atomic bomb

Fairf***ed: The Fairfax op-ed pages have long since been a virtual wasteland for foreign policy and global affairs. A selection of yesterday’s headlines for the double-spread tell the story: “Time to tax sugary drinks”, “My friend, a lost, little yellow share bike” and — giving The Guardian a run for its money — “I smoked pot to make our roads safer”.

But among them is Tom “Heidi” Switzer, inventor of a new radio genre — uneasy listening — and realpolitik maven for the right. And guess what? His take on global affairs is just as drivelicious as the stuff surrounding it. Under the headline, “Be wary of doomsday predictions”, Switzer does a usefully succinct and direct version of the usual right-wing Pollyanna take. Despite the fact that there exists a global nuclear arsenal barely 70 years old, global warming on track for a four-eight degrees rise, and vast habitat destruction, it hasn’t happened yet, so it never will.

This is the induction fallacy, beloved of right-wing commentators, and something that an intelligent 12-year old can see through. The induction fallacy is to believe that a past activity pattern is indicative of an unchanging structure. Stick your hand in a rockpool, you’ll be fine. Stick your hand in a pan of heating water — because it hasn’t boiled in the last two minutes, it never will — and less so.

By Switzer’s inductionism, six biopsies by the dermatologist revealing benign growths, means you’ll never get cancer. In social terms, it’s the logic used, until recently (and sometimes still) by the police in domestic violence matters: “He’s never actually tried to kill her, despite all the threats”. And, after World Holocaust Day, it’s worth noting that it was the logic of those who didn’t get out of Germany as soon as they could: “He’s a blowhard, they’re always talking about extermination”. The “catastrophists” descendents are now in their third generation. The “optimists” are much less so.*

Catastrophes happen, in other words. And within any life-system, they only have to happen once. Non-catastrophe must be maintained, and the only way of doing that is being alive to the possibility of catastrophe. But catastrophe leaves few or no witnesses. The bias of the unreflective will always be towards the pollyanna version of events. So too will the politically compromised. The right need this sort of laughing-gas style optimism, for the simple reason that all the evidence contradicts their most-deeply held beliefs: that capitalism can expand infinitely and with light regulation, without undermining the basis of life, or without destroying “traditional values”.

Any intelligent person can see that that is wrong. The understanding of how wrong it is, is spreading fast. The more the right hold out against scientific evidence and reflective reasoning — while braying about the Enlightenment — the more they resemble a deranged cult. As always, it’s hard to work out whether someone like Switzer knows this and is dissembling, or is genuinely dim with regard to abstract reasoning: and thus inevitably attracted to the right. Loosen the lederhosen, Heidi, let the blood get back to your brain, on the off chance.

* No, this is not Godwinning; I’m making an argument about historical occurrence, not about the beliefs underpinning the actions (kinda).

Peter Fray

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