populism and the rejection of science, india storm wallpaper, rescuing mario vargas llosa’s reputation

Why do Republican politicians hate science? Pay no attention to the lobbyist behind the curtain: Ross Douthat says the GOP is just reflecting the people’s will. Douthat is apparently on the edge of trend. I’ve read this view of populism before and it ain’t pretty. Populism carries the historical taint it’s name implies – following the mob rather than the best idea. Populists are not always wrong, but they can be wacky. A mathematical proof does not change just because it cannot win a popularity contest. Gravity does not stop because someone  has proposed a cool idea involving an alternative universe and a giant wizard’s rat turning a cosmic wheel. Climate change has taken a beating because the oil, gas and coal industry – surprise – have deeper pockets. Scientists as a group are generally one of the smartest and most ethical cohorts of our society, in sociological terms. Though like any group there are always that few open to corruption. In the climate change debate those scientists have put out some “findings” bought by some of the richest corporations on earth. Douthat is celebrating a populism fought over the dead body of empirical truths. So much for the intellectual foundations on which conservatives swear conservatism rests. That emperor never had any clothes and never will. Conservatives claim Edmund Burke is a father of conservatism, but that is an iffy proposition to describe someone who thought justice should prevail over economic imperatives. Bill McKibben gives conservatives too much intellectual credit in this essay – Why are conservatives so radical about the climate?

Another easy answer would be: Conservatives possess some new information about climate science. That would sure be nice—but sadly, it’s wrong. It’s the same tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs. None are doing new research that casts the slightest doubt on the scientific consensus that’s been forming for two decades, a set of conclusions that grows more robust with every issue of Science and Nature and each new temperature record. The best of the contrarian partisans is Marc Morano, whose Climate Depot is an environmental Drudge Report: updates on Al Gore’s vacation homes, links to an op-ed from some right-wing British tabloid, news that a Colorado ski resort is opening earlier than planned because of a snowstorm. Morano and his colleagues deserve their chortles—they’re winning, and doing it with skill and brio—but not because the science is shifting.

No, something else is causing people to fly into a rage about climate. Read the comments on one of the representative websites: Global warming is a “fraud” or a “plot.” Scientists are liars out to line their pockets with government grants. Environmentalism is nothing but a money-spinning “scam.” These people aren’t reading the science and thinking, I have some questions about this. They’re convinced of a massive conspiracy.

The odd and troubling thing about this stance is not just that it prevents action. It’s also profoundly unconservative. If there was ever a radical project, monkeying with the climate would surely qualify. Had the Soviet Union built secret factories to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and threatened to raise the sea level and subvert the Grain Belt, the prevailing conservative response would have been: Bomb them.

What does it say about a political movement that it’s prime motivator is fear. Frame global warming as a national security issue ( a threat to free market economies for libertarians) and maybe the conservative  masses of Rush Limbaugh sycophants will wake up. As McKibben notes the military is already preparing for the global unrest that will result from global warming – Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security. Since the Right is conveniently ignoring this fact it would lend some validation to the suspicion the Right has never been pro military, but rather ultra nationalists who see the military as a tool.

india storm wallpaper

It pains me to give Spiked credit but they perform a rescue of  Mario Vargas Llosa’s reputation – Don’t give him the Nobel – he’s right-wing!

But before you get carried away and conclude that Vargas Llosa deserves the prize: did I forget to tell you that he is not a socialist? Well, he was. He was a convinced Communist who supported the Cuban revolution. He moved on not because he was no longer able to sympathise with the poor and oppressed, but because he still did when others began to identify more with the revolutionaries than with the people in whose name they made the revolution. He saw that Castro persecuted homosexuals and imprisoned dissenters. While other socialists kept quiet and thought that the dream justified the means, Vargas Llosa began to ask himself the difficult questions about why his ideals looked more like prison camps than socialist utopias when realised.

[  ]…Vargas Llosa’s attempt to hold all rulers to the same standards is what makes the claim that he betrayed the left so revealing. A lot of intellectuals have condemned rightist dictatorships in Peru and Chile, and a lot of intellectuals have condemned leftist dictatorships in Cuba and Nicaragua, but few have, like Vargas Llosa, condemned them both.

Llosa is a liberal in the Jeffersonian tradition. He takes on authoritarianism where ever it is on the political spectrum. That does not mean he is always correct in the details – put five liberals in a room and you’ll get 12 policy prescriptions that differ by a few degrees, goes one version of an old joke. A condition in which liberals abundance of ideas has been their strength and weakness. The masses tend to like their political beliefs and answers to tough issues to fit on a bumper sticker. We don’t do complexity in America. Thus Democrats tend to have more honest campaign commercials, but they are also about as bland as Republicans. Anyway to get an idea of where Vargas Llosa is coming from in terms of ideals a nicely timed essay in Harpers – Questions of conquest: What Columbus wrought, and what he did not

The conquest of the Tawantinsuyu–the name given to the Inca Empire in its totality–by a handful of Spaniards is a fact of history that even now, after having digested and ruminated over all the explanations, we find hard to unravel. The first wave of conquistadores, Francisco Pizarro and his companions, was fewer than 200, not counting the black slaves and the collaborating Indians. When the reinforcements started to arrive, this first wave had already dealt a mortal blow and taken over an empire that had ruled over at least twenty million people. This was not a primitive society made up of barbaric tribes, like the ones the Spaniards had found in the Caribbean or in Darien, but a civilization that had reached a high level of social, military, agricultural, and handicraft development that in many ways Spain itself had not reached.

The most remarkable aspects of this civilization, however, were not the paths that crossed the four suyus, or regions, of the vast territory, the temples and fortresses, the irrigation systems, or the complex administrative organization, but something about which all the testimonies of the chronicles agree. This civilization managed to eradicate hunger in that immense region. It was able to distribute all that was produced in such a way that all its subjects had enough to eat. Only a very small number of empires throughout the whole world have succeeded in achieving this feat. Are the conquistadores’ firearms, horses, and armor enough to explain the immediate collapse of this Inca civilization at the first clash with the Spaniards? It is true the gunpowder, the bullets, and the charging of beasts that were unknown to them paralyzed the Indians with a religious terror and provoked in them the feeling that they were fighting not against men but against gods who were invulnerable to the arrows and slings with which they fought. Even so, the numerical difference was such that the Quechua ocean would have had simply to shake in order to drown the invader.

I’ve never read a right-winger or libertarian so thoughtfully document the atrocities wreaked on a native culture. Vargas Llosa does mention the remaining native tribes of South America and their assimilation – which includes regrets about the lack of protection by government and the lack of conscience by industrial concerns. Though I disagree with him about the imminent need for a humane – kind of official nudging of those tribes – into mainstream culture. There are costs involved with giving them a buffer zone and leaving them alone. And they probably will be assimilated eventually, but there is no hurry. The costs are about a business mogul having to do with one less maid in their South American McMansion  rather than any prohibitive sacrifices on the rest of the population.