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Godless Capitalist

Greens vs. Humanity?

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I just received the following:

Letter to the Editor from the Ayn Rand Institute

Dear Editor:

After closing off 12 million acres of California land to human use and enjoyment in the last 30 years--allegedly to protect desert tortoises, horned lizards and scarab beetles--environmentalists are now actively seeking to close California's Imperial Sand Dunes to bikers and off-road drivers. The alleged reason this time: to protect milk vetches.

Once again, environmentalists are showing their desire to sacrifice man's needs and happiness for the sake of animals, plants and wilderness. Once again, they are showing whose side they are on, and it is not humanity's.

Sincerely,

David Holcberg

Ayn Rand Institute

This letter is copyrighted by the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI), and cannot

be reprinted without permission except for non-commercial, self-study

or educational purposes. We encourage you to forward this letter to

friends, family, associates or interested parties who would want to

receive it for these purposes only . Any reproduction of this

letter must contain the above copyright notice. Those interested in

reprinting or redistributing this letter for any other purposes should

contact [email protected] This letter may not be forwarded to media

for publication.

The environmentalist response to this would be something like:

"Off-road vehicles like dirt bikes and ATVs will destroy the ecosystem and leave only a barren wasteland of sand. While off-road drivers might still enjoy it, many other people who would like to hike in the ecosystem and enjoy it without harming it will be unable to do so. The conflict is not between greens and humanity, it is between one group of humans and another."

How would Objectivists respond to this?

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DAC    0

From what I understand of the environmentalist movement is that they seek not to preserve nature in a state uneffected by man for use by some future environmentalists or persons pleasure. They seek to isolate it from humans for the benefit of nature. An environmentalist would not have this objection, but would object on grounds of the rights of the ecosystem etc. not on the right of future use by man.

Honestly, I don't think any answer Objectivism could give would be satisfactory to the environmentalist... They start from a different base, one in which nature is primary and human's are viewed parasitically. The only defense or chance to convert the environmentalist is to attack at this root, and make Objectivism's stand there.

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My response would be:

"Off-road vehicles like dirt bikes and ATVs will destroy the ecosystem and leave only a barren wasteland of sand...
That's clearly an exaggeration.

...The conflict is not between greens and humanity, it is between one group of humans and another."

Conflicts between humans can be resolved by respecting property rights.

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From what I understand of the environmentalist movement is that they seek not to preserve nature in a state uneffected by man for use by some future environmentalists or persons pleasure.  They seek to isolate it from humans for the benefit of nature.  An environmentalist would not have this objection, but would object on grounds of the rights of the ecosystem etc. not on the right of future use by man.

DAC, I agree that this is true of some of the environmental movement but not all of it. Many environmentalist concerns are explicitly based on protecting the environment in order to benefit humans. Examples: reducing water pollution to safeguard human water supplies, protecting rare species because they may be a source of valuable medicines, protecting the ozone layer to reduce the risk of skin cancer, etc. Many Objectivists do not seem to recognize this and instead attack the entire environmental movement as "anti-human," which is clearly not the case.

CF, I agree with you about property rights. As for the "barren wasteland," I don't know whether that's true or not; I just wrote it as an example of a possible response.

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The environmentalist challenge is based on the premise of no-ownership, where anybody can do what he wants so long as he has a suitably large and powerful gang to back him up - government, legislation, and controls.

The objectivist response must be, public property is an abomination. The best solution is for the body of citizens - with the power vested in government - to auction off all such property.

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DAC    0
...Many environmentalist concerns are explicitly based on protecting the environment in order to benefit humans. Examples: reducing water pollution to safeguard human water supplies, protecting rare species because they may be a source of valuable medicines, protecting the ozone layer to reduce the risk of skin cancer, etc. Many Objectivists do not seem to recognize this and instead attack the entire environmental movement as "anti-human," which is clearly not the case...

I agree with this also, I should have included this perspective in my post, but for brevities sake I did not. I figured you were speaking of environmentalists in the objectivism context. My younger sister is an example of the latter type of 'environmentalist'. I too think it is unfair that objectivism lumps all the enviornmentalists into one category. Not to give any weight to their arguments but it could be rationally demonstrated that it is against our rational self interest as individuals to dump toxic-waste into a river, etc... This type of 'environmentalism', which really needs a new word to describe it, should not be lumped in with the E.L.F. lunatics...

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I agree that this is true of some of the environmental movement but not all of it. Many environmentalist concerns are explicitly based on protecting the environment in order to benefit humans. Examples: reducing water pollution to safeguard human water supplies, protecting rare species because they may be a source of valuable medicines, protecting the ozone layer to reduce the risk of skin cancer, etc. Many Objectivists do not seem to recognize this and instead attack the entire environmental movement as "anti-human," which is clearly not the case.

