Not long ago I objected to using the term “war” when it’s not merited. One example I didn’t mention was the so-called “war on science” supposedly being waged by a greedy cabal of religious zealots, oil men, politicians beholden to oil men, and sundry other evildoers worldwide.
One problem with using the phrase “war on science” is that it implies a prior foundation of peace between scientists and the hoi polloi, whereas the true anomaly has been America’s 20th century love affair with science. The ascendancy of climate change deniers isn’t a bizarre rebellion against “normal” scientific progress but a reassertion of humanity’s historical tendency to assert dogma and know-nothingness over the perceived authoritarianism of scientific “authority.”
The oddity is that today’s dogma is the opposite of yesterday’s. Protest against and squelching of science in past ages has usually been rooted in an insistence on man’s supremacy or centrality in the universe. The theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun and not vice versa was heretical because it reduced the importance of our planet in God’s cosmos. The insistence, in the face of decisive evidence, that man didn’t evolve from earlier hominids came – I mean, comes – from a doctrinal need to preserve the special status of the human race on God’s Earth.
But today, climate change deniers insist that man lacks power over nature. A cornerstone of denialism is that observed changes in climate are best explained as manifestations of natural cycles rather than human influence.
This attitude parallels the misguided free-market absolutism that energizes the new century’s Tea Partiers, Ayn Randers, and Republicans, who tend to think (conveniently, in some cases) that the economy and the climate are complex systems over which we shouldn’t (in one case) and can’t (in the other) exercise regulatory power. We’re not central, we’re mere cogs in great, mindless machines: the economy, the Earth, God’s plan.
Only, today God’s plan doesn’t glorify mankind the way it used to. I wonder, is that progress? Maybe only the invisible hand knows for sure.