Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A "society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought"

The Cost of Energy raves about a letter to Newsweek: Most of you who read this site are probably aware that a couple of weeks ago Newsweek ran a big cover story on the global warming “denial machine,” to use their very apt phrase. Well, the September 3, 2007 edition is out, and it has the letters in response to that issue.

To no one’s surprise, there’s the usual mix of people throwing rocks at each other, including some people from a zipcode that surely maps to a particularly badly lit corner of Bizarro World. But the there was one letter, reproduced in its entirety here, that almost made me stand and cheer when I read it (emphasis mine):

Sharon Begley’s article about “the denial machine,” as frightening as it was, misses a crucial aspect of the problem. It is not just that well-heeled corporations are buying up politicians or promoting science-as-they-want-it-to-be. It is that our society is more than happy to accept spin and cant because we have come to believe that all expertise is bias, that all knowledge is opinion, that every judgment is relative. I see this daily in my university classroom. Many of even my best students seem to have lost the ability to think critically about the world. They do not believe in the transformative power of knowledge because they do not believe in knowledge itself. Begley decries the tactic of making the scientists appear divided, but the corporations didn’t have to invent this tactic. It is built into our carefully balanced political “debates,” into our news shows with equal time given to pundits from each side and into the “fairness” we try to teach in our schools. We need not be surprised that people have become consumers who demand the right to choose as they wish between the two equally questionable sides of every story. Neither global warming nor any other serious problem can be addressed by a society that equates willful ignorance with freedom of thought.

Bernard Dov Cooperman
Dept. of History, University of Maryland
College Park, Md.


I needed a cigarette after reading that, and I don’t even smoke.

The whole letter is exceptional, but that last sentence is such a perfect characterization of the hurdle we face in waking people up to the global warming and peak oil problems that I’m Kermit-the-Frog green with envy that I didn’t write it.

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