Politics is about power. It is not about science. It is not about religion. It is not about family life, it is not about right and wrong. It is about authority and coercion, violence and prevention of violence, who gives orders and who does not. It is not about anything else, except insofar as people who hold power make it about other things.
When people who hold power try to enforce certain views – whether those views concern science or religion or any other system of beliefs – they use their authority illegitimately. To take a current legal case, for example, investigation of Exxon for infractions related to climate change is to enforce a certain point of view. It cannot be done. The enforcers will certainly lose in the long run.
Take the example of cigarettes and lung cancer, the prosecutorial model that seems to motivate the climate enforcers. Cigarette companies had no obligation to disseminate findings that establish a link between smoke inhalation and lung cancer. The existence of that link did not make their product illegal, nor did it make their advertising fraudulent. Yet the federal government forced cigarette manufacturers to pay large fines and penalties to settle charges that they were engaged in a conspiracy to deceive their customers.
Of course the manufacturers will try to disprove the link. That is not a crime. Lacing your product with arsenic or rat poison would be a crime, but saying “Wait a second” when you are under attack is not. The same reasoning holds – and the same constraints on judicial power apply – for attempts to prosecute oil companies who say “Wait a second” to climate change enforcers. You cannot convict people, or corporations, of crimes because they want to argue with you. You cannot do it, no matter how sure of yourself you might be, and no matter how loudly you broadcast your claim that you only want to protect a company’s customers from inflicting harm on themselves.
The example of cigarette manufacturers helps us judge outcomes as well. The health enforcers have used every tool at government’s disposal to wipe out smoking: extraordinarily high rates of taxation, public propagation of anti-smoking messages, hammering home dubious and alarmist findings about ingesting other people’s smoke, restrictions on public smoking and semi-private smoking, charging manufacturers with crimes, charging people who sell loose cigarettes as criminals, even forcing bar and club owners to eliminate smoking from their private establishments. Everything about the campaign has aimed to eliminate smoking altogether. Yet the campaign has utterly failed. People still want to smoke, and do.
That leaves you with an incredibly coercive regime of anti-smoking measures that fail to accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. People become accustomed to living under this kind of illegitimate power, when all they want to do is relax with a cigarette. That they still find ways to inhale unhealthy nicotine after fifty years of anti-smoking campaigns should tell the campaigners that something is wrong. It doesn’t, however, tell them that at all. Instead the campaigners say we have to be more coercive, we have to find stronger and more effective means, we have to do whatever we have to do to make people healthy. You keep brother’s well-being.
We can see the same kinds of campaigns developing in the climate change arena. The enforcers have been just as blunt about their aims as the anti-smoking enforcers. They want to put everyone on a path to eliminate fossil fuels, in order to protect all of us from our foolishness. Theirs is a path of righteousness, which means those who do not follow them will die. Do as we say, for your own benefit. Do as we say, because to do otherwise will destroy us all. Do you see the similarity to the anti-smoking orthodoxy?
I want to make one more comparison that ought to make us skeptical about these amazingly blatant attempts to make everyone live the same way. The Catholic church, centuries ago, regarded heterodoxy as a threat to its own authority. The church was right: heterodoxy was a threat. In science, philosophy, technology and medicine – every mode of thought that opened and extended avenues of human growth – heterodox beliefs eroded the church’s authority.
During a period when people sought to make a little more room for their own thoughts, the church acted vigorously to force everyone – inside and outside the church – to think the same way, to believe the same things. It brought charges of heresy and witchcraft against people who deviated from orthodox beliefs. It burned them, drowned them, imprisoned them, fined them, tortured them, and practiced every method of coercion it could devise. Certain groups in the Middle East do the same today.
Most threatening of all during the enlightenment were smart non-conformists, such as scientists and philosophers, who valued truth over orthodoxy. Galileo Galilei, physicist and astronomer, was arrested and tried by a religious institution that would ultimately fail to maintain its authority in every respect. He declared that “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” Centuries of scientific work proved him correct.
Make your own judgments about modern day campaigners who try to make everyone think the same way they do. They say they have your interests at heart, but truthfully, they look after their own authority. Fight orthodoxy that uses the state’s power for enforcement. Free minds and divergent beliefs limit authority, and make those who judge and coerce into history’s fools.