When I wrote my first book, which was Maps of Meaning, I was very curious about whether the tension between the communist viewpoint and the Western viewpoint, roughly speaking, was merely a matter of opinion, which is something you might think if you were a moral relativist, or perhaps even a postmodernist — that there’s a multitude of ways that you can set up a society and they’re each equally, arbitrarily valuable. And there’s an infinite set of methods by which a society might be generated. That’s one hypothesis.
As I got deeper and deeper into the analysis of both systems, I thought, “No, that’s just wrong.” There’s some things that the West got. What we designed in the West is a playable game, technically speaking, and what was designed by the communists was a nonplayable game. It was destined to degenerate across time because it couldn’t function in a real-world environment. It was an abstraction that couldn’t maintain itself if it was iterated…
…[W]hen you insist that the right way to view the world is victim versus victimizer, and then you coddle people into exaggeration of their own negative, emotion-centered pathology, you’re going to ensure that the political structure becomes more and more neurotic. If you’re aiming at something and you’re moving rapidly towards it, you’re likely to hit it. And that’s exactly what’s happening on the campuses.
Highly recommended. Interesting comments on the purpose of universities, media disintermediation, sex discrimination, and much else.
I asked some questions in my post of February 17th about a suggestion that conservative political philosophy needs emotional appeals rather than rational arguments:
The writer [Gorka] makes a vital point that most people who support capitalism miss: we will never win the argument about capitalism being superior to socialism because many voters are only interested in emotions, not arguments. Accordingly they feel that capitalists are mean and socialists are compassionate, concerned about people. The only way to be compassionate is to take from the capitalists and give to them since capitalists got rich by making them poor. Unless and until conservatives can make a compassion appeal they will lose politically more and more. Forget trying to reason with people for whom reason is never a part of their feelings. So far Democrats have won the compassion battle. Republicans have always been out-compassioned. A completely different approach is needed. I think it can be done. Republicans can start by stopping trying to win rational arguments. They don’t win with apolitical voters who vote based on feelings.
I said, “[So,] We should take the Ocasio-Cortez Green New Dealas she suggests… “aspirational”; and respond with our own surreal proposals because we can’t win otherwise? What would that argument look like?”
I was facetious (unicorns and fairy wings were featured) in answer to my own question, but the suggestion we should go full compassion mode is still knocking about in my head, so I will attempt to provide some more serious answers.
Let’s start with defining “emotional argument.”
Politically, propaganda is the first definition that pops into my head. But let me suggest a more neutral definition: Emotional ‘argument’ appeals to deeply held moral intuitions. What those intuitions are matters.
For example, the Left often succeeds by touching instinctive feelings about fairness versus cheating and exploitation. They are successful with this in part by inflaming class envy. “Tax cuts for the rich must be stopped!”
Take the current MSM attack on the Republican tax cuts, “REFUNDS ARE DOWN!”. Well, yes. And that’s to be expected isn’t it?
If you make $30,000 at a tax rate of 10%, your annual taxes would project to be $3,000. Since there are many vagaries in the tax code and life circumstances, you decide to withhold an extra 10% per month, or $25.
If your tax rate is cut to 9%, your taxes would be $2,700, and your contingency 10% extra withholding becomes $22.50 per month.
At the end of the year everything works out perfectly and all your extra withholding – the money you loaned the government – is refunded. In the first case your refund is $300. In the second case it’s $270. Your refund is lower. But you paid $300 less in taxes.
Some people are disappointed that the government let them keep an extra $300 because their refund (money they gave the government they didn’t have to, and irrelevant to the concept of ‘tax cut’) is $30 lower. They could have just given the government an extra $100 a month if the higher refund was so important.
What ‘compassionate’ explanation can be given to people who use payroll taxes as a savings account on which no interest is paid? What ‘conservative’ emotional appeal could possibly apply? Only a rational argument will do.
One compassionate meme we would need is an appeal to individual responsibility – which the Left overwhelmingly ignores because it would blunt their class envy rhetoric. Leftists see fairness as equality of outcome. Anything else is prima facie evidence of oppression.
