When Institutions Turn Against Individuals

These days, marxist theory is camouflaged as “Critical Theory”, AKA Critical Race Theory, Critical Gender Theory, etc. But the thrust remains the same:  every social identity and relationship is redefined as a power struggle between oppressor and oppressed.  Thus everything is politicized and civil society is reduced to a jungle where might makes right.  Those who seize cultural control of social and economic institutions imperil each individual’s inalienable right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Last month Peter Robinson conducted an Uncommon Knowledge interview with Jordan Peterson on the topic The Importance of Being Ethical.  The video link is below, followed by my transcription with light editing to produce from the captions a text for reading.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds. (PR is Peter Robinson, JP is Jordan Peterson)

PR:  If you’re the prime minister of Canada the man is a villain, but if you’re a conservative particularly a young conservative it’s very likely you think of him as a hero. Jordan Peterson on Uncommon Knowledge.

In 2016 the Trudeau government enacted legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the ground of “gender expression”. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto objected. In particular he flatly refused to use politically correct gender pronouns, said so in videos and went viral in 2017. He began a series of podcasts called the psychological significance of biblical stories that has been viewed by millions. In 2018 he published a book 12 rules for life an antidote to chaos that became an international bestseller. Last year he published another bestseller beyond order: 12 more rules for life, and then he resigned from the University of Toronto to devote himself to lectures and podcasts. Jordan Peterson welcome. The audience should know by the way that we’re filming today as part of the classical liberalism seminar at Stanford.

PR:  All right, question one: The February protest by Canadian truckers. They’re protesting covid restrictions; some of them block border crossings; some of them snarl the capital city of ottawa.
Here’s your quotation made in a message you taped for the protesters. “ I’d like to commend all of you for your diligence and work on accomplishing what you have under trying conditions, and also for keeping your heads in a way that’s been a model for the entire world.”

Now the clip of PM Trudeau speaking in parliament: “It has to stop. The people of Ottawa don’t deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods. They don’t deserve to be confronted with the inherent violence of a swastika flying on a street corner, or a confederate flag, or the insults and jeers just because they’re wearing a mask. That’s not who Canada, who Canadians are.”

So here’s the first question: How can discourse in a great democracy have become so polarized that Jordan Peterson and the Prime Minister look at exactly the same set of events and come to opposite conclusions about them.?

JP: Well he’s lying, and I’m not. So that’s a big part of the issue. I don’t believe that he ever says a word that’s true. From what I’ve been able to observe, it’s all stage acting. He’s crafted a persona. He has a particular instrumental goal in mind, and everything is subordinated to serve that.

What’s the motivation? It’s the same motivation that’s generally typical of people who are narcissistic, which is to be accredited with moral virtue in the absence of the work necessary to actually attain it.

Apart from playing a role, from you know the swastika thing is really just untrue about Canadians.  Really, we’re going to be worried about Nazis in Canada? First of all that just isn’t a thing in Canada; There isn’t a Nazi tradition, and i don’t know anyone in Canada who’s ever met anyone who’s met someone who was Canadian and who was a Nazi. So that’s just a non-starter

When that sort of thing gets dragged into the conversation right off the bat you know, “Canadians shouldn’t be subjected to the inherent violence of a swastika, ” first of all it’s not even obvious what that swastika was doing there. There’s reasonable evidence to suggest that the person who was waving it was either a plant, or someone who was making the comment about what was characteristic of the government. Now no one knows because the story around that event is messy, and it’s not like there were credible journalists who were going in there to investigate thoroughly. But to use that, and the confederate flag issue is exactly the same thing.

The story in Canada is that our Prime Minister implemented the emergencies act and so the question was why. So I went on twitter when this was trending and read at least 5000 twitter comments to try to get a sense of people who were supporting Trudeau in applying the emergencies act. I wanted to understand what do they believe is happening. As far as I can tell, and maybe I’m wrong, the story was that something like make america great again conservative republicans, the you know pretty far right., were attempting to destabilize Canadian democracy.

And so my question was, well what makes you think they care first of all about Canada and its democracy? And second, why in the world would they possibly do that? You need a motive for a crime like that. At the same time, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which is subsidized by the liberals to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars a year, the CBC was insisting that most of the money that the truckers raised was foreign financed. If it wasn’t the bloody Russians, then it was the American Conservatives. And so that all turned out to be a complete lie.

And so the line was, it’s republican right-wingers trying to destabilize Canadian democracy, except no one has an answer for what’s in it for them.

And then three days later, the emergency act was lifted. i thought, okay now what are they going to make of that? What could possibly be the rationale for that? And the rationale was that it just showed how effective he was. We had this coup ready to go that was financed by Americans apparently, and our prime minister acted so forthrightly that we only needed to be under the strictures of the emergency act for three days.

I don’t even know what sort of world exists in which those things are happening, and then why do Canadians buy this to the degree they do.

And I think they’re faced with a hard choice. Because in my country for 150 years you could trust the basic institutions. You could trust the government, it didn’t matter what political party was running it; you could trust the political parties right from the socialists over to the conservatives. The socialists were mostly union types and they were trying to give the working class a voice and honestly so. You could trust the the media, even the CBC was a reliable source of news. You know, none of that’s true now. And so Canadians are asked to make a hard choice in the truckers convoy situation. Either all your institutions are almost irretrievably corrupt, or the truckers were financed by like right-wing republican-americans. Well both of those are preposterous, so you might as well take the one that’s least disruptive to your entire sense of security. And I think that’s what Canadians mostly did.

PR:  Coming back to Canadian universities Jordan Peterson was quoted in the National Post this past march: “I had envisioned teaching and researching at the University of Toronto full-time until they had to haul my skeleton out of my office.” Instead you retired. Why?

JP:  Well it was impossible to go back. For a long time I couldn’t think clearly about what I should do on the professional front because I was ill. Later when I started to recover and looked at the situation, first of all there was just no going back because I’m too well known and too provocative I suppose. I’ve never really thought of myself as that, but it seems to have turned out that way. I couldn’t just return to the classroom.

And then there were other problems too. There’s no bloody way I’m writing a diversity, inclusivity and equity statement for a grant.

I can’t imagine the circumstances under which i would do that. And that’s become absolutely crucial now in Canada. Also increasingly in the US to get any sort of research grant you you have to write a diversity statement, and it has to be the right kind of statement. I read that the national sciences and engineering research councils frequently asked questions about how to prepare a diversity statement. And you couldn’t write a more reprehensible document from the ideological perspective if you set out with the intent purpose of writing a despicable document.

So there’s no way I could get funding for my research and then what bloody chance would my students have of being hired in an academic environment today? You know perfectly well those who sat on faculty hiring committees your basic decision right off the bat is: Okay who do we eliminate because you have way too many candidates? And so you’re searching for reasons to get rid of people. I’m don’t say this as a criticism, it’s just a reality. If there’s any whiff of scandal of any sort, well we have 10 other people we could look. Why would we bother with the trouble? So I just couldn’t see my students having any future.

Then I also thought: Well I can go lecture wherever I want, to whoever i want with virtually any size audience, with no restrictions whatsoever. Why go back to teaching a small class at university? I did like doing that, but all I could see were disadvantages. Plus it was impossible. Exactly what am I supposed to do when I meet a graduate student or a young professor hired on diversity grounds manifest instant skepticism? What a slap in the face!

The diversity ideology is no friend to peace and tolerance; it is absolutely and completely the enemy of competence and justice.

PR:  What happened? How did wokeness take over universities? University faculty poll after poll of party affiliation in this country, I’m sure it’s the same in Canada, shows the university faculty been to the left for a long time. But this wokeness is something new. What’s the transmission mechanism; what happened and how did it happen in a small number of years?

JP:  That’s a tough question. I’ve tried to put my finger on the essential elements of what you might describe as political correctness or wokeness and done that in a variety of ways. For example this is one student of mine undertook a quite promising line of research. The first thing we wanted to find out was: Is there really such a thing as political correctness or wokeness? Because it’s vague, can you identify it? And by that I mean psychometrically. Because for 40 years one of the things that psychologists have been wrestling with is construct validation. That’s the technical problem: How do you know when you put a concept forward whether it bears any relationship to some underlying reality? For example, is there such a thing as emotional intelligence? Is there such a thing as self-esteem? Or political correctness?

The proper answer is we don’t know, but there are ways of finding out. You need to find out if the construct assesses something that’s unique and does that in a manner separate from other similar constructs in a in a revealing and important way. There’s a whole theory of of methodology that should inform your efforts to answer such questions. So for example if you’re a clinician you might want to differentiate between depression and anxiety. Keeping the concepts separate is important so they have functional utility, but also accounting for the overlap because they’re both negative emotions. It’s part of epistemological mapping

So we asked a large number of people a very large number of political questions trying to oversample questions that had been put forward in the media and in the public sphere as indicative of politically correct beliefs. Then we did the appropriate statistical analysis to see if the questions hung together. They hang together if question a is politically correct, let’s say you answer it positively. And question b is politically correct and you answer it positively. If there’s a large correlation between those two questions then you think well they’re assessing something underlying that’s holding them together.

In this way we identified a set of beliefs that were observable or easily identifiable as politically correct. So yes, it exists.

The next question is: Where does it come from? We haven’t done empirical analysis of that, but I think if you’re reasonably familiar with the history of ideas you can see two streams, two broad streams of thought.

One is a postmodern stream that basically emerged out of literary criticism.

It’s predicated on what is actually a fundamental and a valid critique; which is that it’s very, very difficult to lay out a description of the world without that description being informed by some value structure. That’s at the core of what’s useful about the postmodern critique. I actually happen to believe that you look at the world through a structure of value.  Well then, what is the structure of value and also what do you mean by a structure value?

And that’s where the post-modernists went wrong,
and where I think our whole society went wrong.

Because the radical left types who were simultaneously postmodern turned to marxism to answer that question. They said, well we organize our perceptions as a consequence of the will to power. And I think that is an appalling doctrine. It’s technically incorrect for all sorts of reasons that we could get into. Partly the issue is: if power is my ability to compel you to do things against your own interest or in your own desire, maybe I can organize my social interactions on the basis of that willingness to express power. That’s a very unstable means of social organization.

So the notion is that it’s power that structures our relations,
but where’s your evidence for that?

There’s no evidence for that, it’s wrong; but that’s what we assumed and that’s what universities  teach by and large. It makes no sense to me that this thing that has raged through these great magnificent institutions, these universities that our grandparents and great grandparents sacrificed to give money to, these magnificent citadels of learning.  It makes no sense to me to suppose that english departments suddenly took over well unless they’re on to something. As I said before, I don’t think you can look at the world except through a structure of value. So why has literary criticism become so relevant and so powerful?

I believe that we see the world through a narrative framework. If that’s true, you need a mechanism to prioritize your attention because attention is a finite resource and it’s costly. So you have to prioritize it and there’s no difference between prioritizing your attention and imposing a value structure those are the same thing. The mechanisms that we use to prioritize our attention are stories, which means that the people who criticize our stories actually have way more power than you think. Because they’re actually criticizing the mechanism through which we look at the world.

So the post-modernist would say, you even look at the scientific world
through a value-laden lens. I think they’re right, yes you do,
but they’re wrong that the lens is one of power.

Now with a word like power, you can expand the borders of the word to encompass virtually any phenomena you want. And so that’s why I define power as my willingness to use compulsion on you or other people. Because power can be authority, power can be competence, but I don’t mean any of that. I mean power in the sense you don’t get to do what you want, you do what I tell you to do. This is power as coercion exactly. And I do think the marxist types view the willingness to use coercion as the driving force of human history. That’s really saying something, because that means it’s the fundamental motivation.

That’s a very caustic criticism, and it’s easy to put people back on their heels
about that,  as we are seeing with capitalists.

I’ve been stunned to see the CEOs of major corporations just roll over in front of these DEI activists. I wonder, what the hell’s wrong with you people? You’re not even making use of your privilege and you are not very powerful if you’re the CEO of a major corporation and you can’t even withstand some interns who have DEI ideology, which is not doing you a lot of good. So why would you produce a fifth column within your organization that’s completely opposed to the entire manner in which you do business and to the capitalist enterprise as such?

