Dilbert Denies Climate Change – I Challenge Dilbert – So It Goes

Dilbert, first published when I was about two years old, always got a chuckle from me as a lad because the pictures were silly, but it later became newly revelatory after I began to live through the tedium of elevator small talk, witnessed firsthand the omnipresence of miscommunication, and stared down the specter of utter misunderstanding between two or more departments that handled more-or-less the same material.  Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator, has injected doses of sanity into general office culture where little sanity exists.  He is, in addition to Mike Judge, one of the true Bodhisattvas of the corporate world, offering comedic salvation from what is otherwise a paradigm that induces near-constant existential crises for the jaded (me) and the less mentally resolute (also me).

As a young man I even bought a copy of Adam’s God’s Debris, a really wonderful book that introduces the reader to a lot of strange Philosophical ideas with a supremely gentle touch.  I had long been an Adams fan – and still am – but I found out recently that he is a climate change denier, masquerading as a simple skeptic of the science behind climate change.  I’m sure my frustration will be evident throughout.


Panels five and six: a fundamental mischaracterization of the scientific process.  Screencap from dilbert.com  

Adam’s himself wrote a blog post  wherein he claims that he sides with a majority of scientists “until they change their collective minds” – but the issues he then raises with the scientific status quo he says are “what it would take to convince skeptics that climate science is a problem that we must fix”.  These, unfortunately, are points that only a climate change denier would put forward as counter arguments to what is an overwhelming and well-supported scientific opinion.

I’ve been told in other mediums that “denier” is a dirty word and it’s wrong, or at least unhelpful, to paint those who do not believe in climate change (as it has been presented) as such.  The issue I have with this, however, is that a “denier” of climate change rarely challenges the science behind the consensus or approaches the science itself with a very fundamental misunderstanding of basic science.  I am not a scientist by trade, but I have studied a wide variety of mathematics and understand the basis for many of the theories of climate change, insofar as the mathematical modeling is concerned.  Plus, one of the most common defenses I see for climate change deniers is that they will demand that anyone commenting on the topic be an expert and, yet, when the expert presents their opinion – that man-made climate change is real – they’ll call them a shill, or a lackey, or sell-out, I assume to Green Industry.

I think I should also say that I expect this piece to be rather ineffective; since climate change denial is literally based (by and large, and I would love to see a cogent argument as to why this is untrue) on a distrust of the scientific community, I doubt that my appeals will reach many.  I think fundamentally, that the approach by Bill Nye et al is hamfisted; the people who they are ostensibly attempting to convince will never, ever believe them.  Instead, perhaps a more helpful consideration is that the United States Military, among others, have been talking about man-made climate change for over a decade and deem it a real national security threat.  Climate Change is absolutely real, and you should care about it if only because it puts the security of the US at risk.

Without Further Ado: A Point-by-point refutation of Adam’s Climate Change Skepticism from the post linked above: 

1. Stop telling me the “models” (plural) are good. If you told me one specific model was good, that might sound convincing. But if climate scientists have multiple models, and they all point in the same general direction, something sounds fishy. If climate science is relatively “settled,” wouldn’t we all use the same models and assumptions?

And why can’t science tell me which one of the different models is the good one, so we can ignore the less-good ones? What’s up with that? If you can’t tell me which model is better than the others, why would I believe anything about them?

What, precisely, sounds fishy about a number of models pointing in the same general direction?  The models overwhelmingly agree on the future state of the climate.  If anything, this is MORE disturbing because it means that regardless of how generous or free-handed we are with the variables involved, we still end up in a place that is severely detrimental to human civilization.  If you had a hundred models, ninety-nine of which agreed it was going to rain tomorrow and the only difference was how much, would  you  not bring your umbrella?

2. Stop telling me the climate models are excellent at hindcasting, meaning they work when you look at history. That is also true of financial models, and we know financial models can NOT predict the future. We also know that investment advisors like to show you their pure-luck past performance to scam you into thinking they can do it in the future. To put it bluntly, climate science is using the most well-known scam method (predicting the past) to gain credibility. That doesn’t mean climate models are scams. It only means scientists picked the least credible way to claim credibility. Were there no options for presenting their case in a credible way?

