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Are Conservatives Irrational?

Chris Mooney believes conservatives are wrong about many more important issues than are liberals. Like any principled science writer, he’s also certain he could be wrong. Had Mooney chosen a less insulting title, he might have convinced a few conservatives to consider his positions on climate change, evolution, and President Obama’s healthcare program.

Of course, he’d also sell fewer books. He and his publisher know their audience, just as Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg know theirs. Mooney admits that he has little hope of changing conservative minds through education. His 2005 attempt at an edifying overture, The Republican War on Science, failed entirely.

Despite a religious temperament and natural respect for tradition, an unsettling, empirical bent forces me into agreement with Mooney and his fellow liberals on the issues of climate change and evolution. Darwin got it right. There is no scientifically credible challenge to the general theory of evolution. Likewise, the scientific consensus on climate change—that it’s real, anthropogenic, and poses a grave threat—is as solid as consensus on anything beyond first principles is likely to ever be.

Mooney’s guiding light is the Marquis de Condorcet, the French Enlightenment philosopher and mathematician, whom he correctly distances from Jacobin excesses during the French Revolution. Alas, that Mooney dedicates The Republican Brain to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with no caveat, supports his assertion that conservatives and liberals are truly different people. Mooney quotes Thomas Carlyle on Rousseau: “He could be cooped into garrets, laughed at as a maniac, left to starve like a wild beast in his cage; but he could not be hindered from setting the world on fire.”

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Keep that cheery image in mind.

According to Mooney, conservatives’ personality traits, resulting from both genetic and environmental factors, predispose them to resist data that conflict with strongly held beliefs.  Referring to research by Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, Mooney writes, “deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict who [individuals] consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place—and where they consider ‘scientific consensus’ to lie in the contested issues.”

To his credit, Mooney admits that liberals aren’t immune to irrationality and “motivated reasoning.” He points out the equalitarian left’s attacks on sociobiologist E.O. Wilson and the reflexive liberal antipathy toward nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” But Mooney asserts that the trait is far more pronounced in conservatives.

He presents Kahan’s model, a Cartesian coordinate system with one axis running from very hierarchical to very egalitarian, the other axis running from individualist (or libertarian) to very communitarian. All of us would fit into one of the four ideological quadrants, though we might move depending on the issue. According to Mooney, the hierarchical-individual quadrant corresponds to American conservatives while liberals fall into the egalitarian-communitarian quadrant.

In one of Kahan’s studies, participants were asked to imagine that a friend had told them that she is considering her position on highly charged issues, including whether global warming is caused by humans and the safety of nuclear waste disposal. The imaginary friend is planning to read a book on the subject but would like opinions on whether the author is a legitimate authority. The study subjects were then shown alleged book excerpts by fake experts as well as phony pictures and resumes. Here’s Mooney’s interpretation: “The results were stark: When the fake scientist’s position stated that global warming is real and caused by humans, only 23 percent of hierarchical-individualists agreed the person was a ‘trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.’ Yet 88 percent of the egalitarian-communitarians accepted the same scientist’s alleged expertise.”

Mooney describes other research that suggests conservatives are prone to “backfire effect,” the tendency to affirm strongly-held beliefs even more tenaciously after being shown contradictory evidence. Furthermore, Mooney says, the more educated the conservative, the more sophisticated the argument—thus the “smart idiots” effect. “The ‘smart idiots” effect generates endless frustration for many scientists—and indeed, for many well-educated, reasonable people.” (Emphasis mine.)

Could it be that the reality of anthropogenic climate change and the culpability of corporate capitalism simply rests easier with liberals than with conservatives? Does Mooney believe the average liberal earnestly studies the latest climate data? What if the study questions addressed the responsibility of the poor for their own condition or evidence that scientific genius is more common among men? Might there be some liberal backfire effect?

Mooney quotes Kahan: in some conservative communities “people who say, ‘I think there’s something to climate change,’ that’s going to mark them out as a certain kind of person, and their life is going to go less well.” What would Daniel Patrick Moynihan say about the consequences of breaking with liberal orthodoxy?  Lawrence Summers?

Mooney builds much of his argument on the work of New York University’s Jon Jost and others who’ve studied the psychological basis of political orientation.  The results have been fiercely attacked by Republican politicians and opinion-makers. Yet the studies appear broad and painstaking, and many of the findings ring true. Researchers have found that conservatism emphasizes resistance to change and the acceptance or rationalization of inequality. No surprises there. Or, as a conservative might say, short of equalitarian despotism, inequality is unavoidable. Mooney admits that the conservative need for order and management of uncertainty and the accompanying virtues of patriotism, decisiveness, and loyalty to friends are assets in a time of crisis.

Another trait researchers found prevalent among conservatives and surprisingly common in the United States is “authoritarianism,” which has been intractably linked to fascism thanks to largely discredited work by Theodore Adorno. Mooney doesn’t mention Adorno’s F-scale, nor does he distance himself from it.

