Guest post by Marion Delgado.
Marion also penned the following brief autobiography:
I am a former talk show host, journalist and high school teacher from central Alaska, and for the past dozen years I’ve been a webmaster in Oregon for both for-profit and non-profit organizations. My background is in math, physics and linguistics. I did some blogging but that blog (a political sci-fi blog) is pretty much in disrepair.
There really is no web presence for me, right now, but a friend and I have reserved greenteaparties.net for future use. The paper I work at has cut its staff in half so everyone there, me included, is a one-armed paper-hanger nowadays, and I’m doing some solar and statistical course-work on the side.
On a couple of science blogs, I commented how eerily familiar a lot of the drummed up conflict and attacks in the last dozen or so years are to An Enemy of the People, a play by Henrik Ibsen about a small coastal Norwegian town in the late 19th century. It’s available at Project Gutenberg here. I note that right here on Greenfyre, commenter Brian Davey said much the same thing.
Wikipedia has a good summary:
Dr. Stockmann discovers that waste products from the town’s tannery are contaminating the waters, causing serious illness amongst the tourists. He expects this important discovery to be his greatest achievement, and promptly sends a detailed report to the Mayor, which includes a proposed solution but this would come at a considerable cost to the town.To his surprise, Stockmann finds it difficult to get through to the authorities. They seem unable to appreciate the seriousness of the issue and unwilling to publicly acknowledge and address the problem because it could mean financial ruin for the town….
The townspeople – eagerly anticipating the prosperity that the baths will bring – refuse to accept Stockmann’s claims, and his friends and allies, who had explicitly given support for his campaign, turn against him en masse. He is taunted and denounced as a lunatic, an “Enemy of the People.”
In a blog post, it’s not possible to convey very much of what makes the actual play so meaningful, and I would hope people would feel inspired to read it, or read about it further, anyway.
The hero, Dr. Stockmann, is not in the same position as, e.g., James Hansen or Michael Mann. While he is monitoring the health statistics, he depends on the lab results from the water samples he sent out of town to a city where they have adequate science facilities. In that sense, the science is not his, he doesn’t necessarily completely understand it, and the results are not his. But he trusts the science because it’s proven itself robust on tens of thousands of occasions and ameliorated disease outbreaks and reduced deaths all over the world. In this regard, he resembles people like US VP Al Gore, and even more strongly, the IPCC as a whole, especially its Working Groups I & II, and perhaps Nicholas Stern and his group.
Neither big business nor the heavy hand of big government are involved. No Exxon is swooping in with an army of lawyers to sue or bribe every responsible figure into silence, and no EPA bureaucrat is there making the tourist industry jump through hoops. The town has to figure out the issues for itself, with almost no proxies, and with less distance and fewer layers of rhetoric between them and the problem. They are a good proxy for all of us.
Ibsen and his protagonist are ideologically scolding democracy and conformity, not greedy businessmen (which, given the circumstances – one business, the tannery, is polluting the water supply, another businessman, the mayor, wants no action because it’s expensive and will harm the economy – Ibsen could have easily done). He’s saying that in some areas, such as science, you have a meritocracy, not a democracy – that one correct person outweighs a thousand incorrect people. This is a persistent denialist trope, usually associated with libertarians, so it’s curious to see it used the other way. It’s important to point out that he’s not arguing against scientific consensus but for it, over letting the people decide matters of fact. I would say this represents the formal skeptical community (not the denialists who call themselves that lately) very well.
Ibsen’s protagonist is good at his actual job, but terrible at communicating, politicking, and networking. He alienates people right and left, is impatient and intemperate and doesn’t like explaining things. He expects the weight of evidence and the authority of science to prevail and has contempt for democracy, everyday commerce, and interpersonal politics. In many ways, he’s his own worst enemy. But he’s also honest, stubborn, unsinkable, a whistleblower and a crusader. In that way, he resembles the somewhat insular science community – good at their jobs, terrible at the part that keeps their jobs funded and let them operate, and at communicating their job to the public. His stubbornness and persistence is reminiscent of James Hansen’s. His radical demonization reminds me of what’s been done to Rachel Carston.
The experience Ibsen had that led him to such a visceral portrayal of this situation was the firestorm of criticism he received after his play Ghosts with its message that Victorian taboos about sex were aiding the syphillis epidemic. It would be analogous to the early controversies around the AIDS pandemic, and to some of the flak vaccination advocates get now.
Ibsen was insightful enough to have his hero cause some of his own problems with his naivete and arrogance and coldness. There’s a definite caution there to never overlook the importance of the politics of a situation, regardless of how right you are. But most importantly, his message is that if you’re sure you’re right, it’s a moral imperative to never give up, because that’s the only way you can be finally beaten.
It could be that this resonates so much with me because I am from rural Alaska, where literally our first industry, polluting resource extraction, has repeatedly poisoned our second industry, tourism. Our then-governor Palin, for instance, acted exactly like the doctor’s older brother, the mayor, first embracing AGW science then turning on it when it appeared too expensive and politically inexpedient. I urge everyone to read it, because the feel of the play is as important as a dry analysis.
 – Wikipedia
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