Just to be clear, hindcasting is a necessary check-off for knowing your models are rational and worthy of testing in the future. But it tells you nothing of their ability to predict the future. If scientists were honest about that point, they would be more credible.

Specialized predictions in Economics and Finance are inherently flawed because they are experiments in mass psychology.  An economic model must assume some level of rationality for consumers, which can never be completely accurate.  In the natural sciences, however, you’ll find Carbon Dioxide doesn’t have feelings and the temperature of the ocean doesn’t care if the Fed lowers interest rates.  The issue is that EVERY science uses the same or similar methodology (differential equations, exponential growth, game theory, Markov chains, probability) but you must look at the SUBJECT MATTER of each experiment: if it involves economics, you immediately have a less reliable model than a similar model in the natural sciences.  Again, go ask a molecule of Carbon Dioxide if the amount of heat it can hold in the atmosphere varies based on housing prices in Cleveland.

3. Tell me what percentage of warming is caused by humans versus natural causes. If humans are 10% of the cause, I am not so worried. If we are 90%, you have my attention. And if you leave out the percentage caused by humans, I have to assume the omission is intentional. And why would you leave out the most important number if you were being straight with people? Sounds fishy.

There might be a good reason why science doesn’t know the percentage of human-made warming and still has a good reason for being alarmed. I just haven’t seen it, and I’ve been looking for it. Why would climate science ignore the only important fact for persuasion?

Today I saw an article saying humans are responsible for MORE than 100% of warming because the earth would otherwise be in a cooling state. No links provided. Credibility = zero.

What source are you going to believe, Scott?  Who is omitting this information?  Is this the article you saw?  If links aren’t provided – on the internet and on a random website – I’d say your refusal to do just a bit of legwork to track down a source tacitly illustrates your true position.

4. Stop attacking some of the messengers for believing that our reality holds evidence of Intelligent Design. Climate science alarmists need to update their thinking to the “simulated universe” idea that makes a convincing case that we are a trillion times more likely to be a simulation than we are likely to be the first creatures who can create one. No God is required in that theory, and it is entirely compatible with accepted science. (Even if it is wrong.)

Fine, but this assumes that people who believe that there is evidence for Intelligent Design would be able to accept that ANY intelligence might be able to create our universe, not just the God of a Messianic faith.  I’m sure scientists would be willing to admit this possibility if ID’ers are.

5. Skeptics produce charts of the earth’s temperature going up and down for ages before humans were industrialized. If you can’t explain-away that chart, I can’t hear anything else you say. I believe the climate alarmists are talking about the rate of increase, not the actual temperatures. But why do I never see their chart overlayed on the skeptics’ chart so we can see the difference? That seems like the obvious thing to do. In fact, climate alarmists should throw out everything but that one chart. 

To which “skeptics’ chart” are you referring?  Which sources are you going to believe? There are many sources for global temperature data.  The temperatures AND the rate of change are at issue, because with a higher rate of change, temperature becomes harder and harder to reverse.     


From NASA, if you believe in that kinda stuff

6. Stop telling me the arctic ice on one pole is decreasing if you are ignoring the increase on the other pole. Or tell me why the experts observing the ice increase are wrong. When you ignore the claim, it feels fishy.

WHO IS TELLING YOU THIS?  There are myriad sources which would explain this to you and the reasons why, if you bothered to look.

7. When skeptics point out that the Earth has not warmed as predicted, don’t change the subject to sea levels. That sounds fishy. 

Again, which sources are you referring to?  Who is telling you this?  I cannot counter this information if I don’t have it in the first place.

8. Don’t let the skeptics talk last. The typical arc I see online is that Climate Scientists point out that temperatures are rising, then skeptics produce a chart saying the temperatures are always fluctuating, and have for as far as we can measure. If the real argument is about rate of change, stop telling me about record high temperatures as if they are proof of something.

The argument is about both.  Why would a record high not be of concern?  Even if temperatures fluctuate over time, to have a record high still means that fluctuations were sufficient enough to put global temperatures off the charts, and that only happens if there is a steady increase in rate.  Rate and maximums are MATHEMATICALLY related, especially in that you’re going to reach maximums much more quickly at a greater rate.

9. Stop pointing to record warmth in one place when we’re also having record cold in others. How is one relevant and the other is not?

