Category Archives: Leftists

The socialist haunted world: relativity, fluoridation and climate change as socialist plot

Fluoridation, relativity and global warming: all part of the long running socialist agenda

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.

– Dr. Strangelove or: how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

The socialist haunted world: our modern demons

One of Carl Sagan’s greatest books is “The Demon Haunted” world, an exploration of the different forms of pseudo-science and the reasons for why so many people believe in such things as ESP, ghosts and creationism.

He feared that the world was being increasingly taken over by “superstition” and a medieval world view. Hence the title of his work: many people seem to be turning to a pre-scientific world, where the invisible forces of Satan worked in concert to lead Christians astray and cause all sorts of grief and mischief.

Said Sagan, who sadly passed away many years ago:

I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

The demons Sagan feared are stirring.

Belief in pre-scientific concepts such as ghosts, witches, ESP, psychic abilities and hell are still prevalent. The new millennium is here, and the demons that haunt us seem even more relevant.  But it is not just the demons of the medieval world that stir.

For over one hundred years another “demon” has haunted the imagination of conservatives, free-market advocates and libertarians: the demon of socialism and Marxism.

Behind every advance in science or development in public health policy, there have been those who have seen the dreaded hand of socialists, Marxists and atheists.

Since the earliest decades of this century, conservatives, cranks and religious fundamentalists have seen signs of their activities everywhere. They fear the socialists are going to “steal” their power, wealth, status and control. How so?

Let’s begin with the opposition to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The over 1920s to 1940s: special relativity as a Marxist plot

Academic Jeroen van Dongen recently published a review of “Einstein’s Gegner” by German academic Milena Wzeck (in German, thankfully we have van Dongen’s review).

Van Dongen details how Einstein’s theory was met with a wall of disbelief and hostility by some members of the scientific establishment, and was subject to attacks in the popular press and by conservatives.

Indeed during the 1920s they went so far as to establish “think tanks” in opposition and held rallies against Einstein and his theory. “Anti-relativists” established the “Academy of Nations” in 1921, publishing papers refuting Einstein theories and awarding prizes to themselves:

“Anti-relativists… built up networks to act against Einstein’s theory in concert. This led to some success. For instance, the clamour about the theory in Germany contributed to the Nobel Committee’s delay in awarding its 1921 prize to Einstein and to the particular choice of subject for which he finally did receive it: his account of the photo-electric effect, instead of the controversial theory of relativity.”

In fact, Einstein was so concerned by the vitriol of their attacks that he cancelled speaking engagements fearing an assassination attempt.

Initially Einstein and other scientists tried to engage them, but without success:

“Their strong opposition was not due to a lack of understanding, but rather the reaction to a perceived threat… Anti-relativists were convinced of their own ideas, and were really only interested in pushing through their own theories: any explanation of relativity would not likely have changed their minds.”

Sounds familiar?

All the tropes of the contemporary denial machine can be seen in the anti-relativist movement: the “think tanks”; the conferences; the threats and intimidation we’ve seen against climatologists such as Michael Mann in the US and Phil Jones in the UK; the publication of papers and books denouncing the science; and the outliers and gadflies with scientific credentials who have taken exception to the science.

But this was not the end of the opposition to Einstein’s theory.

It took a much darker turn.

The Nazi war on science: special relativity as a “political issue”

The politics of relativity became even more fraught when the Nazi’s rejected Einstein’s theory, dismissing it as “Jewish Science” whose foundations lay with Marxist thought.

Let’s take one example, an extract from an article written by a prominent member of the pro-Nazi scientific elite, Johannes Stark.

Stark was actually a recipient of a Noble Prize for his work on electromagnetism. However he was forced to retire from his position at University of Würzburg in 1922 for his persistent attacks on Einstein’s theory. When the Nazis came to power, Stark become prominent once again. [1]

In his essay “Respect for Facts and Aptitude for Exact Observation Reside in the Nordic Race” (published 1936) he makes the following claims:

“There have been repeated attempts in lectures and books to present the theory of relativity as the grand capstone of centuries of progressive scientific development, which began with Copernicus, Galileo and led, via Kepler and Newton, to Einstein. No!.. Einstein is not the pupil of these men, but their determined opponent..

