Postmodernism Gone Mad?

If people want to take issue with our contention that climate politics are prior to climate science, they are most welcome. They could, for example, argue that we are overstating the degree to which the politics is prior. We are unaware of any extant sociological accounts of science that deny any confounding effect of politics in the scientific endeavour. A good argument might be made, for instance, that science’s quality control measures of peer review, replication and the like are more effective than we credit when it comes to squeezing out messy humanity from the process, or that political and scientific institutions are better than we believe at appraising their own biases, fears and desires when commissioning, conducting and interpreting policy-relevant scientific research. But, as a general rule, that is not what happens.

Rather, we are accused of denying material reality, of attacking or disrespecting science… of postmodernism gone mad. Which is as funny as it is infuriating. Because to deny that climate politics is – to a greater or lesser degree – prior to climate science is as at odds with reality (and even the academic consensus) as the notion that the causal universe is merely a product of our collective imaginations. If we are wrong, it is only by degree. It’s an argument we would enjoy having. But it’s not going to happen when just to broach the subject is seen as a sign that we are anti-science. It is those writing us off as such who are wrong in absolute terms.

[Ben Pile at Climate Resistance]

“[W]e are accused of denying material reality, of attacking or disrespecting science… of postmodernism gone mad.”

I have highlighted the section in the above quote because it is also the substance of the modern liberal progressive critique of conservatism, as well as the modern scientific atheist critique of Christianity. The first time I saw an atheist attacking Christianity in this way I was quite surprised, since I was accustomed to seeing conservative Christians attack New Agers and liberal academics with this same charge. Whenever I observe that two “opposite” sides are making the same argument against each other, I conclude the following:

  1. This is a rhetorical move appealing to something more basic than either substantive claim; therefore, it is more believable to someone than the opposing claims are.
  2. The “opposing” parties are both scapegoating a third party that has less apparent credibility to the impartial observers, who probably don’t even know what the third viewpoint really is.
  3. The “opposing” parties would rather fight about something insubstantial than resolve a substantial point; in other words, they would rather fight than win, since they don’t really believe their own spin.
  4. Politics is absurd, and people who believe that “everything is political” and “ideas have consequences” are either ignorant clowns or manipulative liars.

Particularly when two types of positivists argue by accusing each other of subjectivism, relativism, or postmodernism, the game of push-me-pull-you undercuts both sides. A substantive argument does not consist in accusing each other of the same heresy; it consists in acknowledging common ground and debating the merits of the differences. Yet, many so-called opponents would rather fling monkey poop at each other than use rocket-propelled grenades, since their main motivation is fear of losing personal control. The last thing they would want to do is eliminate their opponent or the system itself; each wants most of all to use the existing system to compel their opponent to dance like a puppet. This is the essence of politics.

To Ben Pile’s main point about politics being prior to science, I would say that, as with the debates over evolution and atheism, the debate over climate change is primarily a political debate over who will control social resources. Since I don’t really care who controls the social resources involved in climate change and I am skeptical about the possibility of climate control, I don’t have any real stake in the debate. However, it is interesting to watch people do the same conditioned behaviors under different circumstances.

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