They are both relevant and this has been widely discussed in the literature.  Again, who is suggesting this isn’t important?  I have no idea what source this is coming from, or are you pulling from a comment section somewhere?

10. Don’t tell me how well your models predict the past. Tell me how many climate models have ever been created, since we started doing this sort of thing, and tell me how many have now been discarded because they didn’t predict correctly. If the answer is “All of the old ones failed and we were totally surprised because they were good at hindcasting,” then why would I trust the new ones?

Have you done any research yourself or are you content to look at the comment sections of articles?  This is a copy of one of the first models of global warming.  This is an interview from decades later with [one of the] scientist[s] who created it, who suggests that modeling has been improved over the years, but the fundamentals of the models remain the same.  To put it bluntly, increases in greenhouse gasses increase the greenhouse effect, period.  Manabe’s interview is a perfect example of questioning the science of climate change scientifically, though you will at no point hear him deny that increases in global warming since industrialization is anything other than human-influenced.


Ground measured Sea Level, courtesy of NASA

11. When you claim the oceans have risen dramatically, you need to explain why insurance companies are ignoring this risk and why my local beaches look exactly the same to me. Also, when I Google this question, why are half of the top search results debunking the rise? How can I tell who is right? They all sound credible to me.

This is utter laziness or willful ignorance.  I’m not sure what you googled, but there are many, manymany sources that talk about insurers taking climate change very seriously and adjusting their risk assessments accordingly.  Which sources, specifically, are debunking the rise of sea levels?  There is a difference between local sea level and the Global Sea Level.

12. If you want me to believe warmer temperatures are bad, you need to produce a chart telling me how humankind thrived during various warmer and colder eras. Was warming usually good or usually bad?

You also need to convince me that economic models are accurate. Sure, we might have warming, but you have to run economic models to figure out how that affects things. And economic models are, as you know, usually worthless.

Extremes of temperature are bad, not just warm temperatures – how do you think humanity fared during the Ice Age?  Was it better or worse than in an environment ideal for agriculture?  It’s not the effect on humans that is detrimental (necessarily) but rather the effect temperature may have on our food sources and our other resources, like standing water.  As you said before, if the RATE of temperature change is at issue (it certainly is) then the ability for humans to figure out ways to help their food and resources adapt to rapidly changing temperature is the true problem.

Economic models, despite their shortcomings, are deadly accurate in terms of two concepts: supply and demand.  Anyone – ANYONE – could tell you that the less fresh water their is, the more demand for fresh water there will be.  Likewise, the price will rise.  Supposing that extremes of temperature would affect this – I think most would understand more heat means less water – then what other evidence do you need?  I am at a loss as to how else to communicate this.

 14. If skeptics make you retreat to Pascal’s Wager as your main argument for aggressively responding the climate change, please understand that you lost the debate. The world is full of risks that might happen. We don’t treat all of them as real. And we can’t rank any of these risks to know how to allocate our capital to the best path. Should we put a trillion dollars into climate remediation or use that money for a missile defense system to better protect us from North Korea?

You’ll notice I haven’t retreated from any one of these arguments.  Most I find minimally compelling, but you’ll find that people are assessing risk all of the time, if not at the scale that you’re demanding.  Look at your earlier example of insurance companies: they ARE responding to climate change on scales that typically fly under the radar, but this is nonetheless precisely contrary to what you suggest.  As I mentioned earlier, the US Military is well aware of climate change and is running its own risk assessments: which are surely being considered in juxtaposition to other threats, like a North Korean nuclear strike, for instance.

People ask me why I keep writing on this topic. My interest is the psychology around it, and the persuasion game on both sides. And it seems to me that climate scientists are the Hillary Clinton of scientists. They think facts and reason will persuade the public. Even though science knows that doesn’t generally work.

And yet, you ask for facts and reason?  Do me – do us all – a favor: what would actually convince you that climate change is a real threat?  Why would anyone make this up? Are scientists who are making 40-50k at Universities and Agencies the world over in on the conspiracy?  If so, why are they not rich?   We don’t have too much time left to argue.





Podcast Companion – Ep04

In Episode 04 I talk about Rachel Maddow’s poor handling of Trump’s 1040, the persistence of the liberal bubble, Trump voters and the ACA, AG Jeff Sessions, and Sec Def Mattis.

