Culture War Dispatches

from a Progressive People's Republic

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Heating the outdoors

Eric J. Chiassen believes that wasted heat from things like our light bulbs will lead to a global warming Armageddon (“The other global warming” 1/25/09). When I was a kid, if I left the door open in the winter my mother would yell, “What are you trying to do, heat the outdoors?” It was funny because anyone with any common sense would recognize that the miniscule amount of heat escaping our house would have zero effect on the outside temperature.

The Globe article did not discuss the data behind Chiassen’s theory, but it did introduce an inordinate number of caveats and questions from skeptics. If a theory that demands replacing oil, coal, gas and nuclear energy with wind and solar were at all creditable, the Globe would have presented it as “settled science.” How about publishing something with some scientific credibility from the thousands of scientists who are skeptical of global warming fairy tales?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Too Bone-chilling to tap?

The continuing spate of articles about global warming in the midst of record cold around the globe would be humorous if the negative economic effects of global warming legislation didn’t have such potentially tragic effect on the world’s poor. James R. Lee’s column in the Washington Post reaches new heights of absurdity. He tells us we should be worried, very worried about…”the problems of an increase in abundance.” Mr. Lee continues:
Suppose that global warming makes a precious resource easier to get at -- say, rising temperatures in northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia make it easier to get at oil and gas resources in regions that had previously been too bone-chilling to tap. (A few degrees of change in temperature can transform a previously inhospitable climate.) But what happens if some tempting new field pops up in international waters contested by two great powers? Or if smaller countries with murky borders start arguing over newly arable land?

It’s a bit like the theory that cold weather is caused by global warming, and so is hot weather. Scarcity is caused by global warming, and so is abundance, and we should be alarmed by both. Abundance is a security problem because of the assumption that it will cause resource wars. But so will scarcity.

Aside from the fatuousness of the argument, the details are equally idiotic. “Too bone-chilling to tap”? Does Mr. Lee think that Exxon has snow days when it gets too cold? They’re already in Prudhoe Bay. Are there some really cold places where Exxon just won’t go to protect its geologists’ toes from frost-bite? And what about the assertion that “A few degrees of change in temperature can transform a previously inhospitable climate”? Really? So minus 30F is off limits, but minus 27F is hospitable? Furthermore, many areas in the Arctic are more accessible in the winter when trucking routes open on frozen lakes. Frozen tundra is easier to navigate than melted mush. Is he talking about the alarmist promise of an ice-free Arctic which has failed to materialize?

Mr. Lee proposes the real possibility of a war between the U.S. and Canada over rights to this Northwest Passage. If it comes to a state of international anarchy where we are invading Canada, there is little hope for the global climate treaties that Mr. Lee no doubt champions.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What is Social Justice

The Right View: What is social justice?

Mon Dec 29, 2008, 05:05 AM EST

CAMBRIDGE - When we were looking at schools for my daughter, one prospective teacher related how she had organized her kindergarten class into a protest march against the city workers who had been instructed to clear brush at a nearby park. The tiny environmentalists marched around in a circle with “Save the Brush” signs. The teacher confided that it was perhaps necessary to trim the park’s brush periodically, but, she declared, that’s not what’s important. She had to fulfill the social justice mission at her school by training children to fight injustice.

At the time I was unfamiliar with the concept of social justice, and I left the school in a state of confusion. Rather than being unimportant, isn’t it essential that we teach our children to evaluate what they might be protesting before indiscriminately joining the tail end of any march that comes along?

We did not choose that kindergarten, but avoiding social justice advocacy in Cambridge turned out to be more difficult. Among many Cambridge institutions that advertise their commitment to social justice are the Cambridge Peace Commission, King Open School, Cambridge Friends School, Shady Hill School, the Social Justice Works! program at CRLS, and the First Parish Cambridge UU church. There’s even “mathematics for social justice” in Cambridge schools.

It’s none of my business if people want to join a political church, so long as I’m not forced to attend anti-Bush sermons on Sunday morning. (On this issue I’m for separation of church and state). But school attendance isn’t optional. Children shouldn’t be subjected to social justice sermons either.

