Monday, June 9, 2014

The Psychology of Meteorology

Science would be complicated and distorted  by being given a sociopsychological twist.  [But] Popper had suggest that, in some cases, such as that of flying saucers, ‘the explanation needed may not be of flying saucers, but of reports of flying saucers.’
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 248

Les faits ne pénètrent pas dans le monde où vivent nos croyances;  ils peuvent leur infliger les plus constants démentis  sans les affaiblir.
-- Marcel Proust, Du coté de chez Swann (1913)

A while back, I conceived a series of essays, to be titled “Depth Psychology of the Electorate”;  but abandoned the project as too difficult.   Since then, I have simply been downloading the stray articles that attempt something of the sort.  The most recent is one by Paul Krugman, “Interests, Ideology And Climate”;  and it is worth calling out  since, apart from such merits as it inherently may possess, it is currently the #1 Most Emailed article on the website of the New York Times.

The problem he sets himself is to explain the intense opposition (or, to change the emphasis in a subtle way that points to the real problem here, the intensity of the opposition) to scientific assertions of global climate change, and political attempts to do anything about the current and projected environmental consequences.

Now, let us not follow Dr. Krugman  immediately into that maelstrom,  but prepare the ground logically;  which in this case, means also psychologically.

Whenever someone X maintains some proposition P,  we may ask ourselves, Why does X maintain that P?   For ease of reference, let us label the questioned state-of-affairs “A”:

            (A) X maintains that P.   

The simplest proposal -- the most (psycho)logically parsimonious, the most epistemically (as well as humanly) charitable -- the epistemological Null Hypothesis, we may say --  is this:

            (B)  X believes that P.

And the simplest explanation for B (whose truth in turn we now assume, for the sake of the argument) is

            (C)  P is true, or anyhow likely or at least plausible.

If, then, we were somehow to learn the falsity of (C) (thus, the truth of “Not-C”), we would have the problem of explaining  (B) -- X’s belief in P despite all that.  That explanation might involve his being ignorant, misinformed, unintelligent, debarred by ideology from admitting something like (P), psychologically traumatized against entertaining the possibility of (P), or what have you.  (Such causes need not be nearly so invidious as they might sound:  Prior to the 19th century, virtually everyone including scientists disbelieved a host of propositions which we entertain today, in Quantum Theory or what have you.  Ignorance is, broadly, simply the absence of omniscence.)   And if, by contrast, we were somehow to learn the falsity of (B),  then the truth or falsity of (C) would become irrelevant, and we would seek an entirely different explanation for this abnormal state of affairs, namely that of someone publically proclaiming something he does not in fact believe.  As: X is joking; X is lying for some self-gain; X was paid to maintain that P, or threatened with bodily harm were he to fail to maintain it;  X is delusional, and says things without even realizing their meaning, etc. None of these states of alethic/cognitive dissonance, are especially interesting for the general theory of political economy or psychology.  But at least we have set up all our chessmen, on a clean board.

[Note:  As regards (C) => (B), I am well aware of such refinements as this:

True as well as false beliefs  require explanation, as Gibbon insisted.  None the less, the strategy of explanation must take into account whether or not the beliefs are true.
-- Ernest Gellner, The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985; 2nd edn. 1993), p. 219

but in the interests of keeping things as simple as possible -- which is to say, alas, not very -- I shall ignore such details here.]

So, we have arrived at our first level of analysis:

(1) The denialists maintain P  -- here: the denial of the thesis of ongoing and continuing Global Climate Change -- because the thesis that they are denying,  is bogus.

Such is the analysis  of the climate-change-denialists themselves, such as Michael Crichton.  (That is:  presumably  that is their stance, barring an aberrant A-though-not-B scenario such as discussed above.  But the reason we dismissed such scenarios as being of any general interest, is that they are, by nature, the sort of thing that typically obtains  only of a person here, a person there, and not half the citizenry.  --  Although, at a deeper and murkier level, we shall ourselves actually suggest something of the sort.)

Now we move away from the generally valid (psycho)logical, and consider the contingent empirical situation we find ourselves in today.   In brief and without argument (for nothing depends on the precise degrees of justification of the various subpropositions that compose the overall position),  the general scientific (and, lagging behind it, political) consensus is that:  eppur’ si mouve;  something is afoot; there are rumblings and grumblings on Mount Olympus, from whence cometh our weather.  In short:    Not-C. 

