The Political Year 2016
1066, 1789, 1939, 1848, 1968, 1989: all years that evoke ideas of revolution, war and discontinuous change. The question I ask is whether 2016 will be one of those years. I do not know yet. In many years of writing my Christmas letter, I cannot recall a year in which it occurred to me that this was one of those times. I cannot recall writing a Christmas letter as far back as 1989-1990 when Russian communism collapsed, as a Marxist would say, from its internal contradictions.
When Soviet Communism collapsed, something we had expected to be fixed and immutable disappeared. After all, we had been told for ages by the likes of Gwynne Dyer and others that it was a permanent part of the life of mankind and we had better get used to it. Several years were needed to adapt to its disappearance. It was like leaning against a wind when the wind stops and the sun comes out. The Russian state reverted to autocracy, but without illusions that its form of society and economy represented the inevitable outcome of objectively determinable historical forces, to which other countries would sooner or later submit.
I expect something of the same nature is underway in the West 26 years later. I cannot be sure, but I think the electorate is revolting against what they have been told by every organ of proper opinion that they must believe. In other words, what happened first in Eastern Europe in 1989 is proceeding westward through Western Europe and has arrived in North America.
Throughout the past summer I have heard apparently sane and well educated Americans go completely nuts on the subject of the Donald. There is no need to dwell upon that here. I hold in my wallet a Canadian $100 bill, earned in a bet just before Christmas, 2015, that Trump would beat Hillary. I felt sure of it at the time. The onslaught of negative press, the smear campaign throughout the year, made me doubt he could win. I ought to have had more faith in the American people, perhaps, but the same people who elected Trump had elected Obama twice.
If I am right, something is happening in the public mood. We shall be slower to see it in Canada because we have more reason to be satisfied with our system of government. Nevertheless, 2016 may signal a change in public mood. If 1968 marked the beginning of this period, the outbreak of the baby boomer post-World-War-2 revolt, this one may be in the reverse direction, away from permissiveness and towards a tightening up of the naively hopeful assumptions that guided us for the past fifty years.
Let us start with climate alarmism.
I will suggest for your consideration that, despite numerous fundamental differences, Marxism has been replaced by climate alarmism, as the dominating impulse of the political left. In turn, climate alarmism is the idea driving the people who are most upset with the world and who believe that action must be taken to save the planet from human depredations. Ecological concerns provide a legitimacy to the political engineering of social and economic outcomes. Appearing to care for the environment, “climate change” and “global warming” endow our politicians with the belief that they are saving the planet even as they hobble the economy with high energy costs. They do this by making renewable resources (e.g.windmills) artificially price-competitive with fossil fuels, and by energy taxes, which raise the costs of production throughout the value-chain. Climate alarmism provides a ready basis of electoral strength for those who espouse these ideas, so that a politician can wreck the economy and still get elected. Witness Ontario or Germany under Angela Merkel.
The global warming scare is founded on a scientific idea, which is to say, something capable of being proven wrong. If it could not be proven wrong it would not be science. It would be a religion. The theory is that humans are loading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2), and that the CO2 will raise global temperatures by many degrees and thereby cause disastrous climate changes, such as desertification, sea level rises, and excessively rapid changes to the living spaces of wildlife. Cause leading to effect.
The first part of the global warming thesis is absolutely correct. Since World War 2 we have increased the amount of atmospheric CO2 to over 400 parts per million. It is the deductions from that observed fact which is almost wholly unwarranted: uncontrolled and large increases of global temperature.
Have the predicted increases of global temperature taken place? No. The observed ranges of global warming are less by several degrees centigrade than the most conservative estimates of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s estimates are based on computer models, and as we all know, models are based on inputs and assumptions. Do you think the model-builders might be biased? That they might have an ideological and career interest in having their theories confirmed by facts? And in hiding the tiresome gap between what their models have predicted and the sorry fact that global temperatures are not rising faster than they have in times past, from natural causes?
Vast amounts of money by governments have been spent to “prove” that man’s activities (burning fossil fuels) are the exclusive cause of global warming, and that this tendency is extremely dangerous. You cannot read a newspaper today without reading about some catastrophe that we are causing through our burning fossil fuels.
The amount of government money being spent on research to prove these notions is in the billions, with governments firmly pressing their thumbs down on one side of the balance.
