.’
Ben> In various forms, usually as an element of another culture, it has occurred again and again through history and most probably prehistory. This shows not only how deeply rooted are the mechanisms that support culture, yet some of the actual themes too. Most cultures are not ‘from scratch’ arisals. They typically recycle various age-old themes from broken down older cultures, reassembling them in new and winning formulas. It’s a blind process of course.
Ben>’What troubles me is the lack of a Book of any significance. There is no real Bible of environmentalism…’
For environmentalism, I would agree. It has strong cultural elements, but I don’t think can be claimed as a coherent cultural entity. However, the subset CAGW can be so claimed, and has a pretty well defined written canon that supports a pretty powerful consensus, a chunk of which TinyCO2 refers to. We must bear in mind that the vast majority of cultures in human history rose and fell before writing was even invented. The mechanisms to carry a complete culture within the combined heads of a population, and one whose characteristics (while evolving) have clear continuity across many generations, still exist today. For instance it is thought that ancestor worship spanned tens of thousands of years in prehistory, with some similar practices over very many generations. Our heads have not changed a lot since then. Yet indeed modern cultures are also expressed by writing and other media, and have been since each of these appeared. To look for an (evolving) core cultural narrative is valid, to look for a literal equivalent of the bible or the works of Marx is not, these examples already being different. The core cultural narrative of Christianity is not only the bible and all its other written works, it is all the artifacts and architecture, and all the thoughts relating to Christianity of all the adherents at any one time. This obviously changes as time goes by. And as we know the totality of that narrative is hugely different to early Christianity, and even what became the (old and new testaments of the) bible have long hodge-podge traditions, much deletions (lost gospels) and changes, and oral tradition before that. Where a culture is in its evolutionary trajectory will inform to some extent the maturity and flexibility of the narrative.
Ben>’Green’s like to emphasise “science” and “evidence”, but they are promiscuous with them.’
Too right! It is far from the first time that a culture has leveraged the authority of science, and no doubt it won’t be the last.
Ben>’Tackling climate change will, it seems, not only bring about World peace, end poverty, etc etc.’
Cultures tend to endemically form alliance strings (hence entangling other goals from other cultures) and favor powerful yet curiously vague emotive messaging that offers almost univeral fears and hopes. Although the early phases do this much more (is harder as the cultures mature and have to avoid accountability), promising the earth to everyone is a great way to recruit. Religions have done this endemically, for the long haul ones refreshing their message with rafts of new fears and new salvation hopes more suitable to the era.
Ben> As I’ve pointed out for years, a fraction of the money spent on undertaking the UNFCCC — $billions, perhaps even $trillions — could have unleashed a massive R&D effort with much less resistance than mitigationists have experienced. Entire campuses the size of the largest university could have been established to follow thousands of experimental pathways to nuclear and other energy. It may indeed have been wasteful, but far less of a waste than windfarms and PV arrays, and of human life sacrificed for ‘sustainability’ – it would at least have yielded some practical application. It wasn’t until establishment greens finally realised the impracticality of carbon austerity that they finally sought to establish a climate “Apollo Programme”, but ruled out nuclear power.
A classic sign of a successful major culture. Massive infra-structure that appears in no way to be related to the promised salvation. Same with the astronomic spend (in relative terms) on religious infra-structure in medieval times say, perhaps the peak of the spend to populace poverty ratio. This is not to say that there aren’t benefits; the reason we have cultures is that they have, perhaps unintuitively in modern times, been a net benefit. When everything is unknown, a social device that can create powerful common action in the face of the unknown, is more than a bit handy to have, not to mention a driving engine for a raft of other achievements.
Ben>’So here’s the most interesting thing, in my view. The possibility of abundance is the real death of environmentalism as a religion. Scarcity *disciplines* people — it enforces a social order, corresponding to a natural order of ‘limits’. Environmentalism’s search for those limits is a search for authority.’
Depending on the level of scarcity, it can trigger strict social order, or a breakdown of social order as warring factions compete for resources. Yet anyhow modern environmentalism, and the CAGW subset that ticks more boxes to be a full cultural entity, have arisen in a time of relative and still growing abundance, mostly within the countries that have most. I don’t think this is incidental, I think it speaks to deep roots and emergent behavior. Perhaps part of that emergent behavior is a fear of the ‘abandon’ or divergence that abundance might bring (some greens openly express this fear); hence they empower elites for paths that via circuitous routes dial back abundance. Yet in any case cultures are endemic, occurring endlessly in human history, and themes related to nature as you noted have occurred before to (in fact also endlessly most likely, there was a big back to nature cultural phase in the Roman Empire I recall).
Geoff: thanks for fixing my post 🙂
Andy — “I’ve emphasized throughout that we are talking about culture and cultural entities here,”
Ok, I’ll try again…
In the post Geoff wrote, he argued for ‘a sociological analysis of climate catastrophism’. I did not disagree, but said that such catastrophism is an elite preoccupation, and thus the scope of a sociological analysis should be narrowed, not to the public, except perhaps to understand broader trends which are also categorically ‘political’ (or ‘historical’, if you want another perspective).
To say “we’re talking about culture and cultural entities” is to say nothing at all, and there remains the possibility that there are no such things. The point of a discipline is precisely that — discipline. Broad, sweeping, general and imprecise terms don’t help an understanding. Moreover, they invite presuppositions to be taken as discovery. for e.g. “some more extreme political movements are largely driven by cultural mechanisms” — you might as well observe that people are a necessary condition of ‘extreme political movements’.
So, you see, I am unimpressed by the claim that, “we do expect a socially enforced consensus and a raft of other features […] the relative strength and mixture of which will follow an evolutionary trajectory based upon the natural selection of cultural material.“, and I am entirely unconvinced that “we can use techniques to see how many in a population will be fervent or luke-warm or merely adopt convenient belief“.
It’s not merely that I think evolutionary psychology and its variants are post hoc and prosaic. When psychologists have probed the minds of sceptics, to attempt to identify the mechanisms of ‘denial’ using dodgy surveys, I have asked them, ‘why don’t you just ask a denier what he thinks’? They have no reply. The point being that mechanistic accounts such as those that emphasise the genetic analogy deny human subjective agency a priori — I cannot, on that view, have made rational, abstract, intellectual judgements about the climate debate to arrive at climate scepticism.
Accordingly, we don’t need ‘natural selection’ to understand climate catastrophism as an idea, as an ‘ideology’, or why it so grips its adherents. More importantly, the insights of EvPsych don’t help us confront it.
You see, I don’t believe that the Stern/King/Rees climate “Apollo programme” is “A classic sign of a successful major culture”, or that their proposal is for a “Massive infra-structure”. Rather, I think the Apollo Lords, who bemoan the fact that just 2% of global R&D budgets goes on green energy, are struggling with their own failures, the project reflecting the fact that of their own ambitions having been scaled down. As I pointed out when the project was launched:
— “But hold on a minute, my Lords… Who, free from the excesses of party politics and democratic contest, has been in a position to advise governments on the best strategies to dealing with climate change? Your noble selves, that’s who. In fact you were appointed in precisely this capacity. But as yet, it has taken you decades to organise an effort to orient publicly-funded research.” — http://www.climate-resistance.org/2015/06/the-apollo-lords-shooting-for-the-stars-or-the-foot.html
It’s not as if Stern lacks influence over the research agenda, as is discussed above. The point being that we cannot take for granted that being at the top of the tree means that the monkey got there by his own steam — the championing of some popular culture, rather than as a mediocre technocrat fighting a rearguard action. Darwinian ideas about society seem to take for granted that position is a consequence of a strategy in a competition, whereas the monkey may have been born at the top of the tree, or the tree may in fact have been toppled over, and it is the science’s coordinates that are 90 degrees out of kilter with reality.
