Saturday, October 15, 2005

Column on what "biologically important" means

Empty Environmentalism?

Tibor R. Machan

In the community where I live, as in many others but a bit more so,
environmentalist are hard at work to put a stop to all developments,
meaning all efforts to increase the available housing and other human
amenities that come from people wanting to live there. Orange County, CA,
is a highly prized area?the weather is very desirable, there is nowadays
an abundance of jobs, and schools are passable, the entertainment and
amusement being offered up better than in most places around the globe and
so forth. So it?s no wonder people want to live there and those with land
find a demand to fill for homes and other amenities?developments, as they
have been dubbed, probably because the designation tends to remove from it
the human element and suggests raw greed.

Just now the biggest land owner in the region, the Irvine Company, has
proposed what is referred to the ?East Orange scheme? which is the nemesis
of the local and other branches of the Sierra Club. The Club and all its
allies are hard at work to try to bring the project to a halt. Their first
line of attack is based on the contention that the new development is
likely to grind the local traffic to a halt. But, in fact, this is only
the first of their salvos. The far more important sounding reason they
offer?when you check out their web site at www.Eastorange.org?is that
?These lands are part of one of the most biologically important open space
areas in the entire state.?

I admit to not being very eager to go to the defense of the Irvine
Company, mainly because it is one of those huge corporations that has no
compunction about getting into bed with the government so as to enhance
its economic fortunes. (For more on the company, see [
http://www.irvinecompany.com/aboutus/in_the_news/Bucking_a_trend/page_3.asp
]http://www.irvinecompany.com/aboutus/in_the_news/Bucking_a_trend/page_3.asp.)
It began in 1864, when James Irvine made a killing in the California Gold
Rush and later bought up 120,000 +/- acres of ranchland in what became
Orange County, Southern California. The land the company owns covers the
region several miles inland from the Pacific Ocean all the way north to
the Cleveland National Forest where I live, in Silverado Canyon.

Anyway, what struck me about the crucial reference to how ?biologically
important? is the land to be used for development is that while it sounds
significant, if one thinks about it a bit that phrase carries very little
meaning. Suppose it said that the land is botanically important? Or
zoologically important? Or residentially important? All these might convey
some nearly clear meaning because they point to an area of life that the
land may benefit. It may help plants, or animals, or people looking for
someplace to live. ?Biologically? is too broad a category and, since the
company?s plans to develop it for human habitation implies that human
beings will be living there, that, too, may well be part of what makes it
important. We are, after all, biological entities and when land is used to
provide us with living space, that could be construed as being
biologically important.

Surely, however, this is not what the Sierra Club & Co., want to convey
by that phrase. But then what? Something, one may assume, that is left
deliberately unspecified in the text on the Web Site.

For something to be important, it must be important to something else.
Water is important for most life, as is oxygen and inhabitable land.
Because, however, there is probably more demand for such land in certain
regions of the world than is available, priorities need to be set.

In a free society the priorities are set by way of the pricing system
because how much things cost shows just how badly people want it. This
amounts to a reasonably sensible rationing process, with how much, and how
good, people get to have dependent on how well off they are, how hard they
have worked to be so well off, how lucky they have been, etc., and so
forth. All this works out without some group of central planners of the
kind they had in the old Soviet Union, groups that are in the end clueless
about how to allocate resources rationally.

My bet is that the Sierra Club people are just as clueless about that as
were those in the Kremlin, although I am sure they fancy themselves very
wise. And this they evidence by using such ambiguous and thus useless
language as exemplified by the phrase ?biologically important.?

Don?t get me wrong?gridlock on Orange County roads can be hellish, in
part because they are build by government which tends to plan much like
those guys did in the Kremlin, without a clear idea what actually is in
demand and how much will it cost. Still, one can appreciate worries about
crowded roads and other infrastructure challenges. What is a mystery,
however, is what on earth ?biologically important? should be understood to
mean.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Column on Police Malpractice

Corruption of the Police

Tibor R. Machan

My youngest daughter and I were driving about when she told me her theory
about contemporary police officers. Her idea was that police departments
in our time attract bullies, people who have always liked to flex their
mussels, show who is boss. She said, ?Look what these people are required
to do?hassle us who are doing no one any harm, just because they smoke
some stuff that?s been banned, or sell sexual favors, or break some rule
that?s almost surely arbitrary.?

