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Category Archives: religion
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents….
Or in more secular terms, isn’t it nice when someone finally sees the light.
It has been interesting watching the scales fall from the eyes of James Lovelock recently, as he has finally started to echo what many of us have been saying for several years. That a lot of the stuff we hear from greens is just a pathetic liberal secular substitute for Christianity; that a great deal of the global warming or climate change hysteria fits neatly into the same category as religious fanaticism, with little more scientific credibility, and that many of the models and predictions derived from them are mere scientific trash, the same harnessing of human emotions of guilt and the desperate need to be seen to be good. I am particularly amused since some environmentalist a while back tried to dismiss my blog because I was saying exactly that but I wasn’t Lovelock, therefore I was wrong, or some argument along those lines anyway. But it’s nice to see him catching up (yes, OK, I know he is far smarter than me, so no need to point it out, but none of us is infallible and he did get some things wrong). We all make mistakes, and at least he has had the guts to admit it, unlike a lot of people, so all credit to him. He is just the latest in a long queue of people jumping the fence as green dogma and climate hysteria is being exposed as nonsense.
It has been clear to me for over 15 years that the decline of religion wasn’t simply leaving people with no religion, but had left a hole in people’s lives that was being filled by 21st century piety, a basket of isms, such as environmentalism and vegetarianism, anti-capitalism, even socialism and liberalism. For very many people, these hit the same reward centre buttons as religion. I first lectured about their religion substitution appeal at a World Futures Society conference well over a decade ago, and have often got into professional trouble by repeating the same arguments ever since. (Actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with vegetarianism per se, just the daft attitude that you have to cook them veggie stuff, but they don’t have to cook you meat, because they are obviously better than you and it would offend their obviously higher moral stance. That is the pathetic religion substitute bit, and I have zero tolerance of it).
Let me be quite clear here, to minimise offence to the innocent: not all environmentalist are seeking a religion substitute, where they can place themselves on a high moral pedestal and preach at everyone else. They don’t all think they are ‘holier than thou’. Not all are far more interested in their own sanctification than protecting the environment.
Actually, a great many environmentalists care deeply for the environment. Some are excellent scientists doing excellent and unbiased work, and achieving excellent results, and I am sure many of those are sick and tired of having their field wrecked by the bad apples, and their credibility undermined by the distortions or incompetence of others – it is all to easy to tar everyone with the same brush and i don’t want to do that. Many have the highest regard for the principles of science and want to use it to understand the environment so that they can protect it better. Just like you and me, I hope.
However, there are some bad apples, some deliberately distorting the truth, hiding declines, making sure other scientists can’t get papers printed, reducing historic temperatures to pretend rises are higher than they are, or using dubious statistical techniques on cherry picked data to make ridiculously inaccurate graphs. Others are merely incompetent, ignoring major contributing factors in their climate models. Some try to use distorted science to further programs such as social equalisation that have nothing to do with the environment, and some advocate policies that actually harm the environment. Some mix all of the above. The reason all too often seems to be the religious appeal. Worse, liberals, vegetarians and greens don’t like being told they’re wrong and certainly not being accused of being religious, even when it is blindingly obvious to others, and some use pretty underhand combat techniques as a substitute for decent arguments.
We often hear debates about the pros and cons of religion, how it may cause wars or homophobia or racism or whatever, and some of the criticisms are justified. However, on other hand there are the benefits of love and peace and caring for one another that also typically go with religion when it is exercised properly. In environmentalism, we see the desire to protect the environment as the superficial driver, and no-one can argue with that as a motivation, but meaning well doesn’t translate into a good outcome if your motives are then mixed with others, corrupted and polluted and then directed with little more intelligence than superstition and wishful thinking. Actual outcomes from environmentalism are all too often damaging. That is why environmentalism is now becoming just as corrupted as the Christian church once was, and why it can be argued that it is doing more harm than good. The environment may well be better off if we locked up all the environmentalists, or the greens anyway.
Although there were quite a few rubbish reports by others before it, the Stern Review was the first really important paper that drove environmental policies that resulted in great harm to the environment: inadvertently encouraging draining of peat bogs and chopping of rain forests to make room for palm oil plantations, thereby releasing huge quantities of CO2; the financial incentives of carbon trading mixed with inevitable and entirely predictable corruption forcing eviction of countless families in Africa; starvation of many people because of globally increased food prices because of the diversion of agricultural land being used to grow crops for biofuel conversion. I am certain that results like this weren’t Stern’s intention, he seems a decent enough chap, but a decent economist should be able to make the most basic and obvious predictions about how people might behave when faced with financial incentives – greed is hardly a 21st century invention – so his report must take some of the blame.
But Stern’s review can’t take all the blame for everything; there has since been a long stream of nonsense from the IPCC, politicians, parts of the media and a wide selection of climate research labs and environmental NGOs. Recently, it has been demonstrated that climate models are often less accurate than a purely random extrapolation. A garden snail would be better at it, literally. Hansen’s predictions have been laughable, as have those of our own MET office. All the research funding has been wasted on them. Religion may make you feel holy, but it really isn’t much use as a predictive tool. Some excellent work is being done on the actual extent and causes of climate change, but it is very often by those dismissed as heretics by the climate change church.
Since politicians grabbed the Stern review as a rare excuse to increase both taxes and their own popularity, politicisation of science has badly polluted many areas of environmental research, and the dirty tricks of politics have destroyed much of the credibility of science as a whole. The good science is there, but is mixed with trash. But far worse is the hijacking of environmentalism as a badly designed vehicle for social levelling. I am all in favour of helping the poor, but trying to do so by throwing money down the drain on environmental subsidies for inefficient energy production ends up being very bad at both helping the poor and helping the environment. It saps money from the economy, and simply wastes it. The result is an increase in poverty, not a decrease. All so that a few people can polish their halos. Everyone loses. If we want to alleviate poverty, it would be far better to save money by using more efficient technology and then spend it on programs specifically designed to help the poor directly.
Many people have observed the similarity between the church’s indulgences and carbon offset payments. The church’s great idea was that you can sin all you like providing you pay the fees to the church. The secular equivalent of carbon trading and offsetting almost begs criminals to exploit the system, and not surprisingly, they already have, and still are.
Another similarity between the evils of religion and environmentalism is the self-flagellation practised by some medieval monks. Anything that might help the environment but doesn’t hurt people enough seems to be rejected, such as shale gas, or nuclear energy. Shale gas is six times cheaper than wind energy and produces a lower CO2 footprint (CO2 doesn’t seem to be so problematic after all but that isn’t the topic of this blog). Nuclear is well-tried and tested and even many environmentalists accept that it is a good solution, being far safer than any other form of electricity production, and producing very low carbon emissions, if that’s your metric for goodness. But most environmentalists still want wind energy for reasons that seem perverse. They seem to want to find the most expensive, ugliest, least efficient system possible so that the pain is greatest. If eagles are chopped to extinction and small animals stressed so much they can’t breed, who cares? If millions of people are upset, all the better. They also want to waste as much as possible on solar before the price comes down to sensible levels, and lock in the high costs for as long as possible. To feel good about trying to maximise pain to as many people as possible while simultaneously damaging the environment does not even appear sane, let alone benign. It is as if self-flagellation isn’t enough; it has to be inflicted on everyone before they are happy. And as for the Spanish inquisition, that is echoed too. There have been ridiculous calls for anyone who doesn’t believe the lunatic rantings of the high priests to be locked up, or even murdered.
So it seems in some ways that the downside of environmentalist religion is even worse than the most perverted practices of medieval religion. But it doesn’t even offset it by giving benefits. Because so many of them despise science, environmentalist policies are often counter-productive. An excellent example is that in the 1970s, climate scientists were recommending sprinkling black carbon on the polar ice to increase heat absorption and thereby offset the coming ice age. Now, they seek to mess with the environment to reduce heat absorption to offset global warming. Now, it looks like cooling is coming after all, they will once again be doing almost the opposite of what seems to be required. There are very many examples of environmental policy damaging the environment from wind farms to coastal erosion to fishery management. The environment would be a great deal better if environmentalists stopped trying to help it. And we’d all be richer and happier.
