I see that Michael Shermer has written a new article on the subject of left-wing attacks on anti-science, and that my colleague has critiqued it. As probably surprises no one, I find the critique unconvincing. I also think that Shermer doesn’t go as far as he might.
At the outset, let me say what my colleague gets right. The anti-science attitude of many on the right, particularly on the American right, is exceptionally crass and vulgar. I think of Palin’s appalling line on fruit fly research (incidentally, do read the Hitch’s column on the subject), not to mention the vulgar and stupid philistinism of men like Ben Stein. But you don’t really need me to tell you any of that.
That said, I do think that left-wing anti-science is alive and well. I have written about the disgraceful and unscientific attitudes taken towards Bjorn Lomborg before now, and the wretched attitude towards evolutionary psychology has been documented by Edward Clint. But, to start with my colleagues comment:
“Concerning nuclear power, it does have very serious public safety problems, not necessarily limited to waste disposal (have we forgotten Fukushima already?)”
I have not forgotten Fukushima at all, the situation where an old and decrepit power station, hit by one of the five worst earthquakes in human history, caused only one death. It was this that caused George Monbiot to come to his senses over the subject of nuclear power. It is well worth reading his exchanges with La Grande Dame, Helen Caldicott about nuclear power. Particularly the bit where he says
“It’s all horribly reminiscent of the dealings I had with Ian Plimer and Stewart Brand”.
That is to say the least of it. But my colleague also mentions the problems with waste disposal. He’s a little behind on the times: the new generation of nuclear power plants consume spent fuel and render it relatively harmless after decades rather than hundreds of millennia. By some estimates we have enough nuclear waste to power all of Europe for three centuries.
Moreover, there is the matter of getting real about this. There is no other power source that can even begin to make a serious dent in carbon emissions. Even more green resources, such as hydroelectricity, are being blocked by the Luddite left. Vide Deanna Archuleta, the deputy secretary of the Interior in the Obama adminstration:
“You will never see another hydroelectric dam”.
This is insane. The time for such footling responses is long, long past.
My colleague makes another point, quoting Shermer:
“Whereas conservatives obsess over the purity and sanctity of sex, the left’s sacred values seem fixated on the environment, leading to an almost religious fervor over the purity and sanctity of air, water, and especially food”
My colleague comments,
“Again, the right and left are not comparable. Conservative condemnation of gay and premaritial sex stems from the fact that it is against their religious doctrines, not that it harms anyone. Contaminants in air and water and food affect public health and safety”.
To take that in order, I have no brief for the insufferable anti-gay prejudice of the right, but this is not the whole of the conservative concern about sex. The collapse of marriage and of sexual norms has demonstrably lead to a rise in the abuse, physical and sexual, of both women and the children of illegitimate unions. A brief reading of Theodore Dalrymple‘s observations on the subject will give you stories that would ring tears from a stone.
But the second part is more important. My colleague misses Shermer’s point: the left wing worship of the environment is not about the provable dangers of certain forms of pollution. It is the veneration of an “untouched” environment as a good in and of itself, one to which human well-being and prosperity must be sacrificed. Here is the founder of the Sierra club Chris Muir,
“How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! How blind to the rights of all the rest of creation! …Well, I have precious little sympathy for the selfish property of civilized man, and if a war of races should occur between the wild beast and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears.”
This attitude has not vanished. Here we have Al Gore in Earth in the Balance:
“Bacon’s moral confusion – the confusion at the heart of much of modern science – came from his assumption, echoing Plato, that human intellect could safely analyze and understand the natural world without reference to any moral principles defining our relationships and duties to both God and God’s creation.”
That such a man can get an honorary science degree makes me want to throw up. This is not the voice of a scientist or engineer trying to solve a technical problem. This is the howl of the anti-Enlightenment. Is it any wonder that much green thought draws from Heidegger‘s poisonous well?
Now here I come to my conclusion: right-wing anti-science is much more crass, but left-wing anti-science is much more dangerous. The two most destructive irrational pseudo-sciences of the last century, Eugenics and Lysenkoism, were movements of the left. Millions died because of the evil nonsense advocated there.
It might be argued that that is only of historical interest; after all, at the time when eugenics was being seriously debated, King Leopold of Belgium was treating the entire Congo as his personal property and murdering eight million people in the pursuit of rubber.
I wish this sort of barbarism were a relic of those times, but such talk has not vanished. Only this week we have David Attenborough calling human beings on the planet a ‘plague’. But you can bet your last penny that Attenborough is not volunteering to be one of the ones who decides to ease the burden – and what difference would it make if he did? We know where this sort of talk leads: whenever people are considered disposable, garbage, there is only one end in sight. That was the case when Malthus wrote his famous essay to argue for maintaining England’s corn laws that would lead to the death of one million Irish in the famine. Lest anyone think that I am drawing a too damning portrait, here we have Sue Blackmore, a supposed skeptic, writing in the Guardian:
“If we decide to put the planet first, then we ourselves are the pathogen. So we should let as many people die as possible, so that other species may live, and accept the destruction of civilisation and of everything we have achieved.
Finally, we might decide that civilisation itself is worth preserving. In that case we have to work out what to save and which people would be needed in a drastically reduced population – weighting the value of scientists and musicians, for example”
If you think that such measures may be a little difficult to push through in a democratic system, don’t worry: democracy is expendable.
James Lovelock has said it might be necessary to “put democracy on hold for a while”. Mayer Hillman, senior fellow at the Policy Studies Institute in London agres with him.
James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard institute, “Chinese Leadership needed to save humanity”.
David Suzuki, Canada’s famous environmentalist: ““What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act,”
The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman. “One party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today it can also have great advantages”.
None of these are minor figures. So what we get from the right wing irrationalists is a collection of obnoxious big-mouths who cause trouble on the Texas school board, around the subject of embryonic stem cells fruit flies and so on. What we get from the left-wing irrationalists is a powerful, mainstream movement that considers democracy disposable – in fact, a hindrance – and demands the power, since it thinks there are too many people, to decide who will and will not be ‘allowed’ to live. Nor should this be considered impotent; when it comes to blocking the industrial development of the poorest of the world, and in its opposition to GM food, it has already been responsible for a great deal of unnecessary misery .
This is much, much worse than the empty headed morondom of creationism. For people to trade in such talk in the aftermath of the twentieth century is nothing more or less than evil.
UPDATEx2: I’m being taken to task over my description of Eugenics as being movements of the left in the way that environmentalism is considered a movement of the left today, despite its support by both the BNP in Britain and the NPD in Germany (among others). This point isn’t really that controversial in honest left-wing circles. My point is that it is the subtle unreason that you must beware of.