The Era of Authority

I was amused recently by a hilariously un-self-aware comment from feminist journalist Jill Filipovic.

I wonder: was she around at all when Obama was running in 2008? (Yes, she was.) Because there’s nothing about Bernie’s messiah complex that should be remotely new to you if you followed the Obama phenomenon.

The left still clings to this old view of themselves as bold free-thinkers who “question authority,” when they have long since set themselves up as the authorities everyone else is supposed to bow to.

By coincidence, I came across this at about the same time as a video of Bill Nye, the supposed “science guy,” taking a break from asking big and important questions like “What if the Earth were a cube instead of a ball?” and declaring that maybe global warming skeptics should be thrown in jail.

He does it through a series of rhetorical questions: “Was it appropriate to jail the guys from Enron? Was it appropriate to jail people from the cigarette industry who insisted that this addictive product was not addictive, and so on.”

Enron was a case of provable fraud, in which executives lied about specific facts about the operation of their own company—not about complex scientific conclusions. As for tobacco executives, none of them did go to jail (much to the consternation of anti-tobacco fanatics), and for good reason. To ban one side of a political debate from making its case is to condemn them in advance, denying them an opportunity to speak in their own defense.

But Nye isn’t just speculating about putting people in jail. He is referring to a specific attempt to use the model of those old tobacco lawsuits to prosecute any company that has ever funded research or advocacy skeptical of claims about global warming. This campaign was started last year and has taken its newest steps recently with a meeting of state attorneys general who vowed to launch “investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change.” The Attorney General of the US Virgin Islands—who you would think would have enough to deal with at home straightening out a notoriously dysfunctional office—has subpoenaed a leading free-market think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, demanding all of its internal communications from 1997 through 2007. Why? Because CEI once committed the presumed crime of accepting money from a major oil company.

This is what you call a “fishing expedition.” The prosecutors are not demanding any specific evidence of criminal activity, because they have no specific grounds to suspect it. They’re just demanding everything, in the hope that once they fish through it, they will find something that they can cast as incriminating, or at least embarrassing. It’s a well-known form of legal harassment.

To those who object that this will create a “chilling effect” on scientific debate over global warming, which is the obvious goal of the investigation, Bill Nye says that’s just fine. “That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

As bad as that is, Nye’s justification for it is worse. “As a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen. So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations.” I could make the case that Bill Nye’s continued existence “affects my quality of life.” Should I get the government to do something about that?

But wait, there’s more. “The extreme-doubt-about-climate-change people—without going too far afield here—are leaving the world worse than they found it because they are keeping us from getting to work. They are holding us back.” It used to be that the left wanted to limit “commercial speech” but “political speech” was sacrosanct. Now it is considered acceptable to suppress other people’s speech precisely because they might have an impact on the political debate.

In other words: Bow to authority. My authority.

Bill Nye is just one entertainer, a third-rate popularizer of science. But he is totally representative of the real attitude of the left when it comes to authority. Their fundamental conviction is that the conscience of the individual must be forced to yield to the demands of the collective, as decided by the authorities who presume to speak for it.

Try refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, and tell me whether you will be forced to bow to authority. Try running a fast-food joint or comic-book shop that can’t afford to pay it’s employees $15 an hour, and tell me whether you will be forced to bow to authority. Try keep men dressed as women out of your ladies’ restroom, and tell me whether you will be forced to bow to authority.

You should check out the Twitter feed A Crime a Day, which draws from the vast depths of the US criminal code to inform us of all the actions and decision of private individuals that have been transformed into crimes for no readily apparent reason. Take this one:

There is no real rhyme or reason to the vast patchwork of regulation except: bow to authority.

Thanks to the left, we live in an era of authority. Authority is their entire agenda, in politics, in economics, in culture, in religion, in science. It’s grimly amusing when they try to hide this, and a lot less amusing when the pretense falls away, and they try to make us bow.

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