Sunday, June 25, 2006

Americarus -- And Those Who Expect Him to Fall

Stuart K. Hayashi

Recently, a fellow of mine wrote to me saying that he agreed with me that current hysteria over global warming harkens back to the 1970s, when "Malthusian" doomsday myths about "overpopulation" ran rampant.

But I believe that the reason why the idea that global warming will destroy humanity actually harkens back to a far older mythology that is deeply ingrained in both the West and the East.

The notion of Anthropogenic Global Warming Apocalypse resonates so strongly with the mainstream opinion leaders because it speaks to their brand of collectivism that has its roots in Ancient Athens.

My fellow pro-science, pro-reason, pro-individualism laissez-fairists often talk of Ancient Athens reverently because they look up to Aristotle. Well, I like Aristotle, too, but it seems to me that the collectivism and authoritarianism of his teacher, Plato, was more representative of what constituted mainstream thought in Ancient Athens.

Ancient Athens may have been far more individualistic than the animistic tribal cultures both before and during that time, but that civilization was still terribly collectivistc and authoritarian by the standards of a modern free-marketer. So it's not surprising that the Ancient Athenians believed and spread their traditional myths about how the cardinal sin is to take pride in your own abilities.

Who, asked the Ancient Greeks, was Oedipus to believe that he could control his own fate? It was through his very own attempt to control his own life that he catapulted himself toward disaster. Though, of course, how can he be responsible for this when the gods were so intent on denying him any free will in the first place?

The Greeks said that having pride in your own abilities is Hubris, and that this is the cardinal sin for which one must be punished.

Environmental apocalypse is so popular with our Zeitgeist because, on a subconscious level, it still clings to those old legends of Hubris. Our industrial civilization is full of Hubris, say the mainstream intellectuals. America is too confident in its own technological marvels and in having greater economic and political freedom than most nation-states. It's about time that our current god -- Mother Nature -- reach down its mighty hand to smack us, knocking that smug smile of self-satisfaction off the face of the developed world.

This is one of the worst aspects of Greco-Roman culture, and it pervades the popular Western (and Japanese) imagination. To the journalism community, the industrial West is like Icarus, becoming so haughty as he flies close to the sun. Well, say the journalists, the melting of Icarus's wax wings sent the poor boy to his doom, just as the melting of the polar ice caps will deliver us to a similar fate.

Icarus was punished.

And America, say the intellectuals, is following his lead. America is Americarus.

In the popular collectivist view of today's journalism community, America is a modern Tower of Babel. Who were those arrogant men in the Bible, who tried to build a tower so high that it could reach God? The Lord sure taught them a lesson when He smashed their tower to rubble and scattered its builders across the globe. It's only a matter of time, the anti-globalizers warn (or threaten), that the gods will smite us as well.

In every story of Greek hubris, there was only one way in which the protagonist could redeem himself. If only Icarus weren't so proud -- if only Phaeton humbly accepted his place and refrained from trying to drive Helios's solar chariot -- if only Arachne had kept her mouth shut and never proved herself to be a better seamstress than the goddess Athene, disaster could have been averted.

According to the popular collegian view, we Americans, too, must learn such humility, by learning to forego so much of our material comforts. The politicians, the press, and the academicians say we should stop being so conceited in our mastery of our natural environment. We should learn to live with less luxury, and to be more like the collectivist Noble Savages in the fevered dreams of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Herbert Marcuse, and Kevin Costner.

That is a story going back to antiquity -- a story told by a governmental elite to its commoners, so that they would know better than to become part of a rather impoverished but individualistic (and therefore hubristic) merchant class unsatisified with its lowly social status and thus constantly trying to improve its living standards. And inheritors of that power elite's legacy -- today's opinion leaders -- mourn the fact that the the hubristic merchants have largely succeeded in controlling their own destinies and have gained such prominence in the West and even East Asia. That is wrong, believe many opinion leaders, and so there must come a day when our now-wealthy merchant class finally meets its come-uppance. That especially applies to the Phaetons and Icaruses of the coal and oil industries.

I believe that it is this well-estaslished attitude against individual autonomy that pervades ancient Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian mythology that has made tales of Anthropogenic Global Warming Catastrophe so captivating to the witch doctors of our own time -- the witch-doctor "intellectuals" in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and especially media.

We are finally witnessing the era, they say, in which America -- Americarus -- will be smote by the left hand of God Gaia.