Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why are Conservatives so Anti-Environmentalist?

Asked on Quora. My answer.

They are not. The premise that underpins this question is not based on reality.
Take a guess who said the following line?
"It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways. The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto. Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above, leading in turn to change in the world's climate, which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all."
No its not Al Gore, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi but none other than the Iron Lady herself - Margaret Thatcher - one of Conservatism’s Great Icons.
Yes, conservatives can indeed be environmentalists and the notion that conservatives are anti-environment is a misreading of history.
However one quote does not make a case. Lets look at the record then of four Republican Presidents in post-War United States for example
(For those of you who wish to dig deeper into the GOP and its environmental history. There is a great essay here on Teddy Roosevelt -(arguably the granddaddy of American Environmentalism in The Conservationist).
Dwight D. Eisenhower -During Ike’s term in office (1953–1960) when environmental issues were not as apparent on the political landscape the former General and World War II figure established the Arctic National Wildlife Range that safeguarded nine million acres of pristine land in Alaska from exploitation. He followed this up with legislation that was passed in 1958 to provide more funding for the acquisition of wildlife refuges.
Richard M. Nixon - Nixon was a great environmentalist. He set up the EPA in 1970 with the Clean Air Act, worked to halt dumping in the Great Lakes, and championed a $10 billion nationwide clean water program (1970).
Here was the proposed mandate for the EPA.
  • Identify pollutants.
  • Trace them through the entire ecological chain, observing and recording changes in form as they occur.
  • Determine the impact of man and his environment.
  • Examine interactions among forms of pollution.
  • Identify where in the ecological chain interdiction would be most appropriate
In his 1970 State of the Union Address regarding the Clean Water Act. Nixon had this to say:
It is not a program for just one year. A year's plan in this field is no plan at all. This is a time to look ahead not a year, but 5 years or 10 years--whatever time is required to do the job. I shall propose to this Congress a $10 billion nationwide clean waters program to put modern municipal waste treatment plants in every place in America where they are needed to make our waters clean again, and do it now. We have the industrial capacity, if we begin now, to build them all within 5 years. This program will get them built within 5 years.
Ronald Reagan - Ronald Reagan has received much criticism for his environmental policies. He did indeed clash with the EPA however he always considered himself an environmentalist at heart. His approach was rooted in common sense. Reagan was not a fan of the command-and-control regulatory approach favored by his predecessors. He took a different philosophy arguing that Free Enterprise was the key to a better environment.
Technology and innovation should play a key role in improving the environment and indeed this way of thinking has become the mainstay of Techno-Optimistic Environmentalism. See Techno-Optimistic Environmentalism
Here are some of the successes during Reagan’s term in office (1981–1988)
  • the Elimination of new lead production;
  • the reduction of carbon monoxide production by a quarter;
  • a fall in 40% of particulate pollution;
  • he actively advanced the Montreal Protocol that championed action to phase out the production of chemicals that promote Ozone depletion (technological solutions arising from this Protocol have largely been successful);
George H.W. Bush - As an avid fisherman Bush Sr. was concerned about the environment. However he was not a fan of onerous regulation that had the potential for job loss and believed in balancing the economy with the environment. Like Reagan he took a more practical approach.
Here are his achievements
  • Strict enforcement of the Clean Waters Act - Bush was very concerned that no wetlands would be lost on his watch (issued the Wetlands manual);
  • Promotion of Acid Rain Trading program (largely considered successful - there has been an 88% reduction in sulfur dioxide levels from 1990 to 2018);
  • Amendment of Clean Air Act (Pollution Prevention Act 1990);
Bush’s opinion on the environment is best encapsulated by his ‘millions of small decisions approach’ that he expressed here during the Presidential Environmental Youth Awards
"If it's true, as some say, that we're all borrowing the earth from future generations, it's also true that the earth will be preserved by millions of small decisions made every day by every one of us. And they're the kind of small decisions that make a world of difference, whether it's recycling aluminum cans, conserving water, turning off a lightbulb, even just keeping the refrigerator door closed."
In looking at the record of these Presidents and other conservative politicians - Don’t let anyone fool you: There ARE environmental conservatives). It is evident that most conservatives do care deeply about the environment.
The difference in comparison with modern day progressives is that conservatives are more interested in market solutions to these problems and are loathe to follow through with ‘big government’ initiatives that all too often have a substantial negative economic impact with poorly realized benefits.Pragmatism is the driver.
In fact Red States have been at the forefront of wind technology, especially when the economic case can be aligned with that of the environmental. Red States Are Leading the Wind Energy Charge.
Environmental Issues are complex and should transcend ideology, damning one side or another for a different approach is not helpful. The challenges ahead are great. A focus on doctrinal purity in an area ultimately driven by science, will create more problems then is warranted.
For Conservative groups focused on the environment as well as more articles on Green conservatism check out:
  1. Home - ConservAmerica
  2. The Conservative as Environmentalist
  3. CRS Home - Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship
Additional Sources:
  1. Dwight Eisenhower on Environment
  2. Richard Nixon on Environment
  3. Ronald Reagan on Environment
  4. George Bush Sr. on Environment
  5. Reagan, the Environmentalist


Was Apartheid Good or Bad?

