Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A godless religion for alarmists

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, the author, Brett Stephens wonders about the motivations of people willing to believe and act on failed "big ideas" of an apolyptic future.  He cites Paul Erlich's dire predictions of mass starvation due to population overkill (we should be all be dead by now), and the Chinese experiment with the one-child policy that resulted in forced sterilization and now a dearth of young workers to support the elderly.  Mass starvation has not occurred because of overpopulation but from political unrest, poor farming practices and weather-related crop failures.  But predictions of a doom-and-gloom future by mainly liberal thinkers continues.  Why?

The writer, like many others, concludes that "as the alarmists fed the hysteria, the hysteria fed the alarmists."  It's a religious movement for the Godless: Apolyptic end times are nigh unless we repent and change our wicked ways.  Who is attracted to these beliefs, and why?

Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015  By Bret Stephens
The Tyranny of a Big Idea
Modern liberals are best understood as would-be believers in search of true faith.

Power is se­duc­tive, as are fame and wealth, and it’s easy to see how be­ing a sci­en­tific prophet of doom af­forded ac­cess to all three. So long as the alarmists fed the hys­te­ria, the hys­te­ria would feed the alarmists—with no end of lu­cra­tive book con­tracts and lav­ish con­fer­ences in ex­otic des­ti­nations to keep the cy­cle go­ing. It’s also not sur­pris­ing that some­one like Mr. Ehrlich, trained as an entomologist, would be tempted to think of hu­man be­ings as merely a larger type of in­sect.

But the real ques­tion isn’t what dri­ves peo­ple to be lead­ers of a new move­ment. That’s easy enough to under­stand. It’s why so many peo­ple—usu­ally well-ed­u­cated, ur­bane lib­er­als—would wish to be fol­low­ers.

It isn’t the strength of the ev­i­dence. The idea of a pop­u­la­tion bomb was al­ways pre­pos­ter­ous: The world’s 7.3 bil­lion peo­ple could fit into an area the size of Texas, with each per­son get­ting 1,000 square feet of per­sonal space. Food has never been more abun­dant. As for re­source scarcity, the frack­ing rev­o­lu­tion re­minds us that scarcity is not so much a threat to mankind as it is an op­por­tu­nity for in­no­va­tion.

What mat­ters, rather, is the strength of the long­ing. Mod­ern lib­eral­ism is best un­der­stood as a movement of would-be be­liev­ers in search of true faith. For much of the 20th cen­tury it was faith in His­tory, es­pecially in its Marx­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Now it’s faith in the en­vi­ron­ment. Each is a comprehen­sive be­lief system, an in­struc­tion sheet on how to live, eat and re­pro­duce, a story of how man fell and how he might be re­deemed, a tale of im­pend­ing cri­sis that’s also a moral cru­cible.

In short, a re­li­gion with­out God. I some­times won­der whether the journal­ists now writ­ing about the fail­ure of the one-child pol­icy ever note the sim­i­lar­i­ties with to­day’s cli­mate “crisis.” That the fears are largely the same. And the po­lit­i­cal pre­scrip­tions are al­most iden­ti­cal. And the lead­ers of the move­ment are cut from the same cloth. And the con­fi­dence with which the alarmists pre­scribe rad­i­cal cures, their in­tol­er­ance for dis­sent­ing views, their in­sis­tence on “global solu­tions,” their dis­dain for de­mo­c­ra­tic in­put or tech­no­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions—that every­thing is just as it was when bell-bot­toms were in vogue.

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