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Ed Driscoll

Putting the Toothpaste Back into the Tube

August 9th, 2010 - 1:24 am

This year has seen Salon on a tear against air conditioning — a topic that seems to come up there on a regular basis. A decade ago, Reason noted that it’s no longer the Bircher right that obsessed Stanley Kubrick in 1963′s Dr. Strangelove who want to ban fluoride, but the Naderite far left.

Meanwhile, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, roadways in some rural areas are being returned to gravel, rather than the more expensive, but infinitely more car-friendly asphalt. This may be for cost-cutting efforts, but it certainly fits the completion backwards principle mindset that’s running rampant through the left.

Perhaps Glenn Reynolds spotted the ultimate example of this at Tech Central Station back in 2003, when he asked, “What sort of person would rather be prey?” — looking at the return of cougars — not the Sex and the City kind — to populated areas:

Scientists and outdoorsmen began to warn of danger, but they were ignored by both the [Boulder, Colorado] public [in the late 1980s]– which was sentimentally attached to the idea of free-roaming wildlife — and state wildlife-protection bureaucrats, who downplayed first the presence, and then the danger, posed by the cougars. Dogs and cats started being eaten, cougars started threatening people, and yet meetings on the subject were dominated by people who “came to speak for the cougars.”

In the end, of course, people started to be eaten, and the bureaucracy woke up to a degree. There’s lots of interesting stuff in Baron’s book about ecological change, and the folly of seeking “wilderness” without recognizing humanity’s role in nature, but to me the most interesting behavior isn’t the predatory nature of the cougars — which are, after all, predators — but the willful ignorance of human beings. So many were so invested in the notion that by thinking peaceful thoughts they could will into existence a state of peaceful affairs that they ignored the evidence right in front of them, which tended to suggest that cougars were quite happy to eat anything that was juicy, delicious, and unlikely to fight back.

This is, as Baron notes, something of a parable — and not merely a parable of man and “nature.” One need only look at the treatment of such other topics as crime, terrorism, and warfare to see examples of the same sort of misplaced sentimentality and willful ignorance. Tolerance of criminality leads to more crime; tolerance of terrorism leads to more terrorism; efforts to appear defenseless lead to war.

Nonetheless, the same strand of wishful thinking appears: perhaps this time, the cougars won’t want to eat us. Some people, apparently, would rather be dinner than face up to the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw, and that — in this fallen world, at least — the lion lies down with the lamb only after the lamb’s neck is broken. (Worse yet is the noxious strand of liberalism that suggests we somehow deserve to be dinner.)

In the United States, such silliness seems to have diminished in recent years, though it is still ongoing in Britain, where aggressive efforts to ban hunting (believed by some observers to be politically motivated) have produced promises of civil disobedience.

The effort to remake the world so that it is safe for predators seems rather odd to me. What sort of person would rather be prey? The sort who lives in upscale neighborhoods, and campaigns against hunting, apparently. I suspect that over the long term this isn’t a viable evolutionary strategy in a world where predators abound.

Rather than attempting to destroy the infrastructure of our economy, up and coming blogger Pat Sajak (who I predict could go far in bonding with the general public — particularly if he chooses television as his medium of choice) has a modest proposal for the putting civilization’s toothpaste back in the tube crowd:

Let’s assume that a third of the world’s population really believes mankind has the power to adjust the Earth’s thermostat through lifestyle decisions. The percentage may be higher or lower, but, for the sake of this exercise, let’s put it at one-third. Now it seems to me these people have a special obligation to change their lives dramatically because they truly believe catastrophe lies ahead if they don’t. The other two-thirds are merely ignorant, so they can hardly be blamed for their actions.

Now, if those True Believers would give up their cars and big homes and truly change the way they live, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be some measurable impact on the Earth in just a few short years. I’m not talking about recycling Evian bottles, but truly simplifying their lives. Even if you were, say, a former Vice President, you would give up extra homes and jets and limos. I see communes with organic farms and lives freed from polluting technology.

Then, when the rest of us saw the results of their actions—you know, the earth cooling, oceans lowering, polar bears frolicking and glaciers growing—we would see the error of our ways and join the crusade voluntarily and enthusiastically.

How about it? Why wait for governments to change us? You who have already seen the light have it within your grasp to act in concert with each other and change the world forever. And I hate to be a scold, but you have a special obligation to do it because you believe it so strongly. Then, instead of looking at isolated tree rings and computer models, you’d have real results to point to, and even the skeptics would see the error of their ways and join you.

Heh.™  But of course, that’s not going to happen: as the fellow in the American Express ad noted above, “It’s a selfish thing to want to protect nature” — the goal is to feed your ego by proselytizing your newfound faith and virtue to others. Back in 2007, in prepping for his book, which ties in a number of the above themes, Jonah Goldberg explored the topic of “Secular Religions:”

But there was a considerable downside to the displacement of the Almighty by the trinity of the slide rule, the microchip, and the test tube. Eric Voegelin was among the most alarmed critics of the rising progressive tide. According to Voegelin, you cannot eliminate the religious instinct. “When God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place.” Translation: When you rely on science and technology to do God’s job, it won’t be long before you worship science as a god. Marxism, the apotheosis of progressivism, purged the divine and replaced it with materialism. For the Marxist, proclaimed Voegelin, “Christ the Redeemer is replaced by the steam engine as the promise of the realm to come.” For many people today, the steam engine has been replaced by the embryonic stem cell as the promise of the realm to come.

But virtually all religions have at the core of their faith the concept of the “Wrong Turn thesis,” when man left his idyllic past, a theory that, as Jonah wrote, “Almost all committed environmentalists subscribe to some variant:”

[Al] Gore is more eloquent than most in this regard. He rhapsodizes about the need for authenticity and meaning through collective action: he uses an endless serious of violent metaphors in which people must be “resistance fighters” against the putatively Nazi regime responsible for the new Holocaust of global warming (again, on the left, the enemy is always a Nazi.) Gore alternately blames Plato, Descartes, and Francis Bacon as the white male serpents who tempted mankind to take a wrong turn out of an Edenic past. What is required is to reunite our intellects, or spiritual impulses, and our animalistic instincts into a new holistic balance. Nothing could be more fascistic.

In his infamous “Daisy” ad from 1964, LBJ sternly warned, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark.”

With their hatred of electric light — not to mention most of the ways of producing electricity itself — Johnson’s successors have certainly made it clear that they prefer the latter option these days. I’d say they want to take us back to the era of stone knives and bearskins, but (speaking of wrong turns out of an Edenic past!), PETA would likely rather we all go naked than wear the latter.

Related: Joel Kotkin on California’s “War On Itself:”

California is in danger of becoming, as historian Kevin Starr has warned, a “failed state.”

What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.

Speaking of which, Paul Krugman begins in his latest column with his own moral equivalent of war reference, paraphrasing (as a plea for higher taxes and greater spending of course) Sir Edward Grey on the eve of World War I: “The lights are going out all over America — literally.”

But shouldn’t the gangs responsible for “Earth Hour”, “A Weekend without Oil”, the postmodern/pre-industrial “Dam Busters” and the like consider this a feature, not a bug?

Related: “The assassination of King Coal.”

Related: “Political Radicals + Environmental Regulations=Lost Jobs.”

Update: Welcome Corner readers!

By the way, a famous quote from Pete Seeger, uttered to the New York Times about 15 years ago, is worth tacking onto this post:

I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.

Meanwhile, CNN notes, “U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing” — the Professor responds with a very straightforward solution.

Related: “Greenpeace needs ‘to bring in more than $700,000 a day just to keep the lights on’” — shouldn’t they be enjoying “Earth Hour” 24 hours a day, instead?

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