The Costs of Tribalism

That is the title of this trenchant Kevin Drum post, which nails an unfortunate dynamic that is corroding U.S. politics and public debate. The first important point Drum makes is about

the dangers of spending too much time on the web, where the loudest and most extreme voices actually do have a disproportionate influence sometimes. That can lead you to believe that their beliefs are far more widespread in the real world than they really are.

His second is this admission:

Speaking just for myself, there are very definitely times when my preferred policy position is some kind of melding of left and right…but I’m not really willing to say so because the American right has become so insane that it simply won’t lead to anything constructive. It will just be viewed as a preemptive compromise that’s immediately seized upon to move the conversation even further to the right. Supporting compromise positions only makes sense when that might actually lead to both sides compromising.

Just to be clear, Drum is not talking about the climate debate here. But he might as well be, in which partisan, tit-for-tat dueling is a dominant feature of the climate discourse. Anyone who follows it knows that the lines in the sand are drawn: Neither side gives an inch, for fear the other will pounce on it and gain an advantage. The main antagonists (who largely shape the climate conversation) wage a ceaseless battle of one-upmanship. In this super-charged environment, where tribalism is also enforced, there is no room for nuance, much less common ground.

Drum’s actual post is more a critique of present-day conservatism in the United States, but his main points have wider application. At the end of the day, he says,

 Tribalism makes fools of us all.

61 Responses to “The Costs of Tribalism”

  1. Jeff Norris says:

    Drum’s quick look in the mirror accidentally reveals where the problem really is with these two statements
    “Obviously there are lots of different kinds of lefties, and they have lots of different beliefs.”
    “”¦the American right has become so insane that it simply won’t lead to anything constructive.”
    His side is nuanced, diverse, and therefore rational.  The other side is
    “hard nosed”, narrow minded, “extreme” and in his opinion “insane”. 
    While I agree the constant tribal warfare has made “fools of us all”, it is the failure of people on both sides to stand up to the extreme tactics (like calling opponents insane) of their tribes “ Feldjägerkorps” that has made agreement or compromise so difficult.

  2. Barry Woods says:

    Climate  Tribalism? The URL at the end of this video…

    redirects to ex President Bill Clinton’s foundation.. (officially?)

    democrat vs republiva tribalism.. who needs it (and yes I see idiots on both sides – I very much believe & hope most democrats & republicans are annoyed by the extreme on their own ‘sides ‘ antics)

  3. Mary says:

    Yeah. And you can’t even hold moderate positions in your “tribe” sites because you are denounced as the other side. There’s no place to say your peace. Both sides take aim at you.
    I’m a political junkie, but even I’m tired of the stalemate. Discussion sites are nothing of the sort, they just enforce the tribalism. But I don’t know how to stop it either. We’re all hurt by the paralysis that results.

  4. Dean says:

    The Founders tried to put in checks and balances against this, but since they didn’t like political parties and _thought_ they were designing a system without them, they neglected checks on parties.
    Since, for example, parties can gerrymander districts (the courts refuse to step in) – unheard of in most democracies – we have this history in the US that when one party has a major victory, it tends to control for a long time because it can tilt the system in it’s favor. Republicans did this after the Civil War and dominated for 70 years. The Democrats did it after the Depression and dominated for 60. In both cases, I think the parties earned their initial victory, but that victory didn’t earn it for the next 60+ years. That happened due to undemocratic tinkering.
    Saying this doesn’t mean that I think there is equivalence today on this between the two old parties. But as long as we fail to establish checks on party power, this old tradition will continue. Republicans are now working hard to change electoral laws all over the country to their advantage after their 2010 victory. In Washington DC, political pros have a word for those who operate based on principles and values, instead of doing anything to win. They call it surrender.

  5. Barry Woods says:

    3# agree .. been there myself.. was told (by a few) that I’d been hanging out too much with my climate scientist and environmentalist friends…

  6. Eric Adler says:

    There is not an equivalence between the two major American political parties with regard to extreme tribalism. The extreme right controls the Republican party. In the Democratic Party the extreme left is fringe group.
    The influence of the extreme right has been pumped up by big money contributions to right wing think political candidates, think tanks and PAC’s, enabled by the Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision. Romney’s Mass health plan used to be a Heritage Foundation proposal.
    It was a conservative proposal adopted by Obama and the Democrats. Now it is vilified by conservatives.

  7. Jeff Norris says:

    Your statements intrigue me.  Could you please give some examples of views or political outcomes that the extreme right and extreme left are actively seeking.

  8. harrywr2 says:

    The extreme right controls the Republican party.
    So Nancy Pelosi is what? A moderate centrist?

  9. Sashka says:

    I don’t quite understand the tribalism because I try to stay away from tribes.
    As for climate debate, in places where I visit, alarmists indeed behave as a tribe. Remove the names from the posts and nobody could guess who is talking (except for Eli, but that’s a stylistic difference). As for the rest of us, whom they call “skeptics” we are all different. I suspect that even Fuller and Mosher have their differences; just prefer not to make it public.

  10. Dean says:

    However you want to characterize Nancy Pelosi, she does not control the Democrats. They split their votes in Congress far more often than Republicans do, always have – since 1933. In decades past, conservative (relatively) southerners frequently split from the party leadership. Now Democrats who represent rural districts do.
    Accepting and incorporating these relatively more conservative or centrist Dems is how Democrats manage to gain majorities in one or the other house. Republicans don’t do this, at least to the same degree. That’s why during the period of 1996 to 2008, they only had narrow majorities, never close to what the Dems had ever so briefly in 2008.

  11. Anteros says:

    Sashka @ 9
    I try to avoid tribes too. I have no interest in American politics, but the guy trying to talk about tribalism while calling the right insane simple cannot hear himself speak – his prejudices run too deep.
    With climate I agree that there is an asymmetry. The consensus coalesces around something quite coherent and narrow but it can be disagreed with/criticised from dozens of points of view. Indeed there may be no overlap at all between two sceptics.
    However, and to play devil’s advocate, what do the consensus apparently hear? They hear a lot of ludicrous arguments repeated endlessly by many people with an obvious idealogical bias. They do not hear an array of disparate but thoughtful criticism, they hear the worst and the least justified arguments by those with the least integrity – and a lot of paranoid conspiracy theorist crying hoax!!
    I don’t think that justifies calling DENIER every time someone disagrees with them (far from it…) but you can understand a certain suspicion and reluctance to engage.
    My contention, though, is always that if you’re so certain of your predictions for the future of the climate that you see all alternative views as denialism and completely wrong then you don’t have a science, you have a fundamentalist religion. Which of course brooks no dissent whatsoever.

