“We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
In reading the history of nations these words of Charles Mackay, a former Victorian editor, were a preface to the 1852 edition of his book, EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS
Amazingly written as far back as 1841, it revealed how easily the masses follow ‘moral epidemics’ and how ‘imitative and gregarious men’ truly are; the Crusades (1096–1291), Tulip Mania (1636–37), Witch Mania (1668-1676), the Mississippi Scheme (1717), the South-Sea Bubble (1720) - Scotsman Mackay concluded - were all delusions.
In fact Mackay’s “Extraordinary Delusions” might have become yet another weighty tome gathering dust on a shelf at the British Library, until we started turning its pages. The book is a clarion call for sanity.
And TheBigRetort can reveal this century’s current folly... is global warming.
A recent landmark ruling at the High Court in London has burst the carbon bubble. The question recently asked: is an award-winning film more shockumentary than documentary.
Yesterday Mr Justice Burton found that the "broadly accurate" film An Inconvenient Truth could be screened in schools – but only if it was accompanied by a disclaimer by the climate change denial fraternity.
The judgement followed criticism from Stewart Dimmock, a school governor in Kent. Dimmock, also a member of a political group called the New Party, accused the Government of "brainwashing" children. (He should have read Mackay’s book…)
Mr Justice Burton forensically examined claims in the documentary and identified nine significant errors. He found that the “apocalyptic vision” presented in the film was politically partisan and not an impartial analysis of the science of
climate change. In other words not true.
Far be it from us to place words of menial discord in a judge’s mouth, this is what he actually said: “It is built around the charismatic (sic) presence of the ex-Vice-President, Al Gore, whose crusade it now is to persuade the world of the dangers of climate change caused by global warming.”
Unlike his nemesis Moses who heard a voice emanating from a burning bush - (Hello) - Gore was on a mission for Good and not from God, as the most learned and honourable judge said: “It is now common ground that it is not simply a science film – although it is clear that it is based substantially on scientific research and opinion – but that it is a political film.”
Gore was manipulating the facts to suit the delusion gene. The claims that sea levels could rise by 20ft “in the near future” was dismissed as “distinctly alarmist”. Such a rise would take place “only after, and over” thousands of years. Another untruth found by a very learned man. (I have to say that just in case I end up at the High Court myself – again.)
Mr Justice Burton added: “The Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of seven metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus.” A truth uncovered by a man more accustomed to getting at it.
In addition, a claim that atolls in the Pacific had already been evacuated was supported by “no evidence” – and another untruth was found.
Two graphs showing carbon dioxide levels and temperatures over the last 650,000 years were an “exact fit”. Untrue... they overstated the case.
Mr Gore’s suggestion that the Gulf Stream would shut down was also found to be untrue.
The drying of Lake Chad – untrue. Likely to result from population increase and overgrazing, and regional climate variability.
Hurricane Katrina was also a result of manmade global warming – but again this was found to be untrue.
Polar bears drowning while searching for icy habitats melted by global warming – untrue. Surely not but yes - the only drowned polar bears were four that died following a storm.
Coral bleaching – untrue. (Okay the judge said “not proved” but in court speak that means What a pile of Codswallop.) Separating the direct impacts of climate change from other factors was difficult, his judgment concluded.
The judge said that the scientific community had been unable to find evidence that proved a direct link. However, to be fair, the claims in the film were fully backed up by the weight of science too. In particular, he agreed with the main thrust of Mr Gore’s arguments on climate change; but had a dispute in how the message was being given.
In fact whilst Gore has presented himself as the Moses of the global environment many ‘deniers’ - anyone who disagrees with the Gore lobby is a ‘climate change denier’ - have long suspected that he is using global warming for a repeat shot at the White House.
But will the London ruling dampen the Gore “carbon ability” as he runs for the presidency?
As Gore's international reputation has soared, so too has his use of jet travel.
Gore’s 20-room mansion in Nashville reportedly consumes more electricity in a month than the average American “crib” in a year.
And with a frame as big as Big Al’s you can be sure he lets rip every now and again – and - phew - what the heck, downwind, during the Primaries? (Shucks Mr President we wuz only joking.)
These contradictions by Gore have added as much to the debate as man has carbon in the atmosphere. (How much carbon dioxide is there on the planet anyway? 2%, which man is responsible for some 0.2%.)
The film has won plaudits from the environmental lobby, world leaders, and received an Oscar – the latter after Academy members made their way to Hollywood in their private jets.
Until yesterday, Gore, “Moses” who would have the world believe that this apocalypse is man-induced, stood as the head of a global brand of a pseudo-religious new-age movement, but now... who knows?
Is Gore floundering at the shores of credibility like a beached whale at New Brighton, or is the Nobel winner now presidential material?
When President Bush was asked whether he would watch An Inconvenient Truth he riposted, with the familiar wisdom of Solomon, “Doubt it".
Mackay may not have known it at the time, but could the President have let slip that he was aware of the discovery of a “folly gene” specifically dating back to that branch of a tree from which Adam took that first ignoble bite? Of course this delusional ‘first’ for knowledge was blamed on Eve, who in turn fingered the serpent, but there we go again, truth or folly?
It’s a rotten apple indeed that falls from the tree and feeds the madness of the crowds and our foibles and makes enemies of us all, I hear Justice Mackay say.
If the madness of the crowd is anything to go by one thing remains certain... mankind looks likely to repeat its errors time and time again, it’s encoded into our DNA.