“Authoritarians are also increasingly strong in today’s Republican Party—and especially in its most extreme ideological arm. … Authoritarians are very intolerant of ambiguity, and are very inclined toward group-think and distrustful of outsiders (often including racial outsiders).”

Racial outsiders like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams, say?

Liberals are “pretty much universal agents of change,” characterized by curiosity and openness to new experience, more tolerant of disorder, less tolerant of economic inequality. According to Jost and Mooney, liberals also tend toward greater “integrative complexity,” or IC. “And not only do liberals tend to have much less need for closure than conservatives. At the same time, liberals often have more need for cognition. They like to think, in an effortful and challenging way, and take pride in doing a good job of it. They enjoy complex problems and trying to solve them.”

The relationship between IC and sound thinking remains unclear. Mooney points to studies that show that Neville Chamberlain demonstrated greater IC than Winston Churchill and that abolitionists were just as low in IC as apologists for slavery. Mooney associates IC and the liberal temperament with creativity. To which I respond: T.S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy, Wilhelm Röpke, Robert Nisbet, Christopher Lasch, Richard Weaver, Eric Voeglin, and of course Edmund Burke, reduced by Mooney to an “honest status-quo conservative.”

The Abrahamic faiths are inherently authoritarian, yet more than any institution built on abstract Enlightenment notions of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, they recognize human dignity and worth. Could there have been a pre-Christian Kant? If we rightly blame distorted religion for the Crusades, Galileo’s arrest, and the Inquisition, we should credit religious longing in its highest forms with the Sistine Chapel and Alhambra.

Certainly, Enlightenment reason freed minds from superstition and opened countless avenues of investigation. Yet other than a single mention of “murderous Jacobins,” Mooney glosses over the historical lesson that rationalism and egalitarianism, in the extreme, lead to gallows and gulag.

At the managerial level, hyper-rationalism is necessarily utilitarian. But in a multicultural society—a liberal project—there can be no agreement on what constitutes common good. Despotism is the only recourse. Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer have suggestions.

The liberal mind, in all its purported subtlety, can be disastrously, murderously wrong. Long after evidence of unprecedented atrocity trickled out of the Soviet Union, the intellectual left in the United States continued its infatuation with totalitarian communism, seeing in Stalinism the realization of the aims of the French Revolution.

The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was a progressive project as grounded in racism and nasty paternalism as it was in good intentions. Today, the left’s doctrinaire support for programs that incentivize young women to have children out of wedlock virtually ensures increasing poverty, dependence, and resentment—problems that could prove as disastrous as climate change.

Mooney, in his reverence for science, seems oblivious to potential threats to human dignity posed by certain kinds of genetic, neurological, and psychological investigations. “The thrill is to be part of a dramatic merger of science, psychology, and biology that ultimately promises to uncover a ‘science of human nature.’ … Any guesses about what personality types will want to be working in this area, or how they’re likely to vote?”

No doubt, researchers will vote for the party “brimming with intellectuals and Ph.Ds.” Then egalitarianism won’t be demolished by authoritarians, but by liberal scientists. If, as Mooney asserts and some studies suggest, white Christian men are especially recalcitrant in their denial of climate change and their personalities can be partially attributed to genes, then surely planners and “experts” will need to know the strengths and weaknesses of other groups so as to ensure Progress.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Mooney that dogged resistance to climate science might have something to do with loyalty and priority. If you look at an image of a 10-week-old fetus and see “human,” instead of a lump of insentient human tissue, then climate change is not humanity’s most pressing issue.

[1]Early in the book, Mooney promises not to engage in “what is often called reductionism,” reducing conservatives to their psychology. For the most part, he keeps his promise. Yet he can’t help but resort to reductionism when he describes responses of various regions of the brain to laboratory stimuli. Thus deep affection for one’s own people and place is reduced to simple fear of change and can be readily interpreted as racism. Do liberals see no threats other than Christians and shagbark reactionaries?

And this: “Conservatives—especially religious ones—are also in denial about the single most important thing that we human beings know about ourselves: Namely, that our species evolved by natural selection and therefore shares a common ancestor with every other living thing on earth.”

That we evolved by natural selection tells us more about ourselves than all of the recorded wisdom of the ancients? More than the works of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky? More than the Delta blues?

If this is where Enlightenment reason takes us, Chris Mooney can have it. Count me on the side of superstition.

Henry Chappell is a novelist and journalist in Parker, Texas. His latest novel, Silent We Stood, will be published next year.

