The relative acceleration of my moral decline

What is morality?

Perhaps that's a silly question, for we all know it when we see it and those who don't are said to be moral relativists. By merely posing the question, I may have already caused hard-line moral absolutists (if such a thing exists in logic) to roll their eyes in disgust.

One of the things I touched on in the discussion of Dinesh D'Souza's newfound Islamic moral absolutism (assuming that's the right phrase; maybe his embrace of Islamic absolutism is morally relative) was whether or not morality is necessarily limited to sexual matters. A lot of people seem to think it is, or at least they act that way. Typically, there's a lot more outrage by these people over sex on the Internet than crime on the streets.

But I want to move away from sex, and examine the mechanism by which morality is manufactured. I suspect it's something like the manufacture of legislation and sausage -- something that goes on behind the scenes, in a very undemocratic manner. Until at last, before we know it, things that were once considered either "good" (or at least morally neutral) take on a moral tinge. A charge, even.

For example, is it immoral to build a house? To cut down a tree? In the huge North American continent, once the land of promise and opportunity, these things were considered "progress" and doing them -- when it took the form of what we call "development" -- was generally thought to be virtuous. Now, building a house or cutting down trees is seen by many people as downright evil. For years, an anti-sprawl movement has been fighting to stop development, and this movement been aided and abetted by pliant politicians and sympathetic reporters. While "sprawl" hasn't quite managed to take on the dirty connotations normally associated with phrases like "Larry Flynt" and "Hustler," sprawl (and development) are definitely dirty, and I see evidence that the anti-sprawl people are striking paydirt as the "Global Warming" meme heats up. Now is their moment of opportunity, and if they are lucky, the builders of new homes and roads will find themselves excoriated in a manner once reserved for the Larry Flynts -- maybe even drug dealers.

What prompted this morning's observations was seeing morality manufactured before my eyes right here in my county. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, has not only decided to implement anti "greenhouse gas" measures, they're implementing moral rhetoric in order to put it over on regular people who often don't have time to think.

Today's morality play begins with the apparent conversion of a "skeptical" Republican County Commisioner by a mere graduate student at Penn State:

Climate change is by nature a global problem.

So when a Pennsylvania State University graduate student presented Montgomery County officials with a 145-page report on what it could do to reduce greenhouse gases - the culprits in global warming - Commissioner Thomas Jay Ellis was skeptical.

Could one county - even one with more people than some states - make a difference in such a huge problem?

Ellis and his fellow commissioners decided this month that it could at least try.

Montgomery County, which emits more greenhouse gases than more than half the world's nations do individually, thereby joined a burgeoning list of cities, counties and states that have stopped waiting for federal direction on global-warming remediation.

"The leadership on global warming... is coming from city halls and state capitols, not from D.C... .," said Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club's Cool Cities campaign, which encourages local programs to address global warming.

What Glenn Brand would have us believe is that this is a "grass roots" effort by ordinary people, stymied by years of Bush Cheney greed, and who are trying to do what they can to "save" the planet.

Not included in the Inquirer write-up is the fact that Pennsylvania is said to produce "1 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions" -- of which Montgomery County is but a fraction. Add to that the fact that even the advocates of greenhouse gas theory admit that the world's total of human-emitted greenhouse gases are responsible for a tiny fraction of overall global warming and the contribution of Montgomery County is so meaningless as to be statistically insignificant. If the entire county were depopulated and shut down tomorrow by the Khmer Rouge, worldwide CO2 would not be affected.

But we're talking morality, not reality. Typically, moralists present their argument to people who are into feeling terrible and making everyone else feel terrible by scolding them. The goal is the infliction of guilt, and this does not work at first, so it has to be achieved in increments.

Back up to 1914 and the Harrison Narcotics Act. People who took drugs before that consumed opiates and cocaine purchased over the counter. If addiction developed, it was a personal health matter to be discussed with the doctor. While such a person might be seen as weak, the notion that it was "evil" did not set in until laws were passed, followed by years of yellow journalism.

