Trust and Science.

Nathan Robinson, usual to form, has an excellent essay on the problem of politics surrounding climate change.  In many ways, it echoes the same argument that I’d often brought up concerning “science,” often using creationism as an example.  The problem is that the advocates of one side or the other are not necessarily more “knowledgeable” simply because of which side they are on.  They may be making the superior argument because the experts they trust are better, but the latter is not necessarily a guarantee that their arguments themselves are somehow “better,” or indeed, that those who disagree with them should necessarily accept them.  Creationists do not necessarily care much as to the science of evolution is “right” (Or, indeed, which “science”?  The process of evolution IS rather complicated and many self-claimed evolutionists mess up the science badly.) but the crux of the problem is that they know that people like Dawkins are using evolutionary science as a tool to attack them, their way of life, and the beliefs that they hold dear.  Wiser evolutionary scientists like Stephen Jay Gould saw this:  Gould was extraordinarily sympathetic to William Jennings Bryan, precisely because of what led him to creationism, and felt that it was the subordination of certain scientific theories (including those that turned out to be wrong and self serving, like scientific racism) to a political agenda that led to problemsfelt that it was the subordination of certain scientific theories (which turned out to be wrong and self serving, like scientific racism) to a political agenda that led to problems.  (Yes, one might say that climate change is real while scientific racism is not.  But how do you know?  Advocates of scientific racism really believed that they were doing good science.)

The same argument ultimately applies to the climate change problems today.  To the coal miner in West Virginia, the calls for tougher controls on carbon is nothing more than a display of ill will by those who already hold them and their way of life in contempt, just a tool to deprive them of life, almost literally.  It is not shocking that they should reject climate change  vociferously.  Subordination of the climate science to the politics of culture-and-economic wars, in other words, has corrupted the message by associating it with the messengers who are not trusted.  The politics of inclusiveness and heresthetics applies to the climate change issues as well as any however.  It will not be possible to convince them simply by badgering them, or even throwing “science” at them.  Very few of us are real climate science experts:  we have a bit of knowledge and an idea of whom we can trust, but we cannot claim to actually “understand” the nitty gritty of science.  If the opponents of climate change disbelieve climate change because the climate change experts have lost their trust, simply repeating the “propaganda” lines will not regain that trust.  What should be done instead, as Robinson suggests and is implied by the politics of heresthetics, is to change the dimension.  Make a deal.  Offer the coal miners, so to speak, a deal that they can believe in that actually delivers on what they stand to lose in coal–actual jobs with security that confers them a sense of dignity, for example, though the mouth of someone whom they can actually trust.  Include them in the coalition, in other words.  They may or may not believe that climate change is real, even after that point.  That is irrelevant at that point.  They have far less of a reason to resist since their lives are not at risk when they are included in the coalition.  Coalitions can shift, even when minds may not.

At the risk of taking a cheap potshot, I suspect that the reason this path is not often taken is because the miners’ suspicions are, in fact, often more correct than not.  Those who clamor for doing something about climate change are less concerned about the climate than themselves being “right.”  The prescription that I have described means giving up the “rightness of the agenda” in search of an alternate coalition that can actually bring the substantive change in policy, but the wonkish mindset is preoccupied with “I’m right because of such and such facts and figures.”  The important part is that the wonk is right, and the climate change is simply the “facts and figures” that prove it–exactly the sort of problem that Gould pointed to.  That is the attitude that lost William J. Bryan.  It is the attitude that is in process of losing his people, again, to the Democrats, as evidenced by the election of 2016.


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