44 Comments (Open | Close)

44 Comments To "Are Conservatives Irrational?"

#1 Comment By SFB On August 29, 2012 @ 2:42 am

Climate Change… Perhaps one of the reasons many conservatives are averse to such idea is precisely that it implies a form of change, of discontinuity with the past, one that is potentially fundamentally irreversible. This is much, much more threatening to the worldview of a conservative, who cherishes historical continuity, conservation, than that of a liberal, who is much more prone to embrace change, even of such an enormous magnitude. Thus, to many conservatives, the easiest and most confortable thing to is simply to deny it, no matter how much evidence there may be for the contrary. There are other reasons, of course, namely the contemporary collusion of Big Business, the Mega-Corporations, with the conservative movement (especially in America), but this is something I greatly lament, and in my opinion is a very unconservative characteristic, however much it may be associated with conservatism hodie. Another reason is that among the proposed solutions to it is that of goverment regulations for businesses. Although it is true that this very much against a conservative small-central-goverment ἔθος, it remains true—alas!—that the civil society in most places in America has been so disempowered that it would be impossible for local communities to enforce the brakes on corporations necessary to stop Climate Change.* For this reason, I believe that, at least for the time being, the conservative thing to do would be to accept some form of central government as a necessary evil. Finally, there is the problem of Climate Change’s global nature: stopping global warming would be something that requiered a form of international coordinated cooperation, something the conservative, a localist by nature, naturally finds quite unappetizing. Yet to this, I say the same as above: Climate Change, itself a product of Globalization, requiresa a solution that is also a product of the Globalization (such as the Kyoto Protocol). But indeed, the way Climate Change has been marketed has much to do with conservatism’s suspicion of it. A liberal may warmly embrace a movement calling to “save the planet!”, a conservative would instinctively be wary of such a statement’s totalist (which is not the same as Totalitatian) overtones. What must be done is to shift the emphasis away from the abstract concept of “the planet” to more concrete concrete phenomena: say not “save the planet!” but rather “save my neighborhood!”, say not “the ice caps are melting” but rather “do you notice how the weather has become crazier and crazier lately?” Thusm and only thus, can conservatives truly be passionate about fighting Climate Change.

*And here we hinge on an extremely important topic, one that is responsible at least in part for conteporary youth tilting to the left, as can be seen, for example, in the Occupy Wall Street movement: the collusion of the government with behemoth Corporations, the government acting only as the administrative branch for the über-rich, America (and increasingly the world’s) colonial masters. This, coupled with a absence of a powerful local civil society, makes the youngster think “why, the only force capable of stopping the ultra-rich must be the government!”

PS: Can you publish this version rather than the one above? Thank you.

#2 Comment By mlindroo On August 29, 2012 @ 6:49 am

Chappell’s review seems quite fair minded. A few minor quibbles below:

> But in a multicultural society—a liberal
> project—there can be no agreement on what
> constitutes common good.

Arguably, the current strain of aggressive libertarian-flavored conservatism has the same problem. Poor people should worship the same ideology, values and moral authorities as Republican millionaires, while getting nothing in return. You do need a certain communitarian-egalitarian spirit to make society work, and I think the paleocons “get” this whereas most libertarians don’t.

BTW, the “liberal mistakes” cited by Chappell (basically eugenics and gulags) occurred before WW II. I think the conservative ones — opposition to racial segregation and dire warnings about Medicare in the 1960s for example — are more recent and also more numerous. To say liberals “incentivize young women to have children out of wedlock” seems misleading; formal marriage matters less than parents having stable relationships and the consequences of unmarried cohabitation in e.g. Scandinavia have not been bad compared to the current American situation. In general, sexual liberalism in Europe has not caused more crime or social dysfunction compared to pre 1950s Europe or the U.S..

#3 Comment By Nathan On August 29, 2012 @ 9:00 am

I’m sorry all this is charming but I oppose climate change because I don’t think the case has been made for it and I’m in good company. The late Reid Bryson, considered by some to be the father of modern climatology was a vocal opponent to idea that man plays a role in global warming. First as he pointed out The biggest greenhouse gas is water vapor at 90 percent. C02 is only about 3 percent of the total and man is one third of that. He stated, correctly in my mind looking at those numbers that man’s ability to influence the climate is highly limited.

Even those who support global warming admitted that there had been no meaningful PLANETARY WIDE increase in temperatures in over a decade. There is ample reason to think that before the end of this deacde temperatures will start declining.

And the problem we face is how to allocate resources? A trillion to address a maybe global warming problem or hundreds of billions to do clean water in Africa NOW that will save tens of millions of lives NOW. We can’t do both.

When people presume to spend other people’s money the burden is on THEM to justify the legitimacy of those expenditures. I’m sorry the global warming, climate change, call it anything you will advocates simply have yet to meet that burden of proof.

#4 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On August 29, 2012 @ 9:02 am

When it comes to the environment, I blame my fellow liberals as much as the conservatives. There is nothing stopping liberals from pursuing environmentally-friendly policies without conservatives. We do not need their endorsement, support, or approval…though it would be great to have it. Liberals have to accept that some conservatives will always take the opposite stance than we take, so we should pretty much just ignore them. Conservatives don’t like the recognition of problems, because that requires we do something about it, and that is not conservative. So they come up with counter-“facts” to provide justification for inaction.

