Jordan Peterson’s Anguish Deserves Our Empathy

Prof. Jordan Peterson in March 2018. Craig Robertson /Postmedia/File

Rex Murphy writes at National Post Rex Murphy: Jordan Peterson’s personal torment Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

I cannot think of any politician, thinker or novelist who has sent so much comfort and aspiration to so many people

It is very difficult to believe that there is anyone, except the young, who has not experienced serious illness or been witness to the suffering of a loved one. It is, alas, part of the human condition. Those who have endured such moments do not need to hear what they are like or how profoundly unsettling and painful they are.

We suffer most when those who are closest to us suffer. That is our pain, but it is also our glory that we often feel more deeply about those who we hold closest to our hearts than we feel for ourselves. No one escapes such moments. And when they do occur, people outside the close circle of the man or woman caught in pain or in peril of death register an instinctive sympathy for those so entoiled.

These are, I grant, sombre thoughts, but they occur naturally following a viewing of Mikhaila Peterson’s video about her father, Jordan Peterson’s, afflictions during the past year. Mikhaila Peterson brought dignity and poise to what was clearly an effort of great weight. I think it also worth remarking that it was good of her to be so open and direct about his circumstances, as the many who have found some strength and direction from her father’s words were anxiously waiting for some news.

It was an abrupt moment when Jordan Peterson’s world tour was halted and very many were left wondering and worrying about him. One of the singular features of Peterson’s fame was how many people felt a genuine concern for his personal welfare.

I cannot claim to be a friend of Peterson’s, except in the sense that I would wish to be so. I have met him only once, for an interview, which he gave while in some fragility and which I willingly would have foregone, and assured him so. This is not to note any generosity on my part, which is trivial in the context of his condition, but to highlight that he did the interview because he had committed to it. His doing so was a signal of his character. This is a man who’s willing to put aside his own considerations to oblige a commitment.

But the signal I received was that of a man who, while in personal turmoil, and who then was facing the possible death of his wife, in concurrence with his own fatigue following the explosion of his fame, would honour a minor engagement that could easily be deferred, because he thought he should. Unlike him, I would not have had the strength to carry it through.

But to go beyond that one small moment, I write this now as a gesture of good will towards the person I called a “good man” at the end of that exchange. He’s having a very hard time. It may be a small thing, but I think it’s only fair that someone who has helped so many others through their hard times should be offered a little acknowledgement and appreciation during his own. I seriously hope it’s not presumptuous on my part.

I cannot think of any politician, thinker or novelist who has sent so much comfort and aspiration to so many people. Peterson is not a missionary. He preaches no creed. But out of his deep reflections, his clinical experience, his dedicated exploration of why so many people are “offside,” “removed” or “isolated” in modern society, he has found some elements of a message that revives their hope and reinvigorates their sense of dignity.

I have met many people who have been spoken to by Jordan Peterson’s words. When I interviewed him, it was surely his wife and his family’s torment that were at the front of his mind. But he also carried another burden: the memories of all those he had met, however briefly, who transferred some of their pain to him. It is a true sorrow that the expense of energy he gave to his message has taxed him so, and that the tribulations of his family life combined with his fatigue came at such a cost to himself.

I am sure that in passing on regards and best wishes to Peterson that I am but a single voice speaking the words of thousands. I note that some very shallow and mean people are finding joy in Peterson’s struggle. May that joy fill their cup, as it is the vinegar of cheap minds and cheaper souls. Enjoy yourselves. Put it on your resumés that in the absence of any other purpose in life, you like to mock the pain of a better person and insult his family in a woeful moment.

Footnote:

I was appreciative of Jordan Peterson’ incisive interviews and articles, and his book Maps of Meaning inspired me a year ago to write a series of posts highlighting insights from his journey.  I excerpted text that spoke to me and added images of contempory examples in parallel to his discussions of classical myths. The first post provides an overview as well as the first theme.  Titles are links to the posts.

Cosmic Dichotomy: Peterson’s Pearls (1)

Cosmic Arena: Peterson’s Pearls (2)

Cosmic Heroes: Peterson’s Pearls (3)

Cosmic Evil: Peterson’s Pearls (4)

Cosmic Rebirth: Peterson’s Pearls (5)

In Praise of Jim Lehrer and Real News

Jim Lehrer was a trustworhty source of news and information for decades hosting the PBS News Hour along with Robin MacNeil.  The Dallas Morning News editorial explains why he was so valuable and what is so sorely missed in today’s news media.  Jim Lehrer’s old school journalism is exactly how we should still be doing it today Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

When he signed off from his long and excellent broadcasting career, Jim Lehrer was still the same sort of journalist that he started as. He was, as he put it, a newspaperman.

The term is dated now, but Lehrer described in a common term then something important about the kind of journalism he did. It was a journalism that was sober and serious, more attached to reason than emotion, and in relentless pursuit of the facts.

His journalism was rooted in the way he did his job early in his career on the city desk of the Dallas Times-Herald and the Dallas Morning News, before he sat in front of a camera at KERA and launched himself in broadcast.

The camera’s lights never changed the man or the way he did his work, and the nation was better for it.

In his years alongside Robin MacNeil and alone, Lehrer, who died today at 85, presented the news fairly, fully and with genuine balance, standing as an example of how the work should be done of both presenting and consuming information about our world.

And it stands in such stark contrast to the nonstop nonsense of bias, noise and garbage that presents itself as television news today. That is entertainment created to hold eyeballs and sell ads. And that wasn’t Jim Lehrer’s journalism.

Lehrer was of the old school. In public broadcasting he perhaps did have the same pressures that commercial television might have applied. But given his personal character and his strong sense of the ethics of journalism, we doubt any commercial calling would have fit him at all.

Every journalist practicing the craft today should listen to his words about how to do the job and do it well. Because that is exactly what he did.

Here is what he said.

People often ask me if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are, and here they are.

Do nothing I cannot defend.
Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and as good a person as I am.
Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.
Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Rest in peace, Jim Lehrer. You were a great newspaperman.

Footnote: 

After Lehrer and MacNeil left, the PBS News Hour lost its edge, went soft and biased.  When global warming/climate change arose as an issue, the new team proved unable to steer in the cross currents.  I wrote a few times to suggest names of experts who would provide a balance to the alarmists they typically interviewed.  But environmentalists in their audience (and staff?) did not want any contrary information, and the show followed the party line rather than offending or educating.  In the old days, Lehrer and MacNeil were my go to channel for political event reporting, but that also later collapsed into panels of progressives and never-Trumpers.  It’s now little different from the other news entertainment outlets, sadly.

Media Playbook: Matching Trump and Climate Hysteria

Erielle Davidson writing about latest media Trump hysteria reveals the parallels with climate reporting. Her article at the Federalist is The Media Is Always, Always Wrong About Trump And National Security. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The level of breathless misinformation and disinformation spread after Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s killing by the individuals we rely on supposedly to report facts and offer analysis in a responsible and undramatized manner was stunning. But this isn’t their first rodeo.

No, such grossly hyperbolic reporting for the sake of convincing people that Trump may have created an epically destructive policy quagmire has become the new calling card of the media. The media has shown that they cannot eviscerate Trump with factual, state-of-affairs reporting because those affairs are never quite dire enough for the media.

Similarly, for the sake of avoiding flat-out lying entirely (although it is entertaining to watch the “mistakes” go in one direction), the media is forced to cabin their criticism in fantastic projections.

Trump almost started World War III. Trump almost catalyzed the entire destruction of the Kurds. Trump almost started war with North Korea. Trump almost started a full-blown war between the Palestinian-Arabs and the Israelis. Trump almost devastated the economy by slapping tariffs on Chinese goods. See how much heavy-lifting the word “almost” is doing? It’s utterly bizarre, because these predictions never happen.

The word’s subjunctive quality has become a shield for the media as they predict wild policy outcomes that have no grounding in the facts. When President Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, we were essentially promised insurmountable bloodshed and the irrevocable destruction of any hope at peace in the region. Thankfully, we got neither. But that didn’t stop reporters from sheepishly convincing themselves that, although their prediction never achieved fruition, it still could have happened.

That is the same dance being rehearsed now on Iran. Our firefighting media know the steps so well. The beauty of almost – and its ugly step-child could have – is that these reporters never have to be right for something to be almost true.

By all accounts, President Trump’s performance vis-à-vis Iran was stunningly effective at reestablishing the policy of deterrence (rather than appeasement) in the region. However, media reporting as of late has made it abundantly clear that wild projections of what could have been will continue to far eclipse what actually was. And the only people who suffer from such bombastic “analysis” are those who are forced to rely on it, given most people’s understandably limited knowledge of Middle Eastern geopolitics.

There’s a gross irresponsibility in such “reporting” and signals the ever-growing credibility crisis of the American media. Contrary to what Time magazine published (and delivered as a push notification), there is absolutely no reason you need to “discuss” Iran with your children. The hysteria is based on lies those in the media continue to recite to themselves and are dangerously projecting upon the greater population.

No, perhaps it’s time to “discuss” Iran with our media betters instead of children, if only not to be dragged along through their hysterical meltdowns. Indeed, we would be spared the ahistorical and insufferable nonsense. At least until the next manufactured apocalypse.

Gervais Speaks Truth to Star Power

From the Daily Caller (they watched the show, while I skipped it expecting only the usual social justice charade)

Absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing on every single level. The entire opening monologue is a great example of why Gervais is the man. 

Most award shows suck. They’re absolutely awful, and it’s usually millionaires lecturing middle Americans about why they’re the problem.

Gervais just dropped about a dozen verbal missiles on the whole crowd tonight before they even realized what happened.

Thank you, Gervais! Thank you so much. It’s about time somebody just spoke the honest truth to celebrities.

Of course my highest appreciation goes for this zinger:

“If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So, if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent and your God and f**k off.”

Here’s the full transcript of the opening monologue:

“Hello and welcome to the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards, live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel here in Los Angeles. I’m Ricky Gervais, thank you.

You’ll be pleased to know this is the last time I’m hosting these awards, so I don’t care anymore. I’m joking. I never did. I’m joking, I never did. NBC clearly don’t care either — fifth time. I mean, Kevin Heart was fired from the Oscars for some offensive tweets — hello?

Lucky for me, the Hollywood Foreign Press can barely speak English and they’ve no idea what Twitter is, so I got offered this gig by fax. Let’s go out with a bang, let’s have a laugh at your expense. Remember, they’re just jokes. We’re all gonna die soon and there’s no sequel, so remember that.

But you all look lovely all dolled up. You came here in your limos. I came here in a limo tonight and the license plate was made by Felicity Huffman. No, shush. It’s her daughter I feel sorry for. OK? That must be the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to her. And her dad was in Wild Hogs.

Lots of big celebrities here tonight. Legends. Icons. This table alone — Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro … Baby Yoda. Oh, that’s Joe Pesci, sorry. I love you man. Don’t have me whacked. But tonight isn’t just about the people in front of the camera. In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world. People from every background. They all have one thing in common: They’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow. He’s coming for ya. Talking of all you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies. Surviving R. Kelly, Leaving Neverland, Two Popes. Shut up. Shut up. I don’t care. I don’t care.

Many talented people of color were snubbed in major categories. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about that. Hollywood Foreign press are all very racist. Fifth time. So. We were going to do an In-Memoriam this year, but when I saw the list of people who died, it wasn’t diverse enough. No, it was mostly white people and I thought, nah, not on my watch. Maybe next year. Let’s see what happens.

No one cares about movies anymore. No one goes to cinema, no one really watches network TV. Everyone is watching Netflix. This show should just be me coming out, going, “Well done Netflix. You win everything. Good night.” But no, we got to drag it out for three hours. You could binge-watch the entire first season of Afterlife instead of watching this show. That’s a show about a man who wants to kill himself cause his wife dies of cancer and it’s still more fun than this. Spoiler alert, season two is on the way so in the end he obviously didn’t kill himself. Just like Jeffrey Epstein. Shut up. I know he’s your friend but I don’t care.

Seriously, most films are awful. Lazy. Remakes, sequels. I’ve heard a rumor there might be a sequel to Sophie’s Choice. I mean, that would just be Meryl just going, “Well, it’s gotta be this one then.” All the best actors have jumped to Netflix, HBO. And the actors who just do Hollywood movies now do fantasy-adventure nonsense. They wear masks and capes and really tight costumes. Their job isn’t acting anymore. It’s going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids, really. Have we got an award for most ripped junky? No point, we’d know who’d win that.

Martin Scorsese made the news for his controversial comments about the Marvel franchise. He said they’re not real cinema and they remind him about theme parks. I agree. Although I don’t know what he’s doing hanging around theme parks. He’s not big enough to go on the rides. He’s tiny. The Irishman was amazing. It was amazing. It was great. Long, but amazing. It wasn’t the only epic movie. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere and by the end his date was too old for him. Even Prince Andrew was like, “Come on, Leo, mate.You’re nearly 50-something.”

The world got to see James Corden as a fat pussy. He was also in the movie Cats. No one saw that movie. And the reviews, shocking. I saw one that said, “This is the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs.” But Dame Judi Dench defended the film saying it was the film she was born to play because she loves nothing better than plunking herself down on the carpet, lifting her leg and licking her ass. (Coughs) Hairball. She’s old-school.

It’s the last time, who cares? Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China. Well, you say you’re woke but the companies you work for in China — unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you’d call your agent, wouldn’t you?

So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.

So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and fuck off, OK? It’s already three hours long. Right, let’s do the first award.”

ExxonKnew While NYAGsClueless

At Real Clear Energy is a good reflection on the collapsed climate legal crusade by three NYAGs Exxon and Evidence 101 by John S. Baker, Jr. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The problem for all these attorney generals is that states have no jurisdiction over climate change. Whatever one thinks about climate change, the climatic phenomena know no borders. If anything should be done about climate change, it is properly committed to the federal government.

Untroubled by these fundamental facts, current New York Attorney General Letitia James nevertheless charged ExxonMobil with fraud in misleading investors regarding the threat posed to the company by the costs allegedly associated with by climate change. New York State’s notoriously broad and vague Martin Act.

In the court of (elite) public opinion, ExxonMobil had already been found guilty. For three years prior to trial, the Attorney General’s office claimed that ExxonMobil was clearly engaged in fraud. The whole point of the “#Exxon Knew” media campaign was to convince the public that the fraud was unquestionable. The fraud claim was that, for decades, Exxon had knowingly and willingly mislead the public and that investors had relied on the allegedly false information.

Then, at trial, reality set in. After weeks of evidence, the States’ attorney suddenly and without explanation conceded during his closing argument –but only when pressed by the judge—that he had to drop the fraud claims. So, after screaming “fraud” for four years, the Attorney General’s office could produce absolutely no evidence of fraud.

That left two charges which were much less serious– but should have been much easier to prove — under the Martin Act. The two remaining charges did not require proof of any intentional act by ExxonMobil. Nevertheless, the State was unable to muster even this minimum level of proof.

Judge Ostrager wrote that regardless of ExxonMobil’s role with respect to climate change, this was a securities case– not a climate-change case. Indeed, the State’s attorney had insisted this was a securities case. The judge wrote that “the Attorney General failed to prove, a preponderance of the evidence, that ExxonMobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor.

The judge continued, saying that “the Attorney General produced no testimony either from any investor who claimed to have been misled by any disclosure, even though the Office of the Attorney General had previously represented it would call such individuals as trial witnesses.”