"I agree that this is true of some of the communist movement but not all of it. Many communist concerns are explicitly based on helping the poor in order to benefit humans. Examples: ensuring univeral health care to safeguard human lives, protecting resources from greedy individuals so that those valuable resources may be used for the benefit of all, guarenteeing food, clothing and housing to everyone to reduce the risks of disease, malnutrition, and death from exposure, etc. Many Objectivists do not seem to recognize this and instead attack the entire communist movement as "anti-human," which is clearly not the case."

Yeeeaaaahhhh - uh huh

or

"My younger sister is an example of the latter type of 'communist'. I too think it is unfair that objectivism lumps all the communists into one category. Not to give any weight to their arguments but it could be rationally demonstrated that it is against our rational self interest as individuals to have some people without healthcare, since such people will facilitate the spread of diseases more easily because of their lack of care, etc... This type of 'communist', which really needs a new word to describe it, should not be lumped in with the Stalinist lunatics..."

DAC,

Hopefully the above will clear up the confusion wrought by GC. His FAILURE to think in principles leads to his errors in judgement and his acceptance of non-objectivist premises. As you hopefully are aware, it is the PRINCIPLES the environmentalists (or communists, or socialists, or <fill in collectivist group here>) pursue which are what objectivism identifies as ANTI-man and PROPERLY condemns. The justifications (helping the poor, helping the wildlife, etc etc) for their principles - ie their MOTIVATION, their "good" intentions - are IRRELEVANT. They do NOT change the anti-man nature of those principles.

Realizing this you will hopefully not fall into the same trap as GC.

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First, let me say that I agree that most if not all environmental issues, such as pollution, can be dealt with by proper application of property rights.

Objectivism correctly attacks the preservationist wing of environmentalism that is only concerned with protecting nature at the expense of humans.

However, that wing is not the entire movement, and the entire movement does not seem to me to be based on anti-human premises. RadCap, can you please explain why the examples I have given are not in fact based on protecting human values? Is your objection that environmentalism is flawed because it does not use a property rights approach? If so, I agree.

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I should thank GC for being consistant in his ignoring of the content of what I say and reasserting his own positions again. I say "should be" except consistency of irrationality is not something to be thankful for.

DAC - if you did not understand the points I made in my post, or if you have any questions about those points (how intentions - ie desire to 'help' humans - does not change the nature of the actions or principles being accepted in the name of those ends), feel free to post them. Since I have explicitly removed myself from sanctioning GC's irrationality, I will not be addressing him directly at all, nor responding to any of his provocations. Thus don't hold your breath for a reply to his questions. ;)

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Under GC's scheme ... and as I see it ...

There is the environmentalism which seeks to preserve nature as though humans didn't exist: anti-man.

Then there is the environmentalism which is concerned with its own future access to currently legally unowned resources: selfish.

Under the second category, there is the environmentalism which seeks government controls: negates others, thugocratic.

Then there is the virtually nonexistent environmentalism which seeks government nonintervention and the re-establishment of property rights: Objectivism-sanctioned.

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Well, since RadCap and I are no longer talking to each other, can anybody else explain his position? I am not ignoring his "content"; I just don't understand it.

Here is what I see as the position of one wing of the environmental movement: "Some human activities, such as pollution, are harmful to other humans. Some action needs to be taken to prevent that harm."

Now, that is not a fundamentally anti-human viewpoint. I agree that the usual action proposed, govt regulation, is not correct; a property rights approach should be used instead. But even the regulatory approach is based ultimately on the principle of rights; that is, that polluters are violating the rights of others by dumping their wastes into the air that others breathe and the water they drink.

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GC, the regulatory approach is based on whims, since nobody has rights. "Some action needs to be taken to protect some people from what I consider bad things" - who is to take said action? Government. How? Initiation of force. Who is to pay for it? Firstly the taxpayers, and secondly anybody with a different opinion of what things are bad and a gang too small to influence government policy. On what moral code? Not a rationalist one.

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I think I understand RC's analogy now. He is saying that you cannot justify anti-rights means by citing pro-human-values results. I agree completely. It took me a while to figure that out because it's not relevant to my question. My question was about whether the entire environmental movement places the supposed rights of nature above human rights and values.

Also, I don't think it's entirely fair to say that the regulatory approach is based on whims. If a factory releases a pollutant that harms people in a nearby area, then their rights have been violated. One solution is for govt to regulate the level of the pollutant that is allowed to be emitted so that it is at or below a safe level. Granted, the current process of environmental regulation is largely irrational, but in principle it could be made rational.

