Tuesday, December 04, 2007

This morning, a quick skim of the Houston Chronicle led me to a story (alternate link from the Washington Post) that immediately reminded me for more than one reason of Michael Berliner's essay, "Against Environmentalism", particularly the following passage:

The fundamental goal of environmentalists is not clean air and clean water; rather it is the demolition of technological/industrial civilization. Their goal is not the advancement of human health, human happiness, and human life; rather it is a subhuman world where "nature" is worshipped like the totem of some primitive religion.

If the good of man were the aim of environmentalists, they would embrace the industry and technology that have eradicated the diseases, plagues, pestilence, and famines that brought wholesale death and destruction prior to the Industrial Revolution. They would embrace free enterprise and technology as the only solution to the relatively minor dangers that now exist -- minor compared to the risks of living in a non-technological world.

But by word and deed, they demonstrate their contempt for human life. [bold added]
Given that our public policy "debate" is so often premised on making a "scientific" case for more government intrusion into our lives -- and that science, being government-funded, is sometimes highly politicized, little else could explain the motivation behind the scientific study described in the Chronicle:
Divorce isn't just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study authored by two Michigan State University researchers.

The analysis found that co-habiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water.

Their paper, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, also found that if the divorced couples had stayed together in 2005, the United States would have saved 73 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water in that year alone. [bold added]
"Divorce isn't just a family matter." So the woman who wakes up and realizes that she should take control of her own life and leave the sodden, abusive lout she married as a foolish girl should worry instead about the total of their separate electric bills should she do so? The man who learns that his wife has been sleeping around should remember that, at least when she isn't "saving water" under some other guy's roof, she's reducing water consumption under his? The couple who realize that, while they are both decent people, but just don't belong together, should take a life-long vow of unhappiness and frustration for the sake of a smaller "footprint" on an inanimate and uncaring Earth?

The examples above may sound ridiculous, but they are the logical conclusion of the unstated premise of the study, which is that preserving nature (whatever that means) is intrinsically important, and so outweighs man's desire for happiness. Environmentalism doesn't just threaten to make it impossible for man to live. It also threatens to make us miserable while we are still around. This is because environmentalism has nothing to do with furthering man's life.

The next thing you know, we're going to have to force young couples to undergo marriage counseling before they tie the knot -- or make it harder to get a divorce -- so they'll be less likely to harm the environment by doing so later on. Sorry! The religious right already came up with that one! (Including the following money quote: "It's in the state's interest for marriages to be saved.")

But on a more serious note, what other purpose could such a study (whose results a five-year-old could predict) have in today's context than to motivate a hue and cry for the government to "do something" so "society" won't have to pay so dearly for failed marriages?

The frequent coincidence in the approaches of the environmentalists and the religious right in calling for prescriptive law lies not just in the fact that both view the government's purpose as guiding human behavior (rather than protecting individual rights), but also in the fact that both share the same fundamental outlook on morality, which Berliner identified as intrinsicism. The intrinsicist views some actions as good regardless of motivation or consequences. The environmentalists and religious right differ only in which particular things they view as intrinsically good.

But not always: Diana Hsieh recently discussed a convergence between the two, the religious adoption of environmentalism as "stewardship", including the fact that environmentalism could become more dangerous as part of a religious outlook.

Note that she emphasizes a nihilistic animus behind environmentalism. I think that this is true of environmentalist intellectuals, but not so much of the rank-and-file, who take the professed motivation of "saving the earth" at face value. This is what makes the notion of "stewardship" so dangerous: Past a point, the nihilism of the left becomes impossible to ignore. But religion is much trickier, as Diana points out, and I have also indicated.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Note that she emphasizes a nihilistic animus behind environmentalism. I think that this is true of environmentalist intellectuals, but not so much of the rank-and-file, who take the professed motivation of "saving the earth" at face value.

That would be another point of "convergence" between religion and the enviro-cult; the phenomenon of "useful idiots".

Gus Van Horn said...

Indeed. And much more could be said on this point, but for now, I will leave with the following question you've triggered: Might religion, offering an integrated view of the world, attract (or produce) better "useful idiots" than nihilistic, un-integrated leftism?

Burgess Laughlin said...

"The intrinsicist views some actions as good regardless of motivation or consequences."

I would like to elaborate on that point. The foundation of ethics is epistemology. So, I try to ask myself what is the epistemological basis of an idea in ethics? As I understand the idea of "intrinsicism" in ethics, it refers to one of three views of the source of value (that is, of good versus evil). The other two are the subjective and the objective.

The subjective view holds that X is good because one wants it to be good. The objective view holds that X is good because one has logically identified that fact as beneficial for oneself within one's whole context of knowledge, including one's hierarchy of values, a hierarchy which stands on one's own life as the standard of good vs. bad. The intrinsic view holds that the goodness of X lies in X itself.

