Deep thought

February 24, 2007

“Moral reasoning is usually an ex post facto process used to influence the intuitions (and hence judgments) of other people.  In the social intuitionist model, one feels a quick flash of revulsion at the thought of incest and one knows intuitively that something is wrong.  Then, faced with a social demand for a verbal justification, one becomes a lawyer trying to build a case rather than a judge searching for the truth.”

Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail


Shock me before I emit again

February 13, 2007

I have probably written more on the “climate change” religious tendency than it deserves.  However, I have run across a couple of interesting articles on the subject, and I’d like to share.

First, the boring facts.  John Tierney in the NYT, no less, notes the predicted size of the tsunami that will engulf civilization when the polar ice caps melt:  between 7 and 23 inches in a century.  Every civilized ankle near the seashore may drown, very slowly; knees, however, are safe.

Despite Al Gore, and the fact that two movies (one of them Gore’s) work this as a plot device, the Gulf Stream is not predicted to shut down — and if it did, it would not lead to an ice age over London (yes, that’s a worry to the global warming crowd).

Since 1978, the Antarctic ice pack has grown by 8 percent.

Since 1999, US weather satellites have registered no significant changes in the global air temperature (as opposed to the global ground temperatures that are warming up).

No news here.  So, naturally, we have a kind of media-fostered panic, ostensibly around the recently-issued policymaker summary of the UN’s IPCC report on climate change.  The message seems to be:  “Don’t think — act!”  The proposed action seems to be:  “Don’t stay an industrial, developed nation — return to the joys of feudalism!  Better yet, to hunting and gathering!”

The director of IPCC flatly admits that his intent is to “shock people, governments into taking more action.”  But wait — the report itself accepts that no action would have any effect whatever before 2030.  So we are being shocked into actions the results of which can’t be judged for a generation.  As Al Gore would say:  how inconvenient.

There are alternate hypotheses about the causes of global warming (see here and here).  Yet those pursuing such hypotheses are called “deniers” (the parallel being with Holocaust deniers — only, we are told, this holocaust is inconveniently in the future rather than the past), their careers are threatened, and as transpired with Lomborg, their integrity is impugned.  I have said this before.  It’s not science.  Lomborg calls it “greenhouse activitism.”  But that is too kind.

Vlavac Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, has it right:  “Environmentalism as a metaphysical ideology and as a world view has absolutely nothing to do with natural sciences or the climate itself,” he said in a recent interview.  “IPCC is not a scientific body: it’s a political institution, a kind of non-government organization with green flavor.”  The actual IPCC report — the data gathered by the scientists — won’t even be published until May.  So we have the “shock” before we have the facts.   Havel calls this delay “an undignified practical joke.”

There is no arguing with the metaphysically inclined, and I won’t attempt it here.  The great disruption we call modernity, which has spawned fear and loathing as diverse in nature as the ideologies of Al Qaida and the Khmer Rouge, is felt deeply by some within the modern world.  The hope for a simpler life, devoid of contingency and confusion, clings to any faith that might promise such redemption.

Until 1991, it was Marxism-Leninism. After, Islamists, anti-globalists, and end-of-the-world climate types each have taken up their niche.  In all cases, nothing they advocate matters:  it’s what they hate that counts.

(Via Barcepundit, Instapundit, Reference frame.)


The revenge of history

February 8, 2007

In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published the essay that made him famous, “The End of History?”  Despite the question mark, it was his contention that, with the collapse of Marxism, history had indeed ended, if only from the perspective of Hegelian philosophy.

Hegel saw history as the progress of human consciousness, embodied in grand ideologies that propelled whole peoples into action.  In the twentieth century, fascism and communism emerged as rivals to liberal democracy, and fought wars hot and cold — material and ideological — to gain supremacy over the consciousness of the world.  They failed.  By the time Fukuyama authored his essay, liberalism stood triumphant, the last and only choice of ideology for nations that sought a viable future.

In Hegelian terms, Fukuyama maintained, history was over.  Conflict and turmoil would go on, probably forever, but the underlying contradictions had been settled.  Liberalism with a consumerist face — the “Common Marketization of world politics” — had become an inevitability.  In what one can only hope was jest, Fukuyama made a show of sorrow over the passing of ideological conflict.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed.

It is almost physically jarring to turn from this sort of precious intellectualizing to the boast of the jihadist:  “You love life, while we love death.”

Fukuyama was wrong.  Seductive ideologies still confront liberalism, and the outcome remains in doubt.  In 1989, Fukuyama contemplated and quickly dismissed the possibility that religion might rise up to challenge liberalism.  “In the contemporary world,” he wrote, “only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance.”

That Muhammad might come to the mountain — or, in this case, the people of Islam to the liberal world — did not occur to him.  Hegelian wisdom could not stretch that far.

