Monday, December 07, 2009

What, no donkeys in the new Jerusalem (Copenhagen)?

IsraCast: Dec. 1917 - General Allenby Enters Jerusalem:
On the first day of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah in December 1917, the Battle of Jerusalem resulted in the city of Jerusalem falling to British forces led by General Allenby, after 400 years under Turkish rule.

Allenby was an accomplished horseman and it would have made sense for him to ride triumphantly into the city. However on 11 December Allenby entered on foot out of his great respect for the Holy City, becoming the first Christian to control the city in centuries.
According to Wikipedia:
In both Jewish and Christian traditions, the messiah (Jesus Christ in the later case) was often described as riding on a donkey. As noted, in the context of the Hebrew Bible this connoted wealth and affluence befitting the House of David, as at the time commoners are described as simply going on foot. However, in later times when the aristocracy used horses, depicting the messiah as riding a donkey came to have an opposite connotation, as indicating a simple, sober way of life and avoiding luxury. The same connotation is evident in the description of saints such as Francis of Assisi as riding donkeys.
This is all preface to the latest news on the great religious festival now unfolding in Copenhagen: Copenhagen climate summit: 1,200 limos, 140 private planes and caviar wedges - Telegraph:
On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says. "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report."

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen. "The government has some alternative fuel cars but the rest will be petrol or diesel. We don't have any hybrids in Denmark, unfortunately, due to the extreme taxes on those cars. It makes no sense at all, but it's very Danish."

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.

As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles. A Republican US senator, Jim Inhofe, is jetting in at the head of an anti-climate-change "Truth Squad." The top hotels – all fully booked at £650 a night – are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.
And this being Scandinavia, even the prostitutes are doing their bit for the planet. Outraged by a council postcard urging delegates to "be sustainable, don't buy sex," the local sex workers' union – they have unions here – has announced that all its 1,400 members will give free intercourse to anyone with a climate conference delegate's pass. The term "carbon dating" just took on an entirely new meaning.
I'm not sure, but I sense this gives a whole new meaning to allegations of "raping the planet." In any case, we can forgive Bruce Bawer for being confused, in an otherwise first-rate piece of reporting on "Hopenhagen" ("Barf"):
Well, here I am at the Vatican in Rome, where thousands of pilgrims from every corner of the earth crowd St. Peter’s Square, their eyes trained on the glorious basilica within which the College of Cardinals is gathering in secret conclave to settle the all-important question: Who will stand in the shoes of the fisherman?
I despair at what is going in Copehagen, as the left seeks to gain control and put serious breaks on economic freedom and legitimate human aspirations to escape from poverty and the nanny state. Yet as I tell my friends, it's time to get used to this kind of "new" religion. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe much in the religion of AGW, to the extent it is a form of scapegoating Carbon Dioxide in the support of the leftist desire to control and limit economies, instead of seeking, if it proves necessary, other forms of mitigating or adapting to climatic change. And I condemn the many in the "climate science" field who have proven themselves, as the latest CRU scandal further emphasizes, just too keen to corrupt science to religious ends.

But it is the very nature of science that it can't have the final word, that its work is but a series of discrete empirical observations and not complete knowledge of complex systems. These observations well may, and in many cases should, allow us to construct models of larger systems; but it is the nature of science that we realize that these models can never be complete, that we must remain open-minded as to the unending chain of causes and consequences on that which we are now modeling, and not discretely observing.

This means that science cannot enter into political calculations without some element of religion creeping in, for religion is inherently that which mediates the specifically human, self-interest in the meaning of causes and consequences. Ultimately, what the global warming debate teaches us is not science's final word - the religious belief that the "science is settled" is ridiculous - but rather what the various sides in "debate" want to believe of sciences, as a basis for their political and economic desires, be these of a relatively totalitarian or libertarian bent.

We live in a time when the growing number of discrete observations of science are, whatever they may prove to be, only going to add up to more complex models of the interactions of human behaviour and larger geo-physical systems. In turn, these models, one way or another, are inevitably and increasingly going to be used in political and economic arguments.

At the same time, human beings cannot live without something akin to a religion, some kind of shared belief in what we should hold together as sacred. All language, all consciousness, depends on shared scenes of desire, focussed on some central object of desire (hence made "sacred") whether we desire to imagine a world without cars, or without prostitution, etc. etc.

Those of us who would defend science from religious corruption must keep this need for religion in mind: one way or another religion and politics in future is inevitably going to use science to buttress its accounts of humanly-significant causes and consequences. Our task is not to pose facile oppositions of science vs. religion, presuming the twain should never meet: we should reject both the polemics of Richard Dawkins, and the Carbon-Dioxide-Witch Burners, but also some of their polemical opposition, all for similar reasons. Rather, we need to become much more sophisticated about how to relate our understanding of real human religious needs to cool, disinterested, reason. As Eric Gans argues:
The predicted catastrophic consequences of global warming, however distant, are no more or less hypothetical than those of an Iranian nuclear device. Politics exists to adjudicate the respective degree of gravity of such dangers, which cannot be determined in the formal rationality of a judicial procedure but only through the negotiation of personal and collective resentments. What is both fascinating and frustrating about such debates is the impossibility of maintaining the "objective" basis of the issue, that is, the projected significance of global warming for humanity in general, outside the sphere of political debate. The real question at stake is not whether the Earth is getting warmer or even whether human activity is the cause, but how much industrial productivity should be sacrificed for how much reduction in "greenhouse effect." The Left sees global warming as a weapon in its critique of the market system and its values; the Right sees its opponents as mere resenters of a system they consider fully capable of dealing with environmental issues in its normal course of operations. If tomorrow it is discovered that the production of CO2 actually reduces global warming, within a few days all the positions will have switched around, but all the underlying resentments will remain the same.