Summary: In ethics, subjectivity is a projective relationship; objectivity is a logical relationship; and intrinsicism is no relationship at all--the fact (Nature or God) is the value regardless of what one's mind does.

It should come as no surprise that instrinsicists--whether traditional religionists or environmentalists--generally do not value the (human) mind. Instead, religionists often speak of the Divine Mind, and Environmentalists sometimes speak of the Cosmic Consciousness or similar fantasy.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Jim May rightly says: That would be another point of "convergence" between religion and the enviro-cult; the phenomenon of "useful idiots".

I think Jim's comment is on-target as an observation about social and political movements. It occurs to me, however, that there is a related phenomenon.

Philosophically many of the followers of a particular religion or of environmentalism are by necessity "moderates," that is, they do not consistently follow the principles espoused by the leaders of the movement. The reason is simple: They cannot consistently practice such principles because death would follow; and, having some integrity, they are "moderate" in their advocacy as well: "We can help the environment, but we don't have to go to extremes."

In summary, "moderates" are crucial to the long-term survival of a radically destructive movement. They, like the "useful idiots," are enablers of mass destruction.

Gus Van Horn said...

Or, putting your two comments together, the "moderates" are the mind that such movements have to smuggle in to succeed.

And, rethinking my earlier comment, these would be the "better useful idiots" drawn to religion, which offers more to them in terms of pseudo-self-esteem than leftism can.

Anonymous said...

There is something that troubles me about the environmentalist movement beyond the nihilism of many of its intellectuals. I have read more sane commentary from environmentalists that have argued that scientific data compiled by honest mathematicians and statisticians indicate that the globe is warming at an increased pace. The degree of warming that would have taken tens of thousands of years is now occurring in a century or two. They say this is attributable to industrial activity.

It would be rationalism, I think, to dismiss this argument on purely philosophic grounds. So to be objective requires analyzing the scientific data. But here is where my confusion lies. The scientific data is *enormous* and is so complicated that making real sense out of it is beyond most non-scientists. And even among scientists there is so much evidence that can be presented for either position.

What is to be made of this? Is it conceivable that industrial activity could have reached a point where governments must intervene to protect against some kind of harm? How would that even be possible? It just seems that a refutation of environmentalism ultimately rests on a scientific understanding which may not exist for a very long time. Or is that in itself enough of a reason to dismiss it?

John Kim

Gus Van Horn said...


Recall that the "global warming debate" is really about two questions: (1) Is there global warming? and (2) Should the state do anything about it?

The science behind (1) is admittedly complex, but before the state should do anything (and one could conceive of such a scenario, although even the worst-case predictions of today don't strike me as such), the evidence would have to be overwhelming AND the danger more immediate to human life than it is.

But for the sake of argument, let's say that someone has proven that there IS such a danger from not reducing emissions. Nothing I have seen proposed as a remedy even remotely resembles what a government should do!

The short answer to this might be something like, "When we see a proposed solution to global warming that is NOT an even greater objective danger to human life than the global warming itself, we can sit down and look at the science."


Burgess Laughlin said...

The problem is common: How can I take a position on an issue outside my area of expertise?

Examples are:

1. Is "global warming" (or, better yet, ICACC, Imminent Catastrophically Anthropogenic Climate Change), if it exists, a threat to my life?

2. Which politician--X or Y--will do the least damage to my liberties over the next term of office?

3. Given that I want to live a long, healthy life, and assuming diet affects health, which diet--that is, which regular pattern of eating--should I follow?

4. If I have cancer X, which of the six treatment options should I choose?

My approach, so far, is a combination of these two elements:

1. Assuming the issue is important enough to justify taking time away from my personal values, then I invest enough time to understand both the problem and the proposed solutions at a "black-box" level.

2. Decide which expert involved in the controversy is most trustworthy and follow his advice as long as it doesn't contradict my own black-box understanding. Philosophical detection helps, but so does evaluation of character.

Having said all that, I must also observe that many issues may not be worth investing time into. The world will go its way no matter how I vote and no matter whether I write a letter to the editor.

That point about investing time would probably not be true, of course, for issues such as health, because without a sufficient level of health one can't achieve one's personal values. And that is what life is about.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for your additional input. Looking back, I see that I did give that aspect of the question short shrift.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Burgess. Those are valuable insights. I appreciate them.

And thank you Gus. Your answer helped me greatly as well.

John Kim

Gideon said...

Not sure if you know this already but Slate's Morgan Smith mentions your comments on divorce in his "Today's Blogs" review. Scroll to the very bottom. Congratulations!


Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Gideon! I learned of this a few hours ago from Diana via the O-List.

Slate has quoted me once before, but that was a different writer, and he labeled me a "conservative".

I like being called an "Ayn Rand enthusiast" much more!

Anonymous said...

The thing that cracks me up about the "divorce is bad for the environment" thing is the contrast with the earlier article about the viro who refused to have a child because kids are bad for the environment.

