Monday, November 12, 2007

Unearned Guilt via Environmentalism

Lubos Motl at The Reference Frame has a great post titled "Trillions for CO2 regulation and guilt propagation". In it he points out how expensive carbon mitigation really is, provides another proof that the whole AGW campaign is driven by politics not science, and shows how China may be blaming the western nations for its emissions. Mr. Motl talks about how the west should not accept this guilt because it is just typical communist propaganda as well as being inherently unjust. All true but I want to focus on the concept he correctly identifies as "guilt propagation." Regarding guilt Mr. Motl says:
This question about the propagation of "guilt" is another important aspect of this whole debate. Imagine, for a little while, that CO2 emissions are harmful. Who is responsible for the Chinese emissions? Is it the buyers?
A few paragraphs later he correctly points out that:
But one of the principles of an enlightened modern society is that guilt simply cannot propagate in this way. For example, you shouldn't be held responsible for your parents' being killers even though you have had relationships of many kinds with your parents.
On close inspection one can see that the kind of guilt Mr. Motl is referring to is unearned guilt. I want to pursue this concept further for it is indeed an "important aspect of this whole debate."

The entire AGW-equals-catastrophe movement is spread by employing two main techniques; the propagation of fear and the propagation of unearned guilt. We all know about how the greens propagate fear. Just pick up any newspaper or magazine or consult any evening news broadcast and you'll see enough half-truths, package deals, out of context assertions and nonsequiturs to fill a book of logical fallacies.

But it's the propagation of an unearned guilt that is the most insidious. The main tool used in this technique is the concept "the environment." Let's look at that concept a little closer.

My Webster's college dictionary defines 'environment' as "1.surrounding or being surrounded, 2.something that surrounds,3.all the conditions, circumstances and influences surrounding and affecting the development of an organism or group of organisms: often contrasted with heredity." We see then that the concept 'environment' is local and/or regional.

If we look around the world, we see many different species of organisms living in a discernible environment. Some even share the same environment like predators and prey or competitive species. The sum total of all these environments is what we refer to as nature. Just as there is no such thing as a global climate, only local or regional ones, so the same is true for the concept global environment. It refers to the total of all the environments.

As an aside, notice how a trick is being used with both above mentioned concepts. Both 'global climate' and 'the environment' are being sold to American citizens as if they were individual things, single entities which can be controlled with a few tweaks by knowledgeable 'experts.' But if one remembers that global climate actually refers to hundreds if not thousands of local and regional climates all dynamically interacting with each other, and it is these the enviros are claiming we must--and they know how--to control, one sees the utter absurdity of their claims. Well, the same is true for 'the environment'. And this is where the selling of unearned guilt comes in.

To get a person, or nation, to accept an unearned guilt, one must get them to believe they are responsible for something which in reality they are not. The method used is the cognitive package deal. It takes the valid meaning of environment, an organism's surroundings that influence it, and stretches its meaning to include everyone else's environments. If he accepts this new meaning, he is agreeing to be held responsible for whatever happens to anyone's environment. It is a guilt he has not earned but has accepted. Thus, if he can be told that his actions or lack of same, had a negative impact on someone's environment halfway around the world, his guilt will make him want to atone by offering sacrifices (like donating to green foundations) or performing rituals (like recycling). {The former is what the enviro movement is all about}

Just as it would be immoral to hold Antarctic penguins responsible for the environment of a tree frog in Argentina, and that frog responsible for the environment of a sparrow in Michigan, and that sparrow responsible for the environment a Hudson Bay polar bear, so it is equally immoral to hold a man in New York responsible for the environment in Miami, or that Miami man responsible for the environment in Tokyo. It isn't their environment. They are not responsible for it. And no one should accept an unearned guilt from anyone for any reason.

Lubos Motl nailed it when he said:
Guilt for well-defined sins must be localized to those who are really responsible.

(I am indebted to Peter Schwartz for his identification of 'the environment" as a cognitive package deal in his lecture set "Clarity in Conceptualization: The Art of Identifying 'Package-Deals'" which can be purchased here.)

Update: fixed a typo in headline.


Burgess Laughlin said...

1. "... there is no such thing as a global climate, only local or regional ones, so ..."

I don't follow this point. Isn't "climate" usually the name of a certain generalization; and doesn't it usually mean the average (or mean) of particular weather conditions over an extended period of time, perhaps one human generation or more?

What differentiates "climate" from "weather" is time. "Global," "regional," and "local" identify another line of differentiation: geographic space.