The world used to be dominated by geographical separation. Travel was difficult and time consuming. Most people stayed pretty much where they were born. Imports were expensive. Governments governed people within a well defined boundary. Things have changed. It is easy to travel anywhere, we can transport goods cheaply, and with the 3D printer in rapid evolution, imports and exports of some goods will soon be replaced by downloads and local manufacture. The media keep us informed on events around the world as they happen, with just a few zones where news is limited. And of course, progress in the EU in recent days shows how many people want to be part of a large union.
But I don’t. Most people don’t. 60% of Germans and 70% of French don’t want to be in the Euro. I haven’t seen recent UK figures but suspect they are also high. Most people in Europe don’t want to be a part of a United States of Europe, but their leaders insist they know best and are trying to rush ahead faster.
But you know what? If a lot of people want to do so, and a lot don’t, there really is no reason we can’t just live in the same countries as separate communities. We could share the same infrastructure, and share essential services that can’t be provided separately, such as defence, but choose which lifestyle we want to subscribe to from a short list and live with the consequences of it. There could be a USE and those that support it could live under it. The rest of us could opt out and share the same land under a different regime.
It isn’t obvious at first glance how many ‘flavours’ of parallel governance you should be able to choose from, so let’s just pick the ancient divide of liberal or conservative to start with.
So, given this simple choice, you decide you are a liberal at heart. In the new system, you would make that choice and it would be recorded. There would be a cost to change your decision, a price to belong, and associated benefits. You can’t draw the benefits of that system without paying its price, and if your system has made a mess, and you want to swap, you may have to pay to join the alternative, an investment for the new benefits, a contribution towards the investments that community has already made. Your rights to vote on certain issues, or how much your vote is worth on that issue, goes with the choice you make.
There are a few parties to choose from within the liberal camp, and they would all compete for votes, and one would be elected, and only liberals may vote in that election. Since your community elected them, they would rule over you and make the decisions that affect you. Someone living next door who chose conservative would be governed by their decisions.
The different communities need not have the same geographic boundaries. If liberals want a united Europe and Conservatives want the UK to stay united and outside the EU, that is perfectly feasible. Europe would have a range of conservative style parties, one in each country perhaps, whereas there would be only one liberal party for the whole of Europe.
I am strongly attracted to that kind of future. I have friends in all parts of the political spectrum. They are different ages, genders, races, and they have different religious and political persuasions. I am happy to agree or disagree with them, but they stay friends. We manage to coexist peacefully and fruitfully, while following different motivations and creeds. We have to share some things that are dictated by geography, but most things aren’t.
Take a few examples. I send my daughter to a private school, some of my friends send theirs to state schools. I have to pay a high fee direct to the school, they pay theirs via taxes. What I don’t like is that I have to pay for their kids’ educations, but they don’t have to make any contribution towards mine. In parallel governance, the two communities would make their own decisions separately. Liberals would share state schools, while Conservatives would probably use an education allowance that could be spent on any school. Each ensures that all children get access to well-funded education, but the payment mechanisms allow choice of provision mechanism. The same could apply to health care. I choose the NHS at the moment, but if I choose to pay for private care, I don’t get any refund on the state provision. Many people want to keep the NHS, but why should they not therefore pick up the bill, while those who want to provide their health care via insurance are free to do so? In parallel governance, you would only be entitled to NHS care if you subscribe to the liberal government. Conservatives would be forced to buy health insurance or demonstrate alternative ability to pay, but wouldn’t have to pay taxes for the state system.
I wouldn’t like my friends any less if they were governed by a different party. I wouldn’t suddenly want to wage war on them, though we’d tease each other remorselessly about the incompetence of our respective systems or governments.
On many issues, there is a simple polarisation along part lines. On others, there isn’t, so there is room for different parties to compete for power, and room for negotiation. On some things, we just don’t have a choice. If we don’t defend ourselves, we would be killed or enslaved. All people of all persuasions would have to contribute to defence, since all benefit from it. There would be fierce arguments over the level of funding, and on policy, but that is what politics is all about. We negotiate and argue until we get some sort of agreement that we can all live with. The point of parallel governance is that it is entirely possible on some things to just agree to differ and each do our own thing.