When my father was a kid (he was born in 1909), drug consumption was a health problem as opposed to a moral problem, and when I was a kid, it was not considered evil to build homes or cut down trees. (I know I'm ranting, but I always remember this when I hear people screaming about the absolute, unchanging nature of morality.)

Back to the conversion of today's skeptical Republican by the graduate student. Am I allowed to express skepticism about his skepticism?

Back in June of 2005, Mr. Ellis sounded anything but skeptical:

Montgomery County earlier this month became the first in the state to take action by agreeing to create an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions. That inventory would let county officials know where local sources of greenhouse gases are coming from, such as farms and traffic pollution, to help inform open space and smart growth policies, said Montgomery County Commissioner Thomas Jay Ellis.

"We can set an example. We can be the laboratory for the nation," Ellis said.

Hey, that's my county you're making into a laboratory for the nation, buddy!

What about us little guinea pigs? Don't we have any say?

Normally, I'd opine that hell hath no fury greater than the recently converted, except I don't think Commissioner Ellis's conversion was recent. As to the evidence that converted him, today's Inquirer article features an impressive chart showing Montgomery County's "total emissions in million metric tons of CO2 equivalent":

MontCoGas.jpg

The source for the chart is said to be "A Global Warming Plan of Action for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania." I can't find any plan by that name online, although it might be a rebadged version of this EPA-funded project. The Inquirer describes this plan as a master's thesis by a single student, one Sarah E. Knuth.

Isn't it wonderful to see democracy and morality in action? One student -- with one paper -- can affect an entire county!

From the description of Ms. Knuth's EPA-funded "plan":

By targeting sprawl, I will capture a dominant process driving Montgomery Countys emissions and uncover opportunities for climate change mitigation that are tailored to local stakeholder objectives - combating sprawl is vitally important to county officials and residents.

Approach:

I will work with local stakeholders in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to develop a county greenhouse gas emissions inventory, exploring local emissions in much greater-than-usual detail and making a special effort to draw out and quantify emissions trends related to sprawl. With stakeholder input, I will translate inventory results into a county climate change mitigation plan, developing a series of emissions reduction strategies that target place-specific trends driving emissions and that make the most of local stakeholders power over these trends.

So says who? I don't remember being asked to vote on this plan.

How did the county manage to find this dedicated young activist? Apparently, the right connections never hurt, as her professor is a former law partner of the "skeptical" Republican Commissioner himself!

Knuth was a student of Robert McKinstry, a Penn State University professor and former law partner of commissioner Chairman Thomas Jay Ellis. Nelson said the county should work to reduce greenhouse emissions because it dovetails with county goals, such as open space and farmland protection. It also fits in with the county government's mandate to protect public health.
McKinstry (who seems to be the power behind the scenes in today's scheme) is said not to be a scientist at all, but a well-connected lawyer and left-wing environmental activist (now professor at Penn State). Scientist or not, he certainly knows how to represent science:
Goddard Chair professor Robert McKinstry co-wrote a brief submitted in May 2006 to the U.S. Supreme Court representing a number of leading scientists supporting the position of a number of states contending that the federal government should regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from automobiles to address climate change.
(I sure as hell hope they're not using my tax dollars to advance a left wing political position in which wreaking economic havoc is cloaked in "public interest" language.)

Let me admit my bias here. I think that what most people call "morality" is usually cheap partisan demagoguery in drag. I see this smoke-and-mirrors game being played across the political spectrum, and while I find it a bit exhausting to complain about it so often, the alternative is to watch it go unchallenged.

Unless I am misreading today's think-globally-act-locally morality pageant, I get the distinct impression that they really want to reach out and touch everyone -- including me:

Tom Kreutz, a Princeton University researcher who models the performance of energy systems, said returning to 1990 emissions levels can be difficult for growing areas, yet that is "a pretty modest goal in general, compared to where the globe needs to go."

The country needs taxes that make it costly to emit greenhouse gases, he said, and that needs to come from the top. "We can't do it without federal intervention. No question," he said. "Right now it's free to dump your CO2 [the primary greenhouse gas] in the atmosphere and, as long as it's free, people won't stop doing it."

Yes, every time I drive, and every time I exhale, I "dump" my CO2 into the atmosphere. Is the goal just to tax me? Or do they want me to feel guilty so that I'll be more willing to go along with their scam?

Sorry, but while I know they have the power to tax me, they do not have the power to make me agree with them. My morality stays where it is. Yes, on this issue I am a moral absolutist, and I don't mind saying so.

My breathing is not immoral!

They've got some kind of "mayor's agreement" but they don't think it will be enough. Not unless they get people "out of their cars":

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance this month released a discouraging report on progress made by 10 cities that have signed the mayors' agreement. John Bailey, a research associate who wrote the report, concluded it was unlikely that more than two could reach the Kyoto Protocol goals, "unless complementary state and federal policies are put in place," he wrote.

Only one city he studied, Portland, Ore., is close to 1990 emissions levels. Americans' driving habits have been a particular problem. "Getting people out of their cars has been difficult," Bailey said.

Nevertheless, he still thinks the cities are on the right track. "To wait just doesn't make sense," he said.

Ah, I see it now! There are a lot of fat people who sit in their cars dumping their tax-free CO2 into the atmosphere while they could be bettering their health and saving the planet. Maybe this is a moral issue after all! Maybe we need some moral communitarianism. Besides a little forced marching is liberating for the soul. Get them out of their cars! Put them on bicycles! And tax the holy crap out of them them! Above all, make them feel guilty!

Of course, there are some people who are just born to feel guilty, and want to inflict their misery on others. There's plenty of misery to go around, and as I've noticed, things have reached the point where people are actually upset by unseasonably warm weather.

Upset?

But why?

Because they're having what we used to call "a nice day."

What we the guinea pigs need are moral examples:

The most important result of local initiatives, several experts said, is that they serve as an example to residents and show federal and business leaders that people want action.

"The fact is that people in their everyday lives can make a difference in this," said Steve Nelson, Montgomery County's deputy chief operating officer. "Quantitatively, it may not make a huge difference in greenhouse gases, but it's got to start in our own backyard."

Excuse me, but can I say "not in my backyard"? Or would that make me a NIMBY?

As to the author of the master's thesis which wants to reach out and touch everyone here in Montgomery County, she's headed to my old hometown of Berkeley:

Sarah Knuth wrote the Montgomery County report for her master's thesis. Now 24 and studying for her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, she's thrilled that the county is taking her work seriously. "This is a dream come true to have it at least leading somewhere," she said.
Of course she's thrilled to have the county taking her work seriously.

Count me as less than thrilled.

It's all part of my ongoing struggle to preserve immorality.

Seriously, it's worse than anyone imagines. I actually enjoy breathing, and every time I exhale I revel in the terrible damage my untaxed CO2 is doing to the environment. I admit it's awful and I know it makes me a genuinely evil person, but it all began a long time ago. My slippery slide from absolute morality to absolute evil began when I was told it was evil that people were starving. I started to develop callused thinking at the dinner table, and it occurred to me that maybe it wasn't my fault, and that maybe I didn't have to feel as guilty as I did. Over the years, it got worse, and now I've reached the point where I actually think that some moral evils are worse than other moral evils.

My reactionary moral relativism has now reached the point where I think I should feel more guilty about letting people starve than about letting them breathe.

At this rate, I'll soon be a nihilist.

(Almost makes me wish for good old days, when you were immoral if you screwed but it was still OK to breathe. Now that everything has become immoral, nothing is immoral.)

posted by Eric on 01.22.07 at 10:12 AM










Comments

... and the exact same process of manufactured morality has been put into play to legitimize homosexuality.

Which makes for a rather ironic rant on your part.

It's all there:

- the use of the charge of homophobia and trumped up social censure to make previously normal, positive moral judgements now immoral.

- the use of pseudo-science to give one moral judgement a totally specious imprimatur of truth and inevitability.

