January 7, 2008 at 6:44 pm #26913
-interesting read, I think it points again to a need for inner guidance of the heart and souls. Ofcourse I think he believe salvation will come through better science, but better science comes from better people, all things arise from the self thus self correction is needed(I think thats the qoute).
San Francisco, CA
September 15, 2003
This was not the first discussion of environmentalism as a religion, but it caught on and was widely quoted. Michael explains why religious approaches to the environment are inappropriate and cause damage to the natural world they intent to protect.
I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.
We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.
As an example of this challenge, I want to talk today about environmentalism. And in order not to be misunderstood, I want it perfectly clear that I believe it is incumbent on us to conduct our lives in a way that takes into account all the consequences of our actions, including the consequences to other people, and the consequences to the environment. I believe it is important to act in ways that are sympathetic to the environment, and I believe this will always be a need, carrying into the future. I believe the world has genuine problems and I believe it can and should be improved. But I also think that deciding what constitutes responsible action is immensely difficult, and the consequences of our actions are often difficult to know in advance. I think our past record of environmental action is discouraging, to put it mildly, because even our best intended efforts often go awry. But I think we do not recognize our past failures, and face them squarely. And I think I know why.
I studied anthropology in college, and one of the things I learned was that certain human social structures always reappear. They can’t be eliminated from society. One of those structures is religion. Today it is said we live in a secular society in which many people—the best people, the most enlightened people—do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You can not believe in God, but you still have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and shapes your sense of the world. Such a belief is religious.
Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.
Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.
And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. Increasingly it seems facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It’s about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.
Am I exaggerating to make a point? I am afraid not. Because we know a lot more about the world than we did forty or fifty years ago. And what we know now is not so supportive of certain core environmental myths, yet the myths do not die. Let’s examine some of those beliefs.
There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?
And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up, to accelerate the process. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety.
How about the human condition in the rest of the world? The Maori of New Zealand committed massacres regularly. The dyaks of Borneo were headhunters. The Polynesians, living in an environment as close to paradise as one can imagine, fought constantly, and created a society so hideously restrictive that you could lose your life if you stepped in the footprint of a chief. It was the Polynesians who gave us the very concept of taboo, as well as the word itself. The noble savage is a fantasy, and it was never true. That anyone still believes it, 200 years after Rousseau, shows the tenacity of religious myths, their ability to hang on in the face of centuries of factual contradiction.
There was even an academic movement, during the latter 20th century, that claimed that cannibalism was a white man’s invention to demonize the indigenous peoples. (Only academics could fight such a battle.) It was some thirty years before professors finally agreed that yes, cannibalism does indeed occur among human beings. Meanwhile, all during this time New Guinea highlanders in the 20th century continued to eat the brains of their enemies until they were finally made to understand that they risked kuru, a fatal neurological disease, when they did so.
More recently still the gentle Tasaday of the Philippines turned out to be a publicity stunt, a nonexistent tribe. And African pygmies have one of the highest murder rates on the planet.
In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don’t, they will die.
And if you, even now, put yourself in nature even for a matter of days, you will quickly be disabused of all your romantic fantasies. Take a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you’ll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, you’ll have infections and sickness and if you’re not with somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’ll quickly starve to death. But chances are that even in the jungles of Borneo you won’t experience nature so directly, because you will have covered your entire body with DEET and you will be doing everything you can to keep those bugs off you.
The truth is, almost nobody wants to experience real nature. What people want is to spend a week or two in a cabin in the woods, with screens on the windows. They want a simplified life for a while, without all their stuff. Or a nice river rafting trip for a few days, with somebody else doing the cooking. Nobody wants to go back to nature in any real way, and nobody does. It’s all talk-and as the years go on, and the world population grows increasingly urban, it’s uninformed talk. Farmers know what they’re talking about. City people don’t. It’s all fantasy.
One way to measure the prevalence of fantasy is to note the number of people who die because they haven’t the least knowledge of how nature really is. They stand beside wild animals, like buffalo, for a picture and get trampled to death; they climb a mountain in dicey weather without proper gear, and freeze to death. They drown in the surf on holiday because they can’t conceive the real power of what we blithely call “the force of nature.” They have seen the ocean. But they haven’t been in it.
The television generation expects nature to act the way they want it to be. They think all life experiences can be tivo-ed. The notion that the natural world obeys its own rules and doesn’t give a damn about your expectations comes as a massive shock. Well-to-do, educated people in an urban environment experience the ability to fashion their daily lives as they wish. They buy clothes that suit their taste, and decorate their apartments as they wish. Within limits, they can contrive a daily urban world that pleases them.
