Thursday, April 01, 2010

Heil Gaia (because James Lovelock won't do) !

James Lovelock on the value of sceptics and why Copenhagen was doomed | Environment |
We need a more authoritative world. We've become a sort of cheeky, egalitarian world where everyone can have their say. It's all very well, but there are certain circumstances – a war is a typical example – where you can't do that. You've got to have a few people with authority who you trust who are running it. And they should be very accountable too, of course.

But it can't happen in a modern democracy. This is one of the problems. What's the alternative to democracy? There isn't one. But even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.
But the interview as a whole reveals Lovelock as intellectually incoherent. He also bewails the corruption of scientific integrity in the Climategate scandal and calls for scientific transparency and openness to criticism. Just how he thinks that is going to be possible in a more authoritarian society, I have no idea (to call for a less democratic society is to call for a more authoritarian society, not a more authoritative) one.
Fudging the data in any way whatsoever is quite literally a sin against the holy ghost of science. I'm not religious, but I put it that way because I feel so strongly. It's the one thing you do not ever do. You've got to have standards.
Of course Lovelock does not stop to ask why a non-religious man has to rely on religious language to make such a point. This reveals his lack of depth in questions anthropological, his inability to grasp the necessarily "religious" nature of human bonding in any shape or form (I'm not saying you have to believe in God or in highly ritualized social life but I am saying there is no conceivable form of social life that is not in some way historically derivative of belief in God/the supernatural and ritual). The secular is just another form of the sacred.

Lovelock doesn't see how his own position is just another form of religion, and given his naivete about religion, he doesn't really understand how humans can be bound by any set of authoritative norms within a democratic or non-dictatorial society. (It's not entirely true that the nations which won the two world wars put democracy on hold - to a degree, yes, but only to a degree and they relied for their wartime resiliency on banked social capital that would eventually have run out if they remained for long non-democratic.) And so he implicitly calls for a dictatoriship of "scientists", without thinking through how good science - free-thinking and self-critical - and dictatorship could ever be compatible. Men are not angels, not even the best scientists.

However, we can be, on occasion, angelic. Lovelock does not appreciate how democratic covenants can come into being to give humans both authoritative norms and freedom in their continual re-iteration, exchange, and modification of shared norms. (No shared norms, no freedom - just the dictatorship of one arbitrary authority or another.) Perhaps it is when we are being angelic that we are most open to the revelatory quality of events, the revelations that if communicated - and accepted/exchanged/changed - can provide a way to a new understanding of shared norms/imperatives and new forms of exchange or reciprocity. In short, the angel, as the messenger between God and man, may bear the promise of a new covenant.

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