Of course, environmentalist groups are slamming the decision. They seem to think that because they disagree with a corporation’s policies and practices that their corporate opponents are evil and must be branded as criminals.

These critics include lawyers, at least some seem to think that the purity of their purpose justifies a finding of fraud against ExxonMobil despite the lack of evidence.

This verdict represents a devastating defeat for New York Attorney General James, as well as for the “#Exxon Knew” campaign. That media campaign may have energized Democratic officials; but in the courtroom, slogans cannot substitute for facts and the law.

It remains to be seen what effect the New York verdict will have on the Massachusetts case filed against ExxonMobil. The Massachusetts Attorney General is proceeding on a different theory, one focused on consumer protection. For environmental extremists, however, the end-game is the same. So, they are likely to redouble their public-opinion efforts in hopes of encouraging the Massachusetts Attorney General to go forward.

Nevertheless, trial lawyers in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office are likely taking a hard look at their evidence and the judge assigned to the case. They undoubtedly appreciate support from the environmental movement, but they surely also want to avoid the extreme embarrassment of a second devastating loss to ExxonMobil.

Misguided idealism, environmental or otherwise, can become impatient with the basic principles of the rule of law. When that impatience is teamed with incompetent and/or ruthless litigators, the courts can become a forum for tyranny. Thankfully, “old fashioned” trial judges still look at whether or not the evidence presented supports the charge filed.

Footnote:  Today’s social discourse is poisoned by people believing that accusations are proof without any need for evidence. The media is rife with empty climate claims, while Kavenaugh and now Trump have been smeared with rumors, hearsay and innuendo.  Substituting feelings for facts is not the path to find the truth.

See Also Activist-Legal Complex Perverts Science

Coercive Environmentalism

Gus Van Horn writes at Real Clear Markets The Recycling Crowd Embraces Grade-School Juvenility.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The third-grade boy shamefully completed his apology, in front of first grade. I was luckier than I felt. Just that morning, I had been convinced that the way to win friends was to do what the popular kids did: Stomp on the first-grader’s coffee-can art project. I knew this was wrong but I immediately impressed the popular crowd — the wrong way. My swift punishment only reinforced what I already knew: A crowd was a poor substitute for my own judgment. This lesson has served me well throughout my life, yet I was surprised to find myself transported back to that classroom by a New York Times video — about recycling, of all things. A connection jolted me when I viewed “The Great Recycling Con:”

The captains of industry were making the same mistake I had but with a twist: They are stomping on their own cans.

I remember the early days of residential recycling as clearly as that hug. At first, only the neighborhood crank went through the trouble. But, after about a decade of shaming by celebrities and over-hyping of stories — like the long search of a garbage scow for a customer — governments got involved. Seemingly overnight, nearly everyone was being forced to recycle or taxed to support it. Companies had marching orders to label products so we could comply. The details of these orders were minute to the point of confusion. This point can be gleaned from the video, but get a load of this subtitle: “The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products.”

I’m disappointed that corporations had voiced so much support for recycling, but they hardly deserve the blame for labeling laws.

Reaction to proposed Vermont law requiring clear plastic trash bags.

But this has been the MO of the left since the industrial revolution. Regarding 1800’s railroads, Ayn Rand noted:

[W]hat could the railroads do, except try to “own whole legislatures,” if these legislatures held the power of life or death over them? What could the railroads do, except resort to bribery, if they wished to exist at all?

Who was to blame and who was “corrupt”–the businessmen who had to pay “protection money” for the right to remain in business–or the politicians who held the power to sell that right?

The railroads played a game they should have opposed — only to end up blamed for a situation they didn’t create. (To the degree they saw this as an acceptable way to win market share, they share the blame.) We see this today with companies bullied into removing harmless ingredients, such as nitrites from food, or parabens from cosmetics, under the perverse twin incentives of fashionable panic and fear of competition.

The worst case involves the fossil fuel industry, which is vital to our lives and prosperity – while under constant and intense pressure from environmentalists. Energy advocate Alex Epstein notes:

The industry never explained the value of energy and why fossil fuels are superior sources of energy. In fact, the industry is constantly out there saying, “We’re not against wind and solar, we’re for all of the above, we’re in the middle of an energy transition,” etc. That’s why I always stress when I talk to people (a) that low cost, reliable energy is indispensable to human flourishing and (b) that the fossil fuel industry is uniquely good at creating it. People need both of those points.

Epstein is right: Companies should stop fearing the cool media kids scaremongering and start reminding the people who count – their customers — of the full value they offer.

When I think about that day in school, I wish I could go back and tell that third-grader that real friends don’t tempt people to ignore their own judgment; and that he already had good friends, because he had a lot to offer. The same goes for countless productive individuals in whole industries that our media routinely paint as evil ahead of our politicians taking yet more control. Our industry captains have gone along with this for far too long. Rather than accepting these scurrilous attacks, they should view them as personal insults. A great way to begin to fight back is to remind people of the enormous good they and their employees create.

Who’s the bully? Who’s the victim?

Previous Post:  On Coercive Climatism: Writings of Bruce Pardy

Many people have heard of Jordan Peterson due to his battles against post modernism and progressive social justice warfare. Bruce Pardy is another outspoken Canadian professor, whose latest statement was posted at the National Post, H/T GWPF.

Let the Paris climate deal die. It was never good for anything, anyway
Opinion: Paris is a climate fairy tale. It has always been more about money and politics than the environment.  Excerpts below with my bolds.

Paris is more a movement than a legal framework. It imagines the world as a global community working in solidarity on a common problem, making sacrifices in the common good, reducing inequality and transcending the negative effects of market forces. In this fable, climate change is a catalyst for revolution. It is the monster created by capitalism that will turn on its creator and bring the market system to the end of its natural life. A new social order will emerge in which market value no longer determines economic decisions. Governments will exercise influence over economic behaviour by imposing “market-based mechanisms” such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems. Enlightened leaders will direct energy use based upon social justice values and community needs. An international culture will unite peoples in a cause that transcends their national interests, giving way to the next stage of human society. Between the lines of the formal text, the Paris agreement reads like a socialist nightmare.

The regime attempts to establish an escalating global norm that requires continual updating, planning and negotiation. To adhere, governments are to supervise, regulate and tax the energy use and behaviour of their citizens (for example, the Trudeau government’s insistence that all provinces impose a carbon tax or the equivalent, to escalate over time.) Yet for all of the domestic action it legitimizes, Paris does not actually require it. Like the US$100-billion pledge, reduction targets are outside the formal Paris agreement. They are voluntary; neither binding nor enforceable. Other countries have condemned Trump’s withdrawal and reaffirmed their commitment to Paris but many of them, including Canada, are not on track to meet even their initial promises. Global emissions are rising again.

If human action is not causing the climate to change, Paris is irrelevant. If it is, then Paris is an obstacle to actual solutions. If there is a crisis, it will be solved when someone develops a low-carbon energy source as useful and cheap as fossil fuels. A transition will then occur without government interventions and international declarations. Until then, Paris will fix nothing. It serves interests that have little to do with atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Will America’s repudiation result in its eventual demise? One can hope.

Bruce Pardy belongs to the Faculty of Law, Queen’s College, Kingston, Ontario. This post will provide excerpts from several of Pardy’s writings to give readers access to his worldview and its usefulness making sense of current socio-political actions.

In 2009 Pardy wrote Climate Change Charades: False Environmental Pretences of Statist Energy Governance
The Abstract:
Climate change is a poor justification for energy statism, which consists of centralized government administration of energy supplies, sources, prices, generating facilities, production and conservation. Statist energy governance produces climate change charades: government actions taken in the name of climate change that bear little relationship to the nature of the problem. Such actions include incremental, unilateral steps to reduce domestic carbon emissions to arbitrary levels, and attempts to choose winners and losers in future technology, using public money to subsidize ineffective investments. These proffered solutions are counter-productive. Governments abdicate their responsibility to govern energy in a manner that is consistent with domestic legal norms and competitive markets, and make the development of environmental solutions less likely rather than more so.