One answer would be, well we don’t think much about ideas. Well maybe you should. Or maybe you are cynical about it and say, well it’s just a gloss to keep the capitalist enterprise going while appearing to to meet the new demands of the new ethical reality. Which I think is also a bad argument.

But more importantly it’s that people are guilty and the the radicals who accuse us all historically and as individuals of being motivated
by nothing but the desire for power
strike a chord especially in people who are conscientious.

Because if you’re a conscientious person and someone comes to you, or a little mob of 30 people says, you can be a little more careful in what you say and do on the racist front and the sexist front etc. You’re likely to think, well I’m not perfect. I probably could be a little more careful. And no doubt people have been oppressed in the past and it’s also true that in some sense I’m the undeserving beneficiary of historical atrocity and so maybe I should look to myself.

That’s weaponization of guilt and it’s very effective and it’s not surprising. But it’s not helpful because there’s a resentment that drives this, a corrosive resentment that’s able to weaponize guilt and it’s very difficult for people to withstand it.

PR:  Earlier you talked about values and how we see the world through values so here’s a question.  If there’s no objective standard of reason outside and above ourselves, if everything is just matter how we think, how can we do science? What do you think of this from C.S. Lewis:  If I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, meaning all that exists is only what we can perceive through our senses, then not only can I not fit in religion, I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry in the long run on the meaningless flux of the atoms, how the thoughts of minds have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees?

JP:  Well that’s a complicated problem. First of all I don’t think science is possible outside of an encompassing judeo-christian ethic. For example, I don’t think you can be a scientist without believing as an axiom of faith that truth will set you free. In fact we don’t know the conditions under which science is possible and we tend to overestimate its epistemological potency. I mean you can stretch it back to the Greeks if you’re inclined, but in a formal sense it’s only been around for about five centuries, and it’s only thrived for a very short period of time. And it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that there were particular preconditions that made its rise and ascendancy possible. It is an historical phenomenon, yes it happened at a specific moment in time and for particular reasons.

One of the bunch of conditions is for example, there’s an intense insistence in the Christian tradition that the mind of god in some sense is knowable, and yes including the structure of the cosmos. And you have to believe that’s the case before you’re going to embark on a scientific endeavor. You have to believe that there’s some relationship between logos or logic. But logos is a much broader concept than logic, that’s for sure. You have to believe that there’s some relationship between that and the structure of the cosmos.

You have to believe that the pursuit of truth is in itself an ethical good,
because why would you bother otherwise.

You have to believe that there is such a thing as an ethical good and those are not scientific questions. Which is why i think the arguments of people like Hitchens and Dawkins are weak. People like that have a metaphysic which they don’t know and they assume that metaphysic is self-evidence. Well sorry guys, it’s actually not self-evident. And they assume that it can be derived from the observations of empirical reality and the answer to that is no. There’s going to be axioms of your perceptual system that aren’t derivable from the contents of your perceptual system.

And you might think, well that’s not very scientific and i would say you can take it up with Roger Penrose about say the role of consciousness and and the structure of consciousness. And it’s by no means obvious that the materialist reductionists have the correct theory about the nature of consciousness. And not surprisingly we don’t understand the relationship between consciousness and being at all.

You know these are hard hard questions. One hard question for consciousness researchers is: Why is there consciousness? Why aren’t we just unconscious mechanisms acting deterministically?  I don’t think that is the hardest question.

The really hard question is: What’s the relationship between consciousness and being itself?

Because I can’t understand what it means for something to be in the absence of some awareness of that being. There’s an awareness component implicit in the in the idea of being itself. Consciousness is integrally tied up with being in some mysterious manner and so I also don’t believe that the the most sophisticated scientists are by necessity reductionist materialists. It’s occam’s razor clear if you can reduce and account deterministically no problem. But don’t be thinking that accounts for everything because I don’t think there’s any evidence that it does.

PR:  From science to to politics to quotations. Jordan Peterson this is a tweet of just last month: Does anything other than the axiomatic acceptance of the divine value of the individual make slavery a self-evident rule, right? That’s a good one.  I’m going to put you in an august company.  Here’s G.K. Chesterton:  The declaration of independence bases all rights on the fact that god created all men equal.  There is no basis for democracy except in  the divine origin of man so these are very similar thoughts.

JP: I’ve been talking to my audience about what is the right to free speech and and how that might be conceptualized. Because you can think about it as a right among other rights, so it’s just one on a list of rights. And you can also think of rights as being granted to you in some sense by the social contract.

That is a different theory than the notion that rights originate in some underlying religious insistence of the divine value of the individual.

There’s a bunch of problems with the rights among other rights argument i don’t think free speech is a right among other rights. Speech has to be free because if it’s not free it’s not thought. So imagine if everything’s not going all right, you have problems, and you have to think about hard things. If you have a problem the thinking is going to be troublesome because you’re going to think things that upset yourself and upset other people. It’s part of the necessity, part of what will necessarily happen if you’re thinking.

PR:  You said something that just stopped me so completely cold that I missed some of what followed. To repeat: There is no difference between speech and thought; if you have free thought you must have free speech. That’s the argument.

JP: Yes. Well I’ll unpack that first and then return to the other. First of all, mostly you think in words now. People also think in images but I’m not going to go into that, we’ll just leave that aside. But mostly we think in words and so we use a mechanism that’s sociologically constructed– the world of speech to organize our own psyches. We do that with speech and basically when you think there’s two components to it that are internal. In a sense when you think you have a problem, you ask yourself a question and then answers appear in the theater of your imagination. They are generally verbal so that’d be like the revelatory element of thought. And that’s very much prayer in some fundamental sense.

It’s very mysterious the fact that you can pose yourself a question and then you can generate answers. So why did you have the question if you can generate the answers, if the answers are just there. Where do the answers come from? Well you can give a materialist account to some very limited degree, but phenomenologically it’s still the case that you pose a question to yourself in speech and you receive an answer in speech. Now it can also be an image but forget about that for this discussion.

The next question is what do you do once you receive the answer? The answer is, well, if you can think then you use internal speech to dissect the answer. This is what you do, for example, you encourage your students to do if they’re writing an essay. You know they lay out a proposition and then you hope they can take the proposition apart. Essentially in this way they’re transforming themselves into avatars, speaking avatars of two different viewpoints. So you have the speaker for the proposition and then you have the critic. Maybe you lay out the dialogue between them and that constitutes the body of the essay.

You have to be bloody sophisticated to manage that because it means that you have to divide yourself in some sense into two avatars that are oppositional. And then you have to allow yourself to be the battle space between them that. People have to be trained to do that. It’s what universities are supposed to do.

But it’s really hard; so instead of that, people generally talk to other people.
And that’s how they they organize themselves, by talking to other people.

So the additional reason you have the right to free speech, isn’t that you can just say whatever you want to gain a hedonistic advantage, which is one way of thinking about it. You have a right to say whatever you want like you have a right to do what you want, you know subject to certain limitations. It’s like it’s a hedonstic freedom. No, that’s not why you have a right free speech.

You have a right to free speech because the entirety of society depends
on this ability to adapt to the changing horizon of the future
on the free thought of the individuals who compose it.

It’s like a free market in some sense, a free market argument in relationship to thought. We have to compute this transforming horizon, and we do that well by consciously engaging with possibilities. Doing that is mediated through speech. So societies that are going to function over any reasonable amount of time have to leave their citizens alone to grapple stupidly with complexity. So that out of that stupid, fraught grappling that’s offensive and difficult and upsetting, we can grope towards the truth collectively. This before taking the steps to implement those truths, before they’ve been tested.  So that’s the free speech argument.

The divinity argument is while you are that locus of consciousness,
that’s what you are most fundamentally.

The reason that’s associated with divinity is a very very complicated question and part of the reason I outlined this in my biblical series on genesis. This divinity of the individuals rooted in the narrative conception is part and parcel of the judeo-christian tradition. You have god at the beginning of time in whose image men and women are made acting as the agent that transforms the chaos of potential into the habitable reality that is good. And he uses the word the divine word logos to do that, which implies that the word that’s truthful is the word that extracts habitable order out of chaos.

What characterizes human beings is that capability.

To those who don’t believe that, I say try acting another way, try basing your personal relationships on any other conception and see what happens. You know people are so desperate to be treated in that manner that it’s their primary motivation. You want other people to treat you as if you have something to say that you’re worth attending to. You have the opportunity to express yourself, no matter how badly you do it. And if they’re willing to grant you their attention and time to help you straighten that out, there isn’t anything you want more than that. If you try to structure your social relationships on any other basis then that respect for their intrinsic value, it’s going to fail.

PR:  We’ve talked about faculty and students. A couple of statistics: According to Gallup the proportion of Americans who claim no religious affiliation, among Americans–over 76 years old is just seven percent. 93 percent of the oldsters claim a religious affiliation. The youngest group that Gallup tested is Americans between 26 and 41–almost a third claim no religious affiliation.

Item two and I’m reasonably certain this is the same in Canada at least in eastern Canada, but certainly in the United States, poll after poll shows that young people are far more open to socialism, or to farther not just left of center but farther left political aims. They’re the ones who most fervently support this. By the way This is an inversion from the Reagan years in the 80s when the kids were more conservative than the older. That’s not the case now, add in my personal observation that during covid, during the lockdowns, personally almost more shocking than any other aspect was the supineness, the passivity of the kids. This despite it was established very very early that if you’re young you’re at no serious risk of this virus. You’ll get sick, perhaps it’ll be a flu, but you’re more likely to die in a car accident up to the age of 20 something than you are to die of covid. That was established right away and yet universities shut down and they made kids go on zoom to take exams or take their classes. I could detect no pushback. No kid was trying to diss the man; in general they were saying, Yes Master.

It’s like they were Igors to Dr Frankenstein. This is all really bad news.

After listening to you talk with such a sophistication for a while now, here’s the crude point, the crude suspicion I take away:

If you don’t have some notion of the transcendent; if you don’t have some notion of the divine, then you’ll believe any damn thing.

JP:  I think that’s right and that’s what the kids are doing. Dostoevsky commented on that: if there’s no god everything is permitted you know. And he did a lovely job of analyzing that in Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov. I do think it’s true that if you believe nothing, you’ll fall for anything.  People like to ask me if i believe in god, and i always think well, who are you to be asking that question? First of all you have some notion of what you mean by believe that you think is just accurate because you know what believe means. And so you have a prior theory about belief and now you’re asking me if my belief in god fits into your a prior theory.

How about we start by questioning your a priori theory of belief?

Because I don’t even know what you mean by believe, and neither do you especially when we’re asking a question that profound. You know, do you believe in god involves three mysteries there, and all three of those are subject to question. 

I think people act out what they believe. So when people ask me if I believe in god, generally I say that I act or try to act as if god exists. And they’re not very happy about that because they want me to abide by the rules, the implicit rules of their question. Which is, do you believe in the religious view as a pseudo-scientific description of the structure of reality? I don’t know how to answer that question because it’s so badly formulated i can’t get a handle on it.

Do you believe that there’s something divine? Well let’s try to define divine here, we can do that for for a moment. Most of us have some sense that literary stories differ in their depth. I don’t think that’s an unwarranted proposition: some stories are shallow and some stories are deep; some stories are ephemeral and some move you deeply, whatever that means. It’s a metaphor but we understand what it means. Imagine there are layers of literary depth and one way of conceptualizing the layers is that the deeper an idea is the more other ideas depend upon it.  So you have ideas that are fundamental because if you shake that idea, you shake all the ideas that depend on them.

And then I would say the realm of the divine is the realm of the most fundamental ideas.

That must be so because the alternative is to say well all ideas are equal in value. Okay well, try acting then and you can’t, because you can’t act unless you prioritize your beliefs. And if you prioritize them you arrange them into a hierarchy, and in that arrangement you accept the notion of depth. And so when we use language of the divine we’re talking about the deepest ideas.

