“Reason has built the modern world. It is a precious, but also a fragile thing, which can be corroded by apparently harmless irrationality. We must favour verifiable evidence over private feeling, otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.” – Richard Dawkins, Enemies of Reason.
I could have probably quoted much much more from Dawkins – indeed the parallels between his noted ideological wars against reason and those against sustainability (and by this, I include climate science) are remarkable and like him, I too am staggered by such a resurgence of pre-enlightenment nonsense.
I had, until recent months, respected the private beliefs of anyone. As someone whom also went on a “spiritual journey” (which, for me, lead out into a much brighter and clearer universe of reason, without contradictory scripture and invisible spectators), I felt it important to live and let live the ideas of others. This had a few exceptions – that indoctrination is wrong (especially of children – nothing is more repugnant than the image of that child on stage in the documentary Jesus Camp, who was crying with guilt for some times questioning his faith in the absence of any reasonable evidence of the group’s imaginary friend, God – nothing else so clearly demonstrates an assault on logic), where the belief causes harm and science promotes health (such as condoms) and where the belief is used as a virtue to suppress contrary scientific evidence. However, in short, I was happy for personal views to be held by anyone regardless.
I was, naively, unaware of how mainstream dissent from the principles of Enlightenment actually was. That, in the 1920’s Einstein witnessed an anti-relativity movement and I know damn well that there was a strong spiritualism movement in the 19th century (mostly fortune tellers and illusionists), it is highly questionable how much Enlightenment has actually ever been embraced at large. Following on from the actual section of Enemies of Reason from which I quoted above – discussing the modern age and the internet – I find it difficult to conclude that we in fact, live in the Age of Information; for we are as much surrounded by misinformation as genuine, evidence based information.
An excellent example of a disinformation propagator is Christopher Monckton who time and time again is proven to be wrong (see this post on climate scientists finally replying in detail to Monckton’s misinformation and Barry Bickmore’s Monckton’s rap sheet for more) yet, we find no shortage of parrots to his absurd UN-Communistic-One-World-Government conspiracy. These same parrots would laugh, hypocritically, at Area 51 truthers or sunken Atlantis theories.
For those who can see where I’m going and wish to scream at me and argue that I wish to deny them their freewill (again, there is no shortage of this argument when climate change denial crumbles for the baseless nonsense that it is), the only freewill in question is the right to be misinformed or to misinform others. Misinformation has led to a resurgence of polio in developed countries, who knows how many needless deaths through AIDS, endless baseless hatred over nothing greater than a personal, unprovable belief and more recently, sheer ignorance to the impact our species is having on the world at large. That we, as a world wide group, act like a person behind the wheel of a car, with our eyes closes (presumably for comfort) and our foot to the floor, doing our best to ignore the passenger – who is watching the road and warning us of the dire situation, is abhorrent, inexcusable and a blatant spit in the face of our children.
As I have gone into much detail on the subject previously, I will only sum up that our various impacts are unsustainable and degrading to the environment that we are ultimately dependent upon. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is compelling, but almost irrelevant; for fossil fuels will be but a short blip in the history of our species; the most important of which, oil, is soon to slip down the expensive slide of depletion and coal is too important in steel production to be burnt where other sources of energy are already available. There are no justifiable excuses to ignore the need to change our activities in ways that actually promise some longevity inherent in their approach (for more, I suggest you start with the Innovation series above).
Yet, as Mike informs us, Senator Cory Bernardi and other Aussies, are jumping on the American Heartland Institute bandwagon, to rejoice in a feel-good, business-as-usual rally in Sydney on the first of October. Bernardi’s views suggest that he too is a Monckton parrot, awoken at night by nightmares of hidden UN-communists out to take over the world. I’m ashamed to admit that enough people in my home town must support him.
The problem is, as Dawkins makes overwhelmingly clear, that private beliefs are given too much weight, as people like Donna Laframbiose exemplify, “Climate skepticism is freespeech.”
Sure, freespeech is free speech. Donna’s scepticism holds as much weight as someone else when they claim that fairies are real, that they met aliens, or that the UN are secretly plotting a communist world order. No well trained scientist gave “Climategate” a second thought, for they knew only too well that as much as a scientist can lie, the science cannot for very long, simply because of scientific protocol, such as repeatability and peer-review (much the same as Dawkins discusses with medical science). The ridiculous UN/communist conspiracy does not and cannot stand up to vigorous examination and yet is believed by enough people to, under current social paradigms, merit discussion.
To avoid hurting someone’s feelings, we automatically accept their belief as valid regardless. This is the corrosion that Dawkins speaks of. By taking the baseless belief seriously from the get-go, we in fact reinforce the belief. Jo Nova provides an excellent example, “they have finally acknowledged that… they need to call us skeptics. (They can hardly pit expertise against “deniers” eh?)”
In the same post, Jo discusses that the denial campaign is indeed working and providing questions that science apparently cannot answer. Anyone who has followed this public debate is only too aware of a the countless side steps taken to avoid conclusion – with the inevitable ending, “Well, they must be in on the plot as well!” stalemate that, in reality bares no fruit for either person, but leaves the denier confident that their belief cannot be questioned. Jo has, herself, celebrated her Handbook surviving (in her view) what was a thorough deconstruction by scientists (discussed here) which stands out as a clear example of denial.
What we risk by taking such nonsense seriously is an erosion of what science has constructed over the past few centuries and coupled with the environmental degradation already altering climate and ecosystem function, we have the most obvious threat to modern society – something that will undoubtedly lead us back to a pre-industrial society, with far too many mouths and far too little resources. This is the clear and insidious danger facing humanity and it disguises itself as a basic human right (however, it’s quite the opposite).
To be clear, freespeech is a wonderful tool, however, our world society as a whole, has yet to develop a critical mind capable of of filtering out the nonsense in the ever growing pool of information available. We need to be careful of not only how we address a changing world, but also this relatively new element of society; the internet.