Monday, March 31, 2008

The rise of the declinist

Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Potter has some interesting observations on the psychology of climate change believers and their common cause with Islamists:
One of the most disturbing aspects of the growing concern over climate change is the giddy delight with which some members of the left await the coming global catastrophe. Of course they don't admit to being delighted. Instead, they claim to be extremely upset about the prospect of melting ice caps, ....

Let us call these people "declinists," and their animating philosophy "declinism." What motivates declinism is an attitude so pessimistic that it is almost theological: not only are things worse than they used to be, but they're getting worse with every passing year.

As the declinist sees it, the rights-based politics of liberal individualism, combined with the free-market economy, have served to undermine local attachments and communitarian feelings, leading us to seek meaning in shallow consumerism and mindless entertainments. ....

That is why climate change is the ultimate declinist wet dream. Sure, there is a long tradition of declinist hobby horses, including overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources and the industrial poisoning of the land and the sea, but climate change is the rug that pulls the whole room together. From cars and consumerism to mass travel, fast food and inexpensive lighting, declinism gathers up everything the left dislikes about contemporary society and puts it all in the dock facing the same charge: it is causing the planet to heat up. ....

In its resentment of modernity, the declinist left finds itself in agreement with a broad spectrum of Islamofascists, evangelical nuts and tinfoil-hat anarchists, who equally fear the globalized future and pray for a return to a glorious but thoroughly imaginary past. If it takes a global catastrophe to get us there, so much the better.

The liberal infatuation with predicted disasters was previously discussed here. The infatuation is not new: the first influentual figure in US history to have such a focus on disaster scenarios was Alexander Hamilton.

Potter's declinists see things as getting worse. This is reminiscent of Rousseau's belief in some earlier golden age, after which the human condition declined. Two thousand years earlier, this aspect of the declinist view was advocated by Tacitus who wrote about the perfect world that supposedly existed before civilization:

Primitive man had no evil desires. Being blameless and innocent, his life was free of compulsions or penalties. He also needed no rewards; for he was naturally good. Likewise where no wrong desires existed, fear imposed no prohibitions. But when men ceased to be equal, egotism replaces fellow-feeling and decency succumbs to violence. Despotism results. [from The Annals of Imperial Rome, Chapter 6]
There is no archeological support for such a golden age. It is something the human mind, at least some human minds, want to believe.

Hat tip: Daimnation and TigerHawk.

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