Last week, the Guardian’s Long Read had a great piece on not just denial, but denialism. An adaption from his forthcoming book on Denial, author Keith Kahn-Harris lays out in the piece the foundation for what he sees as a new age of denialism. The difference, he explains, between denial and denialism is that “denial is furtive and routine; denialism is combative and extraordinary. Denial hides from the truth, denialism builds a new and better truth.”
Kahn-Harris describes denialism as a “mix of corrosive doubt and corrosive credulity,” as seen in the acceptance of thinly-evidenced narratives instead of consensus science. And it’s a true desire for the status quo to continue in terms of environment, health, race, gender and power, Kahn-Harris argues, that is driving denialism.
We’re moving into what he describes as post-denial, where instead of needing to shroud an argument in pseudo-academic language, those more base desires can be let loose. Having built that denial foundation of doubting experts and believing shiny charlatans, practitioners of new denialism are free to create their own reality.
Though Kahn-Harris doesn’t name anyone, a perfect case study of that is Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist who has found fame and fortune in exploiting the free speech crusading, telling-losers-what-they-want-to-hear market. (You may have heard of his suggestion of “enforced monogamy” to address gun violence.) He’s long dabbled in climate denial, and recently tweeted out a link to Lindzen’s climate denial filled PragerU video to his 800,000 followers.
In a different recent Longread, writer Laurie Penny offers a definitive takedown of how Peterson, who can be seen as a skilled practitioner of new denialism, weaves together “moralistic propaganda” with “a disingenuous appeal to the scientific method.” His whole surface-level-wiseman schtick only seems impressive because of the “profoundly impoverished intellectual and political climate where the feeling of truth is more meaningful than truth itself,” Penny writes.
In other words, his work, a “paranoid mess of evolutionary psychology, horrified homophobic superstition, and religious mysticism” only seems remotely intelligent, and and he has only found success in “monetizing his own persecution complex,” because we’re in Kahn-Harris’s climate of denialism.
When it comes to climate change denial--which has historically been adept at monetizing a persecution complex--Kahn-Harris suggests that we’re not quite yet at the stage where climate deniers can go full denialism. Deniers can’t quite say out loud that they don’t care if warming drowns a million Bangladeshis, so long as our fossil fuel industry is still turning a profit. But the Trump administration’s decision to literally not count the deaths of non-Americans and Americans alike in rolling back the Clean Power Plan is making exactly such an admission.
Unfortunately, even this long read on denial doesn’t have the space to get into solutions, aside from some vague call to sort of allow people’s most objectionable and base desires, which fuel denial, to be set loose so we can see and deal with it head on. What’s that mean in practice? Who knows. (Maybe it means Trump’s rollbacks overturned in court?)
But past recommendations for tech fixes to denial might have been heard by Youtube. Per to some denier tweets, it looks like the website is adding a banner under climate denial videos, like the Lindzen video Jordan Peterson shared, with a link to the Wikipedia’s global warming page. When you click on the “Why am I seeing this?” link, YouTube says it’s adding these links to third-party sources “alongside videos on a small number of well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation online, like the moon landing.”
Now, we might be inclined to argue that if your platform is being used to argue things that you feel compelled to correct with basic scientific facts, maybe you could go one step further and simply block those things from appearing all together.
But that would be censorship, and we can’t have that without triggering persecution complexes and the free speech crusaders. This too is another example of the growing culture of denialism: while right wing deniers like Peterson are the first to complain about the left’s assault on free speech (even as he sues critics) it turns out that when it comes to free speech, it’s more often liberals getting shut down.
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