Rarely have I seen an article in which the point is so widely missed, as in the essay from Craig Emerson. He starts off with the statement that ‘tribalism is killing civil discourse in our country and around the world’. That is true to some extent, but it is not as he tries to put across in his silly essay.
Emerson states tribalism is becoming associated with anti-intellectualism, and then he relates a story about how, when he entered parliament “attacks on ‘economic rationalism’ were all the rage on the progressive side of politics”. He implies that the opposition to this was the ‘economic irrationalism’ of One Nation and likens the latter to ‘national socialists’, which he says is resurgent. He then associates them with ‘green socialism’, which he states is ‘a variant of white supremacism’. He says this is because the greens demand the races “of Asia and Africa forgo economic development” using fossil fuels. He then takes this even further, indicating that both sides of this debate are “opposed to rational thought in favour of dogma”. Taking this to an absurd level he states this is ‘eerily like the pre-enlightenment period’ and, seemingly unaware of what he is saying, he alludes to the persecution of Galileo by the Catholic church for his science going against their religious dogma1.
There are several things which need comment here. Firstly, if Emerson had a modicum of economic knowledge, he would realise that it was ‘economic rationalism’ which has led us to the current state of affairs in which corporations rule politics by way of bribery (of both major parties). He would also realise that the initial usage of the term in Australia was simply to signal the reduction in tariffs and the removal of price support for agricultural products. However, during the Fraser and Hawke governments, both the theoretical and policy content of economic rationalism changed. The critical and sceptical thinking that characterised its first phase was gradually replaced by a dogmatic faith in market forces and the private sector. Economic analysis was based on deductions from such supposedly self-evident truths, which were effectively immune from any form of empirical testing. By then, economic rationalists had largely adopted the microeconomic views of the Chicago school, rejecting ideas of market failure. The rationalists consistently argued against government intervention, and came to rely on the view, popular in the business sector, that private enterprise is inherently superior to government action. This view was reinforced in the 1980s by the perceived success of Thatcherism in the United Kingdom. Now, economic rationalists are so dogmatic, that the opposite of rationalism is not irrationalism but empiricism, that is, a willingness to form beliefs on the basis of experience rather than from a priori deduction. Empirical evidence never yields the dogmatic certainty that accompanies their ‘logical deduction’. Empiricism is consistent with policy-making based on willingness to adjust the role of the public sector in the light of new experience and of innovations in technology and policy design. Such an approach is more rational than economic rationalism2.
Secondly, the reason Emerson was assumed by some to be a climate change denier was, I suspect, in part because he stated that the bushfires were “reigniting climate wars”, as if this was a contest between two different points of view1. It isn’t: there is the fact of climate change, and the denial of that fact. Emerson’s use of the Galileo analogy for both sides of this ‘debate’ is simply idiotic. It is the Coalition parties who are denying science as the Catholic Church did with Galileo. It is the scientists who are pleading to be heeded before it is too late (if not already), and it is idiots like Emerson, who seem to think we have time on our side. Indeed, Senator Jordon Steele John was doing the same thing that many climate scientists would like to do, in calling both Liberal and Labor as complicit (as arsonists) in ignoring the extreme danger we face3. This presumably is what got Emerson’s back up; being identified with the Coalition.
Thirdly, Emerson also seems to forget that it was Barnaby Joyce, who started throwing accusations around. Emerson accepted Barnaby Joyce’s explanation of his reference to two people who died in the fires as probable Greens voters1. This is in the same week Joyce incorrectly blamed the Greens for the fires, so to assume that Barnaby was empathising when he noted their supposed Green electoral propensity demonstrates Emerson’s peerless gullibility. Barnaby eventually and stupidly settled on blaming the Sun’s magnetic field4. This drivel from Emerson is symptomatic of a Labor Party which, along with the Liberals and Nationals seem to have not the faintest understanding of the dire predicament in which climate change will leave Australia. It will not be just a long drought, it will be desertification. Indeed, parts of Australia may become uninhabitable.
Fourthly, Emerson’s assumption that without fossil fuels “the races of Africa and Asia” will not have economic development is simply ludicrous. They need electricity and transport fuel. To assume this means fossil fuels is to ignore decades of development of solar and wind electricity generation, battery technology and hydrogen technology. That is Emerson himself demonstrating he is opposed to rational thought. Maybe he’d be better off reading a bit more than writing such drivel.
Emerson himself seems to be part of a tribe, but that tribe also includes the Liberal and National parties and it is that tribe which denies science