I like Alexander Cockburn; I make a daily visit to CounterPunch, and if the top article is one of his I always pay extra attention. His writing is a wonderful combination of informed and insightful, and he's possessed of a wit that ranges from deft to brutal depending on his mood--all of which makes him well worth reading.
But there are also a few reasons that I take him with a boulder-sized grain of salt, and he's offered two perfect examples in the past week. First, his opinion about how best to deal with situations like the Virginia Tech shootings:
A better idea would be for appropriately screened teachers and maybe student monitors to carry weapons. A quarter of a century ago students doing military ROTC training regularly carried rifles around campus. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently recalled regularly traveling on the New York subway system as a student with his rife. Perhaps there should be guns in wall cases, behind glass, at strategic points around campuses, like those fire axes, usually with menacing signs about improper use.
Is his tongue in his cheek? Maybe in the last sentence, but not throughout the article--and I recently heard him expounding on similar themes, and have in the past as well. He's dead serious here, folks.
Then this weekend he topped it with this offering on global warming:
In a couple of hundred years, historians will be comparing the frenzies over our supposed human contribution to global warming to the tumults at the latter end of the tenth century as the Christian millennium approached. [...]
There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely entirely on unverified, crudely oversimplified computer models to finger mankind's sinful contribution.
If you read the rest you'll see that it only gets better. Throughout the article he excoriates the "Greenhousers" (his caps--and you know you're in serious sarcasm territory when you start seeing belittling nicknames being tossed about) for their acceptance of the scientific consensus regarding global warming, which he says they consider to be "as infallible as Papal dogma on matters of faith or doctrine." And why is there so much focus on global warming these days? On C-SPAN recently he said it was in part an attempt by the nuclear industry to push their preferred source of energy, and in this article he's harping on the emerging market in carbon credits. Nobody denies that opportunists are seizing on global warming (as they'll seize on any issue), but Cockburn seems to want us to treat the fleas as reasons to kick the dog.
Cockburn is an iconoclast in the best sense of the word--an iconoclasm that extends into the world of progressive politics with which he's typically associated. But I've often felt that like many iconoclasts he sometimes revels in the role simply for the enjoyment of being able to cast aspersions on the misguided and benighted majority on the other side of the issue (no matter who they might be). In other words, I think he's sometimes contrary just for the sake of being contrary. Now, I'm by no means saying that I think he doesn't genuinely believe what he's writing here; I just often get the sense that there's a strong temptation for Cockburn to take the contrary position just because it's there, dammit. And the fact that he has such a vivisectional wit and clearly enjoys wielding it makes it all the more alluring--and so whenever I see him writing with that voice (as he certainly is in this latter article) my doubts kick in even more strongly.
One last thought: let's say Cockburn's got it right and anthropogenic global warming is nonexistent, and yet through some miracle, mobilized populations force their governments to take real action to address this imaginary menace. What might we end up with? Fewer cars on the road driving fewer miles, cleaner emissions from the ones that are still there, and a huge increase in the percentage of hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles; a much larger role for clean energy sources like solar and wind; more and cheaper public transportation options; cleaner factories; fewer planes in the air; more trees and forests; a central role for environmental concerns in planning at all levels (whether it's voluntary, opportunistic, or forced); a greater environmental consciousness in the minds of billions of people in every aspect of their daily lives; and so on, and so on, and so on. Sounds awful, doesn't it?
Yes, I know this is overly rosy. No, I don't expect all of it to come about even in the best scenario. But really, taken on balance, do you think a genuine and concerted global response to global warming is more likely to make the world better or worse? And when you compare that with the staggering cost of doing nothing if the vast majority of climate scientists are right--just ask those crazy lefties at the Pentagon if you want to hear some of the bleakest possibilities--I don't see that there's a reasonable argument against treating global warming as a genuine danger. Iconoclasm like Cockburn's in this case could come at a high price to us all.