- the use of other status games, emotional appeals, and manufactured crises to shut down rational refutation.

Yep, it's all there - in the gay rights movement.

Ben-David   ·  January 22, 2007 10:54 AM

"Tom Kreutz, a Princeton University researcher who models the performance of energy systems, said returning to 1990 emissions levels can be difficult for growing areas, yet that is "a pretty modest goal in general, compared to where the globe needs to go.""

This is something I wish more people who don't want the government trying to haphazardly regulate global warming would talk about. As expensive as Kyoto is, it would do next to nothing to change temperature over the next hundred years, even according to the most outlandish models. Kyoto is just the first step. After that, things get much, much bigger.

Also, I've noticed more and more that Republicans are behind this kind of thing, or state level socialized health care initiatives. So, I've got to ask. Is the Republican party now just the party of socially conservative leftists, while the Democrats are socially moderate leftists who kinda/sorta dislike business a bit more than Republicans?

Jon Thompson   ·  January 22, 2007 11:03 AM

"rather ironic rant"? Sure, but then, I like to think of this whole blog as a rather ironic rant.

Not that I'm a gay rights activist (as I've ridiculed such activism quite a bit and question not only the homosexual/heterosexual dichotomy but even the need for such terms), but which came first; the legitimacy or the illegitimacy? (The classical or the traditional?)

One of these days I should try to figure out what's modern....

:)

Eric Scheie   ·  January 22, 2007 11:04 AM

It is all a matter of power and control.
Or people wanting power and control.
All life on this planet is carbon based,
so called greenhouse gasses are the essence of life.
Do we really want to eliminate life on earth?
Hugh

Hugh   ·  January 22, 2007 12:48 PM

Ben,
I'm not so sure. Homosexuality has been around for a long time, as far as I can tell, and yet, it is hard to find much talk of hanging homosexuals or even punishing them in any way in the early days of the Republic. Certainly, it was the love that dare not speak its name, but I'm not sure it was the love that people hunted down to kill.

However, I've got to give you the phony science argument. People believe that homosexuality is a product of choice and environment or a product of natural genetics simply because one view or the other supports their ideology, and then they call that science.

Jon Thompson   ·  January 22, 2007 8:35 PM

Jon,

It is pretty much confirmed:

1. There is a genetic component to homosexuality.

2. The more sons a woman gives birth to, the greater the chances that the next one will be homosexual

3. Hormones in the mother's womb seem to play a part

So much for science. What have you got?

M. Simon   ·  January 23, 2007 2:49 AM

I think you're right about some homosexuality being prenatal, but not all.

The same applies to heterosexuality. I think Western society has created a false dichotomy which originated with Victorian psychoanalysts. This error was exacerbated by the modern focus on exclusively homosexual people as an identity politics/civil rights category. While this began out of reaction to unjust persecution, things have reached the point where people can no longer be left alone.

Yeah, I could (and have) written a number of long posts on the subject.

What was important to me in this post was how a 24 year old student activist came to dictate life-changing policy to an entire county, and I'm not quite sure how homosexuality became implicated.

Oh yes, manufactured morality. The gay activists reacting to their persecutors. Manufactured morality begets more of the same. Must man continue to behave like apes?

:)

Eric Scheie   ·  January 23, 2007 8:05 AM

M. Simon - every one of your "scientific" assertions is, in fact, disinformation. When you get through the media fluff about "tantalizing indications" and look at the actual data, the "scientific proofs" fall apart.

Starting with the assertion upon which so many other claims are based:

There is NO evidence for genetic causation of homosexuality.

Not after decades of genome parsing, population studies, nothing.

Currently this assertion is propped up with references to studies of identical twins - it's claimed that when one twin is gay, there's "a large correlation" between homosexuality in the other twin.

But in fact, the correlation is abysmally LOW: in comparison to other traits that are overwhelmingly genetic (eye color: 99.999 percent correlation between twins) and genetically influenced but also influenced by behavior (diabetes: somewhere in the 80-90 percent correlation) - homosexuality correlates between twins in the 10-20 percent range.