The Left continually insists the ‘rights’ of this or that victim group are being violated by a dominant group of ‘oppressors,’ and they never talk about their own responsibilities. They’re too busy telling you what your responsibility is to ‘victims.’
I contend the root problem isn’t a perception that conservatives lack compassion. It’s education.
The Millennials can’t remember very much – and they don’t learn very much either. It’s easy being hot for socialism or communism when you actually have a very little idea of what it is and what it did throughout the 20th century. And the Ys have that ignorance in spades; one third of them think that George W Bush killed more people than Stalin and 42 per cent have never heard of Mao – but over 70 per cent agree with Bernie Sanders. Some research suggests that only 15 per cent actually have a correct understanding of socialism… To be fair, that’s not strictly their fault; that attaches itself again to their Boomer grandparents who have been in charge of our failing education systems during this time. Combine the modern indoctrination-cum-dumbification taking place in schools and universities with the attention span-killing impact of information technology and social media, and you have a barely literate cohort, which is simply not equipped with the necessary mental tools to learn about the real world even if they wanted to.
Any surprises that socialism is now nearly synonymous with Gen Y?…
Millennials… are said to be unrealistic and have both the inflated expectations of life and the inflated perceptions of selves. They think the world owes them a living – a good one too – though without necessary too much effort. Things came very easily to them when they were growing up; when that suddenly stops – when the reality finally intrudes – they get angry, frustrated, lost: the world is deeply unfair and is conspiring against them… Having been told their whole lives how special they are, they tend to be over-sensitive and find it difficult to cope with criticism or obstacles…
Socialism is the response of a spoiled child when faced with the world that does not genuflect to its every wish the way their parents did – the world as it is must therefore be evil and has to be changed to something radically different. Gen Y, of course, did not just magically became [sic] the way they are – they were brought up like that…
For a rational approach, I’m going to turn to an educator whose message is attractive to many angry, frustrated, and lost millennials: Professor Jordan Peterson. If Peterson has a single main point, it might be that personal responsibility is the root of meaning in life, lack of which I think is the millennials’ angst.
We’ll take a brief look at his common sense (at least it used to be) insight into the benefits of individual responsibility and a peek at the biological basis for moral intuitions of fairness.
This clip starts at 32:25. Be sure to watch until at least 35:06, but just after that there a Q&A which starts with a question about rights.
“Now, you’ve got something to sell to young people. You can sell them freedom of speech, and you can sell them responsibility.” We could try. We could start in our educational system by eliminating participation trophies in Kindergarten, and ‘Identity Studies’ and safe spaces in Universities.
I do not know how these ideas can be turned into 30 second ‘branding messages,’ but you could start with (from the Q&A at about 40:39) “Your capacity for speech is divine. It’s the thing that generates order from chaos… Nothing brings a better world into being than the stated truth.” It’s worth it to just keep watching after that.
That isn’t an empirical defense of free speech. It might even be called an emotional appeal, but here is Peterson’s rational defense of free speech:
Interviewer (Cathy Newman, hostile): Why should your right to freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?
Peterson: Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable. […] You’re doing what you should do, which is digging a bit to see what the hell is going on. And that is what you should do. But you’re exercising your freedom of speech to certainly risk offending me, and that’s fine. More power to you, as far as I’m concerned.
… a few seconds pass…
Peterson: (chuckling kindly): Ha. Gotcha.
Interviewer: You have got me. You have got me. I’m trying to work that through my head. It took awhile. It took awhile. It took awhile.
It will take awhile to fix academia. It took a long time to break it.
That excerpt is from a highly recommended interview which ran on Britain’s Channel 4, which I will describe as a half hour tour de force of rational argumentation demolishing Leftwing knee-jerk compassion. If you haven’t seen it, go here. Fourteen million people already have. I think the vast majority of those were interested in the rational points about fairness.
Now, what can the origins of the moral intuition of fairness tell us? The clip below starts with Peterson describing experiments observing rats at play. Watch at least up to about 20:20, where he begins to talk about chimpanzees and then postmodernism. (That is well worth a listen, too, and it relates to this post, but the rats segment is sufficient to the question of human moral intuition about fair play.)