To go along with E04, I’ve included a list of sources that I referenced during recording:

Ep03 of the Podcast – Tammy and the T-Rex

My article about Maddow

Do Trump Voters Feel Buyer’s Remorse Yet

Breitbart’s Take on Ryan’s “Obamacare 2.0”

Another Breitbart Commentary on Obamacare 2.0, aka a Ryan Hitpiece

Rand Paul Criticizes Paul Ryan’s AHCA

DOJ Transcript of AG Sessions’s Remarks in Richmond VA on 15 March 2017

DEA Drug Schedules

ProPublica Article on Mattis’s Comments re: Climate Change

2010 DoD Report on Military Challenges


Quick Thoughts: Vetting and Radicalization

Following Trump’s “Muslim Ban” the issue about the refugee vetting process has reached a fevered pitch.

But few of the arguments (so far) have been constructive.

What we do know is that the vetting process is already very thorough [1], [2], [3] and, statistically, very effective, which is just one reason why so many were so angered by President Trump’s illogical blanket ban that, among many other glaring shortcomings, didn’t include a number of countries with well-established ties to terror.

Fears of admitting Muslim Extremists to the US have been pitted against fears that any type of drastic pivot to a harsher vetting process would only seek to harm America’s image on the world’s stage.

Opponents of current vetting procedures cite a laundry list of terror attacks that have occurred on US soil such as the San Bernardino Attack or the Boston Marathon Bombing (among others) as examples of why we need better vetting for immigrants and refugees to the US. There certainly are improvements to be made to the process, but everyone should be open to discussions that will keep it a fluid and dynamic system.  It must continue to adapt to needs of the US and the world over time by becoming more lax or more restrictive as needed.

In the place of reasonable discussion, however, we’re met with a wild mix of equal parts erroneous conjecture, ignorance of the facts, and utter lack of long-term thinking. I haven’t heard any good arguments about reforming the vetting process, only that it “needs” it, which is quite obviously coming from a place of fear. I’m all for a re-examination of the process so long as: specific deficiencies in our current system are highlighted, solutions to those deficiencies are proposed, and a strong case can be made that these solutions will result in a net-positive impact for the United States. As I see it, there are two major problems facing the United States at present regarding discussions about its policies on terror and immigration:

Problem 1: Conflating the Issues

While it’s entirely true that the US has been the target of both lone-wolf and directed terror attacks on its own soil, people are too quick to single out the vetting process as the culprit.

Most of the perpetrators of US based terror attacks have been young men who are citizens or residents of the US who immigrated with their families, often when they were young.  The vetting process, by definition, does not screen for future radicalization; it is not a “pre-crime” unit, nor should that be expected of it.

Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino attacks, was born and raised in the United States.[4] Of the Tsarnaev brothers who conducted the Boston Marathon Bombings, one was a naturalized US citizen and both were raised in the United States.[5] Omar Mateen, perpetrator of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, was a US citizen born and raised in the US.[6] Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American, immigrated to the US at a young age and would later be implicated in a plot to conduct suicide bombings in New York City. [7] In all of these cases, these terrorists are survived by (or have left behind) members of their families that have passed US vetting procedures and have assimilated into American society without committing any terrorist acts. Curious.

Based on the facts, it appears to me that the the pressing threat to American security (as it indirectly relates to vetting) is not direct terror or subterfuge from foreign migrants, but instead home-grown terrorism and the radicalization of first and second generation immigrants and refugees with no connections – initially or otherwise – to established terror networks. Some of the other more frightening commonalities between these acts is that these are young, impressionable, and oftentimes disturbed men who may seek out violent ideologies that are in-line with their own thoughts. What is more frightening still are the similarities between young men like these and other non-Muslim, American, mass-murderers. It all comes full circle when we realize that we can’t readily stop, or even predict, when the next young male – Muslim, citizen, or otherwise – will decide to enact violence on a mass scale. The only true variable in these despicable occurrences is which misguided ideology the perpetrator will choose to justify their actions.