#5 Comment By Nathan On August 29, 2012 @ 9:58 am

The opening paragraph to this article talks about evolution implying that conservatives/Christians are “denying” science by refusing to accept evolutionary theory and insisting on the Genesis version of creation. Henry Chappell the author of this article says he feels “forced” to agree with liberals regarding evolution.

I disagree. I believe the scientific case for Genesis is as good or better than conventional secular beliefs regarding the “big bang” evolution, and other theories regarding our origins. Lon Solomon, senior pastor at McLean Bible Church just outside the Washington beltway as part of his series on Genesis addressed this very issue in two or more sermons earlier this year. For any of you who are interested, those sermons are online on their website at [2]. In those sermons he makes a compelling “scientific” case for Genesis quoting any number of experts in their respective fields.

What Mr. Mooney, Mr. Chappell and others fail to understand is that in many cases conservatives aren’t being irrational in opposing things like evolution or global warming. We’ve just looked at the objective evidence and don’t believe the case has been made. Reasonable people can and do disagree all the time.

#6 Comment By c matt On August 29, 2012 @ 10:09 am

conservatives’ personality traits, resulting from both genetic and environmental factors, predispose them to resist data that conflict with strongly held beliefs.

Perhaps it’s not the resistance to data per se, but the calling into question of the data’s credibility. The last brouhaha about the “hockey stick” graph and fudged data have nothing to do with resisting data that conflicts, but resisting data that may be questionable. Liberals do the exact same thing as they called into question that U of Texas prof who did a study on the effects of SSM on children’s well being. When the data conflicted with their belief, they certainly resisted.

Still, no one can match the sheer will to ignore facts like a liberal can with respect to matters such as abortion. If they were honest, they would just admit it is legally sanctioned murder and move on. It appears the author confuses rationalization (on which conservatives certainly hold no monopoly) with reasoning.

#7 Comment By Marc On August 29, 2012 @ 10:32 am

So The American Conservative Magazine endorses the position in a book that conservatism is a brain disorder. All you have to do is accept the premise that everything the left believes is that absolute truth and anyone who disagrees is a knuckle dragging Neanderthal flat earther who has his head buddies in the sand. Take global warming (oops I mean global climate change as an example.) Many people have taken note that this issue has become a political crusade and now has little if anything to do with actual science. In this so called debate, alternative points of view are not given a fair hearing and all dissent is crushed. Any position that supports AGW is treated as holy writ. This drives a lot of my own skepticism surrounding global warming. But no, I have no capability to properly discern science (despite my engineering degree). I have a brain disorder because I question AGW.

#8 Comment By reflectionephemeral On August 29, 2012 @ 10:47 am

What would Daniel Patrick Moynihan say about the consequences of breaking with liberal orthodoxy?  Lawrence Summers?

Moynihan would say, “I served in the Senate as a Democrat for decades.” Summers would say, “I served as a key adviser to two Democratic presidents.”

Sure, some liberals can be dangerously wrong about things, as on Stalin. But that’s not particularly relevant, save as a principle worth bearing in mind, to today’s US political parties. Certainly, the liberal excesses you mention are far less material today than, say, the GOP’s Southern Strategy, or Reagan- and Bush Jr.-era efforts to increase deficits.

#9 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On August 29, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

“It doesn’t seem to occur to Mooney that dogged resistance to climate science might have something to do with loyalty and priority. If you look at an image of a 10-week-old fetus and see “human,” instead of a lump of insentient human tissue, then climate change is not humanity’s most pressing issue”

What utter nonsense, and pretty much part and parcel of a very weak justification for superstition and irrationality.

Are conservatives unable to address two things at once? To say that climate change is unaddressable because of all the little babies is almost indescribably weak (though, of course, the it is the highly cynical GOP strategy of using these red rag social issues as a cover for their true policy priorities).

One could also say, if one was concerned about the generations not yet born, that in fact mankind should make a priority of protection of the environment, as stewards for future generations. Instead we have a Simpson-esque “the children, won’t someone think of the children”, while aggressively refusing to even engage in a rational discussion on what may be the biggest issue of the coming decades.

#10 Comment By Nicole On August 29, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

Today, the left’s doctrinaire support for programs that incentivize young women to have children out of wedlock

Unmarried young woman here. I’m sorry, what?

It doesn’t seem to occur to Mooney that dogged resistance to climate science might have something to do with loyalty and priority.

I would say it has nothing to do with loyalty and priority. One’s political/social priorities in X do not preclude him from at least nodding his head towards those who are involved in Y. Climate change exists whether or not you think a 10-week-old fetus is a ball of cells or a human.

#11 Comment By Henry Chappell On August 29, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

reflectionephemeral, that’s a clever comeback, but you’re avoiding the point, which is liberal pushback. Summers’ comments cost him his job at Harvard. Moynihan suffered a great deal of ostracism for simply reporting what he saw.

I’m absoulutely certain that the intellectual left would like to distance itself from its infatuation with Stalinism and revolutionary communsim in general. Likewise, many conservatives wish their shameful foot-dragging and rationalization during the civil rights era would be forgotten, but I don’t look for that to happen anytime within the next half-century.

#12 Comment By Henry Chappell On August 29, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

I’m sorry, Nicole, what?

I would say that a one’s marital status (x) would not preclude her from at least nodding toward a rather serious situation (y).

#13 Comment By Tom On August 29, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

Both conservatives and liberals are living in the past and both fail to use reason when forming opinions.
Not only is scientific and mathematical genius much more common among men but it is much more common among Europeans and Asians.
Much of “conservative” opposition was not to racial integration it was to the government telling private businesses who they had to hire and private individual who they had to sell their house to.
As far as dire warnings about medicare, you may not realize it is going broke and Doctors are refusing patients who are on medicare because the government’s reimbursement is
too low.
The is absolutely NO SCIENTIFIC case for Genesis. God created two lights one to rule the day the other to rule the night. The moon IS NOT A SOURCE OF LIGHT, it merely reflects the sun’s light. The moon causes tides during the day just as it does at night. Women were made to bear children because of Eve. The females of most species bear children. The theory of evolution showed its great predictive power ( a tenet of scientific inquiry) when DNA tests aligned
with anatomical and other evidence for evolution. Are we all descendents of Adam and Eve, where did Caine’s wife come from.
Background radiation of certain wavelengths was predicted by the mathematical model of the “big bang” and it was found by astronomers.

#14 Comment By Byard Pidgeon On August 29, 2012 @ 9:55 pm

Summers lost his job because he’s a sexist jackass who alienated half of the Harvard student body by his comments…he wasn’t hounded, he bit himself in the butt.

#15 Comment By MikeS On August 29, 2012 @ 9:58 pm

I am unconcerned if conservatives don’t want to think scientifically or rationally. There are vast numbers of bright people from China or India who we can import, who will be glad to do that, and who will be the future American (and world) upper class as a result.

#16 Comment By Leo On August 30, 2012 @ 5:59 am

Count me on the side of “superstition”, too. Additionally, what and how humans can understand “reality” is a once famous question that seldom gets explored by the priests of science before launching into sermons on same. Our hopelessly bankrupt, imperialist, crime-ridden, pop-wasteland etc, etc. secular society should give anyone pause to celebrate an “Enlightenment”….or even want one. And as far as “climate change” goes, most of my liberal friends who believe also live or strive to live in McMansions, drive at least one SUV and get cosmetic surgery. Who is struggling with “reality”?

#17 Comment By JoshINHB On August 30, 2012 @ 8:17 am

The problem with phrases like :

Likewise, the scientific consensus on climate change—that it’s real, anthropogenic, and poses a grave threat—is as solid as consensus on anything beyond first principles is likely to ever be.

Is that AGW as discussed is not a scientific theory but a set of policy goals driven by emotionalism.

Is the scientific theory of AGW true? Maybe but it has not been proved yet, as in repeatedly generating verifiable predictions. Until that happens all the consensus in the world is scientifically meaningless. In fact, it discredits the concept of science by replacing the scientific method with a popularity contest.

Whether the scientific theory AGW is true or not is irrelevant to AGW the political issue, which reuires a series of value judgements from its believers.

Specifically:

That warming is ‘bad’.

That political effort can reverse said warming.

That the costs of said political effort are lower than the costs of adaptation.

That the agenda toward reversing warming is a moral imperative and that those opposing that agenda are immoral.

None of those beliefs are scientific in any way. They are a part of an emotional belief system akin to religious devotion. Indeed, the language of the believers is one of faith, not science. Skeptics are deniers and immoral and it is legitimate to use force to stop them from spreading dangerous ideas that will mislead the innocent

#18 Comment By KalkiDas On August 30, 2012 @ 9:02 am

Ultimately, your actions are the true response to whether you believe in something or not. If you are conservative and believe in limited government, keeping the debt down, but continue to support and vote for foreign misadventures or vote for policies that still use government to push social policies versus allowing individuals to decide what virtues to pursue.

Likewise, you say you believe in global warming. What do *you* do to help global warming? Vote for some absurd carbon credit policy that does nothing? Hamstring the free market from coming up with solutions to the problem? Do you telecommute or if you run a business, try to promote telecommuting? Are your lightbulbs in your house LED? Do you drive a gas guzzler? Are you a vegetarian?

Or, if as progressives so often say “I believe *we* should help people”. What is the “we” ? We really means someone else who has more money than you, and the risk you take to “help” is that you were so kind as to vote for some double-parasite politician who lives off the sores of the poor and blood of the rich only to gain votes and power, enacting programs that perpetuate and enhance poverty and dependence, subsidizing bad life choices. Is Detroit “helping” people? Is Newark “helping” people? Those are the manifestations of societal feel-goodism, giving the guy on the street some change so he can go buy more booze. Charity given in ignorance.

Actions, not words. What do *you* do as an individual to act on things you supposedly believe in, that is the question.

#19 Comment By Karen On August 30, 2012 @ 9:48 am

Climate change. Science. Okay. Well, let’s see. First of all, sure the climate changes. Maybe it’s getting hotter and maybe it’s getting cooler. To think that ending the use of plastic bags is going to reverse warming and cooling trends has Gaia laughing her you know what off. The progressive inclination is to think they can control EVERYTHING even Mother Nature with laws and regulations is laughably irrational and also incredibly damaging to people all over the world. To think that governments can stop nature from doing what it is completely insane. You can’t stop nature from doing what it wants to do. Yes companies should be incentivized to create efficient forms of energy, okay fine. But these should be forms of energy that actually work and are affordable. As for science being infallible, please. Yes I believe in gravity. I know about the cycles of the moon and tides. But there is an awful lot of science that turns out to be pretty soft (badsciencewatch.ca is an excellent resource). So every time there is a scientific discovery that a progressive likes we are supposed to make a law? For instance, The Farm Bill (S.3240) is trying to make its way through Congress. Senators Sanders and Boxer (real science brans) introduced an atrocious amendment about genetically engineered food that, thankfully, did not pass. It was justified by bad science, the text as written was over-broad, and it would make a bad law. What if the science is later disproven? Oops! Sorry. Too late.

#20 Comment By reflectionephemeral On August 30, 2012 @ 10:26 am

Thanks for your reply, Mr. Farrell.

You wrote: “you’re avoiding the point, which is liberal pushback.”

Well, sure, people are going to be criticized for saying stuff that many people disagree with. In the Democratic Party, you can say things that are unpopular, and remain a member in good standing. By contrast, after 1981 tax cut architect Bruce Bartlett wrote in 2005 that the GOP should care about the deficit they’d created while controlling the presidency & Congress, [3]. After David Frum wrote that he opposed the ACA, but would have preferred that Republicans talk about health care reform rather than death panels, [4].

(Also, Summers was unpopular at Harvard long before his chicks-and-math gaffe. As with Mayor Fenty, I like what he was trying to do, but you can’t reform an institution by noisily alienating most people there).

So, at the moment, discourse in the Democratic Party is quite a bit more freewheeling, less censured by political correctness, and less brittle than discourse in the GOP. Maybe that was different in 1980, and will be different in 2025, but it is where we are now.

You wrote: “I’m absoulutely certain that the intellectual left would like to distance itself from its infatuation with Stalinism and revolutionary communsim in general.”

I’m under 40 years old, so I am unfamiliar with Democratic Party or intellectual left support for Stalinism. It’s not relevant today save as a principle to bear in mind. Harping on it now is like opposing a proposal from David Petraeus on the grounds that Curtis Lemay gave bad advice during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Perhaps that’s the right take on Lemay, but it’s not relevant to today’s policy discussions.

Perhaps our disagreement is about our frame of reference. I am inclined to focus on our current policy discourse, with reference to the two parties. You might be more focused on what “conservatives” and “liberals” think generally.

#21 Comment By Jon On August 30, 2012 @ 10:29 am

That warming is ‘bad’.

If widespread famine caused by crop failures, resulting in the death of hundreds of millions (or billions) can’t be described as “bad” then what other meaning for “bad” can you possibly come up with that still has any meaning at all?

#22 Comment By Kevin Dunn On August 30, 2012 @ 10:40 am

Yeah. And try convinvcing a leftist of the following:

That the Rosenbergs snd Alger Hiss were guilty;

That Joe McCarthy was basically correct;

That Franco saved Spain from a Communist dictatorship;

That FDR gave Stalin the Balkans and possibly Eastern Europe;

That pulling out of South Vietnam led to concentration-camps and blood-baths in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia;

That China’s “Agrarian Reformers” under Mao Tse Tung killed 65 million people;

That the Watergate whistle-blowers were traitors who paralysed their country’s policy and lost a war we had been winning.

It’s not the right who are idiots.

#23 Comment By Andrei Petrovitch On August 30, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

Proud liberal democrat here, discovering this site for the first time. Good article here – I may not necessarily agree with all of Chappell’s opinions, but I like that he challenges mine. Well done.

#24 Comment By cavalier973 On August 30, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

*Darwin got it right. There is no scientifically credible challenge to the general theory of evolution.*

Except, of course, for the fact that it has never actually been observed. And I’m not talking about the “this bacteria turned into a TOTALLY DIFFERENT bacteria over the course of our experiments.” I’m talking about “we have actually observed, in the laboratory or (better yet) in nature the descendents of fish change into amphibians.