So I think you’re rather going to be talking at cross-purposes with anyone who does take an interest in the politics or sociology of climate alarmism. It seems that more than an understanding of that phenomenon, you’re interested in developing this novel theoretical approach, too much of which needs to be explained before it could be compelling, which borrows too much from the biological sciences, and yet which paints a picture of society in such broad, sweeping strokes, rather than in precise terms. In terms of genetics, whereas the biological sciences identified a mechanism, social ‘geneticists’ have not isolated anything like DNA, such that they can claim social genotypes exist, which, expressed as phenotypes produce any advantage in a particular environmental niche.
It may not be that the analogy is complete bunk, or that it is completely incapable of producing insight. But to develop the idea means taking less for granted. It is frustrating to have to endlessly point out that whereas sociological approaches, such as they are, yield contestable insight, a claim to be able to explain all of culture in mechanistic terms is a massive distraction. For example, when the claim on the table is that Stern et al’s GAP project represents the failure of their earlier political project, your response is a claim about all of human culture, ever, throughout and even before history. It would be as if any hypothesis from physicists could be shown to be true merely “because the big bang”, and no more — it’s all promise, no method, no test, no result. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to study sociology and other social sciences and humanities a little more, to see where some of these mistakes have been experienced before, sociology also having been born out of the positivist tradition, but soon encountering its own failure. As Gramsci put it,
— “[sociology] became a philosophy of non-philosophers, an attempt to provide a schematic description and classification of historical and political facts, according to criteria built up on the model of natural science. It is therefore an attempt to derive “experimentally” the laws of evolution of human society in such a way as to “predict” that the oak tree will develop out of the acorn’.” —
— “Statistical laws can be employed in the science and art of politics only so long as the great masses of the population remain… essentially passive” —
There’s more in this interesting essay, which in part puts the development of sociology in its own history (while speaking more about global politics), at https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=3positivism09&site=12
The second of Gramsci’s points is key here. Culture is lived, subjective experience, not some merely mechanistic process.
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>’…but said that such catastrophism is an elite preoccupation, and thus the scope of a sociological analysis should be narrowed’
Mainly via religions, various forms of catastrophism have arisen frequently throughout history, and most likely pre-history. In the Christian West the universal flood story (a catastrophic event that could be repeated) was so entrenched in the populace it dominated a rising science until well the into the nineteenth century. Religions hosting tales of catastrophe or end times or whatever are emergent phenomena. They are not invented by, or in the long term, controlled by, elites. For sure elites play a disproportionate part as they do in all aspects of society, and your points about elite institutions play well here. Yet fervent belief by a sizeable portion of society is needed to keep culturally committed elites in place, serving also as a potent marker of high moral ground that pressures others in the population (maybe for many just to suppress objections). Indeed a notable feature of CAGW is the honest and deep belief of sections of the population. Narrowing the analysis risks losing much, with no benefit.
>’To say “we’re talking about culture and cultural entities” is to say nothing at all, and there remains the possibility that there are no such things.’
The term ‘culture’ is used academically and in normal use and has a wide range of meaning even in the former let alone the latter. But I think it would be very hard to argue that religions do not have an evolutionary trajectory, which for some of the mainstream ones still around today span millennia, and indeed can be traced back still further from the evolutionary branching of prior roots. There is much discussion about mechanisms, about social function, about cost – benefit equations and pro-sociality, about branching (heresy) and alliances, etc. and indeed controversy in some of these areas. But apart from some of those who are very religious themselves, little argument that religion is not an evolutionary phenomenon, or that particular religions have common and policed in-group behavioral characteristics that define them as a social group.
>’e.g. “some more extreme political movements are largely driven by cultural mechanisms” — you might as well observe that people are a necessary condition of ‘extreme political movements’.’
No. Imagine its opposite. ‘Mainstream politics is *not* driven largely by cultural mechanisms.’ This is a useful distinction.Which is not to say that the more polarized politics becomes, the more that cultural effects will play and that this varies with time.
>’I am entirely unconvinced that “we can use techniques to see how many in a population will be fervent or luke-warm or merely adopt convenient belief“.
Why? Even at the mass market end, so to speak, there are many public surveys that assess beliefs in various domains. And many academic efforts too (albeit most behind paywalls). Are you saying all of these do not tell us anything useful (regarding beliefs in general)?
>’When psychologists have probed the minds of sceptics, to attempt to identify the mechanisms of ‘denial’ using dodgy surveys…’
>’I have asked them, ‘why don’t you just ask a denier what he thinks’?’
Because you’ll have a different answer for evey individual. Same as you will for believers. It’s not wrong to structure questions in order to tease out common factors. It is wrong to allow systemic bias to rig that structuring.
>’The point being that mechanistic accounts such as those that emphasise the genetic analogy deny human subjective agency a priori — I cannot, on that view, have made rational, abstract, intellectual judgements about the climate debate to arrive at climate scepticism.’
The fact of culture in humans, and cultural explanations for say religion and CAGW, do not deny human agency. The whole of science, when it works right and it frequently does, is for instance a result of individuals exercising rationality and intellect. Human agency is not denied, yet neither is it unfettered in all domains. We all have some biases. In some domains, these may not play at all. In others, they will. Some societies have worked themselves into positions where there are, generally across the population, less such biases and more accomodation of reasonable arguments. Others are still much behind that trend and heavy biases remain more dominant. This does not yet mean the former are immune to cultural waves that may sweep through much of the populace, particularly when that cultural wave adopts the clothes of science and rationality; how the hell are folks in the street meant to tell the difference? If they support what the scientists and the government are telling them (writ small like saturated fats or writ large like climate change), they think they *are* being rational. Yet whom this will effect more or less, or not at all, is like a kind of post-code lottery; it is clearly not a function of intelligence because very many very intelligent folks are sucked in. The effect doesn’t *necessarily* last, human agency can indeed pit against culture. Believers can discover skepticism. Unfortunately, some can go the other way.
>’Accordingly, we don’t need ‘natural selection’ to understand climate catastrophism as an idea, as an ‘ideology’, or why it so grips its adherents. More importantly, the insights of EvPsych don’t help us confront it.’
Per previous I’d call CAGW a culture rather than an ideology. However, I think your statement means you’d need an alternate theory for why, generically speaking, by either definition these things gain adherents and rise to major influence (or not, as the case may be), and why as this process occurs, the narrative can clearly be seen changing, in a manner that seems for increased benefit, yet often across generations and wide populations where this cannot possibly be a conspiracy or pre-meditated plan. Narrative selection explains this. CAGW was birthed in academia (it seems to me), so your points about the failing academy and its influence on government seem fine as a part of the story. Yet this is a global phenomenon reaching across many countries with different equations in that respect, and with grass roots movements pressuring upwards also. As to confronting it, I don’t have an answer, but the more insight one has on any phenomena, the more chance of successfully confronting it.
>’I don’t believe that the Stern/King/Rees climate “Apollo programme” is “A classic sign of a successful major culture… …Rather, I think the Apollo Lords, who bemoan the fact that just 2% of global R&D budgets goes on green energy, are struggling with their own failures…’
If you mean cultures don’t succeed in all options they attempt to exercise, or that the individuals involved in such (in this case Stern and allies) regard some of their activities in the service of a culture as personal failures too, then I would wholeheartedly agree. Even the most successful cultures don’t get to direct everything. Not only are they in competition with reason, they are in competition with other cultures too, on a complex multi-dimensional map. And kind of like a major war, there are dynamically shifting cultural alliances and oppositions going on all the time in this competition.
The same person can be both a more than average influential advocate of a culture, and a ‘mediocre technocrat fighting a rearguard action’ regarding a particular policy, at the same time. There is no contradiction here. I’d suggest his net worth to the culture over his whole career in this case is still high; Stern has furthered the cause. Yet just because legitimized by a culture, why would he always win? No culture always wins. This doesn’t mean that the net infra-structure worth of CAGW isn’t huge in dollar terms world-wide, and how can this be regarded as a failure? This infra-structure will likely have diddly-squat effect on the actual climate of course, yet as noted that is not a factor in the measurement of success. And ‘success’ does not mean CAGW has to be top dog, or close; it means that this is a force in the world to be reckoned with. Surely you are not arguing otherwise?
If a culture gets more reverses than wins, it’s on a downward slope. Let’s hope more beaurocrats are forced onto the back foot re CAGW and their attempts at emotive argument fail to get the leverage they want, or have it scaled down.
>’Darwinian ideas about society seem to take for granted that position is a consequence of a strategy in a competition, whereas the monkey may have been born at the top of the tree, or the tree may in fact have been toppled over…’
There are no such assumptions whatsoever about individual monkeys. The assumptions are about populations.
>’So I think you’re rather going to be talking at cross-purposes with anyone who does take an interest in the politics or sociology of climate alarmism.’
Your opinion, which you’re perfectly entitled to hold, yet is no more than opinion. I believe the key to understanding CAGW is that it is a culture; it’s the single most important thing one can know about CAGW, and I have some data supporting this proposition in various posts (e.g. on bias mechanisms and emotive commitment, measures from surveys, one example below). Do you have data to contest this? Nor is the approach novel albeit it’s more formal, considering the very many folks who’ve drawn parallels between religion and CAGW. While there are per above dangers to interpreting this too literally, people’s intellect and human agency are enabling them to perceive the many similarities even without the help form theoretical grounding.
>’For example, when the claim on the table is that Stern et al’s GAP project represents the failure of their earlier political project, your response is a claim about all of human culture, ever, throughout and even before history.’
I can’t spot this precise claim and counter claim above. However, in this last exchange you note a specific Stern failure; in answer I do not claim (and have never claimed) that anything done in service to a culture will be successful. Far from it. There have no doubt been countless political and infra-structure failures on the road to where CAGW is now, yet there have been still more successes. This is net success, on a global scale, to the tune of trillions and many sectors of global society engaged. While examples generally have to be quoted to illustrate points, fine, I don’t see how any case of particular failure (or success) in the CAGW domain, speaks to the overall sociological picture.
>It would be as if any hypothesis from physicists could be shown to be true merely “because the big bang”, and no more — it’s all promise, no method, no test, no result.
On the contrary. There is much in this vein. However, limiting specifically to my own posts and still more to a very simple analysis geared for easy understanding: here are 3 steps which show that Creationism is cultural in nature, and via the same 3 steps, that CAGW is cultural in nature. If you don’t like the latter, you have to say why they’re also wrong for the former.
>’Culture is lived, subjective experience, not some merely mechanistic process.’
As noted above, the various definitions of what ‘culture’ means cover a huge amount of ground. However, there is nothing incompatible between a lived, subjective experience at a personal level, and underlying rules at a populational level. These concepts are entirely compatible.
Analyzing the surface politics is a fine thing to do. A necessary thing, because the cultural thing does not resolve to detail. Yet if one seeks root cause at this level, one will be going round and round forever, because the root cause is deeper, and emergent, and root cause is where the cultural angle yields great insight.
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Damn, liked my own post be accident! Not intended, last time it was a bug and now tea on the keyboard.
Andy you write a very long post, but offer no more clarity on the points raised about the shortcomings of a mechanistic account of culture, over the sociological perspective, which has tried such an approach, as was explained. I can’t accuse anyone of over-long posts, but point-by-point responses merely seem to expand the problem.
You say, “religions hosting tales of catastrophe or end times or whatever are emergent phenomena. They are not invented by, or in the long term, controlled by, elites”.
I’m not so sure about that. It’s hard to see either millennialism or millenarianism arising out of serf, erm, culture. It wasn’t peasants debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It was categorically an elite that controlled the ‘ideosphere’, and protected its books and their meaning. You’d have to learn Latin and Greek to get anywhere near the ideas of consequence before the C17th. And even then, of what consequence would such an understanding mean — it would be 300 or so years before universal adult suffrage. No doubt elites lose control over the ides they ground themselves on… But that typically reflects the political dynamics in play, rather than merely the breakdown, or evolution of ideas. Your idealism suggests you may have re-inverted the process of history, as Marx might have it. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm There are other forces at work in society than ideas, as he identified.
But you say, on the contrary, “fervent belief by a sizeable portion of society is needed to keep culturally committed elites in place”.
Deference might require belief. But that might be more the belief that if you don’t do what you’re told, you’ll have your head chopped off or supper taken away than a commitment to the idea of the Divine Right of Kings as a ‘culture’. No doubt ideas develop. But to say that development of ideas is equivalent to ‘evolution’ is always post hoc. If there is ‘little argument that religion is not an evolutionary phenomenon’, then it is because anyone capable of the thought is likely bored to tears by such “insight” that only a weak grasp on history can sustain.
> “>’I have asked them, ‘why don’t you just ask a denier what he thinks’?’
> Because you’ll have a different answer for evey individual.”
Well, then, QED.
We know the dodgy survey structures the questions, such that it makes ‘real’ the psychologists presuppositions. So we ought to be more careful in presupposing what motivates people. on that point, you claim…
— “how the hell are folks in the street meant to tell the difference? If they support what the scientists and the government are telling them (writ small like saturated fats or writ large like climate change), they think they *are* being rational. —
It’s an interesting question. But I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed about such ideas. First is that it ain’t salt-of-the-earth-doffing-their-cap types who express concern for such things as official guidance on diet, or the relative strength of the consensus message on climate versus deniers’ claims. Second, the people who do absorb such ideas invariably hail from Islington before Hull. Third, those ideas are absorbed in no small part to differentiate from those who will quite frankly tell you ‘it’s a load of bollocks mate’, having long ago thrown away the cap once doffed. And that’s the point — there *is* a popular, and seemingly spontaneous understanding that paternalistic messaging in society, and emphasis on such lofty things as saving the planet, reflects the exclusion from political life of a great number of people, against their interests, for the benefit of the class that champions such things. And we know from the emergence of *cultures* since they were able to record it from themselves, that such recalcitrance is as eternal as ideas themselves. Mocking the monarchy and the clergy is as old as the monarchy and the clergy.
— “Your opinion, which you’re perfectly entitled to hold, yet is no more than opinion. I believe the key to understanding CAGW is that it is a culture; it’s the single most important thing one can know about CAGW, and I have some data supporting this proposition in various posts (e.g. on bias mechanisms and emotive commitment, measures from surveys, one example below). Do you have data to contest this? ” —
We know you believe it; the problem you have is in explaining precisely what you mean by ‘culture’ which yields any practical insight, which also doesn’t repeat the problems that anyone who has studied sociology 101 would know to be problematic, and which are not, moreover, entirely distracting from progress on any other subject than your pet theory. Hence, I urged you to acquaint yourself with those modes of understanding society before being quite so evangelical about your own, they being somewhat better developed than your own, discussion of which obscures the subject at hand. As I said above, you’re more interested in advancing your theory than you are interested in discussing the phenomenon of climate alarmism.
