Daily Archives: 16 Jan 2015

Global Warming and the End of American Empire

Climate Change Is a HoaxEveryone here in California was so happy in December. The rain was so intense that many parts of the state were flooding. We got enough rain that we were up to expectation for the end of January. But I was still worried: what if it stopped raining. Well, it stopped raining. We are now in the second half of January and we’ve gotten less than a tenth an inch of ran thus far this month. We are coming off an unprecedented drought. We need more than “normal” rainfall and we aren’t even getting that. And the weather for the rest of the month looks like the weather thus far this month: nothing.

To me, global warming has always been about rain. A warmer world means more rainfall. But sadly, all the models and historical data indicate that a hotter world leads to more useless rainfall — dropped over the oceans. So the California drought has been a constant reminder of global warming. I don’t see the drought as an unfortunate anomaly; I see it as the new normal, and that’s why I see California very likely being a ghost state in a century — or maybe less — maybe a lot less.

So it didn’t really add much to my understanding to read this morning, It’s Official: 2014 Was the Hottest Year in Recorded History. And from a scientific standpoint, it doesn’t mean anything. One year doesn’t really matter. And this, of course, is what the global warming denialists will say. Of course, they would take a cold year as confirmation that there is nothing to global warming. But what are the odds of them getting that? Instead, they use a cold winter as justifying their opinions. But really, what can you say about this:

Global Temperatures 1880-2014

That graph is terrifying! But it is also comical. How can it be that half the nation thinks that this is nothing? That this is just a delusion of Al Gore? That the billions of dollars made every year by the oil companies makes them honest brokers of the truth while the crappy middle class jobs of environmental activists make them biased? This is madness. And it has been clear for 25 years. But in response, we do what we always do: nothing. The truth is that we have waited too long. And our ignorance and hubris will be punished. This is all about the fall of the American empire. All I can say is that Americans should enjoy the illusion of power now while we can because soon the cold light of reality will hit us.

Over the next half century, we will see the world’s food basket move from the United States to Canada and Siberia. I’m sure that the United States will fight against it with our drones and our financial weapons. But we are a dying empire. We will not be able to keep up. And it will serve us right for dragging our feet these decades. If the United States had led, we might have been able slow and even prevent the coming change. But not now. All we can do now is mitigate the damage.

The sad thing is that half the nation denies global warming, not because they benefit from it, but because a tiny number of people who they trust benefit from it. And in the end, those who have benefited from it will be able to use their money to move where the weather is nice and they will be able to afford the cost of food — whatever that may be. But the average conservative will suffer, just like the average liberal. This is just as it has always been: the rich thrive and the poor suffer. But there never was a time when the poor were so inclined to follow and even worship the rich.

Now if you will forgive me, it’s almost time for Shark Tank.

Police and Fire Workers Need Their Rights

Police AbuseIn general, I’ve avoided the issue of the acceptability of the New York Police officers turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at the two recent funerals. The main reason is simply that the act of the officers struck me as so incredibly immature that I couldn’t bring myself to discuss the deeper issue. It didn’t help that the issue itself is difficult. But I think I have to side with the police officers’ rights, even if I don’t side with the officers themselves, who I think are generally a bunch of whining pussies who should have gone into cosmetology rather than police work.

The argument against the right of officers to stage such a protest is that they are in uniform. I think it is sad that this is an argument that I hear a lot from liberals. But I don’t see how this really matters. This kind of thinking is what has caused jobs to become more and more all encompassing as time has gone on. The end result are things like employees being on call at all times and having to submit to credit checks when applying for jobs. It’s all nonsense.

In the modern world, we all need to have jobs. It simply isn’t the case that one can “go west” and make his living by farming some unused piece of land. All the land is owned and the poor are not born with capital. But more and more, having a job — even a crummy one — is dependent upon a worker’s being the “right kind” of person. In fact, having a saving account and a room rental are too. Our entire society is now set up so that those who most need a job have the hardest time finding one. And once in a job, the worker is expected to give his entire life to it. Just “putting in the time and getting the work done” is not enough.

Personally, I find the tradition of police officers showing up at funerals in uniform offensive. But it is part of a larger tradition of turning police officers into heroes. The recent meme that “blue lives matter” was a joke. Everyone knows that the society as a whole holds up police lives as higher than ordinary lives, and this is made official in law. I do not accept this. I do not think police should attend funerals in uniform. But these are separate issues. The fact remains that these officers are off duty and thus have every right to act like the immature pussies they are.

