Casaubon's Book

Does Relocalization Make You Stupid?

I made myself swear that I would not argue with any of my fellow Science bloggers for one full week after my arrival here, no matter what. Fortunately, my first week wound up yesterday, and with the arrival of Greg Laden’s essay on the political and intellectual dangers of relocalization, I’ve got good fodder for my first donnybrook ;-).

Actually, I agree with Laden’s concern about relocalization of political power on a number of points – my issue is more with how he frames the discussion, as one in which local policies are inevitably more subject to, well, stupidity. That said, I agree with him on a number of points, particularly this one:

“There is a strong feeling in US civics as well as among those interested in education that the more local the decision is made, the better the decision will be. This is probably true in many areas. I remember years back when my father was involved in fights over regulation and public housing, and he showed me a project in Arizona and a project he was doing in New York … each adapted to local conditions of climate, urban setting, etc. to optimize the use of resources for heating and cooling, and each project disallowed by Federal Housing Authority regulations written by people who apparently lived in Virginia and had no clue as to how to build a building in a cold climate or a hot climate. Local conditions were not accounted for by those regulations, but local conditions mattered a lot.

On the other hand, is it really the case that there is a local way to teach evolution? Well, yes…. I have a colleague who is totally into everybody teaching evolution by using, in part, studies of diversity of ants in the school yard. Which is great and I love that program. But I know of schools that have no dirt in the yard, and if they do, it is considered unsafe to dig in. I know of schools in habitats where the real diversity is not in ants but in some other organism. So evolution + looking for stuff outside + diversity = good pedagogy, but not necessarily with ants. So, a combination of nationally or internationally conceived and executed programs and local adaptation works.

There are people who argue that the decision of whether evolution is a valid set of theories or should be taught along side creationism, etc, should be a local one. Why? The “logical” reason to think this is that the more local the decision the better it is. Which, I am trying to point out here, is a fallacy. The “real” reason people try to push that idea is that it is politically easier to intimidate, cajole, convince, and trick people into doing what you want them to do if you get secretly organized first, then appear on the scene unexpectedly in a small group or polity, then push for what you want and get it in place before anyone at a larger geographical scale knows what you are up to. And this approach exploits the widespread (but incorrect) belief that “local control” is better.”

For the record, I advocate a degree of relocalization of politics, food and energy that goes rather beyond the opinion offered in US civics classes, and this is a serious and legitimate criticism. It is in some ways, more possible to bully a dumb idea – or a good one – through a local government. I believe that in the net, a greater degree of relocalization would be better, but I don’t claim that means that we will always make better relocalized decisions. I also believe in the idea of a national government as a useful corrective. I also do not want to see the school districts of any state teaching creationism alongside legitimate science. And I agree this is a real danger – localism contains the genuine possibility of deeply regressive social policies being enacted, and this is troubling.

It is also true, however, that localism offers precisely the opposite opportunities. We have only to look at the large number of cities and towns in the US that have joined Transition, or made global warming commitments that vastly exceed the nothing that the national government has done to see evidence that localism can lead to better choices. We have only to look at the states that have enacted gay marriage to see that local cultures can be progressive as well. There will be readers, of course, who hearing me say this, will say that the very fact that Massachusetts could enact gay marriage is an excellent argument *against* localization.

Of course, Laden admits this when he speaks of building codes – his argument is not a black and white one, but it points to the larger question of how seriously we should take relocalization – and what price we might be willing to pay to permit localities to do things that make sense – even if the corollary is that sometimes they do things that make no sense at all, or are actively destructive and stupid. The question becomes, where to intervene? What weight to give localism vs. nationalism – or is this even the right way to frame the question?

We all agree, I suspect, that there have to be limits on relocalization, or, as Tom Lehrer once put it “We’ll try and stay serene and calm…when Alabama gets the bomb.” Even the most ardent relocalization advocates certainly do not advocate the relocalization of everything (although it is probably a good idea to remember that involuntary relocalization of resources no one would ever want to see relocalized, such as nuclear weapons, does happen, as we can see from the breakup of the Soviet Union.)