I don’t know what data you are holding as some kind of witness to the indubitable fact of ‘evolution’ in ‘culture’. What I can see for myself is that the terms of your theory are nebulous and have failed on their own terms many times in different forms. If I make an argument that requires ‘data’, I will use data to support the argument. I don’t claim to hold data to support some theory of culture which holds in relation to any possible competing theory.
— “here are 3 steps which show that Creationism is cultural in nature, and via the same 3 steps, that CAGW is cultural in nature. If you don’t like the latter, you have to say why they’re also wrong for the former.–
I read the piece. With respect, it strikes me as context-free grammar. In particular:
— “A cultural entity can be detected by its artifacts and alliances and by direct bias effects upon society, the latter of which typically form a positive feedback reinforcing the culture.” —
Which raises the following problems.
1. All “artefacts” are “cultural entities”.
2. All “alliances” are “cultural entities”.
3. “Effects upon society” are “cultural entities”.
4. Ergo, “A cultural entity can be detected by cultural entities and cultural entities and cultural entities…”
5. “positive feedback” is categorically a *destabilising* phenomenon, not one which ‘reinforces’ any system.
I’m sorry, Andy, I don’t mean to be mean, but I’ve tried… It’s nonsense. On stilts. Or it is simply extremely badly written, and far too enthusiastically advocated, at the expense of other conversations.
Ninety-four years ago, Aston reported the discovery of “powers beyond the dreams of scientific fiction” in his 1922 Nobel Lecture. Seventy-one years ago, those “powers” destroyed Hiroshima on 6 AUG 1945. Two months later, nations and national academies of sciences were united on 24 OCT 1945: Humanity would be “forever” divided between: – A few who would rule the world with secret knowledge, and
– The ignorant masses that would forever serve as their slaves.
Thanks to the AGW scandal, the “secret knowledge” that divided humanity in 1945 is now “forever” exposed for all to see: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10640850/HigherPower.pdf
With kind regards,Oliver K. Manuel1-573-647-1377
>’I’m not so sure about that. It’s hard to see either millennialism or millenarianism arising out of serf, erm, culture.’
The fact that the peasants couldn’t read Latin or were skeptical (and sometimes downright antagonistic) towards the elites that sat so heavily upon them, does not mean that they weren’t (at various times in history) in fear for their mortal souls and / or afraid of the coming existential disaster, via whatever such fateful interpretation their local religious narrative espoused. That narrative was written (or was transmitted by skillful oral tradition) by people, yet over many generations and by many people, hence it is emergent. And elites that disagreed with a new such narrative, for instance clinging to the old one via which they leveraged benefit, were not infrequently overturned, demonstrating a specifically bottom up emergence. In stages where the narrative and the elite are in relative harmony, chopping someone’s head off for holding the wrong religious views is a particularly harsh policing mechanism; CAGW fortunately stops at publication gating and demonization by ‘denier’ labels and such techniques, yet these are both ways of policing a cultural consensus.
>’Well, then, QED.’
If you mean this proves we are individuals, I think we already knew that 🙂 If you mean it proves there is not some underlying commonalities, it proves no such thing. Would a newly discovered New Guineau tribe not behave very differently and systemically to the citizens on New York, say? and those in many separated countries likewise behave systemically differently to each other? And it happens within countries too, regarding politics and… culture. The different cultures in the ‘melting pot’ of the USA are often mentioned, generally in respect of these cultures slowing merging together. It requires careful questioning to tease apart the tangles and not least because bias needs to be minimized in the form of the questioning. To say there are dodgy surveys is of course, true. To say all surveys are dodgy and that we can never learn anything from them (if this is what you imply), is not.
>’But I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed about such ideas. First is that it ain’t salt-of-the-earth-doffing-their-cap types who express concern for such things as official guidance on diet…’
My mum constantly nagged the family about saturated fats (and she and we are definitely ordinary folks). Yet this issue is not an issue with a cultural investment, I used it only to show that folks cannot always know that what science and the government say, is right.
>’or the relative strength of the consensus message on climate versus deniers’ claims’
I find this issue raises strong feelings in the community, anecdotally when I’ve heard it discussed, and via surveys too, though I guess if you don’t trust any surveys that won’t mean much.
>’Second, the people who do absorb such ideas invariably hail from Islington before Hull.’
I think that’s rather an insult to Hull, not to mention all other places in the world that aren’t Islington. For better of worse, folks do engage on issues elsewhere. CAGW is a global phenomenon, it clearly is not in place by virtue of support from Islington. If Islington has a disproportionate contribution as a region (I don’t know, I’ve never seen a survey of Islington versus anywhere else), then I think this means that the folks of that borough have a different cultural outlook, one which is more pro-CAGW to some degree. Now this is plausible, yet the great majority of the 200,000 population there I’m pretty certain will be ordinary folks.
>’Third, those ideas are absorbed in no small part to differentiate from those who will quite frankly tell you ‘it’s a load of bollocks mate’, having long ago thrown away the cap once doffed.’
There is huge skepticism in the public regarding CAGW still, much to the dismay of its adherents, elite or ordinary. Why people take up ideas and why they don’t, including as moral differentiators to other folks, is examined by those systems of understanding you appear to not to ascribe to, one such system being memetics. Yet explainable or not, I’m sure you’re right about a big element of this, along with other factors. It does not show that there isn’t a culture of CAGW, it shows that the culture is very far from winning over the whole population. Well yes, absolutely (and thank goodness).
>’…there *is* a popular, and seemingly spontaneous understanding that paternalistic messaging in society, and emphasis on such lofty things as saving the planet, reflects the exclusion from political life of a great number of people, against their interests, for the benefit of the class that champions such things. And we know from the emergence of *cultures* since they were able to record it from themselves, that such recalcitrance is as eternal as ideas themselves. Mocking the monarchy and the clergy is as old as the monarchy and the clergy.’
Absolutely; we find solid agreement here. A strong theme in several of my posts, and implied in all of them, is that a major cause of skepticism on CC comes from ‘innate skepticism’. I.e. it doesn’t spring from informed knowledge about CC, or from listening to ‘merchants of doubt’ and similar such as the consensus folks think. It comes exactly from reaction to a narrative that is too coherent, too certain, too forceful (e.g. suppressing other views), too emotive and too arrogant (e.g. demeaning the opposition), too obviously wielding existential threat, etc etc. These narrative features betray that the topic is simply not sound. Cultures wield all these features and more eventually at some point in their evolution, though at some times more subtley than at others. And innate resistance to cultural takeover is often triggered by such characteristics. It’s a long evolved defense for stopping cultures from overstepping their usefulness, but the longer the culture lasts and the more benign a position it evolves to, the more this defense will wear down due to familiarity and slow cultural penetration over generations. Yet it likely never wears down to zero, there is recorded skepticism of religions in writing for as long as writing has existed.
Yet this doesn’t show that there isn’t culture and that it can’t have a major or minor foothold in the population. It shows that there *is* culture and that the normal defense mechanisms for limiting its reach are very much engaged.
>’…the problem you have is in explaining precisely what you mean by ‘culture’ which yields any practical insight, which also doesn’t repeat the problems that anyone who has studied sociology 101 would know to be problematic, and which are not, moreover, entirely distracting from progress on any other subject than your pet theory. Hence, I urged you to acquaint yourself with those modes of understanding society before being quite so evangelical about your own, they being somewhat better developed than your own, discussion of which obscures the subject at hand.’
