Friday, June 6, 2014

Harper: who lives by the sword dies by the sword

 abbreviations used in this article:

GW - Global Warming

         Prime minister Stephen Harper has championed the cause of mothers and children on the world stage. Here is a glowing review recently published in the Huffington Post: 

          Harper's traditional Christian evangelical values may be partly responsible for his position. We simply give credit where credit is due. His support is welcome. On the international scene, family issues - including women's and children's rights to education, health and security and the right to birth control - do not receive the attention they deserve. This is both tragic and stupid. World leaders speak of the need for "sustainable development" but scant attention is paid to the fact that the fastest way of reducing population growth to sustainable levels is to promote female literacy. Military spending makes money for the those who can afford the biggest lobbies and pay for the biggest goodies (defense industry contracts) for compliant national politicians who jump through hoops.. We fail to reflect upon the fate of children brutalized in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria: as adults they will fill the ranks of tomorrow's terrorist gangs. Disempowered, brutalized children will eventually strike back as brutalizing adult fanatics. As a planetary society we fail to recognize the wisdom of the African proverb: it takes a whole village to raise a child.

            Prime minister Stephen Harper recently berated parents duped by pseudo-scientific fraudsters who link autism to childhood vaccination. Their refusal to have their kids vaccinated is now allowing formerly "conquered" diseases like measles and even the dreadful polio to make a comeback. Harper expressed irritation and confusion at this behavior. Who, in their right mind, would deny proven science! All very rational.. till, of course, you look at Harper's own precedents..

            Stephen Harper has not exactly been a paragon of rationality when it comes to judging the value of published science. He accepts that there is no valid statistical evidence linking autism to vaccination. But when it comes to atmospheric physics, he rejects established, peer-reviewed science and joins the cultlike global warming (GW) deniers and "sceptics". In other words, he does not judge science on purely rational grounds but "cherry picks" the "science" that fit his own political and economic world view. In one of his more egregious outbursts - admittedly made when he was still an Albertan provincial politician and had not made the move yet to the Federal arena - Harper addresses a letter to Reform party members denouncing the Kyoto Accord on Greenhouse Gas Emissions as a "socialist scheme" - ! sic ! to "suck money out of wealth-producing nations". Those Evil Commies again! - gee, I thought they all died out years ago, sort of like dinosaurs..

           From a scientific perspective, Harper's lies (or confusions) are as egregious as anything the autism / vaccination crowd ever came up with - and for the future health and stability of this planet, probably a hell of lot more destructive in the long run. GW, pontificates Harper, is based on "tentative" science. (It isn't but his readers want to believe it just like the autism / antivaccination crowd want to see "official" medical science tumble in the dust.) Worse, GW science is "contradictory" (???) Well, yes, science - based on the public demonstration of truth: experiment and peer- review - is necessarily based on the public confrontation and conflict of opposed models of reality. That's like, duh, the way it's supposed to work.. What Harper failed to convey was the fact that the existing evidence weighs strongly in favor of the human causation of GW.

                          Traditional science versus Neocon NewScience

          Like a polished charlatan Harper grossly distorts fact by a deft combination of "misinforming through omission" and a folksy, down home appeal to "common sense". GW science is refuted because it "focuses on carbon dioxide, which is essential to life, rather than upon pollutants". Can't be more commonsensical than that: I imagine Harper, Stetson crowned, leaning back in an old rocking chair on the homestead back porch, sucking on a full headed wheat stalk, chatting with the folk. In the background, the great prairie sunset blazes redly on the horizon amidst rocking oil rigs.. What Harper omits is that too much of a good thing can, in fact, be deadly. Carbon dioxide, like salt, fits in that category. Too little salt and your life expectancy drops because sodium and chloride are "essential to life". Too much salt, though, and your life expectancy falls: that's why governments' and medical bodies promote reduction in salt use..

         Like pseudo-science gurus, Harper creatively mingles speculation with self-evident truth. Thus the Kyoto Accord will destroy jobs. In reality, nothing is likely further from the truth! Years of studies by economists suggest rather the contrary. High Tech energy industries like the petrochemical and the nuclear produce few long term jobs. Aside from some initial, temporary job creation in the construction sector, high tech energy is capital intensive and labor dis-intensive. High tech energy production: a few guys walking around big buildings full of lots of heavy - and expensive! - equipment. Green energies - based on renewable sources like sun, wind, tide, geothermal energy, biomass.. - actually tend to have lower capital to labor ratios: more guys working in smaller buildings with smaller, less expensive, pieces of equipment.

         Finally, Harper plays the populist, (one fears ,racist), redneck card again. He doesn't like 3rd world nations who, initially, do not have to conform to the Kyoto Accord gas emission reduction targets. Such a delay of implementation, while admittedly controversial - and debatable, is at least the admission of the need for some kind of international social justice. Historically, the industrial world built up its wealth on the backs of the colonized races (cheap labor and raw materials) while having a free hand to pollute for a century and a half (since the Industrial Revolution). The controversial provision to phase in 3rd world compliance at a later date was, at least, an attempt to deal with this flagrant historical injustice. Harper hypocritically seems to imply that all the right is on one side, no need for debate..

          It is a bit difficult for me to reconcile 

1- Harper's apparently sincere and (aside from some unfortunate concessions to Right wing conservative christian groups) rational promotion of mother / child health issues with 

2- the inanity of his positions on GW (and environmental issues in general). 

         Perhaps we see here another example of the (apparent) "hypocrisy" or "multi-faceted" personality noted so often in authoritarians. The left hand of the authoritarian rarely knows what the right is doing. The authoritarian personality seems to lack "integrity" (especially in the senses of psychological "unity", of the ability to argue rationally or of attitudinal "coherence"). Authoritarians therefore often provide flagrant examples of the very vices they denounce so vehemently in the groups they detest.

          In the present case, Harper experiences apparently heartfelt consternation with parents who do not accept scientific knowledge regarding infectious disease and refuse to have their kids vaccinated. Yet has not Harper gone out of his way to discredit and muzzle GW science? Does he not condemn in others what he freely does himself? Inconsistent - like a good authoritarian..

           In a more philosophical vein, I'm led to an observation on human nature from the newly emerging science of Evolutionary Biology (AKA: Sociobiology). Because humans evolved from back stabbing, power hungry dudes similar to modern chimpanzees, we use guile and deception to advance our social status - "primate politics", in other words. Thus chimps are said to possess a "Machiavellian psychology". Unfortunately, humans also make lousy liars. Unconscious tics and visual / auditory cues give the lie away, except for psychopaths: they have an ace up the sleeve when they can lie with a straight face. But crafty mother nature (natural selection / evolution) came up with a solution: humans are naturally hypocritical. We don't scrutinize our own positions with sufficient rigor. Therefore, we readily end up believing our own lies, our own BS. Like the psychopath, we, too, end up lying with a straight face (the psycho just knows he's BSing everybody..) From this perspective, the authoritarian, having a more "polyfaceted", less internally integrated personality, accepts his own BS a bit easier than the rest of the population.

             The author of The Moral Animal (above link) suggests a pedagogical approach to morality originally advanced by Charles Darwin and his circle. We should educate ourselves to compensate in the opposite direction of our natural (hypocritical) bent. We should be instructed in school to learn to look at all sides of issues, to learn to critically scrutinize our own positions for flawed logic or self interest (and not just criticize reflexively the opinion of our adversaries).

author of autism / vaccination scam loses medical licence 

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