Asked on Quora. My Answer.

I grew up in South Africa during the Apartheid era and despite the fact that it benefited me personally, as someone who was classified as White, there is no doubt that the system was bad.
The greatest evil of Apartheid was that it made it made Identity politics its central maxim. In so doing it sacrificed the right of the individual for that of the group. This runs completely against the foundations of authentic liberalism, that has served as the bedrock for our Western democracies.
Now some have claimed that the policy brought regional stability, and indeed an argument has been made that South Africa is in better shape today (economically and technically) compared to its continental neighbors as a result of Apartheid era policies, however I don’t believe this to be the case.
South African success is a function of a number of factors that include a large mineral wealth base (gold, diamonds, chrome, platinum, uranium etc), a dynamic but small free market economy, an educated elite with ties to Europe, a large labor market and an infrastructure that was largely developed prior to Apartheid. If anything Apartheid limited rather than extended many of these benefits to the majority of the country. South Africa only looks good when you juxtapose the country against nations that were all too often taken over by corrupt demagogues, who pilfered the local wealth, and established autocracies that restricted both individual and economic freedoms in their respective countries.
Apartheid for all intent of purpose was inherently an unstable system as seen by the Sharpeville massacre, the Rivonia trial, the Biko affair, the Soweto riots and the mass protests in the 1980s.
The system was only sustained by a strong police and military presence that created an illusion of stability. At the core, from inception in 1948, it began the slow but soon to be accelerated rot.
Once the political structure was undercut by economic sanctions, political isolation and a further demographic power imbalance it was only a matter of time before it would collapse.South Africa is better for the demise of Apartheid.
The great tragedy now though is the unfortunate reality that the leadership that has succeeded in its wake appears set in making the same errors of governance in power that has afflicted the rest of the continent. This may prove to be another evil.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Why does the Conservative party push progressive politics?

My answer on Quora.

I am not sure what you mean by the phrase Conservative party. Are you referring to the British Tory Party, the Canadian Conservatives, the US Republican Party or something else? The Australian Liberal Party is essentially a conservative outfit as is the Blue Dog Wing of the US Democratic Party, not to mention the Japanese Liberal Democrats, German CDU or the New Zealand Nationalist Party.
Conservatism is a broad framework of thought. It is in the grander scheme nation specific and context focused. In the US the GOP, was driven by Progressive politics during the Administrations of Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, Herbert Hoover and to some extent Presidents Nixon and Ford.
Very often these progressive policies are followed with the assumption that they will stabilize society, counter deleterious change and further conservative nationhood principles. Roosevelt’s anti-trust focus falls under the former.
The German statesman Otto von Bismarck and the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli both adopted ideas from the socialist left and re-branded them with a pragmatic conservatism. They saw this as a way of countering the rise of political currents forces in their respective nation states that threatened the integrity of the country.
Bismarck needed to safeguard the neophyte German against the rising forces of socialism and Laissez-faire capitalism (while uniting the country) and did so by co-opting the agenda of the one making it more difficult for the other to operate. In a sense his work represented a triumph of collectivist conservatism over the individualistic alternative (for the time). His policies would serve as the vanguard for the Progressive movement in the US and the Fabianists in the UK.
Disraeli did the same by using his Reform Act of 1867 to cement an alliance between the ruling elite and the Working class against the upsurge of Middle Class capitalism.
So in short - A great deal of Conservative motivation centers around the maintenance of a perceived stability. I am not discounting a deeper compassion - although one need not be a progressive to be compassionate - but necessary pragmatism in a world of grays seems to be the key driver.
Whether this is the correct approach to take is one of the great debates on the Conservative side of the political coin.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Is Political Correctness a false flag?