An apologist might argue, “We are simply teaching children to fight injustice to establish a just society.” There are several things wrong with this depiction.

For one, social justice is a left-wing political goal, not a universal value. Its umbrella shelters a grab bag of causes, which include “economic justice,” equal rights for a variety of victim groups and, recently, environmentalism. These causes all require an expansion of government power that is anathema to small government conservatives.

Consider the idea of “economic justice,” i.e., “spreading the wealth around.” A conservative sees not justice but the injustice of taking money out of Joe the Plumber’s wallet to pay for more ineffective government.

Or consider the issue of equality. Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity, as expressed by Jefferson’s “All men are created equal.” But if the sole cause of inequality is injustice, government must step in to guarantee that all persons, regardless of race, gender, ability, class or sexual orientation end up equal in life.

Conservatives fear that such social engineering places inordinate power in the hands of the State. In Friedrich Hayek’s words, the “pursuit of social justice will contribute to the erosion of personal freedom and encourage the advent of totalitarianism”—probably not in the form of the Nazi jackboot but with the smothering embrace of the nanny state.

Secondly, schools play a role in preparing our children for their future careers. The world was certainly made a better place by social justice activist Martin Luther King Jr. But I cringe at the idea of a generation of college graduates who think that fighting injustice is the highest career goal, who take Michelle Obama’s advice—“Don’t go into corporate America,” who find science and math irrelevant, who can’t place World War II in the correct century, who can’t compose a coherent English paragraph. We need Martin Luther Kings, but we also need selfish entrepreneurs who make money developing new energy sources. We need plumbers and electricians who take pride in their work. We need kids who study for their biology APs rather than volunteer at the soup kitchen, who might one day discover an AIDS vaccine. The unintentional actions of well-educated citizens can do more good than an army of well-meaning do-gooders.

Finally, teaching social justice has the unfortunate side effect of teaching our children that America is an unjust place, so they have something to fight against. Thus American history becomes a catalogue of injustice: slavery, Indian genocide, Japanese internment. For example, rather than admit that we are moving rapidly away from our racist past, social justice advocates focus on new injustices. Slavery may be gone, but racial spotlighting remains. Save the Brush!

Grand narratives

Letter to the New Criterion:

Thanks for your fascinating January issue on relativism. I have always savored the lack of self-awareness of a relativist arguing that people who call other people evil are evil.

Christie Davies (“Truth vs. equality”) discusses the relativist view of scientific truth. Last year the issue received national publicity when a dim-bulb Dartmouth professor sued students for challenging her argument that "scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct" (WSJ 5/5/08).

Ms. Davies’ analysis is cogent, but I question her historical narrative in the following:
Then Marxism failed…this led to an abandonment of the old single certainties and grand narratives which had claimed a unique pseudo-scientific validity. Egalitarian relativism triumphed and the downgrading of science became a reality.
Ms. Davies is more on target in her opening line, “Relativism is a key weapon of those who seek to undermine Western civilization.” Although Soviet communism failed, the grand narrative of anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism is stronger than ever; I’m not convinced that the western Left ever abandoned Marxism.

Ms. Davies supports her claim that science has been downgraded with the example of a feminist who defends “the UFO community.” People like this certainly exist, but I would argue that science—although its purpose is to seek “objective truth”--has been increasingly politicized, and now, like relativism, is often used as a weapon of convenience in the Left’s arsenal.

I would wager, for instance, that most relativists, social constructivists, multiculturalists and post-modernists are fervent believers in the grand narrative of manmade global warming, which claims “pseudo-scientific validity” in order to advance an anti-capitalist agenda—perhaps not Marxist in name but certainly in intent. If science can be used to attack capitalism, the Left holds it up as revealing “inconvenient truths.” (Never mind that predicting the future requires faith; as Michael Crichton pointed out, “There can be no observational data about the year 2100.”) Similarly, if evolutionary science can be used to attack western religion, relativistic doubts about scientific knowledge dissolve.

The UFO feminist and the Dartmouth professor would likely join the chorus attacking President Bush for ignoring “Science” on issues like stem cell research, wrapping themselves in the mantle of truth and objectivity for as long as it takes to win a political fight.