A Thought CatastropheJanuary 1, 2010
Aw hell. I sit down at my computer for a millisecond, nursing my hangover, only to read in the New York Times an inane snippet of garbage from a self-promoting windbag in my own discipline. Here, enjoy this preposterous goody-sack of bullshit to welcome in the New Year. It’s written by Denis Dutton, philosopher (AOS, aesthetics) at the University of Canterbury. You probably know him better from his editorship of the otherwise very nice Arts and Letters Daily, an online clearinghouse with links to good reading.
I won’t bore you with the boring stuff (which is most of it), but the gist of the essay is that, oops, Y2K was ridiculous. Isn’t it ha-ha funny how worried people were about the end of the world back in 1999? We were so dumb and gullible back then.
Now that Y2K has been shown to be a farce, it only stands to reason that all other worries about the end of the world are similarly ha-ha funny. Dutton’s reasoning, I submit, is impeccable. Catastrophes simply don’t happen. Y2K demonstrates this.
All that worry about a nuclear winter? How dumb. Didn’t happen, wasn’t going to happen. The 1980s anti-nuke activists were a tittering cabal of sissies. Chatter from Central Asia about planes and buildings got you concerned? Never you mind, it’s idle hysteria. Nothing could ever happen. Catastrophism is an elixir of the masses. Bell-ringers in Louisiana scaring your children with fables of impending hurricanes and floods? Don’t sweat it. That’s just a few self-interested fraidy-cats drumming up fear. There’s never been a catastrophe ever at all in the world. Never will be. Y2K tells us everything we need to know about periods of public hysteria. Evidence be damned.
And yes, you know where this is going.
As if on cue, in the last few paragraphs of his asinine mental flatulation, he throws an elbow into “climate catastrophism,” though he doesn’t elaborate much. That’s probably a good thing, because he doesn’t seem to have much to elaborate on. What you get is just “his view.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think the calamity frame is a serious problem for the climate debate. That’s not what bothers me about this essay. What bothers me is his stupid fracking hasty generalization that somehow Y2K serves as an extrapolatable case study in catastrophe hysteria. If you haven’t yet gotten the picture, this is a very weak argument.
(Yes, I have a hangover and yes, I’m cranky.)
UPDATE: Looks like Joe Romm sunk his teeth into this piece a few hours before I did.