in Kulturkampf

Leveling Authority

At TIME, the admirable Christopher Hayes previews his forthcoming book on American elites:

It’s beyond our ability to recognize the imperceptible upward creep of global temperatures, so we must rely on the authority of those who are doing the highly complicated measuring. But at a moment when we desperately need élites and experts to use their social capital to warn the populace of the dangers of catastrophic climate change, skepticism is rising. A comprehensive Pew poll released in October found that only 57% of respondents think there’s evidence of warming (down from 71% last year), and just 36% think it’s because of human activity (down from 47%). This is the danger of living in a society in which the landscape of authority has been leveled: it’s not there when you actually need it. (Emphasis mine)

That is precisely the point of ClimateGate and the fossil fuels industry’s campaign to affect public discussion: it levels authority. Empirical reality does not have a Heritage Foundation, a CATO Institute, or a FreedomWorks. Academic institutions are full of people who study empirical reality, but the right has been undermining these since the Powell Memo. Furthermore, a counterculture of idiocracy has bloomed within conservatism. Editorial pages are replete with anti-elitism. Talk radio blasts the word ‘elite’ through the airwaves as a pejorative. It is endemic to the wingnutosphere.

Against this, the climatologists begin at a disadvantage. For in the age of false media balance, each climate expert must be counterweighted with an opposing voice. Mind you, the very act of arguing an opposite position from the empirical reality is inherently counterfactual; the pundit who argues that global warming is a myth is telling you wrong things as if they were true. Multiplied by a thousand times in the cable news cycle, it is Goebbels’ “big lie” in action. Danny Goldberg at Alternet notes:

In the last election a large segment of the American public decided to blame government instead of Wall Street for their problems. This did not come about by happenstance or an act of God. Corporation worship among the masses has been inculcated by decades of expensive conservative effort in many media and forums. The Koch bothers and others have poured large sums of money into the conservative idea factory. Because the right wing’s primary function is to represent the interests of big business, Republicans and conservatives have long had a more intimate relationship with the dark arts of persuasion than liberals. In The Education of Ronald Reagan, the pro-Reagan author Thomas Evans describes how the future president was hired in the 1950s by Lemuel Boulware, the marketing genius of General Electric, to convince the company’s workers not to unionize. Boulware wrote most of Reagan’s career-changing 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon’s powerful chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman spent twenty years at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency before moving to the White House. Reagan’s “Morning In America” re-election campaign was created by Phil Dusenberry who had created the Pepsi ad with Michael Jackson. (Emphasis mine)

The kulturkampf being waged against meritocracy and rationalism is actually one of the fiercest. It serves the interests of a very narrow elite. Oligarchy can only exist in a state of general poverty and ignorance, after all. The current political environment rewards ignorance and creates poverty on purpose. The hacking and misrepresentation of climate scientists’ emails was a direct action by the denial industry.

I’ll be curious to see if Hayes recognizes the kulturkampf being waged within the elites, or just writes about them as a monolithic whole.

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