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GC, RC is correct in asserting that if the moral basis of an action is evil, the intentions matter not at all. We are not playing the "ends justify means" game of life, or at least a couple rational individuals are trying not to against a tide of the irrational. The "noble" socialist goal of giving free healthcare to all is predicated on a negation of individual rights and is hence, no matter intention, evil.

Further, it is completely fair to say the regulatory approach is based on whims: that is what any gang rule is. When one gang makes the rules because it has the biggest gang or the loudest voice or the noblest posture, until another gang rises and displaces it and makes new rules, it's rule of the whim, not of fact. No process of government control can be made rational: the Mouches of the country can try all they want, but in the end they have the power only to destroy, not produce.

Specifically here, the reason is that enviro regulation is based completely on who has the government's ear. One year the greens have, say, Clinton, and he's all out crusading for "safe levels" of pollutant emissions. Four years later, it's Bush, and suddenly the definition of "safe levels" changes drastically when the factory owners steal the prez's ear. What you need is a system of objective laws predicated on a moral philosophy; the law shouldn't depend on who is the president at any given time. Objectivism gives such a possible system: property rights.

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DAC    0

I'm thinking of a river analogy. I have property on the banks of a river upstream from you and I dump toxic waste, or something harmful, into my portion of the river. It flows down to you and you drink it, maybe not knowing it is in there, and are injured in someway. Or the same could be argued with air pollutants, just substitute the air for the river.

I would like to state before I continue that I am a student of objectivism but also when a family member presents the argument above and says should I be responsible for your illness. I believe the answer is yes. Because it was my actions that led to your harm, albeit indirectly... Would this be initiation of force?

I agree that if it is my property I have the right to do what I want on it as long as I don't hurt someone else in the process. But does this apply when the injury is initiated on my property but is realized by the effected individual on his property.

Overall, I loathe the environmentalists... But at the same time I find myself 'appreciating' clean water to drink and air to breathe...

Government regulation is not the answer... which means that the individual has to be injured before he can file a claim against me, but what if that potential injury is life threatening...

EDIT: I believe objectivism respects the right of preemptive force against nations. I derive this from the 'right to invade' (i.e.- 'can invade' not 'shall invade')a nation that does not respect the rights of its citizens. Does this same preemption (i.e.- preemption of law) apply to the previous paragraph... Why or Why not?

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y_feldblum, I agree with your 1st paragraph. I just don't think it is relevant to the question I am asking. I partly agree with your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs but without going through the details of the current regulatory process I'm not sure there is much point in arguing about it. I think we agree on the principles.

Do we all agree that in some cases releasing pollution is a violation of rights? It would surely be a rights violation for my neighbor to dump raw sewage over the fence into my back yard; the same should apply to companies that dump harmful pollutants into air or water belonging to others.

This type of issue is exactly what some of the environmental movement is concerned about. If we accept this than it should follow that some of the environmental movement is not "anti-human" but in fact has legitimate concerns that Objectivism should agree with.

As to the correct solution, I agree that the current regulatory process is irrational because it is rarely if ever based on analyzing whether rights have been violated.

I am not sure, though, that an individual torts (civil lawsuit) approach is the only correct one. There are plenty of other areas where behavior that is known to harmful to others, or very likely to be, is prohibited by law, with no individual lawsuits required. Examples include drunk driving and firing guns at random in crowded areas.

Now let's say a company is releasing a pollutant into air or water belonging to someone else. If it can be shown scientifically that the pollutant is harmful to the owner of the air or water or their property, then they would have grounds for a tort. After a few such cases, though, a general rule will probably be established about what level of pollution constitutes a rights violation. Thus it would seem rational for govt to just pass a law regulating the level of emissions to a scientifically determined level that is at or below what would be harmful to the people or property affected.

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I'm thinking of a river analogy.  I have property on the banks of a river upstream from you and I dump toxic waste, or something harmful, into my portion of the river.  It flows down to you and you drink it, maybe not knowing it is in there, and are injured in someway.  Or the same could be argued with air pollutants, just substitute the air for the river.

I would like to state before I continue that I am a student of objectivism but also when a family member presents the argument above and says should I be responsible for your illness.  I believe the answer is yes.  Because it was my actions that led to your harm, albeit indirectly... Would this be initiation of force?

I agree that if it is my property I have the right to do what I want on it as long as I don't hurt someone else in the process.  But does this apply when the injury is initiated on my property but is realized by the effected individual on his property.

