On Ecological Realism

This week I want to respond to Sonja Sonnerström’s article on ecological fundamentalism here on Social Matter. I find that this topic gets overlooked in neoreactionary discourse so I’m glad someone got the ball rolling. When I’ve spoken about it, I’ve encountered two kinds of responses. The first is a knee-jerk negative reaction to the topic of the environment. I consider this a vestige from “conservative base” culture (think #tcot and #rednationrising). The Left adopted environmentalism as a cause; thus, conservatives adopt anti-environmentalist rhetoric as a cause. It’s signalling all the way down. The second is a willingness to engage the topic beyond political talking points. This is encouraging. What I want to do here is lay out how Neoreaction can be more effective than either ecological fundamentalism or anti-environmentalist political gang signs. I want to see not only how neoreaction can address ecological issues, but also make a case for why it should.

Sonja talks about eco-fundamentalism as a religion – a belief system based on emotion instead of evidence. I’d just call it Political Environmentalism. This is the sort of environmentalism which thinks that all pollution is bad and rejects technological solutions to ecological problems as somehow impure. It’s the belief system which leads people to link anti-capitalism and ecology – never mind that the Soviets devastated their environment. Sometimes it’s backed by a back-to-nature sentiment or an idealized version of non-western cultures living in harmony with the planet. Sonja does a good job of showing why these mindsets are at best naive and at worst dangerous. I fully agree that some of the major ecological problems stem from lack of property rights, tech, and population pressure.

But I’m going to lay the eco-fundamentalist conception aside for a moment. My own academic background is in the economics of food and natural resources. I often cross paths with people involved in conservation, climate science, forestry, and similar work. I’ve seen eco-fundamentalism at work time and time again. But I’ve also seen saner people. I can’t think of any mainstream environmental economist who would push zero pollution, for example. Instead, economists state that the benefits of pollution should outweigh the costs. Furthermore, externalities have to be internalized. For example, if your company causes damage to land, you need to pay for its proper restoration. Few people would disagree with that principle. Certainly no rightist accepting the value of personal responsibility should.

Let’s scale up. The purpose of the state is to preserve order and stability. This is a central tenet of neoreactionary thought. Now let’s say that agricultural companies are operating in your state. But they’re generating large negative externalities! Land is being damaged, insects are being poisoned, mono-cropping is impacting biodiversity. This presents a clear threat to the biological resiliency of the state. The companies don’t have incentive to change their practices; maybe they can buy land elsewhere at a lower price than changing their practices would leave them with. In this situation, the state must intervene to fulfil its function. It must make sure that the companies pay the full cost of their operations. The response will probably be something like “but then won’t those companies leave anyway?” Yes, probably. But they would have had to leave when damage to the land made it impossible to use further anyway. The cost to the state is the same, but by playing it safe the state has preserved vital biological resources.

Scale up again. An oil company operating in international waters screwed up and oil is churning out into the ocean. There are several states bordering that ocean. Those states will have to deal with ecological damage, health effects, and economic loss. It’s in the interest of these states to prepare for such an eventuality, especially when oil companies are operating in that ocean. It’s also in the interest of these states to cooperate when creating these safeguards. Businesses also like a single set of rules more than a variety of differing ones because it’s easier to follow. It’s the same reason multinationals like free trade treaties. Here we see the foul spectre of international law arise, which elicits fear and disdain from many on the right. But international laws have existed for millennia. From the treaties between Rome and Parthia to the Peace of Westphalia, cooperation benefited the states involved.

The point of all these examples is to show that ecological concerns are well  within the purview of hypothetical neoreactionary states. The result by definition is environmental law and regulation. The principle of subsidiarity should be followed here. I’ve heard the counter-argument in discussions that the majority of environmental problems are local in nature. This is true. National laws which try to regulate local effects often have their very own set of negative externalities. Nevertheless: non-local environmental problems are by definition bigger problems even if there are less of them.

Here’s where we should address the elephant in the room: global warming. Generally speaking, neoreactionaries are suspicious of climate science, and not without reason. But here’s where things get tricky. On the one hand, the political impact of climate science means that politicians desire certain results. Collectively, these results provide the politicians with a Useful Truth. Like anything related to politics, Useful Truth can conflict with real Truth. Eventually, Useful Truth becomes Official Truth and that’s pretty damn hard to overturn. One of the tenets of eco-fundamentalism is that Green Energy is pure and good and oil companies are corrupt lobbyists. The problem is that most industries end up lobbying and acting in their own interests instead of the common good. Green energy is no exception. The logic of the skeptic is simple from here: interests from progressive politicians to environmental consultants benefit from results which tighten regulations and create green energy demand to reduce carbon. Therefore, climate science is compromised and cannot be trusted. The issue is that this narrative leaves out the other half of the story. There’s a collection of interests which benefit from fighting Warmist climate science and disproving its findings. And that collection of interests has got deep pockets too. So we must apply the same chain of logic to them. The person who believes the science behind global warming to be in thrall to Useful Truth must say the same about those who denounce it.

I don’t have a solution to the above quandary to publish here. But I want to take a step down the road. The problem is time-preference. Actors on both sides have relatively high time preference. Businesses (both oil and wind) must think in terms of shareholders and profit cycles, not generations. Politicians (both Bush and Gore) must think in terms of special interests and election cycles. This problem is exacerbated because these interests control the state which could otherwise take a long-term view. In other words, it’s necessary for the state to lower its time preference in order to accurately assess  and confront threats to ecological stability. Isn’t this long-term view of politics exactly what neoreaction demands?

