The Art of the Power-Grab: Four Key Qualities

On an idle Sunday I found myself wondering: if one were to design a perfect pretext for an unprecedentedly huge and absolutist power-grab by international, national, and business elites, what might it look like? What qualities might it have?

Off the top of my head, I can think of four.

First, it would need to be something that will absolutely require a massive, globally concerted government response. No half-measures or partial cooperation or local, distributed approaches will suffice: there must be total commitment, total collective-action, or no dice.

Second, it should seem dire, epic, and existential enough that anyone who opposes “doing something about it”–i.e., the aforementioned massive, total, globally concerted, government-enforced response–can be depicted as not just stubborn or skeptical, but either crazy or a dangerous obstructionist.

Third, it should make use of the widespread association of science with certitude, rectitude, and status. It should therefore be posed in highly scientific and strongly certain language, without however being too readily understandable to most people. It’s better if it has at least some core of empirical support, so that even image-conscious and only moderately activist scientists will be unafraid to lend their gravitas to the cause.

(Note that this very difficulty of understanding, properly framed, can boost the pretext’s rate of popular dissemination, by acting as an implicit status-symbol or virtue-signal: those who have ‘mastered’ it may enjoy demonstrating their superior intelligence by promulgating it to the ignorant unwashed.)

Fourth, it should hinge upon a phenomenon that is so complex, so vast in scale, and so gradual in its development that no individual or even small group could ever seriously claim, on the basis of direct personal experience, to have confuted it.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present: climate change.

To clarify, the notion that the observed increases in global temperature are substantially due to emissions of CO2–long known to physics as a heat-trapping gas–certainly seems eminently reasonable and indeed likely. (This is the “core of empirical support” mentioned above. In any power-grab, plausibility and at least partial truth are invaluable allies.)

Yet as I consider the above, it also seems very plausible that the climate issue could be or has already been captured, as a near-perfect pretext for just such a power-grab as described.

On these lines, it’s hard not to suspect that the grimmest predictions about global warming/climate change are highly likely to be exaggerated, manipulative, or wrong.

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