Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. That's "Hanlon's Razor" and it's a useful thing to keep in mind while reading The Dirty War over Covid by Ari Schulman. It's still worth drawing useful distinctons between various flavors of Covid "skeptics":
Covidianism is dead, and we have killed it. Related to the Technium is another very old problem of Western thought: the trouble of separating rational skepticism as deployed in pursuit of Truth and rational skepticism as deployed in pursuit of, well, something else.
The skeptical type I have targeted here is not the one who believes merely that prolonged school closures were a travesty (which is true), that natural immunity should have counted as equivalent to vaccination (true), that an egalitarian view of the virus meant that too little was done to protect people in nursing homes (true), that with different choices, restrictions could have ended far sooner than they did (true again).
No, he was the one who gave himself over wholly to Unmasking the Machine. Starting from entirely reasonable frustrations, the skeptical project took its followers to dark places. The unmasker insisted a million of his countrymen would not die and then when they did felt no reckoning. He at one moment cast himself as Churchill waiting to lead us out of our cowering fear of the Blitz (Death is a part of life) and in the next said that actually the Luftwaffe is a hoax (Those death certificates are fake anyway). He feels no reckoning because he has been taken in by a force as totalizing as the Technium’s; he is so given over to it that he too no longer accepts his own agency.
This skeptic is no aberration. An entire intellectual ecosystem is fueled by his takes. He owns, if not the whole movement of the Right, then certainly its vanguard.
What is the "Technium", you ask? Schulman's definition is also worth excerpting:
If you have gained insight from conservative thought, you should have encountered the idea of the Technium, and learned to fear it. The Technium is what arises when we attempt to gain mastery over the unmasterable: the ordinary course of human affairs.
The roots of this problem are very old (see: Plato), but we often recognize it as a nasty overgrowth of the Enlightenment. The Technium is Darwin’s theories metastasizing into eugenics, enforced by jackbooted agents of the state. The Technium is Mark Zuckerberg, after his dorm-room project proved a disastrous experiment in global brainworming, unveiling the Metaverse. The Technium would have human begetting become a lab process, embryos become material for biomanufacturing, and opponents of all this cast out as anti-science troglodytes.
Accounts of this phenomenon are found in C. S. Lewis, Martin Heidegger, Karl Polanyi, Leon Kass, Alasdair MacIntyre, Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Hayek, Wendell Berry, Joseph Weizenbaum, Giorgio Agamben, and many others. It goes by the names “technocracy,” “technopoly,” “technique,” “scientism,” “planning,” “conditioning,” “mastery and possession of nature,” the “Machine,” the “biosecurity state.”
It's the natural result of meritocracy shorn of wisdom, prudence, and humility. Or, more directly: smart people not knowing what they are stupid about.
Here's the bad news: Schulman's article is from the latest dead-trees issue of National Review. And I don't think those things ever emerge from behind the paywall. So if you don't subscribe, you might want to go to a library or something.
Not feeling the chemistry here. Daniel Nuccio dissects a recent article published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters by ten academics, purporting to address "the debate over free speech, inclusivity, and academic excellence". Nuccio characterizes the article this way: Scientists defend censorship, cancel culture as ‘recalibrating,’ ‘consequences culture’.
Or, shorter: "academic chemists echo the usual claptrap".
“The term ‘cancel culture,’” they write, “has lately been twisted into an epithet that is used to discredit progressive policies.” However, they assure, “the practice of creating social distance from controversial or objectionable statements and actions is as old as society itself.”
Cancellation, they continue, “[is] a way of calling out behavior seen as prejudiced or regressive. Almost all elements of society have adopted the strategy and tactics of ‘call-out culture’ (to use a less loaded term), perhaps best exemplified by the ‘#MeToo’ movement that worked to expose long-ignored misogyny.”
Conversely, a practice the coauthors would appear to consider far more objectionable is the embrace of unrestrained free speech over more tempered speech that generally supports progressive causes.
“Rather than advocating in favor of unencumbered free speech, for its own sake and devoid of consequences,” they write, “we advocate for speech that promotes freedom but recognizes that words have consequences.”
And those "consequences" are that views dissenting from "progressive causes" will not sully your academic journals. You're welcome.
Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your own eyes? At Quillette, Bo Winegard argues against Misunderstanding Equality. And it's certainly relevant to the previous item.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is perhaps the most venerated sentence in American history. And for good reason. The sentiments it expresses are a triumph of Enlightenment philosophy, and they still resonate hundreds of years later. However, a confusion about their meaning and significance has pervaded popular discourse, muddying moral thinking and leading to extravagant and implausible claims about human sameness. In extreme cases, this muddled thinking has motivated calls to suppress science that supposedly threatens “the dignity and rights of all humans.”
This might seem hyperbolic. It is difficult to believe that a misinterpretation of such a morally uplifting sentence could lead, however circuitously, to the suppression of academic freedom. And certainly, it is true that most people who want to limit academic freedom are not directly motivated by a misreading of the Declaration of Independence. However, they are motivated by a misunderstanding of the fundamental moral value it expresses. They have conflated the laudable ethical claim that all humans deserve dignity, respect, and equal moral consideration with the implausible empirical claim that humans are born with roughly the same characteristics and capabilities. This conflation has led to fear, antipathy, and even censorship of writings that examine human variation on socially valued traits because it has encouraged the erroneous idea that human variation is a threat to moral equality.
To quote Meg Murray from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!" I read that as a young 'un, and it's one of those quotes that stuck with me over many decades.
Don't panic! Ronald Bailey looks at The Unscientific Panic Over Solar Geoengineering.
Last year a team of Harvard scientists had an idea involving a large balloon and a small amount of chalk dust. They devised an experiment in which a weather balloon would release less than 2 kilograms of calcium carbonate about 12 miles above a Swedish Space Corporation facility near the arctic town of Kiruna, or possibly a tiny quantity of sulfate particles, equivalent to the amount released in a single minute by a typical commercial aircraft.
These plans were greeted with utter panic. Activist groups declared the "risks of catastrophic consequences" were too great, and there were "no acceptable reasons" for allowing the project to go forward. Experimenting with this technology, they claimed, has "the potential for extreme consequences, and stands out as dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable." The Swedish government canceled the tests.
Bailey looks at the arguments provided by the folks who don't want to even think about mitigating climate change. Other than (of course) their way: forced draconian decreases in fossil fuel use and burping cows.
I think that's the real issue. But the opponents make at least a show of noting the same problem I've mentioned here over the years: if your family occasionally bickers about where to set the thermostat in your house, multiply that bickering by 10 billion or so, and give a lot of the participants dangerous weaponry.
Banker claims to not be a scientist, outrage ensues. The WSJ editorialists look at A Gore-Kerry Political Climate Hit.
When Al Gore, John Kerry and the New York Times gang up on someone, you know a political hit is on. That’s what happened last week to World Bank President David Malpass, for the sin of not turning the international lending institution into an arm of Democratic Party policy on climate change.
Mr. Gore started the pile-on by claiming that Mr. Malpass is a “climate denier.” For today’s political left, that charge is an undefined, all-purpose smear intended to banish you from polite company. Mr. Kerry last week also repeated his claim that the bank isn’t doing enough to combat climate change, which really means the bank isn’t taking dictation from him.
Suggested supplementary reading from David Henderson: Axios Badly Misstates Malpass's View on Global Warming. And not just Axios.