How long has it been since we last mentioned George Monbiot? The truth is that we simply got bored of his predictable column in the Guardian. Furthermore, we aren’t convinced that anyone actually takes him at all seriously, apart from the people who book him for media appearances. After all, his earnestness excites the vapid newswaves with the prospect of the end of the world. And there’s nothing more exciting than the end of the world, especially when the rest of the news is so mundane. But this week, George has surprised us.
Speaking for himself, as ever, George attempts to convince us that ‘online, planted deniers drive a blinkered fiction’ and begins his argument by telling us that,
We all create our own reality…
Hmm. Not a good start. At this point, it’s hard to tell if George is giving us some kind of excuse for losing a grip on the objective world… a kind of my-truth-is-as-valid-as-your-truth caveat to everything he’s about to say, so that when challenged, he can smugly refer you to this relativistic axiom. Or is it just an apology for being a nutcase?
George certainly does create his own reality. It’s one in which his failure to make his reality yours is explained as the malign influence of other people, paid for by dark forces, distorting your reality. The bastards! This is a good definition of denial: what George can’t reflect on is the idea that his failure is the consequence of the shallowness of his own argument – you must be deluded. George continues,
…and shut out the voices we do not want to hear.
Of course. We’re the mad ones, George. Keep shutting out those, erm, voices.
Only the Plane Stupid protesters who occupied part of Stansted airport yesterday appear to have understood the scale and speed of this crisis. In cyberspace, by contrast, the response spreading fastest and furthest is flat-out denial.
That’s right, the self-indulgent teenage eco-toffs at Stansted know more about ‘The Realty’ than us hoi-polloi. But what is the substance of this reality?
The most popular article on the Guardian’s website last week was the report showing that 2008 is likely to be the coolest year since 2000. As the Met Office predicted, global temperatures have been held down by the LaNiña event in the Pacific Ocean. This news prompted a race on the Guardian’s comment thread to reach the outer limits of idiocy.
George is constructing his own reality again here, and rewriting history. At the beginning of the year, the Met Office ‘predicted’ world-record higher temperatures for 2007, with an error margin of just 0.06C. At the time of the ‘prediction’, the El Nino/La Nina oscillation was positive, having been climbing from negative over the course of the preceding year, and seemed to be continuing on its trajectory (indicating that an El Nino event was underway, and getting stronger). But by August 2007, the El Nino/La Nina oscillation had changed direction, and gone negative again, and global temperatures had diminished. The Met Office issued a new ‘prediction’, temperatures wouldn’t rise. Except that it’s not a prediction: it was already happening, and it is known that a consequence of La Nina is cooler global temperatures. Anyone who knows this could have made the same ‘prediction’, and it says absolutely nothing about the Met Office’s ability to make statements about climate change which are consistent with reality.
We wrote recently about the Guardian article Monbiot refers to, and the problems with it. Here.
George forgets the Met Office’s wrong prediction, to focus on the other, non prediction, which is equivalent to backing every horse in a race to sell yourself as a master tipster by telling people how often and how much you’ve won without revealing your losses.
George uses his fraudulent claim to have ‘facts’ on his side to make statements about the quality of comments to Guardian articles on the newspaper’sCommentisfree pages. Monbiot sees this as ‘a race on the Guardian’s comment thread to reach the outer limits of idiocy’. But judging the human world on the basis of comments to blogs makes about as much sense as judging the physical world on the bogus (yes, bogus) predictions made by the Met Office.
The new figures have prompted similar observations all over the web. Until now, the “sceptics” have assured us that you can’t believe the temperature readings at all; that the scientists at the Met Office, who produced the latest figures, are all liars; and that even if it were true that temperatures have risen, it doesn’t mean anything. Now the temperature record – though only for 2008 – can suddenly be trusted, and the widest possible inferences be drawn from the latest figures, though not, of course, from the records of the preceding century. This is madness.
King George lectures us on madness? He ought to know, after all. He’s taken one of two, contradicting predictions to make it appear that he is armed with the facts, against an enemy whose position he has constructed from comments on the Guardian’s site, that in fact bear no resemblance to the arguments you will find here, for example, or (and we apologise for presuming to lump ourselves in with the them) William M Briggs’s excellent blog, or Steve McIntyre’s, or Anthony Watts’. Monbiot constructs a fictitious argument against which he battles. What a brave hero. But Saint George has not yet slayed the dragon in his fantasy.