And so I believe the notion that each individual is characterized by a consciousness that transforms the horizon of the future into the present.

That’s a divine idea–it’s so deep and our functional cultures are necessarily predicated on that idea. It’s not just a western idea since you can not have a functional culture that in some sense doesn’t instantiate that idea. Because you interfere with the mechanism of adaptation itself, by not allowing it free expression.

Suppose you are like my prime minister and you say, “Well I really admire the Chinese Communist Party, because when it comes to environmental issues they get things done.” So many things are wrong with that statement, it’s hard to know where to begin. It is the posture of an inexcusably narcissistic idiot. But we can start with the idea that, if you know what you’re doing and you have power, maybe you can be more efficient in your exercise of in your control over movement towards that goal. Fair enough but what about when you don’t know what you’re doing. Where then do you turn because it means your ideology failed you and you have no mechanism for operating when you don’t know what you’re doing.

The regime is based on believing we always know what we’re doing
because we’re totalitarian and we have a complete theory of everything.
And don’t say anything to the contrary or else.

In free societies, when we don’t know what we’re doing, we let people talk. And out of that babble, out of that noise, (American culture is particularly remarkable in this regard) you have this immense diversity of opinions. Most of them are completely useless and some are absolutely redemptive. As a Canadian observing your culture we see you guys veer off in weird directions fairly frequently and things look pretty unstable. And then there’s some glimmer of hope somewhere that bursts forward in in a whole new mode of adaptation and away you go again. And that just happens over and over and over as a consequence of real diversity.

It’s definitely a consequence of freedom of association and freedom of speech
because it enables all that expression of possibilities.

PR: Sure that’s optimistic and I always like to end a show on an up note. But first let me put a pin in the optimism balloon. You mentioned Trudeau and Trudeau’s admiration for the Chinese communist Party. Ray Dalio billionaire on china points out empires rise when they’re productive, financially sound, earning more than they spend and increasing assets faster than their liabilities. Objectively compare China in the US on these measures and the fundamentals clearly favor China” Jordan Peterson writing about communism in your introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the Gulag Archipelago:

“No political experiment has been tried so widely with so many disparate people in so many different countries and failed so absolutely and catastrophically.”

The question is: How much proof do we need and why do we still avert our eyes from the truth?  Why why do we still feel tempted. Dostoyevsky in the legend of the grand inquisitor has the grand inquisitor speaking to Christ and he says to Christ: You’re all wrong.  Receiving their bread from us the people will clearly see that we take the bread from them to give it back to them. And they will be only too glad to have it so long as we will deliver them from their greatest anxiety and torture: that of having to decide freely for themselves. Never was there anything more unbearable to the human race than personal freedom.”

What do you think:  Canada had a good run, the United States had a good run but sustaining free societies across the decades and across the generations is just too hard for human nature to bear.

JP: No you should not agree with that for two reasons. The first is that man does not live by bread alone so that’s the first rejoinder. And the second is regarding difficulty: the only thing more difficult than contending forthrightly with existence is failing to do so. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this isn’t difficult. What the western religious tradition has done, what religious traditions in general do to some degree, is to try to provide people with support from what’s divine in their incalculably difficult efforts to deal with the unknown. If you orient yourself ethically in the most fundamental sense, then in some sense you have the force of god on your side and then maybe you can prevail despite the difficulty.

I try to ask these questions seriously you know and I would also say that I’ve been driven to my religious beliefs such as it is by necessity not by desire. What do you want to have on your side when you’re contending with the unknowable future and it’s vagaries? How about truth? How about beauty? How about Justice? You want allies, those powerful allies that the university is supposed to be teaching young people

You need some allies for the pursuit of truth when the scientists are having their say. On the economic front, how about the free trade between autonomous individuals, the free trade of goods of value between autonomous individuals. That’s not such a bad thing to have on your side these eternal verities. They share something good in common as all good things. For all intents and purposes that’s god. You might say well i don’t believe in that. How is possible you don’t believe there’s any such thing as good, and don’t believe there’s any such thing as ultimate good. I’m not trying to make some ontological claim about an old man living in the sky, although i think that’s a lot more sophisticated concept than people generally realize.

My point is you do have a belief system whether you know it or not, a system of ethics whether you know it or not. There’s either something at the bottom that unifies it or it’s not unified. In which case means you’re aimless and hopeless and depressed and anxious and confused because those are the only other options. And maybe you don’t know what that unifying belief is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. It just means you don’t know what it is.

I can give you a couple of examples very very briefly. I already mentioned the story in genesis that associates god with the force process that generates habitable order out of chaos and attributes that nature in some sense to human beings. The next part in the story of adam and eve, god is what people walk with unself-consciously in the garden. So adam doesn’t because he’s now ashamed and he doesn’t walk with god anymore. So what is god? Well that’s what you walk with when you’re unself-conscious, so that’s an interesting idea. And then you have the god that manifests himself in the story of noah. That’s the intuition that hard times are coming and that you better get your house in order. If you have any sense, the nature of the intuition is a spirit that animates you. Well obviously because there you are acting and you’re acting out a pattern. it’s a spirit that animates you.  And then there’s the story of the tower of babel, what’s god there? Well god is that which you replace at your peril because everything will come tumbling down. That’s the tower of babel. It’s like  definitely if we put the wrong thing at the top, like Stalin for example then look out. We’ve done that a bunch of times in the 20th century.

I think you know Milton conceptualized Lucifer as something like the spirit of unbridled intellectual arrogance. Something like Lucifer is the light bringer and he is engaged in a conflict with god attempting to replace the divine and that’s pretty explicit in the story. That’s a poetic intuition of the of the battle between the secular intelligencia and the religious structure that’s milton’s pro-droma. He sees happening the intellect has become so arrogant that it will attempt to replace the divine and rule over hell. Well that’s the soviet union man; that’s Mao’s China— we know we’ve got our theory, it’s total, we’ve solved the problem and nothing’s going to change

Fair enough if you want to rule over hell and you think these societies are successful. Pretty odd definition of success as far as I’m concerned. If you want to be successful like china, you know that’s why it’s true that man does not live by bread alone. You know that a wealthy slave, that’s no life.

PR: I’m going to stumble along toward o setting up my last question. I’m thinking back to the 1970s.
Canada is part of this, but i know the American story better, and in the 1970s everything goes wrong.  Economic stagnation, loss of morale in this country because we lose in Vietnam. Watergate scandal.  We’re on the defensive as the soviets advance in Africa, Latin America. And then in the 1980’s,  we go  from 1979 with the national humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis and this Soviet  invasion of Afghanistan, and then 1989 one decade, just 10 years later, the Berlin wall comes down.

So the question here is: the loss of freedom of speech, the corruption of the universities, the rise of
china which is in all kinds of ways a more formidable opponent than the soviet union was. In all kinds of ways one could argue that we’re in a worse position now than we were in the 70s. Are you speaking to those few who have eyes to see and ears to hear? Do you believe that we are capable  to prompt another kind of restoration? Or is Jordan Peterson the fascinating eloquent compelling  champion of a lost cause?

JP: When I spent a lot of time at the various universities, I was associated with studying motivation for atrocity. Because i was very curious about that as a psychologist; not as a sociologist or an economist or a political scientist. If you’re an Auschwitz guard, what’s motivating you as an individual? I wanted to understand it well enough so I could understand how I could do that. Some say, well that sort of behavior is so far beyond the pale that it’s completely incomprehensible. It’s just a manifestation of say, intense psychopathy, and a normal person can’t even imagine it.

I think the evidence doesn’t really suggest that. Because it is not obvious that all the people involved in the Nazi movement for example were criminally pathological, that they were incomprehensible deviations from the norm. It’d be lovely to think that and it would make the world a lot simpler. But the evidence mostly suggests that you can get ordinary people to do that sort of thing, and maybe even to enjoy it. So that’s pretty bloody terrifying and so i tried to understand, and think i did to some degree. Without getting deep into it here, we can say a fair bit of it is a consequence of envy. It’s the spirit of Cain if you had to sum it up in a phrase.

But that isn’t the issue; rather the issue is how do you stop it from happening again? Because that’s what we’re supposed to be concentrating on. In the aftermath of the second world war, we said, “Never Forget.” That should mean something like, How about we don’t do this again? So my question was: how do we best go about ensuring we don’t walk down that road again? My conclusion was that it was fundamentally an issue of individual psychology, most fundamentally more than economics, more than sociology.

For all of that, the cure is individual people have to act
as ethically as they are powerful or else.

And so I’ve been trying to convince people to do that. I suppose not to convince them precisely, but to put forward an argument about why that’s necessary and why it’s on them. You have to understand this problem because if you don’t get it right, it isn’t gonna work. How you start is with what you have under control in your own life. Where else are you going to start but to look to yourself. Put your house in order, not to be worried about some other person walking the satanic path. That’s what activists do all the time. They’re protesting it’s you, it’s the corporations, like it’s someone else.  No, it’s you and I think also fundamental to the judeo-christian doctrine is that it’s you. it’s on you.

Redemption’s an individual matter and so my hope is that if enough people take themselves with enough seriousness, then we won’t end up in hell.

Because we certainly could, it’s a high probability. But I also don’t think that you can be motivated enough to put your house in order to the degree that’s necessary merely by being attracted, let’s say to the potential utopia that might emerge as a consequence of that. So that’d be a vision of heaven, let’s say you need also to also be terrified of hell. Just because you haven’t been there doesn’t mean there’s no such thing. You have to be pretty bloody naive to think there’s no such thing, how much evidence do you need?  It comes about at least in partial consequence of the sins of men.

PR: What about incoming freshman next year at University of Toronto or Stanford University, 18 year old kids coming into all this, we’ve been through three years of covid. I won’t rehearse it all in one sentence.   What would you say to them as they begin university at the age of 18 or 19?  What’s the restorative, redemptive sentence?  What should they do?

JP: What should they do is: Don’t be thinking your ambition is corrupt. Because that’s part of the message now: we human beings are a cancer on the planet. We’re headed for an environmental apocalypse. The entire historical structure is nothing but atrocity. etc etc. Anyone with any ethical
aim whatsoever is just going to pull back; you don’t want to manifest any ambition, support the patriarchal structure, exploit the environment. You’re supposed to crush yourself down, you shouldn’t even have any children.

There’s no excuse for that there’s zero excuse for that I saw a professor at an event something like this who came out and trumpeted this bloody environmentally friendly house he built. Fair enough, it was a pretty interesting house. But not everybody had the four million dollars that that it took him to build it. I’m not criticizing his money, good for him he built a house, okay. But then to trumpet that as a moral virtue well you’re pushing it there. Then he came out to all the kids and he said my wife and i decided that we’re only going to have one child. I think that’s one of the most ethical things we could have possibly done and I would strongly encourage you to do the same.

I thought, you son of a . . . , you get up in front of these young people, a lot of these kids children of first generation immigrants from china, and he showed all these images of these terrible factories in China, these endless rows of sterile mechanism that were subordinating all the chinese people to this terrible capitalist machine. And I thought you don’t understand half the audience is looking at those factories and thinking that’s a hell of a lot better than struggling through the mud under Mao buddy.

I don’t know where he thought he was but to come out in front of all those kids and basically tell them that the whole human enterprise is so goddamn corrupt that the best thing they could possibly do is limit their multiplication, and to think of himself as a scholar and an educator. I did say something, by the way it was rather uncomfortable and he stomped off the stage. But that’s no message for young people: that’s no there’s no excuse for that.

You think we’re going to destroy the planet, so we have to do this:
we have to demoralize the youth to be ethical

I’m passionate about this because you have no idea how many people that’s killing. I see people everywhere all over the world they’re so demoralized especially young people especially young people with a conscience, because they’ve been told since they were little that there’s nothing to them but corruption and power. How the hell do you expect them to react? You know they will say. OK, I shouldn’t do anything.