Put those two together and you're left concluding that Gaia wants us to marry but not reproduce. It's a bizarre mirror of Christian social conservatism -- marriage as a social institution for *not* raising a family.

Anonymous said...

Might religion, offering an integrated view of the world, attract (or produce) better "useful idiots" than nihilistic, un-integrated leftism?

It already does and has for a few decades now. Where do you think the surface affinity between Objectivists and conservatives comes from? Have you tried tallying up the right-left ratio of your blogroll, Gus? And it isn't just yours, either.

The better minds, such as they are, usually go right nowadays, and will continue to do so until the God wing's dominance of the Right becomes complete.

Moderates are, in effect, the interface between anti-Enlightenment movements and the Enlightenment remnants in the culture; as the latter become weaker, the "extremist" cores increase in size at the expense of "moderates". The tipping point here will happen when the "extremists" conclude that the moderates are no longer necessary to their goals; thusly, the degree to which the two sides become dominated by their core members at the expense of "moderates", is another way that we can measure how much trouble we are in.

I would go further to say that if we could somehow reinforce the Enlightenment component remaining in the culture, we could strengthen moderates that way, enough to force the cores to put their worst elements away from the public eye and spend more time fighting battles they think they've already won and done. That is only a delaying rearguard action of course, we can't win the ultimate battle that way -- but it isn't supposed to do that, anymore than blockers are supposed to score touchdowns. It will simply buy us time to reach our own critical cultural mass.

When that happens, then we really take it to the house.

Anonymous said...

Related to Kyle's comment, after reading your post, I was left thinking that one of the logical conclusions of the study would be that simply living as a single adult would be considered "anti-green". Forget divorce. Not getting married at all would be considered wrong.

Then as I thought about writing this comment, it struck me that you could take this even further, and conclude that living in some sort of commune would be ideal, according to this world-view. Perhaps the next study should be tasked with identifying the optimal living arrangements for groups of people, balancing the number of occupants, size of living structure, and energy requirements. The ideal arrangement would be one with maximum occupancy and minimal energy use, the assumption being that there is some tipping point where a building would become too large to be efficiently heated and cooled.

I was rather entertained by that thought exercise for a bit. And then I realized I wasn't taking it far enough. If reducing energy consumption or your "carbon footprint" is the primary value, then it's pretty clear that any use of energy or natural resources is morally wrong. And now we're back to Gus' original point when he brought up Berliner's essay and the fundamental contempt for all human life that's at the base of the entire environmental movement.

Gus Van Horn said...


You're on the right (which is to say, left) track.

The best way for humans to reduce our carbon footprint would be for us to occupy mass graves, provided we would compost as efficiently as possible, assuming, of course, that our remains would not somehow "taint" whatever plants grew from them!


Anonymous said...

Jim May writes:

"Moderates are, in effect, the interface between anti-Enlightenment movements and the Enlightenment remnants in the culture; as the latter become weaker, the "extremist" cores increase in size at the expense of "moderates"."

This is an excellent way of putting it. When I think of the Conservative big tent, it seems to me that the Neo-Conservative and liberal Christian wings are the moderates and the hard-core Christian cultural conservatives are the extremists. Jim says we can use the percentage of each as a way to measure how much time we have left. That's real interesting. By that measure I would say the Right has some time because as I see it while most conservatives are religious the really hard core ones do not dominate the movement, yet.

Now as for the Left, well there I don't know. I'm tempted to say that all new Leftists are extremists. As the older liberals die off the new ones will all be potential Stalinists. The conclusion I would draw is that no matter how bad the Right is (and it is bad), the Left is further down the road to totalitarianism. But combining both Left and Right and trying to forecast how much time we have is no easy task.

John Kim

Anonymous said...


Actually you're spot on with the commune thing. Google the term "arcology," and you'll see the human hives that they are already busily planning to force us into. Which is hand-and-hand with forcing us all out of our cars, of course.

You might want to take some Pepto-Bismol, first though.

And of course, your other point is also spot-on: that would only be a stepping stone on the way to turning us all into literal compost.


Anonymous said...

John: while one could use the percentages of extremists to moderates as a measure, I don't see it working as quantitatively as that, unfortunately, for many reasons.

The most obvious problem is how does one sort out who which is which, but when I read your comment, what came to mind was a different one -- religious extremists are far more dynamic and dangerous than their Leftist counterparts.

While the extreme Left now dominates that movement, as a whole they are just about spent; they are arriving at their end-of-road, and what is there -- hatred of the Enlightenment and its progeny, most notably America and capitalism -- is their essence, nothing more. That is not enough to sustain a movement.

But they have nonetheless done a lot of damage to our culture, almost completely debasing and eroding what remains of Enlightenment values -- and that is why the religion is now dangerous. The religious conservatives are an up-and-coming movement, and thanks to the Left, face far less resistance than the latter ever did. They will accordingly move a lot faster.

Gus Van Horn said...

And many of them (or their children) will end up embracing religion.