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Is Al Gore the Re-incarnation of the Xhosa Prophetess Nongqawuse?

By Gail Heroit -- July 11, 2009

I don’t know much about global warming.  But I do know something about the dangers of precipitous action, especially when its advocates appear to be caught up in something akin to religious fervor.  My instincts run towards stop, take a deep breath, and be absolutely sure that you’re not about to put the world’s economy in a stranglehold just to please the people who despise modernity.

That’s why I was both heartened and disheartened when I read, some time ago, Dana Milbank’s Washington Sketch column in the Washington Post, “With All Due Respect, We’re Doomed.”  He gave an account of Al Gore’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where apparently he was treated like a prophet.  Quoth the tongue-in-cheek Milbank:

The lawmakers gazed in awe at the figure before them.  The Goracle had seen the future, and he had come to tell them about it. 

What the Goracle saw in the future was not good:  temperature changes that would “bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten the fabric of life everywhere on the Earth–and that is within this century, if we don’t change.”

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry (D. Mass.) appealed to hear more of the Goracle’s premonitions.  “Share with us, if you would, sort of the immediate vision that you see in this transformative process as we move into this new economy,” he beseeched.

The article is well worth reading in full, but you get the idea.  The bad news is that even Republicans on the Committee, like Sen. Bob Corker, treated Gore with a reverence ordinarily reserved for the likes of Isaiah and Ezekiel. That doesn’t bode well for those hoping to defeat cap-and-trade climate legislation in the Senate.

But there’s good news too: Milbank himself, a card-carrying member of the MSM, gets it.  He knows we need to take that deep breath before we plunge ahead at the behest of “the Goracle.” I suspect that more and more liberals are going to go skeptical on this issue.

Alarmingly, the prophet that Gore most resembles may turn out to be Nongqawuse, who led her people to ruin in the mid-19th century.  Nongqawuse was a teenager and a member of the Xhosa tribe in South Africa.  One day in April or May of 1856, she went down to the river to fetch water.  When she returned, she said that she had encountered the spirits of three of her ancestors who told her that her people must destroy their crops and kill their cattle.  In return, the sun would rise red on February 18, 1857, and the Xhosa ancestors would sweep the British settlers from the land and bring them fresh, healthier cattle.  (Some of the Xhosa cattle had been suffering from a lung ailment, which may or may not have been brought by the British settlers’ cattle.)

Astonishingly, the Xhosa chieftain, Sarhili, agreed to do exactly as this young girl urged.  Over the next year, a frenzy occurred in which it is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 cattle were killed and crops destroyed.  Historians sometimes call it the “Great Cattle Killing.”

But on February 18, 1857, the sun rose as usual.  It was not red.  And the Xhosa ancestors did not show.  But the Xhosa people had destroyed their livelihood.  In the resulting famine, the population of the area dropped from 105,000 to less than 27,000.  Cannibalism was reported.  Following Nongqawuse’s advice was a calamity of staggering proportions for the Xhosa people.

Like Nongqawuse, Gore tells us that the sun will soon rise red over the land.  Well, maybe.  But already the models that he relies on have been proven wrong.  The intense period of warming that these models predicted over the past ten years never came to pass.  Yet we are repeatedly told that it’s still coming and that it’s just a little late.  Apparently, we should pay no attention to the fact that the polar ice is expanding again.  Instead, we must put the brakes on our use of energy–the very thing that makes the modern world possible–to avoid antagonizing the spirits of our ancestors, I mean to avoid climate disaster. 

Again, I am persuadable.  But it will take more evidence than I have seen so far (and yes, I’ve spent more time than the average lawyer trying to piece together the evidence, though that’s not saying much).

There are two more parallels to the Great Cattle Killing that are worth pointing out.  First, Nongqawuse’s urgings did not come out of nowhere.  Some of the cattle were indeed sick. The problem is that her proposed course of action was utterly disproportionate to the problem, just as Gore’s proposals are disproportionate given the state of our knowledge.  Second, some historians believe that the Great Cattle Killing was in part motivated by class animosity.  The Xhosa people had been losing ground to white settlers for years, and some members of the tribe blamed their more prosperous members.  Cattle were a status symbols, and initially at least, the burden of their destruction seemed to be something that would fall disproportionately upon these tribal leaders. The cattle were, in effect, the SUVs of their time.  