So I go around and say to people: Look there’s not only more to you than you know there’s more to you than you can imagine. You have an ethical responsibility to act in that light. You might claim not to believe that, but i would say your whole culture is predicated on that belief. Insofar as you are an active member of that culture and a believer in its structure, then you believe it. You might not be very good at  believing it, you might be full of conflict and doubt, and you might not be able to articulate it. But it’s still right at the bedrock of your culture: this notion of what the divine sovereign individual is. Your culture is predicated on that idea the logos is inherent in each person.

I’ve never seen a credible argument made to show that it’s anything other than that. You can say, well rights are attributed to you by the state. Sorry that’s a weak argument, because the state’s dependent on your actions. In effect you are believing that the state is the entity, and that individuals are just subordinate in some fundamental sense to the state. No, the state is dependent on the individual to exactly the same degree. So we’re the active agent of the state in some sense we are the seeing eye of the state, the speaking mouth of the state, because the state’s dead without the individuals that compose it.

Resources:

Jordan Peterson’s Critical Analysis of Marxist Theory, synopsis at Why Marxism Always Fails

Five part series of posts on themes from Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, beginning with Cosmic Dichotomy: Peterson’s Pearls (1)

 

 

DOJ Office of Environmental Justice: What’s Wrong?

I can think of five major things wrong with this initiative  But first the announcement news from various sources:

AG Garland:  “Consistent with the President’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, we are issuing a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy,” Garland said. “I am pleased to announce that we are launching the Justice Department’s first-ever Office of Environmental Justice to oversee and help guide the Justice Department’s wide-ranging environmental justice efforts. Like all parts of government, it will get its own acronym: OEJ.”

On Thursday, Garland said the department will prioritize cases that create the greatest impact on communities “most overburdened by environmental harm.”

“Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change,” Garland said.

According to The Hill, the Office of Environmental Justice will work with “communities that have been the victims of environmental crimes and requires all 93 U.S. attorneys across the country to designate an environmental justice coordinator to find ‘areas of concern’ in their communities.”

Since taking office, President Biden has launched the “Justice40” initiative, which aims to provide 40% of the benefits of government climate and clean energy investments to “historically disadvantaged communities.”  

What’s wrong with this?  Let’s count five ways.

Distracts from More Pressing Priorities

How about stopping the flood of illegal immigration through the wide-open border controlled by drug cartels?
What about reducing the worst rates of crime in US cities since the 1990s?
Shouldn’t DOJ focus on ending the cruel and unusual punishment of people expressing their free speech rights on January 6, 2020?

Just three examples of widespread injustices ignored or exacerbated by this DOJ.  We could add treating parents of school children as “domestic terrorists”.  Also firing workers and discharging soldiers for their vaccine status.  And so on, and so on.

Actually Enforcing Existing Laws Solves the Stated Problem 

Garland:  “Although violations of our environmental laws can happen anywhere, communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of the harm caused by environmental crime, pollution, and climate change”

Garland’s remarks represent contemptible propaganda. As if smog and air pollution are wafting through cities, only affecting citizens with darker skin pigmentation. And, as if the communities referenced by Garland aren’t interspersed with other groups, at all, living exclusively in homogeneous neighborhoods. Such total nonsense and rubbish.

Every state already has an environmental state protection agency and access to the EPA. Anyone who finds or thinks they have discovered an environmental problem, can call these agencies, and the agencies will send some one to investigate. Currently the EPA investigates & gives evidence to the U.S. Attorneys Office in their District. It is examined & determined if there is enough evidence for a case to be brought against the individuals involved.

If what he says about “anywhere” is true, how about just enforcing the existing laws, with the existing agencies and offices, and without the expansion, expense, and bloat that he proposes? Such enforcement would, by its nature, address these problems in minority communities in proportion to their spatial distribution and criticality.

I have absolutely no idea what this new agency will do, except using more taxpayer money to fund it. What I suspect is that they’ll give more money to low income areas, for what exactly, will never be explained.

Covers for an Agenda to Cancel Climatist Dissenters

A naïve person might think is that this would “merely” be some kind of ecological jihad against “dirty” things like power lines, gas lines, and other things that prop up the modern world and keep America’s economy humming. But of course this is thinking too small,  underestimating the awfulness Garland and minions have in store for us.

So instead we have another paean to Gaia with the old “Climate Change” nonsense, thus bringing the DOJ into obviously redistributionist grounds, and turf that you’d expect would be the purview of the EPA. Because what we really needed in Current Year with political prisoners from Jan 6th still rotting away is yet another batch of heretics to harass and disappear.

There is no coherent definition of “environmental justice”. That is deliberate. It provides a means by which the government can act against any citizen for any reason it wants. It is the establishment of yet another department of the American Stasi, just like biden’s ministry of “truth”.

WOTUS (Waters of the US) EPA rule is still murky after all these years. And what, pray tell, is the definition of “environmental crime” and “environmental justice”, what is the legal and judicial rationale for establishing such an agency and why is such a redundant agency an imperative now when no such need has ever been identified and implemented before?

Be warned, ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards for corporations are being developed as we speak. They are being worked on internationally and created out of thin air. The DOJ and our government will beat us all – organizations and individuals – into submission with this.

Turns a Blind Eye to Real Environmental Degradation by Wind and Solar Farms

I am assuming the penalty for killing a tree will be harsher then the penalties for robbery and assault by Dem AGs. So will hunting and fishing be listed as crimes against the environment. Things just keep getting more and more weird. I hope the silent majority is paying attention and votes like their life depends on it this November.

Even if wind power curbs CO2 emissions, wind installations injure, maim, and kill hundreds of thousands of birds each year in clear violation of federal law. Any marginal reduction in emissions comes at the expense of protected bird species, including bald and golden eagles

To put this in perspective, powering the entire nation with wind and solar would require over 42 million acres — 18 times the size of Yellowstone National Park! This is at least 10 times the land footprint of our current energy system. The environmental destruction this effort would cause cannot be overstated.

But wait, there’s more! Both wind and solar generation also require massive amounts of elements like lithium, cobalt, and neodymium that are difficult and environmentally hazardous to mine. The tales of rare earth mines leaving behind lakes of toxic sludge in China and children as young as four mining cobalt in the Congo are chilling.

Unfortunately, most wind turbines and solar panels are expected to last only 20 to 30 years, and recycling them is still prohibitively expensive. A recent study estimates a whopping 8 million tons of solar panels will be sent to landfills by 2030, ballooning to 80 million tons by 2050. If renewable energy use grows at the projected scale, solar panels alone will represent 10% of global electronic waste — potentially leaching toxic chemicals all the while.

Another Excuse to Expand Governmental Social Control and Bureaucracy

This new office is nothing but wasting more money of the taxpayer. It appears Biden is creating more government jobs for his democrat friends.

But the real danger of an “environmental justice” office is, as with anything having to do with the enforcement of environmental laws, the government’s tendency to wildly overregulate with no means for private citizens or companies to correct the overreach.  It won’t be long before we’re writing about some OEJ idiocy that demonstrates why fanatics and ideologues should never be put in any position where they can exercise power.

With an Office for Environmental Justice, we are one step closer to a chinese-style social credit system. This is worse the the Ministry Of Truth down the street at Homeland Security because they can sue. 

Time Mag: Down With Free Speech!

Jonathan Turley writes at his blog Time Columnist Denounces Free Speech as a White Man’s “Obsession”.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.  H/T Tyler Durden

It has become depressingly common to read unrelenting attacks on free speech in the Washington Post and other newspapers. The anti-free speech movement has been embraced by Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, as well as academics who now claim “China was right” on censorship. However, a Time magazine column by national correspondent Charlotte Alter was still shocking in how mainstream anti-free speech views have become. Alter denounces free speech as basically a white man’s “obsession.”

What is most striking about the column is Alter’s apparent confusion over why anyone like Musk would even care about the free speech of others. She suggests that Musk is actually immoral for spending money to restore free speech rather than on social welfare or justice issues.  She suggests that supporting free speech is some disgusting extravagance like buying Fabergé eggs.

In arguing in favor of censorship, Alter engages in a heavy use of historical revisionism, claiming that

“‘free speech’ in the 21st century means something very different than it did in the 18th, when the Founders enshrined it in the Constitution. The right to say what you want without being imprisoned is not the same as the right to broadcast disinformation to millions of people on a corporate platform. This nuance seems to be lost on some techno-wizards who see any restriction as the enemy of innovation.”

It is also lost on me.

Alter is confusing free speech values with the rationale for the First Amendment. For years, anti-free-speech figures have dismissed free speech objections to social media censorship by stressing that the First Amendment applies only to the government, not private companies. The distinction was always a dishonest effort to evade the implications of speech controls, whether implemented by the government or corporations.

The First Amendment was never the exclusive definition of free speech. Free speech is viewed by many of us as a human right; the First Amendment only deals with one source for limiting it. Free speech can be undermined by private corporations as well as government agencies.

This threat is even greater when politicians openly use corporations to achieve indirectly what they cannot achieve directly.

Key free speech figures practiced what they preached in challenging friends and foes alike. After playing a critical role with our independence, Thomas Paine did nothing but irritate the Framers with his words, including John Adams, who called him a “crapulous mass.”

Yet, free speech was a defining value for the framers (despite Adams’ later attacks on the right). It was viewed as the very growth plate of democracy. As Benjamin Franklin stated in a letter on July 9, 1722: “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”

The same anti-free speech voices were heard back then as citizens were told to fear free speech. It was viewed as a Siren’s call for tyranny. Franklin stated:

“In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech; a thing terrible to publick traytors.”

Yet, Alter assures readers that this is just due to a lack of knowledge by Musk and a misunderstanding of why censorship is a natural and good thing:

“Tech titans often have a different understanding of speech than the rest of the world because most trained as engineers, not as writers or readers, and a lack of a humanities education might make them less attuned to the social and political nuances of speech.”

It appears that Alter’s humanities education in college allows her to see “nuances” that escape the rest of us, including some of us who are not “trained as engineers.”

Just for the record, Alter has a degree in English Language and Literature/Letters (Harvard). Musk has his undergraduate degrees not in engineering but a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics and a Bachelor of Science degree in economics (both from the University of Pennsylvania). None of these degrees bestow any basis for claiming superior knowledge of constitutional law or human rights.

Indeed, no degree offers such determinative authority.

Some of the most anti-free speech figures in our history have law degrees. A degree guarantees neither wisdom nor understanding. Many of the Framers were not legally trained but they had an innate sense and commitment to free speech.

James Madison warned us to be more on guard against such nuanced arguments: “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

As Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other media outlets align themselves with the anti-free speech movement, it is more important than ever for citizens to fight for this essential right.

There is nothing nuanced in either this movement or its implications for this country.

 

 

 

FERC Aims to Decarbonize, Shoots Down Energy Security

Marlo Lewis explains the Biden regime push to undermine critical energy supply in pursuit of climate virtue in his CEI article Why FERC’s Greenhouse Gas Regulatory Policy Cannot Pass a Cost-Benefit Test.  Excerpt in italics with my bolds.

Today, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed comments on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) proposal to consider climate change impacts in reviews of infrastructure projects under the Natural Gas Act (NGA). The comments were jointly submitted by my CEI colleague Patrick Michaels; Heritage Foundation Chief Statistician, Data Scientist, and Senior Research Fellow Kevin Dayaratna (commenting as an independent scholar rather than as a representative of any organization); and yours truly.

We submitted comments back in January on FERC’s November 2021 technical conference on the same issues. We advised FERC to steer clear of climate policy, for three main reasons.

1.  Decarbonizing Goals Conflict with Natural Gas Act Purpose

First, the Biden administration’s NetZero agenda to decarbonize and degasify the U.S. electric power sector cannot lawfully be aligned with the Natural Gas Act. Biden’s goals conflict with the NGA’s “principal purpose,” which is to:

 “encourage the orderly development of plentiful supplies
of electricity and natural gas at reasonable prices.”

In addition, climate change is not a factor Congress authorized FERC to consider. The words “climate,” “carbon,” “greenhouse,” “global,” “warming,” “mitigate,” or any of their cognates do not occur in the Act.

