The New War against Reason

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Barack Obama promised us not only transparency, but also a new respect for science. In soothing tones, he asserted that his administration was “restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making.”

In our new Enlightenment of Ivy League Guardians, we were to return to the rule of reason and logic. Obama would lead us away from the superstitious world of Bush’s evangelical Christianity, “intelligent design,” and Neanderthal moral opposition to human-embryo stem-cell research.

Instead, we are seeing an unprecedented distortion of science — indeed, an attack on the inductive method itself. Facts and reason are trumped by Chicago-style politics, politically correct dogma, and postmodern relativism.

Mythical Jobs

For decades, the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has maintained a rational, scientifically based, and nonpartisan system of reporting the nation’s “seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.” Presidents of both parties respected its metrics. Their own popularity sunk or soared on the basis of officially released jobless numbers, as tabulated and computed by the nonpartisan Bureau. The public trusted in a common standard of assessing presidential job performance.

The BLS is still releasing its monthly report, but alongside it the Obama administration has created a new postmodern barometer called jobs “created or saved.”

Over the last nine months, the official government website has informed us how the stimulus has saved jobs — even as hard data reflected the unpleasant truth of massive and spiraling job losses.

In other words, not the real number of jobs lost, but rather the supposed number of jobs saved by Barack Obama’s vast dispersion of borrowed money, was to be the correct indicator of employment.

The message? In superstitious fashion, the public is to ignore what statistics say, and trust instead in the Obama administration’s hypotheses.

And if pesky doubters still want “facts,” and if there are not enough supporting data for such speculation, then why not simply fabricate them out of thin air? Thus mythical congressional districts were posted on an official government website with more fanciful data of “jobs saved.” Just as creationists insist that the world was made 6,000 years ago, so too the Obamians believe that joblessness must show a decline because their messianic leader says it’s so — bothersome facts be damned. In this current Orwellian climate, a scientific document listing the latest unemployment figures is the equivalent of a stegosaurus footprint — an inconvenient truth for the upbeat employment gospel according to St. Barack.

The Environmental Inquisition

Obama also campaigned on the “fact” that the planet was heating up, and that it was because of man-made carbon emissions. In fact, in messianic fashion he promised that his ascension would mark the moment when the rising seas receded and the warming planet cooled.

In response, we would have to do our own part to cool down civilization’s imprint, by turning to wind and solar energy, and taxing oil and gas so as to vastly reduce their usage.

The fact that nuclear power could give us plentiful electrical energy and autonomy from foreign imports — and without the release of hot carbon gases — was ignored. Instead, by fiat, nuclear power was deemed a politically incorrect fuel source, somehow tainted by memories of everything from Hiroshima to Three Mile Island.

That nuclear plants are now safe, as we see from long experience in Europe and from their operation here at home; that we have spent billions to find a solution to the problem of their wastes; that they do not heat or pollute the atmosphere, or add to our quarterly trade deficit — all this is simultaneously substantiated by facts, and yet refuted by superstition and hysteria.

In contrast, government-subsidized windmills and solar panels, which give us little energy — and only on breezy or sunny days — are “rational” sources of power for 300 million consumers.

There are other problems of logic with the global-warming industry.

First, the public does not, by and large, see a heating planet. Average global temperatures over the last decade have, in fact, cooled. Some of us recall the media-driven worry in the 1970s over a new ice age — a dubious conclusion based on data from many of the same supposedly cool past decades that are now reinvented as warm to provide a case for decades-long patterns of dangerous planet heating.

These controversies could be adjudicated through substantive debate, but instead politically correct hysteria again has followed. “Good” informed people — like those who adhered to every doctrine of the medieval church — “know” the planet is heating up, thanks to the greed of carbon-based industry. “Bad” heretics challenge official environmental dogma and exegesis. In such an anti-empirical age, if the “truther” Van Jones had not been there, ready for Obama to tap as green czar, he would have had to be invented.

Even skeptics are surprised at just how cynical some global-warming “scientists” have been in their efforts to stifle dissent and fudge unwelcome data. Recently, for example, computer hackers released confidential communications from a leading global-warming research institute in the United Kingdom — the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit — that gave the game away.

In their private e-mail correspondence, these “scientists,” like clerics squabbling over religious schisms, scheme to explain away and cover up unpleasant evidence. They dream of injuring heretics; they connive to get more money for their own pet projects; and they are terrified that increasingly the data seem to support public doubts — and therefore must be subjected to unscientific, but morally superior, efforts to undo unsettling results.

The second problem with the global-warming movement is the age-old problem of human greed. If the billions of people on planet earth can be convinced that they are doomed without new paradigms of energy use, then those who are ready to provide us with green elixirs can become fabulously wealthy.

Such a one is Al Gore, who left the vice presidency in 2001 worth under $5 million and is now said to be a magnate with a net fortune of over $100 million.

Gore, the green populist, has mastered a scam worthy of Bernie Madoff — based on a brilliant three-step business strategy:

1) Write, speak, and produce movies as a disinterested public intellectual to bring “research” to the public’s attention. Demonize skeptics through suggestions that they are either stupid, cold-hearted, or greedy.

2) Meanwhile, create all sorts of green companies designed to offer wind and solar technologies — and even stranger services like “carbon offsets.” The latter is a medieval concept in which rich carbon sinners can continue to satisfy their lust for cars, big homes, and airplanes. The trick is to hire out green priests who take carbon confession, and then offer the sinner a way back into earth-first heaven — through the commensurate penance of planting trees or building windmills somewhere else as divine compensation.

3) When the rationally minded complain of this scam, Gore’s lieutenants proclaim that he is not a hypocrite, much less a scheming businessman, because he invests in “what he believes in.”

Ponder that twisted logic: You circle the globe proselytizing that Earth will soon resemble the planet Mercury. But that’s okay, because you make your millions by offering products to alleviate the subsequent induced fears. The rationalization is akin to the financial manipulator who claims that he has done nothing wrong, because he reinvests his insider profits back into the Wall Street he helped to panic.

Politically Correct Blindness

Then we come to radical Islam and a series of both formal and ad hoc Islamist terrorist attacks on American civilians. There have been over 40 such incidents since the mass murdering of 9/11.

Western inductive thinking used to teach us to look at facts and collate symptoms. (E.g., we have observed a number of killers evoking Islam, yelling out “Allahu Akbar!” at the moment of their murdering, or post facto, bragging unrepentantly of murdering Jews and infidels.)

Then one makes a diagnosis based on such empirical findings. (E.g., unlike the case with radical anti-abortionists or violent environmentalists, in the last eight years we have witnessed a series of unhinged Muslim males who have justified their violent actions through affinities with, or promotion of, radical Islam.)

All those data lead to a scientific conclusion and prognosis. (E.g., while only a small proportion of Muslims have committed violent attacks, over the past eight years there have been dozens of cases in which angry Muslim males have attacked Jewish centers or U.S. military personnel, and have shot or deliberately run over individual Americans. Therefore, there is a danger that a subset of young Muslims is disproportionately committing terrorist acts. Furthermore, the combination of disaffected Muslim males and ubiquitous jihadist propaganda, together with Western denial, will logically lead both to more formal plots and to more lone-wolf attacks.)

But not so fast: Remember, we are now in an age of superstition, not rationalism, in which utopian ends justify unscientific means.

And so, quite logically, we got the Fort Hood massacre. Major Hasan, the perpetrator, gave ample indication that he favored the tactics of suicide bombing and empathized with radical Muslim enemies of the United States. He went so far as to print business cards proclaiming himself a “soldier of Allah” — while he tried to convert his trauma patients to Islam and sought guidance from a radical imam in Yemen.

No matter. For an Army officer to have preempted Hasan’s jihadism would have meant incurring a charge of politically incorrect anti-Muslim bias. Inductive reasoning was thus abrogated, and the world of touchy-feely make-believe took over.

Even as Hasan shot the innocent and yelled out to Allah in adoration, media talking heads were still insisting that Islam had nothing to do with either his anger or its dénouement in murder. Such an unscientific belief system was best illustrated by the FBI agent who announced that Hasan’s intercepted e-mails sent to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — detailing his jihadist sympathies and desire to join Awlaki “in the afterlife” — were “benign.”

In short, we are witnessing the rise of a new deductive, anti-scientific age.

Instead of Christian, southern-twanged fundamentalists, we see instead kinder, gentler federal bureaucrats, globetrotting Ph.D.s, liberal hucksters, and politically correct diversity officers.

All are committed to the medieval fallacy that exalted theoretical ends justify very real tawdry means.

The result is the triumph of superstition, and the dethronement of science.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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