Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Good or Bad? Indifferent (morally) is Best!

We can all identify with the guy who goes to McDonald’s, orders a bacon and cheese quarter pounder with a large fries on the side, then to be “good” tops his meal off with a diet coke.  As the example shows, making food choices “good” or “bad” doesn’t work very well to improve people’s diets because people want to feel like they’re good and will reward themselves for a tiny bit of “good” behavior with a lot of “bad” behavior. *
Take the woman who drives her gas guzzling SUV to stock up on organic veggies.  Or me who used to keep a sixty-watt lamp on during the daytime during our gray Oregon winters, but now with the curly bulbs using only thirteen watts each, I feel justified in burning four of them at a time.  I save eight watts per hour.  Am I good or what?   No, moralization of green behavior doesn’t work any better than it does for eating behavior.  
When behavior becomes moralized, it’s no longer a matter of personal preference.  For instance, I don’t like Brussels sprouts, but I don’t care if you eat them. Brussels sprouts are a matter of personal preference, not morality.  Once a behavior becomes moralized, nobody should do it and people who do are bad.
Moreover, moralization is worse than ineffective;  it’s dangerous. The infinite good of the  perfect future world justifies whatever means needed to achieve that infinite good.  Think of the millions of deaths under fascism and communism that were supposed to bring about a better world.  
Moralization of a cause gets people worked up over the cause and benefits the leaders of the cause.  Once people are worked up, they stop questioning and do what the leaders tell them.
Some feel the infinite good of the planet justifies immoral behavior toward those in the way.  We see ad hominem attacks.  Those who have a non human generated CO2 driven explanation for the 1980-1998 warming are called Deniers.   Trains carrying coal are named death trains.  The references to the Holocaust, arguably one of the most evil acts ever, are obvious.  
Some believe it’s wrong to associate oneself with fossil fuel by owning stock in fossils fuel companies.  This belief leads to moves like divestment (selling off the stocks of fossil fuel companies) for an attempt at moral purity.   It’s a time wasting attempt because stockholders don’t give the evil fossil fuel corporations any money;  they just reap some of their profits.   Besides, stockholders can vote and therefore influence the corporation.
Although physicians take an oath to do no harm, all medical procedures and pharmaceuticals have risks.   We undertake treatments when their benefits outweigh their risks.  But when an issue becomes moralized, we think in all or nothing terms.  It’s Good or Bad. Hence moralization stops the discussion of risk vs benefits of a policy.
Getting beyond moralization about climate change allows us to focus on the risks and benefits of policies. Should we focus on adaptations such as dikes and relocations to escape rising sea levels?  Or should we focus on mitigation (reducing the amount of carbon dioxide) by  making energy more expensive via a carbon tax or inefficient (so far) alternate sources?  Unfortunately, expensive energy creates and maintains poverty.
I can’t agree with the progressive clergy who claim climate change is a moral issue** because creating and maintaining poverty cannot be a moral mandate.
  I’d rather emulate the woman in the McDonald’s restroom who wiped out the sink.  Now that’s leaving the world a better place.

** J Hansen

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