Friday, May 25, 2012

Cultural Anthropology: Skeptics Guide Edition

So I'm working through the archives of the podcast "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe". It's interesting listening to the stuff they're talking about because, honestly, 7 years isn't a huge time for social issues. It's huge, politically speaking. Among other things, we're no longer under the disastrous presidency of the second Bush administration. Conservatives have changed tactics since then and are attacking abortion, evolution, and all their other nonsensical wedge issues on a state level, forcing through hundreds of anti-woman and anti-science bills, rather than relying on their friend in the White House. Socially speaking, though, the stuff is all more or less the same. Libertarians are still denying climate change, fundies are denying all science (though not the products of science), women are still getting the shaft whether they want it or not, and black people are still being murdered in the streets with no real justice in sight.

So this particular episode was broadcast September 7, 2005, with guest Steve Milloy. You may not have heard of him; he's the author of the blog Junk Science, a contributor to Fox News Channel, and a member of the Cato Institute. At least two of those should raise red flags. The reported purpose of Junk Science was to report on what he considered bad science with a libertarian bent, but listening to him speak1, he sounds like a rather typical libertarian nutter. He actually accuses government agencies, under President Bush of having a pro-GCC agenda so they can continue to secure funding. The Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress at the time. He's also just this side of calling environmentalism a mass conspiracy controlling science and science funding.

So I decided to check out and was kind of surprised to see that my address bar could autofill it; turns out I visited it some months back, linked by someone at scienceblogs2, I believe. I don't know what the site used to be about (Milloy on SGttU claims to attack all bad science used to support political agendas), but if you look at the tag cloud now it's all climate all the time. Scroll down and you'll see the occasional post about pesticides (DDT: Weapon of Mass Survival... seriously, it's a t-shirt) or other forms of energy debate (he's anti-wind, anti-anti-coal, etc).

Perhaps the funniest statement? That "it's been quite a struggle to get a skeptical voice on climate change heard." In 2005. My ass. He claims that the green conspiracy gets all the funding to the climate crazies, whereas level-headed skeptics like the Cato Institute are just so under-funded. The Cato Institute. Owned by the fracking Koch brothers. The thing is, he probably believed it then and probably still believes it now.

I think this is helping me understand why the right denies climate change. Part of it is the entrenched belief in the markets. Belief in free market libertarianism has been central to the right's ideology for several generations now, and they simply cannot abandon it in any way shape or form. This is oddly wedded to their ideas on American exceptionalism and isolationism.

Still, free market ideology insists that the market will identify all problems, and either solve them (if they're already around) or correct so that they don't occur (if they're down the road). They can't accept the tragedy of the commons. It's why they've opposed all environmental issues to date. Not only do they want to avoid anything that could cost businesses money, but there's a psychological issue as well.

We all leap to defend our sacred cows, regardless, and pointing out that free markets simply cannot solve some problems. Think of it as a practical application of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems; no matter the system, some problems cannot be solved within that system. Unfortunately, the free market system has become thoroughly central to Republican and Libertarian ideology and in a form that cannot admit weakness. In their system, FMT can solve health care, and hunger, and poverty, despite the fact that the health care crisis, hunger, and poverty are all caused, not cured, by the scarcity inherent to Free Market Theory.

Like I said before, I think this is mostly a libertarian issue rather than a fundamentalist one. It's just that the two groups have significant overlap thanks to the Republican party's duarchy.

To get back to Steve Milloy before I close this out; the dude's a nut. He honestly believed in a liberal government conspiracy even when the conservatives were in control of the government. I can't imagine the last seven years have made him any less unhinged.

1 - Even with his hosts, who were lukewarm on consensus regarding climate change 7 years ago; I don't know where they stand now, when the consensus is rock solid.

2 - Before the exodus to Freethought Blogs, I think.
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