Ocasio-Cortez: Only the Latest in a Long Line of 'You're Gonna Die' Con Men

"There is a sucker born every minute."  Who among us cannot recall being conned?

In the 1970 tear-jerker Love Story, the dying Ali MacGraw delivers this gem: "Love means not having to say you're sorry."  With this declaration by Erich Segal, the author of the best-selling novel, millions were supplied the litmus test for the quality of their relationships: if you are expecting me to apologize for mistreating you, you obviously don't know what love is.  We blush.

The typical structure of a confidence game has five elements: the perpetrator, the shill, the mark, the offer, and the response.  The shill, secretly collaborating with the perp, reassures the mark by appearing objective and kindred to the mark.  The mark is the naïve, unsuspecting victim who will suffer some loss.  The offer is a perceived positive: receiving something desirable or avoiding something undesirable.  The response is what the mark does to receive the offer.  No one wants to be the mark, though I daresay all of us have looked back with regret: I can't believe I fell for that (the offer)!

Examples abound.  Let's recall a few that are relevant.

In the 18th century, Thomas Malthus wrote that exponential population growth would exceed food production and drive humanity to, best-case scenario, endemic poverty.  He persuaded and influenced many intellectuals, not the least of whom was Charles Darwin, who incorporated Malthusian theory in his theory of evolution.

In the 20th century, Paul Ehrlich, a disciple of Malthus, picked up the baton, insisting that zero population growth was the only solution to stave off massive (hundreds of millions) starvation.  Ehrlich's best-selling The Population Bomb (essentially an ecological handbook) sold over two million copies within a few years of publication.  The first sentence of the book is "The battle to feed all of humanity is over."

Al Gore, erstwhile presidential candidate, has devoted his post-political life to saving the planet from anthropogenic activity.  His award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, released in 2006, predicted irreversible global warming and a complete absence of Arctic ice during the summer — both to occur within ten years.

Malthus, Ehrlich, and Gore were (and are) taken seriously by highly respected and extremely influential people.  Their prophecies were not gentle, advisory alerts; they were apocalyptic, intentionally inciting global fear.

Malthus offered a solution to catastrophic starvation: reduce the population by delaying marriage, thereby producing fewer offspring — the math indicated no more than two children.  Two hundred years and a sevenfold increase in population later, the main problem with insufficient food is distribution.  Note: Malthus married at age 38, and the happy couple had three children.

Ehrlich's solution was to hunker down and hope the terror he foretold would shock the world into a thinning of the herd — zero population growth through birth control and sterilization.  Fifty years and a twofold increase in population later, the main problem with insufficient food is distribution.  Speaking of shills, Ehrlich's book was broadly ignored until he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, after which it became a bestseller.  He returned to the show numerous times (Smithsonian).  Note: Ehrlich had a vasectomy...after he had a child.

Gore insisted that the only solution to catastrophic global warming is a massive reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  Thirteen years and a 30% increase in annual global CO2 emissions (The International Energy Agency) later, the Arctic has yet to be ice-free.  Note: Al Gore's carbon footprint is considerable, with estimates ranging between ten and thirty times that of the average American.

All of this brings us to the latest forecast of doom: "The world is gonna end in twelve years if we don't address climate change[.]"  So spoke Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez several weeks ago.  Much ink has been spilled over Ocasio-Cortez's subsequent infantile, illiterate, and false assertions.  There is little need to pile on.  But the shills are falling over one another to endorse the "Green New Deal" — the "massive" blueprint for avoiding cataclysm.  There is no point in calculating whether Ocasio-Cortez's two million-plus Twitter followers have the aggregate I.Q. of a Comedy Central audience — they and innumerable others are marks, and many of them can vote.  They are certainly more vulnerable to frightening hyperbole than past generations who fell under the spell of Malthus, Ehrlich, and Gore.  Indeed there are good arguments to suggest that the current crop of adherents are even more resistant to rational discourse.

Here's a thought experiment.  Standing in front of the Ocasio-Cortez hordes, you explain: supposing for a moment that her dreams have some connection with reality, if Ocasio-Cortez could impose them on America and make them true this very second, it would not add one day to the twelve-year life expectancy she gives the planet — because she cannot impose them on the rest of the world.  Persuasive?

How many departed from a viewing of Inconvenient Truth unable to dry their eyes from torrential tears shed for those massive, magnificent, majestic, soon to be extinct polar bears?  If your heart was not breaking for that cuddly beast unable to save itself because of too thin ice, well...you need to check for a pulse.  Such gripping headlines cost innumerable sleepless nights among those sensitive enough to fully grasp the devastating reality: these are polar bears, for heaven's sake, and humanity, out of stupidity and selfishness, is annihilating every last one of them.

This time, there is so much more at stake — the clock is ticking, and the future of all life, not just bears, on Planet Earth hangs in the balance.

But let's be fair: the prediction business is devilishly difficult...especially when it pertains to the future.  Defenders argue that hyperbole is helpful to starting a conversation, like a slap in the face to get the attention of the person seemingly unaware of the fire in the building.  Paul Ehrlich now says his real intent was to make population control an acceptable topic to debate.  Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the challenge of climate change to the attention of the world.  Extreme predictions are tactical and justifiable; accusations of hypocrisy are dismissed: pay attention to what they say, not what they do.  But such hype and hypocrisy make many rightly suspicious of a different agenda that has little to do with saving the planet.

When the fanatical façade is stripped away, it's the same old game: if you want to live, surrender control of your life.  The con is on...again.

Image: Corey Torpie via Wikimedia Commons.

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