Although the coming and passing of the postmodern era has posed challenges to the market system, it has not put an end to the modern political dichotomy of Left and Right. On the contrary, the recent evolution of virtually all the major European countries, which were dominated during the Cold War by shapeless "center-right" coalitions as bulwarks against communism, suggests that if anything this opposition has been sharpened--as witness the just-concluded French election. If "politics" is an indispensable feature of the market system, it is because it has proved effective at releasing energy from the deferral of violence into the economy at large. Today, as the modern world confronts its Other [i.e. Islamic Jihad] in what appears to be their "final conflict," it is easy to grow impatient with a political debate that seems so irresolute in the face of the fanaticism of transcendentally guaranteed resentment. And the critique of this lack of resolution is an important element of the debate itself. But whether its outcome be reason or folly, the only alternative to the uncertainty of politics is not the certitude of "science," whether of climatology or of Generative Anthropology, but the dogmatic truth of our enemies.
See also:
Religion is about faith, and faith is about supporting a hypothesis—making a bet. To believe in global warming is to bet on the veracity of a set of hypotheses. More specifically, the kind of faith that deserves even metaphorically to be called a religion is one that is focused on deferring the violence that threatens to destroy the human community. Indeed, the belief in global warming and the catastrophes it is presumed to entail makes explicit that the deferral of violence is the primary object of faith, a truth masked in traditional religion by the mediation of supernatural powers. Global warming is like a divine punishment for our sins of excess energy consumption—sins against "Gaia," if you like, but the divinization is altogether optional because the punishment is the wholly natural consequence of these sins. Global warming is comparable to the self-generated sufferings of a drug addict rather than the externally inflicted punishment of a murderer, except that, as its name implies, it takes place on a global scale, and its cure, assuming this is even possible, will preoccupy all of humanity for decades, not to say centuries, to come.

But this emphasis on the deferral of external violence is not the only, nor even the principal deferral effected by the belief in global warming. Its most important feature is that it provides its believers with an externally-directed goal that can in principle defer human violence. Violence and disaster—même combat. By turning our desires away from what might be thought more pressing dangers—Osama with an H-bomb—toward reduced energy expenditure, we work for the benefit of humanity as a whole. More precisely, by focusing our efforts on global warming, we not only diminish its effects, but we also demonstrate the possibility of action toward a goal that can in principle be shared by all—Osama reducing his "carbon footprint." Like the "Aranda" religious rituals described by Durkheim, the global warming praxis serves to promote solidarity. But where traditional religions, however "universal," have concrete historical roots that, involuntarily or not, exclude others, the science-driven behavior demanded by the fight against global warming obeys no such constraints. It would not be an outrageous exaggeration to claim that global warming is the first global religion—which makes its principal spokesman, independently of all politics, a perfectly fitting candidate for the Peace Prize.

The religion of impending disaster transforms the nature-centered apotropaic rites of "paganism" into rational, goal-directed activity. Instead of sacrificing an animal to appease Neptune or Apollo, one rides a bike to work to lower one’s gasoline consumption. The nonbeliever may scoff, but this activity makes a fully rational appeal to natural forces. Nor is global warming comparable to the Enlightenment-derived secular religions of Communism and its Fascist antithesis, whose worship of unaided human powers leads inevitably to their concentration in a quasi-deified Supreme Leader. Al Gore is closer in spirit to Jesus or the Buddha than to Stalin or Mussolini.

Is the sea level really fated to rise twenty feet? (At its present rate of 3mm per year, this will take place in about 2000 years.) There are moments when the religion of global warming overreaches itself into apocalyptic fantasy not all that different from cultist predictions of the end of the world. One might say in their defense that these extreme possibilities are evoked to dramatize the urgency of conversion. Yet these apocalyptic tendencies reveal in this new embodiment of the sacred a potentially fatal flaw.

The traditional objects of faith are, ultimately, hypotheses concerning the divinely approved forms of human interaction; such hypotheses can be discredited only by the failure of the faithful to maintain a viable society. This is equally true of political religions such as Communism; had Khrushchev really "buried us" under Communist productivity, it would have been the USSR who won the Cold War without firing a shot. In contrast, faith in global warming is adherence to a scientific hypothesis independent of human activity, even if it concerns this activity as an important parameter. This makes global warming vulnerable to disconfirmation independently of the benefits the fight against it may confer on global human society. If next week or next decade the climatologists revise their models of climate change, the common goal that was to have preserved us from the selfish incentives of the Prisoner’s Dilemma will vanish. If they do not, bringing climate change within acceptable limits would have the same result.

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