2.  Infrastructure Emissions Do Not Threaten the Environment

Second, although the direct and indirect emissions of natural gas infrastructure may be “reasonably foreseeable,” the climate effects are not. FERC’s project reviews are governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires scrutiny of major federal actions “significantly affecting the human environment.” Even the emissions of the largest natural gas projects are too small to discernibly affect global climate, and no project’s “carbon footprint” is big enough to influence the fate or fortunes of any community, business, or human being anywhere in the world.

3.  Social Cost of Carbon Is Speculative and Subjective

Third, the social cost of carbon (SCC)—an estimate of the present value of the cumulative climate damages of an incremental ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—is too speculative and subjective, and too easily manipulated for political purposes, to be weighed in the same scales with an infrastructure project’s estimated economic benefits. The Biden administration’s SCC estimates are egregiously biased in favor of climate alarm and regulatory ambition, rendering any agency action that relies on them arbitrary and capricious.

Unsurprisingly, FERC did not take our advice, and proceeded in February to adopt an “interim” policy statement on NGA project review and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That stirred up controversy, including pushback by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY). As a result, FERC in March demoted its GHG policy statement from “interim” to “draft,” and extended the comment period until today, April 25.

Unlike several presenters at FERC’s November 2021 technical conference, the draft GHG policy statement does not advocate requiring SCC analysis in NGA determinations of public convenience and necessity. Neither, however, does FERC disavow an intent to require it in later policy statements. The Commission may simply be waiting for the Biden administration’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) to finalize its interim SCC estimates, or for courts to resolve Louisiana’s challenge to federal agencies’ use of those metrics.

The Commission’s draft GHG policy statement establishes a “rebuttable presumption that proposed projects with 100,000 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) emissions will be deemed to have a significant impact on climate change.” FERC also implies that it may condition project approval on the sponsor’s plans to “mitigate all or a portion of the project’s climate change impacts.”

The camel’s nose is already under the tent.

It is not hard to guess where this is going if FERC does not quickly reverse course. The usual suspects will pressure the Commission to:

(1) progressively lower climate significance thresholds,
(2) monetize undetectably small project-related climate “impacts” using agenda-driven SCC estimates, and
(3) either reject needed natural gas infrastructure projects outright or impose mitigation requirements that render them uneconomic.

This is bad policy, as Michaels, Dayaratna, and I explained in our January 7 comments. If an infrastructure project is commercially viable and helps ensure plentiful supplies of electricity and natural gas at reasonable prices (the NGA’s principal purpose), the Commission knows in advance that the project’s economic benefits far exceed its climate-related externalities. Therefore, no further investigation of the project’s GHG emissions is required, nor does it make sense to condition the certificate of public convenience and necessity on the project’s adoption of mitigation measures.

Conclusion

New research by Dayaratna (hereafter “Heritage analysis”) further confirms that conclusion. Using the U.S. government’s leading energy and climate policy models, the Heritage analysis demonstrates that banning construction of new U.S. pipelines would have a negligible effect on U.S. annual CO2 emissions through 2050 and, thus, a similarly negligible effect on global temperatures through 2100. The policy implication for FERC is clear. No level of overregulation or prohibition that regulators might apply to the development of U.S. natural gas pipelines could meaningfully affect the Earth’s climate.

Consequently, no regulation or prohibition of new natural gas pipelines could possibly be worth the economic losses imposed on construction companies, natural gas producers, and energy consumers.

See Also Seeking Climate and Energy Security

Elitist Lies About Inflation

The editors at Issues and Insights reveal false and misleading statements by a leading elitist spokesperson, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.  The article is  See If You Can Follow Yellen’s Bouncing Inflation Ball.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said over the weekend that we’re going to have to “put up with inflation for a while longer,” which means that she has now held just about every possible — and almost always wrong — position on an issue about which she is supposedly an expert. Is it any wonder nobody trusts elites anymore?

Yellen was on CNBC over the weekend and, when asked whether inflation had peaked, said:

“Well, it may have peaked, but … I think the shocks emanating from this unjustified attack on Ukraine will prolong inflationary pressures. So, the outlook is uncertain. As you know, the Fed is taking steps to bring inflation down, but I think we will have to put up with high inflation for a while longer.”

Let’s leave aside Yellen’s dubious claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had any meaningful impact on inflation. Why would it? Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which was far more disruptive to the global oil market, bumped oil prices up for a short period but had no broader inflationary effect.

The Putin-is-to-blame for skyrocketing prices is one of team Biden’s big lies
meant to deflect blame. But the press never calls them on it.

No, what’s really troubling is the fact that Biden’s Treasury secretary has been so utterly clueless about inflation since joining his cabinet.

Let’s look at what Yellen has claimed about inflation since early last year and the actual results. The chart shows what inflation was doing when she made these statements.

  1. February 2021: “I’ve spent many years studying inflation and worrying about inflation, and I can tell you, we have the tools to deal with that risk if it materializes.”
  2. March 2021: “I don’t think it’s a significant risk. And if it materializes, we’ll certainly monitor for it, but we have tools to address it.”
  3. May 2021: “I don’t think there’s going to be an inflationary problem, but if there is, the Fed can be counted on.”
  4. June 2021: “Supply bottlenecks have developed that have caused inflation. I believe that they’re transitory, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go away over the next several months.”
  5. October 2021: “I don’t think we’re about to lose control of inflation.
  6. November 2021: “If we want to get inflation down, I think continuing to make progress against the pandemic is the most important thing we can do.”
  7. January 2022: “If we’re successful in controlling the pandemic, I expect inflation to diminish over the course of the year and hopefully revert to normal levels by the end of the year around 2%.”
  8. February 2022: “I think people heard ‘transitory,’ and to them it meant a couple of months. Maybe a better word could have been chosen.”
  9. March 2022: “We’re likely to see another year in which 12-month inflation numbers remain very uncomfortably high.”

Keep in mind who we are talking about here. Yellen has a sterling resume. A doctorate in economics from Yale. Professorships at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. On the faculty of the London School of Economics. President of the Western Economic Association and vice president of the American Economic Association. Head of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Bill Clinton. President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

So how in the world can her pronouncements about inflation under President Joe Biden be as reliable as the weather forecast? Is her understanding of economics tainted by liberal ideology? Is she just doing the bidding of an incompetent and desperate Biden administration?

Does it matter? Yellen is a shining example of why so many in this country
feel betrayed by the people who claim lordship over them.

 

 

 

Seeking Climate and Energy Security

Europe at night from space NASA 2016

News is out that US Senators are meeting in search of (using Sen. Joe Manchin’s words)  “a bipartisan climate and energy security package.” . . .  “It’s urgent to find out if there is a pathway.”

The principals should attend to Dieter Helm’s expert March 2022 analysis of Climate and Energy Security entitled Energy policy  Some excerpts are below in italics with my bolds, suggesting the thrust of his wisdom in this regard.

Introduction

Energy policy is not rocket science. It is about achieving core objectives – security of supply and decarbonisation – and achieving them at the lowest cost. Neither will be met by purely private markets, since the former is a public good and carbon is an externality not properly integrated in competitive markets. Furthermore, energy is a primary good for citizens: not to have energy deprives people and businesses from access to the wider economy and to society. It is a core USO: a Universal Service Obligation. That is why energy cannot be treated like any other commodity, as some of the architects of the “privatisation, liberalisation and competition” paradigm believed. Citizens are more than just consumers.

Security of supply requires a capacity margin: “just in case” rather than “just in time”. Decarbonisation requires more renewables, possibly nuclear, and maybe hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and an active demand side. Security of supply sits in this decarbonisation context, and because many of the options on the generation side are intermittent, security of supply takes on a much more demanding dimension – not just the old question of access to fuels and power, but the ability to handle large-scale intermittency.

The Policy Mess We Are In

This pressure to “do something” is most intense in a “crisis”, and what is happening right now is a classic example. Lots of interventions currently being proposed by all the lobbyists are likely to make things worse.

Complexity is a lobbyist’s utopia. Engaged in each consultation, clear about the single aims of its vested interest, able to engage in each and every consultation, able to brief MPs, the media and the ministers, and sow doubt where interests are threatened, it is no wonder that the energy sector is now close to resembling that of agriculture, captured by the core interests. Spending (and it is very large-scale spending) on lobbying keeps going up as the government is more and more engaged in the details of all the main contracts.

These lobby interests have been very successful in getting subsidies and convincing government that the transition to net zero is going to be cheap (just not yet), and that there is no threat to security. Just go for net zero, they argue – on a territorial carbon production basis – sign up for lots and lots of targets and then, once the fish is hooked, play in the threat of failures and hence the case for more and more subsidies. (If it was all so cheap, we could of course abolish the subsidies – but no vested interest is demanding the end to subsidies.)

The facts –not only that decarbonisation is essential, but it is going to cost a lot – remain, and they are increasingly emerging. Each time they do, the lobbyists turn to the Treasury and ask the taxpayer to bail them out.

At its simplest, the government has been pursuing decarbonisation without addressing in parallel the security of supply implications. The failures are multiple. It is not just the gas price and the collapse of suppliers; it is also about the balancing market, and the distribution companies.

Behind all of these is the lack of a coherent market design
fit for the decarbonising purposes.

Exposure to the spot markets, with no storage and no special relationship to North Sea producers, is only one reason why the gas price increases hit the UK particularly hard. A second reason is that the UK has built a lot of intermittent wind capacity without thinking through how to manage the intermittency. In the UK (for good reasons) there is very little coal generation capacity left – except DRAX. For all the hype about batteries and smart demand management, the fact is that gas (and small diesel generators) is almost all that is currently left to do the heavy lifting.

In a renewables energy system, there needs to be a lot more capacity
to meet any given demand.

In theory, if there was no wind, then there would need to be another complete system to be on standby. As demand keeps going down – in part because of de-industrialisation (industry demand is down 20% since 2000) – capacity has been going up towards the 100GW mark, an increased requirement of over 20GW for a significantly lower total demand. It will need to go up a lot more with 40GW of offshore wind as planned. It seems to have escaped the notice of all those projecting that the costs of the transition would be very low, and claiming that renewables are cost-competitive with fossil fuels, that all this capacity has to earn a reasonable rate of return. It is a cost of renewables.

Needing the gas capacity is only one dimension of the problem. The other is how to deliver it, given that the wind has a marginal cost close to zero. Whereas a conventional gas power station could rely on running most of the time when first built, now it is itself intermittent, depending on whether the wind is blowing. This breaks the conventional back of the economics of gas investment. Hence there is no merchant gas investment. Gas shifts from being driven by a normal wholesale market towards a strategic reserve of capacity. The market design has not caught up with this. Gas now needs a capacity payment to make its reasonable return, and hence a capacity contract, which only the government can underpin.

Back to Basics

The very concept of a competitive retail energy supply market cuts across the basic idea that energy is a USO. Some think that goes beyond the pure commodity to an essential service necessary for a citizen to participate in society. Without electricity and gas, citizens can die of hyperthermia (quite a lot do each winter), they cannot access the internet, phones may not work, and the freezer thaws out. Any decent society recognises that energy cannot be simply about price, supply and demand. Yet that is precisely what the architects of the privatisation and liberalisation paradigm thought they were doing. The current crisis is not just about whether people can or will pay: it is also about all those voluntary actions to stop using the heating and the electricity, with all the consequences for the poor that this implies. Paying the electricity bill can be a trade-off with food.

The supply market is now broken, and it is unlikely that many customers will now want to switch – especially amongst the poorer ones. The government has had to step in to bail out Bulb. All electricity customers are now going to pay more than £60 each in their bills to pick up the tab for the costs of sorting out all the company failures. We have come full circle, back to an oligopoly again, and one that will need proper regulation.

The right way to address supply is to start with what customers want, to ensure that the companies serve the customers, not that the customers serve the interests of the suppliers.

How It Could Be Different

Though it is true that we are where we are, it is worth considering how it could be different by looking at what is happening elsewhere. Recall the reasons why the gas price increases have hit so hard are that the UK has lots of intermittent wind, and the electricity price is determined by the (marginal) wholesale price. Intermittency reads across to greater demand for gas, and that translates straight into the electricity price. The gas and electricity price paths match each other remarkably closely in the UK.

