I’m still struggling to compartmentalize the Peter Gleick/Heartland Institute dust-up and thought it might be interesting to start a conversation here so that we might help each other see this issue from differing perspectives. With that, I’ve seen numerous condemnations (Notably Marc Gunther, Megan Mcardle and Andrew Revkin) of Peter Gleick’s actions, and a handful of strong rebuttals (Michael Tobis and Richard Littlemore). What I’ve yet to see is someone who hasn’t flung themselves to either pole on this issue. I see this as a complicated matter which pulls the knee-jerk strings of right or wrong depending on the perceiver’s biases, but I’m not sure either is right. This feels like a case of System 1 thinking getting the better of System 2 — an idea put forth by behavioral psychologist, Daniel Kahnemann. Here’s a quick synopsis:
System 1 is generally automatic, affective and heuristic-based, which means that it relies on mental “shortcuts.” It quickly proposes intuitive answers to problems as they arise. System 2, which corresponds closely with controlled processes, is slow, effortful, conscious, rule-based and also can be employed to monitor the quality of the answer provided by System 1. If it’s convinced that our intuition is wrong, then it’s capable of correcting or overriding the automatic judgments.
If that’s the case, then maybe some will gravitate back to the center of this spectrum, although it might be difficult to retrench some of the more damning comments.
Another facet of this issue is the question of consequentialist ethics known commonly as “The ends justify the means” thinking. This perspective is typically taught as being an inappropriate was to justify actions, but does that always hold true? If one of Hitler’s men had succeeded in assassinating him, would that not have averted untold suffering? Would that have been unethical to break ranks and do so? And what about the case of Tim DeChristopher, the climate activist who is spending two years in prison for his role in a fossil fuel land-lease auction? Tim is incarcerated for impersonating a bidder at the auction where the attention he brought helped invalidate some illegal leases. Tim has largely been lauded for his bravery, leadership and selflessness. I’ve purchased and sent books to Tim, so don’t think I’m taking a position against what he’s done. Rather, I bring up the case to juxtapose it against that of Peter Gleick. If you support one and vilify the other, can you share why? I may be missing something here, but I’m not yet seeing much daylight between their actions. So, I’m asking, what do you think?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.