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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rising Up or Laying Down

By Rich Kozlovich

Recently at RISE’s annual Industry Grassroots Breakfast Karen Reardon, director of communications and grassroots, announced that RISE was going to attempt to increase its “army of industry advocates” by 600, increasing the membership to 1000 by 2009.

To work to develop a grassroots movement nationwide in support of the nation’s pesticide applicators is a work to be applauded. However, I find it most distressing when someone in a position of responsibility, such as RISE President, Mr. Allen James, states that “We’re being left behind in the green sustainability movement,” “In fact, we’re being looked at as the demon in this one.”

What does “green sustainability” mean? This desire to jump on the “phrases without any possible hope of definition” bandwagon is becoming pandemic in the pesticide application industries. No one can define “green”. Actually everyone can define “green”, because it is unendingly definable depending on your personal philosophy. Remember “organic” when it first was touted. It meant no pesticides then. Now they have a list of pesticides….oops… the meaning changed.

“Sustainability” is another nonsense term that is thrown around because it also can mean anything you want it to mean. The important thing is that neither one can be defined scientifically in such a manner that those who tout it will agree to. That is why these terms are being used. Because they sound great and mean nothing, but can be made to mean whatever the activists wish it to mean.

Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) defines sustainability “as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." They reasoned that “We thus realized that we, too, were advocates of true sustainable development – that is, our mission in the developing world is to encourage and assist people and their governments to take the steps necessary to transform their stagnant, dependent societies into forward-looking, prosperous communities so that they will have the resources at hand to address environmental and human health concerns over the long term.”

Sounds good to me; but what if the activists decide that “sustainable” really means that prosperous communities are the problem and not the answer? Furthermore, what if they decide that all we have to do to be “sustainable” is to return to nature and “live in handmade huts without paved streets, running water, flush toilets, or even electricity” in order for all future generations to meet their needs? Do we then adopt another level of appeasement? This is what they support worldwide! In every undeveloped area of the world where their policies have been adopted or hold sway, dystopia has prevailed.

If we abandon that which is based on facts and adopt some sort of “green sustainability” program it implies that everything we have done in the past has been wrong, but now we have come to enlightenment and agree with the activists. Do we really believe that?

To paraphrase Col. John Boyd, "One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you're going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go. If you go one way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, you will lauded and applauded and you will become prominent. Or you can go the other way and you can do something — something for your friends and your industry and yourself. If you decide to do something, you will not be lauded or applauded, you will not get positions of prominence and you will not be a favorite of those who are prominent. But you won't have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?"

As for being “the demon in this one”; if standing up for science, facts, and truth demonizes our industries, then so be it. Winston Churchill once observed that “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”. I for one will not become one that chooses to feed my friends to the crocodiles, nor do I willing choose to be fed to them myself. Those who choose to do rather than to be, will stand with me.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Appeals to Authority

I would like to thank DR. JOHN J. RAY (M.A.; Ph.D.) of Brisbane, Australia for extending his permission to me to reprint this article. RK

By John Ray

It is the nature of intellectuals to think that they know better than anyone else. So they rarely defend the status quo. They mostly want to change it in some way that would suit themselves -- mostly to get the money away from those dumb capitalists and channel it in a direction that will be better for intellectuals. In short, intellectuals usually lean Left to at least some degree. Conservatives can take the status quo or leave it, depending on what the particular status quo happens to be. But a loathing of the status quo is intrinsic to Leftism -- so much so that they may often oppose a status quo that they themselves have been instrumental in creating -- with the now-common Green/Left opposition to wind farms (a shout-out to Ted Kennedy here) being one rather amusing example.

One outcome of all that it that Leftists generally find much comfort in the outpourings of intellectuals -- with G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx being early players in that field. So an appeal to authority often suits Leftists. They say, in effect: "All these wise men say we need to change the way we do things so that must be right." The most notable tendency of that today is of course the constant Greenie claim that there is a "consensus" among scientists about the human origin of the slight degree of global warming observed in the late 20th century (but which has been conspicuously absent since 1998). The Greenies luxuriate in having so many authorities on their side and they do their best to discredit the many experts who reject the Warmist view.