Pardy also spoke out in support of Peterson and against the Canadian government legislation proscribing private speech between individuals. His article in National Post was Meet the new ‘human rights’ — where you are forced by law to use ‘reasonable’ pronouns

Human rights were conceived to liberate. They protected people from an oppressive state. Their purpose was to prevent arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and censorship, by placing restraints on government. The state’s capacity to accommodate these “negative rights” was unlimited, since they required only that people be left alone.

If only arm twisting were prohbited beyond the ring.

But freedom from interference is so 20th century. Modern human rights entitle. We are in the middle of a culture war, and human rights have become a weapon to normalize social justice values and to delegitimize competing beliefs. These rights are applied against other people to limit their liberties.

Freedom of expression is a traditional, negative human right. When the state manages expression, it threatens to control what we think. Forced speech is the most extreme infringement of free speech. It puts words in the mouths of citizens and threatens to punish them if they do not comply. When speech is merely restricted, you can at least keep your thoughts to yourself. Compelled speech makes people say things with which they disagree.

Some senators expressed the view that forcing the use of non-gendered pronouns was reasonable because calling someone by their preferred pronoun is a reasonable thing to do. That position reflects a profound misunderstanding of the role of expression in a free society. The question is not whether required speech is “reasonable” speech. If a statute required people to say “hello,” “please” and “thank you,” that statute would be tyrannical, not because “hello,” “please” and “thank you” aren’t reasonable things to say, but because the state has dictated the content of private conversation.

Traditional negative human rights give people the freedom to portray themselves as they wish without fearing violence or retribution from others. Everyone can exercise such rights without limiting the rights of others. Not so the new human rights. Did you expect to decide your own words and attitudes? If so, human rights are not your friend.

These positions derive from bedrock reasoning by Pardy on the foundations of law and legitimacy. An insight into his thinking is his rebuttal of a critic The Only Legitimate Rule: A Reply to MacLean’s Critique of Ecolawgic Dalhousie Law Journal, Spring 2017

Ecosystem as One model of Society

An ecosystem is not a thing. It does not exist as a concrete entity. “Ecosystem” is a label for the dynamics that result when organisms interact with each other and their environment. Those dynamics occur in infinite variation, but always reflect the same logic:
Competition for scarce resources leads to natural selection, where those organisms better adapted to ecosystem conditions survive and reproduce, leading to evolutionary change. All participants are equally subject to their forces; systems do not play favourites.

In ecosystems, the use of the word “autonomy” does not mean legally enforced liberty but the reverse: no externally imposed rules govern behaviour. In ecosystems unmanaged by people, organisms can succeed or fail, live or die, as their genetically determined physiology and behaviour allow. Every life feeds on the death of others, whether animal or plant, and those better adapted to their circumstances survive to reproduce. Organisms can do anything that their genes dictate, and their success or failure is the consequence that fuels evolution.

When an antelope is chased by a lion and plunges into a river to escape, that action allows the antelope to survive and thus to reproduce. The offspring may carry a genetic disposition to run into water when chased by predators. There are no committees of either antelopes or humans deciding how antelopes will behave. Autonomy in ecosystems is not a human creation. It is not based upon human history or culture and is not a human preference.

Market as a Different Model of Society

A market is not a thing either. Nor is it a place. Markets, like ecosystems, do not exist as concrete entities. “Market” is a label for the dynamics that result when people exchange with each other. Bargains may be commercial in nature, where things are bought and sold, but they also occur in other facets of life. For example, in Ecolawgic I suggested that marriage is a kind of exchange that is made when people perceive themselves better off to enter into the bargain than not to.

As I said in Ecolawgic, “Laws and governments can make markets more stable and efficient, such as by enforcing contracts and creating a supply of money, but they create neither the activity of trading nor the market dynamics that the transactions create.”  A market is not a place or a legal structure but the dynamics of a collection of transactions. It does not exist before or independently of the transactions within it. The transactions make the market. Transactions are not created by governments but by the parties who enter into them.

People transact whether they are facilitated by governments or not. The evidence is everywhere. If it were not so, human beings would not have bartered long before there were governments to create money and enforce contracts. During Prohibition, no alcohol would have been produced and sold. Citizens of the Soviet Union would not have exchanged goods. Today there would be no drug trade, no black market and no smuggling. Cigarettes would not be used as currency inside jails. People would not date, hold garage sales or trade hockey cards. There would be no Bitcoin or barter. Try prohibiting people from transacting and see that they will transact anyway. They will do so because they perceive themselves as better off. Sometimes the benefit is concrete and sometimes it is ethereal. The perception of benefit is personal and subjective.

Ecosystems are Coercive, Markets are Voluntary

Ecosystems and markets share many features but they differ in one important respect. Violence plays an important role in ecosystems but is not a part of voluntary market exchange. Ecosystems are arenas for mortal combat. Lions eat antelopes if they can catch them. Nothing prevents taking a dead antelope from a lion except the lion’s response. There are no restrictions on survival strategies, and organisms do not respect the interests, habitats or lives of other organisms.

Markets, in contrast, proceed upon the judgment of the transacting parties that they are better off to trade than to fight. The hunter did not shoot the woodworker to get chairs, and the woodworker traded for meat instead of stealing it. They chose to trade because it made them better off than fighting. The reasons are their own. Perhaps they were friends, colleagues or allies. Perhaps they believed that harming other people is wrong. Perhaps they hoped to have an ongoing trading relationship. Perhaps fighting carried risks that were too high and they feared injury or retribution. Perhaps trading was less work than fighting.

For whatever reason, they chose to trade. This choice is not universal. People have traded throughout human history, but they have also fought. I do not maintain that trading is any more “natural” or inbred than fighting, but neither is it is less so. When people choose to fight, they are no longer part of a market. Markets are like ecosystems with the violence removed.  They are the kinder, gentler version of ecosystems.

There are only two models for legal governance and only one legitimate rule.

The logic is as follows:
1. In the wild, organisms compete for scarce resources. Those organisms better adapted to conditions survive and reproduce. Their interactions constitute ecosystems. No legal rules govern behaviour and might is right.
2. Human beings trade spontaneously. Parties enter into transactions when they perceive themselves as better off to trade than to fight. Their transactions constitute markets.
3. Moral values and policy goals are preferences whose inherent validity cannot be established. They are turtles all the way down. Therefore laws based upon those preferences lack legitimacy.
4. When governments use might to impose laws and policies that are illegitimate, they unintentionally imitate ecosystems, where might is right. Political constituencies use whatever means necessary to impose their preferences, and their opponents use whatever means necessary to resist. They are “autonomous” in the ecosystem sense: there are no inherently valid restrictions on behaviour. The result is a social order of division and conflict.
5. The alternative is to model human governance on the other system that exists independently of state preference: markets. If the model for human governance is markets, interactions between people are voluntary. People are “autonomous” in the market sense: they may pursue their own interests without coercion. Instead of imposing illegitimate rules and policies, the state uses force only to prohibit people from imposing force on each other. A plethora of sub-rules follow as corollaries of the rule against coercion: property, consent, criminal offences that punish violence and so on.
6. There is no third choice. Coercion is not right or wrong depending upon the goals being pursued since those goals are merely preferences. Their advocates cannot establish that their goals have inherent validity to those who do not agree. Therefore, giving priority to those objectives is to assert that might is right. If might is right, we are back to ecosystems, where any and all actions are legitimate.
7. If might is right, anything goes, and the model is ecosystems. If might is not right, force is prohibited, and the model is markets. Choose one and all else follows.