    All we can do is look for those who aren’t completely closed-minded, and make our case – whatever that may be for each of us.

  12. OPatrick says:

    Those of you in the US may not be viewing things from the same perspective as much of the rest of the world. The idea, for instance, that Nancy Pelosi is a moderate centrist appears about right from European perspectives, whilst most of the Republican presidential candidates would be laughed off of any political stage in most of Europe.

    There is also an imbalance in the ‘tribalism’ of the climate debate, although I see repeated attempts to try to portray a false equivalence. Whenever someone usually considered to be on the side of those who urge action to combat anthropogenic climate change posts something that might be seen as a challenge to their own side there are immediately comments predicting outrage and reprisals. These are deliberately designed to set the narrative and never actually reflect what happens, though the perception is now there in the casual reader.  

    Anyone who regularly comments on climate topics in general media sites, on whichever side of the political spectrum, will know how quickly virtually any ‘anti-climate science’ comment builds up recommendations. There isn’t much in the way of discernment about this and whilst it is possible that there are sseveral different sets of ‘sceptics’ making recommendations, I doubt it. The much more likely explanation is that there are a group of people who are happy to recommend anything that undermines what they see as their opponents irrespective of the credibility of the comment itself.

    Sashka, I am unconvinced by your claim to ‘try to stay away from tribes’, which is undermined by your use of the term ‘alarmists’ in the next sentence. Anteros, from what I have read recently, gives a better impression of independence, but I’m not convinced. Your penultimate paragraph makes me very suspicious. Who do you think is so certain of their predictions of the future of the climate? 

  13. Matt B says:

    @ OPatrick,

    MIT is pretty sure of their prediction:

    “For the no policy scenario, the researchers concluded that there is now a nine percent chance (about one in 11 odds) that the global average surface temperature would increase by more than 7°C (12.6°F) by the end of this century, compared with only a less than one percent chance (one in 100 odds) that warming would be limited to below 3°C (5.4°F).”

  14. harrywr2 says:

    Dean Says:
    November 5th, 2011 at 4:35 pm @8
    However you want to characterize Nancy Pelosi, she does not control the Democrats.
    Accepting and incorporating these relatively more conservative or centrist Dems is how Democrats manage to gain majorities in one or the other house.
    So explain to me what happened in the 2010 election? I’ll help because I’m privy to Republican fund raising efforts. The republicans hung a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house appointed by the Democrats around the necks of every democratic opponent.
    What happened to the ‘Centrist’ Senator Lieberman…who was the democrats 2004 vice presidential nominee in 2008? Oh yeah..he lost his primary against a much more liberal rival, after which the Republican National Committee zeroed out the campaign budget for the Republican Nominee in Connecticut so Lieberman would have a chance against his ‘Democrat’ rival.
    The ‘hard left’ makes life difficult as ‘difficult’ for ‘centrist’ democrats just as the ‘hard right’ makes life difficult for ‘centrist’ Republicans.
    Normally at the National Party level money doesn’t flow to opponents of the other party’s ‘centrist’ candidates.
    But we live in the age of the internet. and Redstate and other such organizations can raise just as much funding as the National Party’s once did.

  15. Jeff Norris says:

    One example of the undue influence (saying control is delusional or disingenuous IMO) the far left has is that Pelosi was able to hang on to her leadership position after the 2010 elections.  While there was some grumbling about a change from the Blue Dogs the vote was 150-43 to keep her as leader.  Truthfully had she not made the deal to give Clyburn the ambiguous role of assistant leader the vote could have been very different.
    Another example would be the number of committees chaired by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. From 2009 to Jan 2011 the CPC held 10 out of 20 chairmanships all of them then became ranking member after the 2010 elections.

  16. Dean says:

    What happened in 2010 is that Congress, whoever controls it, tends to be unpopular, and we had a lousy economy. Bad for incumbents. Few recent House Speakers have fared very well, of either party. It really is a thankless position these days. Boehner is not very popular either.
    As to Lieberman, he represented a state that leans more liberal than centrist and supported a war that was profoundly unpopular to Democrats. He may be a centrist overall, but on the war, he was a hawk, and that issue dominated his primary.
    It’s also cherry-picking to focus on Lieberman. What about Nelson of NE or Tester of Montana or the Virginia Senator whose name escapes me at the moment? There were quite a few centrist rookie Democrats among their 2008 winners. Can the same be said of Republicans in 2010? Seems that any centrist Republicans are old-time survivors. They aren’t electing any new ones.
    In fact, Democrats gave up on a cherished position – gun control – to win most of these seats. It’s true that the hard left wants to make life hard for Democratic moderates, but they have had limited success. Even Lieberman managed to stay in office.

  17. Dean says:

    I take one thing back – Republicans elected Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and he is a moderate. But I think that not only was that a special case – anything to take Kennedy’s seat, but that was before 2010, by which time tea party litmus tests had crystalized. And I have also heard that some tea party groups want to run against him in the primary. A tea party candidate against Elizabeth Warren – now there is a real choice.

  18. Jack Hughes says:

    Come on guys, we already have a compromise in place.

    You’ve got your windmills and hybrid cars and your federal schemes – but you haven’t got world government or a green stasi (yet).

  19. Anteros says:

    OPatrick @12
    Your point about anti-consensus recommendations piling up has much merit. I was embarrassed (giving away my emotional allegiance) that within 24 hours of Donna Laframboise’s anti IPPC book going on sale – 38 out of 40 Amazon reviews gave it 5 stars. 2 gave it one star. I’m not completely convinced that anybody had read it but the numbers were predictable.
    The asymmetry issue is fascinating because there are some obvious areas of agreement – the very fact that something is referred to as ‘ the consensus’ reveals a lot. But both sides claim false symmetry with regard to funding, puplication, propaganda etc.
    From my perspective something that stands out is that the BBC has made a policy decision – anything even remotely critical of the IPPC/consensus will be characterised as ‘sceptic’ or (worse) ‘so-called sceptic’. This is to my mind a simple denial that any legitimate criticism of the consensus position could exist. Hence I frequently use the analogy of religion and the demonisation of dissenters.
    Of course, legitimate rational criticism tends to be drowned out by the shrill voices crying ‘hoax’ and ‘fraud’. I have some sympathy with those who are reluctant to engage with sceptics or concede the slightest doubt about the whole AGW enterprise lest the flood gates open and the rabble destroy the temple. As Steve Mosher often says, it’s embarrassing to be still clinging blindly to the Hockey stick and the desperate attribution of extreme climatic events, but there are understandable emotional reasons.
    As for who is certain about their predictions for the future of the climate? A very strange question – I would answer ‘nearly everybody’. Perhaps ‘prediction’ mis-characterises what happens when we think of the future. We use pictures and imagination. My favourite line is from Holly Stick castigating us over at Climate etc She says
    You guys don’t know how bad it’s gonna be!!”

    I think that’s an extremely common belief. It is certain, characteristically catastrophic with a fundamentalist flavour. What Holly knows about the climate (or the future) is irrelevant. As I often observe – we know an awful lot more about ‘doom’ thinking than we do about the climate.
    But specifically, in answer to your question – James Hansen and Gavin Schmidt. With Schmidt I am frequently seduced by the clarity of his thinking and his reasonableness and then he suddenly predicts that BAU land temperatures will be 4-6 degrees higher in less than 60 years. Up to 1 gegree per decade!! And more in northerly latitudes! Only an order of magnitude greater than C20 rises and yes, I think he really believes it….
    Me? I have lots of doubts but spend some of my time studying the history of exaggeration and the causes of fearful imaginings. I have a strong conviction that life for human beings (and life in general) will continue in its variety.

  20. Jeff Norris says:

    “A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others. When he has no respect for anyone, he can no longer love, and in him, he yields to his impulses, indulges in the lowest form of pleasure, and behaves in the end like an animal in satisfying his vices. And it all comes from lying””to others and to yourself.”
    “” Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
    The true cost of Tribalism

  21. Mary says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and where my moderate friends all ended up (off a tribal blog and onto twitter where we talk nicely to each other and share interesting, if sometimes heretical, ideas and reading).
    But another issue that was bugging me about the tribes is what @Jeff Norris gets at–inability to recognize the truth. I was also coming to the conclusion that the tribe members weren’t good allies if they just ‘voted up’ and supported ideas of the other members–regardless of their soundness. There are cults of personality that develop around this that are very dangerous and not good places to stand. The tribe isn’t trustworthy when it gets to that point.

  22. Jarmo says:

    #19 Anteros,

    Well put. The only thing I am quite sure about is that emissions will continue to increase for the next 20 years. Sad but true.

    But like you pointed out, life will continue. I just might buy some real estate from Lapland next to the treeline and build some housing for climate refugees 😉

  23. EdG says:

    Tribalism is simply an expanded version of basic primate ‘us and them’ group think. In countries where there is some shared ‘opinion’ it becomes nationalism – and is then used to the same effect, particularly in war time.

    Once upon a time when everyobody got their news from Walter Cronkite, cohesive nationalism was simpler to maintain. Now that there are so many messengers that has split into the current form of self-reinforcing ‘tribalism.’

    Yes, there are definitely problems with ‘tribalism’ now, and it definitely does not help when the Obamites are deliberatelty promoting it with their current ‘class warfare’ campaign.

    But on the other hand, if we were still back in the Cronkite days it would be far too easy to manipulate the public and their thinking. And we would have NEVER even heard about Climategate or any other ‘heretical’ AGW thoughts. So I see the cost of this ‘tribalism’ – diversity and debate – as well worth the result.

    And after all, what’s the alternative? See Orwell’s 1984. No thanks. 

  24. OPatrick says:

    “the BBC has made a policy decision ““ anything even remotely critical of the IPPC/consensus will be characterised as “˜sceptic’ or (worse) “˜so-called sceptic'”
    Do you have any evidence of this? Do you really believe that the BBC are ignoring any legitimate criticism of the consensus position?

    “[Gavin Schmidt] suddenly predicts that BAU land temperatures will be 4-6 degrees higher in less than 60 years”.
    Where did he predict this? In what context?

    You throw these in with remarks like that from Holly Stick, again shorn of context, which may indeed sound unduly alarmist and overly certain – but I suspect are born of exasperation more than anything. Many do not even concede the possibility that we are facing potentially devastating impacts from anthropogenic climate change. And no, I suspect many of you ‘don’t know how bad it is gonna be’, if even the median predictions turn out to be true.

    But can I just remind you of your original statement:
    “My contention, though, is always that if you’re so certain of your predictions for the future of the climate that you see all alternative views as denialism and completely wrong then you don’t have a science, you have a fundamentalist religion. Which of course brooks no dissent whatsoever.”
    This is a ludicrous position. No-one is certain of their predictions for the future, there are huge and always acknowledged ranges of uncertainty, so your assertion that ‘nearly everyone is’ is extraordinary. Some will certainly focus on the worst case scenarios, but those would be so devastating that it is understandable to do so. What is far worse is to dismiss these real possibilities out of hand, presumably because you don’t want them to be true.

    You have your own strong convictions, but no justification for them that I can see, however much you think you have been studying the history of exaggeration. 

  25. harrywr2 says:


    In fact, Democrats gave up on a cherished position ““ gun control ““ to win most of these seats.
    Which is one of the problems the Democrats have. Policies that are ‘reasonably appropriate’ for urban areas don’t look so ‘reasonable’ if you live in a rural area.
    Just look at voting patterns by county in the US.