Scrambled up in these comment threads are the memes planted in the public mind by the professional deniers employed by fossil fuel companies. On the Guardian’s forums, you’ll find endless claims that thehockeystick graph of global temperatures has been debunked; that sunspots are largely responsible for current temperature changes; that the world’s glaciers are advancing; that global warming theory depends entirely on computer models; that most climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting a new ice age. None of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. The professional deniers are paid not to win the argument but to cause as much confusion and delay as possible. To judge by the Comment threads, they have succeeded magnificently.
Memes, for readers who are not acquainted with the, erm, meme, were conceived of by Richard Dawkins. His theory, outlined as an afterthought in The Selfish Gene, was that ideas, or ‘units of cultural information’ are transmitted from host to host in a process that is analogous to genetics. An imperfect copying mechanism means that memes are subject to ‘transcription errors’ and so mutate, which according to this theory, might account for the creation of new ideas, or memes.
But the theory has an unavoidable and terrible consequence. If it is correct, it means that you – the thinking subject – are neither thinking, nor a subject. You are an unthinking object, merely responding to the memes that you are exposed to, like balls on a pool table. You might think that you’re thinking for yourself, but it’s just a clever illusion, perpetrated by complex systems of memes -memeplexes – for their own advantage in their competition to propagate themselves.
This theory – abandonded by many of its original proponents – has persisted in certain ‘rationalist’ circles (in spite of it being a wholly unfalsifiable theory that has made no progress in the 32 years since it was proffered), particularly amongst angry atheists and biologicaldeterminists who struggle to understand why their scientism hasn’t been absorbed into the political mainstream. Like Dawkins . It allows them to explain their own failure to create convincing arguments in pathological terms. Let us not mince our words about this theory, using it to explain anything about the social world is sheer pseudoscience. Ironically, it has greatest currency in the strange world of Internet conspiracy theorists, who are convinced that ‘the truth is out there’, but that ‘They’ don’t want you to know about it.
Monbiot is highly selective about what obstacles in his battle for the truth are ‘memes’. After all if the idea that ‘the hockeystick graph of global temperatures has been debunked’ is a ‘meme’, why isn’t the idea that it hasn’t been debunked a ‘meme’? The problem with memes is that you can never arrive at the truth, because you’ve undermined the very notion of ‘truth’ – it’s just a meme – andrelativised it into meaninglessness. Any application of ‘logic’ – which must be a meme – to the ‘facts’ – which must also be memes – simply reduces to a competition between memes for the resources in your head.
And what about the environmental ‘memes’ that we know to be false, or wildly exaggerated – for example the lie continually propagated by Monbiot that he’s absorbed from Greenpeace’s exxonsecrets.org website?
After consistent campaigning by Greenpeace through ExxonSecrets, ExxonMobil was forced, in 2006, to drop funding to some of its key allies in the campaign to deny climate science and delay policy action The Competitive Enterprise Institute was the key group dropped – it had received $2.2 million fromExxonMobil since 1998, more than any other thinktank. But the relationship continues as CEI’s climate operatives continue to work closely with the other think tanks funded by Exxon.
As we pointed out last year, if the biggest recipients of ‘fuel lobby’ funding was the CEI, which received just $2.2 million dollars over the course of 8 years ($275,000 a year – hardly big money), in return for generating ‘memes’, then it needs to be seen in the context of the environmental movement’s budget formemetic engineering. As we revealed, Greenpeace, the engineers of the exxonsecrets.org memes, had at their disposal over $2 billion over the same time frame. Conservation NGO, the WWF between 2003-7 recorded income of $2.5 billion. If cash buys you memes, then why are the poorly-funded sceptics so much better at creating them?
The idea that Exxon have ‘bought’ the debate does not stand up to scrutiny. Yet the lie persists. That’s not because it’s a successful ‘meme’, but because it’s a convenient way of moralising the debate, and robbing it of any nuance. Lying is the only way people likeMonbiot can clothe themselves in moral fibre.
Monbiot then explores a new idea about why his message hasn’t gone mainstream.