..This theory could have blossomed and flourished nowhere else but in the soil of Marxism, whose scientific expression it is…”

And:

“Thus, in its consequences, the theory of relativity appears to be less a scientific than political problem…”

And finally:

“…In this manner, assisted by adversity in the newspapers and lectures from professional chairs, this purely scientific theory… grew into a physical world view.

..The few who were of different opinions were disregarded.” [2]

Note the smearing dismissal of “theory” in the same way today’s denialists dismisses “computer models”.

Also note how the theory of relativity is framed not as a scientific question, but a “political” issue.

Party politics and political orientation determines the value of a theory. The pseudo-science of “race” and the prejudices of the author allow them to wave away the solid, empirical basis for relativity.

Again, sound familiar? [3]

The 1950s to 1960s: fluoridation as a socialist plot

For those of you who have seen – and remember – Stanley Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece “Dr Strangelove, or how I stopped worrying and grew to love the bomb” there is a character called General Jack D. Ripper, a military officer who is firmly convinced “communists” are behind the fluoridation of water in the US (see above quote).

However, there was a genuine “anti-fluoridation” movement that thrived not only in the US, but around the world. Individuals actually believed “communists” where behind this and it was all part of a massive conspiracy. It is worth quoting the Wikipedia entry on this:

“Water fluoridation has frequently been the subject of conspiracy theories. During the “Red Scare” in the United States during the late 1940s and 1950s, and to a lesser extent in the 1960s, activists on the far right of American politics routinely asserted that fluoridation was part of a far-reaching plot to impose a socialist or communist regime. They also opposed other public health programs, notably mass vaccination and mental health services…”

And:

Some took the view that fluoridation was only the first stage of a plan to control the American people. Fluoridation, it was claimed, was merely a stepping-stone on the way to implementing more ambitious programs. Others asserted the existence of a plot by communists and the United Nations to “deplete the brainpower and sap the strength of a generation of American children”.

In fact, it was not until the late 1990s that most Americans started drinking fluoridated water, that’s how powerful this “conspiracy” theory was:

“…In the case of fluoridation, the controversy had a direct impact on local programs. During the 1950s and 1960s, referendums on introducing fluoridation were defeated in over a thousand Florida communities. Although the opposition was overcome in time, it was not until as late as the 1990s that fluoridated water was drunk by the majority of the population of the United States.”

Of course, to today’s ears these charges sound fanciful and ridiculous.

However, they are manifestations of deep-seated sense of anxiety and a loss of control.

The 1990s to early twenty-first century: global warming as a socialist plot

“The word ‘government’ actually appears as the first of three purposes of the new entity… How many of you think that the word ‘election’ or ‘democracy’ or ‘vote’ or ‘ballot’ occurs anywhere in the 200 pages of that treaty? Quite right, it doesn’t appear once. So, at last, the communists who piled out of the Berlin Wall and into the environmental movement, who took over Greenpeace so that my friends who funded it left within a year, because [the communists] captured it — now the apotheosis is at hand. They are about to impose a communist world government on the world. You have a president who has very strong sympathies with that point of view. He’s going to sign it. He’ll sign anything.” – Christopher Monckton

“He [Maurice Strong] set up the United Nations Environment Program, out of which came the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the whole idea of climate as a vehicle for shutting down industrialization.” – Tim Ball

I think by this stage we can see a pattern emerging over the last 100 years, as conservatives, cranks and individuals with libertarian leanings have reacted to the findings of science and the need for government policy with hostility, contempt and fear.

Again and again they dismiss the science as conspiracy orchestrated by the socialist “demon”.  Everywhere they turn, they see the workings of the “Evil One” of Marx and socialists in manipulating science, government and public policy.

The tragedy is that these conspiracy theorists slow our response to climate change. The “battle for fluoridation” took almost forty years to play itself out.

The concern is that we may not have that much time with climate change.

Loss of power, status and control and a conspiratorial worldview: the sources of denial

We can point the finger at the likes of Exxon, the Koch’s and the conservative think tanks for fostering “climate change skepticism. But I think the roots of denial are much deeper than that.

As the above examples show, the fear that other “forces” are going to diminish the power, status and authority of individuals (and by extension the industries they work for or the companies they run) fuels denial.

It explains why behind every new scientific discovery – from evolution to relativity – religious and social conservatives react with such alarm. Many of those who opposed Einstein’s theory felt their status and achievements where being swept away (Stark).

Others, whose fears were grounded in ignorance and fear, recast their concerns as a political issue. Thus, those opposed to fluoridation where already anti-communist, and therefore assumed what they did not like must have it’s roots in communism.

However, another key feature of all these movements and their reactions to science was a conspiratorial world view.

Conclusion

The demons are stirring.

They have taken flight, and haunt the imagination.

The enemies of the Enlightenment have targeted the science of climate change, evolution and evidence based medicine. For four hundred years they had been pushed back and kept at bay.

But they’ve returned, and taken on new forms to soothe the anxieties of denialists everywhere.  Where some of see the empirical evidence for climate change, others see a shadowy cabal of socialists intent on controlling their bodily fluids, freedoms and wallets.

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

[1] Nazi culture: intellectual, cultural and social life in the Third Reich, By George Lachmann Mosse, University of Wisconsin Press 1966 page. 198

[2] Ibid pg. 213

[3] I rush to say that I do not attempt to equate today’s “deniers” or climate change sceptics with Nazis (viz Godwin’s Law), but how even the most commonly accepted and robustly tested scientific hypothesis have been politicised in the past.

Behind the Great Firewall of Denial: the conservative debate on “epistemic closure” and climate change

Behind the Great Wall of climate change denial

Following my post on the left/right divide, I can’t help but mention the current debate taking place within the US conservative movement. A few weeks ago Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute kicked off a fire storm of debate about how conservatism in the US is being increasingly dominated by “fantasy”:

“…One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall…”

Sanchez’s observations apply to a broad range of conservative movements that find themselves at odds with science. Creationists are desperate to ban the teaching of evolution in schools; climate change denialists are desperate to filter out or distort information that contradicts the safe, warm bubble of denial; conservative Christians feel under assault by far more secular culture and retreat into the bubble of “Christian media”.

Each, in turn rely on their own specially crafted and personalised media. Whether through outlets such as Fox News or restricting ones understanding of climate change to the writings of Andrew Bolt, each is an example of epistemic closure.

The New York Times picks up additional comments made by conservative “heavy weights” and intellectuals also joining in on the debate:

“…Soon conservatives across the board jumped into the debate. Jim Manzi, a contributing editor at National Review, wrote that Mr. Levin’s best seller, “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto” (Threshold Editions) was “awful,” and called the section on global warming a case for “willful ignorance,” and “an almost perfect example of epistemic closure.” Megan McArdle, an editor at The Atlantic, conceded that “conservatives are often voluntarily putting themselves in the same cocoon.”

Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush’s administrations, wrote that in the last few years, “epistemic closure” had become much worse among “the intelligentsia of the conservative movement.” He later added that the cream of the conservative research institutes, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, had gone from presenting informed policy analyses to pumping out propaganda.”

The last point in particular is salient.

Many of think tanks have become guns for hire, mercenary agents for corporate interests that fund them. That the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation are singled out is no surprise. They are in the vanguard of climate change denial.

A recent review by another conservative attacks what he calls the “wingnuttery” of climate change denial. Jim Manzi, at the conservative National Review, tears apart the book Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin, calling it a perfect example of “epistemic closure”:

“Levin argues that human-caused global warming is nothing to worry about, and merely an excuse for the Enviro-Statists (capitalization in the original) to seize more power. It reads like a bunch of pasted-together quotes and stories based on some quick Google searches by somebody who knows very little about the topic, and can’t be bothered to learn…

…But what evidence does Levin present for any of this amazing incompetence or conspiracy beyond that already cited? None. He simply moves on to criticisms of proposed solutions. This is wingnuttery.”

