I haven't posted any really good, old-fashioned "right wing"
anti-environmental ideology lately <grin>, and what with the end
of the semester and all, I just thought it would be fun to spend a
nice sunny day inside on the computer and consume a whole bunch of
electrons for a change.
This morning another poster brought up the subject of "old
extreme right wingers," and presumably by extension that means
that he himself is an "old extreme left winger."
Logical, eh? Unless in fact there is something in the middle
between old extreme "right wingers" and old extreme
"left wingers." Anyway . . . .
A 1985 article by Joseph Epstein appeared in the New York
Times Magazine titled, "True Virtue." In that
article, Epstein himself raises the issue of "right" versus
"left" (mind you, these are not terms I myself favor.
I think these terms normally are pretty much devoid of meaning, most
of the time. IMHO). What Epstein says about "right"
and "left," however, I find pretty interesting.
"Disagree with someone on the right and he is likely to
think you obtuse, wrong, foolish, a dope. Disagree with someone
on the left and he is more likely to think you selfish, a sell-out,
insensitive, possibly evil" (p. 95, cite below).
I think Epstein's comment is pretty much on the mark, prescient
even, and relevant to contemporary environmental debate.
Thomas Sowell is a self-proclaimed critic of the "left"
(and presumably by extension, he is on the "right"?), and he
has written a very interesting book called The Vision of the
Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy
(NY, Basic Books: 1995). Although I don't agree with much of his
politics, I think Sowell's philosophical and sociological analysis of
"the vision of the anointed" is very powerful.
Ultimately his thesis is that "self-congratulation" is *not*
a sound basis for policy.
Allow me to share a few snippets of Sowell's book.
"Even when issues of public policy are discussed in the
outward form of an argument, often the conclusions reached are
predetermined by the assumptions and definitions inherent in a
particular vision of social processes. Different visions, of
course, have different assumptions, so it is not uncommon for people
who follow different visions to find themselves in opposition to one
another across a vast spectrum of unrelated issues, in such disparate
fields as law, foreign policy, the environment, racial policy,
military defense, education, and many others. To a remarkable
extent, however, empirical evidence is neither sought beforehand nor
consulted after a policy has been instituted. Facts may be
marshalled for a position already taken, but that is very different
from systematically testing opposing theories by evidence.
Momentous questions are dealt with essentially as conflicts of
"The focus here will be on one particular vision--the
vision prevailing among the intellectual and political elite of our
time. What is important about that vision are not only its
particular assumptions and their corollaries, but also the fact that
it is a *prevailing* vision [emph. orig.]--which means that its
assumptions are so much taken for granted by so many people, including
so-called 'thinking people,' that neither those assumptions nor their
corollaries are generally confronted with demands for empirical
evidence. Indeed, empirical evidence itself may be viewed as
suspect, insofar as it is inconsistent with that vision.
"Discordant evidence may be dismissed as isolated
anomalies, or as something tendentiously selected by opponents, or it
may be explained away ad hoc by a theory having no empirical support
whatever--except that this ad hoc theory is able to sustain itself and
gain acceptance because it is consistent with the overall vision.
Examples of such tactics . . . [are] numerous . . . . What must
first be considered are the reasons behind such tactics, why it is so
necessary to believe in a particular vision that evidence of its
incorrectness is ignored, suppressed, or discredited--ultimately, why
one's quest is not for reality but for a vision. What does the
vision offer that reality does not offer?
"What a vision may offer, and what the prevailing vision
of our time emphatically does offer, is a special state of
grace for those who believe in it. Those who accept this vision
are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher
plane. Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing
vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For
those who have this vision of the world, the anointed and the
benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same
rules of logic and evidence. The benighted must be made 'aware,'
to have their 'consciousness raised,' and the wistful hope is held out
that they will 'grow.' Should the benighted prove recalcitrant,
however, then their 'mean-spiritedness' must be fought and the 'real
reasons' behind their arguments and actions exposed. While
verbal fashions change, this basic picture of the differential
rectitude of the anointed and the benighted has not changed
fundamentally in at least two hundred years" (pp. 1-3).
Jim here: I know that this "snippet" is starting
to get a bit on the long side, but if anyone is still with me here,
I'd like to include one or two more paragraphs, and possibly these
might serve as an impetus to discussion about environmental ethics
here on the list. With the list's indulgence, then . . .
"The contemporary anointed and those who follow them make
much of their 'compassion' for the less fortunate, their 'concern' for
the environment, and their being 'anti-war,' for example--as if these
were characteristics which distinguish them from people with opposite
views on public policy. The very idea that such an
opponent of the prevailing vision as Milton Friedman, for example,
has just as much compassion for the poor and the disadvantaged, that
he is just as much appalled by pollution, or as horrified by the
sufferings and slaughter imposed by war on millions of innocent men,
women, and children--such an idea would be a very discordant note in
the vision of the anointed. If such an idea were fully accepted,
this would mean that opposing arguments on social policy were
arguments about methods, probabilities, and empirical evidence--with
compassion, caring, and the like being common features on both sides,
thus cancelling out and disappearing from the debate. That
clearly is not the vision of the anointed. One reason for
the preservation and insulation of a vision is that it has become
inextricably intertwined with the egos of those who believe it.
Despite Hamlet's warning against self-flattery ["Lay not that
flattering unction to your soul"], the vision of the anointed is
not simply a vision of the world and its functioning in a causal
sense, but is also a vision of themselves and of their moral role in
that world. *It is a vision of differential rectitude *
[emph. orig.]. It is not a vision of the tragedy of the human
condition: Problems exist because others are not as wise or as
virtuous as the anointed.
"The great ideological crusades of twentieth-century
intellectuals have ranged across the most disparate fields--from the
eugenics movement of the early decades of the century to the
environmentalism of the later decades, not to mention the welfare
state, socialism, communism, Keynesian economics, and medical,
nuclear, and automotive safety. What all these highly disparate
crusades have in common is their moral exaltation of the anointed
above others, who are to have their very different views nullified and
superseded by the views of the anointed, imposed by the power of
government. Despite the great variety of issues in a series of
crusading movements among the intelligentsia during the twentieth
century, several key elements have been common to most of them:
"1. Assertions of a great danger to the whole
society, a danger to which the masses of people are oblivious.
"2. An urgent need for action to avert impending
"3. A need for the government to drastically
curtail the dangerous behavior of the many, in response to the
prescient conclusions of the few.
"4. A disdainful dismissal of arguments to the contrary
as either uninformed, irresponsible, or motivated by some unworthy
"Specific arguments on particular issues [are addressed
throughout the book]. . . . What is remarkable is how few
arguments are really engaged in, and how many subsitutes for
arguments there are. These substitutes for arguments are, almost
by definition, more available to adherents of the prevailing vision,
whose assumptions are so widely accepted as to permit conclusions
based on those assumptions to pass muster without further scrutiny"
Jim here again:
Anyway, that's probably enough of that. I don't have much
at the moment for commentary but offer this up as "grist for the
list." It is interesting to speculate, however, whether
there is any alternative to being either "right wing" or
"left wing" . . . "centrist," perhaps?
And taking that speculation a bit further, if such an alternative
DID exist, and if one wanted to be a well-informed "centrist,"
wouldn't that person need to draw from materials, evidence, and
arguments generated by "right" as well as from the
"left"? By hypothesis, of course.
Perhaps Joseph Epstein was hinting at this possibility in his
discussion of "true virtue."
the Epstein cite:
Epstein, Joseph. "True Virtue," New York Times
Magazine, November 24, 1985, p. 95; quoted in Sowell 1995, p.