  26. Anteros says:

    OPatrick –
    Gavin Schmidt gave an interview a couple of weeks ago –
    A Conversation with Gavin Schmidt « ClimateSight
    I’m surprised you don’t see people around you with very firm convictions about what will happen if we continue to burn all the economically recoverable fossil fuels. And it sounds to me that you have quite firm convictions yourself, if you believe that indeed many of us don’t know how bad it’s gonna be even if the median predictions are true. And for you to say that people like me dismiss them out of hand because I ‘don’t want them to be true’ sounds very like the explanations believers give themselves as to why ‘non-believers’ cannot see the obvious truth. Indeed why they ‘deny’ what everyone else can see to be true.
    And yet it strikes me that you are much more open-minded and thoughtful than the majority of people in the blogosphere (of all persuasions). I think Holly is far from being a rarity (again, on both sides). A few minutes spent at Tamino’s ‘closed mind’ or the equally echo-chamber-like WUWT seems to be all that is needed to show that.
    I’m not being asymmetric about this – one of the amusing comments from the bio’s of people at Climate etc is ‘I knew AGW was a lie the first time I heard it‘ I really do hear people falling into the ‘believer’ or the non-believer’ camp. It is rare to find people changing their conviction, and for believers that often amounts to a change in just how ‘bad it’s going to be’. Very few non-believers change their beliefs at all. So my conclusion is that very few of us are genuinely open-minded about the future. We have pretty much made up our minds – as most human beings have down the ages.
    If you can genuinely entertain a lot of uncertainty I think you are quite rare. For most people I think it’s too much hard work. The firm conviction is actually comforting, strangely enough even if it is a conviction of Doom. I don’t think it is well enough understood that somebody has been foreseeing catastrophe every day since man leaned to speak. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the reality of disastrous futures, but to acknowledge that we fall for catastrophic visions with incredible ease. And genuinely, seriously believe them.
    Do you not think James Hansen is utterly certain that terrible things will happen if we do not drastically reduce our CO2 emissions? He was
    quoted last week at RC saying that it was basically ‘game over’ for any hopes of a stable climate if the Tar Sands of Alberta are burnt. My point is not to dismiss such fears/beliefs out of hand – far from it – but to identify them as very strong convictions. You are right that I do not share them – but believe me I have given them a great deal of thought.
    I don’t think it is true that I have strong convictions – I simply haven’t been persuaded that the future will be disastrous for mankind.
    My point about the religious nature of some of the belief systems simply comes from experience. Many times a day I am called a ‘fake sceptic’ a ‘denier’ and ‘deluded’ because I do not believe that we are heading for disaster. The people who say these things seem very certain that we are. Entertaining uncertainty is absolutely not what they are about.


  27. TerryMN says:


  28. Anteros says:

    TerryMN @ 27
    Indeed – I couldn’t have put it better myself 🙂

  29. Eric Adler says:

    HarryWR @8
    The extreme right controls the Republican party.
    So Nancy Pelosi is what? A moderate centrist?
    Pelosi supported a health plan modeled on the Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan, which was taken from the Heritage Foundation.  How much more centrist can you get?

  30. Eric Adler says:

    Jeff Norris @7
    Republican Right – Turn Medicare into a voucher program, overturn Roe vs Wade, eliminate the EPA, allow the US to default on its bonds, flat income tax,  are some examples,
    Extreme left – It is not a category that is represented at all in US politics.  The most leftist person I know of in the Senate is Bernie Sanders. His pet issue these days is save the Post Office.

  31. Tom C says:

    Look at the Tea Party protests.
    Look at the Occupy protests.
    The right is insane?  
    I don’t think so.

  32. Matt B says:

    @ 29 Eric,

    You state that the “Republican Right”….wants to “eliminate the EPA”…and then go on to state that “the  most leftist person I know of in the Senate is Bernie Sanders. His pet issue these days is save the Post Office.”

    So, since Bernie is the “Most Left” Senator, there must be a “Most Right” Senator, and since the “Republican Right” wants to eliminate the EPA, it stands to reason that there must be at least one Republican Senator who has publically stated that they want to eliminate the EPA. Can you point him/her out? 

  33. Jeff Norris says:

    Thank you for responding Eric.  First let me say that you are throwing out headlines and sound bites but fail to go into the substance of those issues which are very complex.  Based on polling the actual issues you pointed out are not that extreme and share large support with a broad section of Americans.  Now of course you can say that the vast power of the extreme right has duped us all and then we will have to agree to disagree. Not always a big fan of polls because depending on the sample and or how you phrase the questions you can skew the results but for what it is worth.
    Medicare- We Americans are in tied in knots on this one  
    Are Changes to Social Security and Medicare Necessary to Significantly Reduce the Deficit?
           All    Reps      Dems    Inds
    Yes 53%      62%      51%      50%
     No 43%      35%      45%      46%
    Remedies to Reduce the Budget Deficit                     
    Willing  Not willing
    Reduce Social Security for those w/ higher incomes               54%      44
    Reduce federal money for projects in your area                      52%      43
    Reduce defense spending                                                        49%      46
    Raise retirement age                                                                41%      57
    Pay more in taxes                                                                 
    33%      65

    Reduce spending on Medicare                                            
    22%     76
    Roe v Wade- Most  polls including this one show a majority of Americans are in favor of  some limitations or restrictions on abortions.
    EPA-  The  right is using the  EPA as the  poster child for over regulation which has some support with a large portion of the  public.  The right is proposing limiting the EPA’s power not eleminating   it.
    Over all the  idea of a flat tax polls well but most voters are concerned on what it would actually look like.
    Bernie Sanders was one of the founders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, see post #15

  34. Eric Adler says:


    “U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) introduced a bill that would consolidate the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency into a single, new agency called the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). The bill would provide cost savings by combining duplicative functions while improving the administration of energy and environmental policies by ensuring a coordinated approach.

    In January, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed abolishing the EPA, and several House Republicans have supported that goal, while making numerous attempts to hamstring limits on industrial polluters.
    Burr’s bill has fifteen co-sponsors, all of them global warming deniers: Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), John McCain (R-AZ), Dan Coats (R-IN), Richard Shelby (R-AL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), David Vitter (R-LA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT).”
    Texas Governor Perry has also called for elimination of the EPA.

  35. Eric Adler says:

    Tom C @30,
    The Occupy Wall Street protests have focused the media on important but neglected issues.
    The top 1% of Americans have doubled  their share of the take of the American economy over the past 30 years. This has wrecked the US economy. Most of the jobs they created with their gains were created overseas.
    None of the executives responsible for the fraudulent marketing of mortgage junk securities which caused the economic meltdown have been prosecuted. They got golden parachutes and their asses were saved by Tarp money to keep them afloat.
    The political process has been corrupted by uncontrolled campaign contributions from the wealthy to cement their control of political power in America. 
    There is nothing insane about calling attention to these issues, and their protest has been effective.

  36. OPatrick says:

    Anteros, in #11 you said this:
    “However, and to play devil’s advocate, what do the consensus apparently hear? They hear a lot of ludicrous arguments repeated endlessly by many people with an obvious idealogical bias. They do not hear an array of disparate but thoughtful criticism, they hear the worst and the least justified arguments by those with the least integrity ““ and a lot of paranoid conspiracy theorist crying hoax!!”

    When in #19 you say “the BBC has made a policy decision ““ anything even remotely critical of the IPPC/consensus will be characterised as “˜sceptic’ or (worse) “˜so-called sceptic’. This is to my mind a simple denial that any legitimate criticism of the consensus position could exist”  I am struggling not to hear an argument repeated endlessly by people with an obvious ideological bias. Can you convince me otherwise?

  37. Matt B says:

    @ 34 Eric,

    Consolidating the EPA with the DOE, which is what the Senator proposed, is not the same as “eliminating” the EPA. From the Senator’s website:

    “The DOEE would combine support and administrative offices of the two agencies and would take the recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to eliminate ineffective or duplicative programs.  Core functions of each agency would be maintained. 
    By implementing suggestions made by GAO and the President’s 2012 budget request, this bill could result in over $3 billion in savings in the next year alone. 

    If you want to say “the Republican Right wants to limit the powers of the EPA”, I would agree. If you state “there are special interests that want to eliminate some EPA regulations so they can make more money, and these special interests are strongly aligned with the Republicans”, I can agree with that too. But, to take this case & its Rommesque interpretation as fact to show that Republicans are hell-bent on creating more Love Canals, while Democrat extremism is limited to saving the US Postal Service, well it makes dialogue difficult.

  38. Eric Adler says:

    JeffN @33,
    Since the right has repeated its message over and over, it doesn’t matter what the facts are. People will believe things that are contradictory, depending on how the questions are asked. The public’s attitude toward government regulation is clearly and example. The Republican Party has been claiming that government regulation is currently the main reason growth has been stagnant. This is clearly untrue.  Survey’s of business men have consistently revealed the primary problem which prevents business expansion and increasing employment is lack of demand.
    A vague question on whether changes to Social Security and Medicare are needed to doesn’t really tell us anything about whether the public accepts the radical Republican  idea espoused by Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Perry,  that they are unconstitutional.

  39. Eric Adler says:

    MattB @37
    The merger legislation proposed by the senators is based on the fiction that there is significant overlap between the DOE and the EPA. That is nothing more than a smokescreen.The things that they do are different. The real objective is to stop government regulation of the environment and focus on energy production.
    The EPA has become the whipping boy of the Republican Party. Bachmann wants to close the door and shut out the lights. Paul wants the courts to settle environmental disputes, and Cain wants to put oil and gas executives on the board of directors a commssion that would substitute for the EPA.
    Part of the reason for the BP oil spill was the conflict of interest within the Minerals Management Service, which collected revenue from the Oil industry at the same time it was responsible for environmental protection. The caused them to be lax about the safety of deep ocean drilling.,8599,2066233,00.html

  40. Jeff Norris says:

    You have undermined your original position by using Perry and Paul as examples of the extreme right.  Essentially if the “extreme right controls” the republicans would not Paul and Perry be the frontrunners?   If you want to walk back your claim to the extreme right has great influence I would be hard pressed to dispute it.  All I am suggesting is that we all should stop listening to the tribal drums and chants that play on our emotions.
    WRT Medicare and SS, I know my comment(33) looks like a dog’s breakfast but just about everybody agrees, even the people who run it, that those programs need some serious work.  The impasse is that we don’t want to raise taxes to pay for it nor cut benefits to keep it in balance.   
    We are All Greeks Now!

  41. Eric Adler says:

    Jeff Norris @40,
    If you add up Perry, Paul, Bachmann, Santorum and Cain, who  are all on the extreme right,  you get a substantial total percentage of Republican voters . The poll below shows they got 49% out of the 86% that expressed a preference. Only 37% expressed support for moderate candidates, Romney ( of course we don’t really know where he stands), Gingrich and Huntsman.
    Among the Romney supporters are those that may swallow their reservations because he looks like the only sane candidate with a chance to beat Obama. This shows the sickness of the Republican Party.

  42. Eric Adler says:

    Jeff Norris @ 40,
    Democrats have supported cuts in Medicare.
    The Republicans objected to cuts in the Medicare Advantage program which was a subsidy for private insurance by medicare beneficiaries which don’t use Medicare Advantage. These cuts reduced the subsidies to the insurance companies, but data shows those subsidies were wasteful.
    It turns out that participation in the Medicare Advantage programs is up despite the cuts.
    The long term savings in Medicare should come from the Commission on the Effectiveness of Medical Care which will recommend best practices. Hopefully this will reduce the level of over-treatment, that accounts for a lot of the difference between health care costs in the US versus other developed countries that have Universal Coverage.

  43. OPatrick says:

    Anteros, your comment #26 has appeared since I wrote my comment #36, so apologies if I seem to have ignored it (though my other comment still stands).

    Gavin Schmidt’s comments in the interview at ClimateSight are slightly ambiguous – it’s not clear for example if he is talking about warming since the start of the industrial era or, what seems the more natural interpretation, since the start of the ‘young people’s’ lifetimes. The latter interpretation certainly seems to give higher warming than I would expect from my understanding, and even on the former the lower end of the expected range seems high to me.