Problem 2: No Long Term Solution

If we accept that radicalization is an important issue, then perhaps our vetting process shouldn’t be our primary concern. There are certainly issues involving our screening procedures, but in many cases these failures are not intelligence gathering, but failures of action on the part of domestic counter-terror units. [8], [9] We should also re-evaluate the effectiveness and potential harm of domestic terror sting operations and dragnets conducted by US Intelligence Agencies. [10]

We need to consider the effect of heavy-handed and punitive immigration policies on the radicalization of Muslim individuals both at home and abroad. Is wise for us to communicate a distrust of Muslims in general through legislation and executive power? Should we continue to engage in interventions in the Middle East that cause massive collateral damage and further radicalize local populations? Surely not. Instead the United States needs to consider the proper balance between maintaining its security from foreign threats, properly assimilating migrants and immigrants, and supporting (and not hindering) grass-roots reform in the Islamic world. We’re already engaged in a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat, reactionary policies, and we have the opportunity to work on ending it if we act intelligently. Perhaps in four or maybe eight years we’ll have the chance to get started in earnest.

Nonetheless, foreign terror is a very real threat and cannot be ignored. I think every American knows that it is only a matter of time before we experience another attack orchestrated by a terror network. Our interventions abroad, however, need to be far more measured than they have been in years past. Likewise, a “take-all-comers” policy for immigration where a few countries unprepared for a massive influx of immigrants bear the brunt of a refugee crisis is a recipe for disaster. Europe is a prime example of the folly of a too-broad refugee effort without appropriate supports, even if their humanitarian spirit is admirable. If we are unable to present a compromise of policy that appeals to those who are already wary of immigrants – specifically Muslim immigrants – we risk the further rightward radicalization of our own constituency which, frankly, frightens me more than nearly anything else.











Ballots or Bullets

It’s taken approximately this long for my thoughts to coalesce to the point where I feel comfortable calling them a semi-ordered mess.  I’ve jotted down notes in notebooks, textbook margins, napkins, post-its, and old bank statements – half finished pieces litter both physical and virtual desktops.  I’ve written scattered thoughts on Trump’s Cabinet appointments, the future of science under the Trump administration, and how best to find common ground in a world filled to the brim with polemic, among many other things.  But I never felt like I had the perspective I needed, at the time, to write something honest or true, and I balk at the idea of adding another voice to a frothing sea of confused and angry noise.  I want to respond, not simply react.

Today, 19 December 2016, the Electoral College will cast its votes to affirm the decision of the National Election – I have little doubt of this.  Regardless of the outcome of the vote, we must each consider how to respond individually and also we need to consider, very carefully, how others will react.

Calls for electors to “Dump Trump” are, I feel, misguided and extremely dangerous.  I’m genuinely fearful of a violent response should the Electoral College fail to affirm the election results.  The discrepancy between the popular vote and the electoral college aside, Trump won fairly – insofar as procedure is concerned – and to challenge that at this point would do irreparable harm.  We must find the wisdom to know when to leverage mechanisms afforded by our Constitution and when to accept a reasonable loss.  Should the results of the election be overturned, the Democratic Party would lose generations of voters who, already easily convinced of the corruptness of establishment politics, would see it as proof positive of a vast Neo-Liberal conspiracy that requires a more unpredictable response.  It comes down to ballots or bullets, as it so often does.

Objective reality, in this case, is irrelevant – appeals on both sides are emotional, opinions are informed by mood and disposition, not facts.  This is what we must realize if reason is to ultimately prevail.  Russian hacking, which Trump seems wildly unconcerned about, troubles me for a wide variety of reasons, but what the leak ultimately revealed about the DNC troubles me substantially more.  Hillary lost the election for such a wide variety of reasons that to point to the Russians as the singular cause is not only wrong to do, but extremely foolish.  If an earnest assessment of election strategy isn’t considered and the left in America continues to stubbornly refuse to accept reality, America can expect more of the same.

The real tragedy in all of this is how the least fortunate Americans were fooled into thinking Trump had any of their best interests at heart.  As his cabinet fills with his millionaire and billionaire donors, I try to stress – as I so often do – that the common man has nothing in common with these elite other than perhaps a biological need for food, oxygen, and water.  Trump’s stated aim of “draining the swamp” has already turned out to be an effort to replace one mire with another and we can expect to see his campaign promises fall through one by one, starting with the wall.  Or fence.