When I claim that a prohibition on force is the only legitimate rule, I mean the only substantive rule to govern relations between competent adults. No doubt the administration of a legal system, even a minimalist one, would require other kinds of laws to function. Constitutional rules, court administration, the conduct of elections and procedures to bring legal proceedings are a few of the other categories that would be necessary in order to give effect to the general rule.

No Property, No Market

But the existence of property rights must follow from a general rule prohibiting coercion. If it does not, the general rule is not what it purports to be. When people trade, they recognize the property interest held by the other party. It is that interest that they wish to obtain. When the woodworker trades chairs for the hunter’s meat, she trades “her” chairs for “his” meat. The trade would not occur without a mutual understanding of the possession that both hold over their respective stuff.

Sometimes those interests are recognized and protected by the law, which according to Bentham created the property. However, since markets arise even where no property is legally recognized, the notion of property must be prior to the law. Above I gave examples of markets that have arisen where no legal regime has protected property rights: prehistorical trade, alcohol sales during Prohibition, black markets in the Soviet Union, the modern day drug trade, smuggling of illicit goods, and the internal markets of prisons. Since trading occurs even in the absence of an approving legal regime, the notion of property must exist independently as well.

No Consent, No Market

Autonomy in the market sense means to be able to pursue your own interests and control your own choices without coercion. Consent is part and parcel of autonomy. Without the ability to consent, no trades can be made. Without trades, no markets exist. If one cannot consent to be touched, to give up property, to make bargains, to mate, to arm wrestle, to trade chairs for meat, to sell labour for money, and so on, then one is not autonomous.

If force is prohibited, then corollaries are laws that protect people from having force imposed upon them. Laws apply the force of the state to prevent or punish the application of force. A criminal law that prohibits assault is an extension of the general rule. A tax to finance the police department is legitimate if its purpose is to investigate and prosecute violent crimes. Traffic laws prevent people from running each other over.  Civil liability compensates for physical injuries caused by the force of others.

Illegitimate Laws, No Market

Illegitimate laws use state coercion to seek other ends such as enforcing moral standards, pursuing social goals or saving people from themselves. A criminal law that prohibits the use of drugs uses state force to prevent an activity in which there is no coercion. A tax to fund the armed forces to protect the peace may be legitimate, but one to take wealth from Peter to give to Paul is not. The legal regimes of modern administrative states consist largely of instrumentalist laws and policies that are inconsistent with the general rule, including tax laws, economic development programs, bankruptcy, patent regimes, mandatory government-run pension plans and MacLean’s version of environmental regulation, in which each decision turns on a political determination of the values to be applied.

It is either ecosystems or markets. Either might is right or it is not. If it is, then human society is subject to the law of the jungle where people are at liberty to fight like animals if they choose to do so. If it is not, then human society is a marketplace where people may enter into transactions voluntarily and the state may justifiably use force only to prevent or punish the application of force.

There is no third choice. Some might insist that coercion is not categorically wrong but that it can be right or wrong depending upon the other goals to be pursued. Those goals are merely preferences. They are turtles all the way down. I do not maintain that other rules will not be passed and enforced using the established machinery of government but only that they have no claim to legitimacy, any more than other rules that might have been chosen instead. If force is used to pursue those preferences, why would others not use force to resist? Such a choice results in a free-for-all. If state force is right only because it cannot be resisted, that means that might is right. The administrative welfare state prevails not because it is justified morally or socially but because it has managed to secure a monopoly on violence. The imposition of government preferences is an invitation to those opposed to an arbitrary policy agenda to take up force against it.

Summary

In  a way, Pardy is warning us not to take for granted the free market social democracies to which we were accustomed.  Post modern progressive social justice warriors have decided that society is essentially an endless power struggle, that one group’s rights are gained only at the expense of another group.  In other words, it’s a dog-eat-dog, might makes right ecosystem.  Pardy says there is another way, which has been the basis for the rise of civilization, but can be reversed by governance that destroys the free market of ideas and efforts by imposing values favored by the rich and powerful.

Footnote about Turtles.  Pardy explains the metaphor:

In Rapanos v. United States, Justice Antonin Scalia offered a version of the traditional tale of how the Earth is carried on the backs of animals. In this version of the story, an Eastern guru affirms that the earth is supported on the back of a tiger.  When asked what supports the tiger, he says it stands upon an elephant; and when asked what supports the elephant he says it is a giant turtle.  When asked, finally, what supports the giant turtle, he is briefly taken aback, but quickly replies “Ah, after that it is turtles all the way down.”

To Be a Man, Or Not to Be (Fight Degendering)

This article is an update on the continuing assault by gender ideologues on young males’ masculinity.  Spencer Klavan writes at the American Mind Be a Man. Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Gender theorists know what they are doing when they target children. We should know what we’re doing when we fight back.

 In August of 2018, the American Psychological Association issued its first-ever “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” of which the first directive is that psychologists should “strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.” In other words, treatment of boys and men should begin from the premise that manhood is culturally contingent and therefore alterable. The goal of therapeutic practice then becomes “to help boys and men over their lifetimes navigate restrictive definitions of masculinity and create their own concepts of what it means to be male.”

Graduate programs in psychology cannot gain accreditation or train students for licensing without the APA’s official imprimatur. It stands to reason that schools will feel strongly encouraged, at the very least, to conform their instruction with what the Association dictates. Not that institutions of higher learning typically need such encouragement: at Stony Brook University in New York, for example, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities is dedicated to deconstructing “traditional” manhood. Their website offers resources such as an article on “academic efforts to decode men.” It is to these resources that one is directed via hyperlink if one attempts to access any discussion thread about manhood which has been deemed toxic by the major chat website, Reddit.

Professional ideologues, then, are making their best efforts to train biological males out of their natural impulses toward strength, endurance, physical courage, and emotional self-control.

Boys who find themselves lacking in these characteristics—as every young man does at some point in his development—typically experience a sense of inadequacy. Traditionally, caring adults have tried to alleviate that inadequacy by helping boys grow into themselves—by helping them attain the masculinity that is their birthright but not yet their achievement. The new diagnostic recommendation, however, is to treat all such feelings of self-reproach as needless impositions from an outmoded worldview in need of radical deconstruction.

What conservatives typically emphasize in response is that biological sex does matter, that men’s yearnings to be manly are indeed authentic and spontaneous. This is entirely true. But it misses something, something that Aristodemus knew: there is also a part of gender which is learned and taught. We experience certain natural ambitions, but then we build societies and traditions which honor and channel those ambitions. Most boys are born with an interest in fighting and competing, but no boy is born knowing how to play football or hold a gun. We school one another, generation to generation, in the ways of manhood.

Therefore if you train impressionable boys to disassociate themselves from their sex, they will indeed lose the sense of grounding and orientation that comes with proper instruction—they will indeed become “feminized” like the children of Cumae. That is why the efforts to degender our society are often focused on children. Public schools now teach gender theory using cartoon characters as diagrams. Little girls wearing male clothing were cheered on national television in October of this year at the Democrats’ “Equality Town Hall.” In the same month a seven-year-old boy was very nearly subjected by court order (subsequently amended) to hormonal alteration by a mother who encourages him to consider himself female. If it sounds alarmist to say that “gender theorists are coming for your children,” good. They are coming, and it is alarming.

The answer to this is not only to insist that “male” and “female” are real, natural categories: it is also to acknowledge that one natural component of those categories is aspiration. There is nothing harmful in exhorting a boy to “be a man.” If he is not yet—and no boy is—he will be told by activists and perhaps his teachers that he does not need to be. But the longings of his heart will tell him that he should, that he can. It is the business of gender theory to extinguish those longings. It should be our business to defend them at all costs.

