Why is it that the overwhelming majority of people who fear “global warming” are politically left of center? The obvious answer is that the left is critical of business and industry, which they regard as the major producers of “greenhouse gases.” But the left has had an animus towards big business long before they became preoccupied with environmental fears. We won’t explore, here, the origins of their anti-business bias. Suffice it to say that this animus is only part of the reason anyway. There is something deeper going on that is the real source of their environmental fears. Let us explore what it is.
Leftwing thought is really a certain species of the humanistic worldview. Humanism has its origins in the Renaissance, when the shift from religious to secular interests and concerns first began. A humanist believes that the future is not in God’s hands, but in our own. Thus it is solely up to us to make and shape our world and our future. Since God plays a vastly diminished role in the humanistic worldview, humanists easily slide from theism to deism and then finally into atheism.
This worldview has produced remarkable achievements in culture and civilization. It has freed the mind of dogma and granted us the independence to think for ourselves. Kant encapsulated this enlightenment of the mind, when he wrote: Sapere aude! (Dare to be wise!) Alas, every worldview has its limits and those limits register in us as certain types of anxiety. As we shall see, the fear of global warming reflects the type of anxieties endemic to secular humanism.
To understand these anxieties, we must remember that those who no longer believe in God always find other objects of worship, for everyone craves the absolute and the eternal. Instead of seeking Heaven, as religious people do, humanists seek to create a heaven on Earth. Thus do they make an idol of the nation-state, believing that it can become transformed into something wonderful and glorious. Their Utopia invariably reflects the puerile longing that everyone be equal economically.
When humanism takes on a utopian political agenda it easily transforms into fascism, socialism and communism, for these are utopian creeds with a plan of action. So it is that humanists, today as always, usually harbor views that are left of center. We shall now consider what this worldview has to do with environmental fears.
Humanism: A Burdened and Anxious Way of Being
There is no denying that human beings can damage the planet and that they should seek, as much as possible, to conserve its beauty and to ensure that it remains a salutary and livable place. It’s quite another thing, though, to dread the cycles of hot and cold that naturally occur, but rather to insist that they are solely the fault of man, despite ample scientific evidence to the contrary.
These fears derive from the anxiety of inhabiting a godless universe, thus having the fate of the world solely depend upon us. Consequently, we fear that if something is not done immediately to gain control over the environment, we are doomed. What a burdened and anxious thing it is to be a humanist, believing that it is up us human beings, in all our fallibility —this “crooked timbre of humanity,” as Kant called us — to be the caretakers of the planet. It also creates a mood ripe for demagogues. Thus do we so often hear, from the saviors of the political left: “We, from big government, can save you! We shall punish those evil polluting corporations!”
Paradoxically, through a curious dialectic, contemporary humanism often transforms into a kind of anti-humanism, which agues that human beings are the one thing on the planet that is unnatural and, therefore, a plague upon the innocence of nature. This anti-humanistic naturalism makes a fetish of the natural, viewing human beings as violators of pristine nature. Their solution, then, is to curtail the actions on human beings, in so far as they impact the natural world.
This leads to a terrible dread that nemesis is on the way, for man’s Promethean hubris in seeking to master nature. (It is also paradoxical that those who claim to be free of religion still retain this carryover of religious consciousness.) When people are driven by apocalyptic anxieties, they lose all sense of balance and proportion. In other words, they become extremists — in this case environmental extremists.
Anxiety also leads to paranoia and then to cult thinking, with its us/them view of the world and its demonization of one’s opponents. It also leads to massive propaganda efforts to convert people to one’s cause. Thus we find that the true believers in global warming have mounted an insidious campaign to indoctrinate grade school children with their belief system. The main tool at their disposal is fear. Children now are as anxious about the future of the planet as are the fanatics. Thus do they rob childhood of any of any of the joyful insouciance that it once possessed.
Faith in God, Nature and the Universe
The opposite attitude to the humanist’s anxious insecurity about the future of the world is at attitude of faith, a belief that there are larger forces that are the ground of our existence. Whatever we call it — God, Nature, the Universe — we are kept alive by its grace. In a brilliant passage, two Zen Buddhists express this faith…
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