The Virtue of Stupidity

Temperatures around the country have recently been plunging and the nay-sayers once again point to the thermometer and tell us why they deny that the globe is warming. They ignore the fact that South Africa is experiencing the hottest summer on record and that what happens in Alabama or Alaska (or South Africa) is beside the point. Global Warming is a fact and it is not to be identified with passing weather events in particular parts of the world. Confusing the two and ignoring hard science are marks of the “virtue of stupidity” among those who remain with their heads in the sand — or somewhere equally dark. (This is a repost, which I have updated.)

In his remarkable book, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, Charles Pierce quotes Norman Myers of the Climate Institute who estimated that in 1995 [over twenty-four years ago!] there were already “25 to 35 million environmental refugees, and that number could rise to two hundred million before the middle of the next century.” The 600 residents of the town of Shishmaref in Alaska are already making plans and attempting to raise money to relocate their town because the permafrost is thawing and the town itself is slowly disappearing into the ocean. They may eventually follow many of the refugees that Myers mentions who have left their disappearing homes in the South Pacific for the same reasons and are flocking to already overcrowded cities where they must learn entirely new (and alien) urban ways.

And yet 64% of our population — and an alarming percentage of those in Congress, not to mention our president — still doubts that climate change is a reality and/or that humans are largely responsible. Folks look out the window and see the snow falling and the temperatures dropping and forget that we are talking about global warming. We might note that the term “climate change” is part of the reason there are still doubters. It is a euphemism that was invented by special interest groups as a substitute for “global warming,” which they regard as unduly alarming. They are intent upon calming fears and directing attention away from serious problems. And they have been very successful.

How can they do this? They do it because people tend to believe what they want to believe and because they generally have lost any critical acumen they might have once had because of poor schooling and the barrage of bullshit they are being fed daily by the media, 91 % of which are in the pocket of the corporate interests — along with most of those in Congress.

According to Pierce, it all started in the 1950s with the tobacco companies. They realized that people were getting nervous about the reports emerging from scientific researchers about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. The CEOs of all the major tobacco companies met in New York in December 1953. Allan Brandt, in The Cigarette Century, describes the strategy:

‘Its goal was to produce and sustain scientific skepticism and controversy in order to disrupt the emerging consensus on the harms of cigarette smoking. This strategy required intrusions into scientific process and procedure. . . . The industry worked to assure that vigorous debate would be prominently trumpeted in the public media. So long as there appeared to be doubt, so long as the industry could assert “not proven,” smokers would have a rationale to continue, and new smokers would have a rationale to begin.'”

In a word, as you would if your son who attended a posh private school in, say, Kentucky were to attend an anti-abortion rally in Washington and testify to the truly ugly racism in this country by appearing in a MAGA cap staring down a dignified elderly Native American, you might hire a PR team. In this case they would cloud the air with half-truths and blatant falsehoods posing as hard science in order to confuse the general public (which doesn’t know science from Shinola) and be assured of continued profits. If this sounds familiar it is. In fact, it is precisely the strategy the vested interests have adopted in the debate about the dangers to our planet. As Pierce goes onto point out, in 2002

“a Republican consultant named Frank Luntz sent out a memo describing how Luntz believed the crisis of global warming should be handled within a political context. ‘The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is sound science,’ wrote Luntz. ‘The scientific debate is closing [against the skeptics] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science.'”

In a word, get your PR folks to cloud the air with half-truths and blatant falsehoods masquerading as science and keep the uncertainty alive in the minds of as many as possible for as long as possible in order to assure that lackeys remain in political office and that corporate profits continue to rise.

What is remarkable about this entire scenario is that there is healthy skepticism in this country about the nonsense politicians spew forth — politicians are right down there with used-car salesmen as the ones we are least likely to trust. Yet so many of us are willing to believe what they say when it allows us to go on with our lives as usual and not have to bother about such disturbing truths. In fact, what many of us do is reject as false those claims we find uncomfortable and embrace those claims (true or not) that are most reassuring. Indeed, the word “truth” no longer has any fixed meaning, since it simply refers to those claims that we choose to believe, even though our basis for believing those claims is nothing more than a gut feeling or the word of a chronic liar.