But this won’t matter in the near term.  Trump’s word, to his most ardent supporters, is more than enough.  We’ll hear how his own inaction and back-peddling isn’t his fault, but instead – somehow – the liberal media’s fault instead.  Even with Congress stacked in his favor, Trump won’t be held accountable for his failures and his words will continue to have a messianic effect.  What’s perplexing, it seems, to quite a few on the left is how anyone could believe any of this, and while the answer isn’t simple, it is clear.  What’s more, this genuine confusion is indicative of a larger problem with some unique roots in the digital age.

When the American election is viewed within the scope of Western populist movements, xenophobia readily surfaces as a commonality.  In the US, Mexcians and Syrians (or Muslims, even more broadly) are the primary source of worry.  In its own way, this is the same as it’s always been; wild fears, hysteria, and discrimination has always surrounded different minority groups in the US at different times, including notably Mexicans, Africans, Chinese, the Irish, et al.  In many ways these fears self-assemble and are more than the sum of their parts.  Politicians, most notably on the American right, have used these fears for political gain even when they knew they were unfounded.

A few notable twentieth-century instances of the political leveraging of xenophobia and fear are especially telling in this regard.  John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon advisor, spoke candidly to journalist Dan Daum about the war on drugs:

I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Similarly, the Southern Strategy of the Republican party, leveraged the racism of Southern voting blocs, but using language that was murky enough to ensure the GOP wouldn’t paint itself with the wrong brush.  Lee Atwater, a campaign strategist, explains in an interview:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The American left, I think, isn’t immune from this type of political strategy, but strangely I do think it may be more diffuse, organic, and possibly unintentional.  The left’s xenophobia is not directed outward but rather inward toward American conservatives.  It’s with a rabid, intellectual scorn that the American left shouts down opinions that smack of anything that doesn’t fit in precisely with any specific progressive agenda.  The “establishment” right, has for quite a long time been complacent in thar respect:

For years the conservative movement has tried to appeal to its media talking partners by smoothing the movement’s rough edges. It has tried to find common purpose with the liberal establishment by avoiding any appearance of extremism. Its affluent spokesmen have separated themselves from those who seem more “conservative” in their principles than the goal of bridge-building might render acceptable. Mainstream conservatives, especially those identified with foundations, have pursued this course not only to reassure liberal media colleagues but increasingly in recent decades to improve their place in the Republican Party. Since the 1980s, the conservative movement’s association with the Republican Party has grown so tight that it is hard to imagine the movement surviving in the Washington Beltway without it.

Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, Paul Edward Gottfried  (pg x)

To many on the left, conservative voters are hillbillies, flyover state rednecks, racists, homophobic, backward and deplorable.  Very little consideration is given to issues specific to those voters – on either side of the divide – and like it or not, there is truth to be found, if it is only subjective.  Like it or not, there are reasons why Trump was elected and they need to be examined, even if they are uncomfortable.  One of these reasons, and I think this is likely the one liberals have the most control over, is that of facilitating reasonable and rational discussions about issues involving race, wealth, and gender, and to not halt these discussions at the point of discomfort or because someone might become offended.  A fact that will be important to embrace in the future is that “offense” is not a reasonable metric for ethical considerations, nor is it a necessary indicator of objective truth.

In a recent podcast during a discussion with Brookings Institute fellow Shadi HamidSam Harris pointed out that if reasonable, objective discussions about difficult issues are entirely unavailable or effectively inaccessible because of omnipresent taboos, people will naturally tend rightward – often to extremes – to feel secure.  It is time to have some very difficult and uncomfortable discussions about a wide range of topics (race, income disparity, Islam, immigration) or else we risk losing more good people to the mania of extremism.

A perfect example of this is yet another resurgence of Scientific Racism, fueled by speculative works by Nicholas Wade (MY REVIEW FORTHCOMING) and the “human biodiversity” movement whose major players include Steve Sailer and Razib Khan.  The human biodiversity movement examines, and often concludes, that micro-evolution has created separate human races with differing abilities influenced by their environments, which in turn can influence and impact civilization, science, learning, and social progress.  The movement makes a strong pivot away from the idea of race as a “social construct” – which is the widely accepted theory in most academic circles.  This is a prime example of the necessity to have open discussions about race and science.  If you hypothetically accept that there are different “races” of humans on the earth with differing abilities, this can lead to some uncomfortable conclusions.  But, is it better to have this discussion now and determine how to ensure equal treatment for all humans under a hypothetical scenario, or will our collective silence and tut-tut-ing of fringe opinion continue until it becomes a commonly accepted idea?  For reference, in the past Scientific Racism was highly influential for decades, often centuries, in strengthening the rationale for imperialism, eugenics, state-sponsored oppression, and genocide.


