Moralistic, pleasure-hating authoritarianism is a hard sell

It isn't easy to tell people that what they like is evil. That is why scoldings of that sort have traditionally been in the preserve of religion.

M. Simon's last post reminded me that left-wing economic scoldings have tended to fall on deaf ears, mainly since consumers of stuff tend to like the stuff they consume -- even if it is "overproduced." Overproduction often means lots of competing goods and an abundance of choices, and while many of us (myself included) complain of "too many choices" (I have complained about the "war against plain"), I think very few people would accept (much less want) bareness and austerity where it comes to available consumer goods and products.

So I left this comment to M. Simon's post:

The argument against "over-production" has had very little appeal to most people. Which is why the environmentalists are trying to manufacture a new form of "green" morality which condemns all activities deemed "unsustainable."
Actually, I shouldn't have said "all activities" for the new preachers mean to exempt themselves from the "moral" strictures they wish to impose on the rest of us. Al Gore, for example, will not have to worry about doing without air conditioning.

For the rest of us, Stan Cox in the Washington Post preaches about the joys of living without air conditioning:

Saying goodbye to A.C. means saying hello to the world. With more people spending more time outdoors -- particularly in the late afternoon and evening, when temperatures fall more quickly outside than they do inside -- neighborhoods see a boom in spontaneous summertime socializing.
Yes, they've seen a lot of "spontaneous summertime socializing" in Philadelphia recently.

But never mind Philly's hot weather melees! According to Cox, hot weather makes people nice:

Rather than cowering alone in chilly home-entertainment rooms, neighbors get to know one another. Because there are more people outside, streets in high-crime areas become safer. As a result of all this, a strange thing happens: Deaths from heat decline. Elderly people no longer die alone inside sweltering apartments, too afraid to venture outside for help and too isolated to be noticed. Instead, people look out for one another during heat waves, checking in on their most vulnerable neighbors.

Children -- and others -- take to bikes and scooters, because of the cooling effect of air movement. Calls for more summer school and even year-round school cease. Our kids don't need more time inside, everyone agrees; they need the shady playgrounds and water sprinklers that spring up in every neighborhood.

That sounds idealistic and lovely, except I can just hear a chorus of environmentalists tsk-tsking about all that wasted water!

And elsewhere in the Post, a very different opinion exists over whether hot weather in fact leads people to random acts of kindness:

....Serious crime dropped 71 percent in Baltimore and D.C.'s homicide rate dropped to zero during the back-to-back snowstorms of early February.

However, the onset of summer means an increase in crime for D.C. Hot temperatures coupled with longer days, summer break from area high schools and a high unemployment rate could increase crime rates this summer.


A positive correlation between warm weather and crime has been known for years, going as far back as the 19th Century, though the relationship eventually tapers off when the temperature becomes too hot. As of May, D.C.'s homicide rate was down 30 percent this year compared to last, but D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier expects repeat offenders will come back with the increase in temperatures and daylight.

If it's true that "the relationship eventually tapers off when the temperature becomes too hot," then I guess that would mean that if there really was Global Warming, that would decrease crime. Assuming, of course, that we can force people (other than folks like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio) to love the joys of doing without air conditioning and being outside in the sweltering heat.

Or riding public transportation!

As temperatures soared to 100 degrees last week, there were few places in the Hub less miserable to be than underground, in a breezeless, sweltering, unairconditioned subway station.


Death Valley seemed like a better alternative. Without a fan, the oppressive, humid air clung to the hundred of us riders down there, inducing sweat-drenched brows, soggy shirts and gasping lungs.

"I feel like I'm suffocating," said Chani Wilson, 25, a student at Year Up Boston.

"You can't even breathe," added her classmate, Louis Triplett.

But it's morally pure to not have air conditioning -- especially when you're doing the morally green thing by riding public transportation!

And nothing beats the joys of that spontaneous summertime socializing!

What's not to love about this?


To be fair to Cox, though, in a longer essay a few years ago, he didn't paint such a rosy picture. Instead, he likened air conditioning to drug addiction -- with predictable consequences:

if the effect of air-conditioning on a hot human being can be compared to that of a pain-relieving drug, its economic impact is more like that of an anabolic steroid. And withdrawal, when it comes, will be painful.
I find it fascinating that he imparted the piece with religiosity by titling it "Air-conditioning: Our Cross to Bear."

