by David Cross (Blueprint Institute CEO)
One of the great ironies of politics in 2023 is the extent to which many of the loudest ‘progressive’ voices have become the most regressive when it comes to finding forward thinking solutions to the great challenges of our time.
No longer focused on offering nuanced thought leadership, there are now ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers to problems progressives have laid moral claim to. Step outside the accepted orthodoxies, and you are likely to be labelled a heretic.
Where once those of a progressive bent prided themselves on using evidence and the scientific method to change minds in public forums, they now silence intellectual debate by labelling those they disagree with as offensive and uniformed.
They have become new-age anti-intellectuals – driven not by a desire for progress, but by an Orwellian urge to force ideological homogeneity upon people who don’t think exactly as they do.
This new anti-intellectualism is shrouded in a veneer of reasonableness. Less abrasive than it’s Trumpian counterpart on the right, it focusses on issues that genuinely need the attention of policy makers such as the climate crisis, public health and education.
But contrary to their enlightenment roots, progressive anti-intellectuals now approach these issues from within a self-congratulatory echo chamber. They have embraced a post-truth world defined by a social media driven breakdown of the longstanding division between experts and activists – a world in which evidence that contradicts a preferred policy position or hypothesis must be discarded lest it strengthen the argument of an ideological ‘enemy’.
Take the debate around decarbonisation as a concrete example. We can all agree that anthropogenic causes of climate change are real and present existential risks to future generations. But present modelling and data that suggests the cheapest way to decarbonise an energy grid involves supplementing renewables with small amounts of nuclear energy from the 2040s onward, as Blueprint has recently done, and watch new-age progressives spit the dummy.
The same logic applies when coldly analysing state responses to the Covid pandemic – a critical undertaking given the toothless Commonwealth inquiry. Point out that right from the start the overwhelming virological evidence provided by experts to government was that schools were safe, that schools should have been reopened far sooner than they were, and that forcing children to learn remotely for long periods has caused lasting harm to the most socio-economically
disadvantaged, and you will be met with unhinged vitriol from the Twitter-centric “I stand with Dan” movement, who seem to have a fetish for prolonged lockdowns and pine for the work-from-home glory days of 2020.
Why has the progressive movement so abandoned its Kantian roots? Social media, the increasingly combative nature of politics, and the zeitgeist shift forced by right wing populists are all partly to blame. But the driving reason is that too many at the forefront of progressive causes don’t actually want to find solutions to the problems they proclaim to care about. They have formed a professional activist class who seek to manufacture conflict to justify their existence (and indeed their jobs). Solve one problem they care about and they will move the goalposts, so long as they can keep sticking it to the enemy.
Do we honestly think that the more hard-nosed climate advocacy organisations will down tools and find jobs elsewhere when we reach net-zero? Certainly not if nuclear is part of the mix!
David Cross is the CEO at Blueprint Institute — an independent public policy research institute. Email David at [email protected]
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