To see how it could be different, consider what is happening in France. It is around 70% nuclear and has a lot of hydropower. As the gas prices have shot up, the cost of nuclear and hydropower has not changed at all. Similarly in the UK, the cost of wind, solar and nuclear generation has not gone up. But now the difference. In France, the price increases are being limited to 4%. This reflects the costs. EDF understandably protests that this will lose it money (around €8 billion), because it could have sold its power into the EU markets at the spot price.

But the €8 billion is not a loss, but rather an additional profit that would go to EDF. Since EDF is largely owned by the French state, the €8 billion would be a taxpayer gain, and stands against a customer gain if the benefits of a stable nuclear power supply go to the French citizens and industry. Quite why Germans should benefit from French nuclear at this point of the gas price crisis, when it has closed its own nuclear fleet, is hard to fathom.

The building blocks of a sensible energy policy

Energy policy is all about setting a system framework within which markets operate to deliver what citizens and customers want. It starts with setting the objectives, and then ensures that these are met by a set of institutions, interventions, regulations, licences and auctions and so on.

The objectives

There are two primary objectives: security of supply and decarbonisation. Unless these are clearly and appropriately specified, no amount of ingenuity about the development of policies will be anything other than inefficient.

Security of supply includes price and costs, as does decarbonisation. Setting either independently of prices and costs make them unlikely to be attainable. In both cases higher prices have an impact on demand and hence the required supply-side infrastructure, reserves, capacity margins and the total envelope of investments. For example, gas security is always possible if the price is high enough. Supply equals demand at a clearing price. Security of supply has to be at reasonable costs, as must decarbonisation.

Both objectives are currently set as if they are independent of prices and costs. Hence they are in doubt: market participants need to try to guess the reaction function of government if and when customers and voters rebel or are simply unable to pay. In particular, there is an assumption as noted above that decarbonisation will be very low cost (perhaps 1% GDP per annum), but this is hopelessly unrealistic – it assumes as noted, for example, not only that the costs of renewables and low-carbon technologies will keep falling, but also that government policy will be perfect. There will be no government failure.

This is nonsense. Pretending that the costs are low to get governments signed up is a classic NGO trick, but the unfortunate reality is that the costs do not go away by assumption. In the current circumstances, few can bank on getting the net zero for the electricity sector by 2035. The uncertainty raises risk and hence the cost of capital.

The security of supply objective is also ill-defined, if defined at all. How much risk does the government want the economy and its companies and citizens to take that they will face price shocks? It is easy to be very secure, provided the economy can withstand the costs of a range of policies, including strategic stocks, reinforced networks and large capacity margins. We could, for example, agree to pay whatever it takes to secure LNG cargoes by agreeing to outbid every other country in the world. The costs of all of this would be beyond those that the economy could withstand.

The task of government in general, and BEIS in particular, is to set out serious and sensible objectives, and then delegate their achievement in a credible way.

Stakes in the ground

There are a number of decisions which cannot be taken by the private sector, or at least not without a very high cost of capital. The government is already the central buyer for almost everything in the electricity sector – directly or indirectly. Almost all new generation comes with a government-backed contract: a capacity contract or a CfD or a RAB. All the networks are regulated, and the regulator has a duty to finance functions in one form or another. The government controls the North Sea licences for oil and gas, and The Crown Estate runs the seabed licences.

The first stake in the ground concerns nuclear.

It can never be a purely private investment, for multiple reasons. Waste is an intergenerational liability. The political nature of nuclear means that investors always face the risk that government performs the sorts of U-turns made in Germany. Limited liability of private sector firms leaves the government with the unlimited liabilities. These considerations trump the further worries about the length of the project, cost and construction overruns, and changing regulatory requirements. Every major incident globally at a nuclear facility leads to a review of safety regulators, and safety regulators usually come up with new tighter regulations as a result.

Having a nuclear capability is part and parcel of having a robust nuclear programme, as it is of a military nuclear deterrence. Looking ahead, it is possible to envisage a joint UK– France nuclear programme, adding France’s six to say four to six in the UK, making a programme of at least ten. This would yield a supply chain. But it would need a UK company as part of the deal and a joint political framework. All of this, in the current context, is fantasy. If the UK does nuclear, it will be far less ambitious, less joined-up, and probably much more costly.

The conclusion that follows is that it is very hard to think of any worse way of taking nuclear decisions than the recent past in Britain. It maximises the cost of capital without complete risk transfer, and it minimises the supply chain efficiencies. Opting for more nuclear now as part of a security and decarbonising strategy requires the ambition to be matched by a more coherent and joined-up commitment, sustained over more than a decade.

A second stake in the ground is offshore and onshore wind.

The key point about wind is its difficult economics: it is low-density, disaggregated, intermittent and remote from consumers. Nevertheless, its lobbyists claim that wind is the cheapest form of electricity generation. Sadly this is not true once the full costs are taken into account, and that means that it is government that has to decide how much offshore and onshore wind and has to provide the subsidies to the full costs to make it happen. The regulator has to instruct the network companies to build an interconnected system between the offshore wind farms and then between the wind farms and the mainland grids. Offshore wind – the main play – differs from nuclear in all the above respects. It also differs in having shorter lead times and its components can be manufactured, currently primarily in China.

The stake in the ground decisions about the volume of offshore and onshore wind are conditional on deciding about the system infrastructure to collect and distribute the energy, and how to deal with the intermittency.

This is a system question that depends not only on the quantity in GWs of offshore wind in particular, but also on what else is on the system at the same time. It is rarely observed that the decision about wind needs to be taken in conjunction with the decision about gas – at least until there is a largescale alternative storage technology that can cope with longer periods of low wind, notably in winter (but increasingly in summer, too, as the air conditioning loads grow). Given the 2035 target for decarbonising electricity, the gas decision depends in turn on the CCS decision, since more wind means more gas, which means more CCS if the gas is to meet the net zero requirement by 2035.

This leads to the third stake in the ground – CCS.

Successive governments have stalled on CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) investments and decisions. As noted, a Treasury paper in 2007 promised £1 billion of support to develop CCS. Fifteen years later, and despite there being even a competition for the £1 billion, CCS remains largely on the drawing board. It requires a regulatory and licences framework, a liability insurance regime, a pipeline system, and a price of carbon sequestrated.

Though all of this is reasonably straightforward, these ancillary stakes in the ground are not yet in place, and the clock is ticking both as the offshore wind develops and the 2035 deadline gets ever closer.

The fourth stake is the new kid on the block – hydrogen and green ammonia.

It is unlikely to be the last “new kid”. The promise of hydrogen is that it can be manufactured by using excess wind and perhaps even solar, thereby being truly “green”. (Nuclear could do this too, though it is unlikely to be surplus unless on a French scale.) In the meantime, hydrogen is “blue”, made from natural gas, which brings us back to CCS. Blue hydrogen is inconsistent with the net zero targets without CCS. The hydrogen decision differs from the nuclear and wind stakes in the ground because it is very much at the R&D and demonstration stage. R&D is a public good and hence there is an obvious role here for government support.

There are several other stakes in the ground, though they tend to be more about the frameworks and less the technology per se. Solar falls into this category, and targets are particularly inappropriate given the major differences between rooftop, household, farmland and other variants. In an ideal world with perfect foresight, governments might want to go further, but there are corollary dangers as the lobbyists get their teeth into government and regulators, and getting the really big decisions right on the above stakes in the ground would be a major achievement. All of the above are decisions which cannot be taken by markets.

Governments should resist the temptation to do everything. Just doing a few things well would be a massive improvement on the current policy mess described above.

Delivering the plan – guidance and the system operator and regional system operators

Government can and indeed has to take the decisions about the major stakes in the ground. What then is required is a plan to deliver the energy system within which these stakes are embedded.

These objectives will not be achieved without a plan. If, for example, the government seriously intends to get to net zero for the electricity sector by 2035, then with 13 years to go, it needs to radically up its game and set out a plan to get from here to there. To give some examples, if part of the plan is to build lots more offshore wind and to increase electricity capacity to tackle transport and some heating, then as noted it will need a lot of gas capacity to back it all up. That in turn will need CCS, since electricity will not be net zero if there is a lot of gas on the system unless the gas is net zero and the only plausible way of doing this is to use very large-scale CCS. Similarly, it makes a lot of difference to the networks and the capacity requirement whether there is more nuclear or not. To get more nuclear in just 13 years on the system requires a lot of actions now. The stakes in the ground are for government: the delivery of the system to meet these is an evolving and detailed matter. Things will change. Nuclear might be late, wind costs may increase, and so on.

Someone has to manage this process, and whilst the government and BEIS can and should issue guidance – notably in respect of the overall objectives and the stakes in the ground – there need to be a system architect. The obvious place to start is with the SOs at the national and also at the regional level too. The Cost of Energy Review sets out how these should be separated from National Grid and the distribution network operators (DNOs) and details some of the consequences for Ofgem and system regulation. Five years later, the government is still prevaricating about how to do this. Every year means that the system plan remains incomplete, which means that it is harder and harder to meet the 2035 target and the costs of doing so goes up. It has an impact on the generation investment decisions, notably because without a network system in place, uncertainty increases and hence the costs of capital goes up.

Creating a market fit for the purposes of the twenty-first century

Critical to rebasing energy policy now is a series of decisions – stakes in the ground – that have been fudged in recent years. Either do nuclear properly or not at all. Recognise the security implications of lots of intermittent wind on the system and plan the system architecture to deal with this. Integrate the offshore and onshore electricity grids. Do not ignore the gas that will be a part of the back-up for at least a decade to come. Do not pretend that stopping new gas production in the North Sea solves the problem of UK consumers consuming a lot of gas by importing it instead.

Get on with separating out the regional SOs and the national SO. Evolve quickly to an EFP market to supersede the fossil-fuel-driven wholesale markets of the twentieth century. Take longer term contracts seriously rather than relying overwhelmingly on spot markets, and extend the price cap periods to a year. Get on with designing and implementing an integrated CCS system offshore.

Do these things, and spend less on perverse subsidies, and the UK can have secure energy at a reasonable cost and decarbonise at the same time. Ignore all these, and not only will the UK lack security, but it will pay higher prices and the 2035 target will fade, and possibly with it the willingness of the public to support the vital objective of decarbonisation.

See also World of Energy Infographics

 

 

Fake Virtue Demeans Us All

Explained at Peak Prosperity For The Narrative-Creators, The Play Is You… And You Are Not Real.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.  H/T Tyler Durden

If, like me, you’ve been wondering about why things are the way they are in today’s world, and how this relates, this is my explanation: For the actors, writers and directors who create real world narratives, the play is you. And you are not real.

Actors and Reality

Much has been made of the jarring dissonance between the heroic stand of the president and the people of Ukraine and the facile signaling of the Social Justice crowd. Feel free to pick your favorite exemplar, from the merely stupid banning of Russian cats and renaming of White Russian cocktails to the more sinister cancelling of Russian performers, or the horrific threats and vandalism to places serving Russian food. There’s no shortage of content here. And, as we’ll get to shortly, that’s the point.

Ukraine’s policy goals do not map fully to those of the United States (think Azov Battalion, for starters), and we can and should carefully consider our response with that awareness. But this does not change Ukrainian heroism. Zelensky wants planes, a no-fly zone, and he would no doubt love NATO boots on the ground. Prudence may dictate we provide him none of these, but it is worth noting that any of us in his circumstances would likely be asking for the same things. Any of us who stayed during the onslaught, that is.

Clearly, Putin’s bet from the beginning included Zelensky on the first plane out to serve as the leader of the Ukrainian government in (comfortable) exile, after which the dismemberment of that nation would rapidly become a fait accompli. Zelensky was having none of it. He stayed, and continues to stay, at great personal risk to himself and his family. He is, unquestionably, a hero.