That means when one twin is gay, the other twin is gay in just 10-20 percent of cases - 4 out of five twin siblings will NOT be gay.

More details available at the following site, in which a frustrated research scientist debunks the pro-gay pseudo-science:

http://www.mygenes.co.nz/

That site also discusses your claim about birth order, pointing out that:

"Fitting a model with 18 variables and 378 subjects weakens the statistical power so much that the result will have a large error, and the author does not present an analysis of how bad this effect is."

And perhaps more importantly:

"it should be remembered that most gays do not have elder brothers. The present theory tries to explain the SSA of perhaps only about 17% of the gay population. The SSA of the others must arise from other sources."

The IMPRESSION of scientific certainty has been carefully crafted by fawning-to-outright-slanted media reports. Including front-page trumpeting of nonsensical items on the sexual behavior of fruitflies and penguins with no rational connection to lived human sexuality.

Again - this is exactly the program of moral propaganda that has been used to promote "climate issues".

Ben-David   ·  January 23, 2007 12:51 PM

Jon wrote:
I'm not so sure. Homosexuality has been around for a long time, as far as I can tell, and yet, it is hard to find much talk of hanging homosexuals or even punishing them in any way in the early days of the Republic. Certainly, it was the love that dare not speak its name, but I'm not sure it was the love that people hunted down to kill.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
... wow! And I thought I'd heard it all when it came to overblown victimology hyperbole!

Jon, I'd LOVE to hear about how the folks in the US who don't think homosexuality is as normal/healthy as heterosexuality are hunting down gays and trying to kill them.

And after that - could you please tell me about ANY major human civilization in history that ever granted full normalization/equality to committed, exclusive homosexuals?

Even in ancient Greece, the exclusive adult homosexual was an object of scorn and derision.

Ben-David   ·  January 23, 2007 12:59 PM

"I'm not sure it was the love that people hunted down to kill."

That's an understatement. The Romans thought of it as a part of human sexuality, and while they considered exclusive homosexuality odd (and the subject of ridicule) they also considered exclusive heterosexuality odd.

The hunting down to kill part was a result of people who were taught that what another man did with his genitalia really mattered. (You know, "sin"?)

This did lead to awful punishments being meted out (for "sodomy"), including castrations, death by awful torture, and burning. In the name of what? God, I guess. The death penalty became a sort of medieval tradition which lasted until the 19th century, and gave rise to some of the reactive nonsense which still persists. It never ceases to amaze me how others care what another man does with his genitalia.

Caring about the content of another man's orgasms makes almost as little sense as caring about his exhalations.

But it is evident that some people care very much!

:)

Eric Scheie   ·  January 23, 2007 1:18 PM

Hey, I just realized something which made me reread the original post which somehow triggered this non-sequiturish thread. I put a great deal of work into the above post, and gave a number of examples (including Prohibition, the War on Drugs, Larry Flynt, sex on the internet), but my beef was primarily with manufactured morality -- in the context of Global Warming.

BD, what was your point in bringing up homosexuality and irony? Was there something I said in another post, perhaps?Or is it your position that moral outrage over homosexuality was never manufactured? The reason I am asking is that whether it was or not isn't especially germane to my point.

Even if I were to concede that homosexuality is an innate moral evil (which I do not) or that the gay movement manufactured its own morality (to a certain extent true), what has that to do with my complaint about the deliberate manufacture of a new morality about greenhouse gas?

Or am I disqualified in your view from condemning global warming nonsense because you disagree with me on another topic?

Eric Scheie   ·  January 23, 2007 1:43 PM

Eric -
Morality (received or newly minted) has a tribal aspect to it in most cases. There is that "of course we like-minded folks are correct" kinda thing.

So that leads to a selective condemnation of other people's attempts to propagate their morality.

If you want to roll all public (policy-determining) discourse back to rational discussion - I'm all for it.