So now those who accept “A but Not-C” are obliged either to shrug in annoyance, or to attempt to explain this curious state of affairs.   For purposes of anaphora, let us label it  in turn:

            (Conundrum I)  A but Not-C

  And the prevalent hypothesis among the liberal commentariat, is pecuniary:   The denialists are less concerned about the planet, or future generations, than about the plenitude of their present pocketbook.

So, we have arrived at our second level of analysis:

(2)  The denialists deny the thesis of global climate change [despite its truth or plausibility] for reasons of economic self-interest.

Satisfied that they have adequately debunked the position of the denialist -- content that they have torn aside the mask, such as that which might shroud the vote of a legislator who pushes public support to a shaky enterprise  that turns out to be owned by his wife -- most newspaper-readers and op-editorialists will go off and celebrate with a drink, the day’s work done.

Dr. Krugman, however, is not satisfied with that.   For one thing, he is an economist, and has examined the numbers, which turn out not to amount to all that much.  Here he tells it in his own words:

I’ve noted in earlier columns that every even halfway serious study of the economic impact of carbon reductions — including the recent study paid for by the anti-environmental U.S. Chamber of Commerce — finds at most modest costs. Practical experience points in the same direction. Back in the 1980s conservatives claimed that any attempt to limit acid rain would have devastating economic effects; in reality, the cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide was highly successful at minimal cost. The Northeastern states have had a cap-and-trade arrangement for carbon since 2009, and so far have seen emissions drop sharply while their economies grew faster than the rest of the country. Environmentalism is not the enemy of economic growth.

So!  We have a problem;  though at this point it might seem no bigger than a man’s hand.    If we are curious about the way the world works, and the mind, we are obliged to ask the following question:

The owners of coal mines and coal-fired power plants do have a financial interest in blocking environmental policy, but even there the special interests don’t look all that big. So why is the opposition to climate policy so intense?

(And for "intense" read here, additionally,  emotional.  That is an additional explicandum -- an additional datum to be explained.  Many people, for example,  quite stoutly maintain that 2 + 2 = 4, but they are not ... emotional about it.  There is more of a puzzle here than might at first appear.)

Krugman now moves beyond a crudely economic or ‘vulgar Marxist’ explanation of Denialism, and attempts a foray into analysis in terms rather of ideology:

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

So far so good.   But one thing our logical-framework, if-P-then-Q approach fails to do, is to give any sense of the feeling-tone connected with these various propositions.   Dr. Krugman goes on:

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

And that, indeed, introduces yet a second, or deeper, explicandum, which swiftly takes us beyond the limits of ordinary economic or political analysis.  Namely

            (Conundrum II)  Not-C, yet A-while-foaming-at-the-mouth.

(You see that mere logic  is helpless here.  Aristotle must now pass the baton to Freud.)

Krugman adds the following richly suggestive remarks:

 The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.

And there, basically, his analysis ends, at least for now.


And so:  I downloaded that article, saving it to a “Depth Psychology of the Electorate” file for possible future use, should I ever to return to the subject.  Krugman’s article takes an honorable place beside the book by Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas (which we examined here).

And yet and yet …  The more I pondered the matter, the more it seemed:  Our spade has been turned too early.

The attempt to dig beyond that recalcitrant layer  where our honorable excavator chose to stop, will take us into deep waters, with nothing like certain answers.   Indeed, my goal will be simply, properly to frame the question (being in this influenced, in part, by the philosopher-historian R.C. Collingwood, whose autobiography I just finished reading).    In the meantime,  fasten the seatbelts on your (psycho)analytical bathyscaph, and join us in a dive to the depths:

(Additionally, there are some miscellaneous musings about climate change in general here, though these do not go very deep.)


To resume:
Dr Krugman’s quest for an explanation that went beyond the glib and shallow pecuniary one (“They just don’t want to pay anything to address the problem”) began with a purely empirical look at the economic facts.  And while, at a stretch, those facts might extend so far as to explain (I), it could not explain (II) -- a much more interesting conundrum, to anyone psychologically inclined, though not the sort of thing normally addressed by economists.

