Tag: Matt Ridley

Glyphs on Globalism


Flag-map_of_the_worldOne thing about Donald Trump that everyone on Ricochet agrees on — from the most stubborn #NeverTrump to the most enthused Trump supporter — is that Trump is a nationalist, someone who places the well-being, security, and prosperity of the United States above those of other countries. Trump’s nationalism is often among the top reasons his supporters cite in his favor, and (unsurprisingly) they often accuse anti-Trump voices of being globalists, usually in the same tones that were once reserved for heretics, traitors, and people who drive too slow in the passing lane. More recently, Trump’s rise has been likened to the Brexit vote, not only because both represent successful nationalist movements that had been scoffed at by the political establishment, but because both Trump and Nigel Farage have made the connection explicit (H/T @columbo).

But while the comparison between Trump and Brexit is real and significant, it’s only part of the story. How else, for instance, to explain why Daniel Hannan — Farage’s colleague in both the EU Parliament and the Brexit battle — is among the most vociferous anti-Trump voices on the Right? (If you haven’t, listen to Jay Nordlinger’s recent interview with him). The answer, I think, is that nationalism vs. globalism is only one of several political dimensions that deserve our attention.

For example, lost in the talk of late has been the related-but-discrete topic of whether our society should be engaged vs. closed. Both Hannan and Matt Ridley are nationalists who campaigned for Brexit, but their arguments often hinged on how the EU forced Britain to limit its engagement to the Continent rather than giving it the run of the world to seek allies, or to have its people ply their wares, travel, or find bargains.

Matt Ridley on Brexit and Nation Building


shutterstock_398391760From my experience with the author, I expected Matt Ridley’s piece on Brexit to be largely about trade and economics. And while those subjects loom large in his article, the more arresting ones to me were on nationalism and what Ridley sees — correctly, I think — as the ultimate goal of the EU:

Be in no doubt that if we vote to remain on Thursday, turning the continent into a country is the path we are on. […] If the continent is not to be crucified on the cross of a currency, then it must become a country. It must have a single government that automatically transfers tax revenue from the productive to the less productive parts of the country. […] [The EU’s undemocratic diktats fly] in the face of all that we have striven for and shed blood for over centuries, especially in Britain: that laws cannot be passed and taxes cannot be raised except with the consent of the people through their elected representatives. I say again: is this worth it? What is so fearful about the world today that we feel it necessary to be absorbed into such a risky project?

Nation building is a bloody business, perhaps the bloodiest there is. We’ve seen that play out in American and European history; we’ve seen it play out in Iraq these past few years; we’ve even seen it play out in popular fantasy entertainment.

The Evolution of Punditry


Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 9.53.04 AMMatt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything, explores a simple but profound thesis: Most of what goes on in the world — particularly, most of the good stuff — comes from bottom-up, emergent, unplanned processes:

Far more than we like to admit, the world is to a remarkable extent a self-organizing, self-changing place. Patterns emerge, trends evolve. Skeins of geese form Vs in the sky without meaning to, termites build cathedrals without architects, bees make hexagonal honeycombs without instruction, brains take shape without brain-makers, learning can happen without teaching, political events are shaped by history rather than vice versa. The genome has no master gene, the brain has no command centre, the English language has no director, the economy has no chief executive, society has no president, the common law has no chief justice, the climate has no control knob, history has no five-star general.

Ridley spends the rest of the book going through examples, one chapter at a time, explaining how order and complexity arise without intention or command in morality, education, demographics, language, money, and about a dozen other topics. He also takes a lot of the air out of the Great Man Theory, arguing that it’s far more true that conditions shape men and that ideas are ripe for picking by the first qualified minds to grasp them. (Ridley not only rehashes the famous examples of Darwin and Russell and Newton and Leibniz, but — rather humbly — shows how a number of other authors published works remarkably similar to his previous book at very nearly the same time).

Cultural Appropriation Is Sexy


Protest_Halloween-featIt’s difficult to imagine a more loathsome fad — or better exemplar of victim culture — than the current practice of crying “cultural appropriation” whenever a person identified with one culture uses ideas from another without approval. In the Washington Post, Cathy Young has an excellent piece cataloging some recent examples ranging from the controversy over “Kimono Wednesdays” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to various artists and musicians being forced to kowtow to twitter mobs for the crime of offending the easily offended. We’ve seen the phenomenon repeated at Yale and Claremont McKenna, where students who wore Mexican-themed costumes for Halloween were criticized not so much for being lazy and crass, but for using cultural ideas that were not their own “inauthentically.”