But the natural world is not so malleable. On the contrary, it will demand that you adapt to it-and if you don’t, you die. It is a harsh, powerful, and unforgiving world, that most urban westerners have never experienced.
Many years ago I was trekking in the Karakorum mountains of northern Pakistan, when my group came to a river that we had to cross. It was a glacial river, freezing cold, and it was running very fast, but it wasn’t deep—maybe three feet at most. My guide set out ropes for people to hold as they crossed the river, and everybody proceeded, one at a time, with extreme care. I asked the guide what was the big deal about crossing a three-foot river. He said, well, supposing you fell and suffered a compound fracture. We were now four days trek from the last big town, where there was a radio. Even if the guide went back double time to get help, it’d still be at least three days before he could return with a helicopter. If a helicopter were available at all. And in three days, I’d probably be dead from my injuries. So that was why everybody was crossing carefully. Because out in nature a little slip could be deadly.
But let’s return to religion. If Eden is a fantasy that never existed, and mankind wasn’t ever noble and kind and loving, if we didn’t fall from grace, then what about the rest of the religious tenets? What about salvation, sustainability, and judgment day? What about the coming environmental doom from fossil fuels and global warming, if we all don’t get down on our knees and conserve every day?
Well, it’s interesting. You may have noticed that something has been left off the doomsday list, lately. Although the preachers of environmentalism have been yelling about population for fifty years, over the last decade world population seems to be taking an unexpected turn. Fertility rates are falling almost everywhere. As a result, over the course of my lifetime the thoughtful predictions for total world population have gone from a high of 20 billion, to 15 billion, to 11 billion (which was the UN estimate around 1990) to now 9 billion, and soon, perhaps less. There are some who think that world population will peak in 2050 and then start to decline. There are some who predict we will have fewer people in 2100 than we do today. Is this a reason to rejoice, to say halleluiah? Certainly not. Without a pause, we now hear about the coming crisis of world economy from a shrinking population. We hear about the impending crisis of an aging population. Nobody anywhere will say that the core fears expressed for most of my life have turned out not to be true. As we have moved into the future, these doomsday visions vanished, like a mirage in the desert. They were never there—though they still appear, in the future. As mirages do.
Okay, so, the preachers made a mistake. They got one prediction wrong; they’re human. So what. Unfortunately, it’s not just one prediction. It’s a whole slew of them. We are running out of oil. We are running out of all natural resources. Paul Ehrlich: 60 million Americans will die of starvation in the 1980s. Forty thousand species become extinct every year. Half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000. And on and on and on.
With so many past failures, you might think that environmental predictions would become more cautious. But not if it’s a religion. Remember, the nut on the sidewalk carrying the placard that predicts the end of the world doesn’t quit when the world doesn’t end on the day he expects. He just changes his placard, sets a new doomsday date, and goes back to walking the streets. One of the defining features of religion is that your beliefs are not troubled by facts, because they have nothing to do with facts.
So I can tell you some facts. I know you haven’t read any of what I am about to tell you in the newspaper, because newspapers literally don’t report them. I can tell you that DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned. I can tell you that the people who banned it knew that it wasn’t carcinogenic and banned it anyway. I can tell you that the DDT ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children, whose deaths are directly attributable to a callous, technologically advanced western society that promoted the new cause of environmentalism by pushing a fantasy about a pesticide, and thus irrevocably harmed the third world. Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die and didn’t give a damn.
I can tell you that second hand smoke is not a health hazard to anyone and never was, and the EPA has always known it. I can tell you that the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. I can tell you the percentage the US land area that is taken by urbanization, including cities and roads, is 5%. I can tell you that the Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. I can tell you that a blue-ribbon panel in Science magazine concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt the rise of carbon dioxide in the 21st century. Not wind, not solar, not even nuclear. The panel concluded a totally new technology-like nuclear fusion-was necessary, otherwise nothing could be done and in the meantime all efforts would be a waste of time. They said that when the UN IPCC reports stated alternative technologies existed that could control greenhouse gases, the UN was wrong.
I can, with a lot of time, give you the factual basis for these views, and I can cite the appropriate journal articles not in whacko magazines, but in the most prestigious science journals, such as Science and Nature. But such references probably won’t impact more than a handful of you, because the beliefs of a religion are not dependent on facts, but rather are matters of faith. Unshakeable belief.
Most of us have had some experience interacting with religious fundamentalists, and we understand that one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They never recognize that their way of thinking is just one of many other possible ways of thinking, which may be equally useful or good. On the contrary, they believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation, and they want to help you to see things the right way. They want to help you be saved. They are totally rigid and totally uninterested in opposing points of view. In our modern complex world, fundamentalism is dangerous because of its rigidity and its imperviousness to other ideas.
I want to argue that it is now time for us to make a major shift in our thinking about the environment, similar to the shift that occurred around the first Earth Day in 1970, when this awareness was first heightened. But this time around, we need to get environmentalism out of the sphere of religion. We need to stop the mythic fantasies, and we need to stop the doomsday predictions. We need to start doing hard science instead.
There are two reasons why I think we all need to get rid of the religion of environmentalism.
First, we need an environmental movement, and such a movement is not very effective if it is conducted as a religion. We know from history that religions tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s. It’s not a good record. Environmentalism needs to be absolutely based in objective and verifiable science, it needs to be rational, and it needs to be flexible. And it needs to be apolitical. To mix environmental concerns with the frantic fantasies that people have about one political party or another is to miss the cold truth—that there is very little difference between the parties, except a difference in pandering rhetoric. The effort to promote effective legislation for the environment is not helped by thinking that the Democrats will save us and the Republicans won’t. Political history is more complicated than that. Never forget which president started the EPA: Richard Nixon. And never forget which president sold federal oil leases, allowing oil drilling in Santa Barbara: Lyndon Johnson. So get politics out of your thinking about the environment.
The second reason to abandon environmental religion is more pressing. Religions think they know it all, but the unhappy truth of the environment is that we are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems, and we usually are not certain how best to proceed. Those who are certain are demonstrating their personality type, or their belief system, not the state of their knowledge. Our record in the past, for example managing national parks, is humiliating. Our fifty-year effort at forest-fire suppression is a well-intentioned disaster from which our forests will never recover. We need to be humble, deeply humble, in the face of what we are trying to accomplish. We need to be trying various methods of accomplishing things. We need to be open-minded about assessing results of our efforts, and we need to be flexible about balancing needs. Religions are good at none of these things.
How will we manage to get environmentalism out of the clutches of religion, and back to a scientific discipline? There’s a simple answer: we must institute far more stringent requirements for what constitutes knowledge in the environmental realm. I am thoroughly sick of politicized so-called facts that simply aren’t true. It isn’t that these “facts” are exaggerations of an underlying truth. Nor is it that certain organizations are spinning their case to present it in the strongest way. Not at all—what more and more groups are doing is putting out is lies, pure and simple. Falsehoods that they know to be false.
This trend began with the DDT campaign, and it persists to this day. At this moment, the EPA is hopelessly politicized. In the wake of Carol Browner, it is probably better to shut it down and start over. What we need is a new organization much closer to the FDA. We need an organization that will be ruthless about acquiring verifiable results, that will fund identical research projects to more than one group, and that will make everybody in this field get honest fast.
Because in the end, science offers us the only way out of politics. And if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don’t know any better. That’s not a good future for the human race. That’s our past. So it’s time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism, and base our public policy decisions firmly on that.
Thank you very much.January 7, 2008 at 8:26 pm #26914
Sorry Dog, but I’m going to have to go on the
attack here . . . (nothing personal toward you
Some personal (harsh) criticisms of the article:
1. Several unsupported claims
e.g. DDT did not cause birds to die etc.–Really?
I heard that they destroyed the integrity of the
eggshells in Eagle eggs and that is one of the
reasons the bird nearly went extinct. After
the banning of DDT, the population rebounded.
If this story is false, then where is the
evidence. He makes a claim that refutes
popular opinion with no evidence. Now it
may be that his claim is true, but without
any hard evidence to support his claim, it’s
just that . . . a claim. Anybody can claim
anything. Any claim countering common opinion
better have hard data to be taken seriously.
2. Too many straw man arguments
e.g. I don’t know too many environmentalists that
want to save the environment because they
think the natural world was Eden or utopia–so
how does refuting the claim that the natural
world used to be/is utopia refute environmentalism
exactly? Yes, we’ve skewed the carbon dioxide
concentration off the charts, but that
does not imply that what was, was utopia.
It only demonstrates *change*; it does not
provide commentary on the value of what was.
Aside: I think that the majority of people
that want to protect the environment do so,
because of a belief of not doing harm–and
extending that to the planet also. After
all, if you are going to live in a house, you
should take good enough care of it, so it doesn’t
collapse on you before you (or your descendents) are
finished living in it.
Back to the article, the example I gave above is
just one of *many* straw man arguments in the
article. I don’t think I’ve seen so many
in a long long time. He successfully strings them
back to back throughout. In fact, the whole article
is just one continuous assault of them.
