Monday, September 14, 2015

Settling the Estate

There has been a lot of change over the decades, and the past decade more than most.  Change, however, is not the same thing as progress.

If you're sympathetic to the plight of homosexuals in the United States, you've seen progress.  If you subscribe to a Judeo-Christian worldview there has been regress.  The idea of progress, the only way to distinguish it from just ordinary change depends upon a preconceived notion about where we are, or at least ought to be, going.

Then we have the problem of determining the data set you are measuring.

If you are a Christian, Yazidi, or just not radical enough of a Sunni Muslim in Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon, you would say the world is in a state of regress, regardless of how much progress American homosexuals have experienced.

Progress is a Judeo-Christian idea.  Made necessary by progressive revelation, a god who both keeps on writing and disagreeing with himself is the well spring of innovation.  Eventually it was decided this god had a plan and was moving his people toward that plan.
First the Jews, then a splinter group of Jews called Christians.

If we want to set aside a religious worldview and still talk about how to constructively approach the problems we face we'd be wise to apply the observation by economist Thomas Sowell, "There are no solutions, only trade-offs."

TANSTAAFL, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."  If you want to achieve change, there will be a cost, usually our ideology.  When we start talking soberly about costs and benefits we are taking a step away from unspoken pre-conceived notions of progress toward an ideal based on more romantic vision than reality.

Reducing global undernourishment is a goal, I hope, we can agree on.  Turning the world into a patchwork of small organic farmers is a romantic vision.  Returning marginal land to a wild state is a goal.   Humanity evolving into a peaceful vegans is a utopian dream.

That secular society has retained the mental habits of thinking in terms of progress but it gets in the way.  Christendom is dead.  Diversity of opinion is deeply rooted in our culture and the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter each have different visions of progress.  It is much more fruitful to talk in terms of individual changes we want to make in society.

Progress is not the only theistic idea to be retained in our secular present.  The idea of the apocalypse continues to make the rounds in one form or another.  One decade we're headed to an ice age, in the next, global warming will cause the oceans to boil, peak oil, Y2K, the population bomb, and on and on.

Yes, climate change is happening.  Yes some of that change is a result of human activity.  The idea that change will result in the apocalypse, however is a faith based jump and I have sat through too many arguments about the rapture to be easily sold; Al Gore's poetic attempt to pull at my heartstrings notwithstanding.

Getting a little greener each year.
God is dead, but we've yet to settle his estate.

Injecting theistic habits of mind into strictly secular debates serves only to make rationale discussion more difficult than it needs to be.

How does this figure into a blog about hunting, fishing, the natural world, farming, and food more generally?  These issues serve as well springs of pseudo-religious thinking.

 The anti-GMO crowd's continues to influence crowds as they attempt to universalize their faith-based food taboo.  Change from GMO could mean yields go up.  Combined with the decreasing rate of population growth this means fewer acres would be required to meet human needs.  Marginal acres could be returned to forest or prairie.  This would be good for carbon reduction, wildlife, rain forests, and the malnourished.  Instead we argue about food taboos and a romantic vision of what farming "should be" instead of what is, we listen to our fears rather than facts.

Because we assume technological progress is the enemy of nature we ignore evidence that land-based plant life is thriving.  The earth is greener now than it was when the first astronauts looked down upon the blue pearl.  This has happen because we have applied high tech to farming not in spite of it.

This is change that should be cause for rejoicing but it is a heresy in certain circles of foodies and environmentalists who put ideology before results.  The ghost of a moralizing god lingers in their arguments.  Their vision of the promised land obscures data that suggests positive change could be found in a direction other than their "one true set" of beliefs.

Global warming apocalyptic thinking leads to shrill calls to subsidize solar or wind power at its current immature state instead of allowing the technology to continue to develop until it is viable on its own. Biofuel nonsense continues to support the idea of ethanol additives to gasoline, tying up 25% of our corn acreage.  Acreage that could be used for soy, wood products, or returned to a natural state.

Apocalyptic thinking also leads the global warming debate to focus on mitigation instead of adaptation.  If we're not all going to die in some Cormac McCarthy deathscape, we'd better get to work adapting our coasts for higher tides.  But having become convinced that what we face is not change but the apocalypse, we're tied up in arguments about whether Canadian oil will enter world markets through the United States or it own Pacific Coast.

The ghost of the holy continues to haunt us but the first step towards exorcising that ghost is to recognize it when it disrupts rational debate.  By watching our language, we manage our thoughts.  We're living in the Anthropocene.  It is time we started acting like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment