Archive for the ‘cognition’ Category

Snicker-snack! We hold these truths to be self-evident: That WE’re right, and THEY are stoopid, deluded, evil AND cunning, out to destroy all that is good and holy

February 15th, 2010 No comments

These “tribal truths” seem to fairly summarize modern political discourse – whether in the pages of Mises Daily, in “Tea Party” conventions, in the MSM  or elsewhere in the intertubes.

It’s a point I’ve been making like a broken record – in order to mask my nefarious agenda, of course! – so it’s nice to see others make similar observations (after all, who wants to listen to, much less agree with, an enviro-facist, commie, watermelon misanthrope?).

WARNING: Reading further not recommended for those who refer prefer the emotional rush of partisan battle to donning thinking caps.

I just ran across the essay What Is Wrong With Those Tea Partiers? by Jonathan Haidt (professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. His work can be found at, at the website of U. Va. Professor Larry Sabato (February 4, 2010); here are some excerpts for the discerning reader (emphasis added):

The truth has triumphed, at least for those attending this week’s Tea Party convention in Nashville: Obama is a socialist fascist communist statist Muslim whose healthcare “reform” would destroy the world’s greatest healthcare system and force Americans to wait in long lines so that their medical requests could be reviewed by death panels. This is not truth as you and I know it, but this statement (or at least parts of it) is believed to be true by the millions of Americans who coalesced into the Tea Party movement of 2009 ….

But the new synthesis that has recently occurred in moral psychology—merging social psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary theory—gives us a new set of tools for understanding political movements, which are always moral movements, whether left-wing, right-wing, or something else. This new moral psychology is based on three principles, each of which can help outsiders understand the tea party movement:

1) Intuitive Primacy. Moral judgments, like aesthetic judgments, are best understood as quick gut feelings, not as products of reasoning. We have feelings about people and ideas within the first second of encountering them. We engage in reasoning too, but reasoning is slow, spread over many seconds or minutes, and it takes place within a mental workspace that has already been pre-structured by feelings. So if one third of Americans had negative feelings toward Obama on election day, and if many independents developed negative feelings as talk of tax increases and Wall Street bailouts escalated, then, by the summer of 2009, more than 40% of Americans were emotionally ready to receive the narrative about socialism and statism being formulated by conservative talk radio hosts such as Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.

2) Moral Thinking is for Social Doing. People are extremely bad at solving simple logic problems that are unconnected to their interests, but we are all geniuses at justifying our prior actions and at making the case for propositions we favor. We are intuitive lawyers gunning for victory, not intuitive scientists seeking truth. In fact, research on everyday reasoning finds that people are largely incapable of searching for evidence that contradicts their initial hypothesis. So when passions run high, as they do among tea-partiers, their reasoning doesn’t get turned off. Rather, their reasoning is working overtime, and very elaborate belief structures (such as conspiracy theories) can be constructed out of the flimsiest materials (such as rumors about forged birth certificates). This is normal, and readers on the left should ask themselves how often they searched for counter-evidence that would have contradicted the worst things their friends said about George W. Bush.

3) Morality binds and builds. Morality, like politics, is really a team sport. Western philosophy often reduces ethics to the individual level (“How should I act?”). But many researchers now join Charles Darwin in believing that human morality was shaped in part by the competition of tribe vs. tribe. One of the main “tricks” that human tribes developed was the psychology of sacredness—the positing of a god, a person, a piece of land, or in more modern times a book or an idea, which was perfect, and which united a group in its defense. The left made racial equality its sacred principle in the 1960s, which led them to sacralize oppressed minorities. (Sacralization means that an object becomes perfectly pure, good, and unassailable.) It is a taboo on the left to “blame the victim,” and the left is therefore still prone to charging its opponents with racism. But the right chose freedom (understood as freedom from oppressive government) back in the days of the cold war, and it began to sacralize free markets in the 1980s (under Reagan and Thatcher). Is it any wonder, then, that that the right now uses “statist” and “socialist” as its all-purpose epithets? Is it so irrational to apply these labels to Obama? He does, after all, want to increase the government’s role in regulating healthcare, Wall Street, and anything that produces carbon dioxide.

Liberal readers may object that 1) Obama has been governing more as a centrist than as a left-wing collectivist; 2) George W. Bush was the real enemy of liberty with his contempt for civil rights, and 3) Healthcare costs and global warming are looming catastrophes for which vigorous action is a necessity. All true, in my opinion. But that’s the funny thing about moral psychology: it compels people on opposing teams to believe in conflicting and incompatible truths. Everyone on both sides asks: What is wrong with those people?

I feel the same way, as I try to explicate and debate various issues: so many vorpal swords!, so many headless chickens running around with them! and so many minions, blind to how those with nefarious agendas go about sowing heated partisan conflict, the better to secure gains from government!

A happy, merry tide of plugged ears and closed minds?

December 24th, 2009 2 comments

A short tale of woe, if I may.

During the Bush/Cheney administration I was booted from a few echo chambers more interested in group self-righteousness than thinking, and certainly unwilling to listen to a small government, green-minded conservative (I simply HAD to be an evil or block-headed Liberal!): RedState (twice!), Free Republic and NewsBusters. I`ve also had my share of frosty and occasionally uncivil receptions at LvMI, but have found some limited tolerance over the years, if not a “warming” welcome (forgive the pun, of not the punner).

I`ve pondered over what brings this on, and think I`ve figured out some of the factors that lead to closed minds. But my point here is simply to note that I still find it profoundly disappointing; not only does it hinder the exploration needed to bind societies and solve real problems, but it simply ain`t fun to be on the receiving end of a slammed door.

A couple of recent, and differing, examples come to mind:

Rob Bradley`s banning me from discussions of energy and environmental policy on his MasterResource blog, not because my comments were rude or unsubstantive, but because l questioned how truly “free market” his blog is, and its refusal to note that there is more than one side to rent-seeking battles (blog discussions there never examine the behavior of coal and other fossil fuel interests in such battles);

– a de facto banning by another libertarian who didn`t really want to hear my thoughts on his thesis that there is an “objective” moral order permeating the universe;

– a group on the LvMI forums, where my suggestions that libertarians see the concerns of others about possible climate change as an opportunity to deregulate were met with bristling hostility by some;

– this past week I booted, without warning or the courtesy of explanation, from the Libertarian Forum Google group, after I had responded to another member who noted as “boring” my comments to Lew Rockwell on the Left and global warming;  and

– on the Left, several (five at last count) interesting commenters on Twitter wthin whom I share a concern about indigenous rights and climate change issues have “blocked” me, apparently because I noted that a lack of property rights lies at the core of indigenous rights problems AND of poor development on reservations, and that it might not actually aid poor nations adapt to climate change or to protect tropical forests if Western governments take money from their taxpayers and give it to elites in poor nations blocking means I can`t follow them, so it is difficult to see what they are saying; whether someone chooses to “follow” and listen to me is a different matter).