Of course, one can’t observe such a phenomenal change, because evolution “takes so long to happen”. In other words, Darwinism is non-falsifiable. Doesn’t mean it’s not true, just that it can’t be scientifically observed.

The presence of specific and complex information in biological systems, on the other hand, is a powerful argument for Creationism. I enjoy watching Darwinists twist themselves into pretzels trying to explain how information can arise without an intelligent agent. To which arguments I say: Don’t even bother responding to his post, because it consists of spontaneous information generated by the chancy forces of nature. You are not responding to a real person, just a collection of atoms that seemed to create a blog post. It took billions of years to happen, but, hey, given enough time, something like a “self generating blog post” is just as likely as any other form of information.

#25 Comment By Mal R On August 30, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

JoshINHB,

“Whether the scientific theory AGW is true or not is irrelevant to AGW the political issue, which reuires a series of value judgements from its believers.

Specifically:

That political effort can reverse said warming.”

Actually, Joel Rogers, a biggie among the lefty progressives admits that they could shut down the entire economy of the US and remove every car from the roads and it would matter naught to Globull Warming.

AGW isn’t rationality and it sure as hell isn’t science, its just another leftist scheme to redistribute the wealth.

#26 Comment By Sue On August 30, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

Looking at 200 years or less of global climate and saying we are threatening to bake the planet with greenhouse emissions is like a drop of water added to ocean will cause a tsunami. YOU are the chicken littles. YOU are the extremists. You have minimal information, you hypothesize with shakey numbers and call them fact. Anyone with any common sense along with intelligence would question your unintelligent and sometimes fudged statistics. For all you know, the planet could become colder next year until we have another ice age. Also, you absolutely cannot make any dent in the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. Your problem is and always will be that you do not thoroughly research without prejudice the facts.

#27 Comment By Jarrod On August 30, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

How does “loyalty” and “priority” possibly explain a “dogged resistance”? “Priority” would imply that climate change rates among the concerns of the conservative in question, albiet below abortion, and I’m sure you’re not suggesting that conservatives can only deal with one issue at a time (and doggedly resist the issues that aren’t the focus of their present attentions). I can’t make sense of the analysis presented here.

Following this non sequitur, is the suggestion in the following sentence that abortion is self-evidently a more pressing issue than climate change. Honestly, how can an imagination be so limited? A cursory glance at even the conservative estimates of impact would, if your “priority” is human well-being and not dogmatic ideology, reveal that climate change will impose far more suffering. Apparently the author needs images to jolt his empathy, which in turn neglects the unseen (and unimagined) future generations who will enjoy our legacy of a diminished and less hospitable biosphere, unstable weather and, yes, increased infant mortality. Seriously have you read any of the literature on this?

And then to close this initially noble and promising, then equivocal, then schizophrenic piece, we’re given a revealing capitulation that would, ironically, serve perfectly as the caption for the title image.

“If this is where Enlightenment reason takes us, Chris Mooney can have it. Count me on the side of superstition.”

I think it went without saying by this stage.

#28 Comment By Mr. Patrick On August 30, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

Conservatives seem perfectly ready to accept that purposeful actions have unintended consequences. Yet they seem taken aback at the idea that thoughtless action may entail the same.

#29 Comment By Henry Chappell On August 30, 2012 @ 10:38 pm

Mr. Patrick, well-said. Thank you.I like that.

#30 Comment By Nicole A Murray On August 31, 2012 @ 11:53 am

Sorry, Henry, I’m not aware of these vast cash-grabbing opportunities that merely require me to get impregnated; carry a fetus/human (depending on your politics!) inside my boy for nine months; expel it from said body; and feed, cloth, and shelter it for 18 years, alone. Had I only known it was that simple and beneficial!! What’s the max number of children I can have before I start losing on this investment? Is this an economies of scale thing? Gosh. I can’t wait to get started.

#31 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

Conservatives invented Conservapedia just to create a reality that reflected their own worldview instead of the one the rest of the world lives in. As the saying goes, facts have a liberal bias.

#32 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

“its just another leftist scheme to redistribute the wealth.”

Yes, whenever there’s an inconvenient truth, there’s always a massive global conspiracy that can always explain it away, right?

#33 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

“The progressive inclination is to think they can control EVERYTHING even Mother Nature with laws and regulations is laughably irrational and also incredibly damaging to people all over the world.”

Hey whatever happened to that hole in the ozone layer? Did it just go away on its own?

#34 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

“A trillion to address a maybe global warming problem or hundreds of billions to do clean water in Africa NOW that will save tens of millions of lives NOW. We can’t do both.”

