Sunday, December 06, 2009

Not Stupidity

The theft of e-mail messages from servers at the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia may have emboldened other would-be criminals. The United Kingdom's Guardian reports

Attempts have been made to break into the offices of one of Canada's leading climate scientists, it was revealed yesterday. The victim was Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria scientist and a key contributor to the work of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In one incident, an old computer was stolen and papers were disturbed.

In addition, individuals have attempted to impersonate technicians in a bid to access data from his office, said Weaver. The attempted breaches, on top of the hacking of files from British climate researcher Phil Jones, have heightened fears that climate-change deniers are mounting a campaign to discredit the work of leading meteorologists before the start of the Copenhagen climate summit tomorrow.

"The key thing is to try to find anybody who's involved in any aspect of the IPCC and find something that you can … take out of context," said Weaver. The prospect of more break-ins and hacking has forced researchers to step up computer security.

The blogger currently known as Digby asks "Can someone explain to me why these people hate this climate science so much?" A mere 90 minutes later she answers her own, reasonable, question by quoting approvingly Amanda Marcotte, who posts

And boy, is it effective! Those liberals sure get steamed when they think about how reckless behavior will result in millions of unnecessary deaths. They blow smoke out their ears when you drive around in an SUV precisely to show how little you give a shit if worldwide drought creates worldwide war. They may be smarter and cooler than you, but by being a mega-watt asshole of sociopathic proportions, you gain the upper hand because you piss them off. There are a lot of ways to piss liberals off. You can be pointlessly racist or sexist. You can sniff around in people’s private lives and carry on about how vegetarians are stupid. But few things really can top the global warming denialism. The sheer magnitude of the damage that it does is so severe that it’s impossible for liberals not to get upset. And so you win!

Little bits Marcotte's analysis are offensive. One can do without the profanity, wherein she refers to a_ _ _ _ _ _ _ ; b)contempt for those not young, wherein elsewhere she sees "the doddering old fools in the Senate" (are Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, and Blanche Lincoln old or doddering?); and c) a little elitism ("there may be plenty of morons").

Moreover, although there is some merit in the "I-am-going-to-say-this-stuff-because-it-makes-liberals-mad" theory, there is one more applicable, more universal, reason for global warming denialism. Values. Note Digby asks

Can someone explain to me why these people hate this climate science so much? I mean, I get that they don't like gays and think women should stay barefoot and pregnant. I understand that they hate taxes that pay for things that help people they don't like. Evolution -- yeah, that's obvious.

Taxes are presumably another matter, but opposition to gay rights, abortion rights, and Darwinian evolution is grounded in values- and the primacy of values over scientific knowledge. Most-though not all- science is on the liberal/progressive side of these issues. Most homosexuality is a triumph, for what it's worth, of nature over nurture, most gay people not having chosen their course by choice. And although there is a cottage industry in trying to prove that science does not support the idea of evolution and a young earth, there is a reason they call the buorgeoning meme "creation science"- it's a departure from the brunt of scientific evidence. There is a legitimate anti-abortion rights argument to be made, but mostly based on a pro-life perspective, theologically and morally; the idea of life beginning at conception is a popular one but scientifically limited given what science knows about fetal higher brain activity. (For an objective view of the science, see "Abortion and Brain Waves," subtitled "what neither side wants you to know," by Gregg Easterbrook.)

And Marcotte says what I've been trying to say (which means she's accurate, obviously) when she explains

I will never deny that there is a lot of stupidity on the right, of course, and so I'll accept there may be plenty of morons.... But as you know, when it comes to the "stupid or evil" question, I tend to believe there's more evil- and that the evil occupies the important leadership roles- than stupid.

Actually, then, her post on is, in its most important aspect, anti-elitist. Marcotte avoids the trap liberals/progressives fall into, that of arguing that our ideological opponents are "stupid" (see Olbermann, Keith). It is not only demeaning, but inclines us to underestimate our motivated opposition. And it underestimates also the role of the leadership of the conservative movement and its role in riling up the right-wing base for its own purpose(s). Think Hannity and getting conservative Republicans elected; Limbaugh and getting elected Republican politicians who will hew loyally to the corporatist agenda and advance its control over the American people; Beck and gaining greater wealth and, well, having a good old time.

As I'm typing this, Rush Limbaugh is telling his acolytes "we're saying 'no' to socialism, 'no' to Marxism, 'no' to overthrowing the Constitution." It doesn't matter what he's talking about- it's "one size fits all" demagoguery. No one who has any idea what's going on in American society and politics (and he does, despite all available evidence) really believes this. And it doesn't matter.

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