In his fascinating book Carbon Detox, George Marshall argues that people are not persuaded by information. Our views are formed by the views of the people with whom we mix.
Yeah? Where did you hear that, Georges?
According to this logic, then, it can be no accident that Marshall and Monbiot, and for that matter Mark Lynas and Oliver tickell all think alike, because they all lived very near to each other in Oxford – where Caroline Lucas, Green MEP rose to prominence. Their views must have homogenised as they smugly quaffed organic wine at eco-parties, and rubbed minds as they rubbed shoulders. Monbiot continues the nauseating double entendre of memetic procreation:
Of the narratives that might penetrate these circles, we are more likely to listen to those that offer us some reward. A story that tells us that the world is cooking and that we’ll have to make sacrifices for the sake of future generations is less likely to be accepted than the more rewarding idea that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scheming governments and venal scientists, and that strong, independent-minded people should unite to defend their freedoms.
But again, this concept of our being the mindless vessels of ideas reduces our subjectivity, and leaves the Oxonian circle-penetrators with no greater claim to objectivity than the rest of us. Even if we seek ideas that yield a ‘reward’, it’s not hard to see what rewards have been sought byMonbiot and his circle, all of whom have elevated themselves into the limelight on the back of their ethical claims. They’ve sold many books. They are on TV. They have risen to positions of influence over the British establishment. They make money from the ‘ethical’ businesses they are involved in. And so on.
Monbiot seems to be making a claim that our weak wills leave us vulnerable to convenient conspiracy theories. And yet what argument has he been trying to sustain? Ah, yes, the idea that ‘planted deniers drive a blinkered fiction’.Monbiot’s theory is that there has been a conspiracy to create a conspiracy theory.
Marshall is right: we have to change the way we talk about this issue. You don’t believe me? Then just read the gibberish that follows when this article is published online.
Monbiot is frustrated that he has failed to convince people of his perspective. But rather than reflect on his own argument, which, as we can see is constructed out of sheer bullshit, he finds ways to show faults with people – ordinary, normal, everyday people, not just ‘bloggers’ – and damns the entire human race in the process. We are unthinking automata, objects, blindly obeying the forces that surround us. Only he knows the truth. But the truth that most people can sense is that Monbiot uses the status of scientific factoids, such as the Met Office’s dubious ‘prediction’ to convince people in the same way that a caveman seeks to persuade people with a club. Second, it is transparent to most people thatMonbiot is mischaracterising the arguments of the people he sets himself up in opposition to – he doesn’t answer objections, and he makes straw men out of the flame-war battlefield that is the comments section oncommentisfree instead of picking up on the arguments that are actually being made. Third, he clearly overstates the relationship between these messages and a conspiracy of vested interests. Fourth, he diminishes the moral character of anyone who takes a different perspective to him. Fifth, he diminishes the intelligence of anyone who sees things differently to him. But the biggest problem for Monbiot is that the second, third, fourth and fifth are, he seems to believe, logical and necessary consequences of the first. He seems to think that, because the Met Office ‘predicted’ the 2008 temperature record (and they didn’t), then he is right to characterise his opponents as he pleases, he is right to think that silly comments on blogs represent the influence of an oil-industry conspiracy, and so on.
And we can see why Monbiot fails to reflect on his own argument. Because if he could, he would realise what an embarrassing lunatic he has turned himself into.
If I had a wish I’d wish greenies were forbidden to use adjectives to characterise things. In so many debates, the greenies have no substance, they just characterize everything.
People don’t just disagree, they are “deniers”. The deniers aren’t just people with opinions, they are “professional” deniers. Comments on articles aren’t just opinions, they are “lunacy”. It is not just random lunacy but “planted” lunacy. And “deliberately” planted at that. Any scientists who disagree are not men of opinion, instead they are–pick one–“shills”. If they aren’t actually being paid by anyone, then they are “quacks”. And if you can demonstrate that no, they are not being paid, and no, they are not mentally unbalanced, and that they do actually have some fair and factual rational criticisms, then you will be told that they are “irresponsible”.
As you say, these greenies try to diminish people’s character, their intelligence, their qualifications, and their motivations, simply by labeling them with nasty words.
