Posted April 6, 2014, by Edmund R. Folsom.
Come see… Look what I found under a rock.
Lawrence Torcello, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, recently called for criminal prosecution of those who publicly express views on global warming that contradict what “the majority of scientists clearly agree on.” http://theconversation.com/is-misinformation-about-the-climate-criminally-negligent-23111. Torcello uses, as the model for his totalitarian dream, the prosecution of six Italian scientists who failed to accurately predict and warn the public of a 2009 Italian earthquake that killed 300 people and left 66,000 homeless. For their failure, the scientists were tried and convicted of some amorphous Italian form of manslaughter and were sentenced to serve 6 years in prison. Torcello points out that the scientists were not actually prosecuted for failing to accurately predict the earthquake but for providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information:” Well, that’s much better. Torcello says he isn’t quite on board with prosecuting scientists for poor scientific communication, because that would “discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.” What he proposes instead is that “[t]he charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.” To the degree this can’t be achieved under existing law, Tortello says “[i]t is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.” Welcome to totalitarianism 101. If we were to follow Torcello’s formulation, I suppose the offense of “criminal and moral negligence” would be defined something like this:
A person who is a climate denier commits criminal and moral negligence by engaging in any activity while receiving funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus. The term “climate denier” means a person who disagrees with the majority scientific position on global warming as of April of 2014.
Under Torcello’s proposed formulation, any climate denier receiving funding from a prohibited source commits criminal and moral negligence by engaging in “any activity.” Eating lunch should do. For Torcello’s crowd, vagueness provides necessary flexibility to round up the right folks and to generate an appropriate level of fear to silence other would-be offenders.
Why should we create this crime? you might ask. Torcello proceeds from the assumption that the global-warming position “the majority of scientists clearly agree on” represents absolute, unassailable truth. Scientific consensus has evidently been allowed to arrive at absolute truth because it has not been corrupted by funding sources with a vested interest in promoting the consensus viewpoint. On the other hand, those who supply and/or receive funding to promote the expression of contrary scientific viewpoints must categorically be corrupt. Expressions of disagreement with the position of truth can’t possibly have value and must, necessarily, be set forth only to advance corrupt ends. According to Torcello, global warming has already resulted in mass death, and the killing is ongoing. Because the corrupt and valueless positions of the “climate deniers” can only serve to obscure truth, which will lead to more death, the responsible course is to criminalize expression of the climate deniers’ point of view.
To begin the dismantling, if having a political and financial interest in the promotion of a certain scientific viewpoint is assumed to exert a corrupting influence on its promoters, it is difficult to see why that corrupting influence doesn’t explain the position of the climate-change promoters at least as well as that of the climate-change deniers. The promoters are enormously well funded and taxpayer subsidized, all the way from the level of science and academics, to green business and industry, to the industry of politics and government bureaucracy, to the news and entertainment business. Just give me a break with the purity-of-motive crap. Second, I am hardly convinced that we arrive at absolute and unassailable truth any time a majority of scientists develop a majority point of view on a given matter. In this context, we should be particularly skeptical, given that so much money and political power has been brought to bear to entice scientists into the promotion camp. Torcello’s position, as to which side has been corrupted by financial and political interests and which side is morally pure, seems to reflect his deeper, biased assumption that money from private industry and business is inherently dirty and corrupting, while money derived from taxation is pure and uncorrupting. Excuse me, cash is cash.
Once Torcello has settled the issue that there is no scientific or other merit to the viewpoint of the “climate deniers,” he attempts to establish that the expression of their point of view cannot be justified as protected free speech. Torcello acknowledges that his “argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech,” but he explains that protection of the speech he seeks to outlaw “stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept.” The deniers are merely generating fog that obscures the clarity required to prevent mass death. Torcello asserts: “More deaths can already be attributed to climate change than the L’Aquila earthquake and we can be certain that deaths from climate change will continue to rise with global warming.” Oh, Dear God, The Sky Is Falling, The Sky Is Falling!!! While I agree with Torcello that more deaths can already be attributed to global warming than to the L’Aquilla earthquake– I have witnessed Torcello make that attribution– that’s only because anyone can just make things up, and bureaucrats and academics are especially likely to do exactly that when there is an enormous financial and career-promoting incentive to do it. That’s fine. I don’t begrudge Torcello or anyone on his side of the issue for indulging their baser instincts for self-promotion. But I do have a serious problem when they indulge their baser instinct for the tyrant’s response to opposing points of view. When tyrants seek to imprison those who dare to express an opposing point of view, they never just come right out and tell you that’s what they are up to. They always like to dress up the imprisoning of dissenters as actions required for the greater good.
Torcello’s idea has gotten some traction of late. For instance, Adam Weinstein picked it up and promoted it in a Gawker piece. http://gawker.com/arrest-climate-change-deniers-1553719888. There are lots of tyrants around, and they tend to quickly tire of the difficult business of public persuasion through discourse; then they start looking for shortcuts. What better shortcut than to just snuff out opposing points of view? Hey, wouldn’t it be really great to just define expression of opposing views as a crime and throw the opposition in prison? This is all part of the broader political strategy of a certain stripe of tyrant. At stage one, it beguiled: “In the name of fairness and tolerance, give my marginalized constituents a place at the table and just listen to their oppressed voices.” At stage two, it said: “Now that we have a place at the table, we have to inform you that a lot of what you others have to say is hate speech that cannot be tolerated– so to the public stocks you go, in the name of fairness and tolerance, of course.” At stage three, it says: “Some of what you say is an outright crime against humanity, and if you continue to say it you will have to be imprisoned, in the name of humanity, of course.” We have entered stage three. Lock me up. I am not afraid. I’m certain the ACLU will be the first to rush to my aid.
Addendum, 4/11/2014. Of course, all of this can be dismissed as politics, and what could that possibly have to do with law? Typically, when political tyrants secure their grip on a society’s discourse, lawyers step forward to lead the resistance. At this point, far too many lawyers in this Country are still wrapped up in the idea that civil liberty interest are to be served by championing the causes of the political left. This is a carry-over from their aging belief system, in which all is believed to be in the grip of a right wing power structure hell-bent on oppression. What they fail to acknowledge is that the left has now largely become the establishment, and this establishment has no interest in the promotion of the civil liberties of its enemies. It is interested only in securing and exercising total control, which involves the crushing of dissent. Once total control is secured, stage four kicks in. At stage four, the revolutionaries begin turning their knives on each other, over issues of doctrine and ideological purity. Many who now silently applaud the removal from the public square of views they find offensive fail to realize they will eventually have their own falling-out with the prevailing factions within their camp. Their views will become enemy views, and they will be crushed by the conditions they helped create. I fear we may be doomed to watch this entire process play itself out once again, although for the first time in this Country. If so, I wish we could just skip straight to the part where all the revolutionaries start shooting each other.
Ex-Democrat Party Candidate Al Gore Joins the Chorus Calling for Dissenters to be Punished. http://www.wnd.com/2015/03/new-inquisition-punish-climate-change-deniers/
R.T.I. PROF CALLS FOR IMPRISONMENT OF DISSENTERS.