Iowa State Parks: Past and Present

Here is the sad result of living in a farming state with the richest soil in the world. I can only assume that this is mostly a result of the transition from small family farms to big agribusiness. The following is from “State Park Paths 2013″ by Mark S. Edwards, formerly for 30 years the Trails Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources:

Iowa started our state park system around the early 1900’s because there was so little left undisturbed. Even before we could designate these areas as parks they had been clear-cut, mined, plowed and heavily grazed. Iowa struggled through the 1930’s Great Depression, along with dust bowl days, unimaginable droughts and economic collapse to expand a state park system for all Iowans.

“By 1937 we lead the nation in the establishment of state parks. Today we compete with one other state for the very bottom in state parks and public lands. We are the most biologically changed place in North America. Roughly 98% of Iowa’s 36 million acres have been altered for agricultural use, cities, and roads.

“There are no old growth forests left to study or enjoy. We drained 98% of our wetlands, cut 80% of the trees, and plowed up 99.9% of our prairies. We have the most polluted surface water, the least species diversity and are at the bottom in environmental spending in the nation. This makes these parks very, very special not only for people but for the remaining critters.

“If we combined all our state parks together in one place we have 55,871 acres or a square just over nine miles on a side, a short day’s walk. The city of Des Moines covers 71,000 acres or a square about ten10 and half miles on a side.Urban sprawl in Iowa alone has increased 50,000 acres in the last ten years. Farmers converted around 50,000 acres of grassland, scrubland and wetlands from 2008 to 2011.”

Freedom and Fate in Western Thought

I’ve observed a constellation of ideas that has been a part of Western thinking for a long time, but became most influential beginning with the Enlightenment.

It has to do with notions of freedom and determinism (specifically in terms of materialism and mechanism, environmentalism and communitarianism/socialism) along with heretical views about God and Nature, specifically such views as deism and pantheism/panentheism. It, of course, involves criticisms of biblical literalism and the rise of modern biblical studies in general, the Enlightenment idea being that faith and revelation doesn’t trump reason.

An early origin of this constellation has to do with the Stoics. They dealt with the problems of human fate. It was from the Stoics that the early Christians inherited natural law.

Freewill was a major issue for Christian theologians in those first several centuries. Augustine was heavily impacted by his experience as a Manichaean, and through this he introduced elements of Manichaeism into Catholicism. He particularly struggled with evil and freewill. This led him to a compromised position of Original Sin and the necessity of the Church as a proxy to enforce God’s will and hence enforce social order.

Later on, the Reformation era was a major factor in setting the stage for the Enlightenment. Take Erasmus as an example. He helped form modern biblical criticism and the humanistic tradition. He also was involved with a famous debate with Luther about freewill.

My focus on these ideas, however, isn’t as directly related to religion. The specific constellation of ideas can be seen in Hobbes’ writings, but more clearly takes form with Spinoza and Locke (the latter two born in the same year).

Spinoza and Locke represent the two sides of the Enlightenment, radical and moderate. Locke isn’t part of my main focus at the moment, although he forms an obvious context for most people in thinking about the development of the Western tradition. Instead, the more radical Spinoza has been on my mind. This constellation of ideas can be seen in the entire Enlightenment tradition and represents a core element, but it is most clearly manifest in the radical Enlightenment with its tendency toward deism.

In light of Spinoza, Hobbes has come to my attention. Hobbes is a precursor to the moderate Enlightenment, but he does share at least one thing in common with Spinoza. Both were determinists.

Hobbes saw human nature as dangerous. So, he put forth a secularized version of the Leviathan/Commonwealth where government takes on the role once held by the Church. 

Spinoza, however, saw human nature as having the individual capacity for moral good. So, he saw a kind of freedom to be had in knowledge and self-awareness. Certainly, Spinoza was the first advocate of the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and democracy. Spinoza was also an early materialist which was related to his views of mechanism and determinism.

About a century later, Paine came on the scene. Paine was indebted to Spinoza, at least in his later work but probably in his earlier work as well (Spinoza’s influence on English deism was well established by the time Paine was born; the influence on Paine probably being a combination of direct and indirect as Spinoza’s influence was wide-ranging across all of the Western world, including influence on Locke). Paine’s radicalism, maybe more than any other single factor, inspired the entire revolutionary era from Europe to North America.

