I like books that go to the root of things. Charles Mann has written one such. He is the author of 1491 and 1493, which explored, respectively, the world of the Americas immediately before the European discovery of America by Columbus, and the world after it. We continue to live with the consequences of that discovery.
Mann is not afraid to tackle large subjects. In his latest, the Wizard and the Prophet, he writes of the contest of views between the original ecologist and catastrophist, William Vogt, and the original optimist-scientist improver, Norman Borlaug. The latter man was the author of the Green Revolution. The former is the proponent of the view that we must all live within the limits imposed by Gaia, and that we are abusing the planet’s carrying capacity.
Canada cannot get a pipeline built, in part because our Liberal government inclines more to the Vogt position than the Borlaug position. Society is in turmoil because of fears of catastrophic global warming, overpopulation, and ocean acidification because of the views propounded by William Vogt and his catastrophist successors.
Charles Mann has done us a great service by laying out the debate and the values behind the debate about the good life that each man, Vogt and Borlaug, embodied.
The Wizard and the Prophet resembles another great book, Arthur Hermans’s The Cave and the Light, which treats of the continuing unresolved and unresolvable conflict between the approaches to reality expounded by Plato and Aristotle. The two books are lively, high level, and important, and to read them is to gain an education in something of supreme importance in the struggle of ideas.
Unfortunately we live in an era when people seek to win arguments by preventing argument from happening. “We shouldn’t even be discussing this” is the motif of the mindless hordes of the PC brainwashed. “It is settled science”.
With respect, no, it is not settled and cannot ever be settled, because the issue is not the science, it is a choice between experiment, innovation, risk and growth, on the one hand, and conservatism, control, stagnation, and the management of greater poverty, on the other.
Yes I am a rational optimist. I chose to get out of the Club of Rome catastrophism in 1976, while a huge swath of the intelligentsia seem to be still stuck there.
And hence we cannot get pipelines built. Ideas have consequences.