Can there be a sane honest rightwinger?

A few pieces of data from the past few days:

* US Republican views on evolution have shifted significantly in the past 4 years. In 2009, 54 per cent said Yes to the question “Did humans and other animals evolve over time”, and 39 per cent said No. In 2013, those numbers have shifted to 48 per cent No, 43 per cent Yes. Other evidence shows that college-educated Repubs are more likely to have crazy views on evolution, climate science and so on than less-educated Repubs.

* Globally, November 2013 was the hottest November on record. In Australia, 2013 has been the hottest year on record.

* (Via Harry Clarke) Abbott’s senior adviser Maurice Newman has a piece in the Oz blaming the carbon tax/price for the decline of Australian manufacturing

Looking at the last point first, anyone who understands economics can see that the decline of Aust manufacturing is primarily due to the same long run trends that have reduced agriculture to a tiny proportion of economic activity, and secondarily due to the overvaluation of the $A (relative to PPP), reflecting the mining boom and other factors. If Newman doesn’t know this, he should. Newman’s nonsense on this point illustrates something more fundamental. You can’t deny climate science without screwing up your understanding of economics and politics.

This observation is strengthened by the second point. Climate “sceptics” claim to prefer data to models. But in fact they will all explain this data away. The truth is that they are all (I mean this literally, and without exceptions[1]) religiously committed to a position that no evidence will shake.

The final point illustrates the processes that are making it impossible to be a sane, honest rightwinger. The numbers reflect two processes
(i) People with sane views are ceasing to identify as Republicans, while those with insane views are shifting to become Repubs
(ii) Committed Republicans are resolving cognitive dissonance by becoming creationists

The processes are slightly different in Australia, where creationism remains a fringe position. But how can the likes of Akerman, Blair, Bolt, Devine and Stutchbury continue to parrot the arguments of American creationists without at least assuming that creationism is a defensible viewpoint?

The final step in the argument is addressed to a hypothetical sane, honest rightwinger. How can anyone take your stated views seriously when you fail to acknowledge that most people who share them are either fools or liars?

fn1. To be more precise, I don’t give up hope that some rightwingers will give up the entire package – climate denial, rightwing economics and all. But outside a conversion experience of this kind, these people are impervious to evidence.

123 thoughts on “Can there be a sane honest rightwinger?

  1. Better still, the Oregon petition, signed by such luminaries as Geri Halliwell and Charles Darwin

    “Against that I recall someone getting up a petition or statement by some 30,000 scientists of all persuasions, some 9000 with doctorates”

    Given that we have faust, chrisl, and NH all in this thread, isn’t at least one of you embarrassed by the others, or does tribal loyalty work in comments threads just as it does in the rightwing commentariat?

  2. @klem

    Wrong? moi?

    I haven’t ever found this to be true when talking to people of your quality, but why do you this drive by ‘insulting’ or do you call it arguing?

    What does it achieve? Do you get a brief sense of pride that you have said something, anything? I just totally don’t know what you think I am wrong about. But interested to hear more.

  3. @Neil Hanrahan

    “Perhaps like JQ you are in want of any real understanding of right wingers or anyone indeed except those that you can classify as friend or enemy. Or if not “understanding” then “definition”.”

    Absolutely Neil. Please tell us how we can have a society in which you can live the selfish greedy discriminatory life you want without trampling all over people like me who don’t want to compete and be greedy and selfish and who likes people who are different.

    I like to give things away. I like to be kind. I’m not Christian but I think Jesus was a dude and he and Buddah said a whole lot more that was useful about how to live one’s life than the right has ever said.

    I keep asking for some information about how the right organises things so a good society – however defined – comes about. So tell us how the right does the social stuff upon which all the economics depends.

  4. And putting entirely to one side the utterly bogus character of the “Oregon Petition” it was created in 1997 — some years before the major assessment reports of the IPCC in the new millennium.

    So even, by contrast with what actually occurred, had the list been composed exclusively or mainly from people who were qualified by professional practice and familiarity with the most salient data to evaluate the proposition that anthropogenic releases to the atmosphere of CO2 were warming the planet, their evaluation could not have considered what has since been measured and established.