Update: Climate Hail Mary by Broke Cities

Previous post is reprinted later on.  This update is an article at Issues and Insights last week by Horace Cooper The Shameless Hypocrisy Of Cities Suing For Climate Change ‘Damages’.   Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

North and South American natives once spoke of the mythical El Dorado, a sacred city made entirely of gold. History records that conquistadors embarked on expeditions throughout the Americas in pursuit of El Dorado and legendary riches. Ultimately their quests yielded nothing but misery and loss.

Conquistador Francisco Vázquez de Coronado went through Arizona seeking in vain untold golden treasures to make them all rich.

A modern-day parallel exists among several municipal governments and Rhode Island, which have set out on an equally unrealistic quest for a modern-day “jackpot justice” – a scheme to reap billions from several energy companies.

Using an already discredited “public nuisance” legal claim, Rhode Island and several cities have filed lawsuits that blame all of Earth’s climate change on a few profitable energy companies. The suits allege that, by producing oil, these energy companies have contributed to climate change, which, they argue, may cause damage to their communities in the future. Their cases, incidentally, fail to mention the large amounts of fossil fuels used by these same cities for public transportation, municipal airports, city buildings, and public improvement projects.

sierra-2018-11-internationalcarboncourt-wb

Litigants point to a July ruling in which an activist Rhode Island judge overturned a previous decision to move Rhode Island’s climate change case to federal court. Having watched federal courts dismiss many of these claims outright, the plaintiffs believe they have a better chance of success in lower, state courts. Baltimore was also successful in blocking a motion to move its lawsuit to federal court.

Still, climate litigants would be wise to keep the champagne firmly corked as these recent rulings in Rhode Island and Baltimore will likely be overturned. In North Dakota earlier this year, a similar nuisance case against Purdue Pharma was dismissed by a judge who found the plaintiffs failed to meet the required burden of proof. Moreover, the courts reviewing the Oklahoma case are likely to take a more skeptical view of the nuisance tactic, which has generally fared poorly on appeal. For example, a nuisance suit against lead paint manufacturers initially succeeded, only to fail on appeal in 2009, ironically before the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

A major driver of legal precedent denying the use of nuisance ordinances comes from an Obama-era Supreme Court ruling. In the 8-0 American Electric Power v. Connecticut decision in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions because the Clean Air Act specifically tasks the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress with the proper regulatory authority. Put another way, only the executive and legislative branches – not the judicial branch – may regulate and impose climate change policy. That precedent was properly cited last year when New York City’s climate lawsuit was bounced out of court. Also last year, a federal judge dismissed Oakland and San Francisco’s lawsuit for being outside the court’s authority.

In addition to the utter lack of legal substantiation, these lawsuits reveal how these municipalities are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. In one setting they downplay risks of climate change and in other settings they pretend the risks have never been higher.

Consider San Francisco’s 2017 municipal bond offering which reassuringly told potential investors, “The City is unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur, when they may occur, and if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect on the business operations or financial condition of the City and the local economy.” Yet in its multi-billion-dollar climate lawsuit, the city went full-on Chicken Little, warning, “Global warming-induced sea level rise is already causing flooding of low-lying areas of San Francisco.”

The example isn’t isolated. Marin County, California’s lawsuit alarmingly asserted that there’s a 99-percent risk of an epic climate-change-related flood by 2050. But a municipal bond offering to potential investors failed to warn of any potential climate change dangers claimed within its lawsuit. San Mateo County’s prospectus advising bond investors that it’s “unable to predict whether sea-level rise or other impacts of climate change or flooding from a major storm will occur” didn’t stop it from forecasting a 93-percent chance cataclysmic flood by 2050 in its lawsuit against oil companies. The examples go on.

Aside from the shameless hypocrisy of mayors wooing potential investors while claiming pending climate disaster in court, the motivation behind these lawsuits is clear. Many cities filing lawsuits against energy companies are financial train wrecks, seeking billions to offset their mismanagement. Huge legal awards – enough to make their fiscal troubles vanish – have a powerful allure.

The prospect of jackpot justice has fogged their judgment just as surely as the conquistadors who vainly searched for El Dorado.

If anything, the mayors of Oakland, New York, San Diego, and others are seeking pots of Fool’s Gold. These greedy politicians should stop abusing the legal system, wasting taxpayer dollars, and put a halt to their fantasy gold-digging.

Previous Post:  Climate Hail Mary by Inept Cities

Some cities in desperate financial straits due to their own mismanagement are hoping to bail out by suing oil companies. Several are in California where the current governor blames droughts, fires and mudslides on climate change. So Governor Brown is a role model for all politicians how to scapegoat nature instead of taking responsibility for their own failings as leaders. As I have long said, COP stands not only for UN Conference of Parties, but also for the ultimate political COP-Out. (Note: A “Hail Mary” is a desperate football pass into the end zone as the game ends.)

A recent editorial in the Washington Times exposes the ruse Big talk at City Hall isn’t likely to replace oil, natural gas and coal Excerpts below with my bolds.

The civic shakedown of the oil and gas producers continues, and the frenzy has spread to California. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York started it in January when he said he would seek billions of dollars in reparations from five major companies, including Exxon, BP and Chevron.

“It’s time for Big Oil to take responsibility for the devastation they have wrought,” he said, “and to start paying for the damage they have done.” He blames the devastation from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy on climate change, “a tragedy that was wrought by the actions of the fossil-fuel companies.” The Sierra Club and other radical environmental groups couldn’t have said it better. These greens have long sought to shut down the oil and coal-mining companies.

San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles now threaten similar lawsuits to extort money from the reliable producers of cheap energy. These cities claim that the forest fires and mudslides that devastated Southern California were caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Coal companies are now joining the mayor’s conspiracy. Forest fires in the West? Hurricanes in the East? Heaven forfend. Surely that never happened before.

Many big cities have been living beyond their means for years, running up billion dollar pension liabilities. Someone has to pay the tab for the fiscal hangover, and extortion may be the way to require others to pay the bills. What better target than Big Oil? Attempting extortion has got so out of hand that Richmond, Calif., one of whose largest employers is a large oil refinery, is eager to join the extortion racket.

Even if every American energy company shut down entirely — which may be the hidden agenda here — the enormous increase in carbon emissions from China and India alone would swamp the effects of American fossil-fuel production and consumption. If global warming was actually causing forest fires and hurricanes, Mayor de Blasio should be suing China, not British Petroleum.

Even more fraudulent is that New York City, Oakland, San Francisco and other plaintiffs have been burning fossil fuels for decades to provide power for their cities. Exxon only drills the oil. It’s the cities of New York, San Francisco and Oakland that burn it and send the carbon into the atmosphere. And what about the police cars, trucks, buses, ambulances and thousands of other city-owned vehicles? They use the fuels that Exxon and Chevron produce, and even the batteries in electric vehicles that must be frequently recharged use recharging stations powered mostly by fossil fuels. In the first six months of 2017 more than 70 percent of all the electricity produced in the United States came from coal and natural gas.

Fossil fuel starvation diets are available to all. But the mayors know very well that without cheap and abundant oil, coal and natural gas, their cities and the commerce that springs from there would come to a grinding halt. The schools, factories, shelters, shopping centers, restaurants, apartment buildings and skyscrapers would shut down without the energy from the oil and gas produced by the companies the mayors are suing. The cities wouldn’t survive for a day. Big talk, like oil, gas and coal, is cheap. It’s too bad that all that hot air at City Hall can’t be harnessed to produce electricity. If it could, there’s enough of it to put oil, gas and coal companies out of business.

 

Harnessing hot air for a useful purpose.

See also Is Global Warming A Public Nuisance?

