If you’re a liberal who has any conservative friends or relatives, you know how well defended they are against anything you might say. Any fact you know is wrong. Any source you might quote is biased: Academia is biased (except for institutes funded by the Koch Brothers). Major newspapers are biased (except for the Washington Times). TV news is biased (except for Fox). Government agencies are biased (unless a Republican president has had their reports vetted by a political appointee) … and so on.
Here are three points of view that might sneak under the conservative radar, because of where they come from and how they’re pitched.
- A former climate-change denier explains how that game works in the YouTube lecture “How to Avoid the Truth about Climate Change“. In a similar vein, Republican meteorologist and entrepreneur Paul Douglas blogs “Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn’t Make You A Liberal“.
- Christian author Rachel Held Evans asks for an end to the culture wars and describes how politics is damaging the Christian message in “How to win a culture war and lose a generation” and its follow-up.
- Entrepreneur Nick Hanauer’s TED talk debunks the idea that rich people like him create jobs.
Now let’s look at those one-by-one.
BYU’s Barry Bickmore on climate-change denial. Bickmore’s talk isn’t about climate change. It’s about “How to Avoid the Truth about Climate Change“. (If you don’t have time to watch, scroll down the comments to Anna Haynes’ notes on the talk.) In other words: What techniques make it possible for honest and intelligent people to deny something that virtually all the experts in the field believe?
Bickmore knows why people don’t believe in climate change, because he used to agree with them on two points: There’s lot’s of scientific controversy about global warming, and the is theory based solely on complex computer models which are easy to screw up.
When he looked into the issue more closely, though, Bickmore discovered that each of those points is wrong: Around 97% of actively publishing climate scientists believe that human activity is causing the planet to get hotter, and their opinion is verified by a variety of techniques that may not give exactly the same projections, but do agree within the bounds of the published error estimates.
He wondered: Why didn’t I already know that? What led to my confusion?
First, there were those “thousands of scientists doubt global warming” articles. Bickford explains the strategy that generates them: First, expand the field of “experts” to include a lot of people who aren’t really experts at all, and second, report a raw number that sounds big rather than doing a poll and getting a percentage.
So the Oregon Petition (claiming there is “no convincing scientific evidence” of human-caused global warming) claims 30,000 signers. But signers don’t have to be experts or even scientists. They need only have a bachelors degree, not necessarily in a relevant field.
So why is this impressive to people — 30,000 scientists? … People think about scientists as “Well, you know science, so why don’t you tell me?” Right? But in reality we’re much more specialized than that. If you have cancer, you don’t go to your podiatrist. You go to your oncologist.
Ditto for the 900 peer-reviewed journal articles skeptical of climate change. It sounds like a big number, but in what universe of journals? Apparently, a universe big enough to include journals that publish “research” articles on dog astrology and UFO abductions.
Bickford continues, similarly destroying the “What about Galileo?” and “We don’t need experts” objections, leading to this conclusion:
There’s always room for doubt. But there has to be a point — if we’re going to make any attempt at all at trying to be objective — that we have to admit that we’re trying too hard [to avoid the truth]. And I think that for people who are on the side I was a few years ago, I think we should admit that we’ve reached that point.
Rachel Held Evans on the damage Christianity is suffering from the culture wars. After reviewing some research showing how young adults (even those raised in Christian households and even young church-goers) view Christianity’s anti-gay image negatively and are shamed by what they see as un-Christ-like hostility towards their gay and lesbian friends, Evans gives her personal observations. When she speaks at Christian colleges, she finds that “every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.“
On the evening when North Carolina’s anti-gay Amendment One was passing by a wide margin, Evans saw a pattern in her Twitter feed:
Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning. Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that [pro-amendment] Billy Graham ad:
You’re losing us.
I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again…(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):
My generation is tired of the culture wars.
Back when gays were in the closet, you could make them out to be any kind of hobgoblins you wanted. All the scary talk about a “gay agenda” depends on that image: sinister conspirators out to destroy everything good and decent in the world.
But to folks under 40, gays and lesbians are their friends from high school. They decorated homecoming floats together and washed cars side-by-side to raise money to send the French Club to Paris.
We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen.
Evans says her generation wants to “stop waging war and start washing feet”. Translating for those who don’t speak Christian: They want to help people rather than beat them down, and practice their religion humbly rather than be authoritarian ideologues. If they can’t do that inside the church, she says, they’ll do it somewhere else.
Nick Hanauer. This guy was an early investor in Amazon, and then made several other piles of money by starting little-fish companies that he eventually sold to bigger fish like Microsoft. In other words: not a communist, not a fifth-generation Rockefeller who has forgotten where his trust fund came from, not an academic economist who has never made or sold anything.
Hanauer’s 6-minute TED talk addresses one question: Who are the job creators? You might expect him to answer, “People like me.” But he doesn’t.
If there was no one around who could afford to buy what we had to sell, all those companies [I helped start] and all those jobs would have evaporated. That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs. Nor do businesses, large or small.
Jobs are a consequence of a circle-of-life-like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary consumer is more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.
… Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a course of last resort for capitalists. It’s what we do if and only if rising consumer demand requires it.
After displaying graphs of rising income and falling tax rates for the rich since 1980, he comments:
If it was true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would be drowning in jobs.
But when the middle class thrives, businesses grow and everyone does better. So he concludes:
In a capitalistic economy, the true job creators are middle-class consumers. And taxing the rich to make investments that make the middle class grow and thrive, is the single shrewdest thing we can do for the middle class, for the poor, and for the rich.
At first, Hanauer’s talk didn’t appear on the TED website — not all of them do — leading National Journal to bill the talk as “too hot for TED“. This prompted a TED official to post “the real story“, claiming that the audience gave the talk mediocre ratings:
a non-story about a talk not being chosen, because we believed we had better ones, somehow got turned into a scandal about censorship.
Even that spin, though, implies that TED and its audience are not very representative. Once the YouTube got out, it quickly went viral and has been seen (so far) by over 400,000 people.