Friday, May 29, 2015

Trending Upward

"Arrogance is lording over a planet where a majority of all species that have ever lived are now extinct, without giving it a second thought . . . . Evolution does not always mean advancement."
                    - Timothy Egan, "The Arrogance of Jeb Bush," NYTimes, May 29, 2015

All the prejudices I here undertake to dispose depend on this one: that men commonly suppose that all natural things act, as men do, on account of an end; indeed, they maintain as certain that God directs all things to some certain end, for they say that God has made all things for man, and man that he might worship God."
                   - Spinoza, Ethics, Pt. 1 (Appendix)

Tim Egan's New York Times column glosses a recent, breathtaking bit of Jeb Bush pre-campaign pandering in anticipation of the Koch Brothers' privately funded Republican primary: “And for the people to say the science is decided on, this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you,” he said with affecting sincerity. “It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t have a conversation about it even.”

Naturally Jeb's talking about climate science, or climate "science," as he might prefer it. "The people" who say these things, of course, are the very sort who belong to the Royal Society and the National Academy of Science, who issue "reports" which refer to climate change as "one of the defining issues of our time." Always these same people - the ones with the arrogance to pretend to know anything about the very topic they are trained to investigate, who have the unbounded gall to marshall orderly data in support of their contentions, who have the temerity to present a nearly unanimous front, across the global community of climatologists, in their public pronouncements.

Jeb Bush is supposed to be less appallingly stupid than his older brother, who admitted while he was president that greenhouse gas, to which climate change is tied, "is due in large part to human activity." So to give Jeb the benefit of the doubt, he's probably not stupid, he's only pandering for that imperceptible nod from the Koch Brothers without which no Republican can any longer hope to bear the scepter and wear the royal accoutrements.

"He'll say what I say"

Whatever brief enlightenment may have invested our species in the 16th century, when Spinoza wrote, has been suborned, squandered, recklessly spent, traded for a specious idea of our own 21st-century evolution. We've unwisely combined the 13th-century superstition (lifted from Aquinas who lifted it from Aristotle) of a providentially guided universe in which humanity is the acme, perfection and sole purpose, with the (otherwise salutary) idea of evolution. 

The hybrid notion, of a providentially-guided evolution, is a travesty - the idea that humans evolve according to some divine plan which tends towards the survival, eventual perfection and assured persistence of (at least the more advanced examples of) the species. (Technology abetted by capitalism make, on this view, but a pair of God's handmaidens.) Things don't, of course, work like that in Darwin's world, a nonfictional realm in which the inapt and nonadaptable can not persist, a world directed towards no end, a realm in which survival is merely one outcome of natural process and not a goal towards which things necessarily tend according to some benign inevitability. 

To suppose otherwise, to ignore the fate of the coelocanth and the great sloth, is true arrogance; it is the arrogance that supposes humans alone are exempted from the natural mechanisms that drive the habitable planet. We will likely become the sole species whose extinction was due to its own stupidity.

Jeb's earnest wish to be able to have this "conversation" is another specious bit of Republican open-mindedness. No, such a conversation is no longer edifying, useful or instructive. Here's NASA's version, if you really want to have that conversation, a version which accommodates the Fox Newsers' claim (accurate so far as it goes) that the mean global temperature has dropped in the past decade :

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