    I think generally though there is confusion between people’s certainty that we should be taking action and their certainty about expectations of the impacts of climate change. This may be a communications issue, but I see it being deliberately played on by certain commentators who appear to want to delay taking action (Judith Curry comes to mind here). If my child wanders on to the road I can’t be certain they will come to harm, but I am certain I should take action.

    I do have strong convictions (and incidentally you stated above in #19 that you do too, though you now seem to be denying this in #26), but those convictions are based primarily on my understanding of the science – I am strongly convinced that the science shows there is likely to be significant warming and likely to be consequences from this in the range from serious to catastrophic for the society that I value, which encapsulates what is valuable to and in me. I am also convinced that the evidence is strong enough for us to take strong action, even if this might mean significant changes in our lifestyles. It would take strong evidence to shift me, but that is, I would contend, because the evidence supporting my position is already very strong.

    I do wonder if you accept that there is a realistic possibility (say 5% or more) that we are facing catastrophic impacts from climate change in our or our children’s lifetimes?

    Oh, and no – comparing OpenMind and WUWT is a false equivalence. I’m sorry, I will not accept that by any objective measure those ‘echo-chambers’ are equivalent.

  44. Anteros says:

    OPatrick –
    Thanks for your response. About Openmind and WUWT, I’ll have to bow to your greater knowledge, but bear in mind our positions influence what we see and hear there. I don’t go to WUWT much anymore, and when I do I tend not to read the comments – they’re embarrassing. But at Openmind I leave even more quickly because of the torrent of ‘denier’ comments. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to that.
    Yes, I seemed to contradict myself about convictions – I meant I have strong convictions about human life and life continuing on as ever, but much less certainty about the exact nature of the future climate. I accept your position – and many peoples – that with some uncertainty about problems, why not take action? The truth is that I simply don’t see the evidence for things that I would call disastrous. I also see what has been achieved in 20 years and would call it effectively nothing. I don’t see fossil fuels being left in the ground – now or in the medium term.
    I have to admit that if your reading of the evidence leads you to see a range between serious and catastrophic, my position will seem probably nonsensical. 
    Yes, Gavin Schmidt’s comments greatly surprised me too. Perhaps he was just making a very strong statement off the cuff for the young readership. I don’t know. I certainly try to give his arguments as much time as I am able – he always strikes me as reasonable and sincere. Just wrong!
    I’ll get back to you shortly about the Beeb. My thoughts at the moment are that the tribalism that this thread is about is hard to avoid precisely because we have strong beliefs and expectations about the future. I feel uncomfortably aware that my feeling and ‘picture’ of the future doesn’t make much sense to you – even though it comes from broadly similar pieces of evidence. I think we’re stuck with that.

  45. NewYorkJ says:

    JN (#40): The impasse is that we don’t want to raise taxes to pay for it nor cut benefits to keep it in balance.   

    This is only correct in a very broad sense.  Your cited poll shows support for reducing benefits for wealthy Americans, and other polls show strong support for raising taxes on top incomes to help keep the programs solvent.  I’m not endorsing those views but it shows us where the country is at this time.

    Also, Americans by much larger majorities don’t want to ditch Social Security or turn Medicare into a private voucher system, as some of the far right candidates are proposing.  Reducing Medicare by more than 1/3 and directing the rest towards private insurance is also something proposed by Paul Ryan in the House and endorsed by most House Republicans.  It’s mainstream among the Republican party but far right among the rest of us.  CBO has indicated it would raise overall healthcare costs per person, reducing the some of the 1/3 in savings.

    On elections, I’d include Cain in the “extreme right” category.  A tax plan that increases federal taxes on middle class Americans by $4K while drastically cutting taxes on top incomes is extremely radical.  Now Romney might actually be the front runner at this point, but that appears to be because there are many far right candidates – all of which are pretty weak, and all of which match up poorly with Obama.  Keep in the mind the extreme right tend to hate Obama with a great passion.  If one has to choose between supporting Perry in a loss to Obama, and holding their nose and supporting Romney in victory, many will choose the latter.

  46. Anteros says:

    OPatrick @36 –
    I think you might hear an argument that is repeated endlessly by people with an obvious idealogical bias precisely because that’s what happens. An argument might have a sound basis but because we hear it from people who are grabbing any old argument they can find, we ignore the argument as if it was made up of thin air. It works both ways – if we have the slightest doubt about someone’s integrity and genuine beliefs why the hell would we bother with the nonsense they make up to bolster their prejudices?
    I think this is especially true in the States, where things are even more polarised than in the UK. But indeed there are people here who bash the Beeb because they think it is run by commies and eco-nuts. But I’m not one of them.
    Gernerally I’m a big fan but I think on climate it has lost its bottle and taken sides. Do you remember the big meeting of the head honchos where the director general said the BBC no longer had an obligation to be impartial? There was actually a good reason for that – it meant just not giving airtime to people that were flat-earthers, but the result has been (from my point of view) like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Anything even vaguely sceptical gets lumped in with ‘denier’, or gets the put-down “sceptic” and isn’t given airtime. I don’t agree with much of Nigel Lawson’s politics but he’s been told he won’t be welcome on any climate panel because his views are ‘off-message’. Is he so extreme?
    My biggest beef is with Richard Black – after all he is the ‘voice’ of the BBC on anything to do with climate. Here is a video of him giving a lecture to fellow journalists and managers. Notice him saying with relish how he can ‘demolish’ sceptic arguments. If he’s representing the best of fair-minded journalism, we’re lost. [I can’t get the bloody link to work – it’s at Bishop Hill and WUWT]
    I’ve probably read Black’s last 100 articles on the BBC. I don’t remember any that weren’t alarmist in some way. The best recent example of his extreme bias was a couple of days ago with his article about ‘Hide the decline revisited (I can’t get the link to work. but it’s still on the BBC website)
    His writing was so vitriolic and off the wall that within 24 hours he had to apologise and make corrections because so many people complained. Usually he steers just clear of that problem. He even dragged in ‘Tamino, the enigmatic climate blogger who runs the open mind and keeps his identity under wraps’ he sounds like James Bond. Why didn’t he say ‘a very partisan bloke called Grant Foster who has an agenda and calls everyone who disagrees with him a denier’
    To sum up Black’s expression of BBC neutrality he says ‘The original ‘Hide the Decline’ claim is one of the most easily debunked in the entire pantheon of easily-debunkable “sceptic” claims. Note the inverted commas around “sceptic” and yes, this is what he had to apologise for.
    To really understand how that reads to many of us, you’re going to have to imagine that you are deeply sceptical of the consensus position or the IPPC and what you expect from the BBC is some token of impartiality. Otherwise it might seem reasonable to you…
    I can’t think of a comparison that would rile you like this riles me – if Richard Black were replaced by Lord Moncton?
    We’re back to tribalism and very very different views of the world.
    What if the blogger he brought on to bolster his claims was well-known meteorologist Anthony Watts of WUWT fame who can help debunk easily-debunkable “alarmist” claims? Well, I’d be up in arms too, but can you see my point? 
    And yet, I can imagine you think the BBC has quietly dropped the climate issue….
    BTW Is there a simple reason why I can’t copy links to this site? It’s frustrating.