The pattern is often the same. Not quite a meme, but it is part of the culture, which has spent far too much time in Academia deconstructing the hidden sexist racist imperialist messages in ordinary texts and literary works. Now they all think they can deconstruct the hidden agendas of the deniers, but they miss the key point: if you truly are under the influence of a hidden shadow agenda, then that shadow agenda is hidden to you…. so how do they know that they themselves are not operating with a hidden shadow agenda? Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone.
They accuse everyone else of bias, but claim that they themselves are free of it. That is about the worst possible mistake they could make. It turns them into blind fanatics.
Oh and I forgot that top weasel word they like to use:
the “reality” of climate change
Only propaganda-speak could turn unproven computer models into “reality”.
I read George’s article yesterday and I have to admit I had only heard of his rantings before. But while reading it I honestly thought he was being sarcastic only to realize he was serious. I was going to comment on the article and ask if he had actually walked outside recently but, being the highly paid, planted, blinkered shill that I am, was afraid he might send Greenpeace after me. Hey EXXON, where’s my check?
Please leave Oxford out of it. Not every Oxonian is an eco-mentalist.
Well put. I read Monbiot’s article and was amazed at the sheer lack of substance. If that’s the best that he can come up with then no wonder even Guardian readers are tiring of it.
Having taken part in a few barneys in Commentisfree myself, I can vouch for the name-calling Stefan mentions. As well as “deniers”, we’re also called “troofers” by at least one regular commentator.
George Monbiot’s comments are amusing. It’s as if in a sequel to the Hans Christian Andersen story, the Emperor takes a stroll in his birthday suit through the nearest shopping mall, and not just a single child but more or less everyone starts to laugh and point. Whereupon the flattering advisor insists that professional “deniers” have been at work in the crowd and infected everybody with falsehoods.
Actually I have a confession to make. I am currently in the pay of a large corporation, which makes suspiciously regular payments into my bank account, towards the end of each month. But that has nothing to do with my opinions about the toxic fairytale of AGW, which, right or wrong, are my own.
One funny thing is how Monbiot keeps blaming the “professional deniers” for turning people against “the science”.
I for one used to believe AGW 100%. It was the statements made by climate change activists themselves that made me pause for thought and wonder that something didn’t smell right.
It is the likes of Monbiot that have set back the credibility of environmentalism by decades. And now he wants to blame everybody else.
Come to think of it I’ve even stopped reading The Guardian years ago because of the likes of him. It used to be my paper of choice.
The clearest sign that Monbiot has reached a personal tipping point is surely his parting shot: “… just read the gibberish that follows when this article is published online”.
Criticising opinions which haven’t been voiced yet is only a short walk from talking to the voices in your head.
True enough, the comments started bad and got worse. But the Guardian, bless it, left the debate open for a full three days, gathering George’s predicted 1000 bloggers. Though no sane person would want to plough through them all, at least it gives the Guardian an alibi in the face of criticism of their univocal Soviet-style coverage of Climate Change
Call me naive, but I think someone at the Guardian may be hedging their bets, encouraging a debate so that when the wind turns they’ll be ready with the argument “We always encouraged debate”.
Keep up the hatchet-jobs. Monbiot and co are important because of their influence on the chattering classes and hence on MPs and other opinion leaders. And don’t be shy about associating yourselves with Watts, McIntyre and Briggs. One of the sad things about the “debate” is that so many “gut reaction” sceptics seem to be completely unaware of the work of McIntyre and Watts, despite frequent plugs from Booker, for example.
Stefan: as an ex-AGW believer, ex-Monbiot fan, I appreciate your courageous confession. Perhaps Climate Resistance or someone could open up a space for us Denialists Anonymous to reveal our harrowing personal stories.
