by Andy West
The hypothesis for a single, simple, scientific explanation underlying the entire complex social phenomenon of CAGW.
Whatever is happening in the great outdoors regarding actual climate, inside the minds of men overwhelming evidence indicates that Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is a self-sustaining narrative that is living off our mental capacity, either in symbiosis or as an outright cultural parasite; a narrative that is very distanced from physical real-world events. The social phenomenon of CAGW possesses all the characteristics of a grand memetic alliance, like numerous similar structures before it stretching back beyond the reach of historic records, and no doubt many more cultural creatures that have yet to birth.
Having painted a picture CAGW from a memetic perspective in fiction last December [link], I realized that many people instinctively sense the memetic characteristics of CAGW, and typically express this in blogs or articles as relatively casual comments that cite memes or religion. Yet these folks appear to have no real knowledge of how truly meaningful and fundamental their observations are. Hence I have written a comprehensive essay which attempts to fill in this knowledge gap, and indeed proposes that the entire complex social phenomenon of CAGW is dominated by memetic action, i.e. CAGW is a memeplex.
Note: a ‘meme’ is a minimal cultural entity that is subject to selective pressures during replication between human minds, its main medium. A meme can be thought of as the cultural equivalent to a gene in biology; examples are a speech, a piece of writing (‘narratives’), a tune or a fashion. A memeplex is a co-adapted group of memes that replicate together and reinforce each other’s survival; cultural or political doctrines and systems, for instance a religion, are major alliances of self-replicating and co-evolving memes. Memetics101: memeplexes do not only find shelter in the mind of a new host, but they will change the perceptions and life of their new host.
Because the memetic explanation for CAGW rests upon social and evolutionary fundamentals (e.g. the differential selection of self-replicating narratives, narrative alliances, the penetration of memes into the psyche causing secondary phenomena like motivated reasoning, noble cause corruption and confirmation bias etc.) it is not dependent upon politics or philosophies of any stripe, which tend to strongly color most ‘explanations’ and typically rob them of objectivity. Critically, a memetic explanation also does not depend on anything happening in the climate (for better or for worse). CO2 worry acted as a catalyst only; sufficient real-world uncertainties at the outset (and indeed still) provided the degree of freedom that let a particular ‘ability’ of memeplexes take hold. That ability is to manipulate perceptions (e.g. of real-world uncertainty itself), values, and even morals, which means among other things that once birthed the CAGW memeplex rapidly insulated itself from actual climate events.
Homo Sapiens have likely co-evolved with memeplexes essentially forever (Blackmore), therefore they are a fundamental part of us, and indeed no characteristic of CAGW appears to be in the slightest bit new, quite the contrary. Underlining this ancient origin, one class of memeplexes folks are familiar with is: ‘all religions’. Yet these fuzzy structures are by no means limited to religion; science has triggered memetic themes before and extreme politics frequently does so, and there have even been historic memeplexes centered on climate. This does not mean CAGW is precisely like a religion, but being similarly powered by self-replicating narratives creates the comparable characteristics that many have commented upon.
Using a great deal of circumstantial evidence from the climate blogosphere and support from various knowledge domains: neuroscience, (economic) game theory, law, corporate behavior, philosophy, biological evolution and of course memetics etc., the essay maps the primary characteristics of CAGW onto the expected behavior for a major memeplex, finding conformance. Along the way, contemporary and historic memeplexes (mainly religious) are explored as comparisons. The essay is long, book-sized, because the subject matter is large. I guess an essay describing all of climate science would be very long, so one exploring the entire memetic characteristics of CAGW plus I hope enough context for readers to make sense of that, is similarly so.
The context is extremely broad, ranging from why pyramid building evolved in Egypt to a passionate cry against kings, priests, and tyranny in a radical women’s journal of the early nineteenth century. From the impact of memeplexes on the modern judicial system courtesy of Duke Law, to the ancient purpose of story-telling and contemporary attempts to subvert this, along with a plot analysis of the film Avatar. From the long and curious tale of an incarnation of ‘the past is always better’ meme currently rampant on the internet, to the evolutionary selection of fuzzy populations in biology and the frankenplex multi-element cultural creature that is CAGW. From the conflict related death-rates in primitive tribes versus modern states, to analysis of corporate social responsibilities after the Enron and banking sector crises. From memetic chain letters that stretch back to the hieroglyphs (Letters from Heaven), to the analysis of social cross-coalitions via game theory within the perspective of economics. From the concept of ‘the Social Mind’ courtesy of neuro-scientist Michael Gazzaniga, to pressure upon religions by aggressive atheism as promoted by Richard Dawkins. From modification of theistic memes in the Old to the New Testament, to notions of Gaia and telegraph wires and wing-nuts. Plus memetic sex, witchcraft, cults, Cathars, concepts of salvation, Communism, hi-jacking altruism, Lynsenkoism, lichen, psychologizers, National Socialism, de-darwinisation, that ugly term ‘denier’, and much more.
The reason for this huge breadth and depth is that memeplexes are deeply integrated into both our psyche and our societies; this level of vision and historical context is necessary to uncover the entities, to identify their actions with as much distancing from what remains of ‘ourselves’ as can be achieved.