Worse, the discussion has been embittered by the fact that one side feels it is saving the earth, and the other thinks “hey wait a minute, I am less persuaded”. One side believes it cannot be wrong, and the other has no such passionate conviction. One side is promulgating religious belief, and the other is gingerly attempting to do science. As has been shown by the release of the Climategate emails a few years back, significant hiding and fudging of the data has taken place. Where is the missing heat? If the AGW theory is correct there is a lot of missing heat. If the theory is wrong there is nothing to explain, since the heat was never captured in the first place
As with religion, when one side cannot be wrong, deviation, no matter how small, is no longer error, but heresy. It is not enough to claim there is some global warming – which is true – it is required that you believe that we humans alone are causing it and that unless drastic abatement of our energy use takes place, we are doomed. This is religion, with Gaia in the place of God, and as scientific idea, it is complete rubbish. As a religious idea it has its merits, but so does Wotan.
I could spend pages on this subject without changing anyone’s mind on the issue, but I will venture a few observations. As little as 11,000 years ago, Canada resembled Greenland, with Ottawa under 4,000 feet of ice, and Toronto under 2,000. That Canada is ice-free in summer except for the northern Arctic islands says that there has been global warming from natural causes, and global freezing before that.
Second, in the last two billion years, 80% of the time there has been no ice at the earth’s poles. We are in one of those periods in the life of planet earth when it is cold. The world that has been getting colder for the past 30 million years as CO2 has been leached out of the atmosphere for various natural causes, and humans are putting it back in, just in time to prevent, possibly, the recurrence of next advance of the ice, which is scheduled to happen in the next 2-5,000 years. In that cheeky suggestion, humans are taking out of the ground “sequestered” carbon dioxide and putting it back into the atmosphere from which it has been leeched for the past thirty million years.
Just as with the supposedly “scientific” socialism of Karl Marx, I am confidently expecting climate alarmism and its basis, man-caused global warming, to be tossed on the garbage dump of history, like cholesterol, phlogiston, the ether, and the idea of humors controlling the body. All junk. All believed in their time, and all rubbish.
For reasons I will explain, I think 2016 will be linked to the beginning of the end of the dominance of this idea.
The evaporation of Political Correctness
The second thing whose end I can foresee, or whose power we can see evaporating, is political correctness. The theory goes like this. If all humans are equal, in every way, then disparities in their respective collective and individual attainments can only be explained in terms of oppressions and disadvantages. (The issue goes away as soon as you realize that humans are unequal in ways as powerful and important as the ways in which they are equal, but that idea is never explored, let alone embraced).
This belief (axiom really) has led to the proliferation of “isms” and “phobias” which are, in essence, thought crimes. Sexism, racism, classism, heightism, body shaming, and so forth: there is a new one every month. And you are presumptively guilty if you use the wrong term for some group in some context.
Hence “youths” torched 1500 cars in riots in France last year. Terrorism is the product of social disadvantage, and so is crime. No one is at fault if everyone else is at fault.
The effects of political correctness are more insidious than that, however. Take names changing for groups. They used to be Eskimos (which is Athabaskan for “eaters of raw meat”, and now they are Inuit. Now suppose you witness a gas station robbery and the –admittedly unlikely perpetrator is a –what do you call him? –Inuit? But the robbery occurred in Arizona, where they still sue “eskimo” for Eskimos. The point of PC, and this is the deep result of not being sure what anything or anyone is named any more – is to force people to keep their observations to themselves, because to share their observations is to share their views on race, sex, class, religion, and other topics on which one is forbidden to have views about human differences.
Thus people become walled off from each other and are made to feel the need for someone to give them permission to speak. I guarantee you that that permission is not forthcoming. By the time you have found the politically correct term for someone in Iowa, it has evolved into something different in New York. And you are a socially cripple for saying as much aloud, only we cannot use the word “cripple”.
The ultimate goal of PC, as far as I can see, is to cause people not to trust one another with their thoughts. It is really a formidable form of political control, without the need for a KGB or a Gestapo.
If my analysis has not been offensive enough so far, it is about to achieve a new level of deplorability. You know where this is going. The US election this year produced an upset to established opinion on economics, trade, political correctness, the role of the media, climate alarmism, and God knows what else.
Trump. His name is Trump, and he just threw over the applecart in an election the closest parallel to which was Andrew Jackson’s in 1828. Out of the backwoods came Jackson against the coastal elite of the Federalist party. Jackson is still on the $20 bill, and John Adams is not. I am not an admirer of Andrew Jackson on the whole, and by the time Trump is done with the US Presidency I may no longer be an admirer of his. On the other hand I think right now he could be as important as Reagan was in transforming a dispirited America into something, as the phrase comes to mind, “great again”.
His choices for cabinet appointments concerning energy show that he has embraced the view that climate alarmism is ill-founded, and that liberating US energy production will make the country a globally competitive powerhouse.
On the subject of energy policy, Trump has appointed people to government posts who will rip into the man-caused global warming consensus and liberate oil and gas production in the US. Costs of manufacturing will go down, and direct employment in domestic energy production will go up. These will be the real world benefits, greater prosperity, even as places like Canada and Germany hobble their economies with the “clean energy” delusion.
More important, from my point of view, the heresy sniffers and persecutors of science are about to face the debate they have been avoiding these past twenty years (“settled science”, “97% of scientists agree”) . To a great extent, I expect the defunding of the obviously biased research directed at proving the existence of large global temperature increases (greater than 1 centigrade degree a century). Those paid to wring their hands about impending climate catastrophes will have to get a real job.
Climate alarmism has had the same effect in the natural sciences as Lysenko had in Soviet biology, but the recovery can begin as soon as the catastrophists face some actual competition for the research dollars which the government allocates.
Like communism when it fell, the theory of man-caused global warming thing will go poof! And in a few years we will forget how much we were in the thrall of this ludicrous pseudo-religion. People who think themselves clever will no longer be parroting the approved lines in conversation, and something like debate will once more be socially tolerated.
As to political correctness, its tide is apparently at the height. Since no one legislated it, no legislative change can completely fix it. What then will happen to it?
Here is an intimation of how I think it will be pushed back. One time during the election I watched Trump dealing with a bunch of reporters. He issue concerned the disabled, as I recollect, but it could have concerned any group which has been assigned sacred victim status. An Hispanic-American reporter in suit and tie started to make a fuss about the term “disabled” in the usual way this is done, by expressing moral outrage at the use of one term to designate the afflicted over another. It went like this:
“I am inconceivably offended by the use of that term”. Not quite but close enough for rhetorical purposes. So Trump asked him: “What term would you use?” The reporter replied with some 12-syllable euphemism. Trump considered it for a moment and said: “No, I’ll use disabled”. And that was the end of it. Unlike most politicians, Trump did not cave in to this pseudo-outrage on the part of the reporter and issue blushing apologies for his insensitivity and promise to put himself in a consciousness-heightening sensitivity session of the kind to which people are now directed by campus administrators/thought police.
I think that the US President, as the head of state as well as the head of government, has an important role in determining how far the euphemism nonsense of political correctness will be carried. There was a story in the 1980s that the Salvation Army was about to be kicked out of a Washington DC shopping mall for collecting money at Christmas, on some specious grounds of separation of church and state. Barbara Bush arranged for television cameras to film her putting a $20 bill into the Salvation Army’s lucite sphere at the mall, and that put an end to the matter.
It will take moral leadership of a different kind to expand the range of what can be said instead of constantly contracting it, as has been the case since I went to university 45 years ago. It may take as many decades, perhaps, to remove as it has taken decades to erect the edifice of speech control under which we are now living. Or it may go poof!, like communism did, when people shuck it off.
We all want to live in a liberal and tolerant society, where we all try to see that people will be treated fairly. I assume if you are reading this you feel the same way too. This PC stuff has nothing to do with fairness or tolerance; it is the impulse to enforce conformity of thought, and to prevent people from reaching obvious conclusions on the basis of observed facts. Future ages will mock us in derision for our version of political correctness, even as they suffer under newer forms of the same disease.
2016 saw the Brexit vote and the Trump election victory. Both signaled the rejection by significant sections of the population that all is working out well, that we are happy with what we see happening in society, that our media are reliable and concerned with facts, that unlimited immigration is what we want, that Islamic terrorism should not be called for what it is, or dealt with, and that we are happy not being able or permitted to discuss any of these feelings and observations in polite company, let alone in public.
Consequently, will 2016 be recalled as a revolutionary year on the scale of the French or Russian revolutions? Probably not. But it will mark one of those episodes where the rot was arrested, where repairs were begun, and where evil in the world started to be reduced.
Patriotism is not racism. A sensible and manly defence of liberty is not fascism. The poor of the earth are not sacred victims. It should not feel like a brave or politically dangerous thing to say any of these truths.
Happy new year!