Aside: This is the sort of argumentative style
that is typical of the followers of Ayn Rand’s
philosophy of objectivism. They put on rose-colored
glasses, pick a particular issue that they want to refute,
and then they refute a million straw man arguments and
3. No heart
This sort of goes with my last comment regarding
Ayn Rand’s objectivism. Followers of this philosophy
want a society based completely on logical Dr. Spock-type
reasoning based on self-benefit.
As per some of my other recent posts, I definitely
don’t believe in external intervention in people’s lives–
however, individually people should try to think of
themselves as part of an overall collective, and do
things that not only benefit themselves but also
benefit others and show compassion for the fellow man.
Simply filtering away anything that doesn’t benefit
the self is unhealthy in the long term in my opinion.
We should be able to decide how to interact with
the collective ourselves, but we are still part of
It’s too bad I’m not impressed with Crichton’s ability
to present a good argument . . . I did like “Jurassic
Park” . . . although that was fiction. Come to think
of it, so is this article really 😛January 7, 2008 at 10:33 pm #26916
he’s got a point..
many people idealize nature and lack appreciation for modern technology
many people do not understand the 60’s psychedelics of nature…
there is a reason to idealize under mythic circumstances.. animism + soma
it’s both and neither..
it’s rave and forest..
cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness..
if humans leave a big stink they leave a big stink.. i prefer soap, hot water and comfortable clutterJanuary 8, 2008 at 11:26 am #26918
Lost my respect for Crichton after reading “State of Fear”, full of straw man arguments. Just a running lecture basically, depicting his hero, an omniscient MIT professor indoctrinating a lawyer throughout the story. No true representative of the enviromentalists is given a chance to take the floor. Overall a shameful performance.
What I find remarkable, is he published his book just before (in the same year)the Indonesian Tsunami (in his book he depicts eco-terrorists attempting to use bombs to set off a Tsunami in the pacific ocean). He also mentioned weather manipulation, particularly hurricanes.
Still undecided on the Environmental movement. I lean towards it as a genuine movement that has been hijacked (co-intel proed) by the Military/Industrial complex and steered towards their agenda and also providing cover for weather manipulation technology.
DylanJanuary 8, 2008 at 1:54 pm #26920
I am sure you did not know that Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton are high priests of my religion so I will let you slide. Steven Spielberg will be handing down new lessons to us all in the new Indiana Jones. I still having a hard time forgiving you about the whole Dr Spock comment. My goodness man its Dr Spock.
I am not sure your argument was any better. I feel his take on the scentific community/media/private fund groups is valid. Just as valid as your side of the story. I think allot of scientist do not like the role of high priest, my favorite science teacher liked to stress that science is better suited to disprove things then prove them. I have also seen the same in religious circles that find more questions then answers. I think allot of people are waking up to the underlying philosophies that manipulate religion and science(because people place there center in these things) to sale there agenda, one of control/order/predictability or one of anti humanity.January 8, 2008 at 2:24 pm #26922
I think it is almost impossible to be one hundred percent right or one hundered percent wrong. I can read some books and maybe 50 to 60 percent resonate with me some times only 5 percent. I take what I need then leave the rest. I try not to get involved with the writer, just thank them for what ever I got and wish them well.
I have found that mother nature does the controlling allowing lessons here and there, but will kill off whole societies when needed, Sometimes to trigger compassion on a mass scale horrible tragedies are created by the collective. This gets in to the whole ming xing thing. In fact the collective shadow side of humanity and not a shadowy goverment can be blamed for long term historical tends in my oppion. We often way over simplify a story as to be comprahendable, I think it would take infinte story tellers to cover all sides of the story that is humanity or even science.
I will post something below so people will know what your referencing.
*****Why Politicized Science is Dangerous*****
(Excerpted from State of Fear)
Imagine that there is a new scientific theory that warns of an impending crisis, and points to a way out.
This theory quickly draws support from leading scientists, politicians and celebrities around the world. Research is funded by distinguished philanthropies, and carried out at prestigious universities. The crisis is reported frequently in the media. The science is taught in college and high school classrooms.
I don’t mean global warming. I’m talking about another theory, which rose to prominence a century ago.
Its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. It was approved by Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, who ruled in its favor. The famous names who supported it included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; activist Margaret Sanger; botanist Luther Burbank; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; the novelist H. G. Wells; the playwright George Bernard Shaw; and hundreds of others. Nobel Prize winners gave support. Research was backed by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. The Cold Springs Harbor Institute was built to carry out this research, but important work was also done at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Legislation to address the crisis was passed in states from New York to California.
These efforts had the support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. It was said that if Jesus were alive, he would have supported this effort.
All in all, the research, legislation and molding of public opinion surrounding the theory went on for almost half a century. Those who opposed the theory were shouted down and called reactionary, blind to reality, or just plain ignorant. But in hindsight, what is surprising is that so few people objected.
Today, we know that this famous theory that gained so much support was actually pseudoscience. The crisis it claimed was nonexistent. And the actions taken in the name of theory were morally and criminally wrong. Ultimately, they led to the deaths of millions of people.
The theory was eugenics, and its history is so dreadful — and, to those who were caught up in it, so embarrassing — that it is now rarely discussed. But it is a story that should be well know to every citizen, so that its horrors are not repeated.
The theory of eugenics postulated a crisis of the gene pool leading to the deterioration of the human race. The best human beings were not breeding as rapidly as the inferior ones — the foreigners, immigrants, Jews, degenerates, the unfit, and the “feeble minded.” Francis Galton, a respected British scientist, first speculated about this area, but his ideas were taken far beyond anything he intended. They were adopted by science-minded Americans, as well as those who had no interest in science but who were worried about the immigration of inferior races early in the twentieth century — “dangerous human pests” who represented “the rising tide of imbeciles” and who were polluting the best of the human race.
The eugenicists and the immigrationists joined forces to put a stop to this. The plan was to identify individuals who were feeble-minded — Jews were agreed to be largely feeble-minded, but so were many foreigners, as well as blacks — and stop them from breeding by isolation in institutions or by sterilization.
As Margaret Sanger said, “Fostering the good-for-nothing at the expense of the good is an extreme cruelty there is not greater curse to posterity than that of bequeathing them an increasing population of imbeciles.” She spoke of the burden of caring for “this dead weight of human waste.”
Such views were widely shared. H.G. Wells spoke against “ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens.” Theodore Roosevelt said that “Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind.” Luther Burbank” “Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce.” George Bernard Shaw said that only eugenics could save mankind.
There was overt racism in this movement, exemplified by texts such as “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy” by American author Lothrop Stoddard. But, at the time, racism was considered an unremarkable aspect of the effort to attain a marvelous goal — the improvement of humankind in the future. It was this avant-garde notion that attracted the most liberal and progressive minds of a generation. California was one of twenty-nine American states to pass laws allowing sterilization, but it proved the most-forward-looking and enthusiastic — more sterilizations were carried out in California than anywhere else in America.
Eugenics research was funded by the Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Rockefeller Foundation. The latter was so enthusiastic that even after the center of the eugenics effort moved to Germany, and involved the gassing of individuals from mental institutions, the Rockefeller Foundation continued to finance German researchers at a very high level. (The foundation was quiet about it, but they were still funding research in 1939, only months before the onset of World War II.)
Since the 1920s, American eugenicists had been jealous because the Germans had taken leadership of the movement away from them. The Germans were admirably progressive. They set up ordinary-looking houses where “mental defectives” were brought and interviewed one at a time, before being led into a back room, which was, in fact, a gas chamber. There, they were gassed with carbon monoxide, and their bodies disposed of in a crematorium located on the property.
Eventually, this program was expanded into a vast network of concentration camps located near railroad lines, enabling the efficient transport and of killing ten million undesirables.
After World War II, nobody was a eugenicist, and nobody had ever been a eugenicist. Biographers of the celebrated and the powerful did not dwell on the attractions of this philosophy to their subjects, and sometimes did not mention it at all. Eugenics ceased to be a subject for college classrooms, although some argue that its ideas continue to have currency in disguised form.
But in retrospect, three points stand out. First, despite the construction of Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, despite the efforts of universities and the pleadings of lawyers, there was no scientific basis for eugenics. In fact, nobody at that time knew what a gene really was. The movement was able to proceed because it employed vague terms never rigorously defined. “Feeble-mindedness” could mean anything from poverty to illiteracy to epilepsy. Similarly, there was no clear definition of “degenerate” or “unfit.”
Second, the eugenics movement was really a social program masquerading as a scientific one. What drove it was concern about immigration and racism and undesirable people moving into one’s neighborhood or country. Once again, vague terminology helped conceal what was really going on.
Third, and most distressing, the scientific establishment in both the United States and Germany did not mount any sustained protest. Quite the contrary. In Germany scientists quickly fell into line with the program. Modern German researchers have gone back to review Nazi documents from the 1930s. They expected to find directives telling scientists what research should be done. But none were necessary. In the words of Ute Deichman, “Scientists, including those who were not members of the [Nazi] party, helped to get funding for their work through their modified behavior and direct cooperation with the state.” Deichman speaks of the “active role of scientists themselves in regard to Nazi race policy where [research] was aimed at confirming the racial doctrine no external pressure can be documented.” German scientists adjusted their research interests to the new policies. And those few who did not adjust disappeared.