DAC

Your example (not analogy) does not account for one very important issue: who OWNS the river? Your example presumes collectivist ownership (ie non-ownership). If you assign ownership, you will find that your questions resolve themselves because of the application of property rights to any violations (IF violations are indeed occuring).

(If you still have questions AFTER making such an application, please post them. I do detect some other false assumptions which you might not resolve with the application of property rights).

Hopefully this all will resolve your 'loathing/appreciating' conflict. Remember, if you have a conflict - a contradiction - check your premises. At least ONE of them is wrong.

As to your last questions, you need to ask yourself 'on what basis is "preemptive force" "respected" '? In other words, what makes one instance of "preemptive force" an initiation of force and what makes another "defensive force". Then you need to apply your answer to property ownership.

--

Also, I would ignore GC's comments on this topic, since, as even y_ points out, the issue is principles, not intentions. Yet, although even after this has been made abundantly clear, GC continues to ignore principles in FAVOR of intentions. In other words, his thinking, as AR put it, is "concrete-bound" and does not serve as valid responses to any of your issues.

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DAC    0

RC,

Yes, I own my section of the river and the other individual owns his section. I realize that I did not post this, but this was my intent... I should have been more clear...

This being the case, I do see that I would be causing (indirectly) harm to another individual by dumping toxic waste into my section of the river... I feel I should be liable. The question that remains unresolved is: Given my ownership of my section of river, I dump waste into it. It travels down into a section owned by another. Damage is done to the individual or maybe this particular time it isn't (maybe the damage is cumulative, and this being the first instance has a very small effect). I believe that I am responsible for any damage caused to him or his property, I am not disputing this. But, based on this... would the government have a 'preemptive' right to legislate that I cannot dump waste into the river (in my section that I own more specifically, I have no right to dump it on another's property)? I realize that the government 'can' legislate in this matter, but would they be objectively justified in doing so, given the certain harm that would result from my action to another's property or person over time?

If I am understanding your previous post correctly... I would say that you would support preemptive legislation to prevent the violation of another's rights. Just like you would support the invasion of a country that violated the rights of its citizens if that country also posed a threat to America (or your country if you do not live in America), and your country was also a just country. Is this an accurate summation of your views? I can see this leading to a confict of 'objective regulation' v. 'non-objective regulation'...

To summarize questions:

Should (i.e.- would they be objectively justified) the government 'preemptively' regulate potential private behavior that if executed by that individual, would cause harm or violate the rights of another individual?

Is there any type of legitimate 'preemptive' legislation a government can do, or does it all have to be 'reactive' justice (e.g.- tort law, etc.)?

Is there a distinction between 'objective regulation' and 'non-objective regulation' or is this multipling concepts beyond necessity? 'Objective regulation' in this context meaning only that regulation that protects the right of one individual from violation by another, preemptively banning that particular conduct.

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I would answer, government should recognize that just as one has property rights in his section of the river enough to dump his toxic wastes in, others have property rights in their sections enough that others should not damage their property by letting toxic waste flow in without their consent. So yes, the moral system would be objective laws protecting the rights of one from violations of another.

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DAC

How do you own a "section" of a river? For instance, what exactly do you "own" in that section? I would suggest that your conception of ownership when it comes to a river (or any non-stationary resource) needs some reconsideration. I would further suggest that y_'s response to your query proceeds from this same incorrect assumption, and is therefore also in error.

In the meantime, it might be helpful to consider your question from a stationary resource perspective. Take your example, but substitute "backyard" for "river":

Suppose you dump toxic waste in your backyard. Suppose further that this toxic waste seeps (or drains, or whatever) into your neighbor's backyard. This is a violation of his property rights. By allowing your property (your toxic waste) to extend beyond the borders of your property and into his property, you have initiated force (ie made contact with his person or property without his consent). As such, he (or more properly his agent) may respond and hold you responsible for any results of this violation.

(Note: just to make clear, the above will not apply to ownership of a river as you currently imply river property rights. So please do not make the mistake of applying it to the example you have provided.)

Now, the above SHOULD answer your question about "pre-emptive" force as well. The govt may NOT prevent you from dumping in YOUR back yard. However, IF your toxic waste enters your NEIGHBOR's back yard, the govt may RESPOND to your violation. Furthermore, IF your neighbor notices that your waste is seeping towards his property and that you have no mechanism to prevent intrusion into his property, he can notify you (directly or through his agent - ie govt) that such a violation will not be tolerated. If no action is taken to prevent the intrusion, the govt may indeed step in and prevent the violation from occuring.