So let us do likewise.    And indeed, we have not far to look, before we encounter a problem with the “miffed Libertarians” argument.   For indeed, there are literally hundreds if not thousands  of government regulations  that limit absolute economic freedom, and that generally cost somebody something (if only freedom of ill-advised action, as in the requirements that banks maintain at least a little something in the till, or that drivers be licensed and have insurance),  from antitrust legislation, truth-in-lending regulations, the Pure Food and Drug Act, expiration dates on the labels of medicine bottles, et cetera et cetera.   And while these may produce some grumbling (mostly from those whose pocket-books are impacted -- major and minor polluters and the like), they do not produce anything like the frenzy, the fury, that characterizes the rants of the Denialists.   So what is going on?

First, it seems clear that the intensity of fury directed by the Denialists against proponents of the reality of climate change, must have something to do with

            (i) the role that climate itself plays in their lives
            (ii) the nature of said proponents.

(ii) is surely a lesser matter, but I mention it  both because  Krugman himself points to that factor (Populist hatred for the proponents in this case, quite apart from what they are proposing:  viz. scientists and intellectuals), and because, more generally in America these days,  a certain category of the electorate -- and to a great extent it is the same category of the electorate -- can be relied upon to attack virtually any proposition if the proponent who champions it equals “Obama”.

So, let us look further at (i).
As worded, it seems bland;  but at that level of generality, it is nearly useless.  For after all, in a practical sense, climate (and weather generally) affects all of us.  That’s why folks retire to Florida or Arizona.   Simply on that basis, you would expect the most vociferous alarm at ongoing global warming  to come from penguins and polar bears (who have not been polled) and from Gulf states like Texas, which are being especially hard-hit.   And yet, not so:  those Americans who are already most being hurt by recent climate developments, are not by any means in the forefront of demand for action. 
We need, therefore, to proceed beyond the practical role that climate plays in our lives, and consider the metaphorical/spiritual/psychological role it plays.  


Once again, let us first step back, and consider a simpler case.   Suppose that the proponents (and, here, actually the enforcers) of a certain suite of regulations affecting the townspeople of a given town, are the elected authorities of that town, and that their authority is widely seen as legitimate (thus eliminating consideration of that pesky condition (ii)).   Such regulations might include:

            (a)  Put out your garbage at the curb, no earlier than Monday, for collection on Tuesday.
            (b)  No building-materials, dead cats, or TV sets  permitted among your recyclables.
            (c)  Keep your sidewalk shoveled and your lawn mowed.
            (d)  No loud parties after midnight except on Saturdays.
            (e)  If you repaint your house, the color must be pre-approved by the town council.
            (f)  If you own a dog, you must pick up after it poops on the sidewalk, keep it on a leash when off your own property, and not let it bark all night long.

All  of these will cause grumbling from some people.   (To take a wry example from our own town:  A friend of mine, call her X, was annoyed at having had to pay a fine for putting garbage out by the curb too early, the evidence for this being a photograph supplied to the town council by her neighbor Y, a woman with whom she had been feuding.   Adding salt to the wound was the fact that the refuse in question was actually put there by Y, in front of X’s house.)   But usually no more than grumbling.   For instance, (e) [an actual rule of our nanny-state town] might inspire the most widespread opposition, because it seems like overreach, but the resistance will be largely of a Kantian kind, rather than intensely personal and emotional.  (With exceptions:  Back when my family lived near Springfield, Massachusetts, one notorious case involved a homeowner who, enraged at the restriction, painted his house purple and nailed white paper plates to serve as polka-dots all over it.  But the point is, such exceptions are outliers, statistically rare.)
Of greater interest to observers of political psychology, are cases where the opposition is intense and personal, even if not widespread.    
 Thus, consider (f).  A number of citizens might object to this fairly strongly;  unsurprisingly, this cohort will correlate strongly with the population of dog-owners.  So far, no surprises.  But now consider those who are absolutely enraged by that regulation.   That is more interesting.  I would predict that such intense wrathful resentment will correlate with … think about it… the breed of dog owned:  relatively strong among owners of pit bulls and dobermans, relatively weak among the owners of cocker spaniels.  This correlation, then, will itself require explanation, and is at last sufficiently specific to lend itself to interesting and probing analysis, where the more vague and broad-brush states of affairs  would not produce cogent results.   And the analysis in this example would have to go well beyond considerations of political-party affiliation, acknowledged pronouncements, and probably even of the subjects’ conscious awareness.   Here the analytic path leads deeper, downwards -- descensis Averno (noctes atque dies  patet atri ianua Ditis).  But that path we shall not tread.