  47. OPatrick says:

    Erm, Anteros, you do realise I can read the Richard Black article and so don’t have to rely on your description of it, don’t you? I find it extraordinary that you can see this episode as anything other than a classic case of the extreme exaggeration of any slight fault made by those who communicate concerns over anthropogenic climate change.

    Are you sure you meant to describe his writing as ‘vitriolic’ and ‘off the wall’? Surely this applies to the huge number of commenters who followed Andrew Montford over from his blog and twisted his original valid and marginally relevant criticism into the deluge of outrage you seem to be continuing. Black did give the impression that ‘hide the decline’ was taken by ‘sceptics’ to be only about hiding temperatures (a way in which it demonstrably was, and still is, misinformedly used), but then that was quite clearly, I think, the context it was being used in the Curry quote, so that seems understandable.

    It should also be pointed out that he was commenting on the egregious GWPF graph, which it doesn’t take Tamino to point out is deeply duplicitous. I thought he was very restrained in the circumstances.

    Curry and Muller, who both have ‘sceptic’ leanings get plenty of attention, and this is where I still have concerns about the BBC. Although I think they are as good as any media outlet, it’s inevitable that the reporting still exaggerates the impact of ‘sceptic’ science. I could go to somewhere like and find two or three stories a day that reinforce our concerns over the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. But these just aren’t news. In contrast anything that threatens to challenge even a slither of the consensus gets proportionally far more attention.

    Black = Moncton? Really? 

  48. Anteros says:

    OPatrick@ 47 –
    Black=Moncton, no. I was trying to find a way to express how Black appears to many sceptics, which is understandably very different from how he appears to you. I can’t otherwise bridge the gap. And FWIW I don’t believe Moncton is genuine at all – he is a true (and pernicious) contrarian,
    You say ‘…those who communicate concern over anthropogenic climate change’. But I hear almost silence from ‘those who have doubts about anthropgenic climate change’ I don’t hear the BBC letting them speak.
    It’s odd how we see different things – last week was the first time I’d heard Curry’s name on the BBC. My reading of the BBC output is that it is almost exclusively “alarmist” which I’m sure you think is appropriate and therefore not “alarmist” at all. I understand that.
    I suppose I should admit that the GWPF graph was indeed very misleading but the major error was in the BEST data (no excuse, I know) I just think it was an incredibly partisan response but know that can’t be the experience of someone who is seriously concerned about future climate.
    One thing I can do is put myself in the position of being worried about Global warming and listening to Richard Black’s lecture thinking that it’s completely fair and reasonable – really.
    My guess is that it is nigh on impossible to do the reverse – to imagine having no worries when presently you do have them – without thinking it could only be possible if you became blind to some obvious things. Maybe that’s why the denier concept is used so frequently – and seems so appropriate.
    I do get seriously wound up by Black, so the ‘deluge of outrage’ probably didn’t help my argument. And I hadn’t noticed anyone else at it.
    How about if the Bish stands in for Richard Black for six months of the year? Fair do’s?

  49. huxley says:

    There is not an equivalence between the two major American political parties with regard to extreme tribalism. The extreme right controls the Republican party. In the Democratic Party the extreme left is fringe group.

    Eric Adler @ 6: The current President of the United States launched his political career from the home of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the two top leaders remaining from the terrorist Weather Underground — the most extreme and violent contingent of sixties radicalism.

    The same president attended a sixties-style radical black church and accepted its pastor, who had made pilgrimage to Libya with Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for blessings from Gaddafi, as his mentor.

    Find me anything comparable with Republican candidates in the ring for POTUS.

    Like it or not, the hard left controls the Democratic Party. I gather that you dislike Perry, Cain, Palin, et al. but they are far closer the political center of America than the current leadership of the Democratic Party.

  50. Keith Kloor says:


    You drinking that Limbaugh kool-aid, I see. Be careful, that stuff is toxic. 

  51. huxley says:

    Speaking just for myself, there are very definitely times when my preferred policy position is some kind of melding of left and right”¦but I’m not really willing to say so because the American right has become so insane that it simply won’t lead to anything constructive.

    — Kevin Drum

    When I discuss the Left with my Right friends, we agree that the American Left appears to us so insane that we believe that engagement won’t lead to anything constructive.

    But in public discourse, I don’t refer to my fellow citizens on the Left  as insane. I spent most of my adult life on the Left myself, so I know that they aren’t insane.

    Today in America the Left and the Right work from such very different assumptions and values that any discussion above that level leaves both sides shaking their heads.

    No one in the current political debate is insane. It’s just that the foundations are so different that it is very hard to find common ground.

    I don’t have the solution either. But I do think we would do better discussing those foundational differences instead of referring to each another as insane.

  52. huxley says:

    You drinking that Limbaugh kool-aid, I see. Be careful, that stuff is toxic.

    KK: I don’t listen to Limbaugh. Your response is the usual condescending, ad hom method of avoiding rational discussion that I find from my leftist friends.

    If you’ve got a point, make it.

  53. Keith Kloor says:

    I did make it. Here’s another what were you doing in #49 to avoid rational discussion?

  54. huxley says:

    KK: You posted no facts or argument in #50. You slammed Limbaugh and needled me.