“Rules across the set of all games,” is a vital observation. People who know children will have observed how a 2 or 3 year old reacts to losing a game, or even a roll of dice; anger, tears, withdrawal. If a child hasn’t internalized the concept of “the set of games” by the time they’re 4, it’s likely they never will. Other children will not want to play with them, because they are poor sports. And adults will find them unpleasant to be around, because such children have never abandoned the idea of zero-sum interactions. I suspect this is at least a partial explanation for the existence of SJW’s, because their brand includes participation trophies, safe spaces, and unearned self esteem.
It is, therefore, a yuge problem for Donald Trump that he brands things as zero-sum: He wins; “They” lose. His trade policy is perhaps the best example, but hardly the only one. This doesn’t excuse his opponents’ excesses, but it makes it far easier for them to portray him as an ‘evil’ conservative. And to portray conservatism as compassionless. (One could argue the emotional appeal we really need is that “compassionless” is what we should want from government, but that’s another post.) Trump’s default emotional appeal is to something other than fairness, and his past business conduct simply cements the meme.
For social animals, success is more about being invited to play than winning every game. This deeply held moral intuition starts with biology and spreads to culturally enforced norms. It is not, as postmodernists would have it, solely about dominance and submission carving us into identity groups. The idea that power is everything informs much of the Left’s claims that they’re compassionate, even though when put into practice their ideas inevitably result in misery. They have seized the high ground on “good intentions.” Compassion and good intentions are not at all the same thing.
Jordan Peterson’s ideas are very popular among millions of young people immersed in the nihilist orthodoxy spewing from our institutions of higher education. They have excellent attention spans for solutions to their angst. They like Peterson precisely because his dozens of academic online lectures each offer a couple of hours of rational arguments about pursuing meaning in life, in spite of the suffering inherent in being alive. The Left cannot compete.
Maybe it isn’t overtly emotional appeals we need to enable rational discussion, maybe it’s rational discussion we need to rouse appropriate emotion. There is an audience.
Peterson’s rational ideas are emotionally compelling for those seeking meaningful lives. You only have to read a few of the letters he’s received to understand the desperate need for substance, not branding. This is not to say he’s convincing the committed Leftists (far from it, they despise him), or that he’s reached universal pop-cultural awareness, but people are bringing their own need for meaning to him. In droves. Maybe a way to combat the fantasies of Ocasio-Cortez is to support Peterson.
To close, another source for an appeal to moral intuition comes from a man considered of the left while he lived. How much times have changed will be clear if you read Kurt Vonnegut’s quite short story Harrison Bergeron.
This story examines what happens when everyone is MADE to be equal in the cause of ‘fairness’. Maybe the Koch brothers can be persuaded to finance re-releasing the 1995 movie based on the story. Some of our budding socialists might get a clue that good intentions have to be aligned with good results.
Jordan Peterson appeared on Christina Hoff Sommers’ and Danielle Crittenden’s Femsplaining podcast in December:
The clip above starts at about 38 minutes into the podcast as Peterson speaks to a question about masculinity-femininity and order-chaos. It’s a 90 minute discussion and ends when you decide it’s no longer interesting. Or 52 minutes, whichever comes first.
If you watch to the end you’ll learn the results of Scandinavia’s experiment in minimizing male/female employment differences, get some excellent advice on child rearing, hear an interesting analysis of right vs. left wing views on government regulation of sex, get some relationship tips, learn something you probably didn’t know about Tinder, hear about an interesting anthropological study on female/female competition, and find some insights on the global decline of interest in physical sex among the young, male/female preferences in pornography, and more.
Sommers is the author of Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys (a NY Times Notable Book of the Year) as well as many others. She has written for The Journal of Philosophy, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Wall Street Journal, The NY Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, Slate, The Daily Beast, and The Atlantic, and is host of the popular video blog, The Factual Feminist.
Crittenden is the author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us and other books. She is a contributing editor to the Huffington Post, and has published in the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the Daily Telegraph. A former columnist for the New York Post, Ms. Crittendon has appeared on NBC’s Today show as well as CSPAN, MSNBC, PBS, CNN, and NPR.
It has been argued many times over the course of decades and across diverse paradigms that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education practices-as-usual (re)produce systems of dominance: be it patriarchy, heteronormativity, white supremacy, Eurocentrism, (neo-)colonialism, able-ism, classism, labor inequity, anthropocentrism, and/or others. Thankfully, there are many who are doing the critical and creative work of (re)opening STEM education to the possibility of eco-social justice to-come through a plurality of productive approaches, orientations, and stances: anti-oppressive, anti-racist and critical race-based, decolonizing and de/colonizing, queer, Indigenous, gender-equitable, post-colonial, community-based and participatory, critical place-based, inter-species, and many more. Further, there are many examples taking richly critical and complicit stances to work within and against logics of exclusion. Yet, in doing so, many of these engagements are oft depoliticized and atheoretical practices of inclusion in ways that continue othering those formerly excluded, albeit differently…
Those are the first four sentences, and less than half the first paragraph. There are one-hundred forty one words. Polysyllabic opportunity is taken at every turn. Especially where a Social Justice meme can be invoked for the target audience.
In, well, quite a few words for four sentences, Marc Higgins, Maria F. G. Wallace and Jesse Bazzul check every identity group/victimhood box, and add “and/or others” and “and many more” for good measure. Tomorrow’s outrage groups can’t be easily identified.
This may be the clearest (partial) paragraph in the piece, since it consists primarily of lists of the oppressed and oppressions. The redundancy of “many” and “oft” in the last sentence is a minor point of confusion in a paragraph designed to be incomprehensible except to the cognoscenti. It is just a warmup for the even more intentionally obscure word smoothy to follow. Translated, that half paragraph is rendered:
“Some people we know have been saying STEM education is socially unjust for a long time. It’s a good thing those people are trying to make STEM education conform to the post-modernist assertion that we can’t really know anything. The only truth is power. Justice demands STEM education be like the ________ Studies curricula.”
I’ll admit some of that is interpretation based on understanding the code words, but we’ll get to more evidence for my poetic license below:
…the curricular inclusion of Indigenous perspectives is differentially problematic if we cannot also attend to the taken-for-granted and naturalized epistemological, ontological, and axiological commitments and enactments of what we are including perspectives into.
This sentence is probably the best example in the paper in the paper of esoteric obscurantism, as well as absolutely terrible writing even in context, but I’ll give translating it a shot:
“Including Native American mysticism in basic STEM teaching methods will not be useful if we can’t also reject the essentially Enlightment ideas of logic and rationalism. It will be doubleplus ungood if we don’t do more to make hard science “woke.””
Last example, I promise:
…There are now multiple productive exemplars which critically engage methodological processes to disrupt and displace restrictive norms which linger and lurk with/in educational research and its concepts which left unchecked (re)articulate forms of oppressive power. The space of “innocence” which serves to mask methodological power is perhaps no longer tenable for not addressing taken-for-granted referents to system which (re)produce dominance, inequity, and foreclose the space of responsibility towards one another across lines of difference and power…
The double negative is a thoughtful touch, as is “exemplar” where “example” would have done. (That’s like “utilize” instead of “use.”) “Lurk” and “mask” subtly add to the bias of the evidence free critique.
“Lately, we see many useful examples of “critical theory” being applied to STEM research/teaching methodology. This is important in order to disrupt the oppressive power of the so-called scientific method, which pretends, by definition, it is unbiased. As we all know, that isn’t so. Maybe we’re not doing a good enough job destroying it. Such systems are bad things, because they exclude those who aren’t competent within them.”
This paper is full of coded micro-approval virtue signals, and assumes its world-view is unassailable. But, that’s not the worst problem it poses. It is part of the withering, post-modernist attack on hard science. Those who practice hard science in our educational institutions should be warned: From their Womens Studies beachhead, the post-modernists have already marched through English, Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, History, et. al.; Biology is next; Mathematics will be last, but they’re coming for you.
I recently became aware of Tablet Magazine via this under-reported article: Is the Women’s March Melting Down?, which goes into lengthy, well documented detail exploring connections between The Women’s March and some closeted anti-semites. While it’s not the point of this post, to those who may have interest it’s recommended. This sort of analysis used to be called journalism.
“Shocking” is irony, or clickbait, or both. This is a thoughtful and balanced look at Peterson, which I highly recommend. But, I have a couple of quibbles.
Wesley Yang (the author), makes this point early in the piece:
It really does require watching a few hours of his sprawling, digressive, improvisatory lectures to reach a judgment of who Peterson is, what his motives are, and what would be the likely consequences of his ideas being adopted in the world. In fact, Peterson supports virtually nothing that wouldn’t fit comfortably into the center-left to center-right governing consensus that obtained in the last 40 years in America. How do I know this? Because there are hundreds of hours of video posted online of Peterson talking.
Here is the Achilles’ heel of the campaign to oust Jordan Peterson from the margins of respectable society: You don’t have to outsource your judgment to journalistic authorities in the age of the internet. You can see for yourself.
And that is exactly the reason attacks on Peterson have failed to destroy him. “You can see for yourself,” from decades of lectures. I mention this because it features in later cavils.
Here are the specifics with which I take issue.
On Peterson’s rejection of gender pronouns:
[He] stated his intention to defy any prospective attempt through the force of law to compel him to adopt gender-neutral pronouns in his classroom at the University of Toronto
Um, not exactly. Those would include minutely gender-specific pronouns, potentially hundreds of them, many not neutral, and which can change on a whim.
That message was cleverly packaged as “self-help.”
Well, yes, it was categorized that way. But those who bought the book, precisely because they’d viewed those videos, were looking for more of:
[T]he deeper message, which lingered on the inescapability of suffering, tragedy, limitation, and loss, enjoined those consigned to such a fate, as we all are, to meet it through taking on the heaviest burden of responsibility they could bear. In other words, a message that was antithetical to the “get rich quick,” or “visualize your way to success” ethos endemic to the genre.
I think it could have been packaged as “modern philosophical musings on stoicism” and it still would have been a runaway bestseller. Because of his video history and his viral defense of freedom of conscience, cleverness was not required.
On the repeated suggestion that Peterson is periodically immodest, immoderate and intemperate:
He speaks to journalists, even those who plainly have it in for him, in exactly the same forthright manner as he does anyone else—as if he is free to indulge any thought experiment or rhetorical gambit he likes with a willing and sympathetic interlocutor in pursuit of the truth. He has behaved abominably at times and refuses contrition or regret on principle. He is stubborn as hell…
Jordan Peterson may have already allowed himself to become too immured in the fractiousness of our time to be the figure whose intervention breaks the fever. He is a messenger whose immoderate personal conduct has worked at cross purposes to the essential moderation of his message. While his own personal following is likely to grow unabated, continuing to enrich him, the progressive consensus has immunized itself against his message—one that is fundamentally correct on certain crucial aspects of the conundrum we face—with an assist from Peterson’s own immodest tongue.
Yes, you can plausibly call Peterson’s reaction to the scurrilous attacks documented in the article immodest or intemperate, but a study of the man’s corpus of work will suggest the word “humble.” Watching the famous Cathy Newman interview will strongly suggest the word “patience,” – of a saint – in the face of great provocation. And, yes, speaking in a consistent and forthright manner can make the press call you immoderate, even abominable. Forthright consistency is not a fault in the speaker, but of the press corps reaction and need to monetize their political views.
Was “continuing to enrich him,” necessary to our understanding?
Yes, Progressive consensus is solidified. In regard to Peterson’s message, that means it’s gone from zero degrees Celsius to zero degrees Kelvin. Progressives would never accept what he says, no matter how he said it. Consider: The left-wing ideological immunization specialists will long since have scoured the wealth of video Peterson has online for vaccine enhancers. Yang, again:
It really does require watching a few hours of his sprawling, digressive, improvisatory lectures to reach a judgment of who Peterson is, what his motives are, and what would be the likely consequences of his ideas being adopted in the world.
Well, they have watched those lectures. That they don’t publish examples of his “hateful” behavior from that long history means there aren’t any. Still, they “see for themselves,” what isn’t there. There are precious few attempts to even engage with his points. Half of those are insubstantive “intellectual” dismissals, assuming their premises.
Peterson’s most virulent critics employ willfully ignorant ad hominem attacks on contextually misappropriated outtakes. A point the author makes quite well.
Cinderella, for example, revolves around the perniciousness of what researchers call “female intrasexual competition”—the often-underhanded ways women compete with each other. While men evolved to be openly competitive, jockeying for position verbally or physically, female competition tends to be covert—indirect and sneaky—and often involves sabotaging another woman into being less appealing to men…
Psychologist Joyce Benenson, who researches sex differences, traces women’s evolved tendency to opt for indirectness—in both competition and communication—to a need to avoid physical altercation, either with men or other women. This strategy would have allowed ancestral women to protect their more fragile female reproductive machinery and to fulfill their roles as the primary caretaker for any children they might have.
This piece is well worth reading in full. The quote above struck me, since I’ve been writing lately about the UBC study saying millennial males place lower value on competitiveness and independence (for two things) than openness and empathy. Presumably, there is a cultural influence at work, and I suspect it is tied into the Feminist push to raise all children to see the world with female eyes.
But competitiveness and independence, and openness and empathy are not the exclusive property of one sex. That competitiveness is considered a ‘male’ trait is true for only the male competitiveness style (open). Female competitiveness is just as intense. It just takes a different, and one could argue, less healthy form.
I could hear Jordan Peterson’s voice in the discussion of the evolutionary biology involved in creating the Cinderella/Snow White archetypes. I was also reminded of his discussion of highly-competent women, in high-pressure professions, he’s helped with assertiveness training. Understanding why one might need assertiveness training would be beneficial, and flatly denying evolutionary lessons in favor of a political agenda would not.
Summary in a sentence: “As population increases, the time-price of most commodities will get cheaper for most people, most of the time. Unfortunately, most people will assume the opposite.”
It occurred to me when reading this that the simple bet about the future price of a few commodities, between University of Maryland economist Julian Simon and Stanford University biology professor Paul R. Ehrlich, is unknown to most people today. After all, it was made in 1980 and settled in 1990.
I read Erhlich’s Population Bomb (1968) and The Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1972) when they were first published. Erhlich assured us that mass starvation was inevitable and imminent. The Club of Rome predicted a dire future caused by shortages of food, water, and all manner of commodities – because of human population growth. By 1973 we were experiencing severe oil shortages, leading to President Carter’s “malaise” speech. By 1976 Greenpeace was fundraising off the (allegedly staged) torture of baby seals in Newfoundland as a demonstration of human environmental rapaciousness.
All this gave me pause: Maybe predictions of economic and social collapse based on running out of “stuff” were plausible. Little could be done quickly, but it was critical to DO SOMETHING NOW. There is a pattern there we see today.
To mitigate, not prevent, mass starvation, Erhlich called on governments world-wide to implement draconian population control.
By 1979 the Chinese had done so, with their “one child” policy. One result was 338 million aborted Chinese babies, the majority of them female. While sex selective abortion was banned in China in 2005, there are still 17% more males born than females. This is triple the natural rate difference, so one might suspect the ban is not totally effective. There’s another effect from the one child policy; “By 2030, projections suggest that more than 25 percent of Chinese men in their late 30s will never have married.” There are a host of societal woes that will result from that.
China tried Ehrlich’s experiment and it’s turned out badly for them.
So, the ‘the bet’ was important in many ways. It was a test of humanity’s future; and, on one side, a prescription to avoid disaster. That prescription is still proposed.
To it, CAGW promoters have added the idea that preventing destruction of all life on earth depends on massive and economically crippling world-wide government intervention. This would certainly curb population growth and reduce human well-being. Going for the absurd conclusion, radical environmentalists call for human extinction. Erhlich’s ideas inform both groups.
Like climate modellers whose models don’t work, Professor Erhlich has not given up on his thesis. In 2013 he said:
[Human civilization] is threatened with collapse by an array of environmental problems… . The human predicament is driven by overpopulation, overconsumption of natural resources … and socio-economic-political arrangements to service Homo sapiens’ aggregate consumption.
…but if he is wrong – again – we would be well advised to ignore him. We would find ourselves far less able to navigate existential threats due to restricted trade, fewer ideas, slower innovation, smaller productive capacity, and less wealth.
When you hear the term “sustainable growth,” that’s what is meant.
The whole Simon Abundance article is worth reading, and I hope to encourage you to do so, even though it’s long. There’s much more there than just the Erhlich/Simon bet. It is worth reflecting on the miracle of human ingenuity, stoked by capitalism: Half the world is now middle class or wealthier. I doubt this would be true if the entire world had adopted Erhlich’s advice in 1975.
Intro to the Simon Abundance article:
Humanity, the latest estimates suggest, is roughly 300,000 years old. For the first 99.9 percent of our time on Earth, Homo sapiens lived a short and difficult life that ended, all too often, in violent death. We roamed the world afraid, cold, hungry, and sick. Remedies to ease our suffering were few. In the past 250 years or so, however, human fortunes dramatically improved. An accumulation of incremental technological, scientific, and ideological advances led to the Industrial Revolution, which ushered in an age of abundance.
That is the trajectory Ehrlich told us was over in 1968. Simon challenged the idea:
After intellectually sparring with one another in print for most of the 1970s, [University of Maryland economist Julian] Simon finally challenged [Stanford University biology professor Paul R.] Ehrlich to a wager on resource depletion. Ehrlich would choose a “basket” of raw materials that he expected would become less abundant in the coming years and choose a time period of more than a year, during which those raw materials would become more expensive. At the end of that period, the inflation-adjusted price of those materials would be calculated. If the “real” price of the basket was higher at the end of the period than at the beginning, that would indicate the materials had become more precious and Ehrlich would win the wager; if the price was lower, Simon would win. The stakes would be the ultimate price difference of the basket at the beginning and end of the time period.
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.
There is no physical or economic reason why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose… . Adding more people will cause [short-run] problems, but at the same time there will be more people to solve these problems and leave us with the bonus of lower costs and less scarcity in the long run… . The ultimate resource is people-skilled, spirited, and hopeful people who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit, and so, inevitably, for the benefit of us all.
Ehrlich chose copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten. The bet was agreed to on September 29, 1980, with September 29, 1990, being the payoff date. In spite of a population increase of 873 million over those 10 years, Ehrlich lost the wager. All five commodities that he had selected declined in price by an average of 57.6 percent. Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $576.07.
Since the conclusion of the bet, Ehrlich’s supporters have argued that Simon got lucky: had the bet taken place over a different decade, the outcome might have been different. The debate continues to this day. In 2016, Southern Methodist University economists Michael Cox and Richard Alm revisited the Simon-Ehrlich wager and found that Ehrlich’s metals were 22.4 percent cheaper in 2015 than they had been in 1980.
In an essay titled, “Onward and Upward! Bet on Capitalism-It Works,” Cox and Alm proposed a new methodology to evaluate Simon’s thesis. “The real price of everything,” as Adam Smith pointed out, “is the toil and trouble of acquiring it… . What is bought with money … is purchased by labour.” The cost of human labor, Cox and Alm note, tends to increase faster than inflation. From the perspective of average hourly wages in the United States, therefore, the real price of Ehrlich’s minerals fell by 41.8 percent between 1980 and 2015. According to Cox and Alm, in “work-hour terms, Simon wins The Bet [with Ehrlich] in every year from 1980 to 2015.”
When Jordan Peterson looks around a lecture venue and reminds us of the absolute miracle that the lights always work, the room is warm, and it is safe from wolves; he is speaking about the same thing. When he complains that rejecting the cultural underpinnings of this miracle is thoughtless ingratitude; he is correct.
If we can just keep the government hand on us light, we can continue to enjoy abundance.
Economic growth is a cancer, in this view. Its bad effects are permanent and cumulative, its blessings are evanescent and ultimately trivial.
Malthusianism is a religious conviction that desperately needs to think of itself as a science. From Thomas Malthus and his mathematical certainties to Paul Ehrlich with his famine timetables and the Club of Rome with its ‘scientific’ predictions of resource exhaustion, Malthusians have made confident predictions about the future and claimed scientific authority for statements that turned out to be contemptibly silly. That is the brutal fate that often awaits people who can’t keep the boundaries between science and religion straight.
The Catch 22 is that “sustainable” economic growth is code for economic decline (links omitted).