How Groupthink Works

A fascinating phenomenon in human affairs is how large groups of people in close or semi-close association with each other will claim to believe exactly the same thing about some large and complicated subject.  As Exhibit A, entire nations and peoples will proclaim belief in the same religion, not just the broad generalities, but all the details and particulars of doctrine and dogma.  How many Arabs, for example, will say they are not Muslims?  In some cases like that one, the official group belief may be enforced at times with highly coercive measures, up to and including beheadings and mass executions.  But there are less extreme enforcement techniques with remarkable levels of effectiveness.

Here in the U.S., and among the forces of the Left, we don't so much have religion in the traditional sense, but the closest substitute is the Church of Global Warming, to which most everyone associating with the Left claims to belong.  You often read about a supposed "consensus" that human activities contribute to global warming.  The methodology used to claim that consensus is rather bogus, but more interesting is that the dogmas of the Church extend far beyond the proposition that human activities have some impact on global temperature, and include increasingly dubious tenets such as: mandatory support for government subsidy of renewable energy, mandatory support for restrictions on use of fossil fuels, mandatory support for EPA efforts to ban the use of coal, mandatory support for transfer payments from rich to poor countries as climate reparations, and so forth.  There are even important Church tenets that are manifestly contrary to empirical data, like "the earth is warming" (actual best data from satellites show completely flat trend for 18+ years and declines in the most recent months) and "polar sea ice is disappearing" (actual best data from satellites show record high levels of Arctic plus Antarctic sea ice during 2014-15).  Sorry, but if you want to be accepted as a member into this Church, you must subscribe to all of the tenets, even the ones that are just false statements of fact.

And how do we deal with the apostates?  A fascinating example is playing out with the case of Larry Tribe, celebrity professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, teacher of Con Law to the likes of Barack Obama, John Roberts, Elena Kagan and even to the Manhattan Contrarian (way back in 1974), arguer of many cases in the Supreme Court, seemingly stalwart icon of the Left, and even Al Gore's lead lawyer in the great Bush v. Gore controversy of 2000.  And now somehow this guy has done the unthinkable and signed on as lawyer for Peabody Coal in challenging pending EPA "clean power plan" regulations designed to shut down the use of coal to generate electricity in the United States.

The official excommunication got under way a little over a week ago with an op-ed in the New York Times by Ricky Revesz, recent ex-Dean of NYU Law School, covered at MC here.  That was only the start.  It is followed with a lengthy article on the front page of Tuesday's print edition,  "Harvard Professor vs. Star Pupil in Climate Case."     Key quote:

To many Democrats and professors at Harvard, Mr. Tribe is a traitor.

Ouch!  As examples, the article cites two of Tribe's fellow Harvard Law professors, Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus, heaping scorn upon the Con Law arguments he has advanced in support of Peabody:

 “The administration’s climate rule is far from perfect, but sweeping assertions of unconstitutionality are baseless,” Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard Law School, and Richard Lazarus, an expert in environmental law who has argued over a dozen cases before the Supreme Court, wrote in a rebuttal to Mr. Tribe’s brief on the Harvard Law School website. “Were Professor Tribe’s name not attached to them, no one would take them seriously.”  Mr. Tribe’s legal claims, they concluded, are “ridiculous.”

The Times omits any discussion of the merits of Tribe's arguments, or evaluation of their strength.  Are they aware of lengthy concurrences by Justices Thomas, Alito and Scalia in two recent cases making many of the same points?

One of the last lines of the article is the best:

Mr. McKenna, the Republican lobbyist, said dryly, “He’s about to be banned from a lot of cocktail parties.”

McKenna may have said that in jest, but I have no doubt that it is true.  Mr. Tribe, you are now a traitor and a pariah.  That's what happens when you publicly dis the groupthink.  But there is an upside: you are suddenly allowed to think for yourself.  It's liberating!  Now that you have been cast out of the Church, who knows what other dogmas you may think to disagree with?

In other climate news:

  • In an interview with ABC News yesterday, President Obama was asked why Americans should care about climate change, and he pointed to one of his daughters' childhood asthma attacks:  "[I]f we can make sure that our responses to the environment are reducing those incidents, that’s something that I think every parent would wish for.”  Huh?  Careful Larry, if you try to rejoin the Church you'll next be asked to buy into the idea that CO2 in the air causes asthma.   Did I hear somebody claim that Obama is "smart"?
  • Meanwhile, over in Japan, where they have been short of power since the Fukushima nuclear accident a few years ago, there is now a solution at hand:  40+ new coal power plants!