You have no idea what knowledge I’m acquainted with. If my approach has such obvious problems, it should be very straightforward for you to demonstrate these in a manner whereby 3rd party observers (we happen to have some here) are easily convinced. Seems to me that you are veering rather towards arguing the person and not the issues. I don’t think that’s a productive direction. As for being evangelical, implying impervious to reason by dint of being too passionately self-convinced, that’s an easy label to throw about, yet in my observation deserved far less often than it is thrown. At any rate, such is judged by a community, who may also judge that it’s uncool to deploy.
>’As I said above, you’re more interested in advancing your theory than you are interested in discussing the phenomenon of climate alarmism.’
And as noted in the thread above, all my efforts within the climate domain are strictly on topic. This seems to me to be (yet again) an inappropriate attempt to introduce disqualification.
>’I read the piece. With respect, it strikes me as context-free grammar. In particular:’
Goodness, you don’t like the grammar. Well no doubt it’s so impervious you couldn’t find your way to the content 😉 Having a degree in physics, I know what positive feedback is. No doubt I should have pointed out this is not an unchecked system and of course there is a growth phase too, but readers generally intuit such things without needing explicit detail. Competition with other cultures and the innate skepticism you noted above both form further factors, but the doc focuses on just the simple 3 steps analysis and is not a exploration of the whole topic of course.
— “You have no idea what knowledge I’m acquainted with.” —
I do actually. And as a ‘memetician’, you should understand at least how such a perception can be formed…
— “Goodness, you don’t like the grammar.” —
I said ‘context-free grammar’, not gramma. As a physicist with an eye on culture, I am surprised you’re not aware of this work http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html
i should add…
— “No doubt I should have pointed out this is not an unchecked system and of course there is a growth phase too” —
It is the implication that it — whatever you believe you are looking at — is a system, and can be understood as a system which is the problem, as many attempts to form a systemic understanding of culture have discovered as they have been forced to ever greater lengths to impose their view on the world that does not conform to their expectations.
Fascinating clash of intellects here which I would not wish to disrupt or interrupt – fat chance! Just one thingthough, on this ’emergent’ catastrophism of Andy’s.
“Mainly via religions, various forms of catastrophism have arisen frequently throughout history, and most likely pre-history. In the Christian West the universal flood story (a catastrophic event that could be repeated) was so entrenched in the populace it dominated a rising science until well the into the nineteenth century. Religions hosting tales of catastrophe or end times or whatever are emergent phenomena. They are not invented by, or in the long term, controlled by, elites.”
I tend to agree with Ben that the catastrophism dialogue has been generally controlled by an elite few. It has generally taken the form of millenarianism – the recurrence of a cyclic catastrophe. As such, it involves a knowledge of the past and an assessment of the future according to an awareness of a Great Year – a recurring cycle of abundance and decay which has shaped human civilisation from time immemorial. The Flood, in this respect, is mythological. It is, in a sense, ‘hardwired’ into human consciousness – and thus, as Andy says, has not been ‘invented’ by the elite. The reason I believe is that it DID actually happen. One or more of the meltwater pulses that occurred during the Last Glacial Termination did actually ‘drown’ the world. This is a folk memory, an archetype, if you like, in Jung’s Collective Unconscious, culturally/psychologically inherited and/or propagated via oral tradition. This very likely real event appears to have been exploited by the elite to instill a sense of fear and anticipation that catastrophe will eventually, inevitably return as part of the Great Cycle. In this case however, humans themselves have become part of the Great Cycle and it is their activities which will give rise to the next major catastrophe, natural in its effects, but human in its origins. Archetypal memories of real catastrophes are thus – consciously or unconsciously – exploited by a relatively few ruling elite. They are in the driving seat. The fuel lies in the latent archetypal memories of the masses.
Another thought occurs…
— “If my approach has such obvious problems, it should be very straightforward for you to demonstrate these in a manner whereby 3rd party observers (we happen to have some here) are easily convinced.” —
I have tried to point out the problems with your approach. Here, on my blog, and elsewhere. Here, I have pointed out in detail where your claims and the terms you use to express them appear woolly, and why a less ambitious modes of analysis (that don’t begin with the claim to be able to explain all of ‘culture’) can offer more insight. I have pointed you in the direction of similar attempts to understand ‘culture’ have gone wrong. I have lost patience, however, as you demonstrate zero understanding of the issue raised with you — the only result is yet another filibuster rehashing of the same nebulous word soup and grand claims to have discovered the secret of human culture, no less… Perhaps the dozenth such pointless derailing of a conversation that might otherwise have been interesting I’ve seen you author.
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Jaime – “The Flood, in this respect, is mythological. It is, in a sense, ‘hardwired’ into human consciousness – and thus, as Andy says, has not been ‘invented’ by the elite. ”
For those of us brought up in nonbelieving households, it is through the work of Joseph Horovitz that the story of the flood gains significance… but the extent to which it is internalised is extremely debatable, much less detectable.
So, I could say, perhaps, that I somehow absorbed the lyrics of Capitain Noah and His floating Zoo, having been put through three school productions, and this is the Ground Zero of my nightmares. But actually, I quite liked the singing and playing in the orchestra. And I have a much better suggestion as to what my nightmares were made of (although I think I did wee myself during one production), from ideas that were floating around (no pun intended, either way) at the time.
Although i was born towards the end of the Cold War, there was enough of it about to strike the fear of… erm… God into this eight year old discovering what those funny marches in the street were about, and what that funny symbol stood for. We didn’t need an… erm… Antediluvian end-times horror story to fill our imaginations… Just three minutes might mark the difference between civilisation and Nuclear Winter, whereas at least the Flood gave the animals time to form an orderly queue, and go forth… later to increase and multiply, go forth increase and multiply…. And at least at the end of the rainbow is the Covenant: the promise that the Flood would never happen again (might be fire next time, though), and we get to eat meat, and… key here… rule ourselves with our own laws.
I don’t claim that stories are invented by elites. Again, that would credit crisis-ridden elites with much more than they possess. Some elites *have* tried to engineer perceptions, and the myths in currency — most notably Machiavelli, and then in more recent times, Ed Bernays and Leo Strauss, if I remember things correctly… “necessary illusions” and “noble lies”, but as often as not, such attempts drown in their own hubris. Rather, I think elites find ideas that suit them, or even more likely, simply clothe themselves in whatever is fashionable to justify their privilege. I attempt to explain it above, how and why green ideas appealed to conservatives in the late 60s/early 70s, whose moral authority and their ability to explain the economic chaos that was unfolding were waning, and then to the left which equally was no longer able to make sense of the world and its deepening geopolitical problems.
I don’t believe the flood story is hardwired. Some stories are more elemental than others though.. And water being elemental… The receding flood stands for a transformation of both God and man. Similarly, in stories involving journeys upriver, it is invariably a journey into the soul that is being described… Think Apocalypse Now, and its own allusions to Heart of Darkness… It might be more that the abundance of water, and both its necessity and dangers that make it the stuff of so many stories.
There is no hardwiring possible for stories about nuclear Apocalypse — our hardwiring predating the bomb. Yet it fuelled many fears. So, although it seems possible that stories about floods from prehistory somehow drew into one subconsious story… But then, floods, too have been a part of civilisation, just as nukes became possible.
“The fuel lies in the latent archetypal memories of the masses.”