Of course the difference between defense against a threat of force and regulation/legislation is:

in the former, there is some strong evidence of such a threat. In other words, each individual is presumed innocent until his actions dictate otherwise.

in the later, there is no evidence of such a threat. Each individual is presumed guilty regardless of his actions.

So my post was NOT an endorsement of legislation/regulation - ie an initiation of force. It was an endorsement of defense against a verifiable threat of initiation.

Hope that makes things clearer.

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DAC    0

Yes, your post is helpful...

I have a few questions though:

You say,

The govt may NOT prevent you from dumping in YOUR back yard.  However, IF your toxic waste enters your NEIGHBOR's back yard, the govt may RESPOND to your violation.  Furthermore, IF your neighbor notices that your waste is seeping towards his property and that you have no mechanism to prevent intrusion into his property, he can notify you (directly or through his agent - ie govt) that such a violation will not be tolerated.  If no action is taken to prevent the intrusion, the govt may indeed step in and prevent the violation from occuring.

I am correct in assuming that Objectivism would tolerate preemption only in a particular case of a particular instance (like your example above), but would not tolerate a blanket legislative preemption to prevent anyone from dumping toxic waste on property they own... if so I am confused in the aspect that an intervention by the government is taking place, but the timing of that intervention is relevant... For example, why is it acceptable for the goverment to preemptively stop the waste from seeping onto anothers property after I have already dumped it on my own property (presumably they intervene with or without my sanction, I assume that after the clean-up I was unable or unwilling to perform they would 'bill me'), but it is not acceptable for the government to stop me from dumping it on my property, thereby retroactively preventing their involvement? Is the only objection that I own the property and can do as I will (and pay the consequenses if applicable, Innocent before Guilty, etc.)? What if I deny the government access to my property for the clean-up? Are you saying they have a 'right' to stop the violation against my will, or they may stop it with my sanction if I am incapable of stoping it and they are? I realize that even if I may stop government preemption (assuming I have this right), I do not escape the consequences that would result from the damages caused by a denial of that preemption.

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Suppose you dump toxic waste in your backyard.  Suppose further that this toxic waste seeps (or drains, or whatever) into your neighbor's backyard.  This is a violation of his property rights.  By allowing your property (your toxic waste) to extend beyond the borders of your property and into his property, you have initiated force (ie made contact with his person or property without his consent).  As such, he (or more properly his agent) may respond and hold you responsible for any results of this violation.

Excellent! Here is a clear example in RC's own words of a legitimate environmental problem. This what I have been trying to get at from the beginning, that not all environmentalist concerns are based on putting the "rights" of nature above individual rights.

(Its interesting by the way that when I gave virtually the exact same example and explanation that RC just gave, he rejected it out of hand. If I made some subtle error and can't see it, could someone please let me explain it to me?)

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For example, why is it acceptable for the goverment to preemptively stop the waste from seeping onto anothers property after I have already dumped it on my own property (presumably they intervene with or without my sanction, I assume that after the clean-up I was unable or unwilling to perform they would 'bill me'), but it is not acceptable for the government to stop me from dumping it on my property, thereby retroactively preventing their involvement? 

The difference is the nature of the threat which justifies response to the threat. In the case of your seeping toxic waste, the govt is responding to an ACTUAL threat. In the case of mere dumping, you seek to have it respond to only a POTENTIAL threat.

For instance, you own a gun. IF you point it at me and demand my money, that is an ACTUAL threat of force being initiated against me. As such, I (or my agent, the govt) have the right to defend against that threat of initiation.

On the other hand, if you merely own a gun, it is only a POTENTIAL threat - ie it is POSSIBLE but not NECESSARY that you might initiate force against me with it. It is ALSO possible for you to use the gun defensively instead. What distinguishes the potential from the actual is human ACTION.

In the former, the concept "threat" is based upon what YOU *do*. In the latter, the concept "threat" is based upon what you are CAPABLE of doing, but have not actually done. And it is this latter concept which is an example of "guilt until proven innocent". You are treated as if you HAD acted in a certain fashion when in fact you had not.

Your confusion rises from this same error. You ignore the difference between 'potential' and 'actual'. You instead treat them as one in the same. As indicated above, they are not.

What if I deny the government access to my property for the clean-up?  Are you saying they have a 'right' to stop the violation against my will..?

What if you deny the govt access to the gun you are threatening me with? Are you saying they do NOT have a 'right' to stop your violation of me against your will?

Hopefully that will clear up your question. If it didn't, simply remember this: there is no 'right' to initiate force. In fact, BY initiating force, you actually INVITE a defensive response to prevent your actions. You INVITE force to be used against you - REGARDLESS of your 'will'.

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