Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Metaphysical Dilemma of the Left

Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Metaphysical Dilemma of the Left

The left needs science to serve as a metaphysical validation for their worldview—even if they have to kill it to capture it.
Robert Tracinski

The recent Neil deGrasse Tyson kerfuffle and the dogmatic defense of the global warming consensus raises the question: what’s the impetus? Why do people feel the need to proclaim themselves so loudly as the pro-science side of the debate and to write off all opponents as anti-science? What makes scientists so susceptible to a cultural vogue like global warming and so willing to be dismissive of evidence that contradicts their theory?

The least satisfying explanation is that it’s easy to make a name for yourself and get funding and research grants if you back the global warming consensus. That’s true, but it doesn’t seem quite sufficient. There are lots of way to get rich and famous and get invited to the right cocktail parties. Why choose this one? Nor is it enough to say that people are looking for an excuse to feel smugly superior, because there are also lots of ways to do that. I’ve even had Evangelical Christians do it to me, and truth be told, I’ve probably been a little smug once or twice myself.

All of these are just extra inducements added on to a deeper motive.

Given the size, breadth, and intensity of the global warming vogue and the pro-science pose of its supporters, it must answer some profound need, some crisis of the soul.

It is needed because the left is fundamentally reactionary.

The modern left formed as a reaction against capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. I think this reaction was driven by a deeply ingrained attitude toward morality. Practically every moral philosophy has warned against the evils of greed and self-interest—and here was an economic system that encourages and rewards those motives. You could look at this and decide that it’s necessary to re-evaluate the moral issues and come to terms with self-interest in some way. Most factions of the modern right have done so, whether they accept self-interest as a necessary evil or to make a virtue of selfishness.

But if you’re not willing to make such an accommodation, you’re going to look around, see all this heedless profit-seeking, and conclude that it must be evil in some way and it must be leading to evil consequences. So you will lend an eager ear to anyone who claims to validate your moral suspicions about capitalism.

In the first go-around, these anti-capitalists tried to capture the science of economics, forming theories about how capitalism is a system of exploitation that will impoverish the common man, while scientific central planning would provide abundance for all.

Let’s just say that this didn’t work out. When it turned out that central planning impoverishes the common man and capitalism provides abundance for all, they had to switch to a fallback position. Which is: to heck with prosperity—too many material goods are the problem. Our greed for more is destroying the planet by causing environmental catastrophes. This shift became official some time in the 1960s with the rise of the New Left.

Some of the catastrophes didn’t pan out (overpopulation, global cooling) and others proved too small to be anything more than a speed bump in the path of capitalism (banning CFCs and DDT). But then along comes global warming—and it’s just too good not to be true. It tells us that capitalism is not just exploiting the workers or causing inequality or deadening our souls with crass materialism. It’s destroying the very planet itself.

The global warming theory tells us that the free market is a doomsday machine bringing about the end of the world. It turns capitalism into a metaphysical evil.

And there is no halfway solution to the problem, no practical fix or technological patch. Carbon dioxide emissions are an unavoidable byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels, and the entire system of industrial capitalism runs on fossil fuels. So the only way to avoid catastrophe is to shut it all down.

You can see how this brings order and balance back to the left’s universe. Their visceral reaction against capitalism is validated on the deepest, most profound level.

You can see how this would be almost like a drug or like an article of religious faith. How can you allow people to question and undermine the very thing that gives meaning to your life? Hence the visceral reaction to global warming skeptics.

Then there is a second dilemma faced by the left. Their own history—and indeed their present—hasn’t always been so liberal and enlightened and progressive. The hard-core advocates of central planning had embraced or excused Soviet totalitarianism, with its party lines and Lysenkoism, and the central planners and “pro-science” types of a previous era had embraced eugenics. Today, there are still those who want to shut down opposing opinions, and every couple of years somebody floats a proposal to imprison global warming skeptics. Or maybe they just try to sue them and shut them down in the courts.

What to do? Construct an alternative narrative in which the political right is the modern-day successor to the Inquisition and the political left is the inheritor of a tradition of bold free-thinking that goes all the way back to Giordano Bruno. Even if you have to fudge a few facts to make it work.

Now put these two together: the left’s imperative to think of itself as a tradition of free-thinkers opposed to religious dogma, and their need for a scientific theory that validates their prejudice against capitalism—and you get the impetus for the whole mentality of what the blogger Ace of Spades calls the “I Love Science Sexually” crowd (a play on the name of a popular Facebook page). And you can also understand their adulation of popularizers like Neil deGrasse Tyson who repeat this conventional wisdom back to them and give it the official imprimatur of science. Once the narrative is established, it becomes a bandwagon and others jump onto it because being “pro-science” sounds like (and is) a good thing, and because they don’t know enough to question the story they’re being told.

You can also see why they would be more concerned with having the image of being “pro-science” than they are with actually being scientific. The first allows you to hold fast to the specific conclusions that are comforting to you; the second means that you have to be willing to challenge them.

In short, this is an attempt to capture science as a metaphysical validation for the worldview of the left—even if they have to kill it to capture it.

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