Offensive-Costumes-620x300But besides the practice’s spoil-sporting and petty totalitarianism, it’s also fantastically stupid. As with biology and technology, culture thrives when different ideas are allowed to recombine in novel ways, and declines or stagnates when it closes itself to new ideas or new combinations of old ones. After all, the only truly “authentic” cultures are all barbarous and primitive. Indeed, Matt Ridley has made a career of pointing out that sexual-style admixture is the best model for allowing distinct things — be they biological, technical, or cultural — to combine and work collaboratively, rather than compete directly with each other:

How does evolution do cumulative, combinatorial things? Well, it uses sexual reproduction. In an asexual species, if you get two different mutations in different creatures, a green one and a red one, then one has to be better than the other. One goes extinct for the other to survive. But if you have a sexual species, then it’s possible for an individual to inherit both mutations from different lineages. So what sex does is it enables the individual to draw upon the genetic innovations of the whole species. It’s not confined to its own lineage.

Francis, the (Misled) Humanist Environmentalist


shutterstock_195361532I started reading Laudato Si’ over the weekend; I’ve a long way to go, but I’m now reasonably familiar with some of the basic arguments Pope Francis makes in the early chapters.

One thing that leaped off the page is the world of difference between the pope’s views and those of the environmentalist left, especially of the Paul Ehrlich variety. This is hardly surprising. Where the latter sees humanity as a sentient blight on the world that needs to reduce its number to negligible sustainable levels, the pope begins with a concern for the welfare of human beings (particularly, the poor) and expresses concern that they’re bearing the brunt of our industrialist/consumerist culture while being denied their share of its benefits. If lefty environmentalism is anti-human, Francis’ environmentalism is decidedly humanist in the best (and very Catholic) sense of the word.

Again, it’s hardly surprising the leader of the oldest and largest Christian denomination is concerned with human well-being, particularly that of the poor. What’s frustrating, however, is Francis’s apparent blindness to the similarly-human-centric motivations of the many climate change skeptics, fossil-fuel apologists, and free marketeers that he lambasts. Over and over, the pope identifies these groups as the defenders of a short-term focused, get-mine-while-I-can “throwaway culture” that’s largely to blame for the world’s material suffering. He writes repeatedly about the need to “protect” Nature, without ever hinting how, in so many ways, She seems to have it in for us — and that we’re only able to fight back thanks to this technology.

The Global Warming Scam: The Beat Goes On


For some years now, the President of the United States and his minions have been lying to us about the threat posed to our well-being and our security by global warming. In the next few decades, they say, the temperature will dramatically rise and the climate will change markedly for the worse. The consequences will be dire, and human activity is the cause. We must curb carbon emissions … or millions will die. They have even induced the armed forces to list combating global warming as one of their prime missions.

And the beat goes on. In a breathless report, posted yesterday on the website of Time Magazine, Noel Feeney tells us that “more than 100,000 people are taking to the streets of New York City on Sunday to take part in the People’s Climate March” and that 2,700 similar demonstrations will be taking place in 150 different countries.

Matt Ridley Puts Gobal Warming Away, Or, May We Move Onto the Next Impending Catastrophe Now, Please?


Catching up on my reading, I just came across Matt Ridley’s article on global warming in the Wall Street Journal last week. Mr. Ridley—no, strike that; since the death of his father in 2012, Matt Ridley is more properly referred to as the Rt. Hon. the Viscount Ridley — Lord Ridley explained that, in its forthcoming report, even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admits that fears of global warming have been (forgive me) overheated.  A couple of excerpts from a column in which, in my judgement, Matt Ridley simply puts global warming away:

Even with its too-high, too-fast assumptions, the recently leaked draft of the IPCC impacts report makes clear that when it comes to the effect on human welfare, “for most economic sectors, the impact of climate change will be small relative to the impacts of other drivers,” such as economic growth and technology, for the rest of this century. If temperatures change by about 1C degrees between now and 2090, as Mr. Lewis calculates, then the effects will be even smaller….