Climate change and social collapse

Now that even the Koch brothers’ personal scientists have conceded the reality of climate change, it’s time to move on from the rather silly question of whether it’s happening to the very real question of what might it do to us?

One way to answer the question is to investigate what climate change has done to civilizations in the past. The results of this approach were the subject of an article published online by New Scientist on August 6th (and due to be paywalled next week).

“Climate change: the great civilization destroyer?” summarizes recent research into the relationship between sustained climate change and the decline of civilizations both ancient and modern. From the collapse of the Akkadians in 2200 BC to the frequency of wars in Europe in recent centuries, the evidence suggests, societies put under pressure by climate change (or by neighbouring societies feeling climate stress) were liable to catastrophic failure.
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Sure it’s a tragedy, but in America freedom = guns

Part of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s initial reaction to the Aurora theatre massacre was to assure citizens that the act of a “deranged” individual would not be allowed to take away Americans’ freedom to lock and load with private arsenals of assault weapons.

Boy, am I relieved. For a moment there, I thought that yet another slaughter of the innocents might threaten Bubba’s right to own enough weaponry to wage a small civil war.

No one is talking at the moment about the squirrel gun in the barn, or even the .38 Special in the nightstand. Maybe some places have too many squirrels, and maybe some neighbourhoods have too many thugs.

But when Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin responded to the immediate calls for a little gun control by suggesting that a well-armed “responsible citizen” in the movie theatre might have prevented some of the carnage by cutting loose with his own weapon(s), you really had to wonder just what planet these people inhabit.
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It’s all the fault of the leftist elite!

What’s wrong with society?

According to some on the intellectual right, it’s everyone on the intellectual left.

According to Russell Jacoby, that claim is yet another sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservative thought.

In “Dreaming of a World without Intellectuals,” published on July 12th by The Chronicle Review as a response to David Gelernter’s America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), Jacoby takes on the idea that America was just fine, thank you, until the 60’s, when campus radicals began the deadly revolution that continues to poison society.

I have no intention of reading Gelernter’s book — the title gives away its core biases without the bother of reading the rest of it. But I’ll gladly take any chance I can get to share vicariously in Jacoby’s evisceration of yet another right-wing champion.
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Confirming the coupling of money and power

Much of this week’s American political news has been dominated by two high-profile and highly-anticipated Supreme Court decisions.

The first decision struck down much of Arizona’s intrusion into immigration law, on the grounds not that the law violates individual rights but on the narrower legal grounds that immigration is a federal concern. The second, even more prominent decision gave Barack Obama a win (and Mitt Romney a campaign issue) on medical care.

But it’s neither of these decisions about which I want to write.

Instead, I’m motivated by the less-trumpeted and more predictable Supreme Court decision that upheld the Republican Wyoming legislature’s repeal of a law banning large third-party campaign contributions. This decision was along the same 5-4 ideological lines that had previously removed campaign contribution limits from federal elections.
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From the frying pan into the fire?

As I head back home to California today for a weekend visit, it’s a good time for another in my periodic forays into the underworld of the American political psyche.

Earlier this week, I posted a generally negative review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

But my thumbs down was for the book’s political slant, not its core contents. Haidt proposed, quite reasonably, that our politics are founded on our emotions, not on our reason. The most spectacular example of the truth of Haidt’s assertion is the fact that all of the polls show that the U. S. presidential race is, so far, too close to call.

On any rational basis, this seems absurd. Continue reading

Sometimes, getting better means losing traits

Every day, in every way, I’m getting
better and better and better.

Well, maybe. But what if the most efficient way to survive is to get worse, letting someone else take care of the better? What if selection works in both directions, gaining genes and losing genes, adding what you need and deleting what you can let others do for you? Continue reading

Conservative Morlocks, Liberal Eloi — does psychology explain politics?

As the U. S. settles in for six months of Romney v. Obama (with an interruption for the Zimmerman trial in Florida), all of the psychologists who want to be political pundits — and all of the political pundits who want to be psychologists — are wasting no time getting their message out there.

And last week’s loudest message was a rehash of research that purports to show that we’re not conservative or liberal because we’re rational beings who have been convinced by the merits of the arguments for and against.

Oh no. We were, in the words of almost every headline writer, “Born This Way.”
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