A second example of politicized science is quite different in character, but it exemplifies the hazard of government ideology controlling the work of science, and of uncritical media promoting false concepts. Trofim Denisovich Lysenko was a self-promoting peasant who, it was said, “solved the problem of fertilizing the fields without fertilizers and minerals.” In 1928 he claimed to have invented a procedure called vernalization, by which seeds were moistened and chilled to enhance the later growth of crops.
Lysenko’s methods never faced a rigorous test, but his claim that his treated seeds passed on their characteristics to the next generation represented a revival of Lamarckian ideas at a time when the rest of the world was embracing Mendelian genetics. Josef Stalin was drawn to Lamarckian ideas, which implied a future unbounded by hereditary constraints; he also wanted improved agricultural production. Lysenko promised both, and became the darling of a Soviet media that was on the lookout for stories about clever peasants who had developed revolutionary procedures.
Lysenko was portrayed as a genius, and he milked his celebrity for all it was worth. He was especially skillful at denouncing this opponents. He used questionnaires from farmers to prove that vernalization increased crop yields, and thus avoided any direct tests. Carried on a wave of state-sponsored enthusiasm, his rise was rapid. By 1937, he was a member of the Supreme Soviet.
By then, Lysenko and his theories dominated Russian biology. The result was famines that killed millions, and purges that sent hundreds of dissenting Soviet scientists to the gulags or the firing squads. Lysenko was aggressive in attacking genetics, which was finally banned as “bourgeois pseudoscience” in 1948. There was never any basis for Lysenko’s ideas, yet he controlled Soviet research for thirty years. Lysenkoism ended in the 1960s, but Russian biology still has not entirely recovered from that era.
Now we are engaged in a great new theory that once again has drawn the support of politicians, scientists, and celebrities around the world. Once again, the theory is promoted by major foundations. Once again, the research is carried out at prestigious universities. Once again, legislation is passed and social programs are urged in its name. Once again, critics are few and harshly dealt with.
Once again, the measures being urged have little basis in fact or science. Once again, groups with other agendas are hiding behind a movement that appears high-minded. Once again, claims of moral superiority are used to justify extreme actions. Once again, the fact that some people are hurt is shrugged off because an abstract cause is said to be greater than any human consequences. Once again, vague terms like sustainability and generational justice — terms that have no agreed definition — are employed in the service of a new crisis.
I am not arguing that global warming is the same as eugenics. But the similarities are not superficial. And I do claim that open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed. Leading scientific journals have taken strong editorial positions of the side of global warming, which, I argue, they have no business doing. Under the circumstances, any scientist who has doubts understands clearly that they will be wise to mute their expression.
One proof of this suppression is the fact that so many of the outspoken critics of global warming are retired professors. These individuals are not longer seeking grants, and no longer have to face colleagues whose grant applications and career advancement may be jeopardized by their criticisms.
In science, the old men are usually wrong. But in politics, the old men are wise, counsel caution, and in the end are often right.
The past history of human belief is a cautionary tale. We have killed thousands of our fellow human beings because we believed they had signed a contract with the devil, and had become witches. We still kill more than a thousand people each year for witchcraft. In my view, there is only one hope for humankind to emerge from what Carl Sagan called “the demon-haunted world” of our past. That hope is science.
But as Alston Chase put it, “when the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.”
That is the danger we now face. And this is why the intermixing of science and politics is a bad combination, with a bad history. We must remember the history, and be certain that what we present to the world as knowledge is disinterested and honest.January 8, 2008 at 4:07 pm #26924
>>I am sure you did not know that Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton are high priests of my religion so I will let you slide.
“Your religion” being what exactly? 🙂
I’ve enjoyed various movies and stories from Spielberg/Crichton–all fiction though.
However, at least the attempt at “non”fiction by Crichton above, I was unimpressed.
>>Steven Spielberg will be handing down new lessons to us all in the new Indiana Jones.
I’m sure it will be entertaining, and I will of course see it.
>>I still having a hard time forgiving you about the whole Dr Spock comment.
>>My goodness man its Dr Spock.
I of course meant “Mr. Spock” from Star Trek, and not “Dr. Spock” the
baby doctor. As for “Mr. Spock”, he’s one of my favorite characters from
Star Trek. However, as for real life, there are limits to “just logic”.
It is important to have the heart in play also.
>>I am not sure your argument was any better.
