It is I think, comparatively rare for a senior political figure to describe equally senior members of their own party as “fruit loops” and “f…wits”, going on to observe that “They don’t know how crazy they look, because crazy people never do”.
But that was exactly the reaction to last Monday’s Four Corner’s program in which Liberal Party Senate Leader Nick Minchin and others went on camera to spout delusionist conspiracy theories of the type Kevin Rudd had pre-emptively denounced only two days previously (i guess he had an idea what was going to be on Four Corners). Minchin described the scientific consensus view that human activity is driving climate change as the result of a communist plot, saying
For the extreme Left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of deindustrialise the Western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the Left, and … they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.
This is, of course, standard stuff on the political right – I had a string of people pointing me to the latest silly talking point in which a British unfair dismissal case was supposed to prove that global warming is a religion – but it was a big mistake to say it on Four Corners.
The real problem though is that Nick Minchin is not, in the ordinary sense of the term, a fruit loop or f…wit. Rather, he is a sharp and effective political operator, who doesn’t worry much about ideas and therefore takes his beliefs from the environment in which he moves. In the current state of the right that means his ideas on climate change, like those of most of the people with whom he mixes, are deeply delusional. So thoroughly embedded are delusionist assumptions and information sources on the right that, within the given cultural milieu, any psychologically normal person must necessarily, in exactly the same way as any psychologically normal member of an isolated tribal culture would accept the standard myths of that culture. The delusionist message is propounded by a parallel-universe of “scientists” (a handful of whom have relevant scientific qualifications), think tanks and bloggers, and continually reinforced by the distribution of talking points like the unfair dismissal case mentioned above.
This is bad enough as applied to climate change, which is one of the big problems facing the world. But the problem goes far beyond this, extending, for example to economic policy issues. It is unsurprising that advocates of market liberalism would like to downplay the implications of the global financial crisis for the theoretical foundations of their position such as the efficient markets hypothesis, and it ought to be possible to make a case that the current crisis does not provide sufficient evidence to abandon the EMH. But, thanks to the rightwing talking points machine, no one much feels the need to make such a case. Instead we get absurd claims that the near-collapse of global capitalism was brought about by the Community Reinvestment Act, a minor piece of 1970s legislation aimed at ensuring fair access to bank loans for credit-worthy borrowers in poor neighborhoods. This claim, silly on its face, has been comprehensively refuted, but people I would otherwise regard as sensible continue to put it forward.
And of course, the talking points machine was seen in full force before and during the Iraq war. The lionization of someone like Arthur Chrenkoff, who argued throughout 2003, 2004 and 2005 that the view of events in Iraq presented by the mainstream media was excessively gloomy and pessimistic (!) and presented a “Good News from Iraq” to explain how well things were going, was a typical instance. Chrenkoff ended up working for Liberal Senator Brett Mason, who is, unsurprisingly a prominent climate delusionist.
The fact is that the political right, at least in the US and among those sections of Australian opinion that take their lead from the US, has become utterly unhinged from reality, to the point where anyone who relies on rightwing sources for information is bound to be deluded. Even where individual pieces of evidence may be factually correct, they are selected to support delusional claims such as those cited above, with the often overwhelming evidence to the contrary being disregarded.
This raises an interesting question for those of my readers inclined to conservative or libertarian views but disinclined to joining the fruit loops. How should such a person form their views on current issues. My answer is that the only option is to ignore entirely everything written on “their” side of the debate and confine attention to factual evidence presented by reputable official and scientific sources and to critical analysis of the arguments of the “left:. Perhaps if enough people did this, they would be able to form the nucleus of a body of thought which would reclaim the ground once occupied by sane conservatives. But, at present, there is no sign of this happening.