Jerry Taylor, formerly of the Cato Institute and now president of the Niskanen Center, explained the dangers of ideology in an important essay about why he no longer calls himself a libertarian. Ideological allegiances, he argues, impede the search for truth: “Given our very human tendency to filter out information that does not comport with our worldviews — and excessive attention to information that comports with the same — the more we repair to our ideological lenses, the more distorted they become thanks to a spiraling process of confirmation bias.” Taylor now prefers to pursue “moderation” rather than any ideological worldview. So do I.
If I wanted any more confirmation of the dangers of what Taylor calls “motivated cognition,” it came in the hysterical reaction to my recent column explaining why I’ve come to recognize the danger of climate change and bemoaning that much of the GOP remains “impervious to science and reason.” The only potential solution I mentioned was a carbon tax, the most free-market approach possible to weaning us of our greenhouse-gas addiction. But you would think, to judge by the fury from the right, that I had called for the confiscation of all private property:
- Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, in a now-deleted tweet, wrote, “Coming up on our series – ‘Why Can’t Conservatives?’ –Maxine Boot will report from her Vermont collective on how conservatives refuse to admit that gender is socially constructed, that meat is murder, and that Yoga and high colonic therapy produces a planet-healing mindfulness.” So real men don’t acknowledge climate change?
- Steve Milloy, a lawyer whose twitter handle is (I’m not making this up) “@junkscience” and who started an organization called (I’m not making this up either) Burn More Coal, wrote: “This is very sad... just angry anti-Trumpism. The Deep State’s 4th climate assessment is as invented, hysteric & noncredible as its 3rd, 2nd and 1st assessments.” Uh, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was produced by Trump’s own administration, and it reflects the scientific consensus. As NASA observes, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
- Andrew Follett of the Club for Growth chimed in: “I do find it suspicious that Boot and J Rubin’s turn against conservatism came right after they accepted paychecks from left-wing outlets.” In fact, I turned against Trump when I was still a writer for Commentary, and I don’t get a paycheck from any “left-wing outlets”: The Council on Foreign Relations, CNN and The Post all employ conservatives; the latter two prominently feature pro-Trump commentators. It’s galling to be told that my painful break with my political tribe after a lifetime of loyalty was for mercenary motives given how much more money the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson receive for glorifying Trump.
- Jonah Goldberg of National Review was particularly exercised about my contention that conservatives refuse to acknowledge climate change because “they are captives … of the fossil fuel industry” and “of their own rigid ideology.” But what other explanation is there? I was not suggesting, as he seems to think, that all climate-deniers are taking fossil-fuel funds, although some are. That’s mainly a problem with members of Congress, who need campaign donations. But industry lobbying also influences ordinary conservatives who fall for the shoddy “studies” and shallow op-eds designed to minimize the threat of climate change. I ran some of those articles myself years ago when I was the op-ed editor at the Wall Street Journal.
Goldberg shows that he hasn’t grasped the scientific evidence when he writes, in a faux-reasonable vein, that it’s possible to “believe that climate change is a real concern, with some legitimate science on its side.” Some? Try all. In support of his own climate-skeptical views, Goldberg cites the British science writer Matt Ridley. He has a D.Phil. in zoology, but he has not published peer-reviewed research in climatology, meteorology or any related discipline, and his argument that global warming is benign has been roundly ridiculed by actual climate scientists.
One gets the sense, as my Post colleague Jennifer Rubin wrote, that if progressives championed the theory of gravity, conservatives would denounce it. In fact, public-opinion research suggests that many Republicans would be likely to support climate-change solutions if they were proposed by Republican leaders — and conversely many Democrats would be likely to oppose them even if they would have backed the very same policies when put forward by Democrats. We’ve already seen the parties flip positions on Russia because of Trump. That is the danger of ideology, and why I strive for an empirical, non-ideological approach instead, even if that leaves me in a political no-man’s land where I am sniped at by both sides.