In counter-weight to this very broad context, the essay is richly laced throughout with quotes from many of the main players and commenters in the climate blogosphere (plus from newspapers and other publications too), much of which will be pretty familiar to followers of the climate debate. These quotes cover luke-warmers, skeptics and Consensus folks, plus politicians, philosophers, psychologists and others as regards their views on CAGW, yet all are chosen and brought together for their focus on the memetic aspects of the phenomenon. There are also plenty of deeper topics specific to the sociological aspects of CAGW that most denizens of the climate blogosphere will recognize and can get their teeth into, some contentious. For instance, a look at Richard Dawkins’ immersion within a rampant memeplex (while this would seem to be both controversial and ironic, when one realizes that we’re all immersed to some extent in several memeplexes, irony tends to morph to introspection). A brief view of a different Stephan Lewandowski paper (i.e. NOT either of the ‘conspiracy ideation’ ones) in which he highlights the very type of inbuilt cultural bias that has then led him blindly to produce those very challenged and troubled works! An exposé of memetically induced cultural bias in a recent paper on ‘Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change’, that in my opinion undermines the objectivity of the work and robs the conclusions of any real meaning. A very interesting take on Mike Hulme’s stance as revealed by the memetic perspective. A glimpse of the ‘shall-we shan’t-we dance’ tentative cross-coalition between the Christian and CAGW memeplexes. The constant references to grandchildren within CAGW advocacy texts. Both the laudable and the lurking memetic content in philosopher Pascal Bruckner’s essay ‘Against Environmental Panic’. Numerous views of sociological comment by atmospheric scientist Judith Curry or at her blog Climate Etc from a memetic perspective. Plus a delve into one of pointman’s very interesting climate related essays, strong language and classic climate quotes explained via memetics, and more…
While CAGW skeptics might at first blush celebrate the possibility of a single, non-climate related, non-partisan, science-based theory that explains the whole complex range of CAGW’s social characteristics, acceptance of this theory also requires acceptance of a couple of pretty uncomfortable truths, and the ditching of at least one touchstone used by many (but by no means all) climate change skeptics. These issues are all expounded in the essay, but I summarize here:
- Acceptance of the memeplex explanation requires us to rethink what ‘self’ means, and how our opinions, perceptions, and even morals are formed and maintained, with an implication that our ‘self’ is much more about the societal groups we’re immersed in than about what’s intrinsically inside our heads. The fact that we don’t really ‘own’ ourselves, is challenging.
- Acceptance of the memeplex explanation requires a rejection of the ‘scam’ or ‘hoax’ theory as a root cause of the CAGW phenomenon, and as a primary motivator for the vast majority of CAGW ‘adherents’. (Note this does not rule out the fact that scams / hoaxes and other negative social phenomena may be attached to the memeplex as secondary structures – this is in fact common for major memeplexes). The essay spends quite some length saying why this is so.
- Whatever downsides are observed to stem from the social phenomenon of CAGW, memeplexes in general often contribute major net advantages to their host societies, sometimes very major. The balance between positive and negative aspects of a major memeplex are not easy to determine except long in retrospect and with access to the ‘big picture’ (all attributes and all impacts across all of society). Hence we cannot yet know the balance of this equation for CAGW. The positive aspects are not typically intuitive.
- As already mentioned, the memetic explanation is virtually independent of actual climate events. Hence dangerous climate scenarios are not ruled out. It simply means that no scenarios are ruled out, from the very dangerous to the utterly benign, and it is very much in the memeplex’s interests to keep the situation that way. Memeplexes wallow in uncertainty and confusion.
Many commenters in the climate blogosphere have written to the effect that: ‘it isn’t and never was about the science’. I happen to agree, very little of the CAGW phenomenon is about the science. The memetic perspective reveals why this is; not in terms of political or financial motivations but in the objective terms of the underlying social mechanisms, which are independent of (and enable) all such motivations.
Despite the essay’s length, I hope you will take the journey to acquiring a memetic perspective. Here [ memeplex summary ] is a very distilled summary of each section of the essay below this text, with a list of references, in which a few regular contributors might find their names. Please note that the work is not a ‘paper’, containing no proofs or supporting mathematics, excepting a couple of references to Game Theory and the Price Equation. And merely for convenience, I have written as though the memeplex hypothesis is true, i.e. that CAGW is a memeplex and that this characteristic dominates the social effects. It is just extremely cumbersome throughout hundreds of references to make them all conditional – so I haven’t. Yet by no means does that mean the hypothesis is true, or at least wholly true in the sense that the memetic effects are dominant. Readers must form their own opinions regarding that, no doubt which opinions will be colored by the memeplexes they’re already immersed in J. I think most folks will find it an interesting and enjoyable ride though. The complete essay is here [link]: (Note: this Post text doubles as the essay Foreword, so you can skip that).
P.S. while I intend to issue further Revs of the essay with some extensions plus feedback / corrections applied, in practice this may only happen on a very long timescale, or possibly not at all as my time is extremely pressured. Please keep an eye on www.wearenarrative.wordpress.com for any up-Revs or additional information. Note: the novella Truth from the WUWT post above is now available (free) at Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/273983 or within the anthology ‘Engines of Life’ also at Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/334834, or at Amazon here.
JC comment: This essay was submitted to me via email. As with all guest posts, pls keep your comments civil and on topic.