This is the eleventh in a series of posts on presentations given at Beyond Belief 3: Candles in the Dark"
You can find a list of all Atheist Ethicist blog postings covering Beyond Belief 3 at the Introduction post
And I would like to encourage you to give a contribution to the Science Network, who makes these presentations available for free.
My first prediction of 2009. President Elect Barak ObamJonata is going to announce a project, similar to the Apollo project of the 1960s, to dramatically alter the energy landscape in America and the world. It will be a multi-hundred-billion dollar project to switch the country from fossil fuels to other forms of energy – solar, wind, ethanol.
The purpose of this project will be:
(1) To free the United States from dependence on foreign oil – most of which we get from hostile countries. It will be Obama’s way of dealing with a number of foreign threats, from Muslim extremists to Chavez in Venezuela.
(2) To deal with the problem of global warming. The project will save future generations trillions of dollars in costs that would result from climate changes that would result if we did not do this – in particular, with sea-level change and the migration of tropical diseases into regions that are currently not tropical.
(3) To stimulate the economy. The project will provide jobs in the short term, while giving America a technological advantage that will provide economic benefits far into the future.
The prospect of an energy war came up at the Beyond Belief conference, in the panel discussion at the end of three presentations on politics, This Is Your Brain on Politics. In fact, its an idea that has been circulated since 9/11 – as the option that Bush should have spent $1 trillion on instead of spending the money on invading Iraq. It is an option that would not have cost over 4,000 American killed and 30,000 injured, would not have killed and maimed perhaps over 1,000,000 Iraqi citizens, and would not have left America economically vulnerable to our chief rivals in the Middle East and China.
Mooney, as well as other attendees at the conference, advocated support for the Energy Project because of its relationship to science and technology. Like the Apollo project, this energy project is one in which scientists and engineers are going to make the largest contribution.
Promoting the energy project goes hand-in-hand with promoting math and science education. A national project in which scientists are the front-line soldiers could, potentially, promote the prestige of science and scientists much the way that Apollo did in the 1960s.
That is the dream.
Against this, Jonathan Haidt had a dire warning. Haydt suggested that such a project needs a personified enemy in order to be effective. America has had its "war on poverty" and its "war on drugs" – neither of which accomplished nearly as much as its advocates wanted them to accomplish. The nation ultimately failed to rally around these causes. They did not seem to care.
The Manhattan Project and the Apollo Project, on the other hand, both succeeded because America faced an external threat in the form of persons with which it was at war. The Manhattan Project took place in the context of a war against Germany and Japan. The Apollo Project was, in effect, a proxy war against the Soviet Union. Instead of seeing who can kill enemy soldiers and destroy enemy cities the fastest, the combatants signed on to a proxy war where the winner would be the one who sent a man to the moon and brought him safely back to Earth.
The war on drugs was, in a sense, a war against persons. It was a war against the drug cartels who were running the business of crating drugs and shipping them to the United States. However, at the root, it was not a war against people. The drug cartels made their money feeding a demand, and that demand came from America itself.
The war on drugs was, in effect, a civil war, with Americans contributing billions of dollars to people on both sides. Where did these cartels get their money? They were financed by people in the United States that bought their drugs.
The war on poverty had no personal enemy, and it went nowhere.
The energy war may well be marketed more like the war on drugs. The role of the drug cartels will be played by violent Islamic extremists and he foreign governments and regions they control. However, also like the war on drugs, Americans would be funding both sides in this war. The enemy will be getting its money to counter America’s moves from Americans buying gasoline at the pump.
In fact, there are multi-billion-dollar American companies who profit from being on the "other side" of such a war. Exxon-Mobile has already proved its lack of moral conscience in putting whole American cities at risk of destruction for the sake of securing more profits for itself.
People who care so little about the blood that stains the dollars they put in their pocket are not likely to show much patriotism when it comes to waging the energy war. (Obama will be smart to design his energy war package in such a way that these companies are bought off somehow – given that they are lead by people who care more about money than morality.
It is a shame, if it is true, that one cannot rally the people to a cause unless it is a cause that involves doing harm to some enemy – some people capable of being killed and tortured. However, the fact that it would be a shame if something were true does not imply that it is not true.
This is where morality comes in. Morality is concerned with molding our desires, to whatever degree that they can be molded, from those that it is a shame that we have, to those we have reason to have. So, perhaps it is time to put some effort into casting shame on those who cannot get behind a plan unless it involves declaring war on some other group of people. Perhaps it is time to start praising the ability to become enthusiastic about a plan whose purpose is to help everybody, as opposed to simply helping "my clan".