But that means that changes you may support must also be argued for on that basis.
And the gay agenda has been forwarded by precious few facts, and a whole lotta scenery-chewing moralizin' melodrama.

Ben-David   ·  January 24, 2007 11:35 AM

.... and as long as we're still scrolling down to this post - could you perhaps address the factual analysis I have presented and linked to?

Isn't that how you want your representatives to weigh the issue of global warming?

Ben-David   ·  January 24, 2007 11:38 AM

Address what factual analysis? Refutation of gay gene theory? I don't subscribe to it, so I'm not sure what you mean. Besides, I don't think it is relevant to my complaint about the manufacture of morality. Homosexuality does not become good or bad on the basis of genes, any more than would any other conduct or desire.

My point is that a new morality involving global warming is being manufactured. To that you have argued that pro-homosexual morality was manufactured. Well, so what? Even if we assume you are right, how does that affect my argument that what we call morality is often manufactured? Unless your argument is that acceptance of pro-homosexual morality means we must accept the emergent global warming morality, I'm confused.

What am I missing? Am I supposed to be defending the "gay agenda"?

Eric Scheie   ·  January 24, 2007 12:24 PM

Ben,

For the life of me, I can't see why you think my post suggested that I believe modern day people with views on homosexuality with which I disagree are out to kill gays. Also, I'll name a society with the qualifications you list if you name one that had the Internet. Or, maybe even better, civilizations from over two hundred years in the past that considered marrying for love normal. Things change, deal with it.

Simon,

You, and David, have proven my point. You both have data you support, which sounds good to you, for the mere fact that it is politically expeditious for you to believe it. Personally, I think that modern science is too crude in the crucial areas to give us good answers, and I suspect that human sexuality is too complicated to boil down to one item.

Finally, to both Ben and Simon, I must say. If Simon is right, then in the near future a fairly simple drug will be available to "cure" homosexuality with the right set of hormones and chemicals and so on, and if Ben is right, nothing but years or decades of therapy could change the orientation of a person.

I wonder if that will change someone's mind on which set of science to believe... :)

Jon Thompson   ·  January 24, 2007 12:29 PM

Eric -
My assumption is that you, in general, favor the shift in morality that is normalizing homosexuality, rather than treating it as a pathology.

My point is that that shift has been engineered using the exact same methods as newly-minted morality of climate change.

So if you are going to decry those techniques in one area (global warming) - they should not be admissible to further moral changes that you happen to favor (normalization of homosexuality).

Ben-David   ·  January 26, 2007 5:17 AM

I think people should make up their minds for logical and rational reasons. I long ago decided that the way people behaved towards human sexuality was not rational. (Right now, most of the emotional, morality-laden rhetoric comes from pro-homosexual and anti-homosexual activist groups,)

I don't endorse the manufacture of morality, which I have often criticized in this blog!

When you say "that shift has been engineered using the exact same methods as newly-minted morality of climate change" you are not referring to mine, as I never underwent much of a shift in my thinking. While I think the effort to "normalize" homosexuality certainly has been characterized by a process of manufactured morality, my concern is whether there is any rational reason to care about another person's sex life, and I don't think there is. This is my opinion, not an effort to manufacture morality. As to the "admissibility" of "further moral changes that [I] happen to favor" I think we're arguing apples and oranges here as I am not arguing for a new morality vis-a-vis homosexuality. Saying homosexuality is good or bad makes about as much sense to me as saying snakes are good or bad. While I would criticize not thinking logically about these things, I don't consider myself responsible for the way other people think or how they are influenced. Here, I criticized the manufacture of morality in the global warming context, but the fact that people use that techique in other contexts is simply irrelevant to my argument. I think you may be confusing my "not caring" with a moralistic desire for "normalization" -- and thus missing my point.

Whether homosexuality is "normal" depends on what is meant by the word "normal." It exists -- but so do rare species of snakes, and 70 degree January weather. I don't think people should be made to feel emotional about these things, and I try to avoid that. (Again, I think we're arguing apples and oranges.)

Eric Scheie   ·  January 26, 2007 8:32 AM

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