I don’t think the optics matter either. It is hard to tarnish the reputation of police departments at this point. Not allowing highly intelligent people on the force? Killing 12-year-old boys with nary a thought? Generally seeing the non-police population as subhuman criminals? These sorts of things have already tarnished the police far more. The only people who seem to have a high opinion of the police are the police themselves and others who have had little interaction with them.

Today at Political Animal, Charles Ellison brought my attention to a similar case where a fire chief was suspended and then discharged for things he wrote in a Christian book, Who Told You That You Were Naked? There are some vile, anti-gay things in the book. But it is his right. Unless there is some indication that he doesn’t fight fires as aggressively for the LGBT community, I don’t see the problem.

To me, the bigger problem is why it is that our police and fire departments seem to be filled with a lot of simpleminded bigots who don’t see themselves as servants of the people but as their betters. Of course, I’m much more concerned about anonymous workers’ rights that are commonly being trampled on than these well represented workers’ rights to offend the civilian population. But the issue is that we need to expand all workers’ rights and not focus on reducing the rights of the small number of workers who still have them.

Update (16 January 2015 7:03 pm)

Before someone counters me, I should be clear. The specific issue is that police are allowed to wander around in their uniforms when they are not on duty. If there is an issue with a police protests during a funeral, it should be that the police are allowed to attend the funeral in uniform. At any such event, there are paid representatives. They should not be allowed to “protest” in this way. The police need to get a much better sense (as the military has) that they are under civilian command. I am no friend of the police, but I am a friend of workers. And police are workers. And they need to act like it.

Philosophical Underpinnings of New Atheist Sexism

Richard DawkinsI’ve been wondering why it is that the New Atheist movement has had such a problem with sexism. I’m not talking about any of the alleged sexual misconduct here. I’m interested in why men in the movement are so often anti-feminist. The usual answer is that it is just a function of its origins: that the groups that make up the movement have traditionally been overwhelmingly male. While that’s certainly true and an important aspect of the problem, I think that there is a philosophical basis for the sexism in the movement. And it rather gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the New Atheists generally.

Human beings are not especially rational. If we didn’t already know from our experiences, psychology and neuroscience tell us that it is so. It’s very simple: we don’t have the time to make rational decisions about the vast majority of things in our lives. What’s more, most decisions don’t lend themselves to rational thinking. Consider buying a tube of toothpaste: there are endless variables, most of which are purely subjective. This may seem like a trivial example, but humans don’t do much better when picking a president, a profession, or a spouse.

Penn JilletteThe most common statement I hear from people in the New Atheist community is, “I only believe in things that I have evidence for!” But that isn’t what they mean — based upon how they act. What they mean to say is that they only believe in things that science backs them up on. But they rarely understand the science itself. They might know the basics of evolution theory and climate change, but mostly, their opinions are a leap of faith: they have decided to trust the scientific establishment.

There is nothing wrong with that. The scientific establishment is generally a lot more enlightened than other sources of knowledge. But there is nothing fundamentally different from this kind of faith and the faith a Christian might have in her priest because he, like the scientific establishment for me, has never let her down. Clearly, science has a far better track record and I think that Christian would be better off turning to science for most of her questions. But science probably doesn’t have answers for most of her questions anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

There are good sources of information and bad sources of information. The problem I see with the New Atheist community is not their reliance on science. I share their reliance. But they demonstrate an awkward and troubling dependence on one aspect of science: evolution theory. And it poisons their thinking in other areas. It leads to an unconscious (and sometimes conscious) acceptance of pseudoscientific nonsense like social Darwinism, and if not for the Nazis, I’m sure that eugenics would be popular in the movement.

If it weren’t for the hubris of thinking that they are solely guided by objective reality and rationality, this mightn’t be so bad. But thinking that you are only guided by rationality makes it easy to mistake your own prejudices for The Truth™. Take, for example, Penn Jillette’s beliefs about economics and global warming. I don’t think he’s doing it any more, but his arguments against global warming were exactly the same as Jim Inhofe’s. But Jillette’s thinking was based on his libertarian ideology and Inhofe’s is based upon his reading of the Bible.

Similarly, when Richard Dawkins wrote his Dear Muslima letter, it was just his attempt to stifle speech that made him uncomfortable. There was nothing rational about it. In fact, it was an amazing example of cluelessness. It’s like telling a person with an abscessed tooth that she should get over it because many people burn to death each year. Logical, perhaps, but hardly rational.

