A number of political commenters have compared the current Republican contestants unfavorably with Barry Goldwater. The current crop, we are told, are religious nutcases, or possibly pretending to be. Goldwater, on the other hand, was an intelligent and reasonable man, even if not on the right side of every issue.
I have been reading my parents' autobiography, and recently got to the Goldwater campaign. Their description fits my memory. What we were being told then—by people almost none of whom could have done a competent job of explaining Goldwater's positions or the arguments for them—was that he was a dangerous madman. There was even a piece by some large number of psychiatrists, none of whom had ever examined the candidate, explaining how crazy he was. And the TV ad with the little girl, the countdown, and the mushroom cloud.
A while back I read an article attacking Bjorn Lomborg, an articulate critic of much of the current environmental orthodoxy. It included a respectful reference to the late Julian Simon. Simon, criticizing the population orthodoxy, was making reasonable arguments, some of which turned out to be right. Lomborg, on the other hand ... .
I remember that fight too—I contributed a chapter on the concept of optimal population to one of Julian Simon's books. Back when he was the front line of opposition to the then current orthodoxy, he got the same treatment Lomborg got a decade or two later.
I am not competent to judge the climate science behind global warming, but I am suspicious of orthodoxies pushed relentlessly in the popular media, orthodoxies that claim that everyone competent agrees on an urgent problem which requires drastic action immediately if not sooner. I remember when we were being assured that it was simply a scientific fact that overpopulation was the cause of poverty and a near term threat to our own well being, if not survival. Also when we were assured that the only way to get the poor countries of the world up to our level was central planning, if possible supported by generous foreign aid.
When I see news headlines about global warming having shrunk horses to the size of cats, along with a picture comparing a cat sized horse to a modern Morgan—you have to read down a bit to discover that the ancestral horses shrank to the size of cats from the size of dogs, from 12 pounds to 8 1/2 pounds, and spent tens of thousands of years doing it—I suspect that what I am seeing is driven at least as much by what people want other people to believe as by the evidence for believing it.
Of course, going back to the beginning of this post, it's entirely possible that some of the Republican candidates are religious nutcases. With the possible exception of Ron Paul, none of them strikes me as someone I would be comfortable with as president.
But after being told, time after time, that everyone competent to judge agrees with whatever views are currently fashionable with the academic and media elite, reasonable people stop believing it.
Which brings me back to the title of this post.