Originally when I got interested in the climate (non) debate I had no specific driver towards either side of the argument. But I soon found my self entrenched as a skeptic. Actually this route is not easy when it comes to friends/colleagues because most people who don’t read beyond the papers, or don’t access to news beyond the BBC, think that we are all going to fry. Then if you are skeptical on this issue friends either don’t care, don’t believe you or think you are a bore so you quickly tire of even mentioning the subject. I then joined the growing and active group who go online to read about and want to fight the current orthodoxy. Why bother and why be part of this group Monbiot and co so badly characterizes (mmm …please send me some money exxon)? Well for me I just cannot stomach the daftness of it all and the propaganda drives me up the wall. I’m a scientist and I ‘believe’ I understand how science works. So although it could be claimed I’m not qualified (we all know that no-one can be truly qualified to be an overall environmental expert) I am capable of smelling a rat. Basically my view is that if you are going to apply the precautionary principle you need to be pretty certain. I believe that the oft stated view ‘that we are going to fry’ is far from certain. I will battle on in my own little way and idiots like Monbiot aren’t going to stop me.
Monbiot and co could say why go to the internet. Well I’ve written 2 letters to my MP and its a complete waste of time. In fact my MP replied to my last rather scolding letter regarding the 80% reduction (requesting data) with a responding letter thanking me for my support to her (Anne Milton) in the fight against climate change. SO the internet it is.
Sorry for the long boring post.
Ben the Skeptic
Oh I should say that my main concern related to this scare is that we are basically going to have an energy crisis. I firmly believe we should look to the future and plan for the time when oil/coal are scarce. But this activity should be a long term and rationale plan and not a gut reaction to a scare. This gut reaction will (is) send us in the wrong direction. We will suffer if the lights go out.
I am willing to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, this scare will actually push us towards a better energy plan, but I have my doubts seeing wind power and biofuels forced upon us as early solutions (and the laughable lightbulb and turning off standby type solutions).
(Having just read Arthur C Clarke) I do actually have alot of faith in the human race. If we plan properly for the end of oil and coal I truly believe we will succeed. I’m an optimist. bring on the REAL scientists.
Ben, I’ve done the same and written to my local MP (Ann Keen, Brentford & Isleworth) re the folly of the 80% CO2 reduction legislation. I’ve had a response from her, but as I requested her to put some questions to Ed Miliband, an acknowledgement is all I’ve had so far. At some point hopefully I’ll get a response from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change himself.
I too have faith in human ingenuity, and this is something the apocalyptic disaster mongers seem to forget.
I wonder if there is a generational trend at work here. The current brand of environmentalism has been gaining power for about 50 years, which seems to be a Baby Boomer thing. I’m typically a Generation X type, so that sort of thing doesn’t feel right to me. The Generation Y or Millennials probably have a very different take, being very tech-savvy, fast information gathering, brand conscious, ambitious and creative types.
If that is the case, then the current AGW bubble will burst as the old guard grow old and environmentalism is taken up by the Millenials in a smarter, lighter, faster, and more integrated way. I expect they won’t make it about anti-corporation and they won’t make it about anti-capitalism. It won’t be adversarial, and prosperity denying.
Also the Gen Y’s are so tuned to online life that they probably get all their information from blogs and tweets, so they’re getting access to a more balanced view anyway. I expect they are far more multicultural and multinational, and can understand issues of tribalism, development, progress, technology, far more intimately on a global scale than the current Mobiots who seem stuck obsessing over one idea.
To any student of religion the Global Warming pseudoreligionists show just how deep is the religious impulse in humanity. They are as willing to destroy Western Civilization as any Al Queda member. Their disgust with Western Civilization’s crimes against God/Allah/Gaia is frighteningly and yet comfortingly similar. Human beings seek out expression for their need to sacrifice for some greater good. It’s built into our genes. But when these religious cults arise many flourish for a brief moment in history but few have the true moral and ethical underpinnings to survive for very long. The secularists and anti-Judeo-Christinists stand on a bed of Truths that have seen their day before and will perish in similar ways: with a pathetic whimper.
I’m not sure these air-headed notions will grow out, its already passed down three generations. It started with sixties flower-power dreams and is now with their grandchildren. Each generation goes though the idealistic years of youth thinking we are all going to drown in our own excrement and getting things completely out of proportion as youth does.
Earlier generations were laughed at, and humoured while waiting for them to grow up. What’s changed in the last 40 years is now that the cynical manipulation by older groups jockeying for power and influence reinforces and exploits the silliness. I trace the decline in the UK from about the start of FoE and Greenpeace where we stopped our technology and engineering and started navel gazing. FoE and Greenpeace are now a business, having to continue to justify their own existence and ensure their income. Fortunately for them and the salaries of their executives there is a continual stream of new starry-eyed acolytes.
Look to the good side of the credit-crunch . . . its not quite so easy to be idealistic when there’s no food or money coming in.
Moonabt should have ended his article “… just read the articles that follow when this gibberish is published online”.
Don’t dismiss Monbiot as a nutter just because Steve Milloy gave him a silly nickname. He is actually quite intelligent, tough, and savvy, as witness the mincemeat he made of David Bellamy in public debate. Bellamy thought he was invited to a scientific discussion, and found himself in a knife-fight.
The difference between George M. and you or I is that he doesn’t really believe in objective facts. As far as he is concerned, a thing is true if enough people believe it, and scientists make it up as they go along. By his own rights, he is right. The AGW paradigm is impervious to evidence, and will be true for those who want it to be true even when the glaciers start moving south of Carlisle.
I used to admire the journalist Monbiot. I agreed with him on issues like the Iraq war and nuclear weapons, and found his references to sources I wasn’t familiar with enlightening and reassuring. Here was someone I agreed with, who knew more about the subject than I did.
But on nuclear weapons and the Iraq war there was a readily identifiable opposite point of view, held by governments and the establishment media. Discussion was vital, in order to persuade opponents, and Monbiot used his journalistic talents to argue the opposing point of view.
On global warming, government and media have espoused Monbiot’s position and ignored or supressed opposing opinions. Monbiot’s response to finding himself on the side of the establishment has been interesting. He has maintained his reputation for independent thinking by espousing nuclear power and by being one of the first to change his his mind on biofuels (before the ethanol hit the fan).
Then, strangely, he regularly and obsessively criticises his supporters in government for not agreeing with him enough. While on the denier flank he attacks particular journalistic sceptics ad hominem with a ferocious efficacity. He’s successfully seen off Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Monckton, and – in the article you analyse – David Bellamy, by nailing specific examples of fibs or shoddy journalism which have nothing to do with the subject in question – the existence or dangerosity of man-made global warming. It’s good political advocacy and entertaining journalism. It enhances Monbiot’s reputation as a tough, interesting thinker, and diverts attention from the question of whether or not AGW is actually happening. Monbiot defends the most absurd examples of the warmist creed, like Mann’s hockey stick, without ever once descending to sordid details. Denialists are insulted in general, but the names of Mcintyre or Spencer are never mentioned.
I feel from your treatment of Monbiot that you somehow feel he’s beneath your notice. Opinion polls show that the public isn’t convinced of AGW, so he and his kind can be gently ridiculed. To me he seems at least as important as his own self-importance (and that’s very important indeed). I think of the demise of McCarthyism. It wasn’t a straightforward, rational affair, with the American public suddenly deciding that they weren’t really threatened by communist infiltration. It was a messy mixture of action at the highest levels of the state (the Supreme Court) and a sea change in the opinion of ordinary voters and cinema goers. Monbiot is our two-bit McCarthy. Maybe he’s got enemies in the media establishment, even at the dear old Guardian, people who’d love to see him brought down a peg or two, maybe pushed into a media debate. Keep pushing.
Geoff, what you say about Monbiot’s former relevance as a needed voice on the subjects of nuclear power and Iraq is interesting.
Both those issues are things which can be thought about in terms of whom they potentially harm. The UK citizen, for example, can reason that nuclear waste will harm the UK, with expensive reprocessing and storage and government subsidies out of our pockets. On Iraq, the UK citizen can reason that invading Iraq will harm the UK, as we expend troops, damage our international standing, and invite terrorist attacks. Monbiot can step into the issues and reason that powerful commercial interests are driving the government into these things at the expense of the UK citizen. I’m sure there are many arguments, but at the end of the day, we the people of the UK can reason that we are being harmed, and so we read Monbiot with interest.
Who is being harmed by global warming? Suddenly the complexity of the issue explodes. The associated scientific issues, the ethical issues, the political issues, the business issues, the economic issues, and the global power issues, all arise as one massive problem space containing a multitude of conflicting and incompatible priorities.
