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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Objectively racist environmentalists

George Orwell famously wrote during World War II that British pacifists were "objectively pro-fascist":
Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security.
That first sentence is famous, and widely quoted.  The last sentence is neither.  That's a shame, because it cuts to the heart of his argument in a long and eloquent essay.  The problem with reading no further than quotes is that you often get the pithy at the cost of the profound.  Like later in Orwell's j'accuse:
I pass over the money-sheltered ignorance capable of believing that literary life is still going on in, for instance, Poland, and remark merely that statements like this justify me in saying that our English pacifists are tending towards active pro-Fascism. But I don’t particularly object to that. What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-Fascist, but who don’t care to say so and take refuge behind the formula ‘I am just as anti-fascist as anyone, but—’. The result of this is that so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda, it concentrates on putting forward a ‘case’, obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions.
There's currently a debate going on in "intellectual" circles that Orwell didn't really mean what he said in his first quote.  That position quite frankly is only taken by those who have never read his essay, and the second quote given here.

There's a modern version of this intellectual cowardice, seen every day in Progressive circles.  Phrasing is essentially identical to what Orwell pointed out in the second quote above, but today it's done to put a gloss on environmentalism:
Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?
Partly responsible?

Partly responsible?
No, they are not "partly responsible".
They are wholly responsible for each and every one of those 8 million dead children, because they actively blocked access to the food that would allow them to live.
The rest of Sam Robb's rant is even better, but it echoes of Orwell (in the good sense, not in the 1984 newspeak sense).  Let me update Orwell:
What I object to is the intellectual cowardice of people who are objectively and to some extent emotionally pro-infant mortality, but who don’t care to say so and take refuge behind the formula ‘I am just as anti-infant mortality as anyone, but—’.
Objectively, they don't mind supporting actions that lead to the deaths of (it must be said) millions of black babies.  That sounds inflammatory, I know, but that's what they do.  But back to the first quote above, and that final clause of the final sentence: a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security.

There's your environmentalism for you.  Today we'd call that SWPL.  The names change, but the instinct remains immutable.  Orwell again, updated for today's cowardly SWPL environmentalists:
I am not interested in
pacifism  environmentalism as a ‘moral phenomenon’. If Mr Savage and others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’
the German armythird world infant mortality by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen.
I know myself all too well that intellectual conceit that progressivism dangles before you: just mouth these platitudes, support this dogma, vote for these select people and you too can be one of the Elect.  Smarter and (dare I say it) nicer than those benighted fools who refuse to genuflect.

You know, looking at it put that way makes me wonder why I was once so mesmerized by that particular Siren Song.  Young and foolish, I guess.  But no more.  I now refuse to be objectively racist, supporting (if even only passively) higher third world infant mortality because it's advocated by the Right Sort® of people.  Now if I must choose between the lives of millions of children or their ridiculous, evil dogma, the choice is clear.

There's a comfort to be found in intellectual honesty, a comfort more substantial than the empty, pretty nothings of the Siren's progressive Song.

12 comments:

WoFat said...

Often, those who think they're doing good, aren't doing very well.

The Czar of Muscovy said...

Amen. Orwell is right on the money: you never find pacifists among the working poor, only the over-educated and provided-for. Gandhi is a classic example--gives the illusion that he's a poor, bare bones man who can still reject violence. He was well looked after. Much like the American "street preachers" who live lavish but private lifestyles yet pretend to work for the poor in the community.

I also maintain you don't see many vegetarians by choice among the poor.

Pacifism, GM foods, veganism, etc., are all the products of a vain, spoiled culture with too much time on its hands.

Sherm said...

Of course the number of deaths because of lack of vitamin D pales in comparison to those due to malaria; Malarial deaths are because spraying insecticide is banned in favor of hanging mosquito nets.

Goober said...

I don't know what to say about all of this. I see SWPL progressives going on about the evils of pesticides while millions of brown people die ever year because of insect-vectored diseases. I see them going on about the evils of GMO while millions of brown people die every year because of vitamin deficiencies. I see all of these things, and yet I'm supposed to think that they are the ones who care - who truly bleed for the less fortunate among us.

And what am I to think? That I'm surrounded by objectively evil people who support millions of brown people dying every year? Or that I'm surrounded by an entire class of slavering dolts who are too insulated by their own safety, security, and satisfaction of need that they just don't get that their policies and obstructionism is LITERALLY, QUANTIFIABLY KILLING PEOPLE EVERY YEAR.

