Sunday, August 14, 2005

Defying Hopelessness With My Own Futility

After returning from the PGA which was experientially cool if climatologically effing hot, my internet and half of the TV cable channels went kablooey. They were returned to service late yesterday after calls and appointments, blah, blah. So , here we finally are... back again.

I read this book in high school. The alternate review is more indicative of my impressions reading it. It wasn't purely about population expansion, but more about the rights of the individual in a dystopia of 8x12 living spaces where all is controlled and every tyranny has "good reasons". This leaves the protagonist, Sam Poynter, to conceive the previously unthinkable request for more space, eliciting both breathtaking admiration and hostility from the other people in the epic line where he awaits his chance to debate his petition. At some point, the futility of his request doesn't matter. What matters is puncturing the myth of homogeneity without oppression and the benevolence of the paternal society. And I recalled it when I considered why I keep asserting my positions in the hostile landscape of Manhattan.

I recently met with several other writers of various sorts who live here in New York, and pleasant, intellectually engaged folks they were, too. The conversation was diverted as often happens, and not by me mind you, from writing to politics. There were the typical assertions that "people" (I'm assuming the unwashed masses between our coasts) ought to pay attention and care more about deep issues. I believe, as usual, my peers underestimate the amount of curiosity and erudition in flyover country.

The historian in the bunch was willing to half-agree with me that those intimately interested in world-shaping policies and players (as opposed to the smaller ambits of their own families and subsistence) is probably a relatively fixed and minor percentage of the populace, much like the slivers submerged in their concern for ballet or birding. However, he said Thomas Jefferson had intended we should have a widely informed populace. I said Jefferson had never envisioned the modern scope of goverment legislation and budgetary control that would challenge any citizen's capacity to be well-informed. And though I found my companions less well-versed in several topics of worldwide blight than I'd have predicted from those who bragged of superior knowledge and caring, I don't fault their minds or hearts for it as much as their insulation. Funny as that may sound when I'm writing from the modern center of empire.

Of course, we slogged into the topic of the environment, the clanging Armageddon of human-caused global warming that is too far gone for any to be saved, according to my companions. One cited the many terrified environmentalists she's spoken to in her role at a national nature program. Though one may be passionate about a cause, passion itself doesn't demonstrate the rightness of an argument. In extreme examples of this phenomenon, many today are passionate about stonings as appropriate punishment for wayward girls and homosexuals or they may be passionate that killing innocent schoolchildren is laudable under the pretense of political dissent. Too fatigued for angst today, I calmly and cold-bloodedly assert they're wrong. Is it the raw emotion or the justice of the position that ought to matter most?

As to the environment: I argued that unbalanced media coverage minimizing the true amount of dispute among worldwide climate experts, our still imprecise measurements, and incomplete knowledge of the world's past climatological cycles means it still isn't adequately substatiated that human efforts, not astronomical events for example, are the engine of global warming. And if we didn't cause it, even perhaps if we did, what can we realistically do about it? What about adapting? I also pointed out the tremendous fertility and human advancements of the Middle Ages, another geologically recent hot spell. I really hate the sweltering, but the fact is human systems survive it better than cold. Flora and fauna, too.

I followed up saying that even if I doubted the human causes of global warming, I still saw benefits to developing alternative energy and decreasing pollution. If I want some of the same end results for reasons economic and strategic and quality-of-lifewise, couldn't we still be pals even if I didn't embrace the doomsday? We were almost nodding together, then I had to say if this planet became unfit, which I'm far from agreeing upon, then all the more reason we should be investing in the forward technology of space travel and the feasibility of continuing human life in space or on another planet.

Of course, I allowed as how we'd most likely disagree on the methods by which those goals ought to be encouraged, i.e. odious taxation by hidebound central planning authority versus competition among sprightly private concerns. One self-professed socialist (herself apparently as undeterred by decades of international bloodshed and failure as I am by a couple years of long-eyed stares over dinner) agreed that we'd probably disagree. Another person chimed in with kindly dismay on my behalf for the ostracism that my views must bring. I said I'm used to it, but that I was most pleased we could talk about such topics without ad hominem attacks or anyone unstrapping their nines, since I see civil disagreement as a more reliable hallmark of civilization than hypersensitive conformance to a party line.

Most New Yorkers, a la Pauline Kael, feel their positions are so popularly held and unassailable that any appropriately sophisticated and/or educated person would share them. Therefore, they feel no natural reticence about broaching a controversial topic in polite conversation among new acquaintances. These topics seem to them settled points for bonding over high-fives, though never a chorus of Amens since religious belief is viewed as amusingly backwards but unecessary since the advent of art-house fashion and self-help.

So, why must I always raise an index finger to say, "Well, actually...." in response to questionable facts and flabby or fallacious arguments? My pathetically contrarian streak, I suppose. I can't let such assumptive positions go unchallenged. Besides, what use is believing that individuals are the drivers and defense of worthwhile society if I'm afraid to publicly exercise my own individualism? So, at the risk of losing others' esteem, I remain willing to attest, without hope of convincing a single soul, that certain widespread opinions around here are: 1) unbolstered by current facts, 2) highly questionable under the illumination of history, and 3) implicitly demeaning of the capacities and rights of fellow humans.

Here's a story about high mileage plug-in cars that's getting some media play and proves my point about the failure of long-term predictions and the nimbleness of human innovation. If everything's hopelessly hopeless, why should we bother? But just in case, let's keep up the good work and get some traction on a seriously efficient clean energy source that we could cheaply export around the globe for the welfare and freedom of all. Personal gyroscopes, anybody?


April said...

..As to the environment: I argued that unbalanced media coverage minimizing the true amount of dispute among worldwide climate experts,..

Yes, media coverage is unbalanced. to favor the conservative point of view. All the major media are owned by the big multi-nationals who do most of the polluting and obfuscation of the data. There wasn't any dispute among climate experts. I mean, the ones who weren't bought and paid for by big Multi-Nationals. Scientists who work for the NSF and the NIH are not beholden to the Multis, and they're of the opinion that global warming is happening(when their findings are not being changed by the administration), and it has human causation.

IMO, the major media in this country slants decidedly to the right. Look at who they're owned by.

Henway Twingo said...

This climate disagreement is international, not purely American, and ranges across persons funded by their own govts or academic institutions whose larger positions they may dispute. I don't believe that everyone with an advanced degree and career in science who isn't independently wealthy enough to fund their own research therefore mindlessly adopts a position they seriously disbelieve and fakes their research in order to get a job. The vast majority of career scientists I've met appear genuinely curious about their subject areas and concerned with their own ethics as well as the validiity of the research in their field which augments their own.

I prefer to view this disagreement on climate as a result of genuine intellectual contention and the natural push-pull of scietific discovery, not just the pliability of what would have to be thousands of weak-willed, criminally unethical researchers and statisticians. It's a small number of people in free societies who'd sell out their careers and reputations and deepest held convictions to the perceived wishes of tangential employers. Further, many employers whether private or public would like to know the facts they're paying to have studied.

The arbitrary and unsubstantiated labeling of one person's findings as deliberate, agenda-serving lies and another's findings as impassioned, undisputed truth is the crux of what I'm arguing against. Personally, I think these scientists who disagree on whether humans are the major cause of global warming honestly believe what they're attesting and the way they're looking at the data as it exists. And they are not at consensus, not even close.