  5. @Julie Thomas

    I am beginning to suspect we are being unkind to Hanrahan J/QJ. His Honour’s posts are such a strange combination of appeals to his own worshipful (if unattested) authority, peremptory commands, bombast and nonsense that we may be missing one of of the funniest satires this blog has seen. Stephen Colbert eat your heart out.

  6. @Alan

    Perhaps the wimmin did all the ‘social’ stuff back in his day and it wasn’t a topic that a real white man would take seriously?

    lol Do you have an equally astute take on the comedic potential of the Faust character ?

  7. I believe I would be considered right wing within this blog. However, I believe in AGW. I am unsure on the impacts (and still open to ideas from both the left and right), and I am not convinced that the efforts to combat climate change to date have had any significant impact. Perhaps my right-wingedness is more economics based.

    It seems strange that religion and climate science are intwined in this post. There is certainly a religious like fervour on both sides of the arguments. It is a shame that those with different view points are considered “insane”, “fools” or “liars”. It seems far to generic to write off all ideas from the right in this manner. Without the right, where would all the moral/intellectual indignation be vented.

  8. @Faust
    Faust provides some excellent support for the ‘No’ answer to the question posed. Given that Faust is correct in those attributions it is difficult to see how these historical Tories would not be attacked and vilified by the current crop. I think that’s the point. Thanks Faust.

  9. @David

    However, I believe in AGW. I am unsure on the impacts (and still open to ideas from both the left and right), and I am not convinced that the efforts to combat climate change to date have had any significant impact.

    We are in agreement on your first point (AGW is a fact) and your last point (efforts to curb warming to date are not having significant impact – ie: CO2 etc.. are still rising).

    But on your middle point, I’d look to the science experts for information on the likely impacts, not people from “the left and right”. And the scientists say the impacts will be serious and damaging.

  10. @Megan
    Good point, I did not explain correctly. I was refering to the range of outcomes predicted as a result of climate change. And I would defintely look to scientists for the predictions. I do think it is balanced to admit that some of the climate change predictions have been inaccurate (not to discount the fact of AGW). The last decade of temps not moving as far as predicted would be my example of this.
    My real point was “no, not all right wing leaning individuals are fools, liars and insane”

  11. “Without the right, where would all the moral/intellectual indignation be vented.”

    We don’t need indignation, we need action. Unfortunately, the right has decided, for obscure cultural reasons to stand in the way of that.

    There is no symmetry here, any more than between public health experts and anti-vaxers

  12. @John Quiggin
    No more tongue in cheek than the title of the post Professor. I was refering to the nature of some of the comments in this post rather than a need for indignation. Not to discount the merits of anyone’s arguments above, just to reflect my interpretation of the tone of some of the comments.

    You cant really believe there are no “sane”, “honest” people with right wing ideals? If you are talking about extreme right wing then I can see your point. As much as extreme left wing seems insane / dishonest to me.

  13. @David

    “You cant really believe there are no “sane”, “honest” people with right wing ideals?”

    As is evident from the post, by “sane and honest” I mean, holding scientifically justified views on climate change (sane) and willing to publicly and consistently criticize those on the right of politics who reject science (honest).

    Can you name any such? If not, why are you so incredulous?

  14. @Patrickb

    Part of the Faustian problem is that re-inventing history is by no means a new trade for a certain kind of right-winger. I have a friend from the US who once assured me that the greatest president of the United States was Ronald Reagan. When i mentioned names like Washington, Lincoln, FDR he assured me their achievements were less than Reagan’s.

    Reagan himself constantly mentioned FDR as one of his heroes while trying to dismantle almost anything FDR had done. In 1944 the Republicans famously blamed the Democrats for the Great Depression, despite unbroken Republican presidencies from 1921 to 1933. Recently we saw them claiming that a minor federal program had created the Global Financial Crisis.

    Perhaps the most bizarre recent example is Rick Santorum:

    Mandela, he told Fox News within hours of the great man’s death, “was fighting against some great injustice. I would make the argument that we have a great injustice going on right now in this country with an ever-increasing size of government that is taking over and controlling people’s lives — and Obamacare is front and center in that.”