The question becomes how one draws the lines – and how one views the argument. Laden goes on to wave a few unnecessary red flags that I know will annoy some of my readers, and to essentially, worry a bit about the problem of democracy:

“I see a version of local empowerment and the demand that each individual’s opinion … a kind of democratization of point of view … in denialist movements. When Pat Buchanan insisted to Andrea Mitchel the other day on MSNBC that “We don’t happen to accept this evidence … global warming is not proven to us” he meant, by “us,” not some group of climate scientists but rather members of a political movement that claims popularism (even though it is owned by the financial elite) known as the Republican Party. He was referring to the Teabaggers. I think if you asked the average Teabagger, “Is your opinion on global warming as valid as some MIT professor of climate studies?” the Teabagger would say “Yes it is, dammit!” and if you asked why you would hear a populist strum and draw of one kind or another. But the Teabagger would be wrong.

The ways in which this is embodied among denialists varies. The “Mommy Instinct” empowers individual women, if they are mommies, to know as much as the AMA about what is medically good for their child. Home schoolers know that they understand both the contents and the pedagogy of all of the subjects taught in school better than anyone else. “Fooled me once, fooled me twice” references to Malthusian arm waving on this very blog appeal to a personal sense of having been put upon as a reason why one might be correct about the complexities of climate modeling. And so on.”

There is some truth here, although I think Laden’s case for “denialism” isn’t very well laid out, but ultimately, this is the problem of democracy – the vote of idiots counts as much as yours. More importantly, the idiots (whoever they are conceived as and recalling that everyone is an idiot on some subject in someone’s eyes) will go on thinking that what they know is as good as what you know, even when you “know” it isn’t. There are certainly plenty of times, when as in the case of Laden’s “Guy A and B” there is a clear line between who should make a decision. There are more instances, however, when the lines are much blurrier.

Often, as Laden points out, the people are not right. This is the sucky end of democracy. But is it not possible to see, alongside denialism, which undoubtably exists, also wise and careful local governance which exceeds the care possible at the collective and national level, and expertise about the local? That is, climate skeptics do indeed demand that we take their opinions just as seriously as we take the opinions of climatologists, and that is wrong. On the other hand, for decades, conservationists have been standing against mainstream land management policies, that until recently were almost always backed up by university studies and scientific research that said, “yes, we can tolerate a little bit of arsenic, and no, we don’t need to worry about that because it is bad for bidness…”

The conservationists of the last century were generally denialists, in that the preponderance of the scientific evidence and authority was weighed against them. The organic farmers were and are denialists, in that they claim in the face of a large body of research that claims that some pesticides are just fine even in babies’ bodies and that you can’t grow food that way, that they do matter and you can. The organic foods Moms are denialists – they say it matters what you put in my kids’ body, even though the research isn’t totally clear. The thing is, there are denialists in the right as well as the wrong – and the denialist impulse can be a good and useful one. Think, for example, about the women who resisted pressure to use hormones after menopause, simply because they seemed “unnatural” despite the considerable weight of authority brought upon them, the threats of bone loss… – we can all think of some good examples. The reasoning that underlies certain denialist impulses can be and is used to good purpose as well – and we simply can’t claim that it is only bad when we don’t like the outcome.

Localism may make denialism easier in some ways – it almost certainly does – but that’s a double edged sword, like most swords. Moreover, I’m not sure I would frame the conflict as Laden does – he speaks of this as a conflict between highly educated experts and un-educated “denialists” who want their opinions to be taken just as seriously as people with better information. But what if we frame the question as a conflict between two experts – one an expert on a larger subject, requiring deep study, and the other an expert on a much smaller, more localized subject. Thus, the homeschooling mother doesn’t claim to be an expert on pedagogy – but she is an expert on her kid, and how she learns. Thus, the mother who stands against AMA nutritional recommendations and chooses a different diet for her child claims to be an expert, not in nutrition, but in how her child responds to the food they give him. Thus, the local man who never finished high school claims not to be an expert on what will work as a national agricultural policy, but his 40 years of farming tells him what will grow in his community.

There are some advantages to this viewpoint. First of all, you start from the presumption that people aren’t idiots. I realize this isn’t as much fun as assuming everyone who isn’t like you is a moron, but other people like it better, and listen better. This does not require that you grant credibility to creationism, however – it is an acknowledgement that people may have legitimate expertise on subject subjects from a narrow and local perspective – but because there is no “local” version of evolution, that doesn’t in any sense grant it credibility.