Why People Are So Unreasonable These Days

For some reason, many intellectuals who identify as philosophical skeptics embrace large chunks of climate dogma without critical examination. Steven Pinker is part of the progressive clan, and shares their blind spot, but speaks wisely in a recent article about the precarious balance between reason and intolerance these days. Some excerpts in italics with my bolds show his keen grasp of many aspects of the problems in contemporary discourse, even while he nods superficially to the climate consensus.  His article at Skeptic.com is Why We Are Not Living in a Post-Truth Era:  An (Unnecessary) Defense of Reason and a (Necessary) Defense of Universities’ Role in Advancing it.

Humans Are Rational Beings

In the first part Pinker does a good job clearing away several arguments that humans are not primarily rational anyway.  For example, he summarizes:

So if anyone tries to excuse irrationality and dogma by pointing a finger at our evolutionary origins, I say: Don’t blame the hunter-gatherers. Rational inference, skepticism, and debate are in our nature every bit as much as freezing in response to a rustle in the grass.

Why were truth and rationality selected for? The answer is that reality is a powerful selection pressure. As the science fiction author Philip K. Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  Either there is an armadillo in the burrow or there isn’t. Those who were so hidebound by stereotype or habit that they could not deduce out where it was or how to kill it went hungry.

Irrationality Contends Against Reason

Pinker provides insight into the modern struggle to be reasonable in the face of irrationality.

So if we do have the capacity to be rational, why are we so often irrational? There are several reasons. The most obvious was pointed out by Herbert Simon, one of the founders of both cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence: rationality must be bounded. A perfect reasoner would require all the time in the world, and unlimited memory. So we often satisfice, trading accuracy for efficiency.

Also, though reality is always a powerful selection pressure, we did not evolve with the truth-augmenting technologies that have been invented in recent millennia and centuries, such as writing, quantitative datasets, scientific methodology, and specialized expertise.

And annoyingly, facts and logic can compromise our self-presentation as effective and benevolent, a powerful human motive. We all try to come across as infallible, omniscient, and saintly. Rationality can be a nuisance in this campaign, because inconvenient truths will inevitably come to light that suggest we are mere mortals. The dismissal of facts and logic is often damage control against threats to our self-presentation.

Beliefs also can be signals of loyalty to a coalition. As Tooby has pointed out, the more improbable the belief, the more credible the signal. It’s hard to affirm your solidarity with the tribe by declaring that rocks fall down instead of up, because anyone can say that rocks fall down instead of up. But if you say that God is three persons in one, or that Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria, you’ve shown that you’re willing to take risks for the team.

Group loyalty is an underestimated source of irrationality in the public sphere, especially when it comes to politicized scientific issues like evolution and climate change. Dan Kahan has shown that, contrary to what most scientists believe, a denial of the facts of human evolution or anthropogenic climate change is not a symptom of scientific illiteracy. The deniers know as much science as the accepters. They contrast instead on political orientation: the farther to the right, the more denial.

Kahan notes that there is a perverse rationality to this “expressive cognition.” Unless you are one of a small number of deciders and influencers, your opinion on climate change will have no effect on the climate. But it could have an enormous effect on how you’re accepted your social circle—whether you’re seen as someone who at best just doesn’t get it and who at worst is a traitor. For someone in a modern university to deny human-made climate change, or for someone in a rural Southern or Midwestern community to affirm it, would be social death. So, it’s perversely rational for people to affirm the validating beliefs of their social circle. The problem is that what’s rational for the individual may not be rational for the nation or the planet. Kahan calls it the “Tragedy of the Belief Commons..”

Another paradox of rationality is pluralistic ignorance, or the “spiral of silence,” in which everyone believes that everyone else believes something but no one actually believes it. A classic example is drinking in college fraternities: a 1998 Princeton study found that the male students mistakenly believed that their fellow students thought it was cool to drink a lot, and during their time on campus gravitated toward endorsing this false norm themselves.18 The same thing happens in college women’s attitudes toward casual sex.

How can pluralistic ignorance happen? How does a false belief keep itself levitated in midair? Michael Macy and his colleagues show that a key factor is enforcement. Not only does the belief never get challenged, but group members believe they must punish or condemn those who don’t hold it—out of the equally mistaken belief that they themselves may be denounced for failing to denounce. Denunciation is a signal of solidarity with the group, which can lead to a cascade of pre-emptive, self-reinforcing denunciation, and sometimes to “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” like witch hunts and other bubbles and manias. Sometimes the bubble can be punctured by a public exclamation that the emperor is naked, but it takes an innocent boy or a brave truth-teller.

[Comment: Pinker describes the tribal dynamics around social and political issues.  But Pinker does not himself engage the scientific complexities and uncertainties regarding global warming/climate change.  He reduces the issue down to politics, and thinks that people take sides based on their social circles. He implies that even when scientifically literate people are unconvinced of climate alarms, it’s on political grounds.  When Pinker says most scientists believe in the facts of climate change, he is siding with his leftist colleagues in academia, demonstrating that accepting social proof cuts both ways.

So many alarmist platitudes have been denied in reality.  Arctic ice persists instead of disappearing; Polar bears thrive instead of going extinct;  Storms were worse in the past when CO2 was lower; and so on.  See 11 Empty Climate Claims.  It’s the other side of the point made earlier:  Reality is also that which happens, despite your expecting otherwise.

Consider what Cal physics professor Richard Muller said:  There is a real danger in people with Ph.D.s joining a consensus that they haven’t vetted professionally. . . A really good question would be: “Have you studied climate change enough that you would put your scientific credentials on the line that most of what is said in An Inconvenient Truth is based on accurate scientific results? My guess is that a large majority of the climate scientists would answer no to that question, and the true percentage of scientists who support the statement I made in the opening paragraph of this comment, that true percentage would be under 30%. That is an unscientific guestimate, based on my experience in asking many scientists about the claims of Al Gore.  See Meet Richard Muller, Lukewarmist]

Ours Era Mixes High and Low Rationality

Rationality, to be sure, is not increasing everywhere. In some arenas it appears to sinking fast. The most conspicuous is electoral politics, which is almost perversely designed to inhibit our capacity for rationality. Voters act on issues that don’t affect them personally, and are under no pressure to inform themselves or defend their positions. Practical issues like energy and healthcare are bundled with symbolic hot buttons like euthanasia and the teaching of evolution. These bundles are then strapped to regional, ethnic, or religious coalitions, encouraging group-affirming expressive cognition. People vote as if rooting for sports teams, encouraged by the media, which treat politics as a horse race, encouraging zero-sum competition rather than clarification of character and policy.

And as a recent New York Times op-ed (in which I played a cameo) announced, “Social media is making us dumber.” Not long ago many intellectuals deplored the lack of democratic access to mass media. A few media corporations, in cahoots with the government, “manufactured consent” with their oligopoly over the means of production and dissemination of ideas. As we used to say, freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Social media held out the promise of giving a voice to The People.

We should have been careful about what we wished for. The network dynamics of social media are still poorly understood, but they do not yet host the mechanisms of vetting and reviewing that are necessary for true beliefs to bubble up to prominence from the turbid pools of self-presentation, group solidarity, and pluralistic ignorance. And they have become launch pads for spirals of moralistic grandstanding and pre-emptive denunciation.

We are now living in an era of rationality inequality. At the high end we’ve never been more rational. But at the low end there are arenas that indulge the worst of human psychology. Much work remains to be done in refining the institutions that bring out the rational angels of our nature.

Universities Embracing Irrationality

And this brings me to the role of universities. Universities ought to be the premier institutions of rationality promotion. They have been granted many privileges and perquisites in exchange for fulfilling the mission of adding to the stock of human knowledge and transmitting it to future generations. State universities and colleges are underwritten by the public purse, as is a great deal of tuition and research support in private ones, together with their tax-exempt status. . . Universities have also been granted credentialing and gatekeeping privileges in business and the professions, where a degree is often an entry requirement despite the questionable value added to a student’s capabilities by four years at a university, according to exit audits

Yet despite these perquisites, universities have become notorious as monocultures of left-wing orthodoxy and the illiberal suppression of heterodox ideas (I won’t review the latest follies, but will mention just two words: Halloween costumes).31 As the civil libertarian Harvey Silverglate has put it, “You can say things in Harvard Square that you can’t say in Harvard Yard.”