Because of this, I have devised a new law. “Only those scientific claims are to be believed that are made by those who have no vested interest  whatever in the public response to those claims.” In a word, don’t believe anything that is put out there by a company that stands to increase its profits by having you believe those claims. We may not understand the scientific claims (they can be complex); what’s important is who is putting them forth. Real science is engaged in by those disinterested folks who have nothing to gain or lose by the certainties they uncover. The rest of it is a shell game.


24 thoughts on “The Virtue of Stupidity

  1. Thanks for the bird’s-eye view, Hugh. From that vantage point, anyone with near average IQ should be able to see that corporate elites have corralled media, education, politics, and even (I will add) churches. It’s been a massive and artful propaganda campaign — patiently and carefully deployed over decades. Yet, while I despise willful stupidity, I can understand why the Average Joe/Jill has been taken in. They are busy; must they be expected to follow climate, finance, politics, and law like academic researchers? Isn’t sad that people can’t be at all innocent without risking absolute peril (i.e., nuclear holocaust, climate devastation, species extinction?) Those of us who “see it” must keep speaking truth to power, and our peers. Keep up the Good Fight!

  2. Hugh, we remain a very uninformed and misinformed country. It has been like shooting fish in a barrel for Putin to use social media to divide us and get someone like Donald Trump elected. Too many would prefer to watch ESPN or Wendy Williams rather than non-sports or non-entertainment news. Too many get their news from Donald Trump who rarely tells the unvarnished truth. Too many get news from Facebook or Twitter feeds, which allow invalid stories to grow.

    It is truly sad that people still have doubts about climate change. I left the GOP twelve years ago for three reasons, but primarily due to their position on climate change and tendency to make things up at a far greater rate than the Dems. Trump did not invent lying, but like Putin he realized the truth should not get in the way of a good story. I believe that Putin is the most prolific liar in global leadership, while Trump is a far and away the global leader in lying for democratic elected leaders and is close to Putin. Keith

    • Trump is attracted to Putin because he likes the way the man operates. I daresay it is the way he would operate if there weren’t checks and balances in this country. Truth is not the issue: power is the issue — for both of them.

      • True. Two things that confirm what we have long known. Trump is now running the country as a family business. Mulvaney is not going to moderate Trump. The other is related to Trump and the GOP not doinig their job in Congress. The US has fallen by four points to 71 on a 100 scale for checks and balances in government. 75 is the bottom of the acceptable threshold for democratic governments, with autocratic governments in the 30s. The measurement period was 2017.

      • Hugh, I read an interesting argument to push back on hoaxers. If global warming and man’s influence thereon is a hoax, why is Chevron’s board obligating management to include in their incentive goals to reduce emissions to lessen the impact on climate change. We are talking about what people are paid. I think this is a very powerful argument against Trump, Rubio, Scott, Trump’s EPA et al on their hoax BS. Keith

  3. Excellent post, Hugh! Con su permiso I shall re-blog.

    I have believed for a while now that those who claim to deny the scientific facts that prove we are destroying our home (planet Earth) and making it inhabitable for future generations, actually know the truth, but find it too inconvenient to admit, for once they admit it, then they have no excuse for not taking some steps in their own lives to do things differently. That said, it seems to me that to deny the science of climate change or global warming is rather akin to knowing that there is a fire in your attic, but you’re having too much fun playing gin rummy in the living room downstairs, so you ignore the fire in hopes that it will, somehow, put itself out. Recently I have heard more than one say that “God made the earth for man’s pleasure and he will take care of it”. Needless to say, that statement makes my hair stand on end. With that attitude, we really don’t need to worry about investing for our future, as there isn’t likely to be one!

    Thanks again for this excellent post!

  4. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Once again, dear friend Hugh has hit the nail on the head regarding the dangerous attitudes of this nation toward addressing environmental issues, most notably climate change, or global warming. Please take a minute to read his excellent post … and make note of his new “law” at the end! Thank you, Hugh, for the post and the permission to share!

  5. The stupidity is in thinking these corporations have a future if they let our planet be destroyed, no mattef how that happens. First they will lose their customers (we will all be dead), and then their money will lose all its value. They will hide in their walled estates until they starve to death, using what real money they have to heat their homes.
    The bad part for them, most of their money exists only in computer databanks, and like Quadriga, is currently worthless, or worthless currency. Take their choice.

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