No doubt to those whom I offend I seem like the Devil incarnate, but it still hurts. I take some solace in the perhaps self-deluded thought that since I encounter this problem across the political spectrum, I must be doing something right. But then again, maybe George Reisman and Gene Callahan have it right, and I`m a “misanthrope” or maladjusted grouch of one kind or another.

But I don`t think so – a misfit, to be sure, like the elf in Santa`s workshop who wanted to be a dentist – but not a misanthrope.

Christmas and holidays cheers to those of you who are still listening to (and challenging) me, and to those who have supported my disruptive presence here at LvMI!




Categories: cognition, denial, group, rent-seeking Tags:

Ad homs R NOT Us: discussions over rent-seeking necessitate painful wrestling with slippery "cui bono" demons

October 7th, 2009 No comments

My recent post, “Bob Murphy on climate change at Antiwar Radio; a puppet for the “King Coal” hand that feeds him?“, attracted a bit of attention, including some hostile comments from some LvMI community members who thought my comments regarding the motivations of Bob Murphy`s funders were over the line.

Since I consider the issue an important one and welcome the comments, I thought I would raise the comment thread to a post here, in the hopes that I might elicit further thoughtful commentary. 

Are cui bono inquiries off-base to Austrians when reviewing policy arguments over government policy? Or, as distasteful as such inquries may be, are they unavoidable?

I note that I have tried to have this discussion with Bob on several occasions over the past four months; for the curious reader, here, in chronological order, are my posts:

Bob Murphy, the Heritage Foundation and “green jobs” – ignore coal! We only pay attention to rent-seeking from greens/the left;

which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I`m
talking about (when I say he`s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking
; and

Fun with Self-Deception and Rent-Seeking: Bob Murphy`s “Man in the Mirror”.

Here is the comment thread (anonymized to avoid distractions; I am happy to add handles back in if the relevant persons prefer):


# Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:10 AM
by “A”

Challenge his facts and ideas.  Challenging his paycheck is cowardly and dishonest.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 1:33 AM
by “B”

I agree with “A”. Only because Bob Murphy gets a part of his income due to “Big Coal” doesn’t discredit his ideas.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:34 AM

“A”, if Bob forthrightly informed everyone that he gets paid to
talk about climate change by the group of investors who has benefitted
the greatest from the non-free market status quo, I wouldn`t feel a
need to mention it.

It is absurd to suggest that libertarians – whose biggest peeves
center on the entanglement between the state and business – either
shouldn`t notice, or shouldn`t comment on, the way some of their
erstwhile members make one-sided comments that happen to suit the
agenda of statist corporations that are funding them.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 10:36 AM


I agree that Bob`s funding doesn`t discredit his ideas per se.  It`s
just that “Bob`s ideas” conspicuously deflect light from the whole

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 11:06 AM
by “A”


Why would Bob admitting he gets paid by so and so change anything?  Do you believe Bob’s opinion is compromised?

If yes, could you substantiate such a claim?

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 3:03 PM

“A”, I believe that the answer to your question is patently obvious:

If Bob were to forthrightly acknowledge what interests are funding
his opinion, readers would be more likely to  notice what the real
PURPOSES of his remarks might be.

It is precisely to mask such purposes that rent-seeking corporations
like to channel their efforts through “think tanks”, pundits and the

Both Bob Murphy and Scott Horton are well aware of this, which is why

– when Bob identified himself the economist for IER, Horton
immediately said, “Ah now, wait a minute. Does that mean that you`re a
front man for Exxon or something?”, and

– Bob chuckled, hemmed and hawed and replied, “Uhh, well, no, but, you can take it with a grain of salt if you want.”

But sadly, Bob did NOT take the opportunity of Horton`s specific
question to explain who funds IER – not Exxon or oil, but coal – even
though most of his later substantive comments were ABOUT how
Waxman-Markey is a fight between interest groups for government favors.

As to whether who funds Bob affects what he says, it think that`s
also fairly evident: if it didn`t, his funders wouldn`t bother to pay
for his services. Of course this doesn`t at all need to imply that Bob
doesn`t mean what he says (he probably does, and I agree with him on
many points), but simply that he omits to say other relevant things.

# Saturday, October 03, 2009 8:57 PM
by “C”

hope Tokyo Tom will tell us who the most noble and self-funded
commentator is on the topic, so that we might all swallow his ideas and
arguments wholesale.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:34 AM
by “A”

that is an evasive way of further undermining Bob’s credibility while
trying to cover your own ass for taking potshots at him.

“This doesn’t need to imply…”

But that is exactly what you are doing.  You have inferred numerous
times in this post and comments, that Bob is compromised by his

Can you answer, clearly, yes or no that he is compromised?

And if not, don’t you find your inferences somewhat irresponsible within the context of sincere and productive debate?

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:42 AM

“C”, I don’t think TT will be so forthcoming.

TT is fallaciously claiming a sin [sic] of omission, is proof of a sin of commission.  It is a non-sequitur.

The fact is, anyone can make any claim that Bob has not provided
enough background, about LvMI, about Chaos Theory, about his personal
religious beliefs, about what sort of car he drives.

By making an ad hominem (challenging Bob’s person and not his ideas)
now TT can duck and weave the “we shouldn’t draw anything from this
thing I have decided to make a big deal about” while avoiding
discussing any issues Bob may be incorrect on.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 3:29 PM

“C”, it`s good that apparently you`re NOT interested in swallowing anyone`s ideas and arguments wholesale.

But if so, why does it bother you that I provide you with additional
information about Bob and the interests that are funding him? Are you
uninterested in Austrian insights about rent-seeking?

Maybe you should take your complaint to Bob, who himself suggested
that listeners might want to take his views with a grain of salt.

# Sunday, October 04, 2009 4:37 PM

“A”, you`re having a tough time reading me.  

1. I think I`ve fairly clearly stated that I think that Bob`s
expressed opinions on climate change are influenced by the fact that
they are supported by a rent-seeking interest. When I said “This
doesn’t need to imply…” I was referring to whether or not he believes
what he SAYS – as opposed to what he omits to say – and expressed the
view that he probably does mean what he says (as well as that I agree
with much of what he says).

2. I don`t think I`m being evasive at all, but rather
straightforward. And I don’t consider my fairly open challenges to Bob
on this matter to be “somewhat irresponsible” within the “context of
sincere and productive debate”. Instead, I reluctantly find them to be
necessary, given the ubiquity of rent-seeking and the ways that it
perverts both legislation and the debate over it.

3. I like Bob and don`t really enjoy making this criticism, but I
think he would probably be the last to say that questioning his
entanglement with rent-seeking interests is off-limits, particularly
when rent-seeking is PRECISELY one of his chief substantive criticisms
of cap-and-trade. Bob`s personal familiarity with Austrian criticisms
of the influence of business and other interest groups on government
policy does not create immunity from criticism on the same grounds.

4. “I don’t think TT will be so forthcoming”. Care to take back your
words? In the future, perhaps you`d be good enough to leave me time to
reply before you speculate on whether I will?

