The tile of today’s post is the same as the new book by the National Association of Scholar’s Rachelle Peterson and Peter Wood, released yesterday and which can be downloaded by all and one. I’ll later review that book, but today a report on the NAS’s conference on the same topic held in the darkening shadow of the United Nations Tuesday. Your Roving Reporter was there.
Peter Wood is also President of the NAS and was master of ceremonies. Woods forte is the joke most subtle. He said the fight against rising ocean levels was foreseen by Hamlet (“…to take arms against a sea of troubles…”).
Anyway, Wood said the sustainability movement got started when college presidents were lured into signing the President’s Climate Commitment, a device which elites use to signal to other elites their devotion to all things progressive. This document is usually signed by college leaders in absence of any meddling from actual professors, who might damper ardors, particularly on matters scientific.
The American Enterprise Institute was represented by their boss, Arthur Brooks, who reminded us of Bach’s answer to the question “Why do you do write music?”. Bach said, “For the glory of God and the good of mankind.” Brooks also rightly said that since around 1970 the percent of folks living in abject, starvation-level poverty has declined by some 80% because of capitalism and adherence the rule of law. Yet, strangely, both principles are under attack.
His advice to fight the rising tide of progressivism was not to fight against things, but to fight for people. It was his opinion, shared by most of the room, that the Republicans never lost their minority mindset. That’s partly true, but it’s better to say that Republicans are the party of slightly smaller government.
Herb London, Chairman of the NAS, railed against sustainability’s “censorious passion”, its insistence on “ideological conformity”. He said that at one time (only the oldest of old timers will remember this) colleges sought to study Western culture, but that now their “purpose is to repudiate” that culture. This accounts for the “soft totalitarianism” found at colleges, strengthened by the “practice of consensus, which is really the avoidance of confrontation.”
He mentioned some universities have banned trays in student cafeterias or have otherwise annoyed them with other trivial save-the-earth actions. Why? To make students pay a “psychological sustainability tax.” Nudging students, the favorite buzz phrase, is thought superior to old-fashioned indoctrination.
Sp!ked magazine was there. Have you never see it? I recommend their Frank Furedi. Editor Neil Ross spoke. He said the magazine believes “Western Enlightenment ideals are worth standing up for.” Perhaps they are, but it’s those ideals that have caused (or are) progressivism, so it’s not clear what standing up for them would do.
Ross was also against nudging: “Leave students to make their own decisions.” Also good, to an extent. Students making their own decisions in ignorance, say in picking what to study, has not led to improvements in universities. Yet Ross was spot on when he said that those who would nudge think they can perfect the species through science. This is scientism.
Finally, the star of the show, because she was the main author, Rachelle Peterson. She emphasized “sustainability” had two meanings: “wise maintenance of a grand inheritance” or “desperate survival [in the face of looming apocalypse]”. Guess which ones colleges have chosen?
She said the endless elbows in the ribs policies were designed to produce “socially optimal behavior”. Colleges now have “eco reps” who have the job of “shaming students” into doing what elites want them to. That raging “eco-morality” produces inconvenience nobody disputes. But what’s less understood is that inconveniences are a “primary goal”. “Deprivation” is seen as a good.
Why? Sustainability, as has often been noticed, is a religion. It has, Peterson said, “abstention, fasts, purity rituals designed to cleanse guilt and to improve mortal rectitude.”
Through the so-called precautionary principle, which she called an “eco-themed Pascal’s wager”, the religion demands that we “minimize risks at all costs”. But this always and necessarily leads to “regulating or eliminating.”
I asked Peterson what were the main drivers of sustainability. Besides those mentioned, she thought identification with progressive social goals was the strongest incentive. This seems true because throwing a scientific fact, more matter how solid or how forcefully hurled, against an sustainability activist never leaves a mark. Good science bounces right off of them.