Sadly, of course, authorities can often be wrong. Even the smartest of intellectuals can make big mistakes when speaking outside their own field of expertise. Albert Einstein had clearly Marxist views on the economy, for instance. You can read his now mostly archaic thoughts on the matter in the old Marxist publication Monthly Review.

And the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, admired Communism so much that he actually emigrated to Russia. He lasted three weeks there and came back with distinctly modified views. Albert at least was wise enough not to put his money where his mouth was.

And experts can even go wrong when speaking WITHIN their field of expertise. Almost all of my academic career was devoted to exposing the flaws in the Leftist theories conventional among political psychologists. I was repeatedly able to show that the reigning consensus was contradicted by the facts. I don't believe I changed anybody's views, however. Ideology is not easily knocked off its perch by mere facts. But for anybody willing to look, I think I was able to show very clearly that the consensus within my own field of expertise was just plain wrong. You can see therefore why I regard ALL appeals to authority as very third-rate thinking -- as a rather pathetic substitute for looking at the actual evidence.

Given that the Green/Left have so conspicuously hitched their wagon to appeals to authority, however, it does on occasion become necessary to reply in kind. If a Leftist says: "All the experts say... " one needs to reply: "But THESE experts deny ..." if one is to have any hope of making a persuasive case. In other words, although appeals to authority have little objective merit, they do have considerable persuasive power for many people and one has to recognize that and fight back by questioning the authority concerned -- and an easy way to do that is to quote OTHER authorities with different opinions. And I do that often on my Greenie Watch blog.

It is also because of the Leftist authority-orientation (an orientation which makes it all the more amusing that Leftist psychologists constantly brand conservatives as "authoritarian") that I occasionally make mention of my academic background and the fields wherein I can speak with some authority. I would much rather discuss ANY issue on the basis of the facts but if a Leftist insists on personalized arguments in a field where I happen to be an authority, then I feel that I might as well take the easy way out and squash the Leftist using his own hammer. It might just conceivably teach him something about the inherent inconclusiveness of relying on arguments about persons rather than on arguments about the facts. I do however draw the line at claiming any GENERAL authority. Leftist academics very often do implicitly claim that. They get credit for pronouncements made outside their own field of expertise. A linguist like Chomsky, for instance speaks on all sorts of topics outside of his field and Leftists seem to get great comfort from his "authoritative" misrepresentations. They are fools do so. Arguing from an irrelevant authority is in fact what logicians refer to as one of the informal fallacies.

I was rather amused recently, however, when a very skeptical reader asked for my list of academic publications. He evidently thought that I must be the sort of fraud one so often finds on the Left. When he was referred to a full list of the relevant citations, he lost that battle but as a comeback complained that many of my publications were quite short. He seemed to think that you could judge the worth of a research article by its length! I am sure that a lot of academics wish that were true. Writing reams of waffle seems to come very easily to many of them. If there is any criteriality in the length of a research article, I would tend to think that merit is more likely to lie with short articles. If you know what you are talking about and your results are clear, you don't need to ramble on.

I certainly do strive for succinctness in all that I write. People are more likely to read and understand what one has to say that way. But there are of course some topics that NEED to be discussed at great length -- histories and literature reviews, for instance -- and for my sins I do sometimes write at length in those areas.

With my academic background I suppose I could be said to be an intellectual but I sedulously avoid that label. Intellectuals generally seem to me to be a rather miserable bunch who are puffed up with oversimplified theories and who are prone to parasitizing others. By contrast I have always been happy with my lot in life. I have the gift of contentment and "just the facts" will do me fine. And when I do splash out big with money (usually by giving it away. My own needs have always been small), I do it with money honestly earned in business -- not with money ripped off the taxpayer under some pretext. But being someone who has been successful in business as well as in academe does make me an odd bod, I guess.