One is reminded strongly reminded not to dismiss “conservatives” as fools, ill-informed or incapable of rational debate. It is the extreme fringe that seeks to drown out the voices of moderation. Both sides of the political divide have something to offer to the debate: the pragmatic tradition of Edmund Burke in understanding society as an organic entity and valuing institutions does not need to conflict with an intelligent response to climate change. Indeed, this is what rational conservatism is about.

Science is a four hundred year old tradition worth preserving. Currently it is under “attack” by ideologues. Our democratic institutions and traditions are worth conserving. Conservatism has traditionally been wary of  stoking of the “passions of the mob” via  ideology. The denial movement is ideologically based. It circumnavigates the scientific process and engages the worst aspects of peoples psychology: fear, uncertainty and doubt.

The denial movement tears down societies trust in science; it provokes individuals to send scientists death threats; it questions Enlightenment values such as the use of evidence and reason in debate.

Climate change represents a major disruptive force in both political and economic terms. That elements of the conservative movement would ignore these threats is a tragedy.

Perhaps the best way to advance the debate is to reach out to those self proclaimed “liberals” and “conservatives” who understand and accept the science of global warming, and are prepared to debate the appropriate policy responses.

E pluribus unum: out of the many different voices and perspectives, we can formulate an appropriate response to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

On climate change we are a house divided: such houses must fall.

What needs to happen is a serious, mature debate about climate change and our response to the challenges it poses:

  • What is the role of government and business/industry in formulating policy responses?
  • What are the strategic, economic and political consequences of climate change and how do we address those challenges?
  • How to we balance economic “growth” and need to reduce CO2 emissions, manage population growth and resource usage?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of the individuals in a world impacted by climate change?

These are serious conversations that need to happen: both challenging and intellectually engaging. Instead, we are still having to combat a vocal fringe whose influence in the debate is greatly disproportionate to their actual numbers. It is heartening to see both “liberals” and “conservatives” recognise a common foe.

The left/right divide on climate change: some thoughts

Idiot Tracker – authored by Robert in the US – is a blog with some great insights into the (still growing) political divide between “liberals” and “conservatives” in the United States.

In particular I’ve found his analysis of why the science of climate change is difficult for conservatives to “grasp” most informative. Posted in two parts is worth a read.

Robert’s analysis is not a simple “Conservatives are dumb coz they don’t get it” rant. It’s a thoughtful analysis of both conservative and liberal responses to climate change.

On the left’s reaction to climate change:

“…It’s easy to see how conservatives would tend to drift to the status-quo side of the argument: environmentalism represented (and continues to represent) a challenge to an absolutist argument for the morality of unrestricted capitalism. And it is hard to miss an undertone of hostility to unrestricted capitalism (and to the established order generally) in the writings and speeches of environmental activists — there is sometimes evident a certain glee at the prospect of a civilization-shaking cataclysm, and the warnings of disaster, the vivid pictures painted of the consequences of “peak oil,” for example — can come off as less salutary advice and more wish fulfilment.

Hard-core leftism is a frustrated ideology in the West, and it has had to watch capitalism, whose demise it has often predicted, go from strength to strength, as the moneyed interests that serve it have, far from suffering the fruits of their (very real) crimes against the poor, prospered greatly by their association with it.”

And on how conservatives have embraced a worldview that comforts them:

“…Denialism is comfortable to conservatives because they have gradually acclaimated themselves to the practice of making the facts bend to the ideology; of embracing whatever narrative gives aid and comfort to the tribe, regardless of how far-fetched it is. This dynamic has been assisted greatly by the internet. No longer does a conspiracy theorist have to air their views in mixed company when they are less than fully formed and hardened in place.”

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