5. “a sin [sic] of omission, is proof of a sin of commission.  It is
a non-sequitur.” You`re using a lot of big words, but I`m not sure I
follow you. I`ve said Bob failed to disclose something that was
relevant to the discussion. Period. (Bob may have some thoughts on if
it was a sin and what kind, but if it was deliberate I`m not sure I see
a distinction between omission and commission.)

6. “anyone can make any claim that Bob has not provided enough background”.

Sure, but there are only certain times when “full disclosure” is
relevant; on most things Bob comments on whether someone funds him is
irrelevant. But when he is talking about legislation that will have a
significant impact on someone who is paying him to speak, that fact
that he is acting as a spokesman is VERY relevant. That`s why Scott
Horton asked the question, and why Bob dodged it.

7. “by making an ad hominem”

Sorry, but if you want to split hairs, a “cui bono” argument is not
ad hominem argument. In any event, Austrian economics tells us that we
need to worry about the perversion of government via rent-seeking. If
the wheels of our worrying about rent-seeking are ever to hit the road,
it means that we have to keep asking “who benefits”.

This of course complicates debate and cuts many ways; sorry that I can`t make life simpler for you.

8. “while avoiding discussing any issues Bob may be incorrect on.”

Are you serious? I`ve had several years of substantive discussions
on climate on the LvMI blog, and argue routinely with Bob on
substantive matters, both on my blog and over at his. All you`re
showing here is an unadmirable ignorance or shortness of attention.

In any case, your attention is welcome, but we can have a more
intelligent and productive discussion if you`d check your inclination
to reflexive negativity.

More on self-deception, mirror positions and libertarian reticence on climate policy

August 28th, 2009 No comments

I copy below (with minor changes for clarity) a further comment I made on the piece by Bob Murphy (“I’m Starting With the Man in the Mirror”) to which I referred in my prior post.  The comment on which I remarking is addressed by one commenter to Silas Barta:

cotterdan: I think the error in his view is that he will simply
dismiss everyone on the other side of the issue as some shill for the
oil companies. He doesn’t see the fact that it is the political elite
pushing for his ideas.

Can you see that you and your friends
have mirror positions and each think the other is wrong, when in fact
it is pretty clear that you are BOTH right – and that there are
rent-seekers behind each position?

Of course the firms and
investors that have been able to use the atmosphere as a free GHG dump
don`t want to start paying for the privilege (to the extent that they
have invested very heavily in protecting their current position), and
of course there are others who think that this poses risks to them and
what they value (and some who want government to make markets for them).

… I don’t mind what ideas you have on saving the planet. I just don’t want to pay for them.

think we all share your reluctance to see government do anything
coercive, and we share your reasons. Most commons problems are actually
much more susceptible to local solutions that would occur if
governments got out of the way and just let resource users come to
terms on them, but given that that the atmosphere is shared globally
AND there are countless other state actors that we just can`t force
from the table, there is simply no possibility of entirely voluntary
approaches arising (even though one could imagine them). Further, even
while each government will act by force of law at home, make no doubt
that any global agreements on climate change policy are in effect
large-scale Coasean bargains.

While libertarians may be entirely
unwilling to accept any state action, unfortunately the rest of the
country (and the world) does not share their compunctions. As a result,
it seems to me that the effect of a libertarian NO! is not simply to
defend the status quo ante (which in my view wrongly allows once group
of powerful rent-seekers to shift costs to the rest of society; YMMV),
but to enable the adoption of overly-costly (and heavy-handed) approaches; viz.,
cap-and-trade w/ vast pork, versus rebated carbon taxes w/immediate
capital write-offs, etc.

August 27, 2009 11:42 PM


Fun with Self-Deception and Rent-Seeking: Bob Murphy's "Man in the Mirror"

August 26th, 2009 No comments

Robert Murphy, Austrian school economist and blogger, is in my book a remarkably thoughtful and insightful commentator on current economic issues, even as I find some of his arguments on climate policy and energy to be shallow.

Bob`s balance and relatively rare introspection are on display in his recent blog post, I’m Starting With the Man in the Mirror, in which he directly addresses the way that people with differing views on health care and climate change policy tend to see their own views and actions as virtuous, while seeing “the other side” as having evil motives and acting unfairly.  Bob had started a blog post in such a vein, but then checked himself and realized that questioning the motives of all of the other side was probably unfair. 

My own thoughts are that Bob`s post is as fine as far as it goes, but that it remains partisan and fails to discuss the way that rent-seekers deliberately seek to exploit our partisan predilections. This failure is not particularly surprising, given not only Bob`s evident self-identification as a partisan, but the fact that he works for the Institute for Energy Research, a Rob Bradley-founded think tank that, along with its partner, the American Energy Alliance is a front for a particular set of rent-seekers – the fossil fuel interests.

Bob`s entire piece is worth reading, but here is the introduction:

“OK I must confess that this Wonk Room hit piece on my compatriots really ticked me off. I had originally wanted to blog it with the title, “Definition” and the comment, “If you want to know what ‘ad hominem’ means, just check out this Wonk Room piece on the AEA bus tour.”

“But then I calmed down a bit, realizing that the Wonk Room piece is really just the mirror image of what Glenn Beck did with Goldman Sachs, which I praised.”

The piece concludes in a similar vein:

“I’m just saying that, as ridiculous as Krugman’s paranoia over old people is, that’s how ridiculous some of our side’s rants against Obama fans must seem to people who know that they are really just trying to stem abuses they perceive in the health care system and so forth. They know they’re not socialists, just like we know “our guys” aren’t Nazis.”

Bob adds a brief meta-insight that I wish he had explored further:

“Don’t get me wrong, it is still perfectly consistent to think the elites in Washington are power-hungry liars. “

I left my own observations in a comment on Bob`s post, which I copy below:

Bob, on Goldman Sachs, you might enjoy this piece by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone.

Bob, I appreciate your attempt at even-handedness, and your implicit acknowledgment of how we are all plagued by problems of self-deception and confirmation bias, particularly with the context of battle with ideological enemies.

I hope you will continue the effort, even though it may come at a cost to effectiveness – sometimes there`s nothing like a broader understanding of the truth to get in the way of a good rant about the Truth.

The problems of self-deception, tribal division/conflict and their roles in rent-seeking are deep indeed, and you`ve barely scratched the surface.

I note, for example, that even though you try to be even-handed, you ironically identify those listed in the Wonk Room piece as your “compatriots”; if by implication the Wonk Room writers and others who support climate change action are NOT your compatriots, what country then are they citizens of?

I also note that those you call compatriots are officers of the Rob Bradley-founded American Energy Alliance, which is clearly an energy industry pressure group (and Republican-linked). You work at the free-market IER that Rob also founded, but apparently self-identify yourself with a group of fairly naked rent-seekers.

While it`s in our human nature to fall into partisanship, what`s more disturbing is the ways that rent-seekers deliberately try to take advantage of this penchant by fanning the flames of partisanship as a means of masking their own agendas while attacking others with competing preferences. This has been very clearly at work in battles over energy and environmental issues, where influence over government is the battleground.