Which is worse?

I prefer to use a certain razor every time I'm approached by a quandry like this, and it is a simple one:

"Do not attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by stupidity."

And so, I think that what you have here is exactly the same phenomenon about which I wrote over at my place the other day, which is to say that these people are more hung up about the theory and philosophy behind their positions than they are the objective result of them. They can't see the tangible result of the babies dying because all they can see is their having saved the world from the theoretical, philosophical scourge of GMO.

To paraphrase the words that I used in my blog post the other day:

http://notboutthing.blogspot.com/2013/02/philosopher-kings.html

"They are so enthralled with the philosophies of Zeno that they don't even notice when the sprinter passes the turtle with ease."

Old NFO said...

Well said, and I learned 'that' lesson a long time ago in the military...

Boonton said...

This is pretty stupid. Orwell's idea about being 'objectively pro-fascist' depended upon a rather unusual situation, an either or outcome where there were only two possibilities. Either the UK had to fight and defeat fascism or fascism would win. At that point other plausible options had been exhausted. Hence he concluded at that point pacifists were 'objectively pro-fascist'. But this reasoning is only applicable in 'special circumstances'. He wasn't and couldn't conclude that pacifists were always 'pro-fascist' in all places, times, circumstances etc.

So now let's look at this example of 'objectively racist' environmentalism. Genetically modified rice might be able to be grown in the Philippines with extra vitamin A in it. 8M children died worldwide from vitamin A deficiency. Hence environmentalists who oppose GM rice are 'objectively racist'.

Sorry this only flies if you have an environmentalist who says he opposes GM because he wants 8M children a year to die from vit A need because of their race. Otherwise you can only make this argument if you can show that GM rice is the only way to save 8M children from vit. A deficiency and GM rice has aboslutely no other effects that might end up worse than the status quo (such as causing massive extinction of some other necessary crop resulting in millions of more deaths).

Do you have such a case? Probably not. Vit. A is pretty easy to mass produce and hardly expensive. 8M children a year are not dying because it's hard for us to make vit. A. It's also not very convincing to assume that just because the Philippines starts growing lots of Vit. A rice, it will get distributed to those 8M children who need it. More likely it will end up on supermarket shelves for shoppers who have no problems at all getting vit. A. In other words it would be quite easy to oppose GM rice while leaving a host of options on the table still to save 8M kids a year.

Borepatch said...

Boonton, I'm sorry but you can't have it both ways. It's a fact that environmentalists delayed golden rice for a decade. I don't care if "their motives were good" or "they had other ideas" - they didn't do anything to get a solution fielded and they DID stop a viable solution from being fielded. Millions died.

These are simple facts.

It doesn't matter if they didn't have the deaths of the children as an explicit goal, they were perfectly happy to see that happen so long as they were successful stopping GM food.

I'd have a lot more respect for the environmental movement if they owned up to the likely consequences of their policy proposals - people living poorer lives, people getting sick, people dieing. Perhaps the world in net better off, but the conceit that they're "nice people" when they won't even acknowledge the easily forseeable consequences of their actions is pretty sickening.

Boonton said...

sorry Borepath, you're not thinking out your argument well. vit. A is cheap and easy to make. No one dies because of a shortage of modified rice to make vit. A. They die because vit. a, which we have a lot of, cannot easily get from Point A to Point B. In other words its a distribution, not a production, problem.

Now *maybe* a solution is to make the production of Vit. A even more cheaper. Create such a huge surplus of Vit. A in so many forms that it will diffuse to everywhere it has to go to save everyone from Vit. A deficiency. That's fine to argue as a possible solution but there's a lot of good reasons to think it wouldn't work and there's lots of other ideas that are at least as good, maybe even better.


You can't do an 'objectively pro-...' argument unless you have only two options. Either GM rice or kids die. There can't be any other alternatives like using cheap vit. pills, resolving civil wars that might be keeping regions from food markets, and so on. But of course there's plenty of possible ideas still out there so you can't call someone who opposes one "objectively pro-child death" anymore than you can say the same about people who oppose other possible solutions. For example, one possible solution might be to establish a UN force that will automatically intervene in any country where any conflict or war increases the threat of child malnutrition. By your reasoning anyone who opposes that without first coming up with some other policy to put in its place is also 'objectively pro-child death".

Goober said...

