Saturday, 5 July 2014

Intellectuals: analysis versus grandiose schemes (with reference to 'climate change')


On this blog I do a lot of analysis - which involves summarising some situation, describing it in terms of a few factors, and then extrapolating or interpolating something from this. And a lot of these analyses are about problems, threats, failures of potential, causes of misery and the like.

It seems to me that most intellectuals, most people perhaps, go straight from the analysis to what are we going to do about it - and the what we are going to do about it is almost-inevitably framed in terms of grandiose schemes - hatched on the assumption that the analyst has now become an absolute world dictator (a benign dictator, obviously) and can order things as he wishes.

This is almost an assumption: that all problems once identified ought to be solvable, indeed can be solved (or significantly ameliorated) and any solution is perceived in terms of some monolithic regulatory answer. Or, perhaps this is less of an assumption and more of a habit - the way that our culture habitually moves. We talk of problems, we do simplifying analyses, we outline what purport to be solutions - then we try to impose solutions or (more often) engage in rhetorical and propagandistic schemes to persuade other people to impose the solutions.

By such means A problem becomes The problem - and conjecture piled-upon conjecture takes on the status of an impatient imperative. The clearest current example is the way that Anthropogenic Global Warming went from being an ingenious and interesting conjecture in James Lovelock's books, into a worldwide brain-washing and legislation crusade, blending pseudo-scientific rationalism with blind idealism, and fuelled by astonishing levels of hate-filled zeal. (Having been a close reader of Lovelock from the mid-1980s, I saw the whole thing unfold with breakneck rapidity.)

But this is only an extreme example - almost every post I do about civilisational collapse from Leftism, 'dysgenics' or the runaway world population is met by an impatient demand of what am I going to do about it, or a request to know my policy recommendations. I am invited to become that world dictator and solve, by some grandiose scheme, the problem i have just outlined.

I wonder why our culture should be so prone to this particular kind of nonsense? Maybe it is that, lacking any genuine religion, we are thrashing around for some purpose to string-together the hours and days into some semblance of meaning and purpose. I suppose this is evidence of poverty of perspective. Religious explanations are excluded from the mainstream public domain - or ridiculed as crazy or framed as evil.

Indeed this seems almost inevitable given the lack of a possible assumed consensus among the public (all media communications are written with this assumption, but the basis for what can be assumed is ever-shrinking - being ever more thoroughly crushed).

From this perspective, problems are raised only to lead to action (even though action almost-never occurs - this then becomes another problem demanding action to remedy the inaction - and so on...).

Thus problems cannot be discussed, nor disasters contemplated, without leading to the demand that action be taken such that they be prevented. And (this is the strange and scary aspect) this imperative for action applies even when there is no known or possible action which could prevent the problem - as with 'climate change': the discussion moves seamlessly from a few conjectural analyses to multiple plans to avert climate change by controlling the earth's climate!

I suppose 'science' knows enough to recognise that this is by-so-far impossible that we might as well be discussing how to control the heat of the sun - for example, by making the sun burn hotter or cooler, as required.

But the modern mind demands solutions - even when the supposed solutions are insane and evil - the one thing that apparently cannot be contemplated, is that that there might be nothing we can do about it.

The one thing we absolutely cannot cope-with in modern public discourse is that almost-everything that will happen, will happen (or not) whatever we personally may feel, think or do.

Any philosophy worth its salt must acknowledge this vast and basic fact of life; and the fact that ours cannot do so is sufficient proof of its insufficiency.



Matias F. said...

My impression is the same when reading intellectuals' opinion on foreign policy, for example this most recent armed organization that has gained prominence in the Middle East. Supposedle serious "researchers" at an institution that calls itself a University insist that "we", the readers of a national newspaper in Finland, or perhaps the political leaders of Finland, must do something to the civil war in Syria.

A problem that was caused by this kind of aggression towards the dictators of Iraq and Syria must immediately be solved by the same kind of behaviour.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Many people do not want to feel fatalistic about outcomes that they see as bad for humanity or bad for the ecology. They want to feel that there is something that can be done to remedy the problem.

If an anthropogenic mass extinction event is either underway or on the the threshold, due to many factors, (encroachment and destruction of habitat, climate change, over harvesting of the oceans, disease and species introduction from one local environment to others), many people would like to be able to positively influence the outcome. They want "solutions".

Of course if we are heading into an anthropogenic mass extinction event, the easiest and most effective one would be for the population of humans to drop precipitously. And that may happen, through various means - likely independent of some grand scheme by a mad dictator.

What is really challenging to change is aggregate human behaviour. Games theory shows just how difficult it is because of vested interests in the desired outcomes from the participants.