The think I find striking the era of the cold war, is that, in spite of the deep fear about what world political leaders might be marching us to, is that was in many senses a far more optimistic time according to the science and technology stories. Mass transport, jet flight, moon landings, the pill, the computer, domestic appliances, the complete rolling out of the Grid, TV, mass production, etc etc. The “white heat of technology” would bring “electricity too cheap to meter”. These things radically transform everyday life. But it all judders to a halt in the final quarter of the century. sure, there was the Internet… But it hasn’t quite yielded the same, unleashing the same productivity, as much as made it easier merely to buy stuff. It’s in that time that scientist becomes appointed chief doom-sayer. I don’t believe an explanation for that transformation can be found by identifying our hardwiring, as interesting as that might be.
AW>“You have no idea what knowledge I’m acquainted with.”
BP> ‘I do actually.’
Wow, you must have great party tricks too 😉
>’And as a ‘memetician’, you should understand at least how such a perception can be formed…’
Not sure that’s a word or that I am one. But that’s the system you don’t lend any credence whatsoever to, right?
>’As a physicist with an eye on culture, I am surprised you’re not aware of this work…’
What’s the Sokal affair got to do with the price of fish? What point are you making here?
>’…many attempts to form a systemic understanding of culture have discovered as they have been forced to ever greater lengths to impose their view on the world that does not conform to their expectations.’
Say what? So the fact that you have way-out dictators who leverage social and / or scientific studies to force their views on the world (probably employing anything else vaguely useful too), is justification for saying one can’t understand the generic mechanisms of cultural action? Or that cultures will forever remain impervious to human understanding? (for indeed if they are not subject to any rules, as you seem to imply, then there is no way to understand them). The fact that several disciplines already have some useful understanding (albeit a long way to go), belies this. While no doubt not everything the said disciplines think they know now will survive the test of time (which is pretty much the same as any discipline), I think the position that nothing of significance is known about how cultures work is a pretty extreme position.
>’I have tried to point out the problems with your approach.’
Thank you. And I have made a reply to all your main points. Some I agree with yet they are not inconsistent with a cultural explanation. A couple support the cultural explanation (I recall your description of ‘innate skepticism earlier today’). And some I disagree with and have responded accordingly.
>’…grand claims to have discovered the secret of human culture,’
What on Earth are you talking about? I’m not claiming to have discovered anything, nor is anything ‘secret’.
Many different peoples have tales of a great flood, it was a big thing with the ancient Greeks too. So I think to describe this as folk memory passed down through the ages is valid. Hard-wiring is a much more difficult thing to assess. Via long gene-culture co-evolution, where each affects the development of the other, it is certainly proposed that there is hardwired sensitivity to the emotions that certain themes raise, and this is certainly consistent with the ease with which cultural narratives seem to get purchase in the population. In this sense, some hard-wiring to the general theme of catastrophe is possible, though I personally doubt it would resolve to a particular catastrophe (e.g. a flood).
Is there a connection between memetic and diuretic?
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— “What’s the Sokal affair got to do with the price of fish? What point are you making here?” —
Sokal’s hoax was context-free grammar — nonsense that makes sense only from a grammatical perspective. And it seemingly ‘spoke’ to people whose emphasis was on “culture”, welcomed as a contribution from a physicist. His work was motivated by his concern that he ‘couldn’t see how deconstruction would help the working class’, but more broadly his criticism was seen as an objection to the misappropriation of scientific terminology in the cultural sphere. Nonetheless, the hasty application of the genetic analogy continued, even by people who celebrated Sokal, and they hunted for evidence of ‘evolution’ in ‘culture’ — typically with a somewhat coarse grasp of ‘culture’. So Sokal is pertinent here in many respects. There is no theory that is more a victim of postmodernism than the ‘genetic analogy’.
— “So the fact that you have way-out dictators who leverage social and / or scientific studies to force their views on the world …” —
It wasn’t a point about ‘dictators’. It was a point about seemingly objective claims to explain the human world, but in fact merely imposes the explanation. In the same way, and as is explained in the post, environmentalists attempt to explain social phenomena like poverty, war, inequality as the consequence of a problematic relationship with nature. It seems you are no less determined, but no more able, to explain everything in terms of cultural evolution. The problem, as is observed in that second Gramsci quote you ignored, is that it presupposes a passive individual. More troubling, I would argue, is that such views of humanity presupposed, such that they viewed as automata, in fact constrains people.
— “I have made a reply to all your main points. Some I agree with yet they are not inconsistent with a cultural explanation. A couple support the cultural explanation (I recall your description of ‘innate skepticism earlier today’). ” —
You have written extremely long responses which don’t show any evidence of having absorbed the point, the object of which seem merely to restate your position, regardless of the criticism. Like the essay you linked to, in which I pointed out that your terms are simply not explained at all adequately, with the consequence that at best it appears to be nonsense. Your mention of ‘innate scepticism’ is especially interesting regarding my point about viewing people as automata. It was a response to this:
— “First is that it ain’t salt-of-the-earth-doffing-their-cap types who express concern for such things as official guidance on diet, or the relative strength of the consensus message on climate versus deniers’ claims. Second, the people who do absorb such ideas invariably hail from Islington before Hull. Third, those ideas are absorbed in no small part to differentiate from those who will quite frankly tell you ‘it’s a load of bollocks mate’, having long ago thrown away the cap once doffed. And that’s the point — there *is* a popular, and seemingly spontaneous understanding that paternalistic messaging in society, and emphasis on such lofty things as saving the planet, reflects the exclusion from political life of a great number of people, against their interests, for the benefit of the class that champions such things. ” —
If you believe that what I was describing here was ‘innate scepticism’, we’re even further apart than I thought last night. Such a view of people merely expressing something ‘innate’ is deeply and profoundly condescending. If there is a “cultural” aspect to this, I would suggest instead that it is precisely that: cultural, with no ‘evolutionary’ angle whatsoever. The point being that an expectation of *politics* exists, which only politicians fail to live up to. That is to say that the transformation — i.e. descent — of politics to the management of lifestyle, dietry advice and carbon consumption (i.e. people as automata) strikes people as an abrogation of the democratic politics they are all but accustomed to and rightly expect, and which now amounts to an unassailable democratic deficit there are few means available to overcome. “It’s all bollocks, mate” is a considered, and in fact sophisticated judgement. You prefer the ‘evolutionary’ explanation, in which we map ‘cultural entities’ to emotions, to speculate about what drives people, yet while you were still drawing, people voted Brexit, and the political trajectory of the entire country changed, the majority of the population demonstrating their contempt at having been treated in exactly that way, by political parties, their focus groups and image and PR consultants, all promising to find the ‘innate’ thing. It doesn’t exist.
— “I’m not claiming to have discovered anything”–
And yet you are *so* keen to tell us about it, even though the subject was something completely different.
— “Is there a connection between memetic and diuretic? —
Yep. And emetic.
Oh to be sick of taking the piss.
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I think your attempt to link Sokal or similar to cultural evolution is completely specious.
>’It seems you are no less determined, but no more able, to explain everything in terms of cultural evolution’
What? Why do you keep planting stuff on me that I never said and am not doing? Cultural evolution most certainly does not ‘explain everything’.
>’“It’s all bollocks, mate” is a considered, and in fact sophisticated judgement’
Indeed. I never said that it wasn’t. It is you who thinks that cultural explanations are mutually exclusive with personal agency. I continue to point out that this is not the case.