In the UK, we already have demands for parallel governance of sorts. Some Muslims want Sharia Law to apply within their community. Some outside insist that the laws of the land should apply to all. Personally, I think that there should be some basic rights and responsibilities that apply to everyone, but after that, it should be down to your declared allegiance. In parallel governance it would be simple. If you choose to subscribe to Sharia Law, and you’d have to officially and freely register that you do, then you must pay for it and accept its consequences as well as reap its rewards.
In fact, this is a good model for how parallel governance might work. We must all have some basic rights, but there would actually be little disagreement on those. Basic rules of civilisation are shared by almost everyone. You wouldn’t be allowed to murder or torture or steal or deliberately damage and so on. We would still have some sort of common governance that implements basic civilisation, but under that, we’d have parallel communities sharing the same lands, living happily under different laws and rights.
Parallel governance requires mutual respect. It requires us all to accept that we are not all the same. We don’t all share the same goals or values. But there is no need to now. With the level of IT we have, it would be fairly easy to implement parallel governance and make it work. I believe it would be highly beneficial. I’d feel much happier not having to fund as many policies that I disagree with, and would be very happy to pick up the costs of those with which I do.
I don’t think it would end up with just two communities, liberal or conservative, though that is an easy (but simplistic) split to start with. I think it could evolve. There is no reason there couldn’t be sub-communities. So you could be under Sharia law and then under a Conservative government or liberal. There could be a choice of several flavours. Or you could have a single government laying down basic laws for everyone and pick and mix every policy separately from a price list.
The big advantages for everyone are not having to pay for someone else’s personal decision or lifestyle, and not having to live under a value set you don’t subscribe to. Ultimately this would give us all an increase in quality of life, whichever allegiance you declare. You’d feel you worked towards a goal you believed in. Your human dignity would be higher, regardless of whether other people agree with you.
It is time for parallel governance now. It is a better form of democracy, more democratic and less vulnerable to dictatorship of an elite. We have the means, the motive and the opportunity. I still won’t agree with you, but I promise to be a good neighbour. Bring it on.
It is depressing watching what is happening in climate change science and even more the media and government responses to anything that develops. Any pretence that it is about science is long gone now. It is now a mess of politics, pseudo-science and pseudo-religious beliefs, with genuine scientists on all sides finding their voices drowned out by the roar of the crowd. The sad thing is that there is a lot of good science being done on both sides of the climate change debate, but it has little impact because many people refuse to hear the truth in climate science unless it aligns with their prior allegiance.
Everyone agrees that climate is changing, but not about why. Everyone also agrees that CO2 is one of the contributors, but not on how great its contribution is. What is known is that warming has stopped for 13 years now, and even some warmists are now accepting that we may see a few decades of cooling now because they have finally accepted that climate change is dominated by natural cycles, though coverage of such matters depends on which paper you read. The same facts can be ignored, glossed over, or even turned upside down depending on the prejudice of the author.
The new Climategate release is a perfect example. (A searchable list of what has been released this time is at http://foia2011.org/) Some papers have focused on what the emails reveal about the determination to drive the warmist agenda of some researchers, and their tendencies to hide or ignore any data that goes against it. Others have ignored the content because it goes against what they want to hear, and have instead focused on how awful it is that they were stolen and how much some climate scientists have to put up with. You buy your paper and you choose which bits of the truth you get.
The field is highly politicised and increasingly polarised along party lines now, with left wingers mostly claiming belief that mainly humans are causing climate change and right wingers mostly claiming that it is mostly natural changes with only a small human component. It has been hijacked as a tool by those who want to redistribute wealth via carbon levies, or to obtain huge subsidies for people investing in wind and solar energy, even as carbon dioxide is frequently shown by new studies to be less important in climate change than was once believed.