Well, not sure I really was presenting any argument, other than
pointing out the logical holes in his article. If a person
makes a claim contrary to popular opinion, they should have
evidence to back it up. Moreover, successfully arguing several
facts that are ultimately irrelevant to what you are trying
to demonstrate (i.e. straw man argument) does not impress me. It’s
easy to discount something (i.e. environmentalism), when you
don’t actually address what it really is, and you just attack
other things that are not the real representation.
SJanuary 8, 2008 at 4:43 pm #26926
Haha, releasing are we these days. I do not think your being vary fair. But please give me a real representation, I want the whole story.:)January 8, 2008 at 5:07 pm #26928
I’m not going to criticize the article you attached–although
in fact it wasn’t quite as bad as the one earlier one, but
I will say this:
1. We have dramatically increased the CO2 concentration in
2. The planet has gotten warmer.
Both of these things are clear from doing geological measurements.
Now, of course, this does not imply that the first *caused* the
second. It may very well be that the planet is in a “natural
warming trend” as it comes out of the last ice age; in fact,
this is likely. However, if nothing else, the dramatic
increase in C02 alone should be enough to draw some concern!
Even if there is a natural warming trend, it is reasonable
that the dramatic C02 increase could aggravate or accelerate
the warming. Should steps be taken to try to curb this problem?
I don’t know–if you’re worried about becoming too fat and you
do nothing about it, whose fault is it if you later on develop
heart disease and diabetes–is it the cookies’ fault or yours?
Taking steps to minimize our impact only seems wise and to
not make any attempt seems really fool-hearty if you ask me.
Why has the US not be more aggressive with this problem?
Why is the US one of only 170 other countries to not ratify the
Could it be due to anti-environmental propaganda put out that
is funded by the oil industry and/or the DOE?
OK, that last bit was speculation on my part, but it does make
Oh, by the way, it is in fact important for the government
to care about the environment. Something on such a massive
scale can not be solved through individuals alone.
For instance, we wouldn’t even have the regulatory acts for clean water
and air that we do know, and corporations would not be prevented from dumping massive quantities of toxins. Corporations don’t work toward the overall
benefit of humanity; they just do what maximizes profit.
StevenJanuary 8, 2008 at 5:32 pm #26930
I have a question for you? Why wouldn’t you want to
try to minimize the impact the human race has on the planet?
This is our home, and we should try to be good stewards of it,
and not show wanton disregard for anything we do.
When you visit someone’s apartment, do you take your shoes off,
or do you track your muddy shoes all over their carpet and
floors? Do you use the bathroom, or do you just find a convenient
I bet that you are polite and try to minimize your impact.
In doing so, you are showing respect to the home and its occupants.
The attitude toward the planet should be the same.
It is no different. Where are we supposed to go if we get “evicted”?
Just like when you live in a house with several people, you
need to get everyone to agree and work together to keep the
place in good shape, the same is true for the environment. This
is why the government needs to be involved with it.
The bottom line again is the principle of not doing harm to
others or your surroundings.
StevenJanuary 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm #26932
I think wisdom is key aswell
“I don’t know–if you’re worried about becoming too fat and you
do nothing about it, whose fault is it if you later on develop
heart disease and diabetes–is it the cookies’ fault or yours?”
Would you have a better chance of sucess with an open mind, and the guidance of your inner sage?
I think you will find again this to be a case of collectivism vs individual rights. Its interesting the history of corporations gaining 14th amendment rights.January 9, 2008 at 4:15 pm #26934
I believe such things truely arise from self correction. I do not feel Michael C, or My Self was attacking a true desire to be polite. Again you wil see it become an issue of collective vs individual(or weaker collectives). It boils down to the lack of adaptability of our society do to old philosophies(almost religion) of governance/parenting and the fact most are not connected to there heart and souls, wich connects you to nature. I do not think oil companies are surpressing global warming research in fact global warming has not met allot of resitance. I mainly was interested in repeating patterns, in relgions and sceince, its important to pay attention to, just as you would want to see repeating patterns in ones own life.January 9, 2008 at 11:48 pm #26936
(I’ve responded to your attachments in the body of the email)
You can not leave *everything* up to individuals.
Government is necessary to
1. Do tasks that are too large for individuals to do
(make roads, bridges, maintain a police force, etc.)
2. Prevent individuals or larger entities
(i.e. corporations) from taking self-serving profit-motivated
actions that interfere or decrease the quality of life
of other individuals.
There is a big, big difference between having a system
where personal liberty is prized, and one where you just
have total anarchy.
In my personal view, I live on the planet, and it is my home.
Others also live on the planet. If others don’t treat it
with respect and take environmental actions, then that can
affect me. If an individual takes an action, then there’s
a small positive effect; if a corporation/government takes action, then
there’s a much larger effect.