From Types of Mankind, Nott, et al, 1854 (pg 458-59)

The major difficulty we all face is an overwhelming, never ending torrent of information from sources the world over.  Our brains, as humans, simply have not evolved to process this amount of information effectively.  The result: human fallacies and inferential errors are magnified and exacerbated.  A negative interaction on social media with a person holding opposing views leads to a hasty generalization about “the others”.  Humans are still very tribalistic in that way; xenophobia and quick judgments were an effective survival strategy in the past, but are difficult to reconcile with circles of social interaction that are orders of magnitude larger than they’ve been at any other point in history.  What’s more, with everyone able to speak their mind so readily and with perspectives so varied, it’s no wonder that category mistakes abound.

I will say again, that we ignore all of this at our peril.  American Democracy is hardly as robust as it seems.  People seem to have quite a lot of faith in the strength of our institutions, but to suggest that political upheaval couldn’t happen here is absurd.  Unfortunately, this is a common attitude.  On 10 November 2016, a Muslim Trump supporter wrote:

 Days before the election, a journalist from India emailed me, asking: What are your thoughts being a Muslim in “Trump’s America”?

I wrote that as a child of India, arriving in the United States at the age of 4 in the summer of 1969, I have absolutely no fears about being a Muslim in a “Trump America.” The checks and balances in America and our rich history of social justice and civil rights will never allow the fear-mongering that has been attached to candidate Trump’s rhetoric to come to fruition. [my emphasis added]    

It’s this type of deluded complacency we should all be acutely aware of and adamantly argue against.  Fascism has sprung up elsewhere in “stable” regions.  Our country is not perfect, nor is it immune from a grand and terrible fall.  In some ways, this type of attitude will never go away; generational memory only lasts for so long.  Ancestors removed from struggle will never fully understand.  To some extent, we all take our freedom for granted.  Understanding our history is the only key here, and history clearly indicates Democracy may be in danger.

So how should we begin to branch the divide?  I, for one, believe that liberals have a firm responsibility to become more pragmatic and less rabid in the defense of a progressive agenda.  We’ve got to be willing to have discussions about difficult topics without immediately decrying opposing viewpoints as bigoted – because they aren’t necessarily so.  By all means stand up for yourself, but pick your battles and call out hypersensitivity when you see it, again, because this is not a valid contribution to an argument about the way things should be.    Finally, find other ways to get what you want or find a better way to agree.  Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an absolutely fantastic piece on global warming that sets aside climate change and instead makes an appeal to health, economics, and common sense.

That might be the best thing about Trump as a president: he’s a businessman.  For him, the bottom line is what matters, meaning that this can be leveraged.  For instance, Trump made some surprising remarks regarding transgender bathrooms:

Asked if the Trump organization employs any transgender people, Mr. Trump said he truly did not know, but added, “I probably do.” And in response to a follow-up question, he said that if Caitlyn Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use a bathroom, he would be comfortable with her choosing any bathroom she wanted. “That is correct,” Mr. Trump said.

“There’s a big move to create new bathrooms” for transgender people alone, Mr. Trump said. “First of all, I think that would be discriminatory in a certain way. It would be unbelievably expensive for businesses and for the country. Leave it the way it is.”

In addition, Trump will have trouble ignoring the falling costs of alternative clean energies and the drastic uptick in alternative energy investors.  The question then becomes not “how do we leverage the bottom line” but rather “how do we leverage the bottom line before it’s too late”?



Echoes of Narcissus

In a modern take on Ovid’s tale, America has begun to craft a myth of its own.

The American left has become isolated from the political realities of the rest of the country.  Social media has become a convincing echo chamber for any number of artificial realities of our own creation.  We habitually expose ourselves only to a small circle of like-minded individuals and manage to fool ourselves into believing that our anecdotal experience is indicative of a larger trend, or even a consensus.  We “de-friend” those with different opinions not because we find them off-putting or even repugnant, but because we receive fevered congratulations from an  agreeable hive-mind when we announce that we’ve done so.  If instead we decide to keep detractors within our social circle, it’s only for cheap political argument fodder.  This is misguided pride and smug self-superiority at its worst.  Of course this behavior isn’t limited to either side of the divide, and we’ve all managed to intellectually distance ourselves from an empathetic understanding of other American lives.  Whether or not you find another citizen’s viewpoints untenable is irrelevant.  This is a Democracy, and their vote counts just as much as yours.

