The Pursuit of Nuttiness
By Pierre Lemieux
There is much enthusiasm these days, from adults and adolescents alike, for the pursuit of nuttiness. Consider two instances.
One instance can be found in the environmental crusade, as explained by Gerard Baker in the Wall Street Journal (“St. Greta Spreads the Climate Gospel,” September 20):
The High Church of Environmentalism has acquired many of the characteristics of its ecclesiastical predecessor. An apocalyptic eschatology warns that we will all be consumed by fire if we don’t follow the ordained rules. The notion that it is our sinful nature that has brought us to mortal peril—from the Original Sin of a carbon-unleashing industrial revolution to daily transgressions with plastic bottles and long-haul flights—is as central to its message as it was to the Catholic Church’s. …
In the iconography of traditional religion, children have often played a central role. The revelation of universal truth to an innocent child is an inspiring story that is very effective in both offering role models and propagating the faith. There’s a reason the European faithful used to venerate St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, the children of Fatima in Portugal: The testimony of a guileless child is a powerful weapon against skepticism.
Enter the Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. … Like the children of Fatima, she has a simple message that, if followed, promises to save the world from catastrophe.
Besides some useful ethics, religion—religious religion—offered the prospect of (good) eternal life. Religious environmentalism promises only mold love and green tyranny. But, some economist colleagues will reply, de gustibus non est disputandum. True, provided that the tastes or preferences in question are not imposed on somebody who doesn’t share them.
Under the same title as the present post, a piece of mine in the issue of Regulation that just came out of press (and electrons) discusses another instance: the current US administration. Why does it look nuts and does not seem to mind? I give a few examples and I conclude with some hypotheses:
Disregarding any constraint set by personal morality, politicians’ main limit is that their fabrications must not be too glaring, even to rationally ignorant voters facing whole baskets of complex policies with unknown future consequences. Politicians have an interest in retaining some credibility. They do not want to be seen as nuts.
Why this minimal constraint does not seem to work anymore—why nuttiness is becoming institutionalized—may have something to do with this era’s seeming retreat from reason, the substitution of wacky information sources for more credible ones, the intensification of blind partisanship, and the lure of raw government power.