I don't believe in simple "solutions" - final or otherwise. I do happen to think that we are facing a very serious situation with the state of the set of ecosystems, and that constraint and reduction of human encroachment is desirable. (I am not optimistic that it will happen until much later in the game, and because of the possibility of positive feedback loops, there may be thresholds that once reached are not so easily reversed, even if the human species disappeared at that point.)

Anonymous said...

You have identified the problem of people demanding solutions.

Now what are you going to do about it?


Bruce Charlton said...

One strange aspect of this phenomenon is that the hope of (somehow!) preventing the unpreventable substitutes for what could be effective planning to *cope* with the unpreventable. If I believed that we could predict future global warming, I would not be crazy enough to imagine that we could prevent it - but if I thought it really was actually going to happen, there are lots of things that could be done to cope with it - virtually none of which *have* been done. Instead we have spent trillions on setting up evil bureaucratic dictatorships and subsidizing harmful technologies on the *excuse* of preventing global warming.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DP - Thanks for your comment, but that isn't a can of worms I want to open-up here. The idea that humans can control climate is so grossly, maniacally ridiculous that trying to introduce detailed 'evidence' only weakens the point.

Wm Jas said...

For the religious, I suppose this is one of the main psychological functions of petitionary prayer -- to make you feel like you've done something, anyway, about some problem for which nothing can be done. "Policy recommendations" and such are perhaps a substitute resorted to by those who cannot pray.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

It's the telos shortage. That is, according to the materialist ideology that rules us (and has to rule us till we can all be replaced with Muslims etc., as the alternative of Christianity is unacceptable to our non-Christian rulers), the stars blindly run their courses, and the same fatalism applies to every human act and thought. There's nothing to the universe but billiard balls bouncing off each other, to no end.

This is not possible to live out. So we live with a deadlock, in which there is nothing but choice (liberalism offers no other "moral" value than "authentic" choices, all of them rendered trivial in advance) and (by the same public description of reality) we live in a world where there is no possibility of real choices. This is not a "paradox", it's a contradiction.

Faced with the provocation of public problems unaccompanied by any solutions, we don't slip into unreality, demanding solutions where there are none. We were in unreality all along.

These fantastic schemes of things like global climate control are often harmful. (Inevitably so, as they are unreality attempting to impose itself on reality, and on a more mundane level because the worst ones are chosen for promotion by the mass media, which is the sword of evil in our age.)

But there is something about them that's almost good. They are an expression of the frustration and unconscious lashing out of dreamers trying to wake up - at least to wake up enough to realize fully that there is something very wrong with the dream they are being programmed with.

"This problem is insoluble - in the same annoying way that every purpose-driven act and thought is insoluble and yet inevitable. It's like an itch in my mind I can't scratch, all the time. Make it stop!"

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT. I see what you mean.

Bruce Charlton said...

@wmJas -

As CS Lewis pointed-out when talking about the atomic bomb, since we are immortal souls, civilizations are transient things by comparison, so is the life of the sun – we, personally, will outlive them, we will watch them come to an end.

So, I don't think prayer - if effective - would function in terms of 'doing something' but of enforcing the true perspective in which all mortal and earthly things are transient - while potentially also being of eternal value.

pyrrhus said...

Yes, since we are all immortal souls, all these frantic, Rube Goldberg-like attempts to "fix" the Universe can come to no good

Philip Neal said...

It seems to me that a particular kind of bad science is taking hold and quite noticeably degrading the quality of life. Its main tenets are

- that the inductive logic of explanation should be seen as a department of the inductive logic of planning ('evidence based policy making', 'postnormal science')

- that standards of proof should be lower in policy making than in pure research (this includes but is not restricted to the precautionary principle)

- that correlation should be assumed to be causation unless proved otherwise (and those who disagree are 'merchants of doubt')

- that opposing views should be treated as a delusion to be explained and part of the problem to be solved ('denialism', 'eugenicists')

- in short, that truth is a means to an end.

There are many people doing good work challenging individual instances of the thing - climate, race, IQ, diet, passive smoking - but it needs to be given a name and challenged as a whole.

George Goerlich said...

I slept on this, and coming from a marketing background (pray for my soul), my thoughts are that the mass media has literally taken over our brains, culture, and behavior. I have yet to read your book, so maybe you deal with the issue, but advertising completely dominates our lives.

The popular marketing formula goes as such:

1) State (or create) problem.
2) Provide solution (your company's product or service).

Very simple, but this is the basic formula that dominates all advertising and marketing. Compound this by the number of advertisements people see, over and over, all day, every day, for their entire lives, and you have created a very deep-seated belief or view of how reality is/should be constructed.