Second, the advantage of accepting the possibility that “denialism” may sometimes be a different kind of expertise about the local is that you can sometimes avoid the problems that authorities sometimes generate. For example, I’m not anti-vaccine, but it is important to remember that “denialists” who felt that hormones were unnatural and risky and shouldn’t be routinely taken by menopausal women used pretty much the same reasoning people use for choosing not to vaccinate – and they were right, in opposition to enormous pressure by doctors. Sometimes the denialists provide a necessary corrective – thus attacking them on that ground is probably a mistake.

This is a pain in the ass, of course, because it takes time. And sometimes that time is wasted on stupidities – this is probably unavoidable – but sometimes it isn’t. It is easier to not go through the reasoning point by point, to not sit down and defend the idea that parents should do X or Y. But easier isn’t always better.

There are times in which expertise about one’s home or child or soil or community or culture *should* take precedence over the expertise of an expert on the general principles of building or pediatric medicine or agriculture or social policy. There are times when they absolutely should not. Laden seems to believe that it is possible to frame this issue as a question of localization, and draw clear lines about when this should be true and when not, and how to integrate national and local – but I’m not sure that’s right. Both come with a high price – and it is not useful to lay out the price of one without clearly understanding the price of the other.

When it comes to creationism, as Laden correctly points out, you don’t have to take the local opinion all that seriously. Even if they know how science is understood locally, we all know that the laws of science are not local, and they don’t vary. While someone who lives locally may have wise and useful suggestions as to how to present material on evolution to respond to existing knowledge/prejudice, there is no local way to teach science. More importantly, there is a clear good in a scientifically literate society. But if not localizing is (at present, anyway) the way to get a more scientifically literate one, it is possible that localizing might be the way to get a more historically literate one.

If Laden is over 30 and grew up in the United States, he, like me, almost certainly grew up with history textbooks that had to pass the “Texas Test” – since they are published and distributed nationally, almost every textbook released in the US had to be acceptable to the American South and to Texan reviewers. Because of this, historical textbooks had well-documented errors, problems of emphasis and outright lies in them, because publishers couldn’t risk offending people in Texas and the South by publishing a version of the story of the Civil War that annoyed people who still refer to it as “the war of northern agression.”

This was not a result of localization, but one of national standards, of precisely the controls that Laden wants to see enacted in science. The creation of a “lowest common denominator” American history textbook meant that children whose great-great grandparents had marched off to war over slavery were told that the civil war wasn’t mostly about slavery. They were told that it was about “state’s rights” – which is true as long as you mostly recognize that it was about, to the extent that you can choose any dominant conflict, state’s rights… to hold slaves and about which western states would become slave states. They were given a radically softened view of slavery in the US, in which masters and mistresses loved and cared for their slaves, and a view of reconstruction in which African-Americans were helpless and ignorant and unable to participate in civil society, a burden on white southerners already victimized by northern policies.

Laden is right that most opposition to teaching evolution has happened on the local level, and because something is local does not make it better – but our own history suggests that national standards aren’t a cure-all. It is disturbingly possible to imagine a course of American history in which the species of American conservative protestantism that focuses on creationism enters the mainstream sufficiently to enact an equivalent Texas Test for creationism – at which point those of us who oppose the teaching of creationism would be begging to relocalize, and at least spare states without a preponderence of conservative protestants this nonsense. In anything but rule by the best and brightest (which realistically does not happen and should not), we are subject to risk of stupid outcome. The advantage of national standards is that they prevent the worst excesses. The disadvantage is that generally, they result in a flattening and dumbening of the overall analysis, and a homogenization that can cause equally bad results. Again, I don’t claim that Laden doesn’t recognize this, but he seems to think that there is a greater danger of bad results in localized situations. And for evolution that may be true. I’m not sure it is in general.

I’m not convinced that this is an argument that can be accurately or fully addressed by dealing with the question of localization or with denialism. And I am not clear whether the net good of policy changes by localizing communities would be greater or lesser than not relocalizing them – I suspect this is one of those things that you can’t know until you try – and maybe not even then, since the comparisons involved are not even. For example, how do you weight a child in Alabama taught creationism as science against a child in Vermont growing up with legal protections for her lesbian Moms?

I advocate for localization on wholly different grounds – because of the energy policy and environmental implications. In doing so, I have to admit that local democracy isn’t always a good thing by my lights – the problem with every idiot getting a vote is that every idiot gets a vote – and everyone is an idiot in some people’s eyes. I am for local democracy in general, because I think that there is something to be said for allowing people who are truly expert in local conditions to have a say, and for avoiding the flattening effect of national standards. That means greater extremes in the whole – extremes of good things, and also bad ones.

And it also means that we do have to know when to wield the federal government as a tool – but also recognize that just as local government is not an unadulterated good, so will federal intervention be. I’m for the Clean Air Act and against NAIS. I’m for Brown v. Board of Education and against Bush v. Gore – and yet both of these are enacted on roughly the same principles – that federal controls are needed to limit local variation. I don’t think that either federal control or local control will always be good, or obviate the need for constant intervention and vigilance, for communities far away pointing out how appalling the policy over there is, and for voters of conscience saying “no, this time we should/should not intervene” – that is, I’m not sure you can address this through the framing lens of localism.

What real relocalization will do is not make us smarter, or better, or less inclined towards progress or regress in social policy or education – it will reduce our use of resources. That’s all – it won’t cure us of all our ills, or bring about utopia or make us better people. It might make us have to face up to the people we are hurting when we do harm. It might make us more able to address some wrongs. But it won’t protect us from the tyranny of the majority, when the majority includes an ample number of fools. As Laden points out, empowering the individual doesn’t mean ensmartening them. Fortunately, political power doesn’t actually make you any dumber either.



  1. #1 Jason
    December 15, 2009

    I’m not going to speak for Greg Laden, but I’m not sure your definition of ‘denialist’ coincides with his or with others I frequently read on scienceblogs.

    I think to be termed a denialist requires an element of intellectual dishonesty… merely refusing hormone replacement in the face of the scientific studies of the time, for instance, would not qualify. Unless you were to support your position with falsified studies, cherry pick, move the goalposts, or any other technique of the denialist. Science has always had room for contrarians, and yes some of the heroes of science are those who stood up to the scientific establishment and were beaten down until the evidence slowly kept supporting their position. Denialists on the other hand refuse to accept any evidence that might contradict them out of hand and accept any evidence that might support them regardless of how dubious.

  2. #2 Sharon Astyk
    December 15, 2009

    But in the category of denialists, Laden places anyone he doesn’t seem to like much. I don’t have the problem of specifying that small groups of people who reject science altogether are “denialist” – but all homeschooling parents who think they can do a better job of teaching their kids than the local public schools are not. All parents who do not immediately bow to all AMA policies are not. They may cherry pick – and indeed, so do the denialists that I talk about – they cherry pick the studies that show harm, or imply possible harm over those drawn differently. They don’t falsify studies or evidence, however. They may occasionally believe falsfied studies or evidence – as do people on the correct side of things at times.

    If Laden wants to create a narrow category of denialists, he’s not doing a very good job, rhetorically speaking. By setting it up as a big category, and defining denialism as anyone who resists things he thinks are bad, he’s making it a largely meaningless one. Nope, not buying that one.



  3. #3 Edward Bryant
    December 15, 2009

    Nice nuanced consideration of Laden’s essay.

    I agree that localization means that some localities will err, sometimes very badly. Jefferson considered such errors inevitable but mostly correctable by the same force which created the error in the first place. In practice, this does not always work, or it works over such a long time as to be unremedied.

    Sorry to drag JMG back into this, but his advocacy of disenssus makes sense in this context. Some localities will serve as bad examples for the rest.

  4. #4 dogear6
    December 15, 2009

    Wow, what a concept – we can and should take personal responsibility (and accountability) within our own spheres of influence. Keep it up Sharon!! There is no right or wrong answer across the board (just read the comments above mine) and there are times when national intervention is needed, as you pointed out.

    But we are, as a society, too fast to abdicate to the experts for what we should think and do. We listen to the president on television, then we hear the talking heads telling us what he said and what we should think about it. Ditto for church on Sunday.

    Localization is a necessary concept and practice for our society. We need to think and act for ourselves, using the best information we have and making the best effort we can and not let others make the decisions for us.

  5. #5 dewey
    December 15, 2009

    One of the most powerful rhetorical supports for BAU is to demonize dissenters. If you don’t, for example, toe the American-medicine line in every single particular, you’re ignorant, AND stupid, AND irrational, AND probably have a hidden financial motive. How many social animals will dare to invite those labels by sticking to a position? Well, most people are ignorant, to be honest, but they’re not so stupid that they can’t tell when someone holds them in contempt. I think part of the backlash against the scientific establishment is from people who understand at some level that that establishment sees them as fit only to shut up and do as they’re told.