Why do universities fall short of what one might think of as their essential mission, promoting openminded rationality? There are several hypotheses. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt have suggested that (to oversimplify) helicopter Baby Boomer parents reared iGen snowflakes, who melt at the slightest uncomfortable thought. Another explanation points to an increase in homophily—people gravitating to people who are like them, especially liberals and their children in cities and dense suburbs—which bred a uniformity of opinion on university campuses. The sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have described the rise of a Culture of Victimhood, in which prestige comes not from a resolve to retaliate against threats (a Culture of Honor) or an ability to control one’s emotions (a Culture of Dignity) but from a claim to have been victimized on the basis of race or gender, a grievance that is predictably ratified and redressed by the campus bureaucracy.  And since any of these dynamics can weave a network of pluralistic ignorance enforced by denunciation mobs, we can’t know how many intimidated students would privately disavow intellectual orthodoxy and the culture of victimhood but are afraid to say so out of a mistaken fear that everyone else avows it.

Some of this regression is a paradoxical byproduct of the fantastic progress we have made in equality. Vanishingly few people in universities actually hold racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic attitudes (though they may have different views on the nature of these categories or the causes of group differences). That means that accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia can be weaponized: since everyone reviles these bigotries, they can be used to demonize adversaries, which in turn spreads a terror of being demonized. The accusations are uniquely noxious because it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against them. “Some of my best friends are X” is risible, and testimony about one’s unprejudiced bona fides or a track record of advancing the careers of women and minorities is not much more exculpatory. This places temptation in people’s paths to denounce others for bigotry before they are denounced themselves: it is one of the few means of pre-emptive self-defense.

Should we care about what happens in the universities? It’s sometimes said that academic disputes are fierce because the stakes are so small. In fact, the stakes are significant. The obvious one is whether universities are carrying out their fiduciary duty to advance knowledge in return for their massive absorption of society’s resources and trust. Another is their creeping influence on the rest of society. As Andrew Sullivan wrote in 2018, “we all live on campus now.” Political correctness and social justice warfare have descended from the ivory tower and infiltrated tech, business, healthcare, and government.

Envy Social Justice

Still worse, intolerance on campus is corroding the credibility of university research on vital topics such as climate change and gun violence. Skeptics on the right can say, “Why should we be impressed if climate scientists are unanimous that human activity is threatening the planet? (Or on any other issue?) They work in universities, which everyone knows are echo chambers of PC dogma.”

So we must safeguard the truth and rationality promoting mission of universities precisely because we are not living in a post-truth era. Humans indeed are often irrational, but not always and everywhere. The rational angels of our nature can and must be encouraged by truth-promoting norms and institutions. Many are succeeding, despite what seems like a growth in reason inequality. Universities, as they become infected with political conformity and restrictions on expressible ideas, seem to be falling short in their mission, but it matters to society that they be held to account: so they can repay the perquisites granted to them, secure the credibility of their own research on vital issues, and inoculate students against extreme and simplistic views by allowing them to evaluate moderate and nuanced ones.

Ungrateful Millennials Richer than Rockefeller

Our leftist educational system has turned many of today’s young people into social justice warriors. Frequently they accuse older generations of trashing the planet for their own benefit and stealing the future from future generations.  As Greta says: “How dare They!”  Lost in all this ignorance and arrogance is any gratitude for the wealth of conveniences and options provided by their predecessors on a silver platter to these spoiled youth.

Matthew Kahn has a post up regarding economics for non-economists, which will appear here later on. He provokes discussion in his seminar by exposing students to a fine essay by economist Don Boudreaux You Are Richer than John D. Rockefeller Do read the linked article which is only excerpted below.

Boudreaux asks: How much money would it take for you to agree to live out your life a century ago? Would you do it for a million dollars? What about a billion dollars? When considering this question, he asks that you keep in mind that in 1916, no matter how rich you were, you would not be able to enjoy any of the following:
Radio (do you mind phonograph sound quality?)
Television
Timely transportation
Computers
Air-conditioning
Rock ’n roll
International food (forget Vietnamese Pho or falafels!)
Smart phones
A high likelihood of surviving infancy
Contact lenses
Modern birth control
Antibiotics
Accurate watches
Skype
Effective dental care
The Internet
…and many other things as well. If you’re a woman, or any kind of minority (whether racial, sexual, or religious), then you would also have to sacrifice various freedoms and live in a world of far worse intolerance.

Boudreaux concludes with this observation:

Honestly, I wouldn’t be remotely tempted to quit the 2016 me so that I could be a one-billion-dollar-richer me in 1916. This fact means that, by 1916 standards, I am today more than a billionaire. It means, at least given my preferences, I am today materially richer than was John D. Rockefeller in 1916. And if, as I think is true, my preferences here are not unusual, then nearly every middle-class American today is richer than was America’s richest man a mere 100 years ago.

Matthew Kahn’s post is Teaching Economics Ideas to Non-Economists  Text below with my bolds.

At USC this term, I am teaching a new class on “the limits to growth”. My course is a fair fight between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. My class features 90% non-economics majors and many have never taken a course with an economist before. I sense that they side with Ehrlich. Their consensus is that we are on a path to destroy our planet and that only dramatic changes in politics and lifestyles can save us. It is possible that they are correct. As they make these points in our seminar class, I ask them; “if you know this, why doesn’t the suburban median voter know this?” They eventually sketch out ideas related to free riding and the Tragedy of the Commons.

I sense that a majority of my students are uncomfortable with the claim that free markets are the major source of improvements in all of our well being. We read this piece by Don Boudreaux and it set off quite a good debate.

My students are quite smart and they have figured out that economic models focus on individual choice. I choose to drop out of school. I choose to study rather than to party. I choose to take actions that raise my risk of pregnancy. I choose to walk in risky place at night. When bad things (such as poverty) happen to good people, how much of this outcome is due to their own choice versus bad luck (a health shock, graduating during a recession)? I have shown them James Heckman’s argument that we must expand early education for all because children do not choose their parents.

If outcomes are due to luck, then a risk averse society will engage in more taxation and redistribution than in a society that believes that life outcomes are directly related to costly effort (i.e Lebron James is a great basketball player due to his long hours of practice).

My students also believe that the American Dream of upward mobility is vanishing. But schools such as USC are providing more financial aid and opportunity for first generation students. My students believe that U.S public schools are under-performing in preparing young people for college but they oppose privatization and Milton Friedman style school vouchers. They must implicitly believe that parents are not to be “sophisticated shoppers” in choosing a school.

I sense that many of my students would have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016. I am learning from my experience teaching non-economists. I hope that my ideas and empirical claims are resonating with them. I sense that some of my students are surprised to be confronted with a University of Chicago trained economist. The market place for economics ideas needs to expand and enter the classrooms of humanities majors (the bulk of my students).

My students reject the perfect competition model. Many voice a dark vision that powerful elites control government and markets and pay such that the “little guy” has few choices and just suffers. I steer discussions back to human capital and skill formation and the possibility to engage in personal investments such that one commands a wage premium. I am learning.

The typical academic economist does not leave the “comfort zone” and teach non-majors.

Bravo Professor Kahn for taking on the task of challenging uninformed (misinformed) societal assumptions.  Your teaching method seems Socratic, and it was Aristotle who recognized that a good life depends upon both good choices and good fortune. And, just to close the circle, John D. Rockefeller became wealthy providing people with petroleum products, which all agreed were the greatest thing since sliced bread.