I have made the point a number of times previously that such rent-seeking deserves much more attentions, but you have always professed puzzlement: what, ME, Bob Murphy, involved in a rent-seekers game?

To refresh your recollection, here are links to our previous discussions:

Bob Murphy, the Heritage Foundation and “green jobs” – ignore coal! We only pay attention to rent-seeking from greens/the left; and

In which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I`m talking about (when I say he`s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking game).

I’m just saying that, as ridiculous as Krugman’s paranoia over old people is, that’s how ridiculous some of our side’s rants against Obama fans must seem to people who know that they are really just trying to stem abuses they perceive in the health care system and so forth. They know they’re not socialists, just like we know “our guys” aren’t Nazis.

Well said. Now how about acknowledging how the rent-seekers are busy at work trying to manipulate our partisan impulses to take everyone for a ride?

I of course am aware that rent-seeking is ubiquitous in our current political debates, and on climate and energy issues, there are many rent-seekers in addition to fossil fuel interests. My point is that it behooves us to pay attention to the manipulations of rent-seekers generally.

Rent-seeking: CEI’s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same pod

January 14th, 2009 2 comments

In an earth-shaking 😉 essay in today’s Human Events, CEI‘s Chris Horner comes clean and acknowledges that climate denialists and alarmists are peas in the same rent-seeking pod. 

We have encountered Horner,  former lawyer and now full-time scourge of envirofascists on behalf of the firms that fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and author of “Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed), a number of times here previously.  I consider Chris to be very knowledgeable and insightful, but it seems to me that his passion paints him into a corner as a spokesman for one side of the commercial interests seeking to influence policy, hinders a broader self-awareness, and leaves him with little ability to reach out to persuade others.

Says Horner:

Further, the premise behind most alarmist slurs, of the “tobacco scientist” variety and the ritual claims of “ties” to “big oil” or “industry,” is that a scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale. Yet it is illogical to assume that dissenters can be bought but alarmists cannot. Looking at the balance sheets on both sides, their logic would conclude that the greatest amount of corruption occurs on the alarmist side.

With federal expenditures on climate-related research soaring above $5 billion annually – more than we spend on AIDS or the National Cancer Institute – and hundreds of billions in “rents” to corporations pushing these schemes should the alarmist campaign succeed, the potentially corrupting factor of money cannot be ignored.

Someone saw a good investment in giving Al Gore $300 million for his “climate crisis” re-branding campaign. Gore’s advisor (and, officially, NASA astronomer) James Hansen and other activists receive enormous sums of money underwriting their alarmist activities, sums that no “skeptic” has ever been accused of receiving. Meanwhile Gore—the king of claiming that those who disagree are merely in it for the money—makes millions annually from all manner of enterprises premised upon the climate crisis, and his lucre will increase several fold upon passing the laws his alarmism demands.

The difficult truth is that the alarmists cannot logically fault the skeptics’ credibility without also faulting Gore’s credibility, and that of their heavily compensated alarmist mouthpieces. Yet no “skeptic” receives as much as Gore or even Hansen from shouting falsities about the issue.

The delicious irony found in the global warming alarmists’ claims is that it is they who closely resemble the “tobacco scientists” they accuse those who oppose them of being, and are quite plainly the ones stuck on “denial”.

Several thoughts occur to me:

First, most of Horner’s points are perfectly fair, but it’s interesting that he can make them while ignoring what they imply about himself and others who are denialists (since Horner calls those concerned about the effects of releasing all of the fossil carbons “alarmists”, for the sake of balance, let’s call him and others “denialists”, as opposed to “dissenters” or “skeptics”).

Second, Horner fails to distinguish between amounts spent by governments and amounts spent by rent-seekers directly.  While large government expenditures are “potentially corrupting”, such expenditures clearly do NOT directly corrupt the results of scientific investigations, nor do they directly influence decision-making by government, politicians or others.  As a result, such expenditures are certainly in a different class than direct and indirect rent-seeking (via paid mouthpieces, contributions to think tanks, campaign contributions, junkets and the like) by special interests.

Third, while Horner is right to note that there are large amounts flowing to support rent-seeking via alarmist mouthpieces like Gore, there is nothing really new here – this is just plain old garden-variety rent-seeking of the same type that we have seen from the denialists (fossil fuel interests and others who have different preferences regarding rights to the atmosphere and science/defense-budget priorities).  In one sense this is a relief – as it clarifies that the chief financiers of the alarmism are not out to destroy capitalism – but  one is left wondering WHO, precisely, is doing the funding and what precisely are their objectives.  While some may be looking for favors from government, others may be sincerely concerned about the potential consequences of releasing all of the fossil carbon stored up since the Age of Dinosaurs and the lack of any market mechanisms to express their preferences.

Fourth, while more information on rent-seekers is needed, it’s clear that most of them are commercial interests, whom our laws say are legal persons and our courts have declared to have the same Constitutional rights to spend freely to influence government via “free speech” as do you or I.  While a discussion of the merits of legal personhood is beyond the scope of of this post, I wish to draw attention to the role of limited liability, in fuelling the growth of (i) the corporate form, (ii) rent-seeking (at all branches of government) by corporations, and (iii) public pressure by citizens’ groups (and faux-citizens’ groups) to fight over the wheel of government.

Finally, Horner oversteps when he argues that the alarmists’ views must be based on a premise that “scientist’s convictions and those of other dissenters are for sale”. I think a little more nuance is called for.  W e are cognitively wired as tribal animals.  That means we are inclined to see “our side” as right, and the other side as lying and scheming. While very clever rent-seekers know this and try to use it to jerk us around, this does not mean that any particular group – or its spokesmen – has consciously sold itself out.  Rather, as William Butler Yeats famously noted, “the worst are full passionate intensity” – and each of us is good at the self-deception needed to provide the requisite conviction and self-righteousness.  Perhaps not only Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Horner’s frequent sparring partner Joe Romm share this quintessential human trait, but also Chris Horner himself?

Luboš Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can`t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

July 9th, 2008 No comments

I`m disappointed that my attempts at discourse with Lubos Motl have blown up.  Lubos, a Czech physicist/climate science blogger who responded to my post on Bret Stephens` exegesis in the WSJ of the psychology of the cult-like “belief” by the rest of the world in the “nonfalsifiable hypothesis” of human-influenced climate change, disengaged, while of course dissing me..

Some of the fruits of my attempt were noted in my previous post, where Lubos felt it appropriate to repay my efforts by calling me a “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazi” who “should be put in jail or executed before it`s too late”.

I`vehad several conversations with Lubos before, and so I actually tried to continue our email discussion by objecting that his language was hardly constructive and that we share common areas of concern:

With your clear and rational vision, it doesn’t matter that I also worry about the wisdom of letting governments get their hands on more revenues and resources to bureaucratically mismanage.  Nope, because I have the view that unowned resources (such as ocean fisheries:;; are often ruinously exploited and am aware that severe pollution is often a problem where victims have no access to courts to protect their rights, or where there is no regulation or industry is too powerful (or owned by the state), then I must be a hypercommunist and Nazi and should be promptly jailed or executed for the good of mankind.

