This article originally appeared in the National Post.
By Brian Lee Crowley, September 21, 2022
In the coming new world disorder, Saint Paul’s will be the key insight: in his biblical Epistle to the Corinthians, he famously wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
One of the defining features of the postwar period was its almost unprecedented order and stability. That, in turn, created the comforting but childish illusion that the world was simply made this way, that we could insouciantly nibble away at the institutions and behaviours that underpinned this order and suffer no consequences other than to liberate ourselves from irksome constraints.
Universities could be transformed from places where minds are toughened and sharpened through exposure to challenging ideas, into child-care centres where no one must ever be made uncomfortable by being exposed to an idea that one disagrees with.
Family in general, and marriage in particular — which, since time immemorial have been celebrated as the indispensable means of moderating the dangers of sexual competition, civilizing children, caring for the aged and passing on both culture and property across the generations — could be allowed to reach such a degraded state that we celebrate people breaking up their marriages because they feel “unfulfilled.”
In the uncritical pursuit of prosperity, we seek to deepen our ties with China, which then openly and unapologetically uses our openness as a weapon against us, laundering money through our institutions, looting our intellectual property, threatening our access to critical minerals and kidnapping our citizens to press us to abandon the rule of law.
To combat climate change, we simply unilaterally declared that global energy use would be radically reduced, despite the fact that billions of people depend on cheap and abundant energy, which renewables are far from being able to provide. We thus plunged countries like Germany into crisis and gave Russia the whip hand in its invasion of Ukraine and its goal of disrupting the unity of liberal democracies.
The coming world disorder is the revenge of the second law of thermodynamics, which essentially says that the default state of the world is disorder, not order. In other words, order must be endlessly rebuilt by human will out of the raw material of a hostile world that’s tirelessly working to undo our efforts.
If you don’t maintain the institutions and behaviours that create order and stability because those institutions and behaviours are constraining, you don’t simply remove the constraints while maintaining the previous order — you get different and far more painful constraints without the blessings of order.
In the coming world disorder, the key distinction will be between the childish people who think the world must yield to their desires, however vacuous they may be, and those who see the world as it really is and therefore respond in ways that confer success.
In recent years, childishness has been the dominant fashion in Canada. We obsess about marginal issues that make us feel good, while nasty regimes around the world laugh at our moral pretentiousness and undermine the institutions we have so painstakingly created.
Children, as child psychologist Mary O’Kane reminds us, have an innate tendency to engage in magical thinking. They often believe that if they wish hard enough for something to happen, it will. They find it difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and reality and will accept totally improbable explanations for events.
But when Saint Paul calls on us to put away childish things, he is inviting us to see the world as it really is, not as we wish it was. Life is hard. It is an illusion to think it can, or even should, be care-free, easy, effortless and painless, and that unpleasant things can simply be wished away.
We all have to face some harsh, yet simple, truths. Nature is unaffected by our illusions. The laws of physics, the inevitability of biology and the march of time are indifferent to our purposes. Death comes soon or late. Events happen that are beyond our control. When we engage in magical thinking and believe what we want to be true, rather than what actually is true, we become not just child-like, but childish.
Take one practical example of the magical thinking that has Canada in its grip: the relationship between climate change and the global food supply. Today, we produce more food than is needed to feed the world’s population. Although many experts predict that humanity’s capacity to feed ourselves will continue to outstrip population growth, this will take effort and cannot be taken for granted.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that, in spite of the potential negative consequences of climate change, we can expect crop yields to rise 10 to 30 per cent above 2012 levels by 2050, thanks to technological progress. Crucially, rates of future yield growth depend far more on whether poor nations get access to tractors, irrigation and fertilizer.
But to combat climate change, our federal government intends to reduce the production of fertilizer and obstruct economic growth powered by Canadian energy resources. These things will guarantee less prosperity, ensuring, among other things, that there will be fewer of the tractors and less of the irrigation and fertilizer that poor nations need to feed our growing global population.
These policies are based on a crude and childish conception of how to combat climate change. Humanity’s experience has consistently been that the best way to solve major problems is to maximize growth and use part of the wealth that’s created to invest in discovering the new technologies that could help solve the problem, in this case climate change.
This approach has never yet let us down, and in fact is precisely the reason why, despite staggering population growth, we continue to be able to feed ourselves. A North American farmer who in 1940 could feed his own family and 18 other people can now feed his family and about 160 others thanks to a thousand incremental improvements in technology.
This approach won’t satisfy those who want instant results. Yet as any gardener knows, no matter how badly you want the flowers, you cannot make them grow faster by pulling on them.
If the government’s childish approach to climate change had been applied to feeding the world’s burgeoning population, the almost certain result would have been draconian authoritarian birth controls. That might have reduced food demand, but it would have done so at the price of a lower standard of living, less technological innovation and fewer of those fertile human minds who are humanity’s greatest asset. The fact that we can feed billions of people is not a gift of nature, but a triumph of human ingenuity.
There is no reason to think that ingenuity, given enough resources and the right incentives, will be defeated by climate change, any more than it was defeated by population growth. Childishly obstructing wealth creation and fertilizer production, though, will make it both harder to control climate change and to feed the world.
It’s time for Canada to grow up, because, while we may not be interested in disorder, disorder is interested in us.
Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. His latest book is “Gardeners vs Designers: Understanding the Great Fault Line in Canadian Politics.”