She was about 20 when she said this mouthful but I was impressed. I have
never pushed my kids in the direction of my own thinking, mainly because
my thinking is that people need to come to their own conclusions, not be
told what to think. Sure, some elementary guidance is vital but not their
politics, religion, and other convictions. I will give them help with
examples, mostly with how I live, but that?s it.

So this insight on my daughter?s part impressed me. I thought about it
more and concluded that it at least made good sense. Who would join a
police force that required officers to go about busting people for
victimless crimes? Mainly someone who liked pushing people around. Yes, of
course, it is their job to enforce the law?but when police officers must
enforce bad laws, this is likely to attract bad people into the force.

What is the right job for the police? To defend citizens against
aggressors, that?s what. They are to serve us in the capacity of
protectors against violence. When murder, assault, rape, robbery, burglary
and such are perpetrated, that?s when a just police force goes out to do
its job. As our Declaration of Independence says, ?governments are
instituted to secure [our] rights.? And the most directly force-yielding
element of our government is the police and the military. They are to
protect our rights. That idea of the American Founders is the most
civilized, the most enlightened, concerning the proper function of
government and its armed forces.

Some among those who love and champion freedom everywhere say government
is always a bad thing?they are anarchist libertarians. But they, too, want
law enforcement, with some differences from the limited government
faction. Bottom line is, however, that what those who enforce the law must
do is to also stick by the law that needs to be enforced. There is really
just one such law, namely, protect everyone?s individual right to liberty,
to be free of the aggression of other people.

In that capacity, as protectors of our rights to life, liberty and
pursuit of happiness, the police would be doing something noble. They
would be warriors in a good cause, namely, our freedom. With such a job
they may even gain the respect of the citizenry, including young people
who don?t mind it when cops fight genuine crime. They just mind it when
they are being hassled for what they chose to do without hurting anyone
else. But when the cops start hassling them, they lose all respect. They
dub them corrupt cops. They are the equivalent, only far more dangerous,
of a medical malpractice culprit or quack.

If you pay any attention to the news, you know that in all corners of the
country cops are getting rougher and rougher. It is perfectly natural?they
see themselves not as protectors of the citizenry but as rulers, ones who
enforce the way of life preferred by the administrators of our government.
This makes cops enemies of the people. And that is too bad. They are the
Dr. Frankensteins of our world, people who pretend to be helpers but in
fact are monsters.

Oh, there are exceptions but it is difficult to be such a cop since one?s
duties as an officer of the law now include out and out violence,
something that?s only by degrees different from the duties of Nazi or
Soviet police officers. This way a perfectly honorable profession, that of
the police officer, is fundamentally corrupted.

Column on What Ailed the USSR

USSR Didn?t Fail Because of USA

Tibor R. Machan

I took part in a panel discussion recently, following the screening of
the movie Crash where I teach. After much talk about who should be blamed
for racism, sexism, poverty and the rest of the ills of the world?pop
answer: ?the class system??we touched on how different political economic
systems compare concerning solving socio-economic problems.

At my turn I said that although there is much that can be improved about
the USA, in the main its semi-capitalist, mixed economic system tends to
solve problems better than such alternatives as socialism, Fascism,
theocracies, monarchies and others found in recent history and around the
globe. I argued that in the main in the USA people are still required to
look out for themselves via voluntary institutions and this approach to
problem-solving is more effective than top-down government management.

One panelist responded to this claiming that while Cuba, which is
ostensibly a socialist dictatorship, and other centralized systems are
cruel and mean?to, say, gays and journalists?their main problem is the
USA; this country just will not allow them to flourish. Then he added that
this was the problem with the Soviet Union?countries of the West would not
permit its socialist dictatorship to succeed as it would have, had it been
left to its own resources.

I took a bit of umbrage at this, having myself lived under the Soviet
system in Hungary?which was its satellite country back in the late 40s and
early 50s until the late 1980s?and having witnessed the economic
devastation their system wrought. We had no decent food, no appliances, no
housing, dilapidated apartments everywhere, collective farms that didn?t
produce nearly enough for the population, and, of course, near marshal law
day and night. People were being deported to Siberia for voicing criticism
or dissenting views, many of them committing suicide before they were
picked up to be sent there, and there was no free press, religion was
nearly squashed; the place was basically a prison.