But this proved to be the last straw for Lubos, for the reason that – because my response included a link to liberal George Monbiot (who happens to have an excellent article decrying how state subsidies to fishermen are helping to strip out ocean fisheries ) – my mind must be polluted .  I`ll spare readers the language that Lubos used, but he insisted that not only he was he not interested in reading “Moonbot” whom he despises (despite the fact that they agree on this partiicular issue), but disdained the fact that I could bother to read (all right, I can`t resist – “eat sh*t” was Lubos` phrasing) those with whom he disagrees, and that was the end of our “discussion”.

While everyone is entitled to determine with whom and on what terms they will converse, I find the contrast between those who profess to love freeom and reason and their own distemper while they call everyone else an irrational man-hater is both startling and dismaying. 

After Lubos hung up on me, I paid a brief visit to his blog (having been alerted by a commenter), and what did I see?  His July 9 post he notes that he feels compelled to call for the “euthanasia” or urgent “quarantine” of reporters and others who have recently written on climate change!

Says Motl:

I am normally against euthanasia but it simply seems to me that there is no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff above. It’s literally pandemics. The society should urgently put these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late

In response, I left the following comment on his blog:

Lubos, all of your talk of euthanasia and quarantine are enough to warm the cockles of a good Nazi’s heart! You are far ahead of Jim Hansen, who only spoke of “trials” for what he sees as deception by fossil fuel execs.

But let me play along with your light-hearted fun and games, even as it makes it difficult to criticize Hansen: how, exactly, should we identify all of the “freedom-hating” “hypercommunist” “Nazis” who should be “jailed or executed” as you have noted elsewhere?

This Tom, after all, is not a Jerry. But since I disagree with YOU (and your hatred), I suppose that means I must also [hate] MANKIND, and deserve death, with you as prosecutor, judge and jury?


But, not surprisingly, this champion of reason would have no discourse about it, so he removed my

Why is it that those who call most loudly for reason have so little ability or willingness to use it themselves?  And why do those who purport to love freedom and reason feel compelled to call for the elimination of those who disagree with them?

Is self-awareness so painful and self-control and discourse so difficult?

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this "rational" scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be "jailed or executed"

July 7th, 2008 7 comments

It looks like Lubos woke up on the wrong side of bed.

BELOW is the type of “rational”, “dispassionate” response that my previous attempt at discourse with Luboš Motl has earned from that fan of Bret “Mass Neurosis” Stephens.  Just who is “sick-souled”, anyway, and finding it difficult to distinguish between reality (my actual points about management of resources and politicized battles) and fantasies of “alarmist” strawmen?

These are Lubos’ responses (indented) to some of the points from my preceding post, My further comments are bracketed: 

TT:  While some aspects of the “Warmers” and the Jehovah’s Witnesses may be linked, the Warmers are descendants of those who raised awareness and fought for control of REAL pollution in the 60’s and 70’s.  Warmers also point to REAL phenomena, like increases in GHG levels, acidifying oceans, dramatic warming in the higher latitudes, pronounced climate zone shifts, etc.

LM:  There may have been real pollution 40 years ago but the claims about it have always been overblown. Today, they are overblown by many orders of magnitude. My criticism and Jehovah’s Wittnesses analogy applies not only to the present global warming quasi-religion but, to a greater or lesser extent, to all previous fantasies that the environmentalist movement has invented during the last 50 years.

[TT:  Sure we’ve made strides at cleaning up pollution in the West, but that pollution wasn’t a fantasy, was extremely costly and much of it is still around.  LM’s Jehovah’s Witness analogy is useful (as not only cultists but all of us have difficulties in changing our minds, particularly on matters we cannot personally physically verify), but clearly doesn’t cover all environmentalists, many of whom understand that the lack of clear and enforceable property rights (and markets) lies at the core of environmental problems.]

LM:  They never learn anything from their failures and try to predict things that can’t be predicted and pretend that clearly very unlikely things are likely. The only different aspect of the AGW cult is that they also include a lot of scientific buzzwords but they don’t do proper science because they don’t abandon conjectures that have been falsified. In some sense, bad science is even worse than pure religion because the conclusions are equally crappy and moreover, it contaminates the good name of science.

TT:  Care to elaborate on your complaints?

LM:  Whoever doesn’t want to or isn’t capable to understand basic complaints about the contamination of science by ideology, won’t understand them. In your case, it has been clearly proved that it is a waste of time to try to debate these serious matters with you.

[TT:  I’m quite aware of how not only ideology and politics contaminate science; in fact it’s a point I made to LM.  I’m sorry he’s not interested (or too busy being offensive) in taking up my invitation to elaborate on how he sees that it has affected climate science in particular.]

TT:  Stephens’ discussion of the psychology of belief in and of itself is fine.  It’s his pretense that EVERYONE who takes a different view than himself is either masking an ideology or is irrational (or both) that offends, and is obviously unsupportable.  If Stephens is “rationally” engaged in logical fallacies, then he’s being deliberately deceptive; otherwise, he’s engaged in self-deception of the type he accuses others of.

LM:  The reason why it looks like Stephens thinks that every alarmist is masking an ideology, personal interests, or a mental disorder is that every alarmist is masking an ideology, personal interests, or a mental disorder. If there exists an exception, I have certainly not met one yet.

[TT:  “Alarmist”? Nice strawman, and not intellectually honest.  So like Bret Stephens, for whom global warming is “a nonfalsifiable hypothesis” and thus a matter of belief, LM lumps everybody who disagrees with him – scientist, economist, industrialist, etc. – into the “alarmist” category.]

TT:  I would agree that a scientist may have little or nothing to add to a discussion of policy – and that others should not assume such expertise – but it is not only impractical to not refer to the credentials of a scientist who chooses to get involved in political analysis, but perhaps dishonest not to.  Moreover, scientists may of course have much to offer in policy discussions.

LM:  I find it dishonest if the scientific credentials are mentioned or overblown in the context of activists who have contributed virtually no good science besides the “science” that is used by other activists. I find it incredibly insulting and dishonest if bad scientists and pseudoscientists similar to Michael Mann and hundreds of others are presented to be on par with real leading scientists – if not above them. All these people are crappy radical activists and this is what defines their primary activity in their lives. Saying that they’re scientists is effectively a kind of a lie. And again, my complaint is that science itself should be free of politics, a statement that you deliberately seem to oppose. In my understanding, your approach is on equal footing with the approach of the Nazis who also wanted to manipulate science “to their image”. I consider these things incredibly dangerous, extraordinarily serious, and I would be among the first ones to fight in a civil war meant to protect the society against a new cancer of this type.

[TT:  LM’s view of who is a scientist and who is a pseudoscientist is besides the point, which is when someone with a science background speaks, we should pay attention to whether they are discussing science or policy, and their basis for either.  I agree that it is desirable that science itself be free of politics (which is why I pointed to problems with government funding of science); I just don’t think it is possible to lock scientists out of having or expressing views on politics.  I certainly do not support a politicization of science by the powerful, which has been a clear effort by parts of the fossil fuel and by the Bush administration.]

