Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hometown Smackdown!

Being snowed in and short of hours at work, I've taken to haunting the comments section of my local paper. It is a reliable source for all sorts of right-wing lunacy. And, as anyone interested in the popularization of climate change science knows, where you have right-wing lunacy, you have climate change denial.

The discussion there is complex and ongoing, and extremely difficult to summarize. However, it appears to contain all of the classic denier elements. I offer now my latest post there in the belief that anyone familiar with denialism can deduce what is going on here:

Well I'm sorry to have confused you with my writings. When I wrote "all of these save one" I was talking about your claims that Gore's statements were inaccurate. If you re-read my post, you may find it makes more sense in that light. The fact that you apparently couldn't deduce that from the context doesn't speak well for our ability to communicate on this issue.

I'm not trying to be arrogant, but as I've indicated before, I've studied this issue in academia. It is, without a doubt, a complicated one. I'm starting to wonder if a lot of people have the necessary background in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and logic to comprehend it. That's why Al Gore is a two-edged sword for the climate science community. He simplifies things sufficiently for people who don't have that background to have an illusion of comprehension. At least I assume that to be so, based on the various commentaries and reactions to his books and documentary, as I've never read nor seen them.

The second edge cuts backward, however. His simplification open him up to charges of oversimplification. Some of his examples are poorly chosen, as we've discussed above. There is also a lot of animus in the conservative community toward him, due to his political activities in the '90s and the 2000 election. When you, and these others, develop their own illusion of comprehension, it forms in reaction to these things and is resistant to reputable science, and insists that up is down, black is white, and hot is cold.

Unfortunately, climate change is a very serious political and economic issue. It absolutely needs a "popular information component." Why deniers continue to deny themselves a seat at the table through arguments from ignorance and insane conspiracy theories is beyond me. It seems to show that some people will indeed cut off their nose to spite their face.

As I tried to demonstrate to you by linking to RealClimate's data dump, the work involved in developing a thorough understanding the issue is daunting. It is difficult to imagine that many people could have the time and energy to truly understand the issue. However, when you need a coronary bypass, you don't go and get an MD and do it yourself. You go to someone who has an MD and certificates as a cardiac surgeon, because that is proof that they know what they're doing.

It's also nice for you that you can look at a post, and conclude that it's overlong, and therefore "crud." I was giving you the benefit of the doubt- your apparent passion for the issue might be the result of genuine curiosity. However, your positions are hardened, and when you cannot deny my detailed replies, we see what you do as a last ditch effort to shield your fragile beliefs- you make yourself believe that I, and the thousands of climate scientists devoting their lives to this problem, are part of a "religion," and that making this argument is some sort of auto da fe where we burn heretics at the rhetorical stake. That just reveals the limitations of your perspective.

Now it is probably apparent that I'm coming to the end of my rope with these particular interlocutors. One can only explain the same issue so many times, only be accused of belonging to an irrational religious faith, without either giving up or snapping. And I have to admit, I enjoy a good verbal takedown. For instance, this exchange, between "B" and me (PG):

B: What amazes me is that Gore, a self proclaimed wizard of global warming science, has any credibility at all when he and his "followers" accept every and any cause of global warming except the most obvious - THE SUN!

PG: You know, if the large majority of your income was spent on necessities- housing, utilities, groceries, etc., leaving , say, $100 per month for elective expenses, and you regularly spent $200, does that mean you're going broke because of the necessities?

B: No, according to your analagy, it means you're going broke because of 'the most obvious reason', THE SUN or as you put it, your "elective expenses". Thanks for your help.

PG: lol. Okay, in the earth-sun system, the sun is the necessity. It is the largest factor. Can you decipher the rest now, or do I have to hold your hand some more?

B: The only thing more unattractive than condescending arrogance is
unjustified condescending arrogance

PG: If you would stop trying to justify your irrational beliefs by being purposefully disingenuous, you wouldn't have to feel so put upon by people pointing it out. Or you could stop being so vocal on a subject where you disagree with a very large majority of the experts, and use your eyes and ears instead of your mouth and fingers.

Now I have to admit here I'm channeling what I call my "internal drill instructor." These highly dedicated and skilled Marines were never ones to mince words, and could sting one's pride to the core with a half-second glance. The denier here, however, appears to have a strong reaction, expressed in their "unjustified condescending arrogance" remark. So be it, I should know by now that people don't respond well to criticism from anonymous strangers on the internet. However, I do think that in many cases, a rhetorical slap to the face is the best policy. It's times like this when I think about what my ultimate goal is here- is it to educate these people? Difficult, to say the least (Socrates' friends on the road to Piraeus demonstrated conclusively how to avoid convincing , and I'm no Socrates). Is it to discredit them so that they'll think twice before posting the same crap again? Also an unlikely outcome, as denialism seems to be endemic to verbal masochists. Getting short with them seems simply to reinforce their victimization complexes.

What are the sources of these, and how best to sidestep them?

This remains the open question.

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