It is the contrast between these two extremes (the banning of Russian-themed menus et al vs. Zelensky’s stand) that provides ample opportunity to reflect on the idea that many Americans are just not serious people. Unsurprisingly, their response to events in Ukraine has been to simply cut and paste from the outrage-of-the-week playbook: change profile picture, use a hashtag, find some people to cancel, and congratulate oneself on how virtuous one is. In the real world, rational people are tempted to say, “None of this ‘support’ matters”. It’s just empty signaling. So why is it happening, why has it become so pervasive, and how should we contend with it? Examination of a few high-salience topics can shed some light.

Covid and Wuhan Lab Leak Theory

Consider this first in the context of Covid and the by now well-known case of the Lab Leak Theory. Peter Daszak of the Eco-Health Alliance was the prime mover behind the infamous Lancet Letter branding any lab leak speculation uninformed conspiracy. This makes perfect sense when considering his incentives. Daszak (and Fauci, and others) had something to lose here. Perhaps a lot to lose. U.S. funding of Gain of Function research in Chinese labs resulting in a global pandemic is, to put it mildly, not a very good look and could be costly both financially and criminally.

And that’s where those laws, norms, and standards come in. In an environment with many disinterested actors, those entities without skin in the game would easily out-produce the relatively small number of individuals invested in a particular narrative. In that environment, the idea that zoonotic transmission and escape from a biolab in the same city where researchers were known to be working on bat viruses were both very real possibilities would be obvious.

But that is not at all how it went down.

Instead, the idea that it might be prudent to investigate what role the lab in Wuhan may have played in the pandemic became roughly equivalent to arguing Flat Earth Theory. What the hell was going on here? Did everyone in the American media landscape owe Daszak a favor? Did Fauci have a secret cache of compromising emails and photos to dangle J. Edgar Hoover style over the heads of troublesome journalists? Why on earth would hundreds or thousands in the media run cover for these guys and for the Chinese government to the extent of making claims that mere investigation of the possibility of a lab leak was racist?

More puzzling still is the idea that there is nothing about either potential source of the pandemic that presupposes an explicitly liberal or conservative position. Indeed, one could easily flip the script and imagine a campaign urging people to “follow the science” rather than resorting to xenophobic tropes about savages in wet markets. Until, that is, Donald Trump and other conservatives brought it up, which was like Christmas came early for Daszak and his co-conspirators. For the progressive left, the endorsement of anything by President Trump was more than sufficient cause to oppose it, and thus the wheels began to turn.

None of this should be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. At its heart, this is an expression of the luxury of operating without consequences. The luxury of not having to think operationally. To be clear, what I am saying is that Daszak and his cronies were able to leverage a system in which those with the loudest megaphones literally did not and do not care where and how Covid originated. For them, it just doesn’t matter. The pandemic is just background noise. That may seem like a strong statement. So, why and in what sense did they not care?

Personal Gain Not Public Trust

In a recent episode of Bari Weiss’ podcast Honestly, journalist and academic Yuval Levin articulated a theory of the change from institutions-as-formational to institutions-as-platforms. In his view, institutions of all types formerly served to develop the individuals inside them. If for example, you worked at the New York Times as a young journalist, you would be shaped by the ethos of that institution, informed by the repository of values developed over time within that structure.

According to Levin, this has been replaced by the notion of institution-as-platform,
the idea  that these structures exist as a launching pad for one’s personal brand.

Understood from this perspective, the great Lab Leak crackdown suddenly makes a great deal of sense. One of the baseline branding positions operating was “not-Trump.” I am completely persuaded that if Trump had spoken out in favor of the wet market theory, we’d all have been loudly advised to “follow the science” in precisely the opposite direction.

It is also worth noting that these personal brands are rivalrous goods. Having a “take,” even the right one, is necessary, but not sufficient. Your take must outcompete the other signals in the marketplace in order to claim disproportionate attention. And this explains why the Lab Leak Theory had to be, “conspiracist,” “anti-science,” and eventually, of course, “racist.”

The more extreme the position is,
the more effective it is in gaining audience-capture.

And this is not part of the story; it’s the entire story. There is effectively nothing behind the curtain. Because of these powerful incentives, what has happened without us realizing it is the creation of a public dialogue between a small, privileged elite that is fixed on in-group signaling and status-capture. The policy concerns or post-pandemic reforms that should differentially apply depending upon the origin of the disease diminish in importance to the extent that they functionally do not matter at all.

And people impacted by those decisions by extension do not matter either.
They are extras and scenery.

The Damaging Script

This goes a long way toward explaining the persistence of the otherwise bewildering advocacy that has permeated American life. Democratic New York Mayor Eric Adams noted that the Defund the Police crowd “are a lot of young white affluent people.” Of course they are. Poll after poll reveals that those who live in high-crime neighborhoods want more police, not less.

Like any other sane person, those citizens also want their police officers to be professional and not corrupt, but “I want my police officers to fight crime and be professional” is just not an exciting take. From this perspective, insanity like Defund the Police isn’t surprising, but rather inevitable. It is the position pushed to its logical extreme. And that is why arguing with this group is useless.

Perhaps nothing is more indicative of this trend than the increasingly unhinged claims emerging from the trans-activist community, as LGB became LGBT and now for some is properly expressed as LGBTQQIP2SAA, in order to be “inclusive” to intersex, pansexual, asexual, and two-spirit people.

For an outsider, it can all seem like satire.
How could anyone engage in these abbreviation acrobatics unironically?

For outsiders, the criticism seems insane. That is because, once again, we are not the audience. What we are seeing is a process of in-group jousting for status, where increasingly bizarre formulations become predictable and indeed necessary to gain attention. “I disagree with J.K. Rowling” is hardly a winning message, especially compared with “J.K. Rowling threatens my right to exist!” Thus, once again, appeals to reason, biology, or even compassion for a generation of children we are harming irrevocably do not and will not work.

No one affected by these positions exists in any meaningful way
because, again, they are not real.

By far the best example of this phenomenon is Black Lives Matter, a marketing triumph that proved beyond all doubt that these tactics can work, work well, and most importantly, be monetized. The familiar script is here, but no one has ever executed it better, as activists turned their rallying cry into a movement indistinguishable from religion. No nuance or difference of opinion was tolerated. Even to remain silent was proof of apostacy.

The net result? More than $60 million, most of which remains unaccounted for, and a series of high-end real estate purchases by the activists behind the whole thing. No policy achievements of any kind, because of course those were never the point from the beginning, as was obvious to anyone paying attention.

The response to this from BLM? Condemn the black reporter who exposed their murky finances and questionable real estate transactions as racist, smear the black Harvard economist as a sexual predator, and suggest that even the financial reporting required of non-profits is, you guessed it, racist. It’s not that hard to parse this: BLM activists are not friends or allies of black communities whatsoever. Instead, we come back to the same point: everyone outside of the in-group are just extras and scenery. Including those for whom they purport to advocate. None of them are real.

Luxury Beliefs

Rob Henderson calls all of this a symptom of “Luxury Beliefs.” According to Henderson, these are “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost while taking a toll on the lower class.” What we have is a catechism, a portfolio of dogma that operates as a signaling mechanism among the elite. And so, in addition to “Follow the Science” on Covid, “Trans Women are Real Women”, and “Black Lives Matter”, we have a host of other statements expressed as moral imperatives, including things like “Healthy at Any Size”, “All Family Structures are Equal”, “Open Borders”, etc.

All of this can be considered an unexpected and unwelcome consequence of our own success. The complex, exquisitely-tuned supply chains that funnel us goods and services have become so remarkably effective they are essentially invisible. Elites don’t have to worry about how things get done, how X leads to Y, or how thing A gets to place B.

It just happens. Magically. Invisibly.
How the sausage is made is a question for smaller minds.

In my view, Henderson gets one thing wrong about his theory. Luxury Beliefs are not in fact, the provenance of the rich, but rather of the educational elite, some of whom are also rich in the bargain. Journalists, other media members, academics, and activists typically have little to no experience in actual business and even less incentive to ever gain any. The effortless flow of goods and services they experience allows them the freedom from having to think operationally or consequentially.

Over the past two years, COVID revealed and supercharged the insular status of these elites. If you talk to business owners, no matter how wealthy they may be, who vitally need to think operationally and consequentially every day, you find considerably less support for these elitist notions.

All of this is bad enough when locked in some academic ivory tower, but as we’ve seen, this has escaped into the American Wild with terrifying effect. Crime, inflation, record border crossings, education, and more. Pick your topic, as the list goes on and on.

The Final Act

Which brings us back to Ukraine as the setting for the ridiculous virtue signaling and posturing by these same luxury elites. It is jarring when juxtaposed against actual tanks and soldiers, but it is just more of the same.

I stated earlier that these are not serious people, but that is not entirely accurate. They are extremely serious, just not about anything other than their own internal conversations.  These people will not change, and they will not be persuaded by your arguments, your statistics, and your facts.

Because the people who make any of the things elites consume and the people elites purport to stand up for are all equally irrelevant. Performance is the point. The performance is the whole thing, and the actors, playwrights and directors aren’t taking suggestions from you, the extras and the scenery.

Which leads us to the final act: maybe it’s time to think about shutting down the whole play.

 

Free Speech (Musk) or Curated Speech (Obama)?

The alternative attitude was recently put forth by Obama exercising his free speech rights in front of a Stanford audience who both like him and like what he says.  In effect he said he is all for free speech but tech companies need to censor some speech to protect democracy.  Seems like a semi-pregnant posture.  It reminds me a Rodney Dangerfield scene portraying a business executive: He tells his secretary, “Hold some of my calls!”

Jenin Younes explains the issue and its import in her Brownstone Institute article The Federal Government Forces Social Media Companies to Censor Americans.  Excepts in italics with my bolds and added images.

In May of 2021, the Biden Administration began a public, coordinated campaign to combat the dissemination of “health misinformation” related to Covid, especially across social media platforms.

Members of the Administration, including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the President himself, often through White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, have made clear that they blame Big Tech for American deaths from the virus, and insist that these platforms have an obligation to censor those who articulate views that depart from the Government’s messaging on Covid-related matters.

The Administration has stated that it supports “a robust anti-trust program,” a not-so-subtle warning that if the Twitters and Facebooks of the world do not do the Government’s bidding, they will suffer the consequences.

The campaign has been increasing in intensity for nearly a year.

Ms. Psaki and Dr. Murthy have subsequently stated that the government is flagging problematic posts for social media platforms to censor and commanded them to elevate the voices of those who promote the approved messaging through algorithms while banning those whose perspectives conflict with the government.

The President has affirmed his belief that social media platforms “should be held accountable” for misinformation circulated on them. On March 3, Dr. Murthy announced an initiative, wherein he demanded that tech companies provide the government with “sources of misinformation,” including the identity of specific individuals, by May 2.

Like many others around the world, Michael P. Senger of California, Mark Changizi of Ohio, and Daniel Kotzin of Colorado, operated Twitter accounts that centered around criticizing government and public health Covid restrictions. All three accounts rapidly became popular.

Starting last spring, right around the time the Biden Administration’s efforts became public, the three were subject to temporary suspensions. Mere days after Dr. Murthy’s March 3 statement, Mr. Kotzin was suspended for a week, and Mr. Senger permanently. This means he is never permitted to create another Twitter account. He has lost his 112,000 followers, and in his own words, been “silenced and completely cut off from” the network he developed over two years.

According to Twitter, the suspensions were for spreading Covid “misinformation.” Mr. Senger, Mr. Changizi, and Mr. Kotzin had, in the cited tweets, expressed opposition to vaccine mandates and suggested that the vaccines do not slow the spread of Covid. They also argued that government-imposed restrictions do not work to mitigate viral spread, the risks Covid poses to children are sufficiently low to disfavor vaccination for them given the long-term unknowns, and naturally acquired immunity is superior to that attained through vaccination.

None of these claims is outside the realm of legitimate scientific discourse.

In fact, figures like CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, Anthony Fauci, and President Biden, who a mere six or eight months ago expressed absolute confidence that, for example, the vaccines stop transmission and confer better protection than naturally acquired immunity, have now been confronted with unequivocal evidence that they were wrong.

