REMOVING THE LIBERAL BLINDFOLD
With the political pendulum swinging to the right, conservative victory is likely in the upcoming election. Some say this rightward swing is so pronounced that conservative ascendancy in federal and state government is likely, perhaps, for years to come.
If that is the case, the diminishing or even the demise of contemporary liberal environmentalism is virtually assured.
Which means, it’s time to start designing the conservative environmentalism that will replace it.
Those of you who consider yourself green to the core may despair at hearing this, but you should be celebrating instead. By making this transition, environmentalism will be shedding a number of debilitating dysfunctions that are endemic in liberalism.
One liberal dysfunction that a conservative environmentalism wouldn’t suffer is a systemic blindness that affects all of liberalism in all of its issue areas, environmental and otherwise.
ASSUME YOU ARE WRONG
I learned about this blindness as I experienced my own evolution from eco-radical to conservative environmentalist. Early in my transition, I ran across a way of managing our relationship with Nature that, at the time, was named ”Holistic Resource Management” (changed now to Holistic Management). According to this management system, when dealing with nature in a way designed to produce a certain result, one should always ”assume you are wrong.”
When I made passing mention of that in a conversation with my wife. Her response was short and to the point, ”If you assume what you’re doing is wrong,” she said. ”Why would you bother to do it?”
I had to admit that was a pretty good objection. As I thought more and read more about this very counter-intuitive directive, however, I realized it actually makes very good sense. In fact, I believe assuming that we are wrong can add to our chances of success of just about anything we do.
The reason we should assume we are wrong, according to Holistic Management, is to make sure that we monitor what we’re doing so that we’re aware of whether if it is working or not. To someone who is dealing with nature (or with anything in a results-directed way) the reason for monitoring what you’re doing should be obvious. If you don’t keep track of how things are going you could create an outcome that is very different than what you intend — an unintended consequence, so to speak — that could be very difficult, even impossible, to reverse.
However, if we assume we’re wrong (or at least that the possibility exists that we could be wrong), and we monitor what we’re doing, chances are pretty good that, if things do start to get off track, we will become aware of it. Having thus been alerted, we have the opportunity to stop doing what isn’t working and do something different or even to take a different approach altogether.
To clarify this with an example that has to do with our discussion here: If the people who were trying to save the threatened fish, the spikedace, on the Verde River (covered in a previous post ) had considered that there was a possibility that what they were doing might not work, they would have been much less likely to have continued to apply that policy until they had exterminated the very creature they claimed to be trying to save.
What caused the extermination of the spikedace in the Verde, then, is the fact that the liberal environmental groups that intimidated the U. S. Forest Service into removing grazing from the riverside assumed that they were right. They assumed they were right not only to the degree that they did not monitor the situation sufficiently to become aware of the fact that their policies were changing the river in such a way that it was becoming uninhabitable to the spikedace, but when U. S. Forest Service scientists did take note of that fact, the environmental groups exerted sufficient pressure to have those scientists removed from the case.
To this day those environmentalists consider the Verde debacle to be a success. They consider it a success in spite of the fact that, after the policy was installed, the river did change and the spikedace appears to have been extirpated (none have been seen in the river in 15 years). Those self-designated spikedace-savers consider what they did on the Verde to be a success because the campaign to save several ”threatened” or ”endangered” native fishes, including the Verde River spikedace, did succeed in getting grazing removed from 900 miles of riverside in the American Southwest.
This reveals the core flaw in contemporary liberalism, environmental and otherwise. Contemporary liberalism identifies solutions as a matter of the installation of policies — liberal policies. And once that policy is installed liberals consider the problem solved. In other words liberals always consider themselves to be right. That’s how liberals apply their own blinders, and that’s how they blindfold themselves to realistic assessments of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of their policies.
Take the Drake Exclosure mentioned in a number of other posts: Environmentalists consider management of the denuded Drake to be ”right” in spite of the fact that it has continued to deteriorate during 65+ years of being protected from being used (impacted) by humans.
They consider their policy of protection to be ”right”, in spite of the fact that the unprotected land outside the Drake is in better condition and supports a more diverse and more plentiful community of native plants and animals (see below).
