Gregg Easterbrook is a complete dope. Not that you didn’t know that, but it’s always good to start a post with a universally agreed upon statement. If he was any more consistent, you could safely do the opposite of whatever he tells you. But if there’s one thing about contrarians, it’s that they refuse to be consistent too. That’s what makes them such assheads.
And I’m thinking about this after having read Media Matters’ response to a recent critical review Easterbrook wrote of Gore’s new movie. Holy goddamn that was a takedown. Not because Media Matters was at all rough with the poor sap; but just because Greggy boy was so damn embarrassingly wrong. I refuse to read his original column, but I have no doubts that Gregg did exactly what the MM folks say he did.
Honestly, can anyone really believe that Gore didn’t have global warming expert types helping him with his movie? As if Gore just made this up himself and did all the research? As if Gore wasn’t a little worried about serious criticism if he really just made shit up? How stupid does Easterbrook think Gore is? Stupider than Easterbrook, obviously; and that’s saying a lot.
Contrary is as Contrary Does
The only issue I disagree with Media Matters is regarding their criticism of Gregg’s own abysmal record on Global Warming. Sure, he was wrong, and deceitfully so at that. But that was just his contrarianism talking. He refers to it as being “anti-alarmism”; but contrarians always do. They’re all about opposing things entirely because something is too popular. The guys who love a relatively unknown band until they become too famous; and then brag about how they used to be fans when it mattered. Guys who criticize the Beatles and Led Zeppelin for being “over-rated”; as if that’s a fault with the bands or their music. And so Global Warming is wrong; not because of the facts, but because so many people were insisting otherwise.
And that’s the role they serve; as ballast to the majority. But the real problem isn’t that they exist, but only that they don’t understand the true motives for their opposition. They honestly believe that there is always a good justification for them taking contrary positions to the majority. And so they need to justify opinions, even if they’re wrong. And they have no real qualms about misrepresenting the truth, because they know that they must be right. Why else would they believe so strongly in something unless there was a good reason? Devil’s advocates turned Devil.
But the thing is, contrarians aren’t always wrong and shouldn’t necessarily be dismissed. Even when they’re wrong, they can help us fine-tune our own arguments. That’s their role in life; to make sure we don’t go overboard in any one direction. And the stronger the flow seems, the stronger they’ll swim against it. And that can be a good thing. I myself used to be a contrarian, and am still awesome at finding a rationalization for just about anything. But these people believe that, because they found a rationalization, that it must be right. Because they found a working argument, there can be no other argument. And that’s their mistake. They pick their outcome first, and then look for the rationalization afterwards. But anything can be rationalized.
And that’s why they can’t be trusted and why we shouldn’t expect any kind of consistency or coherence in their arguments. Because there is no overriding system or ideology that they’re pushing. There is only knee-jerk reflexivism. You say black, they say white. It really is that simple. But that doesn’t mean you can deduce anything from their insistence on white. It’s just reflex. And while reflexes can be a very good thing, they can’t necessarily be trusted to do the right thing. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and the only thing consistent about them is that they’re consistently contrarian.
Not necessarily against the majority, per se. But against some group that they think has gone too far. If there’s a big push for steak, they’ll move en masse to sushi. If there’s a big push for sushi, they’ll move en masse to alligator or rattlesnake. Or anything else that the main group says is gross. They just get their jollies by doing the unexpected; even if it’s entirely expected and stupid. And they will insist to their dying day that this isn’t contrarianism. They will continue to believe that their rationalizations are the true motive, and that their “anti-alarmism” is a sign of intelligence.
And to be fair to Easterbrook, I’ve always suspected that his true idiocy isn’t that he comes up with such dumb arguments; but rather that he frequently talks to a pseudo-clever individual who completely runs circles around Gregg’s sadsack excuse for a brain. Because that’s what his columns always sound like; like he’s just repeating what other people have told him. People who he has learned to trust the hard way. People who have convinced Gregg that they’re smarter than he. And they’re obviously right.
And whoever this evil person is; they’ve so thoroughly whipped Easterbrook that he doesn’t even question what he’s told. If he’s told that a Big Gas lobbyist working for Bush would be limited in his anti-environmental actions by his Big Polluter Lobbyist boss? Well then Gore’s a wacko for saying otherwise; and no proof is necessary.
And if he’s told that there are reports which contradict Gore’s claims; then he doesn’t even need to read the reports to say otherwise. He knows it’s true. Sure, it’s entirely unlikely that Gore would ruin his reputation by including obvious falsehoods in his movie. No matter. Easterbrook has been told that Gore’s movie is deceitful, so it was just a matter of finding the deceit; no matter how many facts he had to bend. And besides, to Easterbrook, Gore’s reputation is already ruined and is probably hurting the Global Warming crusade by using it for his own purposes.
And so it is with all contrarians. Maybe they’re right. Maybe not. They’ll never know. They’re not dumb, but they’re not nearly as clever as they like to believe they are. Because to them, the very fact that they’ve thought of an argument that others have missed is evidence that they’re smarter than everyone else. Even if it’s entirely dumb or fact-free. Their contrarianism has convinced them that they’re smarter than us, and is the very thing that keeps them from becoming as smart as they pretend to be.
But that’s always the way with people: The thing that they rely on most is the very thing holding them back from becoming the person they want to be. And for these people, contrarianism is a crutch used to support their smartguy image. And because they’ve become so accustomed to relying on contrarianism to sway their opinions; they’ll never learn to think on their own. They can only rationalize opinions which are outside their ability to choose.