Magic thinking

We have all kinds of innovation and we have them all the time, but you cannot decide on what will be invented next. The magical thinking of the global warming crowd who believe that if you make fossil fuels really expensive that a cheaper alternative will simply materialise is so bordering on the insane that I actually don’t know what can be done about it. Making energy more expensive will certainly mean that some of us will use less of it, with the less well off the ones who will suffer the most. And those who live in genuinely poor communities will find their standard of living falling below where it now is. This is not a matter of theory but is an absolute arithmetical necessity. If you have less of something, some people who used to have a particular quantity will have less and some may even have none at all.

Tonight I went along to hear Sinclair Davidson on the great moral question of our time: is coal on its way out as a source of energy. The audience was what I suspect a Q&A audience must be like, all well meaning and quite comfortable, thank you very much, but oh so concerned about the future about a hundred years from now when the oceans have risen and our farmlands have all turned to desert. We must therefore get rid of fossil fuels, and coal in particular, immediately. The replacement technologies are already available; its only the lack of will that prevents us from taking the steps we need to take.

Bob Brown led the offence for the yeas, while Professor Davidson played anchor for the nays stressing the moral case for fossil fuels. Every one of the five speakers except one agreed that global warming and greenhouse gases was the greatest issue of our time. The sixth made the hilarious point that no one really cares about people who will be inhabiting the planet a hundred years from now, evidenced by the fact that they don’t seem to care all that much about people who are inhabiting the planet right at the moment. This brought a strong round of applause from at least one member of the audience, but if there was anyone else applauding at the same time, I think I may have missed it.

Savages with cell phones

This is from Sultan Knish and the modern world of Government by Magical Thinking. People without a single technical skill trying to manage a modern economy is the disaster we have visited upon ourselves. Presidents until recent times actually had done something complicated before they took office. This article is definitely onto something about the incompetence of those we have now put in charge of our political fortunes where none of them have ever done anything themselves in their entire life.

Healthcare.gov, like ObamaCare, was going to work because it was ‘good’. Its goodness was by some measure other than result. It was morally good. It was progressive. And so the deity of liberal causes, perhaps Karl Marx or Progressia, the Goddess of Soup and Economic Dysfunction, would see to it that it would work. Karma would kick in and everything would work out because it had to.

This brand of magical thinking was once commonplace. It still is. And it’s why things so rarely work out in some of the more messed up parts of the world. But the sort of attitude that would once have made anthropologists shake their heads is now commonplace here. Savages in suits, barbarians with iPads are certain that things will work because they have appeased the gods of modernity with their fonts, they have made a website that looks like a functioning website. And like the cargo culters who built fake control towers expecting planes to land, they thought that their website would work.

Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right.

That’s modernity. It isn’t glamorous. You can see it in black and white photos of men working on old planes. You can see it in the eyes of the astronauts who first went to the moon. You can read it in the workings of the men who built the longest suspension bridges, laid undersea cables and watched their world change. They were moderns and their time is done. They have left behind savages with cell phones who make decent tinkerers, but whose ability to collaborate falls apart in large groups.