What so many have feared has already begun – reports of hate speech and attacks on citizens are flooding in.  Trump’s behavior has encouraged and emboldened the far-right racists in this country, but it’s very important to remember that not all Trump supporters are racist, sexist, homophobic, or misogynistic.  You may argue that simply voting for Trump makes them all of those things at once, but the issue is decidedly more complex because they don’t see themselves that way.

In any case, it’s becoming clear that many Trump supporters are angry and feel disenfranchised by establishment politicians.  As always, this is a class battle at its core.  Can we really expect a rural voter without much exposure to a minority population and their issues to be concerned with race relations instead of jobs?  Can we expect them to be concerned that their president is a racist or a misogynist when they’re struggling to find work or feed their families?  Can we expect them to care at all about a minority population if they feel equally let down by the government?  What motivation would most Americans have to vote for a radical change in leaders if they were content?  Whatever objective moral judgement you may feel the need to levy on Trump’s supporters, it’s important to remember that this will not change the political reality we’re facing; we need to bring more into the fold.  These are precisely the types of people that the left are supposed to care about.  To be clear, I do think even reasonable Trump supporters are lacking a substantial amount of empathy and awareness as well – they must come to understand the outrage that comes with being gay, a minority, an immigrant, a Muslim,  a woman, or some combination thereof – and seeing a man who has openly said or done awful things to those groups – propelled into the highest office in the land.

And again the mistakes in Hillary’s campaign – from its inception – pushed people into the waiting arms of Trump and Johnson.  Her comment about “deplorables” was gleefully celebrated at the time, but is now another regrettable moment on par with her lack of visits to key states.  You may argue that Trump said much worse – and he did – but this isn’t a contest anymore.

I haven’t yet decided on how dangerous Trump himself will be as a president in terms on what he’s actually able or willing to do.  I know that the current of hate he rode in on is incredibly volatile and will affect our country for many years.  We are bound to see increases in violence, hate speech, and vile anachronistic politics on every level.  Part of me, not a small part, thinks that Trump wanted to use his presidential candidacy as as credibility for his new network and never actually expected to win.  Unquestionably, Trump is an outstanding political talent and exceedingly perceptive in terms of reading both a crowd and a constituency, but it’s fairly clear that he doesn’t have a plan.  Many of the more frightening initiatives and timelines he’s suggested – like mass deportations – are mathematically impossible, but the mere mention of the idea smacks of internment or  much worse.  We all have an obligation to challenge these types of initiatives simply because we are in very real danger of repeating some decidedly dark history.  Garrison Keillor writes with a disgust that I understand and an apathy borne of a weariness we all know, but Trump must not go unchallenged.  We cannot afford the alternative.

What’s most disturbing is that the parallels between modern America and Weimar Germany are becoming undeniable.  In 2010, Noam Chomsky commented on the perilous state of America with eerily prescient accuracy:

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

The American left itself is fractured, confused and muddled and the ultra-right has capitalized on a system chock-full of disenfranchised and disillusioned constituents.  As in Weimar Germany, if the left fails to unify, we all stand to lose, some worse than others.

Chomsky has advocated for a LEV – lesser evil voting strategy, and being in a safe state (DC) I strongly considered an abstention or a write-in.  But what’s the grander strategy for the future?  There’s quite a lot of blame going around for voting against the party line, or voting for a third party, or for the forty percent of eligible voters who didn’t bother to go to the polls – but this view is limited.  There is much more to consider when all of these things are happening concurrently and when our popular vote choices amount to casting our ballot “against” someone and not necessarily “for” someone else.  This election did not occur in a vacuum and outrage will not win hearts and minds.  We need to start considering ways to get the electorate involved and interested, we need to consider a more diverse range of common interests, and we need to have the foresight to make a strong pivot away from a binary system, or we risk everything.  I believe that Americans still have much more in common than they think they do.