A meta-study out of Johns Hopkins University concluded that lockdowns did not reduce Covid deaths, while causing quite a bit of harm, corroborating observational data from around the world. Several Scandinavian countries recommend against vaccinating healthy young children based on an objective risk assessment, and study after study has proven that naturally acquired immunity is superior to vaccine-induced immunity.

Following nearly two years of insistence that community masking is effective, many prominent public health officials have changed course. It is a great irony that those who have been so wrong throughout the pandemic now seek to silence dissenters, particularly those who have proven prescient on many topics.

And even if they were expressing flatly incorrect views, the First Amendment gives them the right to voice those opinions. The concept of free speech was embraced by the Framers of the Constitution, who were clearly wiser than many who govern us today. They recognized that censorship does not work practically: rather, it encourages people to operate covertly, often exacerbating the problem, and that the cure to bad speech is good speech.

But most of all, they understood that giving government the authority to determine which ideas should be heard and which should be suppressed is a dangerous game.

Of course, many will argue that Twitter and other tech companies censored Mr. Senger, Mr. Changizi, and Mr. Kotzin of their own volition, and as they are private actors, the First Amendment is inapplicable.

That argument should be rejected. When the government commandeers, coerces, or utilizes private companies to accomplish what it cannot do directly, courts recognize that is state action. In a mid-20th century version of this case, Bantam Books v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court held that a state government commission consigned with reprimanding sellers of pornography and advising them of their legal rights (a veiled threat) “deliberately set about to achieve the suppression of publications deemed ‘objectionable’ and succeeded in its aim.” The Court looked “through forms to the substance” and concluded that this program violated the First Amendment.

That is similar to what is happening here. The Biden Administration knows that it cannot get away with issuing orders directly prohibiting people from articulating views about Covid-related matters that differ from the government’s, or from obtaining users’ private information, so it is coercing companies into doing this on the government’s behalf.

Fearing reprisal from the government—reprisal that the government has publicly contemplated—the companies are ramping up censorship. These companies are also likely to turn over information about users that Dr. Murthy demanded, a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches.

Not only are individuals like Mr. Senger being silenced outright. Mr. Changizi, Mr. Kotzin, and millions of others are afraid to say what they really think because they do not want to suffer Mr. Senger’s fate. Courts should “look through forms to the substance” and recognize what is going on.

The Government is deciding what speech is acceptable and may be heard, and what speech is not acceptable and must be silenced, on the most hotly debated political topics of our time. This strikes at the heart of what the First Amendment is supposed to protect.

See also Weaponized Claims of Disinformation

 

Earth Day 2022: Gladness Expels Gloom

Cameron English explains in his ACSH article Earth Day 2022: Doomsday Isn’t Around The Corner.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

As earth day approaches, activist groups have amplified their predictions of an impending environmental disaster. A brief survey of the evidence shows that the situation isn’t nearly as dire as they claim.

Earth Day is just around the corner. Activists outfits like Environmental Working Group (EWG) are using the run-up to this annual celebration to promote fear of pesticides and, for some reason, the musings of Michelle Pfeiffer. Let’s use the time a little more wisely and consider just two examples that illustrate how much progress we’ve made in promoting human flourishing and protecting the environment.

The point of this exercise, to plagiarize myself from this time last year, is to remind the world that doomsday isn’t inevitable. As we deploy more resources to solve the very real environmental problems we face, life on this planet gets better.

Let’s start with a well-established theory from economics known as the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC): economic growth is initially accompanied by increased pollution. Over time, however, we acquire enough resources to invest in technologies that promote sustainability. As the authors of a 2020 study noted:

The EKC literature suggests that economic growth may affect environmental welfare through three different channels: scale effects, composition effects and technique effects. The growth of the economic scale would result in a proportional growth in environmental pollution, and the changes in the industrial structure would lead to the reduction of pollution intensity.

Further economic growth causes technological progress through which dirty and obsolete technologies are replaced by upgraded and cleaner technologies that improve environmental quality.

That’s a foundational point worth remembering because EWG and its ideological allies would have you believe the opposite conclusion, that our “exploitation” of earth’s resources is inherently destructive.

Evidence from all over the world exposes the folly of such thinking.
Let’s consider some examples.

Cleaner air than ever before

To enlarge, double-click image or open in new tab.

Since 1970, the EPA notes, the combined emissions of six common pollutants have plummeted by almost 80 percent, facilitating “dramatic improvements in the quality of the air that we breathe,” the agency added. To get more specific:

Between 1990 and 2020, national concentrations of air pollutants improved 73 percent for carbon monoxide, 86 percent for lead (from 2010), 61 percent for annual nitrogen dioxide, 25 percent for ozone, 26 percent for 24-hour coarse particle concentrations, 41 percent for annual fine particles (from 2000), and 91 percent for sulfur dioxide.

The EPA attempted to pat itself on the back by attributing these declines to its regulatory actions. But that analysis is incomplete. [Unmentioned was the fact consumption of clean-burning natural gas increased 23% during the same period these pollutants declined.] Meaningful environmental protection efforts don’t come cheap; wealthy countries are usually the only ones with the resources to reduce pollution. There’s a tight correlation between a nation’s GDP and the number of deaths attributed to outdoor pollution.

To enlarge, double-click image or open in new tab.

Our World in Data drew two very important observations out of these numbers; both point to the importance of economic growth as a weapon against pollution. Death rates tend to be lowest in the poorest and wealthiest countries. Nations with higher death rates, India, for instance, are often emerging economies that haven’t yet turned their attention to pollution reduction. There are some outliers to this trend, of course. Certain countries have high rates of pollution but low rates of respiratory mortality, Our World Data also explained:

Countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE have a comparably lower risk of premature death, despite high levels of pollution. They do, however, have a significantly higher GDP per capita than their neighbors … Overall health, wellbeing and healthcare/medical standards in these nations significantly reduce the risk of mortality from respiratory illness.

Sustainable food production increasing

In response to critics of animal agriculture, I’ve recently noted that the environmental footprint of food production is significantly smaller in developed countries. The trend is similar whether we consider the amount of land dedicated to farming or the use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Even looking at agricultural carbon emissions, the ultimate boogeyman these days, we can see that economic growth fuels important reductions. Our World in Data helpfully noted that.

We see a very strong rich-poor country divide. High-income countries tend to have energy-intensive industry or service-based economies. Food systems can contribute as little as 10% to total emissions.

Another way to verify this trend is to consider the environmental impacts of local vs. global food production. The latter invites the use of technological innovations and economies of scale that offset the emissions farmers inevitably generate. Policies that unnecessarily restrict access to tools like biotech crops depress crop yields and force more land into food production, further boosting carbon emissions.

Conclusion

There are more examples of economic growth driving increases in sustainability, but the point is clear: our planet gets “greener” as we get wealthier. The warnings that we’re running out of time “to restore nature and build a healthy planet” will grow more shrill as Earth Day approaches. Just remember to take the doomsday predictions with a grain of salt and reflect on the tremendous progress we’ve made in living sustainably.

 

#1 Security Threat: Net Zero Asset Managers

Rupert Darwall writes at Real Clear Energy Woke Investors Threaten the West’s Security.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

In an era of rising geopolitical tensions, it is folly
to let Wall Street determine the nation’s energy policy.

As the West grapples with the energy implications of a hostile Sino-Russian alliance, the steering group of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose members manage over $10.4 trillion of assets, issued a statement urging Western governments not to sacrifice climate goals for energy security. “The world is still heading for an excess of fossil fuel-based energy use that will vastly exceed the carbon budget needed to meet the 1.5° Celsius Paris agreement goal. This trend must be halted,” the United Nations-backed alliance said in its April 8 statement, arguing that “the national security argument for accelerating the net-zero transition has strengthened considerably.”

What, one might ask, is the standing of asset managers to opine on national security matters? They have no expertise in this domain. It turns out that their understanding of the economics of energy policy is defective, too.

The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance claims that development of new oil and gas reserves will lock in fossil fuel subsidies, exacerbating market distortions. In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its 2021 net-zero report states that under its net-zero pathway, tax revenues from oil and gas retail sales fall by about 40% over the next twenty years. “Managing this decline will require long-term fiscal planning and budget reforms,” the IEA warns. Similarly, Britain’s Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that net zero policies will result in the loss of tax receipts representing 1.6% of GDP. So much for the fossil fuel subsidy myth.

If fossil fuels were heavily subsidized, eliminating them would mean fossil fuel subsidies disappear. Instead, it’s tax revenues that would melt away to zero.

The net-zero investors cite figures for the decline in solar and wind energy costs. These numbers are based on so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a metric that aims to measure a plant’s lifetime costs. Wind and solar power are intermittent, but LCOE metrics exclude the costs of intermittency, which increase the more wind and solar are put on the grid. Because wind and solar output responds to weather and not to demand, the value of this output declines the more installed wind and solar capacity is available. It was for these reasons that MIT professor of economics Paul Joskow concluded in a foundational 2011 paper that using LCOE metrics to compare intermittent and dispatchable generating technologies, such as coal and natural gas, is a “meaningless exercise.”  [ See proper energy costing here: Cutting Through the Fog of Renewable Power Costs ]

Wind and solar investors don’t need to understand the economics of the grid to make money – they are shielded from the intermittency costs their investments inflict on the rest of the grid, which is one reason why their views on energy policy can be taken with a pinch of salt. Their economic illiteracy does, however, make it easy for them to subscribe to the green fairy tale of 100% renewables. They’re not responsible for keeping the lights on – that depends on traditional power plants staying fueled up and ready to spin, which is what Germany can’t do without Russian gas. Adopt the net-zero alliance’s call for no new fossil-fuel investment, and the cost of energy is bound to spiral. And if the lights go out, politicians – not woke investors – get the blame.

Investors’ opinions on energy and national security would matter less if they didn’t have political power. Bloomberg opinion writer Matt Levine argues that asset managers of giant funds form a parallel system of government that exercises overlapping legislative powers with those of governments. These government-by-asset-managers, as Levine calls them, tell companies to do things they think are good for society as a whole, “making big collective decisions about how society should be run, not just business decisions but also decisions about the environment and workers’ rights and racial inequality and other controversial political topics.”

Foremost among these areas is climate policy. Although the Biden administration has set a net-zero goal, Congress has not legislated it, and it lacks the force of law. The absence of legislation passed by democratically accountable legislators, however, presents no barrier to government-by-asset-managers legislating climate policy for the companies in which they invest. “Investors are making net zero commitments for themselves and demanding that companies issue greenhouse gas reduction targets and transition plans for meeting those targets,” says the Reverend Kirsten Snow Spalding of the not-for-profit Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability.

Neither Spalding nor the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance make a case that forcing net-zero targets on companies will boost investor returns, demonstrating that this is not about investors’ traditional concerns – making money – but about pursuing politics by other means. In this, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is working hand in glove with woke climate investors. Commenting on the SEC’s newly proposed rule on climate-risk disclosure, Spalding says that for investors who have committed zero emissions by 2050, “this draft rule is absolutely critical.”

Unlike elected politicians, woke climate investors are not accountable for the effects of their climate policies: They exercise power without responsibility. This arrangement weakens America’s ability to respond to the geopolitical challenges of a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China. “We are on a war footing – an emergency,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm declared at the CERA energy conference in Houston last month. “We have to responsibly increase short-term supply where we can right now to stabilize the market and to minimize harm to American families.” Addressing oil executives in the audience, Granholm told them: “I hope your investors are saying these words to you as well: In this moment of crisis, we need more supply . . . right now, we need oil and gas production to rise to meet current demand.”

As Granholm suggested, woke investors have been trying to do the opposite. Despite the war in Ukraine, there has been no let-up in investor pressure on oil and gas companies to scale down their operations. Whatever criticisms might be made of the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Ukraine, it is responsible for taking the awesome decisions that war involves. Investors, by contrast, have no responsibility for the nation’s security and America’s ability to lead the West. By helping investors impose their desired energy policies on American oil and gas companies, the SEC is undermining the national security prerogatives of the Biden administration and eroding America’s ability to meet the challenges of a dangerous world. The SEC is playing in a domain that it has no business being in.