In a sense, I ought to stop right here, since I have no real elucidation to offer, for the depth-psychology of the Denialists.   Further, it is not a matter I should even care to investigate, since that would involve wading  hip-deep  into the fever-swamps of some pretty cognitively challenged and rebarbative people.    (As it happens, I am obliged by professional necessity, every day, to analyze the communications of a different set of cognitively challenged and rebarbative people, but at least I get paid for that.)  But before falling silent (or rather, like a proper cobbler, returning to my last, which is mostly linguistics), I shall toss out some suggestions for possible lines of inquiry, by those more inclined or qualified to pursue them.


To begin on the relatively firm ground of statistics rather than depth-psychology: 
Most of us Americans who are of middle-age or older, will not personally experience great changes in our day-to-day lives as a direct effect of global climate change -- certainly not as compared with a hundred other vicissitudes and factors.   Being personally alarmed, then, at the prospects of possible ravages that such change might effect  fifty or a hundred years hence,  will relate strongly with how closely we identify with the interests of future generations. 
Now, that is a deep-rooted and gnarly question, by no means exhausted by what anyone would state explicitly, or would even be conscious of.   So  pursuit down that path is largely blocked, for the same reason that investigation of any matter relating to the depth-psychology of large populations (as opposed to an individual analysand, whom the analyst can probe at will) is blocked.   But a much simpler scenario arises when you believe (when you believe that you have reason to believe) that there aren’t going to be any future generations.
Thus, if I were to come to know with certainty, that an asteroid the mass of Mars was hurtling on a direct and undeflectable collision-path with Earth, with impact predicted to be on such and such a date one year from now (far too short a time for scientists and engineers to devise and test effective counter-measures), that would certainly affect my attitude towards all sorts of matters concerning the future of terrestrial affairs.  I would not be fretting about the prospects for my grandson’s getting into Stanford;  indeed, I would not even (mirabile dictu) give a hoot about recycling.
Now, that scenario is far-fetched, but a related one is in fact quite widespread, among folks who doubt there will be future generations much longer, since the Rapture (or Armageddon) is expected any day now.   And that population is especially well-represented among the ranks of climate-change deniers.   The effect is even heightened if, more than mere indifference towards future generations, you nurse an actual hostility:  as, a Rapturist who positively looks forward to gazing down from Heaven upon those no-good infidel Left-Behinders, writhing in the blazing heat and plagues of insects. (Too hot for them, eh?  Gonna be a lot hotter where they're going!)
But now, have a care.    Harboring that belief  would certainly go a long way towards explaining a person’s relative indifference to the eventual effects of climate-change, but (at least logically) not to the denial of its factuality -- that is, not to Conundrum I.   For some individuals (but by now the numbers must be falling off), it might further lead, from sheer orneriness,  to irritated dismissal of all this talk about such change (rather the way, from sheer annoyance, an impenitent meat-eater may brush aside wifely warnings that that next cheeseburger will likely kill him, without actually going into any evaluation of statistical probabilities).   But it would not clarify Conundrum II -- it would not explain the rage.
So, a blind alley.  

Let’s try a somewhat different approach -- though related, since still touching upon the “I’m alright, Jack” factor.
Among those Americans most likely (though still, not very) to be affected by global warming in their own lifetimes, are those who own a beachfront home.  (Even then, they have less to worry about in the short term  from rising seas, than from the ordinary effects of wind and waves.)   So, on that purely pecuniary/prudential basis, you might expect such a population to be somewhat more likely to be found among the Denialists, than those who live a safe distance from the shore.
And yet, here the statistical facts are (I expect) exactly the opposite:  Inhabitants of places like New York, or Martha’s Vinyard, or San Francisco, are less likely to be Denialists than their fellow-citizens off in Omaha, not more.  -- I am pulling the stats frankly out of my ass, here, but the point is, this is the sort of thing which is easy to investigate, with no psychology or clever analysis involved, via simple polling techniques.  Find out who-all are the denialists, and where-all they reside.  I predict (a nicely "falsifiable" prediction) that the mere actuarial statistics of geography-related vulnerability to the effects of climate change, will not correlate neatly at all with attitudes.


So let us recircle back to that original question, “the role that climate itself plays in their lives”, and --suitably instructed by our results thus far -- broaden this notion of the role played in lives past the simple empiricist considerations of the effect on the price of tomatoes and whether certain noxious weeds and diseases are creeping ever further northward.   Let us consider -- and not specially from a tree-hugger perspective, either -- that what the proponents of the reality of global climate-change are claiming, is that it is indeed global -- that it will affect the globe, this terraqueous orb on which we live and die.
And now things begin to get interesting …

Signs in the sky ...

Quite apart from any present discomfort to ourselves, or future discomfort to our progeny,  the prospect of a significant change to the surface of this planet  points to the possibility of extinctions:  of Man, to be sure, as a distant contingency, but more immediately of other creatures, such as our vulnerable friends the amphibians, who are already dying off here and there.   In particular, it means that our planet is still evolving;  and thus, the question of each individual’s psychological connection with this planet and its evolution.   This leads to two quite separate considerations.

The first is comparatively superficial:  namely, that being a climate-denialist correlates fairly strongly with being an evolution-denialist; and climatic evolution is one kind of evolution.
Not, however, of the kind that has historically been most sensitive.  And of all the possible challenges to Creationism, certainly the idea of Global Warming must rank very far down on the list, compared with extant geological and paleobiological evidence.   No, this cannot be the smoking gun -- not for the denialists’ outright rage, at any rate, though it might help explain the general feeling of discomfort and distaste associated with the climate-change scenario.   (In a similar fashion:  I am averse to vegetarianism, practically because I like my steak -- and like it rare, its red juice seeping richly into the fries -- but psychologically, also, because I dislike its association with soupy, moping, hippy-dippy noöbotanical tie-dyed bead-wearing neurasthenic gynocratic renunciationism.)

The second goes deeper, parting from the conscious realm:  and here accordingly, we depart from firm ground.

So let us focus on this image of extinction,  not as a cognitive, evidential element in the question of Natural Selection, but as a deeply personal and unsettling gut issue   -- for however controversial on the public square, Darwinism is not an issue of fear for the young, unless they are specifically taught to fear it. 

Now, the prototypical extinction, even for adults, and the only one that really matters to children, is that of the dinosaurs.   And the classic imagery of that, burned into memory from the first time you see it, is in Fantasia;  you can witness this indelible masterpiece here:

It is, notice, an extinction by heat;  and it is unbearable.   (True, here we are but casting about, and grasping at straws;  yet we do believe that Dr Freud and Dr Jung might be pricking up their ears at this point.)

It wasn't supposed to end this way ...

Small boys like dinosaurs, and don’t mind a spot of violence, even if one of the dinosaurs has to die:  say, in a ferocious battle between mean Mr Tyrannosaurus and brave little Triceratops.  (We shall not go on to speculate, with the Viennese, whether our young fantasist harbor in the back of his mind, a thought of turning -- the tyrannosaural patriarch slain -- to the comely and gracile Coelophysis  who has been all the while beaming admiringly from the background.)  But we never wanted to see all of them die -- all of our parents and aunts and uncles --   let alone in that degraded way.
(Dinosaurs represent our powerful parents, and our own young dreams of potency.  For oneself to perish alone in some heroic act, can fulfil a universal archetype.  But for all the generations to die together, obliterating all degree, and that passively, miserably, is intolerable.)

(All this is, of course, extracted from that same orifice, from whence I produced those demographic statistics about climate-change deniers.   I simply release the ideas  into the noösphere, like blue balloons;  for others, better positioned, to pursue  as they see fit.)