Back then the USA had virtually nothing to do with Eastern Europe and the
Soviet Union. In fact, if anything, because the USA and USSR were allies
against Nazi Germany for the latter part of the Second World War, the USSR
had US economic support back then. It even lasted for a lot of years
thereafter.

In the ensuing time, until its collapse, the Soviet Union was not impeded
economically by the USA but mostly left to its own resources. True, they
spent an inordinate amount of money on building up their military during
these times; the rulers told the people this was because of imminent
dangers from the West. But, in fact, it was all a ruse. The West mostly
took precautionary measures, mounting what was a defensive military
posture and doing nothing much to threaten the Soviet bloc. Even when a
huge majority of the people in some of the satellite countries rebelled,
as in Hungary in October 1956, there was no military support offered from
the West.

In fact, what happened was predicted by the eminent chief of the Austrian
School of Economics, Ludwig von Mises, back in his 1920 book, Socialism.
That is that a country with a socialist, top down managed economy will
sooner or later come a cropper. This is because one cannot plan what
people want and what people can produce?it requires the free market
system, in which freely chosen buying and selling, via the price system,
send signals to all concerned parties and manage most effectively to
coordinate economic activities. Once the top down socialist system of the
USSR went bust, even famous American socialists like John Kenneth
Galbraith and the late Robert Heilbroner publicly admitted that von
Mises?s analysis was correct. As he put it, in The New Yorker, September
10, 1990, ??Ludwig von Mises...had written of the ?impossibility? of
socialism, arguing that no Central Planning Board could ever gather the
enormous amount of information needed to create a workable economic
system....It turns out, of course, that Mises was right....?

Despite the historical evidence showing and the theoretical analysis
predicting that socialism is an economic dead end, various dreamers
continue to yearn for the system right here in the USA. And their efforts
are paying off in failed federal programs, to which they respond by asking
for more. This is the result of thinking magically?some stuff will be made
and some saints will distribute it just right, without letting free men
and women do so.

It is very sad that this sort of thinking promotes the very measures that
my fellow panelist laments and blames on the foresighted critics of
socialism.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Column on Animals vs. Artifacats

Animals versus Artifacts

Tibor R. Machan

So I am reading my latest copy of Science News, the magazine that keeps
me reasonably up to date about what?s going on in all the sciences. I have
been reading this publication for over twenty years?it gives you a pretty
good run down on what?s new in a great variety of disciplines and always
tells you where to go for details.

OK, so I am munching on my dinner and reading through all these summary
presentations of new stuff when I run across one of the magazine?s more
extensive reports, this time on how, to quote the subtitle, ?Cultural
artifacts are crawling with damaging microbes.?

The gist of the story is that a great many ancient paintings, sculptures,
and ruins are being threatened by various micro-organisms that have
festered within them for centuries and are now beginning to cause major
damage. In several decades or at least centuries, some of these paintings,
sculptures and historical artifacts will simply fall apart, so virulent is
the assault on them by all kinds of tiny critters. The report also makes
no bones about the fact that scientists are hard at work trying to fend of
the damage, thinking of ways to destroy?albeit in environmentally friendly
ways?what is doing the damage.

No, this time there is no intimation at all that some human agency is the
ultimate cause, although I am sure some folks were eager to link it all to
exactly such agency, just as some have been so eager to find human agency
behind Katrina, Rita, last year?s tsunami and perhaps even the recent
devastating Pakistani earthquake. Sadly, misanthropy is all around us, yet
in this case there was no sign of it at all?the culprits are indeed
microorganisms, tiny animals, and scientists are making no secret of their
hope and intentions of destroying them so they cannot devastate, for
example, the Maya temples at Ek? Balam in Yucat√°n, Mexico.

But as I read through the report I suddenly stopped. What about the
alleged rights of these microbes? According to some animal liberation
theorists and activists, these little critters have every right to go
about their business of devouring the human artifacts as we do when we
devour the food stuff we find about us in the world. Indeed, by some
accounts laid out in the animal liberation, animal rights movement, we
have no right to feed off what other animals find nourishing for them. It
amounts to violating the rights of such animals or, put in a different
terminology of certain theorists and activists, interfering with their
liberty to thrive.

Oh, some might way, when animal liberation or animal rights are being
talked about, the issue isn?t about microbes and bacteria, like those that
are doing damage to the historical artifacts. It?s all about great apes
and other animals that are nearly as mentally developed as are human
beings.

No, that retort will not work. Actually, both the animal rights and the
animal libertarian movement go much farther down on the evolutionary
ladder, all the way to laboratory mice, for example, used in testing
medicines or other stuff, such as cosmetics, people use for their
purposes.

The crucial point is that some of the reasoning offered in support of
this is that as long a living being has certain identifiable interests, it
is fully entitled to carry on to its heart?s content and we must stay out
of its way. But by this reasoning, of course, the microbes and other tiny
critters that are the targets of these scientists? diligent efforts to
impeded the animals? assault upon the historic artifacts must also be left
alone. They have interests big time?namely to eat up those paintings and
ruins and whatever. Given that the argument that for many animal
liberationists clinches the case for prohibiting interference with any
beast that it has interests, that it can do well or badly at living
depending on various activities it embarks upon, we must abstain from
intruding on the activities of the bacteria that do damage to the
artifacts.

Alas, there was no mention of this potential conflict between the
scientists or the historical preservationists, and the animal liberation
movement. And I am a little worried that my calling attention to the issue
could, actually, alert some members of PETA to take some drastic action
against the scientists. (So keep this under raps, please, if you are
reading.)

My point is simply that the scientists bent on protecting historical
artifacts have, at least so far, their priorities intact. But they do so
mainly from habit. One wonders if they are prepared to deal with animal
liberationists, should they hear about their murderous plans.
-----------------
Machan teaches business ethics at Chapman University, Orange, CA, He
authored Putting Humans First, Why We Are Nature?s Favorite (Rowman &
Littlefield, 2004).

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Column on Dissing Only Past Europeans

Silence About the Incas

Tibor R. Machan

October 10th, Columbus Day, has for the last several decades been a time
when the Europeans who came to the Americas have been roundly condemned in
the spirit of political correctness. There is little doubt that some of
them, maybe even a great number, did some awful things to the natives on
this continent. And so did many people everywhere do awful things to
others?as they still do, sadly enough.

However there is a tendency in our time to focus only on the misdeeds of
those who hailed from Europe. This form of what amounts to a type of
self-flagellation is, of course, part and parcel of political correctness.
Just as environmentalists often denounce human beings and wallow in
misanthropic sentiments, so others?some of them multiculturalists who hold
to a doctrine of moral equivalence about all cultures except what is
usually lumped together as Western type?cannot say anything nice about
Columbus and his pals.

I was recently watching an installment of the program Globe Trekker, this
one reporting on Peru, and there was a good deal of talk about how
terrible the Spanish were to the Incas, who were, in the end, pretty much
displaced by them in that region of the world. Of course, there are many
people who trace their heritage back to the Incas or Mayas in that part of
the globe and they often hold celebrations in memory of their ancestors.

What was quite interesting about the program, aside from all the natural
and cultural lessons it contained, is that the narrator said absolutely
nothing about the human sacrifices that used to be standard fare under the
reign of the Incas. As many as 200 children used to be killed so as to
please some god or another. And sometimes the sacrifice would involve
cutting out the heart of a living individuals so as to please some deity.

None of this is noted here so as to whitewash what the Conquistadors and
their predecessors perpetrated in the efforts to get in on some of the
riches in the Americas. But while the program made plenty of mention of
that sorry part of history in the region, nothing was said to besmirch the
innocence of the Incas.

Sad. History should not fall prey to such distortions simply because some
people are eager to paint certain men and women of the past in an
unfavorable light. Indeed, doing this betrays a nasty habit of
condescension?it treats certain people of the past as not entirely human,
unable to do what other humans do routinely, namely act badly, violently,
brutally toward their fellows.

By acknowledging that all kinds of peoples around the globe and
throughout history have been capable of malfeasance, one acknowledges
these people?s fundamental humanity. No doubt, at different times and in
different places more or less malfeasance has occurred, just as is
occurring in our own time. But it is rank racism and ethnic prejudice to
make it appear that only Europeans had the inclination and capacity to do
bad things to others. By all reasonable accounts of the history of
humanity, there is no group of humans who have managed to rid themselves
of the capacity for evil. But when one picks on just one group as having
such an inclination or capacity, when in fact there is plenty of evidence
their sharing it with the rest of the human race, a gross injustice is
being perpetrated and seeds of continued prejudice are planted that all of
us can do without.