One thing that science teaches us is that we are all fallible. The processes and institutions of science allow us to slowly muddle our way toward a better understanding of the universe. But the widespread belief among New Atheists that they are ruled by reason and rationality is a delusion — call it the “atheist delusion” if you like. And it allows them to be awfully blind to their prejudices.

But Only Villagers Think Polarization Is the Problem

Adam BonicaA common misconception is that polarization goes hand-in-hand with lobbying and special interests. On the contrary, corporations and industry groups typically pursue bipartisan strategies. In fact, contributions from industry PACs, corporate executives, and lobbyists flow more freely to the ideological center than to the ideological extremes. For better or worse, lobbyists and interest groups seek to build coalitions, and this often requires engaging the lawmakers most likely to be pivotal.

Political contributions are often portrayed as a means by which special interests hash out quid pro quo deals. In truth, they more closely resemble a form of expensive targeted advertising. Lobbyists value lawmakers who can understand, internalize, and act on their concerns. This puts a premium on lawmakers who obtain positions of power on important committees or establish themselves as policy experts, but lobbyists will ultimately attempt to persuade anyone willing to listen.

Fund-raising from small donors calls for a different set of talents. The most successful small-money fund-raisers mix media exposure with partisan taunting and ideological appeals. Fund-raising superstars Alan Grayson and Michele Bachmann have demonstrated this. During the 2010 election cycle, small donors (those who contribute $200 or less) gave $3.4 million to Grayson and a record-shattering $7.5 million to Bachmann. Overall, ten percent of House candidates raised over fifty percent of small-donor dollars. Moderates were less successful in attracting small donors. In fact, Bachmann alone raised more from small donors than the combined amount raised by all 48 Blue Dog Democrats running for reelection.

—Adam Bonica
Leadership, Free to Lead

Susan Sontag

Susan SontagOn this day in 1933, the great writer Susan Sontag was born. She is pretty much the prototype for the conservative complaint that liberals are the “blame America first” crowd. What I’ve always found interesting is that people who make this complaint must be pretty insecure about exactly how much blame America deserves. They show that they are concerned that there is at least a little — and likely a whole lot of — truth in the claims of people like Sontag.

I’m of a more moderate inclination. I think America — and the west more generally — has acted the way empires throughout time have acted. We have been a force for good and a force for evil. Thus far, it is hard to say that one is especially worse than the other. But with the effects of global warming, the “evil” side of the equation is getting far more weight. And it isn’t just what we are doing to the global environment. It greatly bothers me that here in the United States, roughly half the population has decided to just ignore what is going on and turn to the people who have an enormous vested interest in doing nothing. That is a clear sign of an empire that is dying. But our dying empire could have far greater effects than just the loss of our own power.

In 1967, Partisan Review published a special issue where they asked 16 intellectuals, “What’s Happening to America?” Sontag wrote by far the longest and more powerful of the answers to this question. But it is the following paragraph that seems to have got everyone upset:

Neither do I dare deride the turn toward the East (or more generally, to the wisdom of the nonwhite world) on the part of a tiny group of young people — however uninformed and jejune the adherence usually is. (But then nothing could be more ignorant than [Leslie] Fiedler’s insinuation that Oriental modes of thought are “feminine” and “passive,” which is the reason the demasculinized kids are drawn to them.) Why shouldn’t they look for wisdom elsewhere? If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. It’s easier, much easier, to accuse the kids, to reproach them for being “non-participants in the past” and “drop-outs from history.” But it isn’t real history Fiedler is referring to with such solicitude. It’s just our history, which he claims is identical with “the tradition of the human,” the tradition of “reason” itself. Of course, it’s hard to assess life on this planet from a genuinely world-historical perspective; the effort induces vertigo and seems like an invitation to suicide. But from a world-historical perspective, that local history that some young people are repudiating (with their fondness for dirty words, their peyote, their macrobiotic rice, their Dadaist art, etc) looks a good deal less pleasing and less self-evidently worthy of perpetuation. The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al, don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself. What the Mongol hordes threaten is far less frightening than the damage that western “Faustian” man, with his idealism, his magnificent art, his sense of intellectual adventure, his world-devouring energies for conquest, has already done, and further threatens to do.

Like most of what Sontag wrote, I don’t fully agree with her. But it is so important to have people like her pushing at the myths of a society. And that’s especially true in modern America where we have such a sense of smug beneficence.

Happy birthday Susan Sontag!