LM:  I am blogging and in that role, I am a blogger. In fact, I am a kind of full time blogger, in some sense. 😉 And of course, a part of my motivation is to counteract the “activists” who are using science incorrectly. So I am, in some sense, in a similar position with the opposite sign. Unlike them, I don’t hide it. And unlike them, I think it is extremely wrong if the scientific discourse is driven largely by activists of either sign.

TT:  While your stated aims may be admirable, Lubos, they are inescapably a surface manifestation of your own policy goals and preferences.

LM:  This is postmodernist bullshit. You simply can’t understand how objective science or objective scientists could possibly exist – because you are infinitely far from them – so that’s why you assume that they can’t exist. It is circular reasoning and a very insulting one for every honest scientist in the world.

[TT:  This is primitive spleen-venting.  Sorry; I’m not a robot; perhaps LM is – albeit an interesting one that swears and has emotions an awful lot like a real person.

As to the existence of “objective” scientists, even the best scientists have a hard time keeping an open mind.  People have a hard time changing their minds, especially on matters that are not staring them in the face, and even very highly intelligent people and, yes, scientists. Man did not evolve to truly understand the world, but to understand enough to help us to survive and have off-spring. The result is that we build basic maps of reality in our heads and reform them when we have to. Cognitive science shows that we subconsciously filter out much dissonant information, and we all know that it is easier to defend our current reality and to dismiss information that would force us to do to much work in changing our minds. That’s why Darwin, Pasteur and Einstein had such a difficult time. In science, someone with a break-through idea often needs many years to accumulate the evidence and conduct experiments that prove them right, in the face of the opposition of more senior scientists seeking to defend their own established views and reputations.  That’s the reason for the old saw, that “breakthroughs in science occurs one death at a time”, as the “old guard” dies.

But my point was simply that while LM states that he thinks “it is extremely wrong if the scientific discourse is driven largely by activists of either sign“, in fact, as he notes below, he is “fighting only against those whose policies I disagree with. Why? Because I happen to like exactly the policies that reflect the actual science.”  It’s hardly a sheer accident that LM attacks only those who policies he disagrees with, and ignores the demonstrably nonsensical science offered by others who also support LM’s policies.  LM also ignores that “science” itself dictates no policies, which are chosen based on competing values.

TT:  Obviously we have common concerns here, although my view is that the unfortunate role of government in climate science has not so polluted the results as to wholly discredit them.  There are lots of incentives to confirm results and to correct bad work, and many organizations with quite different views and interests involved in the cross-checking.

LM:  Yes, there are these mechanisms. But there are also mechanisms that try to drag science to fulfil some ideological and political goal. Whenever the second force becomes stronger than the first one, and it is indisputably the case of the present climate science, the gross conclusions of the discipline will converge to the pre-determined ideological stuff rather than the scientifically correct answers. What matters is which force behind the scientific process is the strongest one, and when the search for objective, unemotional, unpolitical answers is not the #1 defining goal of science, no one should call it science. It is some Nazi-like ideological crap.

[TT:  It’s fair to worry about the influences of ideology, funding and politics, but there are many scientists, organizations and nations involved in climate change science and investment decisions.  There IS no “Nazi-like ideological crap” that drives them all.

TT:  We are currently conducting an uncontrolled experiment on Planet Earth, Lubos. 

LM:  A very nice prayer but not for me. Rationally speaking, the uncontrolled experiment has been conducted on this Earth for 5 billion years and it is called life. This 99.99999% of this correct proposition is inconvenient for you so you don’t mention it, right?

[TT:  LM of course is right, that life on Earth is uncontrolled and that mankind has only been around for a tiny fraction of time, but life is not an “experiment” unless one posits a Grand Experimenter.  While an interesting topic, it is hardly relevant to the current topic, which is that small slice of bio-geologic time inhabited by man, who is very much the experimenter and purposefully changing his environment.]

TT:  Isn’t the real question not whether “science” is involved in measuring changes, parsing through paleodata, making hypotheses and reviewing them in the face of new information, but simply how long we should let the experiment continue and accelerate uncontrolled, before we make private and collective decisions to respond to the changes, including modifying the experiment? 

LM:  The uncontrolled experiment called life will last until the planet Earth will exist. And it will be uncontrolled until some fanatical and self-serving totalitarian people – Hitlers, Ahmadinejabs, or the environmentalists – acquire enough weapons to make the Earth “controllable”. I will do everything I can to prevent such a catastrophe. Why the fuck do you think that life should be “controlled”? I would vomit from your proclamations. I am amazed that a hypercommunist like you who hates freedom more than all the old Czechoslovak communists did dares to use the word “libertarian”. 

[TT:  More blind and primitive spleen-venting by our cool-headed scientist blogger-partisan.  Since he metaphorically left the Garden of Eden, man has always been deliberately tinkering with life and seeking to control his environment.  The effects of our activities are undeniably worldwide.  Just as other communities of resource users decided to act collective to manage common, shared resources like ranges, fisheries, water and forests (and man-made resources like cities, the Internet and blogs) – such management sometimes occurring via community rules or through more sophisticated and formal property rights or laws/regulations –  we face similar challenges about managing other resources that we jointly use.  Unlike LM, I do not assume that a coercive global government is required to manage such resources.]

TT:  Because the experiment involves common resources, inescapably decisions about maintaining and modifying the experiment are unavoidable “political”, about which all have rights to express concerns, even concerns that seem to concern YOU.

LM:  You have the right to express your idiotic concerns but you have no right to “control” the experiment that takes place on Earth – you have no right to control life of other people. Can’t you understand this principle, Nazi?

[TT:  It appears that LM is arguing with someone else.  He certainly appears to be using his words in an attempt to intimidate others.]

TT:  It’s helpful to fight against pseudoscience, but that’s a fight that one should wage on all sides, not merely against those whose policy view you disagree with.  The case against pseudoscience (and wishful thinking) from the “skeptics” is quite strong.  Besides the issue of partiality, it is clearly wrong and not forthright (and perhaps deliberately deceptive) to ascribe irrationality to all those who have different preferences over how to manage the global atmospheric commons.

LM:  I am fighting against all pseudoscience, and at the same moment, I am fighting only against those whose policies I disagree with. Why? Because I happen to like exactly the policies that reflect the actual science.

[TT:  This is simply unresponsive to my points.  But clearly LM is not concerned about fighting pseudoscience generally, but only when it is used by those whose policies he opposes.  Nor is he concerned about calling everyone who disagrees with his policy views irrational.]

But please give me a break with your disgusting texts already. I am amazed that after all the disasters of the 20th century, someone is still ready to propose that life on Earth should be “controlled”. In my opinion, people like you should be put in jail or executed before it’s too late.