If someone wants to worship a different religion than me, wants
to smoke pot in the privacy of their home, wants to have an abortion,
wants to have a gay marriage, whatever, there is no direct effect
on me in any negative way. If the planet becomes inhabitable due to
mass irresponsible living, then that does. Thus, this falls
into the category of #2 listed above.
Responding to your attachments, BP has supported some
environmental movements as of late–in part due to its
previously tarnished image that it is trying to repair.
Of course, as long as it is actually doing some good now,
Why don’t you look at actual scientific data about the
environment rather than just hearsay from naysayers?
As I mentioned from a previous post, the dramatic rise
in C02 concentration over the last century is a fact
of scientific measurements, as are the rise in global
temperature. As I did mention in a previous post,
it’s possible that there is natural warming due to
coming out of an ice age, but the parallel between
the rise in C02 with temperature increase is striking*
(*see below for data),
and is at the very least:
1. Worth investigating further
2. Worth considering ways to limit the environmental pollution
It’s better to ere on the side of caution that to be sorry later.
As to investigating further, this is why mathematical climate
modeling is so important. You can actually participate on
your home computer and run climate models to improve
future forecasts. See http://www.climateprediction.net
Taken from climateprediction.net:
Climate models predict significant changes to the Earth’s climate in the coming century. But there is a huge range in what they predict – how should we deal with this uncertainty? If they are over-estimating the speed and scale of climate change, we may end up panicking unnecessarily and investing huge amounts of money trying to avert a problem which doesn’t turn out to be as serious as the models suggested. Alternatively, if the models are under-estimating the change, we will end up doing too little, too late in the mistaken belief that the changes will be manageably small and gradual.
To cope with this problem we need to evaluate our confidence in the predictions from climate models. In other words we need to quantify the uncertainty in these predictions. By participating in the experiment, you can help us to do this in a way that would not otherwise be possible.
*Also, in case you want some data on the CO2 concentration
The climate of the Earth is constantly changing, in response to changes in the incoming solar radiation, the patterns of the continents, the amount of dust in the atmosphere, the chemical composition of the atmosphere and many other factors.
One of the factors which is thought to affect surface temperatures is the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. This means that it does not reflect much incoming solar radiation, but it does strongly absorb outgoing, long wave, thermal radiation, re-emitting it back towards the surface and warming the atmosphere.
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have been increasing in the past 200 years or so since the Industrial Revolution began. The source is mainly the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) – for transport, industry, electricity or heat. The rest is due to land use change, such as deforestation. Figure 13 shows the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in the past 1000 years (data have come from ice cores, direct measurements in recent years etc., if you’re interested in this, read The two-mile time machine by Richard B. Alley) and various estimates of how carbon dioxide concentrations will behave in the next 100 years, depending on how we react to legislation on carbon emissions. The concentrations used in the standard and doubled CO2 experiments of climateprediction.net are marked.January 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm #26938January 10, 2008 at 5:50 pm #26940
I am all for using structures and laws to promote certain qualitys. Poeple will naturaly create agreements and social contracts as some like to call them. The common ground if you will.
True anarchy arises out of greater inner guidance. DO I think more is needed yes. If people do not now there hearts it is best I feel that they have more structure, but to often these places are pits filled with people ready to mis guide and abuse the confused, but hopefully people will turn to there hearts. I have no problem with scientist doing there science thing. The issue is with an under lying philosophy/religion coming out of Rome/Greece that repeats its self till I feel as a people we are done with, and resolve it. The research they want gets funded and rushed to there media outlets, the education they want gets taught, in universitys or tv. I mean most of us are not roman or greek nor where people that settled here but all of our universitys and goverment buildings are? I think global warming is doing a great job of showing the flaws in that old system of governance nown as fascism(not to be confused with anti semitism) This system is stagnat and lacks variety(aka its to Adult). Are society is starting to get sick of being sick, and it realizes its old system does not serve it in a health manor. THis is not a lets stop smoking and stop other people from smoking moment, this is I need deep changes, I need chi gong and internal Alchemy now.
Roads and bridges are way out of hand and community building is starting to reflect a desire to want to make villages where people walk, very euro. The road system is historicaly another military/corporate system design. Of course all of this takes a back burner to a need for an energy system. Because China and Africa are not going to play third world for much longer and they seem hell bent on imitating us.
Here is a road I think we are all glad is being built and I am sure we will get some great us out of.:)
“In the counsels of Government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the Military Industrial Complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
– President Eisenhower – January 1961
Thanks for letting me talk aobut one of my favorite subjects.
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