Ted – if you don’t mind me butting into your conversation:

Boonton, here’s where you’re wrong:

You’ve obstructed a solution, but created no solutions of your own.

Right now, the democrats in office and the Obama administration are doing the same thing - they have been running coy little game where they work up to crisis, allow the opposition to suggest plan, then lament and lampoon it as being “too extreme” or “too… something else”. When the opposition comes up with another plan, they do the same thing, and make speeches about austerity and how the “other side” is not being reasonable. They never actually come up with a proposal to solve the problem themselves and so can’t be held responsible when their solution doesn’t work out.

This is what you’re doing now.

You’re standing athwart the solution of golden rice, shouting “stop! STOP NOW!” and in return, not suggesting another method by which we can solve this problem. Yes, you have commented on how making vitamin A is cheap. But you haven’t discussed how you’d get that vitamin A to the children that need it, how you’d fund such an operation’s distribution and tracking system, or anything else. Furthermore, your solution creates a charitable distribution network to give these kids vitamin A which will need to stay there in perpetuity with funding from unknown sources to ensure that it doesn’t ever dry up and go away. Lastly, that network doesn’t exist right now, so your solution doesn’t exist.

Our solution allows these people to take care of it themselves, by growing a crop that will fix the problem and save these kids. No network in perpetuity is required - this crop will always be there, and will allow for them to be self-sufficient and not rely on a network of charitable donations and handouts. This is a solution that our side of this debate has considered, created, and tabled, and the only thing your side is doing is obstructing it. You’ve developed no solutions on your end, and are taking no action to solve this problem – you’re just obstructing us. If vitamin A is so easy to make, then what are your suggestions and what actions has your side of this debate taken to implement these solutions? Your answer is already known, so go ahead and consider that last little question to be rhetorical.

So what are we to think? If you want us to assume the best about your intentions, perhaps you’d better consider your actions and change the ways you’re doing things? Because right now, all I see are a bunch of people killing babies because of a theoretical, philosophical concern about GMO. That this “concern” is also allowing them to stand in defiance of a major industry and is also very fashionable right now is just a coincidence, right? Please tell me that this isn’t just a status boost for these people.

Borepatch said...

Well said, Goober.

Boonton, while it might be arguable that we should give environmentalists the benefit of the doubt in any one situation, the problem is that environmentalists keep doing this sort of thing.

Richard Blaine said...

I'm having some difficulty getting off the fence on this one.

First - I'm not a fan of GMO primarily because of two issues. First there is no way to contain it to the fields it was planted in. As an example, Round-Up proof wheat was just found in Oregon. This wheat has not yet been approved for production planting by the FDA, it was tested in 16 states. Oregon was, I believe (not positive at this point - still digging) Not on that list. Oregon exports this wheat to Japan, where they have decided they DON'T want GMO - so. How does the farmer with the contaminated field deal with this issue?

Second, there is some evidence to suggest that the mid-game is problematic, requiring pesticides,fertilizer and ultimately damaging the soil in a significant way. I think it needs more study - but it's hard to study with out contaminating areas outside the test. Part of the problem for me is that all the research comes from sources I don't trust at all - Government, GMO producers, and Environmentalists - all of which have their own agendas.


Unless the rice in question produces seed that can be planted (my impression is most GMO crops can't) you've simply created a secondary dependence which may be more costly to continue than alternate solutions, such as vitamin enrichment post harvest, maybe not (I just don't know).

The issue for me is environmentalists seem to flock to the obstructionist camp with out ever considering the costs of their obstructionist behavior. It's clearer for me when we talk about their energy policy which seems to be - FREEZE IN THE DARK. As they want to curtail global warming but are unwilling to allow solar farms or wind farms because: Toads and Birds. Well if you believe in Global Warming (and I know where Borepatch stands on that) then it's sort of a binary solution set, you can save toads and birds, and kill the planet (including said toads and birds) or you can move forward with the available alternate energy choices - even the dreaded nuclear one.

In the case of Vitamin A deficiency, there is no doubt any number of solutions are available, and I suspect it will take more than one approach to solve the problem. So, if the purpose of the attempt to plant GMO was to solve a Vit A problem; running around waving your arms in panic about the costs of GMO with out weighing the costs of No GMO is really counter productive. And given the PR image of those running around in panic - I'm inclined to think the quote fits.

solagratiasnohomish said...

http://solagratiasnohomish.wordpress.com/2013/02/23/golden-rice-is-fools-gold/

Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes.