One problem with being the proud possessor, as so many people are these days, of a change-the-world ideology of your very own, is that you come to think of the world as having already been changed in accordance with your ideology’s specifications — which can lead to further problems. Charles Krauthammer called attention to the phenomenon in yesterday’s Washington Post when he ridiculed the claim of the President of the United States that what we are now supposed to call "climate change" is "settled science" and therefore no longer open to question or doubt by anyone who doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of science. "There is nothing more anti- scientific," wrote Dr. Krauthammer, himself a trained physician, "than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge."
Quite so. He was particularly, and rightly, exercised by the use of the term "denier" to describe those who stand outside the consensus, pointing out the offensiveness of using a term that comes from Holocaust denial and so lumps climate-change skeptics in with those whom most people regard as intellectually the lowest of the low. By coincidence, in the same day’s Independent of London, the paper’s grammar expert, Guy Keleny, wrote to correct one of the paper’s columnists who had mistakenly cited the 2004 tsunami as evidence of climate change, saying that such carelessness could "help climate change deniers and contrarians." So the man whose job it is to spot solecisms apparently doesn’t recognize the particularly egregious one of treating a computer model of projected future events, however persuasive, as being the same as a fact — that is, a thing that, like the Holocaust, has already and indisputably happened.
A similar kind of confusion sometimes happens even with the feminist ideology — who’d have thought it, right? — some of whose promoters occasionally forget that their fantasy of a perfect, unisex world in which "gender," as in Facebook, is a matter not of fact but of personal choice is already here and not a wishful projection. I got a chuckle the other day out of the faux puzzlement of Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the sex columnist of the Daily Telegraph and a self-described "ex-sex worker" who "has slept with more than 100 men" and whose column asked: "What''s your ‘sex number’? Why are women still lying to men about it?" Unless her career was remarkably short, a sex worker who claims only to have slept with "more than 100 men" — though of course nearly 20,000 (the number of women the late Wilt Chamberlain once claimed to have slept with) is more than 100 — must have a pretty good idea why women are still lying to men about their "sex number." But maybe she just forgot for the moment that the sexual utopia from which double-standards have been forever banished has not arrived yet.
The same kind of forgetfulness, I think, must plague those progressives who routinely claim a cozy relationship with "history," on whose "right side" they invariably imagine themselves to be. The other day Maureen Dowd used "history" as a stick with which to beat Presidents Johnson and George W. Bush, both of whom (or their apologists) she accused of trying to "rewrite" history. It was as if it had never occurred to her — as, indeed, it probably never has — that her confidence in her own right to write history in the first place, and in its definitive version too, could ever be questioned. Such people use "history," as the current President uses "science": as a kind of personal fiefdom, their mastery of which renders them immune to error or criticism. They should have a look at another piece in the Telegraph this morning in which a progressive feminist and civil libertarian now regrets her former reluctance to criticize or expose pedophiles because they too, as it seemed back in the seventies, must be on the right — that is, the liberationist — side of history.