Brexit & Global Warming: Gnostics v Faithful

GnosticIt has been remarked that there is some commonality between those who advocate for British independence from the EU (Brexit) and those who are sceptical about climate change alarmism.[1] The point might equally be put the other way around: that the more likely someone is to believe in the UK’s continued partipation in the EU project, the more likely that person is to believe in impending disaster resulting from anthropogenic global warming.

What is the link between these concepts? It is an interesting question, and the answer is by no means obvious. Certainly, it is the case that a number of the sharpest minds in Britain today (Matt Ridley[2], Nigel Lawson[3], Jacob Rees-Mogg[4] and Daniel Hannan[5] to name a few) – let us call them the Gnostics – are in favour of Brexit, and are also sceptical about the beliefs of the climate change lobby. But then again, there are also plenty of perfectly intelligent people – let us call them the Faithful – sit on the other side of both those fences. Intellegence is an imperfect predictor of good sense.

It is typically supposed that the answer to the question lies in the characteristics of the Gnostics, and there might be something in that. But equally fertile ground might be to consider the characteristics of the Faithful.

It has been remarked many times that there are parallels to be drawn between belief in climate change and religious belief, and indeed that environmentalism is these days in the nature of a neo-religion. But it would be a stretch to describe belief in the EU is in the nature of a neo-religion. And so propensity to religious belief can hardly be a complete answer to the question. But it does edge us a little closer, I suspect.

Much more resounding is a different characteristic: the Gnostics tend to show an intellectual independence, and a willingness to look at the facts and reach conclusions regardless of whether those conclusions match or do not match the dominant views broadcast by politicians, the media, the universities or other public voices. On the other hand, the Faithful are much more likely to fall into line behind the orthodoxy of the day.

But there is more than that. There is a real difference in the way the two groups give expression to their beliefs. The Gnostics tend to point to the evidence, and are typically willing to debate the facts, whereas the Faithful tend instead to stick to slogans, to denigrate the Gnostics as if the Gnostics were stupid, and to shut down any debate. And that takes us back, at least part of the way, to the religious parallel. Since time immemorial, the technique of organised religion has been to attack non-adherents to their own beliefs as heretics, and instead of engaging in debate, to demonise their opponents.

One can see this perhaps most clearly in social media, both in the context of climate change and in the context of Brexit:

On the whole, those who run websites or who comment on-line about climate change issues from a position of scepticism – people like Anthony Watts and Jo Nova – do so with restraint and respect, typically putting forward detailed evidence as to why, on particular assertions points made by climate change alarmists, the Faithful are mistaken. Conversely, the keyboard warriors on the Faithful side are much more prone to denigrate the Gnostics by the use of insults (they use the term “denier” in order to tar the Gnostics with the same brush as Holocaust deniers) or by refusing to engage with the issues at all (they repeatedly assert that “the science is settled”).

In the context of Brexit, also, it is noticeable that the use of insults, particularly under the protection of pseudonominic usernames, is rather more common by the Faithful than by the Gnostics. The Gnostics tend to promote their case by pointing to evidence – that the UK pays £350 million a week to the EU[6], that the EU commission is dictatorial, unelected and unaccountable, that the EU unfairly discriminates against poorer nations outside the EU, and so forth. By contrast, the Faithful tend to promote their case by means of insults – that the Gnostics are said to be liars, or harking back to days of imperialism, or that the Gnostics are so stupid that they did not know what they were voting for.

And so there appear to be two related characteristics which typically distinguish Gnostics from the Faithful:

the Gnostics are far more willing than the Faithful to back their own judgement, based on their own analysis, whereas the Faithful are much more likely to accept the current orthodoxy, and to go with the crowd;

the Gnostics are rather more logical in their approach, whereas the Faithful tend to be more tribal.

The parallel with religion is not exact, but it is never far away from this issue. Typically, the religious characterise their own beliefs as “the truth”, “the word” and so forth. Similarly, these days, environmentalists characterise their beliefs as “science” when in fact what they mean is “global warming activism”.  And it has to be recognised that religion (including neo-religion) is as powerful today as it ever was: the USA is getting more religious[7], a significant part of the world’s population is now dominated by Islam, and the neo-religion of environmentalism has cornered much of the remaining market.

Unhappily, the history of the world suggests that the Faithful typically win, and the Gnostics typically lose.[8]

 

 

 

[1] See eg https://www.desmog.co.uk/2016/06/13/mapped-cosy-relationship-climate-euro-sceptic-bubble-55-tufton-street-brexit-less-climate-action

[2] Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley DL FRSL FMedSci, http://www.rationaloptimist.com/

[3] Nigel Lawson, Baron Lawson of Blaby, PC

[4] Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council

[5] MEP. http://www.hannan.co.uk/.

[6] £350 million per week is the gross figure, not the net figure which is more like £250 million per week. Views vary as to which is the more relevant figure. Consider this: if someone took £350,000 from your bank account, and then spent a $100,000 painting your house bright blue with gold stars, concreting over your garden, replacing all of your furniture and paying for your children to be educated in a belief that you do not share, would you put the damage done to you as £350,000, or £250,000? Some might say that the damage done is more than either of those figures.

[7] I have been careful, in this post, to avoid any reference to the tribalism that surrounds Donald Trump.

[8] As a historical footnote from the early history of Christianity, the early Christian Gnostics were entirely destroyed by the group that later became the Roman Catholic Church. I recommend Elaine Pagel’s book The Gnostic Gospels (1979) for anyone who wants some more information on this largely forgotten cultural genocide.

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Filed under Brexit, Climate, Culture, History, Politics, Uncategorized

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