Tuesday, January 06, 2009

True Believers

So I’ve been reading a little Kierkegaard. Sounds like a really bad pick-up line meant to be delivered to a philosophy major coed, and of course it is. But it’s even a worse line for that purpose when you garble the pronunciation of the name. Trust me on that one. But I digress. Kierkegaard was an existentialist, but not a brooding atheistic one like Sartre; he was in fact a Christian. Accept he didn’t much like Christianity per se; he spent much of his time issuing bromides against the Church in Sweden.

Here was his issue – in his view Christianity required that you be contemporaneous with Christ – that you suffered the same doubts and struggles in accepting the faith as you would have if you had walked the earth at the time of Christ and believed then. He believed that the immediate reaction to a humble Jew calling himself God should be offense – offense at the notion that an all-powerful God wouldn’t adorn himself in at least as much bling as Deion Sanders sported on his first SI cover.

So he talks about the potential reactions one might have to the living Christ during his lifetime – reactions along the lines of cautious endorsement of His good works, which are only tainted by His wild claims of being the Son of God. It’s hard to read the descriptions and not find in one or more of them your own likely attitude toward Christ had you actually been living at the time. But of course with each passing century, up until maybe the last Century, belief in Christ was a sign of bourgoise respectability. It was the easy choice to go along if you wanted to get along because of its power and reach. Gone was the leap of faith required to get beyond the very rational doubts that you would have had had you been alive at the same time as Christ. You might say to yourself in 1500 that of course it has to be true, otherwise how could one man living 1500 years ago have so transformed the world? But that wasn’t a proof Christ could offer to the first Christians.

So Kierkegaard’s main problem was that Christianity makes it all too easy to call oneself a Christian, and as a result people are missing the point. It’s truly a crazy leap, and his point is you cannot do it without radically changing every aspect of your life because, if you lived contemporaneous with Christ, it was not possible to do it halfway. But if the status quo allows you to check the box on Church on Sunday, confession once a year, etc. without otherwise experiencing any fundamental and radical departure from societal respectability, then you are too likely to attach yourself to the things of this world rather than the next. Either you believe or you don’t, but the difference in how you live your life should be radical.

I bring this up to draw a parallel with environmentalism. I would suspect that for some environmentalists, there has to be the same frustration, that people can softly claim the mantle by recycling a bit, turning off a light here or there, driving a Prius in the city, etc. Either you believe we are headed for an ecological apocalypse, or you don’t. But if you believe it, how do you justify not going Ed Begley on the world? Isn’t anything short of that just moral posturing, a mere expression of tribal loyalty with others who are similarly right thinking? I know a lot of liberals who believe it’s all going to happen, and very little in their lives changes. They may espouse an attitude toward government that tolerates the possibility of much greater coercion of others with respect to economic freedom, and presumably would willingly tolerate such restrictions if they became policy, but nevertheless would not dream of actually radically changing their own lives voluntarily.

Now, the truth is that is a very rational move if you ask me, so I am not saying that it is hypocritical. I am only saying that it has got to be really frustrating to the true believers, the Ed Begley’s of the world who know that probably half of America nominally believes the same things, but won’t let it get in the way of a good road trip.

I’ve heard it said among Democrats that the Republican party is cynical in its pro-life stance – that a pro-life triumph would be disastrous for the parties electoral chances going forward, presumably not because of any backlash related to that issue, but instead due to taking the one issue that accounts for much of their loyalty off of the political table. I happen not to agree with this, but I take the point. With the new Obama administration, I think we will see something similar with respect to environmentalism. We’ve been told by Al Gore that it is a moral problem rather than a political problem, that we face cataclysmic consequences to inaction, that the changes that are necessary can be made without economic pain, etc. All convenient things to say when the other guy is in power. It is worth remembering that the Kyoto accords were rejected in the late 1990s by all but one Democratic Senator (if memory serves).

Here’s my prediction – the Obama administration will do very little in connection to the environment. There will be some payola to the parties that benefit from the alarmism created by the wild claims, enough perhaps to keep them quiet. I would say it will take very little to keep them quiet once Obama is in office, and in fact a little extra their way will have them lauding the policies of Obama even if in fact they are mere lipstick on what we’ve been told for eight years is a pig. (I suspect he may go a little too far and choose a policy that reaps great economic harm without any real prospect of confronting seriously the devestation we are told is imminent.) We’ll see, in short, if Al Gore really drinks his own kool-aid, and I suspect that he doesn’t. If he is honest, the policies he will see should make him the Kierkegaard to Obama’s environmental church, but something tells me he will quietly glide into the pew and keep quiet in exchange for the promised donuts in the parish hall. At the end of the day, it will be a moral posture that is good for business and the Democratic party, and nothing more. Like homeless people circa 1992, environmental problems will largely disappear.


Anonymous Jim o said...

i don't disagree with you at all with respect to politicians in power, but I still think the environment will speak louder to us as time goes by.

It will be fascinating to watch how far it will go, what (if anything) we will try in order to contain the growing weather problems, and how much adaptation we will need in oder to live our lives as we do now. Or some reasonable fascimile.

How long do warming and cooling cycles last? Will the next cooling cycle happen fast enough to offset what we and the current warming cycle are doing? Can we do enough to offset what is being done? How radically do we need to shift our lives in order to hit the reasonable return point?

It should be an interesting time, this life of ours.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now for another economists view....
In a study published in October of 2008, conducted by David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley, found that environmental initiatives launched in Calif. actually create a more profitable economy.


Not being an economist, I guess we can take Hatcher's word for it but alternate views do exist. Some have extended study periods to document their results.
As to blindly following Drill Here/Drill Now there are a whole series of studies including the DOE -


showing that approach won't do anything.
I don't care whether you believe in global warming or not, eventually the giant sponge we all occupy will run out of was to clean up our mess, that pollution has to go somewhere.
Seeing as how the green economy has been documented to save money and create jobs, much like disease prevention and availability of health care lower the costs for everyone, dismissing the opportunities to do something is shortsighted.
Unless the last eight years of zero accomplishments from an environmental standpoint are your definition of success...

8:49 PM  
Anonymous John W said...

I am not an economist either, and I haven't read the report referenced by Jim o, but the Public Utilities Fortnightly January magazine notes that the "Californication" of environmental regulation, while it may have impacted demand, also has other, more adverse impacts. In the last 30 years, CA's manufacturing and processing demand has largely disappeared. The Green Policies have put tremendous pressure on the economy---including an enormous budget deficit projected to hit $42 billion by 2010 and an unemployment rate of 8% (2nd highest in the US). Environmental regs and the associated bureacracies re scaring off the businesses (and the renewable power plants).

Finally, I wish Ideas Hatched provided donuts at THIS parish hall--I'd come and stay longer


10:08 AM  

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