This post will not be interesting to everyone. Because it is not so much about science as about the corruption of science by today’s academic establishment. It was inspired by several things including a discussion at WUWT recently regarding Lewandowsky’s latest salvo against those who dispute the consensus view of global warming and impending catastrophe. He and Oreskes were railing against the “seepage” of the “pause” notion into the alarmist narrative, thereby diluting the message in advance of the Paris COP.
That reminded me of a Tom Wolfe book in which he skillfully dissected the descent of rationality and objectivity at the hands of modern academia. And I began to see the connection to climate change hysteria. The ruling force is “political correctness”, which translates into going along to get along in your tribe. And in the extreme, it means subordinating science and rationality to instincts of the herd, their fears, disappointments and desires to rule the day.
A recent development is the admission, consciously or not, that climate change is not a scientific matter; it is rather a competition between narratives as to where we are as a civilization and what will be our future. When Jane Fonda or the Pope or Naomi Klein says that climate change is the defining issue of our time, they are appealing to one narrative, the environmentalist story of humanity despoiling the Eden granted to us. And in order to save the planet and all life forms from extinction, the capitalist, consumer society has to be unplugged and abandoned.
The damage to science is extreme: the premise of knowing objective reality is overturned by modern scholarship. All is relative, and in the end it is simply a matter of opinion: consensus.
The back story to all this is a development over several decades: the entrenchment in western universities of “post-normal” ideology. And this is what Tom Wolfe describes when he talks of the rise of Rococo Marxism.
What are Rococo Marxists? Wolfe refers to a peculiar development among American intellectuals who wanted to join European leftists in fighting tyranny, but found no obvious villains in American society.
“After World War I, American writers and scholars had the chance to go to Europe in large numbers for the first time. They got an eyeful of the Intellectual up close. That sneer, that high-minded aloofness from the mob, those long immaculate alabaster forefingers with which he pointed down at the rubble of a botched civilization—it was irresistible. The only problem was that when our neophyte intellectuals came back to the United States to strike the pose, there was no rubble to point at. Far from being a civilization in ruins, the United States had emerged from the war as the new star occupying the center of the world stage. Far from reeking of decadence, the United States had the glow of a young giant: brave, robust, innocent, and unsophisticated.”
“The country turned into what the Utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, the Saint-Simons and Fouriers, had dreamed about: an El Dorado where the average workingman would have the political freedom, the personal freedom, the money, and the free time to fulfill his potential in any way he saw fit. It got to the point where if you couldn’t reach your tile mason or your pool cleaner, it was because he was off on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his third wife. And as soon as American immigration restrictions were relaxed in the 1960s, people of every land, every color, every religion, people from Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, began pouring into the United States.”
“But our intellectuals dug in like terriers. Just as they had after World War I, they refused to buckle under to … circumstances. They saw through El Dorado and produced the most inspired adjectival catchups of the twentieth century. Real fascism and genocide were finished after World War II, but the intellectuals used the Rosenberg case, the Hiss case, McCarthyism—the whole Communist Witch Hunt—and, above all, the war in Vietnam to come up with … “incipient fascism”, “preventive fascism”, “local fascism” , “brink of” fascism, “informal Fascism” , “latent fascism” , not to mention the most inspired catch-up of all: “cultural genocide.” Cultural genocide referred to the refusal of American universities to have open admissions policies, so that any minority applicant could enroll without regard to GPAs and SATs and other instruments of latent-incipient-brink-of-fascist repression.”
So the intelligensia focused not on fundamental social and economic injustice, but upon the cultural trappings: gender equality, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, and the grandest manifestation, climate change.
“Today the humanities faculties are hives of abstruse doctrines such as structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, deconstruction, reader-response theory, commodification theory … The names vary, but the subtext is always the same: Marxism may be dead, and the proletariat has proved to be hopeless. They’re all at sea with their third wives. But we can find new proletariats whose ideological benefactors we can be—women, non-whites, put-upon white ethnics, homosexuals, transsexuals, the polymorphously perverse, pornographers, prostitutes (sex workers), hardwood trees—which we can use to express our indignation toward the powers that be and our aloofness to their bourgeois stooges, to keep the flame of skepticism, cynicism, irony, and contempt burning. This will not be Vulgar Marxism; it will be … Rococo Marxism, elegant as a Fragonard, sly as a Watteau.”
“As any Fool sociologist could tell you, there are only two objectively detectable social classes in America: people above the bachelor’s-degree line—i.e., people who have graduated from four-year colleges—and people below it, who haven’t. By now people above it have learned to shrug and acquiesce to “political correctness,” to Rococo Marxism, because they know that to oppose it out loud is in poor taste. It is a … breach of the etiquette you must observe to establish yourself as an educated person.”
What a strange twist. Marx gave us the notion of ideology, which he understood to be the system of beliefs and values that the ruling class used to control the working class and ensure continued power and privileges. Today’s Marxist wannabes who are mostly in the entitled class are employing the ideology of environmentalism to mount an anti-capitalist crusade under the banner of Climate Change, advocating policies which will further the misery of the downtrodden.
Update May 4, 2016
More on academic ideology from Nicholas Kristoff NYT (here):
In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.
As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.
Matt Ridley is also concerned about the future of science:
Tom Wolfe essay in pdf can be downloaded here: