Fakes and fakirs
My recent posts on the Republican/rightwing campaign against science have led to reminders that this kind of thing isn’t confined to the political right – I mentioned this in a footnote, but the subsequent correspondence has raised some examples I can’t resist, as has a mildly spooky coincidence.
First, one commentator raised the examples of Jeremy Rifkin and David Suzuki. Rifkin talks an awful lot of tosh, in my view, but I can’t say I object violently to him. He’s in a line of business where it’s necessary to produce a new book with a new “big idea” every couple of years. In my judgement he’s simply not up to this task. Entropy wasn’t bad, as bestselling books of this kind go, but it wasn’t very good either, and I’ve ignored him ever since.
By contrast, Suzuki hits almost as many of my hot buttons as Bjorn Lomborg. I vividly remember going to see him when he visited James Cook University. I was mildly sceptical, but Townsville isn’t exactly flooded with high-profile international visitors, so I went along to listen. He started off by making a scene about the absence of a glass of water. This was produced and sat, untouched, for the entire talk.
The content was equally annoying. After giving a reasonably lucid (though unattributed) exposition of the ideas ofThomas Malthus he announced “Of course, no economist could ever understand this”. The audience (reasonably enough, not enamoured of economists) loved it, but I was unimpressed, to put it mildly. The rest was equally bad. Although he was a zoologist at one time, his talk showed no indication that he had any up-to-date knowledge of the scientific literature on environmental problems like global warming. And his gaffe regarding Malthus was typical of his knowledge of the intellectual history on which he presented himself as an expert. He attacked mechanistic views of life and the universe, but attributed them to Newton (a man devoted to mysticism and deism) rather than to Descartes. I can’t remember other specific instances, but the entire talk was full of errors like this, as well as being totally lacking in any positive proposals or new insights.
Finally, the coincidence. Readers of a certain age will remember posters showing a chubby Indian boy with the question “Who is Guru Maharaj Ji”, which invited the inevitable response “Who gives a f*** who Guru Maharaj Ji is”. For some reason, only a few days ago, I was suddenly struck by a desire to find out what had happened to this guy. The core of the story is predictable – lavish lifestyles, disillusioned followers, organizational splits and vicious litigation. It turns out that he now goes under the name Prem Rawat and runs an outfit called Elan Vital.
Anyway, a day or two ago I was surfing channels when I saw an ad for this very same Prem Rawat. Obviously, this is a sign that the Zeitgeist is calling for people to be separated from their money. Since I have no desire to fund Prem Rawat’s lifestyle myself, it seems clear that I have been called to pass his message on to you, my readers.
I have only one request. Before handing over all your worldly possessions in return for inner peace, remember my humble role in putting your feet on the path of bliss and send me 10 per cent.