In the face of changed science and greatly lowered estimates of likely warming, if any, it is still more important for some politicians and newspapers to save face than to save taxpayers trillions of dollars wasted investment. The emails show that researchers have been encouraged to beef up the dangers, and some had been in support of their own agendas anyway. A lot of evidence has been destroyed, and a lot of papers produced by ignoring data that runs against the predetermined message. More emails have been deliberately deleted to stop the full truth from becoming known. It is quite sickening, and all the more so because some papers and TV companies are still trying to gloss over the filth, corruption and lies.
The result isn’t just that we will have our countryside ruined unnecessarily by wind farms. As a direct result of all the money thrown down the drain on wasteful ‘green’ energy schemes, many people will die needlessly because of fuel poverty, many companies will go out of business, and many economies will suffer, with reduction in quality of life for billions. But the environment won’t benefit, because environmental polices are very poorly thought out. Peat bogs and forest will still be cleared, corruption will still increase, money will migrate towards the greedy and the corrupt, and people still murdered to make land available for biofuels or solar farms.
It is morally wrong. It is overdue for us to have a new start on environmental policy, looking at the science and throwing out that which has been tarnished and corrupted. We will otherwise cripple economies, ruin lives and kill many people, and the environment will be far worse off than if we pursued good policies based on real science.
Can truth be democratised? It should be obvious: of course not! The truth is the truth! But it isn’t that simple is it? Sometimes we can all look at exactly the same situation and disagree passionately on its interpretation.
I think the real answer is yes, and ‘truth’ already is democratised, along with its derivative, knowledge. We redefine truth daily based on our own prejudices, which grew based on the ‘truths’ we consumed yesterday. Today, with all the zillions of blogs, online encyclopedias and forums, raw data is generally lost, altered, cherry-picked, filtered, otherwise corrupted or swamped by the tide of interpretation. Our views are inevitably based on this interpreted information, but our natures make us tend mostly to read stuff that fits comfortably with our existing viewpoints. In a glut of opinion and data at any level of digestion, this self-reinforcement can lock us deeper and deeper into a mindset. If there is any ‘absolute truth’, we can no longer easily find it or identify it – we have to search hard, and in a busy schedule, few of us bother to do that very often. This is very dangerous. The bulk of the population will tend to be pulled in whatever direction the weight of opinion is facing and that is determined as much by the pre-existing weight of opinion as by any actual ‘truth’. When true objectivity is scarce, we only progress in random walks and often we head backwards.
Disagreement about the raw facts of a situation happens every day in the media and politics of course. Journalists or politicians commenting on exactly the same event routinely draw opposite conclusions by looking at the same visual inputs via very different filters. Whatever ‘actually’ happened, happened, but the ‘actually’ bit is very much is open to discussion since it depends on how it was observed and by whom – who or what will each of us choose to believe? We are long used to such filtering in media and politics, but now even in supposedly rational fields as diverse as climate change, basic physics, health and economics, the same polarisation is prominent. If we can’t even agree on the facts before our eyes, what chance do we have of proceeding towards a better future?
So we have democratisation of truth and democratisation of knowledge. At the most grass roots level, people can indulge themselves in a comfortable knowledge environment that really is little more than a self-reinforcing illusion. Even if we try to read broadly and get opinions from different points of view, the volume of opinion on one side or another still carries some influence. It takes a great deal of discipline and a thick skin to stay with a minority view, and also quite a lot of expertise in that specific field on which to base your input selections and weightings. Going with the majority view is usually easier. But the majority view usually depends on what the majority view was yesterday, with pretty much random steering by celebrity opinion formers who essentially pop up at random, or worse still, by politicians, who by their nature are skilled at manipulating mass opinions. And who amongst us would think that the whims of politicians and celebrities necessarily offer the best route to a prosperous future?
This is not good. Random progress is no progress. We are bathed in democratised information; what should be the anchor of true scientific investigation has been hijacked by politics, which is always locked in an endless feedback loop with public opinion. Religion has long lost its hold on the wheel (thankfully, though at least it did give direction of sorts). And now in our modern world, there is extreme complexity of interaction between all the various forces of influence on each of us. If there is any rudder at all that determines the direction we head as a community, or nation, or indeed a civilisation, it is any random force that is self-reinforcing.