It’s false to assume that many of the solutions cost anything. They merely need a change in the way it’s allocated. Efficiency is the absolute largest area for immediate gain and actually reduces energy costs. Solar can be installed in sunny areas for less than the cost of grid power. Cogeneration (delivering electricity and the heat which would be normally wasted) is another form of efficiency that saves money today. The “all or nothing” is a false choice between “we have to do everything or we do nothing.” Solutions exist in a continuum, not in the binary.

#35 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

Nathan: I’m sorry all this is charming but I oppose climate change because I don’t think the case has been made for it and I’m in good company.

From the article: “The results were stark: When the fake scientist’s position stated that global warming is real and caused by humans, only 23 percent of hierarchical-individualists agreed the person was a ‘trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.’ Yet 88 percent of the egalitarian-communitarians accepted the same scientist’s alleged expertise.”

You didn’t read that, did you?

#36 Comment By Mal R On August 31, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

Joe, global conspiracy huh?

Nah, you dont need to look any further than the Chicago Carbon exchange setup by the likes of AlGore.

#37 Comment By Mal R On August 31, 2012 @ 5:13 pm

Oh, and the taxes liberals are are so willing to collect in exchange for the rigth to expel carbon. Not to go back into
fighting carbon’ or anything like that mind you, but just another tax scam used to redistribute to your cronies.

#38 Comment By Paul On August 31, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

Books like this strike me as a kinder version of old-school eugenics. We won’t sterilize or kill those stupid conservatives, just convince the undecideds of their inferiority.

Trying to neatly classify people into one of two groups seems at best quixotic, and at worst, idiotic. The conclusions seem pretty straightforward: liberal mostly good, conservative mostly bad.

I just don’t get why conservatives won’t trust the scientific community that tells them how closed-minded and stupid they are…

#39 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

“We won’t sterilize or kill those stupid conservatives, just convince the undecideds of their inferiority.”

Comparing scientists to those who would commit genocide does little to advance your cause.

#40 Comment By Joe On August 31, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

“Nah, you dont need to look any further than the Chicago Carbon exchange setup by the likes of AlGore.”

Oh no! Another market-based solution! How incredibly liberal of him!

#41 Comment By Richard J. Johnson On September 1, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

This article and the responses to it are unsettling. Most are speaking to different interpretations of the author’s points, or to others’ responses. So yes, I suppose there are fundamental differences between people as reflective in their responses to statements and ideas.

Spurning one’s spawning is abject self hatred. If one hates oneself, one usually will hate one’s parents and by extension one’s people and their culture. And it is the rejection of the traditional culture and its attendent civilization that is the true motive force behind liberalism and its pratitioners today. Most are WINOs, White In Name Only. Every “people” MUST prefer, that is affirm their own, or they will cease being a distinct people. This is the writ of nature. But the “ceasing” is the modern left’s goal and driving purpose. Contrast this with Solzhenitsyn’s Noble lecture. Diversity of nations is a blessing, but diversity within a nation is an oxymoron.

My own view (expressed in REDOUBTS) is that the simple bell shaped curve of natural attributes demonstrates that nature is biased to what is derived from what was, rather than to what could be. If otherwise, the curve would be inverted, and that would cause termination of species in one generation. But circumstances and environment change, it being a dynamic world with both change and tradition present and alternating, so change is desirable and necessary when the tradition no longer serves. But the burden is always on change, not tradition.

#42 Comment By Dan Andrews On September 2, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

The guy who thinks AGW is a theory (it is a 100 yr + old prediction based on the laws of physics and chemistry which are older still), the person who thinks creationism actually has some scientific basis (science deals with the natural world, soon as you evoke an outside entity you are no longer doing science regardless of whether or not that entity exists), suffer from the same thing: Lack of knowledge concerning the very fundamentals of that which they are disputing.

When you can’t even get the fundamentals right, why do you think your opinion is worth anything? Maybe you should actually crack open a beginner physics or chemistry or biology textbook before handing ammunition to writers like Mooney.

By the way, it was a pleasure to read a review of a book that the reviewer has read and thought about. Mooney is still young and his views are still evolving as I’ve seen him distance himself from some earlier ideas. I hope I’m around to see what Mooney + 10 years says about Mooney of 2012. You have to like a writer who has strong opinions but who demonstrates they can change them when evidence presents itself.

#43 Comment By FactsNotFallacies On September 5, 2012 @ 6:38 am

Confirmation bias at it’s best.

#44 Comment By Bob Policy On November 26, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

There is an aspect of circular reasoning in this dispute.

Conservatives, by the nature of their viewpoints, are skeptical about change that leads to more government intrusion.

Liberals, by the nature of their viewpoints, favor viewpoints that lead to state solutions on a grand scale.

These cognitive biases are useful if not too extreme in the face of persuasive evidence.

So, for example, some Conservatives will get on board when the nation is at war, and some Liberals are inclined to get on board when free speech is threatened.