"Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." (Matthew 15:14) Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Parable of the Blind. (1568. Oil on canvas. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples) Credit to the creators of the "Informational Cascades and Rational Herding" website for their inspired use of the Biblical parable and Bruegel's interpretation to illustrate our species' ovine tendencies.
"He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater world-wide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted," cascades the citation announcing the Nobel committee's awarding of their 2007 Peace Prize to Al Gore and the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We would change only one word of the citation, which should properly read:
He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater world-wide misunderstanding of the measures that need to be adopted.
The committee also cited the IPCC's scientific reports and contributions to an "ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming." Again, close, but no cigar. Consensus, yes. "Informed," no.
Jules Crittenden was way ahead of the herd two days ago when he wrote with wit and wisdom concerning rumors that Mr. Gore would, indeed, be awarded the tendentious prize:
Today, a more sophisticated Nobel Prize Committee generally is more interested in empty, fraudulent or hypocritical gestures. Any demonstrable relation to actual peace, unnecessary . . .
Gore, whose transgressions in the field of global warming would appear to be limited to exaggeration and distortion of evidence, and the maintenance of excessively carbon-burning estates and fleets of vehicles, barely squeaked by under the strictest standards of hypocrisy and uselessness.
But Schopenhauer beat Crittenden by over a hundred years when he wrote -- as blogged here only hours after Crittenden's post on Wednesday -- in Chapter 3 of "The Art of Controversy":
When we come to look into the matter, so-called universal opinion is the opinion of two or three persons; and we should be persuaded of this if we could see the way in which it really arises.
Regarding the anthropogenic global warming controversy, "universal opinion" currently hovers somewhere between Stages 1 and 2 of Schopenhauer's timeless formulation:
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
Despite its use in recent years to bludgeon philosophical enemies, the Peace Prize retains an aura of prestige that allows its recipients to elide inconvenient truths. A look at the etymological roots of the word may provide some solace to those of us who share Jules Crittenden's disgust with the UNs signature "empty, fraudulent or hypocritical gestures":
Pres·tige (prĕ-stēzh', -stēj') n. The level of respect at which one is regarded by others; standing. A person's high standing among others; honor or esteem. Widely recognized prominence, distinction, or importance: a position of prestige in diplomatic circles.
[French, illusion, from Latin praestīgiae, tricks, probably alteration of *praestrīgiae, from praestringere, to touch, blunt, blind : prae-, pre- + stringere, to draw tight.]
Psychological denial and the importance of being noticed are where it's at. As we wrote back in April of 2006:
Scientists are only human, after all, and for many -- if not most -- getting the grants and the accolades and running with the herd trump the search for truth. One of Dr. Sanity's "many faces of denial."
Yet another example of a Fear Society Lite, with media elites reflexively promulgating the party line. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell admitted way back in 1990 (from an Insight magazine clipping in our snail files), "clearly the networks have made the decision now, where you'd have to call it advocacy."
Update: Pajamas Media has a roundup of blog commentary and reaction. Fun stuff!