Now that my piece on Exogenous Moral Orientation has accumulated many views and comments, I want to respond in a general way to the objections raised by my readership.
When you write an essay putting forth a Broad Theory of How Things Are, nobody will read it unless it has a lede that speaks to contemporary interests and a concrete focus on current events. That’s the only reason I opened with Bill Gates and his rumoured ambition to depopulate the earth. I ought to have anticipated that this would prove as much a distraction as an enticement. In answer to the many emails and comments taking issue with my statements here, I would observe that theories of Gates and the vaccines must be brought into alignment with several basic facts: Vaccination rates across Africa and the third world are truly dismal, Gates himself has repeatedly criticised the mRNA vaccines for their inability to stop transmission, and the earth’s population has continued to increase since the pandemic began, undaunted by all public health policies. 1 If the plan is indeed depopulation via the mass administration of shitty pharmaceuticals, we can take some solace in the boundless idiocy of our shadowy overlords.
Beyond those specifics, it is incredibly important to realise that the political order of the West is marked by affinities and proclivities; it tends in specific directions. In an attempt to make sense of pandemic policy, many try to find the single point of manipulation – the PCR test fraud, the false study that sabotaged hydroxychloroquine, or the key vaccinator responsible for steering early funding to BioNTech. You must widen your view to see that these are single plots in a much broader nexus of policies and scheming that all strive in the same direction, while lacking any single point of control or direction.
What is Bill Gates trying to do? Many will doubt that he really wishes “ to create a world where every person has the opportunity to live a healthy, productive life ,” but the inverse image of the man as an aspiring global depopulator will not convince very many people beyond our circles either. Like other philanthropists, Gates has very mundane and self-interested aims:
By attaching his name to initiatives that are already highly regarded – that the cultural system already prefers – he hopes to achieve broader relevance and transform his personal wealth into a form of cultural and political influence. This doesn’t mean that Gates isn’t bad or that he shouldn’t be stopped. It just means that he is a follower more than he is a leader, and that we shouldn’t expect this sad, weak, bloated man to explain very much.
I was pleased to see that some left-leaning readers of the plague chronicle happily identified with the exogenous moral orientation, more or less as I described it. They objected, however, that they didn’t recognise their own political preferences in the decisions of our elite at all.
It’s an old and extremely interesting political illusion, that for those on the left, something akin to a “corporate right” appears to be steering the world, while those on the right see the establishment as primarily leftward tending. Aware of this strange fact, both sides will often use words like “neoliberal” to characterise elite political orientation as something separate from or beyond the conventional political spectrum. The problem is that leftism is not well understood. It is actually a kind of ideological technology, optimised to displace a prior ruling aristocracy and seize control of institutions via alliances of opportunity with disadvantaged social groups. Appeals to economic justice and redistributive policies are simply a means of forming these alliances, which are then used to empower a new managerial elite. This doesn’t mean that many leftists aren’t totally sincere and committed to their vision of equality, but as in all political movements, it is the opportunists and the cynics who run the show. These kinds of people have no interest in any egalitarian utopia, were that even possible, and this gives rise to our optical illusion: From the left, the new elite, which consolidates power for its own purposes, seems to have an aura of “the right” about it, while those on the right are most sensitive to the leftist ideological tactics that brought this new elite to power.
But, that’s just leftism as an ideology. The EMO is a moral instinct prior to ideology, and it can fit any number of different ideological systems. The EMO operates as a taste or a preference, which returns specific answers to specific policy questions. These answers change easily depending upon the scope and the framing of a given problem, leading to a wealth of inconsistencies. If the choice is between the native population of a Western country and third-world immigrants, the EMO will demand that the third-worlders be favoured. If the choice is between reliable power generation in the third world and the environment, the EMO will demand that the environment be favoured. What is apparently very difficult to squeeze past the EMO, are things which look like pragmatic compromises, such as endeavouring to improve third-world conditions via conventional power plants. This path, even though it is the most promising both for the environment and for real people in the world, fails to satisfy the operative moral demands and is eschewed. 2 Contradictions like these are clues, which reveal that we’re dealing here not with any coherent agenda, but rather with moral instincts and unexamined preferences.
