Gotta Find a Way, a Better Way

Leaving aside the irony of the fact that author Matt Continetti is, himself, in part Koch-funded the problem with his article accusing American liberals of anti-Koch paranoia is that the charge is too easy. If you take a deep breath and think about it, it’s clear that the Koch brothers account for substantially less than 50 percent of all funding of the American conservative movement and yet substantially more than 50 percent of all progressive complaining about conservative money-men. This is easily explained in terms of attention dynamics and threshold effects without need to resort to any notions about paranoia.

But the larger issue, as Kurt Cobain knew well, is that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. To the best of my knowledge, David Koch’s interest in the science of human evolution is completely genuine. It’s also true, however, that the Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum involves a slightly bizarre whitewash of the dangers of climate change. I don’t think it’s paranoid to suggest that the decision to include this material reflects the fact that David Koch is not just a rich guy interested in human evolution, he’s also a rich guy who got rich largely in the fossil fuel industry. My concern about this is re-enforced by the fact that a three-episode miniseries on PBS’ Nova about human evolution featured similar problems and was also financed in part by David Koch.

Now neither the Smithsonian nor PBS are exactly hotbeds of conservative political activism. And yet you can see that these two institutions are not above distorting their mission somewhat in the pursuit of fundraising. Nor is David Koch above using his philanthropic interests to advance his own personal financial stake in persuading people to take a blasé attitude about climate change. So is it really “paranoid” to posit that the activities of fossil fuel barons like the Kochs partially accounts for the fact that the American conservative movement has a view of climate science at odds with what you hear from center-right parties in most countries? Is it “paranoid” to wonder if this is part of the explanation of why American libertarian institutions don’t follow Friedrich Hayek’s line about the need to regulate air pollution? That there’s some paranoia afoot on the American left isn’t something I doubt. But the more important question is whether or not there’s also truth to the allegation that the financial influence of the Kochs is influencing the intellectual climate of this country is a pernicious way.