    You post no facts or argument in #52 except to shift attack back upon me.

    Are my facts about Obama wrong? Are Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan not extremists?

    What’s your counter-argument?

  55. Tom C says:

    Mr. Kloor –

    So it is not “rational” to bring up Obama’s association with Reverend Wright or Bill Ayers?  Please explain, oh please do explain you sophisticated intellectual you.

  56. OPatrick says:

    Anteros, as I said those sceptical of the significance of anthropogenic climate change get proportionally more attention on the BBC, as they do in all media, by virtue of the newsworthiness of their positions, and that includes Curry, who I have heard discussed on several occasions. There are literally thousands of scientists who agree with the consensus position who don’t get discussed at all. The recent report for the BBC trust into its science reporting went some way to addressing this, but I’d guess it’s virtually impossible to remove the bias entirely. Also, if you do want to hear a sceptical voice from the BBC I suggest you could find a comfortable home at Paul Hudson’s blog.

    You suggest putting myself into the position of someone who isn’t alarmed by the threat of anthropogenic climate change. Well I could do that, look at the evidence and, hey presto, I’m alarmed again. I don’t understand how it could be otherwise. What should Richard Black’s, or anyone’s, response be to the GWFP graph? It is possible to be objective about these things and objectively the response should have been one of outrage – it was outrageous. And how is the fault in the BEST data? For example, no-one could look at that penultimate data point in the GWFP graph and not wonder what was going on. It’s not as though the uncertainty levels were difficult to find, if you have the data there they are in the next column. 

  57. Very true:

    “Supporting compromise positions only makes sense when that might actually lead to both sides compromising.”

    Instead, compromising is often “immediately seized upon to move the conversation even further to the” extreme PoV.

    Compromising or even just listening to skeptical arguments and taking them seriously often has exactly that consequence: Moving the Overton Window. Being confronted with that, mainstreamers start to shy away from engaging with skeptics and publicly taking their arguments seriously, because this dynamics poisons the discussion.

    This makes it all the harder to deal with the valid parts that may be present in skeptical arguments, which in the end is to the detriment of the public discussion and of science.

  58. OPatrick says:

    Indeed Bart. I was just pondering on the way that many climate scientists and/or activists are criticised for not communicating effectively and for allowing misinterpretations of their work to be used in the debate. But ‘sceptics’ don’t seem to be held accountable when they get associated with all sorts of extreme positions. Respect for Roy Spencer rose significantly when he made the effort to disabuse many of those who frequented his blog of their misconceptions (about radiative transfer?) Truth is they’d be spending all their time doing this if they had to take responsibility and wouldn’t have time to expand on any valid criticisms. Obviously it’s climate scientists’ job to do the work of addressing misconceptions.

  59. Eric Adler says:

    Huxley @49
    Your argument about Obama being a radical is indeed irrational.  
    Dorn and Ayers were radicals in the 60’s and 70’s. They are in the boomer generation. Obama met them in the 1995.  Just like the other boomers who demonstrated against the Vietnam War in the streets they had mellowed and were respectable members of society.  Obama was born in 1961 and had nothing to do with the protests of the late 60’s and 70’s or the Weather Underground.
    I can’t believe that you think this is an indication that Obama is a radical.  Obama is clearly a political centerist who has attempted to solve problems by brokering a compromise with the Republicans which have become a party of the extreme right. Since the Republicans have only one objective, limiting Obama to one term, they have thus far refused to bargain in good faith. 
    Farrakhan in 2008 may have thought that Obama is the Messiah, but how does this prove Obama is a left wing radical? Farrakhan is a nut case. Why is Obama responsible for his views? Now Farrakhan is calling Obama a murderer for what was done in Libya?
    It is pretty clear that the old McCarthyist tactic of guilt by association is still used by the American right to create a climate of fear. This is a well understood psychological phenomenon.

  60. huxley says:

    Eric Adler @ x: No. The Weather Underground was not merely part of the much larger Sixties anti-war movement. The members of the Weather Underground were revolutionary urban terrorists who proudly called themselves communists and were forthrightly dedicated to the violent overthrow of the US government. They backed up their rhetoric with multiple acts of violence and bombings.

    Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were not average members of the WU either. They were two of the top leaders of the Weather Underground. Bill Ayers’s previous lover was Diana Oughton, the young socialite turned revolutionary who was blown up while assembling nail bombs in the infamous Greenwich Village townhouse explosion. Bernardine Dohrn, while speaking to 400 people in reponse to the Manson killings, said “First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they even shoved a fork into the victim’s stomach! Wild!”

    Ayers and Dohrn have publicly distanced themselves from violence but remain dedicated radicals. Just this past week Bill Ayers has been mentoring members of the Occupy movement (who are hardly moderates themselves) and recommending that all prisoners be freed except perhaps serial killer John Wayne Gacy who should share a cell with George W. Bush. Not exactly mellow.

    Obama must have known who Ayers was when he joined Ayers to work on the Annenberg Challenge to waste fifty million dollars over five years.  Nonetheless, Obama chose to launch his career from the home of Ayers and Dohrn. That’s not a casual relationship. Likewise, Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright, whom Obama chose as a friend and spiritual mentor.

    It’s not McCarthyism to judge a man by his close chosen relationships — especially when that man has been as secretive as Obama and openly describes his political technique as presenting “a blank screen” for people to project their hopes upon.

    If Rick Perry had launched his political career from the home of two prominent, violent ex-Klan leaders and spent ten years in a White Supremacist church, would you ignore those facts? I’ll bet not.
    I dare you tell me different.

  61. huxley says:

    Instead, compromising is often “immediately seized upon to move the conversation even further to the” extreme PoV.

    Bart Verheggen @57: So what do you recommend?

    You seem to be a reasonable guy, but you also seem unable to get out of the box and see the discussion from the skeptic side.

    I’m a lukewarmist skeptic. If your engaging with me “poisons the discussion,” where does that leave me? Speaking for myself, I say, “You can forget about my support.”

    The climate orthodox have won the academic debate but lost the political debate. There will be no progress in mitigating climate change unless that changes. What’s your plan for that? Do you have one?

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