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.
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