[TT:  De gustibus non disputandum est, as they used to say.  As for tastes, he has his; I have mine.  But LM is clearly disgusted with a phantom, rather than the real person with whom he is having a monologue.  My suggestion was not that “life on Earth” should be “controlled”, but that we should pay close attention to how we manage our mutually shared, but not clearly owned, resources, being aware that as a lack of property rights makes private transactions difficult, we are likely to try to exert influence via words, including the kind of sulfurous hot air that we see from LM (and appears to be his custom).  Pinched noses, if not gas masks, may be the order of the day!]


 [TT:  I’m very glad LM gave me his “best”; it shows his fundamental good will.  Thanks, LM, and cheers!]

Luboš Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

July 7th, 2008 4 comments

As noted on the prior thread, in a recent blog post, scientist Lubos Motl concluded that there “literally pandemics” of people writing stuff on global warming, and that is “simply … no other help for the people who are writing most of the stuff” but “euthanasia” and “urgently put[ting] these people into quarantine, hoping that it is not too late”.  He then deleted and declined to answer the comment that I made on his blog that asked him to clarify the difference between himself and the N*zis.

However, I note that in response to a comment from a commenter named “Sign me up!”, Lubos was willing to spell out his proposal as follows; my comments are indented:

[]  Euthanasia? Urgent quarantine? What`s with the elimationist fantasies here, Lubos?

Is this a reasonable way to engage with anybody, much less so many leaders, industrialists, scientists, reporters etc.?

Sorry, wrong questions. Obviously EVERYBODY who writes or worries about possible climate change is EVIL. How can we help innoculate our fragile democracies from their filth? Do we get to kill enviro-Nazi hypercommies, and their supporters everywhere? Can you give us better instructions on how we identify them?

LM: If your question is meant seriously, then let me say that I have defined the group that should be given the treatment much more accurately than you seem to suggest. Read my text again and listen carefully.

[TT:  Lubos`s post refers to “the people who are writing most of the stuff” that he has linked to in the post; they are mainly reporters.]

Otherwise, now quite seriously, I don’t propose any vaccination or anything that goes beyond the very basic standards of freedom of democracy. I only demand the basic principles that are written in our constitutions etc. to be respected.

The right to exhale or otherwise emit carbon dioxidebasic processes inevitably associated both with life and modern civilization – and the right to think that climate alarmists are irrational cranks are surely basic human rights and indeed, if someone wants these rights to be eliminated, i.e. to prevent people from essential processes for their civilized life or from their freedom of opinion, I want him to be treated analogously to the Nazis because he is analogous to the Nazis. Indeed, I view such people as a threat to our basic freedoms, prosperity, and, indeed, life itself.

[TT:  These are gross strawmen.  Obviously, NO ONE is arguing that people don`t have the right to breathe; OF COURSE if there were such people we would all have legitimate right to self defense.  Nor is anyone arguing that skeptics have no right to express their opinions.  But where, anywhere, have nations created explicit rights to “legal persons” to emit unlimited levels of carbons or any thing else?  Lubos may feel that there are “natural” or God-given rights to take actions that negatively affect others, but it`s hardly the basis of our jurisprudence (even as it underlies our political economies), and there plenty of laws, regulations and court cases that restrict economic freedom in cases where it imposes costs on others.  Yes, presently a good portion of our generating capacity and virtually all transportation is provided based on fossil fuels, but it is not “an essential process for civilized life” that this continue indefinitely.  In fact, we have been gradually decarbonizing for year based simply on existing market incentives, and it is conceivable that someday or energuy infrastructure will be based mainly on nuclear and hydrogen.

Are people who care about the damages and risks posed by our current energy infrastructure all Nazis?  Anybody who`s bothered to keep his ears opens knows that the major religions keep making promulgations of a nature that Lubos considers sufficient to euthanize or lock up the clergy.]

Now, imagine that the plans of some of these extreme anti-greenhouse people became more realistic and there would be a risk that they return us to the Middle Ages, both from the viewpoint of GDP as well as the viewpoint of freedom of ideas.

[TT:  Besides paying close attention to what Lubos thinks about the “freedom of ideas”, it`s quite easy to find (1) NON-“extreme anti-greenhouse people” who have concerns about the risks posed by our current exploitation of our shared but unmanaged commons and (2) Nobel prize-winning economists and other prominent economists who think that pricing carbon/GHGs/etc. is affordable without sacrificing growth and makes sense now on a cost-benefit/risk analysis.]

Yes, I think that tough steps agaisnt them would become necessary, whether or not these steps would be organized by sane governments or locally. How many of these green people would have to be eliminated for the civilization to be saved? I don’t know. In the case of Nazism, it was pretty much necessary to kill millions of Germans – defeat them in a war – to stop their majority’s favorite ideology that was also flagrantly incompatible with the civilized world’s standards. The rest simply surrendered. This qualitative template would surely hold in any qualitatively similar confrontation – the only difference could be a quantitative one.

If steps against Nazi Germany had been made earlier, the casualites could have been smaller. I really don’t know whether this carbon control madness will fade away soon or, if it will not, how far it will get. The further it will escalate, the tougher steps will be needed to solve it. But unless it fades away soon, I am afraid that the permanent arrest or execution of one Al Gore would probably not be the sufficient solution to solve the crisis because already today, the situation is demonstrably much more serious than having one lunatic dreaming about his global control over the world’s carbon from his Tennessee home.

[Update] Mind Games: Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal panders to "skeptics" by abjuring science and declaring himself an expert on "mass neurosis"

July 6th, 2008 1 comment

[Update:  For an ongoing case study of the startling irrationality and “sick souls” of some of the “skeptics”, see my related discussions with the physicist Lubos Motl:

[Update] Mind Games/Luboš Motl: how an absence of functioning markets means that I’m right, but you’re a delusional, neurotic “zealot”

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this “rational” scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be “jailed or executed”

Luboš Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can`t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

Luboš Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

On July 1, The Wall Street Journal ran a jaw-droppingly astonishing, juvenile and profoundly self-deluded column by editorial writer Bret Stephens.  In the editorial, entitled “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis“, Stephens concludes that “Global warming is sick-souled religion.”  When I put the thing down, I couldn’t help thinking that this was either an impeccably well-done “Onion” spoof of a WSJ column or an April Fool’s post that was accidentally put up three months late, but then again the WSJ has consistently mocked the intelligence of its readers and of other “skeptics” on the issue of climate change.  (A Google search will show how eagerly Stephens’ audience ate up this nonsense, too.)

Bob Higgs has engaged with Stephens here on similar snide dismissals of libertarian views on foreign policy.  Apparently Stephens, a neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, boasts no scientific or psychotherapy expertise. 

In this editorial, Stephens completely:

  1. dismisses the concerns of scientists (including all major academies of science), economists, farmers, investors and businessmen across a wide range of energy and other industries, political leaders and defense and intelligence officials – at home and abroad – about growing evidence that massive and growing human economic activities are affecting the atmosphere, oceans and climate,
  2. ignores the fundamental and well-known dynamics of the exploitation of valuable but unowned and uncontrolled open-access commons and other resources, and
  3. ignores the basic public choice insight about rent-seeking and the political deadlock where interest groups seek to use the levers of government to influence the outcome of a struggle over resources. 