    ‘The good guys is always US’ is by means a new rightwing claim.

    Not all right-wingers reject the climate science. In a small number of countries, essentially Australia, the US and Canada, the political right has made rejecting climate science a litmus test of tribal loyalty.

    The same rhetorical and electoral techniques used to oppose smoking regulation and teaching the theory of evolution have been applied to climate science. Once you knock down one scientific pillar the next is easier and the one after even easier still. People like Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy are either dupes or environmental Manchurian candidates to these people.

  15. @John Quiggin
    I see, I was too literal in my interpretation of sanity & honesty. The title of the post would have lost its punch if it was “Are there any right wingers who hold scientifically justifiable positions on climate change and who consistently and publicly criticise those who reject this science?”

    I would have stated that I am right wing orientated while being both sane and honest. On reflection against your criteria, I do not publicly and consistently criticise those on the right who reject the science (not that I always agree with them). I seem to be more dishonest than I thought!

    Thanks for answering my questions all the same (honestly!). I am certainly up to having my right wing beliefs challenged!

  16. @Tom
    I (personally) dont believe the extreme right or left has much political power in Australia. Although the answer to this obviosuly depends on where you draw the “extreme line”

  17. @David

    Could you tell us where you draw the extreme line? Who would be an extreme right wing person without much power in your view?

  18. @david

    You cant really believe there are no “sane”, “honest” people with right wing ideals? If you are talking about extreme right wing then I can see your point. As much as extreme left wing seems insane / dishonest to me.

    I find the concept of “extreme” to be unhelpful in most settings and always when talking politics. In practice it’s a relative term rather than a quantifiable value, and usually marks a boundary specific to the user of the term rather than the object. Very few people — and typically not those sometimes described as “extreme” — accept the description, and some who do are boasting.

    In politics, it would be better to speak specifically of claims that one regards as untenable on one basis or another, rather than “poison the well” by labelling some unnamed folk as “extremists”. There are all manner of fundamentalists — some more usually aligned with the collectivist/communitarian approach to politics and some more typically bracketed with the individualist-parochial/private property paradigm.

    One ought to speak of the substantive and measurable in public policy rather than the impressionistic and visceral, if one wishes to be taken seriously.

  19. @Alan

    Alan, since it is the season of goodwill and appropriate magnanimity, can I humbly thank you for your various contributions to this blog, which draw on deep knowledge, well-written arguments and yes, inherent wisdom. People like me listen closely, reflect and learn a bit. Don’t leave town mate and, as this is not a mutual admiration society, you are not being asked to reciprocate!

  20. A Pew survey in the US in 2009 found:

    Most scientists identify as Democrats (55%), while 32% identify as independents and just 6% say they are Republicans. When the leanings of independents are considered, fully 81% identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, compared with 12% who either identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP.


  21. Thanks for the link Mel.

    The results don’t surprise me based on my observations over 35 years as a professional scientist/educator/administrator. (Disclosure: I’m a dual citizen, US resident, and registered Democrat)

    Scroll down the Pew survey on scientists to the section “Religious Belief and Affiliation.” Let me save typing and quote a few sentences from the findings: “Most Americans profess a belief in God (83%), and 82% are affiliated with a religious tradition. Scientists are different. Just a third (33%) say they believe in God, while 18% say they believe in a universal spirit or higher power and 41% say they don’t believe in either. Just less than half of the scientists interviewed (48%) say they have a religious affiliation, while as many (48%) say they are not affiliated with a religious tradition.” And this is in the US, a measurably more religious society than Australia.

    One thing that has puzzled me over my career is how some of my colleagues can espouse belief in a deity, while maintaining the evidence-based mindset of scientific inquiry. Such mental dissonance is astonishes me.

    Still, the take home message from the Pew survey is that (1) scientists are a very small group, (2) their beliefs and affiliations are at the fringe of mainstream society, and (3) [cynicism coming] therefore their views can be safely ignored by the folk in charge.

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