And that to me is terrifying. It isn’t, and perhaps even can’t be truth that drives us any more, it is now random self-reinforcing forces. We can be a little more descriptive of these forces. Ultimately, the ones that matter are ideas. Let’s call them self-reinforcing ideas, or SRIs to save my fingers (I don’t want to use the term ideology because it isn’t quite the same). Although I don’t always agree with Dawkins, one of his better ideas is the meme, and SRIs are a particular class of meme. If you haven’t come across memes before, check out his works. But it isn’t memes generally that I want to discuss now, it is only those ones that are SRIs.
So let’s identify a few self reinforcing ideas, SRIs: then you have a think too and come up with some more. If we are to be slaves to them, we should at least know their names.
The easiest to spot is religion. I don’t need to say why, you have almost certainly done the analysis many times yourself. It has been an important driver for most of humanity for millennia.
Another is science. Simple enough. Look at what appears to be happening and come up with some sort of theory to explain it, test it, test it again, share the results with others and let them test them. Argue strongly and carry on arguing, while all the while at least partly accepting and building on those results that seem to be most solid. Continue ad infinitum. This process has been self reinforcing because it has conspicuously worked for centuries and given us huge rewards. That is, until hijacked in the last decade by political forces and possibly now polluted to a degree where its repair may take many decades. It will struggle on, but its benefits will be lessened greatly. As an SRI, it is temporarily weakened.
Another whole set of SRIs springs from religion, or rather its substitution as religion has started to evolve into our modern world. A lot of the people driven by religion substitutes would hate to recognise them as such, but that if anything only adds to their efficacy, since the believer gets the added stroke of self-atributed rationalism. We have many religion substitutes, and they arise from the same inner engines and rewards of wanting to feel yourself to be a good person or that your life is somehow worthwhile and purposeful. Some of these are more personal and don’t spread well, such as vegetarianism. A vegetarian might feel better about themselves because they don’t eat animals, but the idea doesn’t spread as well as they might like because for most of us, the desire for meat is strong.
A similarly motivated desire is environmentalism. We tend to agree that it is good to care for the environment, so that makes it self-reinforcing. But there isn’t the same opposing force here. It satisfies the same need for ‘holiness’ that religion did, and there isn’t necessarily any large personal cost. We seek out affirmation that we are good for the environment, and look down on others who we think aren’t. But just as the world’s religions create denominations within themselves, and various levels of elite within those, if someone builds up another layer to climb on within environmentalism, then some will strive to occupy and defend that higher ground. This has conspicuously happened now. Entire belief systems have formed, their advocates have sought to protect and reinforce their influence and rival denominations have even formed within environmentalism.Today’s environmentalism shows many of the same forces, behaviours and inquisitions as medieval religion.
Political correctness is another SRI from the same mould, even though it has many threads. Even though people often recognise political correctness as a negative force, they can’t help getting sucked in. Certain parts of it appeal to our sense of fair play, but it is self reinforcing. As more people become politically correct, those left outside feel more ostracised until they feel obliged to conform. Conforming confers social acceptance and rewards the feeling of inner worth. If someone creates an even more politically correct form, some will race to occupy it, and then draw other in behind them. But although political correctness is today driven seemingly endlessly towards the left, it doesn’t really have any absolute goals. If everyone believes, you no longer get a reward for believing; the reward comes from doing or believing something that is somehow better than everyone else. So political correctness is inevitably driven by the extremes of the value sets at any point in time, and these will change over time. If it is defined by anything, it is the defence of minority interests. As I’ve argued often, it takes about 30 years for something to go from being totally unacceptable to fashionable. Today’s politically correct will in some cases be unacceptable thinking in 30 years time and vice versa. It is a random walk to nowhere, driven by the endless pursuit of something that is an illusion.
Economic and political ideologies are also heavily self reinforcing (and of course are linked), so you might think we’d all have come to the same conclusion by now about the best way to run an economy or organise ourselves. Of course the reason we haven’t is that none of them looks after everyone’s interests equally. They all favour one part of a community over others. Everyone says they want fairness, but most vote for those who promise to give them most, even if that will be at someone else’s expense. The selfishness forces fully usually offset the SRI forces. Usually. There are exceptions. Firstly, a charismatic new leader with bold and exciting new ideas can change things. We crave excitement, but even more than that we crave leadership. Communism was once such an idea, and led millions of people into poverty and oppression for decades by promising equality, fairness, and utopia. An SRI can win out over selfish forces if a strong enough leader takes it to critical mass. And once past critical mass, it drives itself.
I suspect very strongly that today’s liberalism will prove a repeat of that same false communist dream, and it has already achieved critical mass. It will drive us further and further to the left, dragging the centre of gravity as it goes, so that today’s centre becomes tomorrow’s right. Liberalism is a strong SRI, harnessing words like fairness and equality and progress, using religion substitutes as primary drivers, wrapping the wolf of oppression in clothing from the sheep of liberty, and relying on the fog from the democratisation of information to hide any evidence that it doesn’t work. I think it’s a bit like being drunk – motivators work better when inhibitions are reduced and judgement impeded. Liberalism is an SRI built for our age, thriving in the sea of democratised knowledge and political correctness, harnessing human nature in pursuit of false dreams, and it may well take us all the way to catastrophic economic and social collapse. It’s already doing pretty well on that score.
But liberalism isn’t the only player. While it may drag the West on an spiral downwards, the developing regions of the world have different pasts, and different SRIs are taking hold there. China is coming to the end of it communist era, discovering at last that people are actually motivated less by equality of misery and more so by the prospect of personal prosperity via personal effort. Capitalism is their SRI now, though it will certainly develop with different characteristics. India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, will all develop differently too, with quite different characters because they have very different situations. I don’t know enough about any of these regions to identify appropriate SRIs there. So the West may decline, but the rest of the world may well improve and eventually our SRIs will be driven by looking at their prosperity and starting to value their ideas over our failed ones. They’ll look fresh again by then.
SRIs are very powerful forces, but the world is large and diverse, and big enough for competing ones to exist and act in parallel. There are very few things that all countries agree on, and even the pursuit of common interests is often a weak force compared to local SRIs. But in an otherwise random walk, it is SRI’s that drive change, and most of us are little more than helpless passengers waiting to see where they will take us.
We can at least look out of the windows on our journey. Human nature is an excellent starting point both in identifying SRIs and working out their mechanisms. By Human Nature, I mean those internal brain architectures, perceptive processes, and even hormonal systems that determine how external ideas get processed into individual thoughts and eventual action. Maslow and many psychologists since have identified some of our major needs and rewards and I don’t want to list or debate them here. But whatever they are, SRI’s fit onto them and use them to grow and spread.
But I come back to my starting point. The highly dangerous democratisation of knowledge that we have today sets us on an almost random walk. The direction of drift is determined by self reinforcing ideas. We can identify those, even if we can’t control them. And they are so powerful that very few people individually can have any real control over them. If we are to regain control over our own civilisation, we will need great leaders. Till they come, we will be dragged happily towards our peril, deluded that we are heading to some promised land. And I just don’t see those leaders. Do you?
In the stone age and probably before, there were high priests and priestesses who kept society under some control by threatening them with the wrath of various gods. We tend to think today we live in more enlightened times, but I think in the last two or three decades we have made huge strides backwards.
Human nature forces many people to need approval from their peers, to feel good about themselves,to feel they are on moral high ground, indeed to feel what religions call holy. Many of these needs have been met historically by religion, and of course even today for many people. But when you take away religion, those needs don’t go away, the vacuum left sucks in all kinds of ‘isms’, according to taste. Vegetarianism, environmentalism, humanism, liberalism and even secularism are all meta-religions, modern abstractions that invoke the same behaviours as conventional religion. Secularism has made big progress in getting rid of Christianity from the UK, but it hasn’t been replaced by rationality, it has become almost a religion in its own right, just one set of beliefs replacing another, claiming the high ground exclusively for its advocates, with sanctimonious behaviour, exclusion of other points of view, pontificating on the truth, proselytising and so on.