>’And yet you are *so* keen to tell us about it, even though the subject was something completely different’
Nonsense. I believe my points provide very useful insight on the sociological side of CAGW, and have formed a nucleus for healthy debate for some years at other climate blogs. This angle cannot speak to detail, but it does speak to underlying drivers. The fact that you don’t subscribe to these points is fine, yet you have not demonstrated that they are wrong. Many of your responses seem to be curiously at right angles (i.e. they say little particularly for or against the cultural approach), and some are simply strawmen (e.g. ‘viewing people as automata’). And attempting so often to employ rhetoric devices, like the use of ‘*so* keen’ above to raise negative images in reader’s minds, plus your others above, is uncool.
>’So then, where I think we can agree, to explain how it works at *some* level of culture and its change… “‘the ‘bad ideas’ above are … more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation”… It’s not enough to merely observe that green is concomitant with some kind of atrophy or decadence — we want to see *how* it works.’
There has been some good convergence, e.g. per above, which I think we should keep in mind here. Subsequently, I feel that your apparently deep dislike of any possibility that culture could play a significant part, may be clouding your clarity of argument.
— ” I never said that it wasn’t” —
You did, you said that scepticism was ‘innate’.
This ‘words mean whatever I want them to mean’ Humpty Dumpty stuff is extremely tiresome, not to say derailing.
You also said, as your opening statement:
— ” ‘bad ideas’ above are I think more usefully understood in terms of their emotive motivation, rather than the intellectual content we normally associate with being the most important thing about an idea.” —
— “Emotively powered cultures can be extremely strong” —
In spite of the points that were made in the post, and subsequently, which show us that in fact, that environmentalism isn’t a sufficiently broad phenomenon, nor sufficiently isolated, to say anything like ‘environmentalism is an emotively powered culture’, or whatever.
You continue to protest “yet you have not demonstrated that they are wrong”, but how can one ‘demonstrate’ that such nebulous ideas, which turn to smoke before they are even touched, are ‘wrong’? They’re not even wrong; they are meaningless nonsense. The defence of which is apparently that ‘This angle cannot speak to detail, but it does speak to underlying drivers’. Come back when there’s something tangible to add, the point being that you presuppose ‘underlying drivers’, rather than identify them.
–“…to explain everything in terms of cultural evolution’”
— “… I never said and am not doing? Cultural evolution most certainly does not ‘explain everything’.”
— “One of the primary functions of a culture is to create a socially enforced consensus. This is an evolutionary advantage.” —
–” … cultures are emergent and work completely blind like all evolutionary processes.” —
— “But the term culture (in the sense of a cultural evolutionary entity), is applicable to CAGW.” —
— “The broader field of cultural evolution does rest upon basics like selection determining to some extent (the field covers weak and strong) cultural trajectories, and along with other fields like social psychology, acknowledging the significance of emotion in biases and also emergent social phenomena, so being an influence on selection.” —
— “Cultural evolution is all about the behavior of whole societies, and considers individual behavior only so much as necessary to confirm some underlying mechanisms.” —
— “I think though a better way of expressing this is that culture is endemic in humans (evolutionary advantage), ” —
— “Yet we do expect a socially enforced consensus and a raft of other features […] the relative strength and mixture of which will follow an evolutionary trajectory based upon the natural selection of cultural material. ” —
— “Where a culture is in its evolutionary trajectory will inform to some extent the maturity and flexibility of the narrative.” —
— “I think it would be very hard to argue that religions do not have an evolutionary trajectory, … But apart from some of those who are very religious themselves, little argument that religion is not an evolutionary phenomenon, …” —
— “Cultures wield all these features and more eventually at some point in their evolution, though at some times more subtley than at others.” —
So to your point, “I feel that your apparently deep dislike of any possibility that culture could play a significant part, may be clouding your clarity of argument”, I will point out again that my dislike is not an emphasis on ‘culture’, but ‘culture’ explained as an ‘evolutionary’ process — i.e. by imposing the Darwinian account over ‘culture’. I have no doubt that “culture” is important. I simply doubt that attempts to explain cultural things from a Darwinian perspective have ever yielded a single iota of insight. As countless attempts have shown, the Darwinian account of culture ends up *projecting*, rather than discovering, often to very ugly ends. That’s not to say that it is impossible for ‘evolutionary’ understanding to shed some light, but that what *you* have written appears to be drawn from the shallow end of a pool of ideas that have tried and failed, with nowt much new added.
— And attempting so often to employ rhetoric devices, like the use of ‘*so* keen’ above to raise negative images in reader’s minds, plus your others above, is uncool. —
I have tried to be polite. And I have tried more clearly stating objections to what seems to be your method, where similar ideas have been raised before. You persist, however, at length, merely restating your position, in no less nebulous terms, with no apparent understanding of the problem described to you. And this is not the first time, either, but the dozenth or so. It is hard, therefore, firstly, not to appear ‘uncool’ in the face of what seems to be evangelism for that ‘method’, rather than an attempt to explore the ideas that might be useful to understanding what’s going on. You are keen. Your account of culture is posted under very many blog posts, at the expense of being ‘on topic’. And that’s the point. We’re now discussing your pet theory, not mine or Geoff’s attempts to put green politics under the microscope. You don’t even appear to understand why that’s a problem.
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Innate skepticism is part of the armoury of individual agency.
Per my 2 statements you refer to, yes these are true.You continue to insist to use ‘environmentalism’, where I said this did not apply. But does to CAGW.
So where have I said this? You provide a list of statements, none of which say or imply this.
>’As countless attempts have shown, the Darwinian account of culture ends up *projecting*, rather than discovering…’
If you are still railing against long past Social Darwinism, then I repeat what I said last time: “…even wiki knows that: ‘the term ‘Social Darwinism’ has rarely been used by advocates of the supposed ideologies or ideas [evolutionary views]; instead it has almost always been used pejoratively by its opponents’. Well if you want to carry on that perjorative tradition and tilt at old windmills, fine. But it has nothing to do with where I’m coming from…”
>I have tried to be polite.
Not very successfully 😉
>’Your account of culture is posted under very many blog posts, at the expense of being ‘on topic’.’
There you go again. Attempt at disqualification. My posts in the climate domain are always on topic.
>’We’re now discussing your pet theory, not mine or Geoff’s attempts to put green politics under the microscope. You don’t even appear to understand why that’s a problem.’
Actually I do think there’s a problem here which is diverting from the sociology of CAGW / Green. Though it occurs to me belatedly, what we are actually discussing is your pet hate. In which case, it’s reasonable to cease.
— “Though it occurs to me belatedly, what we are actually discussing is your pet hate.” —
I make no secret of my dislike for the over-extension of Darwin’s ideas, and how I believe they are the same symptom as environmentalism. But, I neither seek out discussions to hijack, nor do I make it impossible to relate to people who hold with that account by endlessly banging on about it. I would disagree with Matt Ridley, for example, whose Rational Optimism is based on the idea that ‘ideas have sex’, because, in spite of his evolutionary angle, his work is well studied, he raises interesting questions on the way, and he does not seem to be religiously preoccupied with the explanatory framework to the belittlement of the people who have ideas. One does not have to believe that ‘ideas have sex’ to find what he says interesting. I cannot say the same about a single word you have written.
— “you provide a list of statements, none of which say or imply this.” —
The sheer abundance and the statements themselves *explicitly* indicate precisely that your position is that evolution is the full account of culture. Or. Words. Do. Not. Mean. Anything. At. All.
— ” My posts in the climate domain are always on topic.” —
You’re only kidding yourself. And not only in this regard.