Instead, Stephens choses to insult the intelligence of his readers (and to pander to hard-core “skeptics”), first by by a sleight of hand that dismisses what scientists have learned over the past three decades and that pretends that only irrational and deluded people (apparently all of those noted in (1) above) are concerned about “global warming”, and then by pretending to help his readers, not to engage with the arguments of those who express concern with “global warming”, but instead to plumb and explicate the deeply twisted minds and the “motives for belief” by all of the irrational “believers”:

What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that global warming isn’t happening. It does mean it isn’t science.

So let’s stop fussing about the interpretation of ice core samples from the South Pole and temperature readings in the troposphere. The real place where discussions of global warming belong is in the realm of belief, and particularly the motives for belief. I see three mutually compatible explanations.

Sorry, Bret, but if you crack the IPCC’s reports over two decades, or talk with Exxon, Florida Power, Dupont, Japanese auto manufacturers or any number of Nobel prize-winning and distinguished economists, you’ll find plenty of rational people with their feet on the ground ready to discuss science, technology infrastructure and economics.  It’s a neat trick that you can dismiss everything they have to say by pretending that they’re deluded and trying to guess the magical thinking that drives them.

Of course global warming is falsifiable.  It’s just complicated, involves the not surprising possibility that our economic behavior may have deleterious side-effects over a wink of a geological eye (a few decades and centuries), and policies to deal with it threaten the financial interests of dominant established interests.

Stephens offers the following explanations for the “beliefs” of the warmers:

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism.

Bret, nice canard.  No doubt THERE BE LEFTISTS who are worried about climate change, but what about everyone else?  Even a number of prominent and level-headed libertarians are convinced that there’s a problem.  And what about leftists who think that climate change is hyped, like Alexander Cockburn and Martin Durkin, the radical polemicist behind “The Great Global Warming Swindle”?

And of course concern about global warming is NOT per se a rebuke to capitalism, but merely a recognition of the pedestrian observation that “environmental” problems frequently arise when a lack of clear and enforceable property rights or high transaction costs mean that individuals and communities with differing preferences cannot express (or defend) such preferences through market transactions.  Are we to take it that it is your position that pollution and environmental damage never occur, but are simply ideological attacks by those who hate capitalism?

A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” That’s Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.

And surely it is in keeping with this essentially religious outlook that the “solutions” chiefly offered to global warming involve radical changes to personal behavior, all of them with an ascetic, virtue-centric bent: drive less, buy less, walk lightly upon the earth and so on. A light carbon footprint has become the 21st-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.

First, why leave out the Japanese, who have been widely convinced for decades that global warming is a serious problem, and the Chinese, Indians, Indonesians and others who agree? 

Second, while it’s not surprising that those in the West make reference to shared frameworks of understanding, including Biblical ones, it’s also hardly surprising that those who wish to drive policy in ways that reflect their preferences do so by scare-mongering.  In fact, isn’t this something that the Bush administration specialized in, egged on by neocons?  You know, fear of Islamofascism, fear of gay marriage, fear of French fries, fear of Enviros, fear of practically anything but big and more invasive government?

Third, of course the major solutions offered for global warming clearly involve major transitions in technology and markets, for which a state-led introduction of “carbon pricing” is seen as the chief driving mechanism.  Isn’t Jim Hansen pushing the need for carbon capture and storage and for the implementation of a fully-rebated carbon tax?  How is this different from what Exxon, Duke, FPL, AEI, and many others are saying?  Sure, some believe that changes in personal behavior are also a good way to be reflect those concerns and to use one’s worries and values to drive changes in markets – such voluntary changes are hardly objectionable, as frightening as they may seem to you.

Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What’s remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you’re inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature’s great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

I’m not sure what or whom you’re listening to, Bret, but what I hear are the themes of “tragedy of the commons”, “pollution”, “externalities”, “uncontrolled experiments on a planetary scale”, “transferring of costs to others”, “responsibility” and other non-psychological themes that don’t require penance, but hard work and widespread cooperation.  Could it be that you’re “projecting”, Bret, and feel more than a little guilty for your own worldly success?

Perhaps there are some who believe that “our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect”, but would you include within this group those who think that our successes are hard-won and well-deserved, but that prosperity does not mean that we should stop working hard, including working to resolving shared threats and problems?

In “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, “morbid-minded” religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.

So caring about the possible effects of mankind’s activities on our only home, on our children and grandchildren and the other unique forms of life that we share the planet with is “sick-souled”, and not “healthy” or “life-affirming”?  Bret, how can I put this fairly and sensitively?  You seem to understand the “sick-souled” very well.  Does it come from looking in the mirror?

In sum, Stephens doesn’t engage at all with any those who are concerned with climate change, but offers up a twisted editorial addressed solely to help “skeptics” to continue to remain skeptics through an argument addressed largely at a strawman that bolsters the egos and beliefs of the presumably more “rational” skeptics who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid offered by the supposed believers.  If indeed this editorial is not a spoof, it can only be seen as either willfully deceptive or as an artifact of profound self-deception and wishful thinking.  Such a cocoon-like work is, sadly, a profound retreat from reason, and has little place on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, other than perhaps as an object lesson in how not to engage in reasoned discourse and how easy it is for us to fool ourselves.

Bret, are you putting us on, trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or trying to deceive yourself?  Like Penn and Teller, are you going to tell us that actually you “don’t know”, and have smarter friends who are worried about climate change?  Inquiring minds (many here at LvMI) want more of your incisive psycho-babble!

Of course, Stephens is not alone in trying to explain away those who disagree with him by exploring their “beliefs”; certainly our cognitive apparatus plays tricks on us, so there is some fertile ground here.  Chris Horner, who frequently makes excellent points about the foibles of the left, has a recent post up that follows up on Stephens’ by noting the important work of Leon Festinger, who detailed how “the failure of a prophecy to come about can often yield the opposite effect of what the rational person would expect: the cult following gets stronger and its adherents ever more convinced of their truth.”  However, it seems that Horner carries this too far, by an implicit assumption that all of those concerned about climate change are a “cult” with views that are not rational, and that this is rather obvious in the face of a recent break in some of the warming.  Horner concludes that the Warmers are engaged in mental gymnastics of the types exhibited by cult followers:  “As a meteorologist colleague commented to me last night about a recent manifestation of precisely this, ‘these people are no different than the guys sitting around waiting for the spaceship.'”  Oh, really?  The National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, every other nation’s academy of science, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI – all waiting for the spaceship???  “Beam me up” indeed, Chris!

I’d suggest that Horner might be a little more cautious in his gleeful dismissal of warmers, and make sure he too is engaging on facts and not beliefs, wishful thinking, and a tribal self-vindication.

This display of nonsense by Stephens and Horner’s own reflexive and hyperbolic scorn [and now the rants by guys like Lubos Motl] might suggest that Horner – and a host of “skeptics” who seize rather too eagerly any argument that puny man has no impact on the world (at least one that can’t be solved with his great technology) – ought to take a careful look in the mirror.