    In much the same way, today’s redneck culture-warriors are to some extent retaliating for decades of urban mass media efforts to denigrate their own culture. We badly need polite scientific outreach to the public, but the public has been both so misled and badly educated for so long, and so riled up by the artificial divisions created among us, that many people are not in a mood to listen. I don’t know how we can go about breaking down those barriers, but we’d better if we hope to preserve either democracy or science as an active process.

  6. #6 vera
    December 15, 2009

    What Dewey said.

    All humans make mistakes. But mistakes made on a large scale have far greater repercussions and do far greater damage. That for me is the very basis of relocalization. The whole Laden article reeks of pinhead privilege. As a fellow pinhead, I say, screw that!

    P.S. About the whole creationism thingy… how much of what we see today is really a bitter reaction to evolutionary teachings imposed on communities absolutely not ready for them?! How would any of us like that if it was done to us in other areas? Breeding resentment is a *stupid* strategy, regardless of the actual argument.

  7. #7 Jason
    December 15, 2009

    “In much the same way, today’s redneck culture-warriors are to some extent retaliating for decades of urban mass media efforts to denigrate their own culture.”

    Yeah, no. Ridicule is a powerful weapon. I would say that denigrating the racism and sexism and sexualism in redneck culture has done far more to help erase them than would, say, ignoring or praising it.

  8. #8 Diane
    December 15, 2009

    And I thought relocalization meant buying food and products that were produced near you in order to reduce the energy expended in transportation and to create resilient local economies. But even in this case it seems better to have some larger organization so that locales with crop failures or other shortages can be supplied from elsewhere without price gouging by merchants. As for local vs. national decision making I would compare the benefits of gay marriage laws which are local with integration and non-discrimination which are national. This see-saw is what makes it so difficult to come down on one side.

  9. #9 dewey
    December 15, 2009

    That would be fine if we only ridiculed large groups of people for being racist or sexist or, er, “sexualist.” Unfortunately, residents of the Republic of Flyover have also been ridiculed for having accents, not being stylish enough or engaging in the “right” leisure activities, owning guns, hunting and fishing, living in inexpensive housing, eating old-fashioned foods, being too religious, or, well, thinking they’re good enough to home-school their children. If the self-appointed elite appear to hold you in contempt for everything you do and are, it’s entirely reasonable of you to return the contempt, and resist their efforts to turn you into a never quite acceptable copy of themselves, much as various non-white nations are resisting violent American makeover attempts.

    John Michael Greer’s latest book, in which he notes that traditional American cultures have been largely replaced by an artificial, media-created culture, has an interesting comment about the musical theme in the killer-redneck movie Deliverance effectively turning one of the best aspects of past redneck culture (folk music) into a symbol of menace to modern urban folks. Witness the bumper sticker quip, which I’m guilty of having laughed at myself: “Paddle faster, I hear banjos.” This kind of bias is every bit as wrong as “sexualism.” And Sharon, in one of her books, notes that urban people ought learn to get along with rednecks – because, hey, they grow our food.

  10. #10 becca
    December 15, 2009

    This is funny- when I was hanging around with the housing co-opers, we *kept* hearing about “economy of scale”. And in political debates, you frequently hear libertarian leaning folks ranting about the excesses of bureaucracy.
    You argue that *local* control uses fewer resources, yet people complain about having to reinvent the wheel.
    In other words, both local and national control are associated with ‘waste’ and ‘excess’, and both are associated with efficient utilization of resources. It all depends who you ask.
    And, probably, the specifics of the issue in question.

    vera- I can’t help but think there *is* a locality-dependence to the optimal method of teaching evolution, BUT your argument sounds exactly like that made against imposing segregation. Sometimes doing things that breed resentment must be done, unless you have a more effective proposal?

  11. #11 ABradford
    December 15, 2009

    Nice post. Your blog is quickly becoming one of my favorite reads here.

    I agree with you on many points, the default view of localized knowledge shouldn’t be that it’s stupid, but I’m not sure if your comparison of parents who don’t vaccinate to women who don’t take hormonal supplements will resonate well around ScienceBlogs. Vaccination is not just a personal choice for a parent to make for a child, it has consequences for public health as well, and I think this is the major criticism of those that try to make it a personal choice.

  12. #12 dewey
    December 15, 2009

    ABradford – If we must discuss all vaccinations as if they were a single intervention, it so happens you’re right. However, criticism of less effective or more dangerous orthodox medical interventions – or favorable mention of any traditional medicine – doesn’t resonate well on ScienceBlogs either. I have in the past, after making innocent reference to scientific data, been attacked so viciously that I was glad I’d been smart enough not to use my real name online. It may be that rejecting HRT signifies wisdom – some MDs still don’t admit it – while rejecting vaccines signifies foolishness. However, I have seen over and over again that those who express any doubt about any vaccine are met with a barrage amounting to “Well, you’re just a stupid irrational cultist woo-meister. Now shut up and stick your arm out.” There is a huge difference between telling a citizen that he doesn’t have all the facts as you see them, and telling him that he is a bad or inferior person if he does not already agree with you.

  13. #13 Sharon Astyk
    December 15, 2009

    Becca, I’d have to know what you were speaking of specifically about economies of scale to know whether I agree with you or not ;-).

    I suspect non-vaccinating parents is what Laden means, but he didn’t specifically say so. He talked about parents who go against AMA recommendations, which could mean dietary recommendations or something else. I haven’t been reading his blog long enough to interpellate into what he means, so I take him to mean what he says – that he is speaking of any parent that would go against the recommendations of the AMA for the children – and some of those acts have public health implications and some of them don’t. Nor did I specifically equate HRT rejectors with anti-vax folk.


  14. #14 Jason
    December 15, 2009

    Dewey- I take your point. I should point out that I live in semi-rural Ohio and grew up in completely rural Ohio. And sure there is backlash, but I still say the loudmouths keep their sexism and racism a hell of a lot more behind closed doors these days at least. I don’t think, in my experience that reasonable, intelligent people living in rural ‘flyover’ areas are offended by redneck jokes because they don’t care much for the rednecks either.

    Sharon- Yes Greg was refering to vaccine denialists when he said ‘don’t follow AMA regs. And he meant ‘homeschooled to teach biblical literalism’ when he said homeschooled. I am 100% certain he has no problem with homeschooling in principle, even though he did not explicitly say so and if you are new to his blog you wouldn’t know that.

  15. #15 becca
    December 15, 2009

    Sharon- exactly!
    It does amuse me when I hear people speak as though there is an intrinsic relationship between scale and efficiency. It nearly always sounds reasonable, actually, until I think about it carefully.
    Also, taking Greg to mean what he says is great fun if you wish to poke him in an annoying fashion, but is very hazardous as far as communication is concerned.

    And if you really want to get some drama on AMA reccommendations, just bring up breastfeeding rather than vaccination…

    Jason- I also think Greg has no problem with homeschooling in principle, but I’m reasonably certain he wants to regulate the fun out of it. I don’t know for sure, since he didn’t respond to me about that and he’s quite sure I’m incapable of representing his views…

  16. #16 ted
    December 16, 2009

    Great post, but could you ask one of your fellow science bloggers how to “break” the posts for rss feeds?

  17. #17 Sharon Astyk
    December 16, 2009

    Ted, I’m not even quite sure what that means. Can you clarify?


  18. #18 vera
    December 16, 2009

    “BUT your argument sounds exactly like that made against imposing segregation. Sometimes doing things that breed resentment must be done, unless you have a more effective proposal?”

    Becca, what if YOU were on the receiving end of those things “that must be done”? I believe in persuasion… unfashionable these days of crass interventionism. Unless it’s a dire situation of last resort. Which teaching evolution does not qualify for. :-)

  19. #19 Brad K.
    December 16, 2009

    Several thoughts. First, is that Laden should be concerned, misusing that “Teabagger” term – that appears to be so near and dear to the “safe” school (the Fisting lesson for today is . . .) czar. “Teabagger” is out of context, and pejorative, to refer to the Tea Bag party protests and protesters.

    Second, is the problem of localization is the “Big Fish” issue. That is, one individual with lots of money, or lots of influence (a charismatic religious leader, or other popular person), *will* have an inordinate amount of influence in a smaller community. The larger the venue, the less comparative impact of that influence. Which is the danger, when the Federal government comes to “help.” Or organized labor, or organized crime come to call to “help protect” the community. Or when ACORN comes to “organize” and screen voters to prevent those irritating people that disagree, from voting. Monsanto, could be considered a Big Fish, trampling on the ability of communities and states to localize in the face of protectionist laws and regulations intended to protect Monsanto’s monopoly and market. Or Archer-Daniels Midland (ADM).

    Big money, big influence, and unscrupulous dealings, unchecked, will always be a security risk to those wanting to live better without hurting others. Ask Randy Weaver.

    Localization for food security has to be done carefully, and will require at least passive acceptance at the National level – to restrain undue outside influences from strangling the community or the local providers. Or you will be actively setting the stage for open civil aggression.

    Lastly, should a local warmer or denier, either one (What, no provision for my mere skepticism? This gets so very divisive.) be counted a voice equal to an MIT scientist? That depends. Is the scientist actually involved in determining *whether* current environmental instability is actually a distinct warming trend? Where is the scientist’s funding coming from, and does the scientist work in a community of Warmers, are the only published works available to our hypothetical, unbiased, learned MIT scientist Warmer-centric? The odds of an MIT scientist reading only Warmer reports, knowing only Warmer scientists, and doing work in projecting *what* the impact of *assumed* warming would be – or something unrelated to climate – being of greater value than that local Warmer or Denier get to be kinda slim.

    The problem is that Warming has gotten to be much like a religion. A conservative Protestant at worship won’t have much interest in Shinto or Islamic ritual or belief, except as curiosities. And a Warmer won’t have much use for Deniers (or even skeptics). At least the Protestants are a bit more open – they require “visitors” to sign in, they get extra “attention” and “visits” from the pastor or leading members, just to be sure they will get the attention and information and guidance they need to “see the light” and come to “acceptance”.

    Because worship is sacred to Protestants (and other faiths), attention to those from outside the flock is seen as a duty, and an opportunity to serve others. Warmers see getting the word out, and contending with Deniers, as a similar mission, plus, like the Prohibitionist and anti-porn activist, they see the opposition – skeptics as well as Deniers – as destroying the neighborhood and community. From the Warmer perspective, this is certainly the case.

    Parts of the arguments about climate change stand on their own, are worthwhile whatever one feels is true or hyperbole. Local production of food, attention to preserving heritage food varieties, actually getting more people’s hand in the dirt of this blessed Earth – these make even more sense in the current economic climate that seems to be in an inevitable state of collapse.

    I guess the part I am most skeptical about, is lumping “scientists” into one group in harmonic agreement about the directions and causes of climate change. Too many agree because of where their employment or funding comes from, Warmer influences in getting their work published. Too many scientists not engaged in climate change are adding a voice as competent as any unread lay person, in terms of climate change. But Warmers are counting them all, whether competent, biased, or constrained.

  20. #20 Sharon Astyk
    December 16, 2009

    Brad, I think you are wrong about the difference between believing in something demonstrated by a good deal of scientific evidence and believing in something religious. Nearly everyone, for example, believes in the germ theory of disease – but this is not a religious belief, but one founded on extremely good science. Belief in humors *was* like religious belief, in that it depended not on evidence but transmitted authority.

    Moreover, every single funder of medical research believes in the germ theory of disease, and someone who proposed we revisit humors would probably have no chance of getting funded. But this fact in no way invalidates germ theory – or makes it a matter of faith. The reality is that in every other field of science you and others accept premises that have essentially the same degree of scientific consensus as fact, rather than saying we have to look at where everyone’s funding comes from.

    Representing global warming as a matter of belief in the religious sense is a deep and fundamental error of reasoning. Treating global warming as a special category, unlike the basic science that all of us treat as normal is equally flawed.

    As I’ve said before, we don’t have to agree on this. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to leave it lie.


  21. #21 Barn Owl
    December 16, 2009

    @ Sharon – I don’t access your blog by RSS feed, but ted @ #16 might be referring to the fact that the entirety of each of your posts appears on the Main page of your blog. I think the two presentations (RSS and Main) are related. Most of your SciBlings have a “teaser” paragraph or two that appears on the Main page (and, I assume, in the RSS feed), followed by a link to “Read on”, if the reader wants to peruse the entirety of a long post. Of course, it’s a style issue that’s ultimately the choice of the blogger.