Here’s hoping that Sen. Corker and his colleagues adopt a little healthy skepticism before they adopt the solutions proposed by Gore, much less energy/climate legislation akin to HR 2454. We don’t need a Senate of Sarhilis.  For the record, I should point out that he perished in the famine.

Gail Heriot is Professor of Law at University of San Diego and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Her website is here.


  1. The Liberty Papers »Blog Archive » If You Kill Your Cattle, You Will Starve  

    […] at the Master Resource Blog,  law professor Gail Heriot points out the similarities between global warming, fear-monger Al Gore and Xhosa Prophetess Nongqawuse: Nongqawuse was a teenager and a member of the Xhosa tribe in South Africa.  One day in April or […]


  2. Noblesse Oblige  

    This woeful tale is more evidence that the space between our ‘advanced civilization’ and ‘primitive’ ones is small indeed. For a look at the same notion through a somewhat different prism, see “Cargo Cult Science” from the 1974 commencement address by the great physicist Richard Feynman. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/applied/wiggins/Classes/E4903/Fall2003/cargo.pdf

    In any case thank you Professor Heriot.


  3. Andrew Hedges  

    Of course, neither Al Gore nor 99% of the people urging a more sustainable approach are “people who despise modernity”. Gore is on the board of Apple Inc. Hardly a Luddite.

    Further, the best of the proposals out there for changing from a petroleum-based economy are actually likely to stimulate a whole lot more prosperity than we’ll ever see by continuing to tie ourselves to a finite resource.

    I really don’t get this line of argument. I see it a lot and it just seems so irrational to me. Sure, maybe the climate change hype is overblown. But, do you really want to advocate ignoring the science when the thing we do know is that eventually oil (and natural gas, and, yes, even coal) will eventually run out.

    The technology is here today to switch to other sources of energy and, importantly, to keep living with most or all of the modern conveniences we all enjoy (like commenting on blog posts!). What’s the point in not pursuing it?


  4. GTW  

    The commentary by Gail Heroit was rather outstanding. It rekindled certain memories, reinforced various convictions and reported on a con job that was unfamiliar to this reader. I will comment on: the title; the dangers of precipitous action; the treatment of our former VP as a deity or royalty; infamous prophesies by infamous prognosticators and the role/need for skepticism.

    1. The title asks if Al Gore is a reincarnation of Nongqawuse? I have written* that he might also be a reincarnation of Prince Albert. Canadian readers one will recognize him as the founder of Prince Albert National Park, where he picked up his major “green credentials.”

    2. The dangers of precipitous action, I can’t help think of my Uncle Ken, who was “first in line” to enlist in the RCAF in 1939. Not too much later he was shot down and spent five + years in Stalag ? and ?? Let us salute all of those who have volunteered in the past, but cast no shame on those who came in a bit later.

    3. I was not surprised that a member of the Royal Family was given the Royal Treatment. And I liked his nickname “the Goracle.” I am sorry to reflect back again on some of my writing, but this reminds me greatly of the alien creature known as “the Goron.” A brief, edited excerpt* follows.

    “But who are the Gorons you might ask. The scientific definition is an alien from the planet Gore, the third planet in the Alpha Centauri system. And, by a very strange coincidence, one of the very first Americans they captured and converted was Albert Gore Jr. Over time he has actually become the Head Goron (HG).
    “In this book the Goron name will be used as a synonym:
    • for those activists/politicians who embrace simplistic science as the answer to complex problems;
    • for those activists/politicians who utilize complex science to isolate rather than illuminate an issue;
    • for those environmentalists who exploit environmental and climate issues for their own goals;
    • for those global warmers who salute The Day After Tomorrow and Waterworld as gospel; and
    • for those activists/politicians who believe their cause is so righteous – – – , that it justifies any means, including deceit, violent demonstrations, sabotage and terrorism.
    “America, we are at war. Most wars come complete with propaganda campaigns, and this war is surely no exception. These aliens have already gained control of most of the media, most of the educational systems and most of the entertainment outlets. As a result we live in a deep ocean of propaganda. We will need very many floodlights focused on this situation—to overcome this propaganda fog and bring visibility to the public—if we are ever to get it righted. Hence this book, which, in it’s own modest way, will attempt to contribute to that objective.”

    4. Prophetess Nongqawwuse. I had not heard of this story before and her dictates. I have felt for a long time the need to bring out the evil and the rediculous prophecies of “snake-oil peddlers”, “witch doctors”, water finders via the forked branch, and other con people. Hence this story is long overdue and most welcome. I wait anxiously for the voting public to come to the recognition that they have been conned!

    5. Skepticism. Have also written on this: “Skepticism is the highest of duties for scientists, blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” The noted environmentalist commented: “Unfortunately, skepticism is sorely lacking in academic circles, especially environmental programs.” See the Oil & Gas Journal, 11/23/08.

    * The key battles with selected Gorons were originally published under the banner: The Invasion of the Gorons, in Eco-Logic Powerhouse On-Line. This essay was later incorporated into the book: “Acid Rains on Liberal Propaganda”, iUniverse, Inc, Ne York, 2004. The interested reader might also look up:
    Kozinski, Alex, Gore Wars, Michigan Law Review, August, 2002, Pages 1742 – 1767. Judge Alex Kozinski sits on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


  5. GTW  

    I should have added my name: Gerald T. Westbrook to the previous blog>


  6. A Conservative Teacher  

    This is a funny post- but as I laugh, I also cry, because it just proves that if you put misguided fools in charge of a nation, they can destroy it. US voters are about to realize this.


  7. GTW  

    I had meant t include the name of the noted environmentalist in my blog #6. His name was Donald Anthrop.


  8. Charles Higley  

    We can add Rachael Carson as the first goron recruit. Her duplicity in presenting research results incompletely such that DDT appeared to be bad is the same as Al Gore’s movie. (The bald eagle population actually increased 25% while DDT was in use.) Her book became the poster child for the budding environmentalist movement.

    I am always surprised that so little is made of the fact that DDT was banned unilaterally and with no rationale by William Ruckelshaus of the EPA. There were mounds of papers that indicated DDT is safe and even beneficial (to birds and man), even lauded by Ruckelshaus on August 31, 1970. But not much later in 1972, to give the environmentalist movement a political powershot in the arm, he over-rode a Court pronouncement of DDT’s safety and banned DDT (and subsequently many (10-100s) millions of people have died from malaria), committing one of the most heinous acts in the history of mankind. He agreed with the horrible statement, based on the fact that DDT was saving so many lives around the world (and increasing world population), “Better dead (from malaria) than procreating wildly. It was natural population control in their eyes.

    Think about it.
    Biofuels drives up the cost of grain = kills poor in other countries.
    Cap-and-trade (no nuclear power option) drives up the cost of everything = increases cost of living = lowers standard of living for everybody/cripples developing countries = kills people
    CAFE standards lighten the mass of cars = kills people
    Government (any kind) healthcare rations care, slows care, selects care = kills people

    Hmmm . . . is there a goal here?


  9. major  

    Gore is completely narcissistic……someone needs to keep an eye on him….while we are fiddling in America, he continues to spread his poisonous pseudo-science around the World….tearing down the long built edifice of Science and making fools of previously regarded scientists by making them drink the koolaid….


  10. Button  

    For what it’s worth, Andrew, Heriot first published this point on January 31st, 2009, which was before the author you cite.



  11. Ed Jones  

    Well now (Gail et al);
    It was “fortunate”… No, down right extorting (if not conspiring) that the “white” Boers benefited from Xhosa Prophetess Nongqawuse’s message. Will such comparisions and derision also prove beneficial? If so, to whom (this time)?


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