Sonja references the fact that the climate has always changed and will always be changing, from the age of the dinosaurs to the Medieval Warming period. One response Skeptics give Warmists goes like this: non-human causes changed the climate throughout history, so isn’t it wrong/overblown/presumptive to attribute such a significant human cause to modern changes? I think this is fallacious, but I’ll let you pursue that for yourself. Humans are one of many factors which can impact the climate – but we are one of the factors. What remains is the question of how much weight we should give that factor. And even if humans have a negligible impact, this does not mean that all changes are favourable to humans. States will become more fragile if extreme weather events become more normal. Investment in increasing resiliency requires a time preference low enough to not see an ROI until a statistical outlier shows its face. The commenter SanguineEmpiricist was dead on when he said that we can’t tiptoe around ruin events when we only have one earth. The fact that these events might be hard to predict doesn’t provide an escape; that signalling sometimes rules over substance should only make us more worried. Nassim Taleb (a skeptic of anthropogenic warming) expressed this sensible view: do not shake up an extremely complex system when that system could cave in and doom us. (This is also why a Taleb student would be suspicious of large, centralized solutions, by the way.) Massive deforestation and destruction of vital insect populations definitely constitute a shake-up. Sure, a ruin event could be a complete outlier. But it only takes the one. The best thing which could happen for the state would be a source of knowledge which exists outside of the current academic nexus.  One which could conduct the research necessary to verify or falsify the current models. I believe Moldbug calls this a “truth service” and dubs it the Antiversity.

And here’s where the neoreactionary approach to this issue should lie. First, we should acknowledge the simple fact that political interests substitute Useful Truths for real Truths – and then admit that this applies to both sides of this debate. Second, it needs to be admitted that ecological systems are highly complex and difficult to analyze – and that’s exactly why states have an interest in making themselves ecologically and biologically resilient. Changing climates and long-run environmental consequences are far from Black Swan events. Third, the work of the Antiversity begins now. The hydra image of the Green Movement which many on the right have leads to a confusion of issues. There’s a sense that to buy into restricting pesticides which harm bees requires going the whole nine yards and chaining yourself to a nuclear plant. The Antiversity is a truth provider and advises on that basis. Does the evidence swing in favour of pesticide toxicity? Regulate. Does it come down against the efficacy of wind energy? Get rid of the subsidies.

I hope this article serves to create a better frame of mind for approaching ecology. As happens time and time again, political signalling tends to overrule reason when it comes to the issue and very few on the right or left are immune. Useful Truth and Official Truth are worthless when they don’t reflect reality. The neoreactionary approach must be better. The work may be complicated. The method surely isn’t.

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5 Comments

  1. A well-written, and thoughtful essay on the various aspects of a complex subject. As a AGW skeptic, I agreed long ago with Michael Crichton’s speech in which he outlined point-for-point the religious fundamentalist parallels of the environmentalist movement to “normal” religious movements of our Christian society. The atheist worshipers of the priests in white lab coats some time ago co-opted cultural and societal conversations regarding most, if not all, aspects of the “ecology” or “environmental” movement. “Scientism” is a valuable term to describe something which does not exist in actual science: consensus. And normally only existed in other political movements in the the past: the overt co-option of those whose credentials “qualify” them to preach what makes the puppet masters more money. Political movements to benefit the monied interests are not new; the massive whoring of “scientists” (who have little or no knowledge in the subject they seem to enjoy preaching about) on the political grant payrolls is probably at an all time high, percentage wise. Humans are emotional creatures, and “feel good” is all most them will ever use to make decisions. Thus, running with the crowd, mob behaviour, etc. Reason and logic are the basics of Science – but prostituted political toadies will fall to the wayside eventually when their BS becomes apparent. Hopefully, not too many third worlders (or first-worlders!) will freeze to death before it becomes obvious to all the world is cooling again (and has not warmed for the last 17 years- lets pray we don’t get another Maunder Minimum!) and all our high energy sources (fossil fuels) have been locked away… Perhaps that is what they want, though- not a nice way to achieve population decline.
    I do agree with your points in re toxic and hazardous waste/ pollution- and this seems to be a problem with so many conversations about all these acrimonious subjects in our society: they seem to combine so many various realities with outright lies that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to disagree with a lie without being “disqualified” because the other “items” in the agenda do have a basis in reality… deliberate?

  2. Off topic, of course, but may I humbly suggest that you change your site-wide tag-line, “Not your grandfather’s conservatism”? It seems like an oddly defensive and somewhat weak statement for what is in the main a very clear-thinking website with plenty of backbone.

    You want to distance Social Matters from “grandfather’s conservatism” and yet you invoke the words “grandfather’s conservatism” at the top of the main page and at the top of every single article. And on a sort of pre-grammatical level, sitting right there when the eye first sweeps the page are the suggestions “grandfather,” “conservatism,” and the negative word “not.”

    I think this site is one of the best on the internet and I love to read and ponder your articles, but I’m basically already a convert. For people who first encounter this site, perhaps less prominence to this rather defensive and negatively-phrased tag line would better represent the ideas contained herein, for those first encountering them.

    Thanks for providing such valuable articles, and I hope I’m not out of line with my suggestion.

    1. And of course, in my suggestion that you think about the implications of your word choices, I have a mangled second-to-last sentence.

      I suppose we are all capable of unnecessary repetition, I suppose.

    2. for some reason latin seems like a good path:

      Illegitimis nil carborundum

      Vltima ratio regvm

      Ivs gentivm

  3. Good all around. The replacement of the modern university system with something more in keeping with its origin (such as platos academy) is always a good idea. It is one of the better projects to work towards.

    “The Antiversity is a truth provider and advises on that basis ”

    actually implementing and appropriately using (as opposed to the abject failure of peer review) rigor when it comes to intellectual thought is the current mountain. Getting past that will solve many a problem.

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