Fukuyama was wrong in large part because he relied on Hegel, whose historicism, which retroactively explains the “logic of history,” appeals to would-be prophets and arrogant intellects.  The “logic of history” is like the “science of man”:  a phrase devoid of content.  Whenever Hegel moved beyond predicting the past, he was proved wrong.  The predictions of the most famous Hegelian, Karl Marx, were famously wrong.  Fukuyama merely followed in the stumbling footsteps of his betters.

Nearly 20 years later, he has returned to the topic in a new essay, “Identity and Migration.”  The frivolous tone is gone.  Fukuyama now discovers a “hole” in the ideology of liberalism:  its inability to recognize groups as political units.  Through this hole poured the identity politics that have dominated the West for a generation.  Responding to ancient grievances, real or perceived, blacks, women, homosexuals, and many others demanded to be treated as members of an oppressed minority rather than citizens of the commonwealth.  The response has been multiculturalism:  liberal institutions embracing the glorification of “difference.”

The Fukuyama of 2007 obliquely admits his error in 1989 by describing multiculturalism as “a game at the end of history.”  It was a game because it seemed to lack consequences, either for those doing the embracing or for those embraced.  Blacks could wear dashikis, women could be called “Ms,” yet liberal democracy rolled on unchanged.  That sense of playful invulnerability, to which Fukuyama contributed mightily with his earlier essay, ended with the migration of large numbers of Muslims to the heart of liberal Europe.

From within this immigrant group, zealots and Islamists have deployed multiculturalism to promote anti-liberal ideals — for example, the imposition of Muslim religious law on their co-religionists, or indeed on the entire population.  The consequences, Fukuyama acknowledges, have been far from trivial, and could well be fatal to European democracy — historically a fragile flower despite appearances.

Far from standing unrivalled at the end of history, liberal democracy once again faces the possibility of defeat.

While less “original” than the 1989 concoction, Fukuyama’s new essay is also less Hegelian, and thus more serious.  He stands foursquare for liberal democracy, and warns against the multicultural reflex:  embracing difference may in practice be identical to sleeping with the enemy.  The possibility inspires some sturdy boundary-marking in the usually fuzzy author:

Liberalism cannot ultimately be based on group rights, because not all groups uphold liberal values. The civilization of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these premises do not deserve equal protection in a liberal democracy.

Yet Fukuyama fails to touch the heart of his subject.  Liberalism to many is the political aspect of modernity, which is just a word for the great disruption that has unraveled an increasingly larger portion of the world’s cultures since the start of the industrial revolution.  Just as modernity has been feared and loathed no less than it has been admired and desired, so liberalism’s disruptive power is feared and loathed by some, and always will be, world without end.

Liberal democracy is a moral proposition.  It can only exist within a well-defined band of behaviors.  Beyond the boundary, at one extreme, stand the dogmatists:  those who would go to any lengths to abolish the awful contingency of modern life.  The Islamists, who would command a ritual for every conceivable human act, belong in this camp.

Farthest from them, on the opposite extreme, one finds the hedonists:  those who crave all the pleasures of modernity but none of its toil or responsibility.  Many Europeans belong to this group.  They have given up on marriage, children, work, religion, and patriotism, and inhabit the secular shell of a once-sacred temple.  Liberalism is a strenuous faith — Fukuyama was wrong about that too — and Europeans in large numbers have grown weary, and wish for a rest.  They have felt that way before, and the world paid for it.

What of history?  History might be compared to a chaotic theater in which the players and the audience often trade places, a thousand contradictory scenes are rehearsed every instant — the self-same episode, a celebration for one group, is catastrophe for another — and the plot is never known before the end.  For liberalism to endure in this environment it must be advocated with confidence, courage, and clarity of purpose.

Americans retain such qualities, Fukuyama suggests.  About the Europeans, who in their confused anti-Americanism seem to prefer Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and Vladimir Putin to George W. Bush, the best we can do is hope.


Gatekeepers and freedom of inquiry

February 6, 2007

From Plato’s day democracy has had to defend itself against advocates of the rule of experts:  wise men who substitute cool science for the rabble’s howling desires.  A number of problems arise from this proposition, the most important being:  no such men exist today, or have existed in the past, or will ever exist.  Facts and feelings mix in the breast of the exalted gatekeeper, as they do in the breast of his accountant, grocer, and garbage collector.  Give the gatekeeper the power of the state, and honest folk who disagree, rather than argued with, will be repressed.

Sophistpundit has a magnificent rant on the subject, inspired by the latest IPCC report on global warming — or, as we now hedge it, “climate change.”  I have said all I have to say on this particular subject — in fact, more than once — but Sophistpundit has dug deep into the method of this madness, and his post should be read top to bottom.  I particularly enjoyed the Metternich quote.