He uses air conditioning to artfully merge the environmentalist "unsustainability" meme with the pessimistic view that growth leads to decay:

As it creates fleeting enjoyment through a state of low entropy (in this case, an island of coolness in a sea of heat) but only by increasing entropy at an even faster rate elsewhere (by using up fuels and materials and releasing useless wastes), air-conditioning is a poster child for the inevitable decay that, according to Georgescu-Roegen, is a defining characteristic of economic growth.

It's no coincidence that when the first modern central air-conditioning system was installed back in 1902, it was to cool the New York Stock Exchange.

Yes, and within 3 decades, the stock market collapsed! Case closed!

Evil as air conditioning is by itself, it has also fueled the twin evil of conspicuous consumption!

Marketing in America is an exceptionally wasteful means of extracting Georgescu Roegen's "enjoyment of life" out of valuable resources, and it's made possible partly by air-conditioning. In a summer without AC, the mall/big-box strategy of concentrated retailing would create little more than a hot stew of bodily aromas. With it, leisurely shopping has largely displaced noncommercial pastimes for many.

Air-conditioning can also make big purchases more attractive. You can't fully enjoy a jumbo-screen TV, a PC, an SUV or an RV unless you have AC. It allows you to grill steaks in the comfort of the kitchen, play indoor golf when it's too hot outdoors or, as President Richard Nixon used to do, enjoy your fireplace even in summer.

Aha! I see it now.

We are all Richard Nixon!

This stuff is more evil than I imagined. And if you think Nixon was bad, the author ended by blaming air conditioning for an even worse atrocity:

This story is the first in a two-part series on how air-conditioning has changed society. Next week: How air-conditioning may have helped elect George W. Bush.
We should be so ashamed of ourselves for such unsustainable conduct. Fortunately, we now have a sustainable admininistration -- one built on TRUTH, which will lead us on the paths of righteousness.

The problem remains, though, that telling people that what they like is is bad is always a hard sell, and it can only be done in the context of morality.

Air conditioning may be comfortable, and it may make life fun and easier (even possible), but it has to be recast as evil.

Same thing for unsustainable activities like eating the food you like, or even the Fourth of July fireworks (which backward people once considered fun and patriotic). The new trend is to ban fireworks if possible, and at any rate scold people who enjoy them:

[F]ireworks shows spray out a toxic concoction that rains down quietly into lakes, rivers and bays throughout the country," wrote the Mother Nature Network's Russell McLendon on June 30. "Many of the chemicals in fireworks are also persistent in the environment, meaning they stubbornly sit there instead of breaking down."

McLendon suggested avoiding fireworks and finding other ways to celebrate Independence Day.

Well, being a thoroughly evil person, I did not do as McLendon suggested. Instead, I found a wonderful fireworks show in Brooklyn, Michigan. I hadn't been planning on sharing this video, but seeing fireworks being condemned made me change my mind. Plus, it also occurred to me that many of the same arguments the greenie-weenies make against fireworks could be made against guns. So I thought, why not celebrate pleasure?

You know, that pursuit-of-happiness thing that the moralistic, authoritarian, pleasure-hating scolds want to ban because it's "unsustainable"?


Especially because if they get their way, enjoyment won't be allowed!

posted by Eric on 07.12.10 at 02:12 PM


Have you seen the movie Dogma? It's pretty good, so long as you can ignore that they are hard lefties who hate religion.
Ben Affleck goes off on a rant about how people have "destroyed" the Earth.
spoiler alert for Dogma* a devil goes to a suburban house, asks the homeowner if she has central air and when she says yes, he kills her. He walks in, turns up the A/C (down? I never know which makes it colder), as the air blasts him in the face he says, "No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater... than central air.
End spoiler

Yup. That's the approved, lefty version.
Me? I think central air is one of the finest inventions ever made,right up there with flush toilets.

It's funny how modern enviro-wackos, who quite often hate all things Christian, would fit in perfectly well with some 8th century monks scourging themselves in the public square.
This end of civilization isn't the funniest for nothing.

Veeshir   ·  July 12, 2010 5:42 PM

Government-issued happiness is groovy.

dr kill   ·  July 12, 2010 7:15 PM

Makes you wonder if Cox has ever had to stay in an un-air conditioned building in warm-to-hot weather. Or lived through a hot summer without it. In case he doesn't know, after you finish pedaling your bike a ways, you find a shady spot and collapse in it and hope for a breeze; it's not too idyllic.

Firehand   ·  July 12, 2010 8:15 PM

It's no coincidence that when the first modern central air-conditioning system was installed back in 1902, it was to cool the New York Stock Exchange.

