Friday, September 17, 2010

Ecological Panic, Revisited (1984 Edition)

It is a curious fact about human nature that many people actually seem to want to believe in an approaching catastrophe.

In the Dark and Middle Ages—indeed right up to the Seventeenth Century—religious seers would always collect a substantial following if they predicted the end of the world, especially if they gave a specific date for it. When the date came and went, and nothing happened, human credulity did not disappear. It re-emerged promptly when the next persuasive prophet mounted his soapbox.

The ecological panic of our times is driven by exactly the same emotional needs. Indeed it is yet another example of how, during the Twentieth Century, the declining religious impulse has been replaced by secular substitutes, which are often far more irrational and destructive. The religious impulse—with all the excesses of zealotry and intolerance it can produce—remains powerful, but now expresses itself in secular substitutes.

Paul Johnson, “The Perils Of Risk Avoidance” (1984)

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