Many early American radical thinkers had notions of America’s destiny. Paine saw it as being a revolutionary fire that would spread across the world and so a destiny not limited or owned by just Americans. Others have seen this destiny differently such as an American Manifest Destiny. Either way, it forms the background to the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and freedom.

Lincoln was inspired by Paine. Also, Lincoln was involved in a social circle that included many radicals: spiritualists, communitarians, free-soilers, abolitionists, feminists, left-wing revolutionaries, etc. Lincoln developed a more determinist view of humanity and history which he at least partly got from Robert Dale Owen, the son of the famous socialist. It was because of Lincoln’s determinism that he thought that slavery was fated to end.  Lincoln believed in natural law which closely relates to the deist Nature’s God which is the divine imminent in the world and in each person, hence all are equal (Lincoln was aware of Jefferson’s deism and his original draft of the Declaration of Independence that declared all people equal, no matter their religion, race or gender).

If freedom is part of natural law, then it is destined to be. God isn’t arbitrary. God’s will is the law of this world, i.e., natural law. As such, all of the world chafes at the reigns of oppression for, from this view, it is unnatural and unsustainable.

During Lincoln’s life, Marxism and socialism were having great impact. Many of the left-wing revolutionaries in Europe had immigrated to America, some even joining Lincoln’s administration or the leadership of the Union army. More of Marx’s writings had been published in a Republican newspaper than anywhere else in the world and that newspaper was regularly read by Lincoln. Marx was another thinker who was influenced by Spinoza, and some Marxists today have attempted to rehabilitate Marxism by way of Spinoza.

Socialism is closely related to environmentalism for the environment includes both the social environment and the natural environment. This also brings us to the whole deep ecology angle which relates to the Nature’s God of the deists and so goes back to Spinoza. The original influence on deep ecology came from a philosophical pessimist, Peter Wessel Zapffe.

There is the common idea of the environment influencing or determining human behavior, an idea that was implicit if often submerged in the Enlightenment project. Different theorists go in diverse directions about this environmental influence, but it has becoming increasingly central to the ideas most clearly formulated by the first Enlightenment thinkers.

Ideas about freedom have a close history with ideas about fate.

This reminds me, as many things do, of the Trickster archetype. There is the liminal space between seemingly polar concepts. They are secretly connected and can’t be divided for it goes beyond mere philosophy.

This is moreso about human nature than about any particular ideology. This constellation of ideas can lead to many ideologies. What makes me wonder is the factor that causes these ideas to constellate in the fist place. What is their affinity?

In the Trickster archetype, there are issues of egalitarianism in terms of bringing the high down low and there are issues of charisma that offers a vision of egalitarianism and empowerment. Thinkers such as Paine and Lincoln certainly weren’t lacking in charisma.

I’m not sure what all this adds up to. Just some thoughts rolling around my head.

Man vs Nature, Man vs Man (part 2)

This post is in response to comments that can be found at my last post.
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I don’t know your exact position on this issue, but let me clear about mine. It’s obvious that American society doesn’t offer an equality of opportunity, much less equality of results. Just look at the enduring systemic and institutionalized racism in all parts of our society.
The invocation of the ideology of equal opportunity is too often used as a magical incantation to dispel fear of a world with real equality. It’s not about perfect results, but it’s a sad state of affairs when abstract ideology is used to rationalize away real problems. I noticed this dichotomy within libertarianism. There are deontological libertarians who argue on moral grounds and there are consequentialist libertarians who supposedly argue based on results. The tricky part is that the results argued for are to varying degrees hypothetical since there has never been a libertarian country as far as I know, at least not in the modern era. So, in reality, the consequentialist libertarians are just deontological libertarians who defer into the future the obligation of moral justification. They get to argue for equality of opportunity without having to show any real world results that their ideology leads to even a semblance of equality for actual people living here and now.

You ask “Equality OF WHAT!!” I can respond with Equal Opportunity OF WHAT!! This is the difference. Equality of opportunity is too often an abstraction whereas equality of results can be concretely measured. Equality is something we aspire to even though it is never achieved absolutely. Also, to the extent that equal opportunity is more than mere abstract ideology, it can only be proven by its results. If an abstract ideology never leads to results, it is a less than worthless and possibly dangerous ideology. I think that it would be naive at best to think that most inequality we see today is ‘natural’ in any sense of that word.

Let me speak about Jefferson and Paine.