Sure, in the past it was non-Europeans who bore the much of such
prejudice. But nothing good comes of a kind of payback attitude, as if
unleashing injustice now on the Europeans of the past would remedy
matters. There is no remedy of past injustices?the victims cannot be
compensated, no apologies can be delivered to them.

The only thing that can be done that will make a difference is to stop
all this collective praise and blame and to recognize that justice
requires looking at and judging all human beings individually, based on
their own choices to act well or badly.

Column on why non-commercial seems virtuous

Commercial Free, Babble Full

Tibor R. Machan

My favorite radio station is a local so called public radio FM
broadcaster with only jazz and blues for its programming fare. It raises
support by way of two or three week (or so) long appeals to listeners and
from some government grants. Each time some announcement pitches the
virtues of the station to listener, he or she makes a big deal about how
it doesn?t broadcast any commercials. This, it seems, the managers
consider a great plus since the amount of babble on the station is
apparently no less than on one with commercials.

Yes, there is endless talk, mostly about the talent being showcased, jazz
and blues events around town, interviews with musicians, etc., etc. For
those of us who would just as soon simply listen, all this chatter is no
better than a lot of ads that do not interest us. Once you add the
righteousness, however, about how the station eschews advertising, all
this comes off as quite offensive. Why on earth would not having ads on
make the station so much better when the percentage of non-commercial?well
not really quite non-commercial?chatter consumes as much time as
commercials do on other stations?

I suppose the culprit is the general hostility toward commerce among
those who are attracted to ?public? broadcasting. But why are they so
convinced that there is something underhanded, lowly, and suspect about
commerce whereas ?public? undertakings, including broadcasting, are all
virtuous? The facts do not support this. After all, within the public
realm?i.e., government affairs?there is ample vice. Every day some local,
state or federal politician or bureaucrat gets arrested and convicted for
some kind of malpractice. Non-commercial outfits like universities and
hospitals reek of malfeasance such as plagiarism, trading in body parts,
to name only two rather prominent examples in my region. (And these never
prompt any of the pundits to advocate massive government regulation, as
comparable malpractice at Enron tends to!)

So, the evidence doesn?t support the position implicit in the
self-promotion of the non-commercial radio station either in my region or
anywhere else. (And there is much of this going on elsewhere, as when PBS
advocates air their pleas to keep that institution on the air via
government support.) Instead, the anti-commercialism theme goes back
centuries, at least to Plato, who in his most famous dialogue, The
Republic, consigned merchants to the lowest rung in his ideal society,
declaring them incapable of even a shred of nobility. Then, also, many
religions and secular philosophies, Christianity and Marxism among them,
took a dim view of profit seeking.

The main reason striving for prosperity is at least tolerated in much of
the Western world is that economists have succeeded in making it appear
that the profit motive is something inbred, innate, or instinctual; so
being motivated to seek profit cannot be something for which someone can
be blamed. As the late George Stigler, a Nobel Laureate in the discipline,
put it, "man is eternally a utility-maximizer?in his home, in his office
(be it public or private), in his church, in his scientific work?in short,
everywhere." If so, then we cannot help ourselves and all must be forgiven
when we seek utility, wealth, or prosperity.

Since, however, many do not buy into this view, an since in morality
seeking riches is still mostly considered a sign of the unforgivable sin
of greed, commerce just cannot gain respect. The views of such rebels as
Ayn Rand?who maintain that self-dealing is perfectly OK, even admirable,
since if one understands what it means, it simply counsels us all to do
well in our lives on all fronts, including the economical?have too great
an obstacle to overcome to be received with understanding and support.

Thus we have the spectacle of non-commercial radio and TV broadcasters
running fund raising promotional sessions, two or three a year, all of
which seek money, denouncing money-seeking via commerce where both sides
are getting what they want and no charity is involved.

Too bad. Because how on earth do all those listeners get the funds they
will send to these non-commercial stations unless they themselves carry
out some successful commercial undertakings? As Rand used to say, ?Blank
out!?