Alright -- dismiss this as the Disney Theory of Climate-denial.  (You got a better one?)  But there is more.
First, there is the very odd fact, the really baffling fact, of a subpopulation of what are known as Dinosaur Denialists : those who deny that any such creatures ever existed, that the whole thing is just some elaborate hoax.   I would predict that there is a vastly more than chance correlation between being a Dinosaur Denialist and a Climate-Change Denialist.  (That is:  Most of the former will also be among the latter.   Not vice versa, simply owing to the relative sizes of the populations.)  Indeed, this subspecies of Homo insapiens appears to be particularly thick on the ground in the state of Texas -- again contrary to naive empirical predictions, since dinosaur fossils are also especially widespread in that state.
One celebrated dino-denialist reportedly did so on the extraordinarily stupid grounds that the Bible does not mention them.  Of course, that worthy book likewise makes no mention of penguins, or racoons, or hundreds of other fine creatures whom we can observe every day (nor of iPads, for that matter).   And I do not say that by way of  logical refutation of his thesis (which lies beneath the necessity of that), but of pychological observation, that he cannot be that dumb--  that therefore something else must be going on.
[Oddly enough, there also exist Penguin Denialists;  we presented an actual text from one here:    On the Existence of Penguins. ]

[Now that we have arrived at our penguin friends (where all roads on WDJ lead eventually), it is clear that we are losing our analytic focus, and it is time to close.  As an envoi, you can view irrefutable evidence of the existence both of dinosaurs and of prehistoric penguins  here:   When Penguins Ruled the Earth.]

Something further to ponder:
(Note:  Climate change does not figure in this list.)

[Update]  I just happened upon the following passage, posing exactly the same meta-question that we do here (too much sound & fury for the controversy to be really about no more than what is mentioned explicitly), and again with the intersection of climatology and extinction:

Re the heated debate over what happened to dinosaurs (and other life-forms) at the K-T boundary:

All this might seem to be the huff and puff of scientific debate, but what has surprised me is the vituperation with which the arguments have been prosecuted .  … It is a curious parallel  that the supposed violence of the Cretaceous end  is matched by the violence of the twentieth-century exchanges. … There is a degree of outrage here which is out of proportion to the stimulus. … I can suggest something darker and more subconscious as a reason for the anger:  this is the apocalypse.
-- Richard Fortey, Life (1998), p. 252-3

[To resume]

[“Zoom out”]   Conundrum II (Prairie Populists are dreadfully upset about the assertions of climate science, despite ambiguous evidence) is in fact a special case of this:

(Conundrum III)  Prairie Populists are dreadfully upset about a lot of things;  and have ever been so.

[Examples (going back in history a bit):  bimetallism; Eastern bankers; fluoridation; UFOs and anal probes …]

Formally/arithmetically, explicating (C III) presents more of a challenge, since there is more to explicate;  a priori, each obsession requires its own separate explanation.  However, there is some chance that the specificities -- the quiddities -- of these separate obsessions, might have a common root:  exradicating which, would provide a rung towards a general explanation of all its daughter-shoots.
[In a few happy cases, just this sort of thing has happened in mathematics.  Thus, the long-standing “Fermat’s Last Theorem” (misnamed ‘theorem’:  rather, Conjecture) resisted the best efforts of analysts  until finally Andrew Wiles settled the matter, not by a frontal assault, but by proving the more general [and thus, in principle more difficult] Taniyama–Shimura conjecture, which had Fermat as a special case.]

But that is small consolation.   Just as Fermat had to await the centuries of accumulated wisdom, finally synthesized by the Sitzfleisch and genius of Wiles, so this “Conundrum III” dumps us right back in the lap of the general problem of the Depth Psychology of the Electorate, which continues to elude our own poor powers.


And thus, adjusting our headlamps,  let us descend yet another level.

Difficilis  descensus  Averno 

The Earth  -- la terre, die Erde -- is Mother Earth, la terre mère;  she is not just some tarmac to tread on.

It is bad enough that we were expelled from the womb, where we had been getting along quite nicely, thank you;  worse, that we were ever weaned;  no wine nor usquebaugh  can ever quite compensate that loss.

Any hurt to her, is a wound as well, to our own most least worst best-most  -- Ah!   But it is intolerable, to consider such things.
And to imagine that … that we might have harmed her, as proposed by those who (curse them!) speak of “human-caused” global warming…
nay but the tongue fails;  withers within dry lips.
Such a thing were past repentence.   Past wailing grim.
nothing   left    but          to          DENY  IT  (!!!)
like pummeling a lesion, to hurt the pain !!!!!!!!!!

Mor, gi meg solen!  

