February 21, 2006

The "Crunchy Cons" get some organization

Rod Dreher, an editor at the Dallas Morning News and contributor at The Corner, has been writing about what he calls "Crunchy Cons" or conservatives who have a bit of environmentalism and perhaps a touch of social ethic about them. Rod has turned this idea into a book and now has a permanent blog location on NRO for the Crunchies.

I may not be conservative enough to qualify as one of Rod's Crunchy Cons, but I sure like their ideas and approach. The new site features a "Crunchy Con Manifesto" (gotta get me one of those "manifesto" things.) Item number two summarizes the whole movement nicely:

2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

I think you could same the same about most of modern culture, not just the conservatives.

Personally, I'm whole-heartedly on board for most of the ten points, except perhaps for #6 and #7, which deal with reverence for the "Small, Local, Old, and Particular" and a suspicion of the drive for efficiency. I'm not going to argue against these ideas, but as much as I revere the old (much of the music on my iPod is more than 300 years old) I have a lot of faith in the new as well. I also like efficiency, but like any positive drive, it an be twisted to bad ends. Perhaps I am too technophilic to qualify as a true Crunchy Con.

In any case, the best thing here is someone taking a stand for the very old-fashioned conservative idea of stewardship and preservation. That the stewardship of the earth and its resources has become somehow associated with Leftist thinking is a mystery and a great shame. I would toss in concern for the climate as well. These issues ought to transcend politics, but, having been captured by the crafters of partisan "spin" have been terribly distorted and abused.

Rod indicates a suspicion of "Big Business" as well, linking it to "Big Government." There is some truth in this view, a lot of truth actually, but Rod should be careful to avoid the "anti-business" label. The environment and the climate have been unfairly characterizes thusly and it clouds the discussion. There is a lot of opportunity for business in the environmental challenges and also a great risk. Climate change is not good news for the agriculture industry, which despite lack of "coolness" is a very big dollar industry for the U.S. and others.

I have ordered Rod's book and will report on it. In the meantime, keep an eye on the new blog.

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Posted by Jay on February 21, 2006 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

Pretending to be stupid

The most significant problem with blog-style punditry, whether in a true blog or in a traditional column, is the tendency to drift into cynical snarkiness. Most of the high-readership bloggers agree that punching up the "attitude" level will drive up your readership. I have to admit, as I look at my feed-reader, that I too seem to drop-in most regularly with those writers who can toss off a quick quip. It fits with the "blog reader lifestyle", I guess; a quick mental break between tasks at work.

One of the best of the "quick-quip" writers is James Taranto, well known for his "Best of the Web" column at Opinion Journal. I get his email version daily and look forward to it; it's a nice break, and often informative and insightful. That's the good news.

The not-so-good-news, as I said above, is that repeated snarkiness can lead to foolishness. Every so often I see a clearly intelligent and informed writer "pretend to be stupid" or perhaps, "dense" is the better word. Now that Sen. Kerry has poisoned the word "nuance" for political use, I worry that the concept of nuance is similarly off-limits. True, sometimes people can nuance themselves into delusion and illogical thinking, Sen. Kerry is an excellent example, but there is a proper role for nuance and there are many processes and phenomena in our world that cannot be reduced to soundbite-simplicity, at least not without wringing out most of the useful understanding.

So sometimes one can over-nuance things, and other times one can over-simplify. Intelligent people ought to be able to handle this. Remember how Einstein put it? "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." Usually this is not hard, but then sometimes it is hard. Most things are "not rocket science," but some things are "rocket science."

Getting back to "pretending to be stupid." If a subject actually does contain a smidgen of nuance or complexity, there is a temptation to exploit that for purposes of making a snarky comment or rejoinder. The writer pretends to not get the subtle point, in order to make his opponent's position look silly. Most everything President Bush says is grabbed by his opponents and repeated in an absurd simpification. It makes for jolly jokes on liberal blog sites. On the other side, some folks seem unable to hear any critisism of the war effort without shouting back, "Oh, so your support the murder of Iraqi children?" This is purposely not getting the point; a deliberate dense-ness. Sadly it works well in a blog. We would be better off if we lost this habit.

Taranto slipped over that line today, imho, in this little comment:

The New 'Fake but Accurate' "Some climate experts have said the potential cooling of Europe was paradoxically consistent with global warming caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping 'greenhouse' emissions."--New York Times, Dec. 1

The 'clever quip' is in the title, "The new Fake but Accurate." Clearly there are things that are "fake" but accurate, but the obvious meaning of the reference is to the "Rathergate" episode. It implies that a "potential cooling in Europe" is something that must be explained away through subterfuge and illogic; the embarassment of reality breaking in. That sort of thing happens all the time; it happened to Rather, but this strikes me as something very different. I have always thought Taranto intelligent and informed, so I perceive this as a deliberate failure to get the point, He's being dense in order to sound witty.

When there is a blizzard in New York or Washington, or, as in this case, when scientists see risk of cooling climate in Europe, those who wish to make climate scientists look foolish will jump at the chance to wonder how things could be cold in a world that it supposed to be warming. One might similarly wonder how scientists can describe the birth of the Universe as the "Big Bang", when there can be no transmission of sound in space. "How could there be a 'bang!' and who heard it?" Few would take such a critisism seriously. We recognize that the term, "Big Bang" is just a name, not an attempt at a scientific description. Similarly, "Warming" is an unfortunately misleading term that has become a handle for a much more complex and dynamic set of climate changes.

People who aspire to some understanding of national economic issues should have no problem with a conceptual understanding of climate issues. Almost the whole of the Republican Party's position on the economy is dependant on understanding the economy as a dynamic system of flows. Democrats take full advantage of this "nuance" by pointing out that it seems absurd, on the surface, to claim the tax cuts for investors could ever benefit the poor. In simplistic terms, the only way to help the poor is to take money away from those who have it and give it to those who don't. Economies don't actually work that way, and many Demorcrats realize this, but that doesn't stop them from appealing to the overly simplistic view when it suits political posturing.

This climate debate is closely analogous. There is plenty to debate, discuss and further research, just as there is on economic issues, without falling back on misleading oversimplifications. I wish we could avoid appealing to ignorance and misunderstanding, even when they are politically useful.

It took me long enough to prepare this post that another example has popped up. Ian Murray, writing on The Corner, this morning comments on a recent court decision regarding regulation of Carbon Dioxide emmisions with this aside:

...it had no authority to regulate carbon dioxide (which is a natural and vital part of the atmosphere) as a pollutant.

There are many compounds which are "natural and vital" to the human body which, if consumed in excess, will kill it. The statement in parenthesis is another example of being deliberately dense in order to mislead. Carbon dioxide can and does kill people directly. On any submarine, the management of carbon dioxide is of vital importance. In the overly simple view of the world, some things are "good for you" and other things are "bad for you." I assume, however, we are all adults here and capable of understanding that many things can be good for us in one context and bad for us in another. This is one of those "not rocket science things."

PS: If you're interested, hre's a down-in-the-details discussion of the new scientific findings that started this rant.

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Posted by Jay on December 1, 2005 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack