Some Common Cents for September 8, 2017

September 8, 2017, by John Norris

The Science Channel has a new program called “The Planets” which airs on Tuesday evenings. I missed the first episode on Jupiter, but I found the second one on Venus to be absolutely riveting. Where do these people come up with these crazy hypotheses? Have they nothing better else to do?

For instance, who would have thought the proximate cause for the inhospitable climate on Venus was/is a collision with a more minor planet during some sort of cosmic demolition derby, which apparently lasted millions upon millions of years? This reversed the normal rotation of that planet on its axis, as well as slowing it considerably. As a result, Venus doesn’t have a very strong magnetic field which would protect the planet from things like solar flares/wind….let alone higher surface temperatures.

Without this protection, and as the planet continued to heat, the relatively less heavy water vapor dissipated into outer space, leaving behind an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide (96.5%). This led to a runaway greenhouse effect, which has resulted in a world where it rains things like lead and the atmospheric pressure is so great it could crush an automobile on the surface.

Or so the experts say and hypothecate. Who am I to say otherwise? I wasn’t, am not, nor ever will be there, on Venus that is.

What’s more, they predict the Earth will eventually become more hellish than Venus, if that is even possible. I mean, what could be worse than raining lead? Well, let’s try Earth actually radiating heat like some sort of very minor star, a glowing red? With surface temperatures in excess 1000+ degrees? As a commentator on the program said: “put your oven on its highest broil setting, and then stick your head in.” Thank you, but no.

This IS a foregone conclusion to the scientists on the program, and many (if not most or all) who didn’t make the program. The reason is the sun is getting larger and its luminosity is getting brighter. At some point, hundreds of millions and billions of years from now, the sun’s evolutionary process will, quite literally, boil the earth. It will be that much closer, hotter, and brighter. Of course, as you might imagine, this too is just a guess.

Still, at no time during the program did anyone mention Donald Trump, plastic bags, gas guzzling cars, or Chinese manufacturing facilities. Just to be fair, they also didn’t reference Al Gore, renewable or sustainable anything, or carbon offsets either. In fact, come to think of it, the scientists on the science channel didn’t seem to mention politics at all, at least as to how they pertain to the ultimate fate of our planet.

Even so, politics seems to have an outsized impact on man itself.

When I look back on the greatest tragedies, the most human suffering if you will, over the last 100 years, it would seem government (politics) has played a rather large role. Obviously, some of these are pretty well documented: the Holocaust in Europe, the Armenian Genocide (vehemently denied by Turkey to this day), the Khmer Rouge nightmare in Cambodia/Kampuchea, and the Holodomor in the Ukraine are just a few examples (never mind all the wars).

Now, these are low hanging fruits. However, there have been times when seemingly well-intentioned, dare I say even innocuous, government edicts have led to absolutely disastrous results. Consider the so-called “Four Pests Campaign” at the start of the Great Leap Forward in China (1958-1962).

Instead of reinventing the wheel, let me just cut & paste a description of said initiative from the Wikipedia page on the matter. Before you say anything about Wikipedia, the “Four Pests Campaign” was/has been well-documented and no one is in denial that it actually happened.

The “Four Pests” campaigns was introduced in 1958 by Mao Zedong, as a hygiene campaign aimed to eradicate the pests responsible for the transmission of pestilence and disease: the mosquitos responsible for malaria; the rodents (rats) that spread the plague; the pervasive airborne flies; and the sparrows – specifically the Eurasian tree sparrow – which ate grain seed and fruit. As a result of this campaign, many sparrows died from exhaustion; citizens would bang pots and pans so that sparrows would not have the chance to rest on tree branches and would fall dead from the sky. Sparrow nests were also destroyed, eggs were broken, and chicks were killed. In addition to these tactics, citizens also resorted to simply shooting the birds down from the sky. These mass attacks depleted the sparrow population, pushing it to near extinction. Furthermore, contests were held among enterprises, government agencies, and schools in cleanliness. Non-material rewards were given to those who handed in the largest number of rat tails, dead flies and mosquitoes, or dead sparrows.

“At dawn one day last week, the slaughter of the sparrows in Peking began, continuing a campaign that has been going on in the countryside for months. The objection to the sparrows is that, like the rest of China’s inhabitants, they are hungry. They are accused of pecking away at supplies in warehouses and in paddy fields at an officially estimated rate of four pounds of grain per sparrow per year. And so divisions of soldiers deployed through Peking streets, their footfalls muffled by rubber-soled sneakers. Students and civil servants in high-collared tunics, and schoolchildren carrying pots and pans, ladles and spoons, quietly took up their stations. The total force, according to Radio Peking, numbered 3,000,000.”

Some sparrows found refuge in the extraterritorial premises of various diplomatic missions in China. The personnel of the Polish embassy in Beijing denied the Chinese request of entering the premises of the embassy to scare away the sparrows who were hiding there and as a result the embassy was surrounded by people with drums. After two days of constant drumming, the Poles had to use shovels to clear the embassy of dead sparrows.

By April 1960, Chinese leaders realized that sparrows ate a large amount of insects, as well as grains. Rather than being increased, rice yields after the campaign were substantially decreased. Mao ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows, replacing them with bed bugs, as the extermination of the former upset the ecological balance, and bugs destroyed crops as a result of the absence of natural predators. By this time, however, it was too late. With no sparrows to eat them, locust populations ballooned, swarming the country and compounding the ecological problems already caused by the Great Leap Forward, including widespread deforestation and misuse of poisons and pesticides. Ecological imbalance is credited with exacerbating the Great Chinese Famine, in which 20–45 million people died of starvation.

While killing rats, mosquitoes, and flies seems perfectly reasonable, sparrows? Really? To us, a relatively prosperous, urbanized lot, sparrows are inconsequential. However, to a Chinese peasant farmer 50 years ago, let alone a collective farm of Chinese peasant farmers, you know, sparrows DID seem to eat a lot of seed and grain. In fact, Chinese farmers probably already killed a fair amount of sparrows as a matter of consequence. But a countrywide effort to extirpate sparrows? That was/is a different matter altogether.

Now, no one is suggesting, or should suggest, the Four Pests Campaign was the proximate cause of the Great Chinese Famine during the Great Leap Forward. It wasn’t. That would have been forcing peasants off the fields into worthless furnaces in order to melt down household items (like woks) and farming implements (like hoes and plows) to make essentially worthless iron and steel ingots. However, the ecological imbalances the Campaign caused made a bad situation even worse, unnecessarily so.

But that is China right? A completely different ball of wax and all of that! Perhaps, however, groupthink is groupthink regardless of country or society. Is China the only country capable of groupthink? History would certainly suggest otherwise, as examples are rife.

But, just what is groupthink?

According to Merriam-Webster, two prevailing definitions are:

  • A pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics, and/or;
  • Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon whereby pressure within a group to agree results in failures to think critically about an issue, situation or decision.

Hmm. Could you then argue forced conformity will ultimately lead to underperformance or undesirable outcomes? Wouldn’t that be the logical result of failing to think critically about an issue, situation or decision? It would certainly seem so to me.

If you agree with that reasoning, would you be willing to accept political parties are susceptible to groupthink, almost by their very nature…particularly given the current constructions of either? So, IF groupthink leads to undesirable results and political parties are subject to groupthink, why would we want them to make decisions on how we live our lives and conduct business? Basically, why then would we really want to grant the government even greater control over our lives, thoughts, and economic initiatives?

That is a legitimate question, which I have asked folks in the past. To date, I haven’t gotten an answer other than “we wouldn’t” which satisfies me and my curiosity. Perhaps…perhaps…this is the reason why the President’s recent coziness with the Democrats didn’t throw me for a loop this week. Besides, given the way things have gone down this year, why should/would the Republicans on Capitol Hill be surprised? Has the GOP had Trump’s back every step of the way?

We shall see how it all shakes out. However, for one, politics as usual isn’t an option because groupthink doesn’t lead to acceptable results over time. As I mentioned at the start of this newsletter, politics seems to have an outsized on man itself. Further, much of this has been completely catastrophic, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of quite literally tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people over the last century plus 17 years. Politics as usual and groupthink.

Laughingly, none of this really matters in the much larger scheme of the universe. The Republicans and the Democrats won’t decide the ultimate fate of the Earth. Neither will any other political party on the planet, let alone any individual.

If scientists are correct, and the Earth is doomed for no other reason than the sun’s evolutionary process (which we can’t do a single thing about), we occupy but a brief millisecond of cosmic time and space. If that is all we have, why waste it on politics and groupthink, let alone killing sparrows because the government told “us” to do so?

Now, if everyone adopts this mindset, what type of economic activity could we reasonably expect to follow?