[The above, quite surgically calibrated effusion, is an attempt to probe the depths beyond the cortex,  guided by that most curious detail, which we hitherto have not mentioned,
that the rage of denial is especially fierce, when that clause “human-caused” is in focus.
Quite obviously, that detail would be the target of the smokestack owners;  but their calculated ire  goes small ways to explain, the bubbling bursting chest-burn of the populace at large …  As we elsewhere observed, the percentage of the effect that might be ascribable to human agency, is quite beside the point, in the matter of treating the ill:  just as we can administer aspirin, without quite knowing what caused the fever.]


Well, time to turn aside;  our toe now touches the fever-swamp of eisegesis and speculation.  And turn rather to the general (mostly conscious) area of “The best défense is a good óffense”, along with the (mostly preconscious) area of arrière-pensées.   (Here I have in mind that well-attested phenomenon, whereby the ex-Catholic or ex-Communist becomes, not an Episcopalian or Socialist, but an out-and-out atheist or neo-con:  suggesting that they had been harboring severe reservations about their own life-governing world-view  all along.)

For another conjecture presents itself, though its validity would be quite difficult to elucidate, since polling, for instance, would here be of absolutely no use.  Namely, that in their heart of hearts, many of the Denialists suspect that the Climate-Change thesis is actually largely true;  yet the thought is (for whatever reason, shallow or deep) intolerable;  and the greater the possibility that the thesis is true, the louder must be the denial.
Evidence for this conjecture (since mass individual psychoanalysis is not an option, and might not work anyway), must come from … ah but who can say … Late-night confidences in darkened bars;  revelations whispered from the pillow  while the spouse is asleep;  deathbed confessions …

~     ~     ~

So far, our analysis of climate-change denial has focused on the particularities of weather and climate in relation to the psyche (the "Take Shelter" approach).  Let us now try a different tack, more sociopolitical and less depth-psychological, and consider the following hypothesis:

(Conundrum IV)  Climate-change denialism may be an aetiological offshoot of science denialism in general.

Let me parse out what is being suggested here.  We are not claiming a syllogism of the following sort:

(a)  Population A denies thesis X.
(b)  Thesis X is currently well-supported by scientific testimony.
(c)  Ergo, Population A is likely to deny other theses Y  that meet criterion (b)

-- e.g., X = ‘climate-change is underway’, and Y = “vaccines are in general effective, and safe relative to the dangers of not getting vaccinated”.

That syllogism might have a lot of truth to it or a scant amount, but it is not our quarry here.   For indeed, each such thesis X, Y, …  there are obvious psychological and political particularities which could easily swamp the effects of a general inclination or disinclination to accept what guys in labcoats say on TV.  So, (IV) should not be taken in any glib sense as being evidently true or whatever.

Anyhow, the hunch was prompted by an article written by a physician, which just now appeared in the Washington Post.  Here is the gist of it:

The ethical negligence of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children
1 in 10 parents in the United States now forgo or delay vaccinations for their kids.

The anti-vaccination movement is a relatively new one that has taken hold over the past decade. Started by a small community of parents, it is based on myths that have been perpetuated by the power of the Internet and endorsements from celebrities such as actress Jenny McCarthy, who has suggested that vaccinations may have caused her son’s autism.

the number of people with measles had reached a record for any time since the disease was declared eliminated in this country in 2000. According to the CDC, much of the outbreak is attributable to unvaccinated people who acquired the disease during travel abroad.

Although medical facts show there is no evidence to support the argument that vaccinations aren’t safe, they aren’t enough to persuade those who are committed to their beliefs. The real problem is that the medical community is a victim of its own success: We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to disease and vaccinations. People under the age of 50 didn’t come of age in an era when these now-preventable infections were deadly. So it’s very easy for them to believe that there aren’t any ramifications to not vaccinating their children.

Hard scientific facts and trends show that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In addition to the measles outbreaks, nearly 10,000 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) have been reported to the CDC since the beginning of the year. With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it’s even more important to make sure children are immunized.

Some parents believe that vaccinating their children is a decision that only affects them and their families. Not true. Vaccinations are based on the premise of “herd immunity.”  A certain percentage of the population must be immunized to fully protect against the disease. Once that number falls below a certain level, people are at risk, especially children too young to be immunized, pregnant women and immuno-compromised individuals such as those being treated for cancer.  Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children also are putting other peoples’ children at risk along with their own younger children, whose immune systems may not be developed enough to fight off these infections.