I am not saying that these isms are always wrong or that all their follows indulge in such behaviours. Wanting to protect the environment is highly commendable, but all sensible people want to protect the environment, not just those who call themselves environmentalists. It is perfectly possible to be a vegetarian without looking down your nose at everyone else. It can even be well argued that it is a good idea for all kinds of health and environmental sustainability reasons, but it does tend to stretch sometimes to more than a purely rational decision. What I am saying is that isms attract people who are trying to fill these same human needs that religion once filled, as well as perfectly rational people like you, I hope.
I would go further and be provocative and say that when people join these isms with pseudo-religious motivations, they corrupt them, their need to feel holy taking priority over the core of the ism itself. That then is a problem. Vegetarians who progress into animal rights extremism can cause damage to the ecosystem, eventually harming animals, as we saw with the release of mink into the British countryside. Someone who joins an environmental group and worships mother earth is far more likely to cause damage to the environment via a dogma-based, anti-science mindset than they are to protect it. We’ve seen plenty of examples in recent years, with carbon credits and biofuels infamously working together to incentivise destruction of rainforest, bogs and other important habitats, as well as causing the deaths of many people (I’ve seen recent estimates of 350,000) via starvation due to increase in food prices resulting directly from these policies.
It is obvious that such behaviours can damage the cause they claim to support. Good intentions may arise from meta-religious pressures, but the wisdom of decisions correlates negatively with them. I’ve always argued that emotions should be used only as a driver to solve a problem, and once the decision to act has been made, they should be set aside. They should not be used as a means to decide the best mechanism to solve it. That should be done using a logical analysis of the problem, followed by development of potential solutions and rational comparison of their system-wide, full-lifetime effectiveness, before finally picking the best and implementing them. Emotions themselves tell us little about how the non-human bits of the universe work or how to fix things that are going wrong. And even in the human parts of the world, where they may govern people’s decision making so can be an important part of the system being analysed, they are of relatively little use unless at least analysed objectively.
Government suffers from such problems too. The problems where religious governments run things are pretty obvious, but political ideologies such as liberalism are almost equally rich in meta-religious tendencies, they just point in different directions. I will avoid debating the merits of different political viewpoints, you can make up your own mind, but consider how many political decisions are motivated by a desire to feel the moral high ground rather than looking objectively at evidence. And look at the consequences all around us. Loss of objectivity leads to loss in decision quality.
But let’s go back to environmental issues. It is here where the worst damage is being done at the moment. Even though the field of climate science is a tiny fraction of science as a whole, the whole of science has been badly tarnished by the corruption here. This didn’t start with Climategate, that was just another step along the way, but it was a big step. Just a few people putting their personal beliefs and their desire to occupy what they consider as the moral high ground above scientific objectivity has caused huge damage to the wider community of scientists. Scientists in every field now are doubted because of these few bad apples. And like any religious split, the many followers of the debates on climate change have polarised into religious squabbles. Although some of the debate is high quality and objective on both sides, much isn’t. The press coverage of the issues adds another layer of religious zeal to make it extremely hard to distinguish what the facts are in any aspect of the debate. The level of corruption now is such that both sides claim completely opposite interpretations of the same input data. Even for scientists, a sensible position can only be taken after enormously lengthy reading and analysis to try to filter out the good from the bad. Science shouldn’t be that hard, but it has been made so by pollution from meta-religion. And the rest of science has been corrupted by association now. Many people have far less faith in science than they had, and that makes it even easier for religiously motivated claims to gain ground. If we cannot stop the slide, we will head back into a dark age where priests masquerading as scientists carry as much authority as genuine scientists on the best way forward.
Science will recover, but it may take decades. The reason is the depth of the infiltration of meta-religion into many important circles, and the strength of the human tendency to want to feel morally or politically correct. If either side of any debate manages to claim followers because of this, and it happens frequently, it becomes harder to get to the facts that should be the basis of good science. Experiments get distorted, data discarded, evidence tweaked, models misdirected. Results get misrepresented and spun, truth buried deeply and disguised so well it might as well not be there. And we all lose because in the end, objective, good quality science is the only way we can figure out how the universe works and how to fix stuff. Religion won’t work, and meta-religion changes science into psuedo-science. It is a disease that must be eradicated if we are to reap the benefits that science can bring.