2. "... the same is true for the concept global environment."

Is "global environment" really a concept, even a pseudo-concept? It is certainly an idea, but isn't it a "qualified instance of a concept" (as Ayn Rand describes in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 23, 71, and 177), rather than a concept?

In other words, isn't "global environment" two concepts, one ("global") qualifying the other ("environment") by describing the geographic extent (as you have done with "local" and "regional")?

It is true that sometimes individuals (mistakenly) use two words to name one idea, but that doesn't seem to be the case here, as the qualifiers "global," "regional," and "local" suggest. In fact, "global environment" is usually used as an identifier of a particular fact, just as "east coast of the U.S." is used -- almost as a proper name, but without the capitalization.

Thank you for your analysis of environmentalist ideas. The scientific issues are very complex and the science is in its early stages, The environmentalists, however, are not scientists, no matter how much they might cite some scientists. They deserve the most rigorous scrutiny from laymen.

Burgess Laughlin

Mike N said...

I think your definitions are pretty much correct. It's always been my understanding that climate is the wider context into which weather is integrated.

You say "What differentiates "climate" from "weather" is time." I would add range or as you mention, geographic space. So climate then is the sum total of all the weather forcings in a geographical range and in a given time span. But I don't think you can have an average mean climate. You can have an average rainfall, ave. temp., ave. cloudiness etc., but those are weather averages. I don't see how you could have an average mean climate. I don't have a problem with these definitions. My problem is that these are not the meanings being conveyed to the public by the media, pols, and some scientists.

When someone says we must stop climate change, I want to ask "Which climate?" "Whose climate?" I want them to admit they want to prevent all climates from changing, for they are what exist in reality. Seen in that light, the goal of preventing climate change becomes rediculous.

The same is true for global environment. I can't count the times I've heard the phrase "We must protect 'the environment'" Again, I want to ask "Which environment?" "Whose environment?" I want them to admit they are really talking about everyone's environment and in the process trying to make everyone responsible not only for their own environment but for everyone else's too. And that's wrong.

I am responsible for my environment. I keep my yard and street clean. When I go to a park or go fishing, I leave no trace of me there. But I am not responsible when others don't behave the same way say in another park or fishing hole, especially when their mess is now included in the meaning of "the environment" for which I am to be held responsible. That is exactly what concepts like "climate change" and "the environment" are designed to accomplish.

Perhaps an anology is in order. Ayn Rand once correctly pointed out that the concept 'society' does not refer to an entity that exists in reality, but rather is a figure of speech we humans use to better visualise a number of individuals living in a given geographical area under the same government. Despite this truth, we still see intellectuals treating society as a real entity which incurs costs as a result of us exercising our right to life, liberty and property requiring the government to regulate how we do it. This is wrong of course.

That is what I see happening with "global climate" and "the environment." These two concepts are just figures of speech to help us visualize a number of climate and environmental aggregates. They can be used honestly as I suspect some scientists do. But I want to warn other laymen like myself to beware of the dishonest use of those concepts. That purpose is to throw a guilt trip on them. I don't want them to fall for it.

In closing, I want to thank you Burgess, for what I consider a positive comment and apologize for not making myself clearer the first time.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Mike said: "But I don't think you can have an average mean climate. You can have an average rainfall, ave. temp., ave. cloudiness etc., but those are weather averages. I don't see how you could have an average mean climate." [Bold added]

Perhaps we are having a miscommunication. I don't recall saying we could have "an average mean climate." The phrasing I used was "average (or mean)" and, unless I slipped up in typing, I certainly would not have said "average climate" or "mean climate" because those phrases would have been redundancies (a "climate" is an averaging or calculated mean of particular weather numbers such as temperature).

Beyond that, I think we are in agreement.

Thank you for the article. It helps laymen like me to clarify my limited understanding of the issues. Unfortunately, there is little I can do except, as a student of history for more than 50 years, watch the lunacy spread.

Environmentalism, as a movement, is a great success in terms of influencing behavior, just as alchemy and astrology were during the Renaissance. It will pass, I hope, with time and the persistence of all those, like you, who fight it, just as the occult "sciences" lost favor gradually in the centuries after the Renaissance.

Burgess Laughlin

Mike N said...

You're right. I misunderstood your idea on climate and average. sorry bout that.

I agree that environmentalism will some day pass but I think there may be convulsions first. There are too many people and too much money invested in it for the movement to go quietly.

Anyway, thanks for the support and keep up your efforts to bring knowledge of Aristotle and his ideas to our culture.