Cause Célèbre

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Hybrid and electric cars are fueled by electricity from coal-fired power plants. So why are the people who drive them not concerned about this? Why is there not mass consumer movements against the rare earth minerals needed for “green” cars, nor the carbon footprint of shipping them around the world?

Because climate change is a cause célèbre, French for “celebrated cause.” A legitimate concern — pollution — is weaponized for socio-political clout. Rare earth mineral depletion and disposal are important issues, but haven’t been selected by the gods as a cause célèbre.

Cause Célèbre as a Form of Virtue Signaling

Cause Celebre
Garbage being collected at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

Electric car ownership, regardless of the relative merits of the car, always contains a bit of virtue signaling, a means of showing one’s status as enlightened and “with it.”

A cause célèbre quickly demonstrates “concern” but doesn’t actually address the issue at hand. For example, the paper straw craze: almost all plastic waste in the ocean comes from a handful of rivers in Asia and Africa, not Europe, North America, or Australia.

Carbon offsets are a luxury example. Billionaires galavant around the world in private jets express indignation about climate change by paying for “carbon offsets.” It’s a ritual penance for a certain cause célèbre.

Compare with the sacrifice of foregoing rare earth minerals. Goodbye iPhone, goodbye Tesla.

Who Chooses the Cause Célèbre?

There are endless examples of the cause célèbre in the contemporaneous West. And, as an intelligent and thoughtful person, you’ve probably noticed many don’t resist even light scrutiny. So the question remains: Why?

First, status. Paying lip service or even dollars and cents distinguishes the cause celebrant from the rest of the masses. It says “I’m not like those dumb people who don’t care about such and such. I’m one of the educated and with-it ones who does.”

Such status signaling is often contained in the humblebrag, when a person, for example, pooh-poohs the cost of an expensive virtue signal as really nothing at all.

Secondly, because addressing many fundamental issues requires real sacrifice, performative sacrifice.

Every cause embraced by elites and strivers en masse, pushed by heavy media propaganda should be questioned in this context, no matter how good, noble, or even benign it might sound. And if you’re looking for logic, don’t — there isn’t any to be found.

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