Indeed. When I was in Atlanta for Thanksgiving, I had a discussion with Doug, my levelheaded brother, about global warming. Doug is – or at least, I hope he is going to be – the thermostat king of the Southeast. At the moment, he is making good money replacing thermostats at various heavy use sites, like hotels. Long may those day renters fiddle with their hot and cold!
And so, like my brother Dan, and unlike me, he strides about in the world, rubs shoulders with plenty of talk radio listeners, middle managers, the salt of the earth who have spent their allotted time building their precarious monuments to the self of houses, pickup trucks, entertainment centers, skill sets, marriages, kids. They are the main, and I am not part of the main. I am an island. I work alone, editing mostly academic papers, never really seeing my customers, and all my monuments to self have crumbled to the ground before my eyes.
Everybody has an edge. My edge is that I am a loser. But – because that, too, must be wiped away from the perceptive apparatus in order to see clearly - I defer to my bro in terms of his grasp of the social psychology of the American middle class.
So I asked him if one of my intuitions is right. I’ve long thought that the reason the great American middle (Southeast division, at least) is so convinced that the issue of global warming is fake is because that middle thinks that this is a sneaky way to blame it. The Americans fought communism because they felt the communists blamed them for their lifestyles – although at least the communists could be said to envy those lifestyles, and want to take them over and use them for their own obscure purposes. But to these people, the environmentalists are worse – they just want to destroy everything for the birds and the beasts. They aren’t even pro-human.
Doug did think that I was partly right. The people he talks to, the main, do feel like they are being blamed for global warming.
Paul Krugman’s blog, today, is about why global warming seems to turn up the crazy. Climate rage, he calls it. He has two explanations:
“First, environmentalism is the ultimate “Mommy party” issue. Real men punish evildoers; they don’t adjust their lifestyles to protect the planet. (Here’s some polling to that effect.)
Second, climate change runs up against the anti-intellectual streak in America.”
I think Krugman may have grasped surface aspects of the issue, but not the deep structure. That structure is existential. The blame is existential (you are condemned for your entire way of life) and the resentment is existential (you are condemning me for my entire way of life – and who are you?).
The science of climate change enters into the matrix of blame and counter-blame in America and makes an emotionally charged demand: that one take an objective look at the totality of American lifestyles. What this demand ignores is that objectivity is not emotionally neutral. On the contrary, objectivity touches on humanity’s greatest fear – the fear of being prey, of appearing without any excuse or mitigation in the hunter’s gunsight.
Thus, the pettiness and superstition that has become the vernacular of denialism is not, I think, simply about American “anti-intellectualism.” One of the things I have disliked from the very soles of my feet about the pro-science side of the climate change debate is the reliance on authority, instead of argument – the scientists have formed a ‘consensus’, so that answers the question. Climate gate shows that, as one would expect, a consensus is a political thing, which consists of infinite strategizing. Real anti-intellectualizing occurs only when intellectuals are treated as authorities to whom we, who have presumably gone through high school and can judge for ourselves, are supposed to bow down.
I see that appeal on the liberal blogs a lot – plus the disciplinary policing. And I think: this is bullshit. It donfuses respect with belief.
Any amateur – myself, for instance – should be able to grasp the objective issues of climatology, and judge for themselves the evidences for the climate change – which, while called global warming, doesn’t necessarily mean uniform warming in all places on Earth at all times. It seems to me that the climatologists have created a very impressive case – and they have done so not by moving from certainty to certainty (which would be prima facie evidence that something funny is going on), but by the stumbling, adjusting, adhoc-ery that is the real history of science, from germ theory to quantum physics. In my opinion, the image of consensus –by concealing the real work of science – actually undermines the case for climate change. It makes any discrepancy seem like a matter that discredits the whole, and makes the scientists seem like conspirators, “covering up’ things. In fact, discrepancies are to be expected. The models that climatologists use to project the sum of the earth’s weather not only go forward, into the future, but go back, into the past. But what are they made of? They are made out of information we have gathered from the relatively puny percentage of earth time where we have recorded temperatures – 150 years out of the Earth’s 4.5 billion. We build a structure that both projects and retrojects climate conditions. Our structure is shaky. And will probably so remain – science being about probabilities, not certainties. It is not, though, as shaky as, say, the market in derivatives.
So, let’s take up state of the art in dendrochronology in our next post.