My answer on Quora.
No it is not. In fact it is the tip of a defining struggle that has dominated the body politic of the West for some time now – namely the Culture War. Big Issues are at stake here that include Immigration, Group versus Individual Rights, Freedom of Speech, the role of the Judiciary and at its very core the essence of values that define our Liberal Democracy.
Political Correctness is a neologism that represents the cumulative efforts to restrict the level of discourse to narrowly defined parameters predetermined by so-called acceptable ideology. The Will to Power plays a key role.
Both the right and the left have been guilty of this. The right held the floor in the US during the McCarthy era (late 40s early 50s) and defined the debate on Communism, damning alternatives to the strong oppositional viewpoint as Un-American. Today it is the left, a consequence of the Gramscian March Through the Institutions, that now sets the tone.

                                                                Antonio Gramsci
                                              Source: https://www.economist.com/prospero/2017/11/07/the-strange-afterlife-of-antonio-gramscis-prison-notebooks
Just like right wing extremism its actions here are wretched and liberals from both sides of the political spectrum ought to condemn it. Unfortunately many don’t. All too often they have been mislead into believing that political correctness is all about politeness. Such a take hits the three big ‘M’s....it is Meaningless, Misleading and ultimately Mind numbing.
There are big challenges facing our civilization, and the realities are often uncomfortable. What we would like to be true does not necessarily line up with the facts. There are many people on both sides of the aisle who genuinely want to see solutions that are pragmatic however in order to reach this point we have to risk hearing alternatives and debating alternatives that we ourselves may find offensive.
Political Correctness short circuits this intellectual approach by discounting various stakeholder positions thereby curtailing and limiting the necessary level of discussion essential for informed thought and action. Not only is such an approach anti-scientific it is affront to both the empirical and rationalist positions that have emerged, with great struggle, from both the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.
One has to in the paraphrased words of Jordan Peterson ‘risk being offended’ especially if we are intent on meaningful discussion around vital topics. Politically Correct thinking is anathema to this. It defines that which is sacred and relegates the rest to a type of heresy not applicable in polite society. In this regard it parallels religious fanaticism. Ideologues make the agenda. The agenda defines the Culture War and the ideologues become its high priests.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How does a person become well-regarded (or not) in the field of theoretical physics if they can't be proven right or wrong?

Answered on Quora

To begin with its important to realize that science doesn’t prove anything. It is an inductive not a deductive initiative. What science does offer are better and better models to explain specific phenomena. These models gain credence when they are supported by empirical evidence. Ultimately it is the evidence that is most important.
Theoretical Physics all too often runs ahead of the experimental capability available at the time so that the empirical evidence in support of a particular model may be lacking. However the discipline (like all other areas of science) is driven as well by informed, reasonable speculation that is grounded in mathematics. Models that make sense within a rational framework are developed and if they have sufficient mathematical rigor than the physicists involved in their development can become well regarded. This is the case with String Theory.
These mathematical constructs though have to be potentially falsifiable (else it is deemed largely unscientific) and if they fail later on the empirical level they will ultimately be thrown on the dust heap of science. Until then their champions may enjoy a certain degree of acclaim.

What were the Five Best American Foreign Policy Decisions?

Answered on Quora.

This is an excellent question. Its also very difficult to answer unless we constrain the subject matter to a specific time period. I will look at the Cold War (1945–1991). As a lover of history these would be my Top Picks (not necessarily in order).
  1. The adoption of the Marshall Plan after World War Two by the Truman Administration. This played an important role in creating a more stable structural framework in Western Europe to counter the Soviet Menace. Included under the general rubric of said policy was the Formation of NATO (1949).
  2. The decision by the Reagan administration to force the Soviet Union into an Arms Race that they couldn’t afford. The end result was economic pressure on the Soviet Union that hastened its collapse.
  3. JFK’s tough stance in opposition to Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). Although this raised the political stakes to a high level it ended in a strategic victory for the US.
  4. Nixon’s visit to China (1972). This greatly eased tension between the US and China and helped to further drive a wedge between the two great Communist Powers (the Soviet Union and China).
  5. The Camp David Accord (1978). It has proved to be beneficial for both Israel and Egypt. Although I am not a Jimmy Carter fan this is one aspect of his foreign policy that he actually got right.

Should the French Revolution be viewed as the origin of democracy or the origin of totalitarianism?

Answered on Quora.

It is not the origin of democracy. That line in the West goes back as far as the Athenians, through the Romans, the Magna Carta and the English Quiet Revolution. All of which precedes the French Revolution. Nor does it signify the origin of totalitarianism whose earliest versions go back to the Kingdoms of the Ancient World. What it does represent (if you only look at its negative side)  is the earliest version of the Totalitarian Ideological State whose modern incarnations in the 20th century were responsible for a great deal of horror in contemporary times.