It's no coincidence that Stan Cox distorted history to make it seem like air conditioning was invented to make the greedy capitalists of the NYSE trade their wealth in comfort. Though a cooling system was installed in the NYSE in 1902, it could not by today's standards be considered a "modern" air conditioning unit, and itself was replaced in time by a more modern unit. The NYSE cooler was designed by Alfred Wolff and ultimately ran on steam. What today is considered modern air conditioning was invented by Willis Carrier, also in 1902, to stabilize the humidity in printing plants, which were having trouble registering multicolor printing as the temp and humidity affected the paper's dimensions. Though some of the primitive systems survived, like propane fired camping refrigerators, just about all air conditioners and other refrigerant coolers (including the one in your kitchen) today work on Carrier's system. Carrier also discovered the relationship between temperature, humidity and dew point.

Most early installations of A/C were like the Brooklyn printing plant where Carrier proved his concepts, they were commercial settings like food processors etc. Later businesses that served the public like movie theaters and department stores adopted A/C. Lots of factories didn't start cooling until the 1980s. Homes were the about the last places to get central A/C. I can remember in 1963 or 1964, during a heat wave in Detroit, when my dad brought home an above-the-door commercial A/C unit like he used in his veterinary hospital, a converted storefront. He put the unit in my parents' bedroom, hung a sheet in the stairwell to keep the cold air upstairs, and it let us get to sleep.

I don't know how old Stan Cox is. My guess is that he's less than 40 years old and cannot remember when household air conditioning was rare. In the 1960s, central air was still considered a luxury, and in most parts of the country outside the south and southwest it was an optional, not standard, feature on new homes. A/C was also a luxury option on cars into the 1970s. It was only when Honda decided to build all 1st gen Accords with A/C, stereos, and power steering, that car manufacturers started offering A/C as standard equipment.

As for Cox' idiocy regarding less A/C will mean less crime, there's a reason why they called them "long hot summers" in the 1960s. In fact, though correlation is not causation, it's interesting that there have been relatively few urban riots in the United States since window A/C units got so cheap that just about everyone can afford one.

The good old days were hot and sweaty.

Ronnie Schreiber   ·  July 12, 2010 8:17 PM

I've often found that the people who rail against the comforts of AC and extol the virtues of the heat often work in an air-conditioned office all day and sleep in an air-conditioned home. I say let them do some concrete or excavation work for a few summers, and see how they feel. For this guy, I'd recommend at least four summers of asphalt work...

JC   ·  July 12, 2010 8:28 PM

I live in a part of the country that offer shorts and t-shirt weather for most of the year. Yet it has been well over a decade since I knew more than a handful of neighbors by name. All of the people I regard as friends live fifteen miles or more away.

The factor that appears to make neighbors more likely to interact is kids. I've noticed that it is the families with pre-teen kids around here that are most likely to socialize.

epobirs   ·  July 12, 2010 8:45 PM

My favorite 4th of July slogan is:

Void where prohibited.

There is something so American about such a sentiment. But, downwind from me please.

M. Simon   ·  July 12, 2010 10:58 PM

"As a result of all this, a strange thing happens: Deaths from heat decline."

I guess the WaPo writer missed the 15 thousand dead elderly in France (no a/c) in that heat wave a few years ago...three orders of magnitude higher than deaths in a similar heat wave in American cities.

And he's just as ignorant of the history of "retailing"...the lack of A/C in the 1880s and 1890s did not stop the creation of "palaces of consumption"--the modern department store, thousands of consumer goods in one big boxy building.

(I spent the summer of 1999--an unusually hot summer for Milwaukee--in an antique apartment building downtown with no air-conditioning and no breeze (windows opened out to the building next door). I did not experience "community" or "simple pleasure". I stuck to the sheets and wished I was dead.)

HeatherRadish   ·  July 13, 2010 12:08 AM

I have lived in the South and in the mountains and deserts of the West where both air conditioning and heat were luxuries. And... I do NOT want to go back to those times.

But it is more complicated than just heat or AC. Or the lack of either.

Frankly, a human can survive heat better than cold. That ultimately means that more people will live at a poverty level in the south than in the north. If one cannot afford heat in the northern climes, one will die. If one cannot afford AC in the southern climes, one will sweat and be uncomfortable... but alive.

Deaths from heat waves occur mostly in climes that do not regularly suffer extremely hot temperatures.

Donna B.   ·  July 13, 2010 2:45 AM

Actually, moralistic, pleasure-hating authoritarianism has been an easy sell, so long as someone else' ox is gored.

Brett   ·  July 13, 2010 7:54 PM

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