Let me have a go at what it might entail: ultimately, greater population numbers are the cause of greater consumption and pollution, but large families are the result of poverty, so to rapidly decrease population growth we need to radically increase progress and standards of living which is to radically increase energy consumption using the cheapest, dirtiest and most readily available forms of energy… which in turn upset the geopolitical balance of the world… and also upset the world’s many fundamentalist religions who believe that the modern world of technology is godless and sinful and should be resisted, religions which have billions of members under their influence.
Now I’m not saying that’s the way it is, that’s just my limited intellect starting to explore things.
See, ordinary reasoning tends to be of the sort, A therefore B therefore C. And that is fine. Meanwhile another person with different data will reason, X therefore Y therefore Z. The problem arises when C and Z are incompatible, yet each arrived at through reasoning. So who is right? Well what tends to happen is that one side simply labels the other side wrong. Lines are drawn, camps form, positions become entrenched.
When Monbiot wants to criticise nuclear power, he can speak to the man in the street and be on his side. When he wants to criticise Iraq, again, he can speak to the man in the street. But what about man made global warming? Who’s side is he on now? In the new (awful) version of The Day The Earth Stood Still, aliens turn up to wipe us out. That’s who’s side you end up on–the aliens. But Monbiot can’t claim to be on the side of the aliens–instead he uses the old tactics of blaming big business. And yet, with oil and coal, we the people are the consumers of that product. We depend on it for dear life, and have done for generations. We all know this intimately, it is not like nuclear where it is new and so we can be persuaded that we don’t need it.
Consequently, environmentalists are left a bit confused about whether they should be trying to influence government directly or trying to influence the man in the street. Neither can particularly change old habits and dependencies on such an essential resource.
What is needed, according to a number of philosophers, is a new stage of rational thought, one which is able to deal with apparent contradictions, and able to synthesise multiple contradictions into a greater whole, a systematic unification of views. One example is Jean Gebsers, The Ever-Present Origin: Foundations Of The Aperspectival World. I don’t suppose it is as funky as it sounds, but these philosophers do outline certain key things that reason needs to be able to do to deal with the complexity of the world as it is today.
One of these things, I gather, is to go beyond simple adversarial thinking, where having arrived at one point of view, you necessarily have to make out that other points of view are wrong. Something which put me off the AGW theory early on was its proponents’ habit of simply labeling everyone else as shill, quack, irresponsible, criminal. That to me does not sound like the kind of thinking that can unite the world to deal with truly global world problems.
So Monbiot sits there aghast that a thousand people will vehemently disagree and post nasty comments in reply to his article. He can but label them all “idiots”. I suggest he go join the aliens, given that he has drawn a line between himself and humanity. But really, it is evidence that the old adversarial thinking just can’t cope with a truly global perspective. The globe is full of contradictions, competing factions, adversaries, divisions. If you try to unify the world by erasing those divisions, all you do is add yet one more faction and division. It is not unlike trying to unify Iraq by killing everyone who disagrees with democracy. Imposing a point of view by force didn’t work in one country, why do the Monbiots think it will work with the whole world?
Environmentalists, by thinking adversarially, whilst trying to act globally, end up in odd places, like the recent commentators out there who say that, really, a place like China is to be praised because they have the authority to MAKE things happen. The comments that democracy gets in the way of environmentalism. These are staggeringly dark places to let your reason take you. And they end up in those dark holes because they are trying to solve a problem at a level of thinking where it cannot be solved.
Sorry that’s such a long post, but it’s the first time I’ve had a go at putting this down.
While I agree Environmentalist logic gets them into odd places, I dont think you need a new way of thinking to avoid this. Old fashioned rational thought does very well. On population and, fundamentalist religion; this is an area where boring old demography has a good record of prediction. As societies get richer and literate, marriage gets later, women practice birth control, and population stabilises. There’s a period of instability as male literacy approaches 100%, when revolutionary ideas circulate, then societies settle down. It happened in England in the 17th century, France in the 18th, East Asia in the 20th, and it’s happening now in the Arab world.
It’s bizarre if environmentalists really think that democracy prevents them implementing their views. They’ve got all the major parties by the short and curlies, what more do they want? In China they’re precisely not following global warming doctrine because their unelected leaders still practice rational politics, ie doing what’s best for the population.
The conversation has been moved to the post called ‘unthreaded’. We felt that it was a bit of a distraction.