Various commenters insist on the reality, the urgency and even the existential crisis posed by climate change. In fact, I formulated these thoughts while reading climate change literature, and I think nothing reveals the reality of the EMO so clearly as this subject. Even if, for the sake of argument, we posit that all of the climate models are correct and that the earth is steadily warming as a result of human CO2 emissions, we still lack a good explanation for Western climate policies, which are only secondarily interested in reducing emissions, and which deploy CO2 primarily as a pretence to circumscribe human impact on the environment. German emissions would be substantially lower, had we invested the billions we put into wind and solar into nuclear power generation instead. In that case, we would have the capacity to scale heat pumps and electric vehicles without threatening to break the grid, confining emissions still further. Instead, Green policies effectively demand an indefinite, continued reliance on natural gas and coal, which is acceptable, because the danger of nuclear power in their minds is not so much the overhyped threat of another Chernobyl, as it is the very real prospect of enabling further civilisational and industrial expansion at the expense of “nature,” which the EMO cannot countenance.
Another clue that something is not quite right with climate change, is that, as an area of cultural and political anxiety, it exists only in the EMO thought-world. This is in contrast to other issues, which prompt varying responses in those with endogenous and exogenous moral inclinations. Consider the war in Ukraine. Those with a pronounced endogenous moral orientation will be sceptical of the conflict and demand that military resources be conserved for national defence. Those with a pronounced exogenous moral orientation will be more likely to appeal to abstract universals like democracy and demand empathy with out-group Ukrainians. 3 We would expect climate change, as an objective problem, to provoke endogenously oriented solutions, and we would expect these to be very extreme, given the alleged immediacy and gravity of the threat. If we are indeed on the brink of triggering a climate “tipping point” (the concept is far more controversial even within the halls of Science than you have been led to believe), limpwristed Paris Agreements would be the least of it. Major powers would be imposing industrial limits on their rivals via sanctions and threats, to reserve the remaining CO2 capacity of the atmosphere for themselves. But, we see nothing like this at all, which suggests that the cluster of prognostications, beliefs and prescriptions around climate change are themselves the exogenously oriented moral response to a totally separate issue, which I will leave my readers to ponder. 4
Finally, because many objected that I overestimate Gates’s sincerity, I’d like to emphasise that I’m not making any claims about the subjective, inner life of anybody. I’m merely trying to articulate the moral system that explains the actions and professed beliefs of philanthropists, policymakers and many ordinary people in the West. By encouraging elites to ally themselves with immigrants or other more endogenously oriented outsiders against their native populations, the EMO definitely has malicious effects. The depressing truth is that people will be inclined to buy into moral systems which benefit them in other ways, and it is very hard to know where sincerity ends and cynicism begins, or to what degree sincerity can ever be an excuse.
The growth rate – which has been in long-term decline – decreased by a barely-perceptible 0.1% since 2020 . 1
Third-worlders are typically favoured only when this redounds to the disadvantage of westerners; they are generally disfavoured on environmental and human-impact questions. Pragmatic environmentalists who subscribe to the theory of demographic transition ought to support any means of improving third-world conditions, as even relatively modest environmental impacts here promise to lower the birth rate. Instead, they favour hugely increasing the environmental impact of millions of third-worlders via mass immigration to the developed West, while they perpetuate third-world poverty via things like unworkable energy leapfrogging schemes, thus (at least in their framework) ensuring that birth rates and mortality remain elevated.
Note that that the moral dynamic surrounding Covid – rooted particularly in a kind of hygiene purity mania – prevented pragmatic solutions to the pandemic in much the same way. The authors of the Great Barrington Declaration tried to sell their alternative to mass containment under the rubric of “focused protection,” but in fact it is better to say that their plan hinged on building natural immunity in the youngest and least vulnerable demographics via “focused exposure.” The moral instincts governing pandemic policy made accepting any infections impossible, even at the cost of higher mortality. 2
These are of course only two of various possible constellations. More endogenously oriented Americans, who want to expand American influence in the world or who hold specific anti-Russian animosities, may well find themselves on the Ukrainian side. The same goes some endogenously oriented Eastern Europeans, who perceive the war as a national threat. 3
This is true whatever you think about the empirical reality of claims that atmospheric CO2 from human industrial activity is responsible for some portion of industrial-age warming – a proposition I tend to accept in broad terms. 4