— “it’s reasonable to cease.” —
It was reasonable to cease before you even posted your first comment.
I haven’t read the entire Ben Pile/Andy West exchange. Has anyone? You’ll see from Ben’s last comment that he finds it a waste of time.
I know next to nothing about memetics. I’ve read Andy’s interventions here and at Climate etc and promised myself to find out more. As Ben says about Ridley, you can disagree fundamentally with a person (or – in my case – not grasp what he’s getting at, from not have read him) and still treat him with respect, because “his work is well studied, he raises interesting questions on the way.” That’s my attitude to anyone who approaches global warming belief as a subject worthy of study from the point of view of the social sciences, and that includes the “good guys” of social science mentioned by Paul Matthews in a comment somewhere – Duarte, Grundmann and Kahan. I feel Andy is wasting his time here defending himself against Ben, but that doesn’t mean his views wouldn’t be interesting in some other context.
To reply to Ben’s point at (31 Jul 16 at 4:00 pm):
In one of my forays into the heart of the Green Blob I discovered that the European Union finances Non-Governmental Organisations whose sole job is to criticise the non-Governments who make up (and finance) the European Union. One of them has for sole aim the criticism of the European Bank, a wholly owned subsidiary of EU PLC.
I’ve looked up Brundtland at Wiki. Neither the English nor French articles offer an explanation of why Brundtland lost power after six months, nor why she was chosen to head the writing of the UN sustainability report, (apart from the fact that she was a woman and an out-of-work minister of the environment). The only source for further information indicated is two biographies by her husband. No doubt other information is available – in Norwegian. I’d be gratedful if anyone could provide it.
Geoff: ‘That’s my attitude to anyone who approaches global warming belief as a subject worthy of study from the point of view of the social sciences’
Geoff — “Neither the English nor French articles offer an explanation of why Brundtland lost power after six months,”
Brundtland’s predecessor, Odvar Nordli resigned in the February before the election. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_heads_of_government_of_Norway
Following the links to the election results, it’s not clear how the conservatives were able to form a government — the Labour Party had more seats and votes — though it says they formed a coalition 2 years later.
“… from the point of view of the social sciences, … ”
Indeed. But it is ‘interesting’ when the social science need to borrow authority and metaphors from the natural sciences, be it climate, or ‘evolution’. I toyed with a theory for a while that every bad idea from biology finds its way to being a bad idea about society…
If, as the proverb states, necessity is the mother of invention, ideas are the conception prior to a realisation. In other words, without need there would be no invention and therefore no ideas as the intermediary to an eventual servicing of that need.
If the proverb holds true, then, we can trace a lack of ideas back to an absence of the felt needs by which they arise. As a process, it also suggests that getting rid of need – by meeting it (or by relocating it outside of what constitutes a need) – is the same as getting rid of invention and a use of the mind in making ideas. Where is the need for ideas when there is no acknowledged need to apply them to? Or… who needs to think up answers when no one’s asking questions anymore?
The paradoxical problem with needs, of course, isn’t so much that they distract us from whatever it is we might be doing in their absence, it is that if they are absent (if our inventions have been fabulously successful in identifying, pre-empting and meeting them), we become distracted by our own insignificance. This is because it is through the negotiation of needs – our own and other peoples’ – along with the inventiveness, creativity and risk-taking required by the process, that we receive confirmation of our self-significance… we feel alive in, and to, the world.
In the event of this process’s redundancy, then, we might seek to cure ourselves of the resulting – and, quite possibly, harrowing – insignificance felt by inventing needs to meet (in this instance, concerning climate change)… that is to say, by inverting (and perverting) the proverb so that ‘invention becomes the mother of necessity’. And, by a counter-inversion, it may be possible to gauge the depth of felt-insignificance left by the over-meeting of a need by the correspondingly huge quantity of significance loaded onto its invented surrogate. For those of us outside of this survivalism… ie, for those whose everyday needs are still granted the space to provide a significant-enough, self-affirming distraction in life (those who see the value in having their cake, at all costs), the significance attached to the invented need – and thereby back onto its inventor (or its propagator) – is patently a telling absurdism.
As discussion of such matters invariably draws in religion to provide a possible context (as in the comments here), it may be worth filtering the above description through the Abrahamic myth of Adam and Eve. In this enduring story of formative adults (and as the formative story of the book which succeeds it), two people of university age are excluded from the only life they have so far been conscious of… an existence in that notorious over-meeter of needs, Eden. The shock of the expulsion is in the awakening to the fact of actually having needs, of having the rough materials appropriate to their being met and of having to come up with and test ideas, urgently, for efficiently putting the two together as a matter of life or death (if, in fact, this newly discovered life is felt to be worth living in comparison to the one no longer available). It could be said that, since this ‘event’, we’ve never looked back… but for the fact that we always look back. The allure of what the biblical Eden represents for us is ever-present – and perhaps academia or a university-enabled deferral (among other things) promise an existence in which we can believe – and act as if – we never left. Need following invention may just be the symptom of a wish which religion once allowed us to locate and comment upon… whereas secularity leaves us lost for words when perhaps we most need them.
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Interesting thoughts. The concept* that very successful societies may create conditions which then cause a loss of direction and identity (plus the diversification / search for identity this implies), along the lines you state, or even feed upon themselves to some extent, has been made before. There may well be something in this, yet societies are complex and there’s unlikely to be a simple relationship (not least even in a successful society, e.g. the US, there are still very many folks with pressing needs, so fostering a range of effects including increased tension with the better off and elites, for instance). It may also be a temporary effect; societies reportedly in this situation have sometimes gained a second wind, or a third or more. Yet CAGW has stronger support in the economically better off (and less religious) nations of the West, and still more so in their better-off classes I think (though I’ve not seen much survey data on income brackets versus support). That could indeed speak to your point of CAGW fulfilling a psychological necessity.
I doubt that comprehending all this via the filter of an Eden is optimal though. The main narrative of CAGW features catastrophe and salvation (that latter via a new order that avoids the catastrophe), oft repeated themes in history. While emotive memes within the salvation side, which certainly garner support, cover various idyllic back to nature / the past options, and yes a ‘psychological Eden’ so to speak, a comfort zone, doesn’t have to correspond to a physical approximation, what matters most is not the particular themes but how they grow in their current (e.g. CAGW) form. I think you’re right though that society is essentially resurrecting in secular narratives what it had / has in religious ones; there would indeed seem to be a strong ‘allure’ in these themes. Even some in CAGW orthodoxy have expressed similar thoughts to your own here regarding re-interpreted identity and a replacement for spiritual needs, e.g. Mike Hulme:
“The function of climate change I suggest, is not as a lower-case environmental phenomenon to be solved…It really is not about stopping climate chaos. Instead, we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change – the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals – to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come.
Climate change also teaches us to rethink what we really want for ourselves…mythical ways of thinking about climate change reflect back to us truths about the human condition. . . .
The idea of climate change should be seen as an intellectual resource around which our collective and personal identifies and projects can form and take shape. We need to ask not what we can do for climate change, but to ask what climate change can do for us…Because the idea of climate change is so plastic, it can be deployed across many of our human projects and can serve many of our psychological, ethical, and spiritual needs”
[*albeit a much simpler situation, there is a parallel to this concept in biology. A suddenly very successful species is not subject to strong external selection criteria across its population for a while, hence secondary factors (e.g. sexual preference) or genetic drift, play far more. This can lead to a great proliferation of form, many with no obvious functional advantage, and on occasion biologists have borrowed from the language of culture to term such a phase as ‘decadent’].