Here we do notice a common theme between the climate-denial stance  and that of the anti-vaxxers:  namely, the “I’m all Right, Jack” attitude.  Whether it’s future generations, or Other People’s Children -- no skin off my nose, bubba.

As for the psychological profile of anti-vaxxers (assuming that it might turn out to be other than a strict statistical sample across all races and genders and ages and state-of-residency etc. in the U.S. population), I know nothing about it.  But let’s take a look.

There is just one named star anti-vaxxer in the Post article;  and her profile is important  well beyond that of any randomly selected anti-vaxxer, as being the figure that drew many others into the anti-vax movement.  To whom do these folks listen, if not to their doctors?

Ms McCarthy launched her career beginning with a gig as a nude model;  thus, in respect of qualifications for guiding the medical choices of American parents, similar to those of Dennis Rodman’s basketball background  for his current activity as State Department Minster-without-Portfolio for North Korean Affairs.   The saga is sordid beyond belief;  depressing details here:

Biochemical details:

As doctors say, dosage makes the poison. The amount of, say, formaldehyde in a typical vaccination is much less than you’d get eating an apple. The same can be shown for the other ingredients claimed to be toxins in vaccines as well. The truth is vaccines contain far too small a dose of any of these things to cause any of the problems McCarthy and other anti-vaxxers claim exist.

Also, botulinum is the single most lethal toxin known to humans. Yet McCarthy has enthusiastically praised injecting this toxin into her face.

The profile whose outlines are thus shaping up, resemble those for the Pre-School Molestation Satanic Ritual scare of the Reagan years  [ ]:
a kind of low-rent right-wing feminoid, sharply contrasting with the Michael-Crichton-et-alia outline of the climate-change deniers.

[Update 16 Feb 2015]  A nice survey of science-denial, by Joel Achenbach:

[Update 26 Feb 2015]   Although the social dynamics in Germany are quite different, there is a curiously strong anti-vaccination movement there as well:
  In Berlin grassieren die Masern – und die irrationale Angst vor dem Impfen.
 Im Blick auf die Schweinegrippe-Impfung von einem »gewaltigen Verbrechen gegen die Menschheit« die Rede, »das offenbar nur ein Ziel verfolgt: den Genozid breiter Teile der Bevölkerung«.

[Update 30 May 2015]  Re evolution-denial & climate-change denial:

The chart in question:



  1. "The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right."
    You seem to forget that this anti-intellectualism was the main source that kept us from embracing the intellectuals view of the world in the Cold War; for the majority of them viewed the idea of government regulating the economic livelihoods of every citizen as the rightful road to be taken by the ignorant suffering masses. You seem to forget how much the intellectuals were enamored of what was going on behind the Iron Courtain and how much hope they had in the success of such a system where highly evolved economists with their complex equations and world view would triumph in not only stamping out misery from this world but raise the standard of living to unprecedented levels never before experienced by man. It takes a great deal of anti-intellectualism to say no to someone who is armed with equations and reasonings that could only be understood through years of intense education but still stand firm on your belief that it is wrong and then be proved right at the end.
    Robert Heilbronner, after writing about his surprise that socialism was defeated, went on to suggest that perhaps socialism wasn’t dead after all. He proposed another way of looking at socialism. He suggested that we think of socialism “not in terms of the specific improvements we would like it to embody but as the society that must emerge if humanity is to cope with the one transcendent challenge that faces it within a thinkable timespan.” That challenge, says Heilbroner, is “the ecological burden that economic growth is placing on the environment.”
    Could it be then, that those anti-intellectuals are just opposed to these efforts to tame Global Warming for sole reason that they feel that those efforts are nothing more than another attempt of the self called intellectuals to impose their ideology of how the economy should be run?

    1. All that may be true enough, but lies rather aside from the matter at issue. For, climatologists themselves, ex cathedra, probably have no special opinion one way or the other as to how the economy should be run. Dr. Krugman and I each, in our separate ways, glanced at a politico-economic explanation of the psychosocial landscape here, and both found it poor in ore.