How about another example. In California it has been found that the ”threatened” Bay Checkerspot butterfly has ceased to exist on land where grazing has been stopped, in some cases to ”protect” the butterfly. Guess which land environmentalists consider to be managed the ”right way.”
Moving beyond the environmental aspect of liberalism: Consider the Occupy Wall Streeters and their call for an equitable redistribution of wealth: Do you think they consider that policy to be the right thing to do? Absolutely.
Do they think they consider that there is any way in which it could be wrong? Absolutely not!
If the Occupiers get their way, and their policy is made law will they monitor to see if it’s working?
Or, if things start to go wrong (which happens every time this policy is tried), will they do everything they can to cover up its shortcomings? Will they propose more regulation? Stricter penalties? Will they say we need to give it more time? Will they blame their failures on others: the rich, the 1%, human greed, Republicans, Conservatives, Bitter clingers…..
Plug any other liberal crusade/campaign into the above scenario — universal healthcare, cap and trade, renewable energy, affirmative action, etc. — and it will fit perfectly.
All liberal policies and the actions that make up those policies are considered to be the right thing to do because they are morally right, at least within a liberal frame of reference.
To liberals we all have a right to have enough money, to have access to health care, to have a place to live, to have day care for our children, a diaper service. And, we have a right to a healthy environment, species have a right to not be made extinct, etc. And all liberal policies that facilitate those rights are also right.
Because liberals believe all of those policies are ”the right thing to do,” to ask whether or not they work (whether they get the right results) is to utter an irrelevance. We’re all taught, ”You should be honest no matter what the consequences.” Or, ”If you do the right thing, whatever happens is what is supposed to happen.”
Complain about redistributionist tax policies, i. e. say they don’t work, and you will be called greedy or a pawn of wall street.
Get into an argument about energy policy and you’ll quickly be confronted with, ”We have to develop alternative fuels because we’re going to run out of oil someday and drilling for oil just gets us into wars in the Middle East. Anyway, it wrecks the planet and just makes filthy rich oil companies even richer.”
Environmental policy? ”Why shouldn’t we protect as many species as possible from the environmental impacts of humans? Humans don’t have the right to use the planet purely for our benefit, and the animals were here first anyway!”
Presenting all issues as a matter of right and wrong is what makes liberalism so seductive because it means you don’t have to be an ecologist to know what to do to keep a small, rare fish in Arizona from going extinct. Never mind if you exterminate the fish in the process. It’s not your fault the fish died out in spite of the fact you did the right thing to save it.
Nor do you have to know anything about ecology to know how to restore damaged rangeland in Arizona. You protect it. And if that land doesn’t get any better, in fact if it gets worse, you say you didn’t protect it soon enough, or long enough, and if the unprotected land next door is in better shape, you ignore it and continue to do what you know is ”the right thing to do.”
Regarding the economy, reduce all issues to a simple matter of right and wrong and you don’t have to know anything about economics to know how to manage the largest economy on Earth. Do the right thing. Redistribute income. Put government in charge of health care, in charge of everything. As long as government is run by people like you, i. e. liberals, i. e. people who want to ”do what’s right,” no matter what happens you can consider yourself morally superior to those who refuse to go along with you whatever the reason.
But is protecting the spikedace really the right thing to do if it exterminates the fish?
Is protecting rangeland, like that within the Drake Exclosure, really the right thing to do if it dooms that land to a future of deteriorating desertification?
And, Is creating a more equitable redistribution of wealth the right thing to do if it creates the kind of economic collapse happening, as I write this, in Greece, the country with the most aggressive redistributionist policies in Europe? Or Portugal. Or Spain, Or France, Or England…
Once again, we can thank one of the planet’s pre-eminent conservatives — Mother Nature, as well as the spikedace and other plants, animals and ecosystems — for showing us that issues — environmental, economic, political — are not just about morals (right and wrong) they are about practical matters, too — survival, ecological function, jobs, energy, wealth.
And we can thank them for demonstrating to us that results do matter.
All we have to do to avail ourselves of this insight is listen to Mother Nature, little fish, butterflies, the true condition of the economy, etc.. And the only way we can listen is if we assume we are wrong.