Jefferson may never have used the word democracy, but at least early in his life he definitely believed in a radical version of direct democracy in terms of direct civic participation and direct political action. As far as I understand it, his vision of democracy was one of an agrarian society which in today’s terms simply means a society of small business owners who simultaneously are producers. Yes, he believed in equality before the law, but his egalitarian vision went beyond that. He helped create a free public university which goes beyond mere opportunity because it is actively redistributing wealth to ensure public education. There is no way to have a govt without redistributing wealth. It’s just in authoritarian govts the wealth is distributed upwards to a minority elite and in democratic governments the wealth is distributed more evenly among the entire population.

However, Paine is more central to my argument, especially considering he was the first to refer to America as a united country and the first to formulate a version of Bill of Rights. Paine didn’t deny we are born with various inequalities, but he observed that most of the major inequalities in modern civilization are created by modern civilization. I’d suggest you read Paine in more detail to understand this position. He describes it in great detail in ‘Agrarian Justice’.

I’d go so far as to argue that the ideas and policies of the Populist and Progressive Eras were rooted in the thinking of the founding fathers.

For example, in ‘Agrarian Justice’, Paine formulated an early version of social security among other proposals of a what right-wingers would call a “welfare state”. Or take the Civil War as another example. Lincoln admired Paine and was inspired by Paine’s advocation of universal suffrage. Paine wanted literal freedom for all to be written into the constitution. Having failed that, it was left to Lincoln to finish the American Revolution that Paine originally inspired. In the terms of our disccusion, I think it’s hard to argue that the federal government enforcing equal rights (beginning with the Civil War and being furthered with the Civil Rights movement) is merely establishing equal opportunity. The government was, in fact, demanding basic results of equality in the real world. The government didn’t just offer slaves the opportunity to work themselves out of slavery.

I also mentioned earlier about some of the policies of the founding fathers. Besides creating public schools, I pointed out the issue of protectionism and subsidies.

The founding fathers weren’t worried about free market rhetoric because they understood on the global scale there was no free market. It wasn’t enough to say businesses had the opportunity to try to succeed. The founders protected American businesses against transnationals, enforcing an opposing unfair advantage to American businesses to counter the unfair advantage foreign businesses had from foreign governments.

Subsidies were another way they manipulated markets. In the case of subsidies for presses, they were manipulating markets for the public good. They didn’t merely offer the equal opportunity of a free press determined by a free market. They guaranteed (or at least strongly encouraged) equal results of having newspapers and other published works widely and cheaply available to average Americans.

You pointed out that the idea of an equal society has been portrayed as a dystopia in many movies. That isn’t much of an argument. Any idea can be portrayed dystopically when pushed to its most imbalanced extreme. I demonstrated this principle by dystopically portraying equal opportunity in terms of slavery. Imagine a society where some people are born free and some people are born into slavery. In this imagined society, some slaves do manage to work hard and buy their freedom. The fact that a few escape freedom doesn’t mean a whole lot for those who remain enslaved. Telling the slaves they have an equal opportunity wouldn’t comfort them.

Here is the crux of our discussion. I don’t know to what extent I do or do not understand your position, but your view as communicated here seems to be a fairly standard and mainstream understanding (actually, a bit right-leaning I must point out; conservatives tend to emphasize equal opportunity – or rather the rhetoric of equal opportunity – over equal results). As for my position, I don’t get the sense that you understand where I’m coming from (which is less standard and mainstream). We apparently have neither a shared based of knowledge nor a common understanding of terms. I realize I read widely at the fringes and so there is no reason I should assume most people would understand where I’m coming from. However, if you do want to understand where I’m coming from (specifically in terms of having a fruitful discussion about the above post), then I’d advise at least perusing some of the following (in particular, be sure to read ‘Agrarian Justice’). Otherwise, I doubt our discussion can go on much further.

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The following include two of my YouTube playlists, some of my previous blog posts, and various stuff found around the web:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?p=PL288BB2A3BB6F2FDD

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?p=PLC463021B7E9402AD

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/us-republic-dem­ocracy/

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/is-classical-li­beralism-liberal/

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/thomas-paine-an­d-the-promise-of-america/

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/founding-father­s-and-the-christian-nation/

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.­com/2010/10/14/protectionist-a­merica/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrarian_Justice

http://cbelan.free.fr/documents/david_robinson_paper.pdf

http://www.conlaw.org/Intergenerational-II-2-5.htm

http://ijdb.auzigog.com/concept/locke%E2%80%99s-proviso

http://currencycommonsvt.org/2010/08/magna-carta-on-the-commons/

http://books.google.com/books?id=2kx7KiTEZCsC

http://www.ied.info/articles/my-eureka-moment/the-feudal-origins-of-land-titles

http://www.schumachersociety.org/publications/barnes_03.html

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/01/31-6

http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/9010

http://www.politicususa.com/en/founding-fathers-liberal

http://www.punkerslut.com/critiques/let_freedom_ring/the_socialism_of_thomas_paine_contrasted_with_the_traditional_values_of_american_conservatives.html

http://preesi.lefora.com/2010/04/14/our-socialist-founding-fathers/

http://www.peoplevstate.com/?p=780

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/jeffrep.html

http://www.educationnews.org/articles/13663/1/Jefferson-on-Public-Education-Defying-Conventional-Wisdom/Page1.html

http://www.servintfree.net/~aidmn-ejournal/publications/2001-11/PublicEducationInTheUnitedStates.html

http://leftlibertarianquaker.blogspot.com/2007/10/john-woolmans-plea-for-poor-chapter-13.html

http://leftlibertarianquaker.blogspot.com/2007/10/politics-as-extension-of-war-by-other.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism

http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/davis_caspar_henry_george_and_geonomics.html

http://commonground-usa.net/kyri7802.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geolibertarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributism

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/toward-a-truly-free-market-w-author-john-medaille/

http://www.desarrollo.net/2010/09/distributist-john-medaille-on-the-role-of-cooperatives/

http://www.medaille.com/distributivism.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleoliberalism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_libertarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Democrat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheldon_Richman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Marxism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editorial_Collective__An_Anarchist_FAQ__03_17_.html#toc16

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editorial_Collective__An_Anarchist_FAQ__03_17_.html#toc22

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editorial_Collective__An_Anarchist_FAQ__03_17_.html#toc28

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/The_Anarchist_FAQ_Editorial_Collective__An_Anarchist_FAQ__03_17_.html#toc29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Nozick

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker%27s_self_management

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Joseph_Proudhon

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutualism_(economic_theory)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_communism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Bookchin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_municipalism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communalism_(Political_Philosophy)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_societarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communitarianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kropotkin

Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc

This post is about some related thoughts: bias in media, the relationship of society and nature, and the issue of democracy in terms of our present capitalism.

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Based on my experience and research, I think it’s fair to state that NPR isn’t liberally biased… or, at least, not in any clear sense… but  such assessments, of course, depend on how one defines/perceives ‘liberalism’. I’d argue NPR is as mainstream as can be found in that they mostly present a status quo view of the world. I suspect if you were to ask most people seen in the mainstream media (reporters, pundits, politicians, talking heads, etc) and they gave you an honest answer, most of them probably would agree with the types of views that are regularly presented on NPR.

(This ‘mainstream’, however, isn’t the same as the everyday experience and values of the average person. If you want to find something closer to a liberal bias, look at the stated opinions of the majority of Americans.)

Here is an example from NPR. The other day, there was a panel discussion. It was about business use of and government management of public land. As I recall, there were three guests, all mainstream types including someone defending the interests of big business and criticizing too much regulation. They had the typical disagreements one often hears in the mainstream, but they were all basically on the same page about the terms and focus of discussion. For certain, it wasn’t a liberal panel. It was just the old school journalism where two sides of an issue are ‘neutrally’ presented by the host, although done in the non-antagonistic ‘let’s all get along’ style typical of NPR.

Most interesting is what was lacking, specifically in terms of those who claim a liberal bias. Among the guests, there was no left-winger of any variety nor anyone who might agree with left-wing positions; no communists, socialists, Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-primitivists, left-libertarians, hippy environmentalists, deep ecologists, Goddess-loving pagans, social justice Christians, indigenous people, community activists, etc. Among the guests invited, there was no discussion of the poor and minorities most impacted by pollution and environmental destruction, no discussion about the alternatives to our present capitalist system, no discussion about how our society is turning into inverted totalitarianism. The officials/experts who were invited as guests framed the discussion narrowly. It was mostly framed as government regulation vs private profit. there was also some slight secondary framing of local people vs non-local corporations. Framings that were mostly or entirely ignored included: communities vs globalism, public good vs individual good, living ecosystems vs natural resources, humans as part of nature vs humans as separate from nature, etc.

The basic discussion was about how to maximize resource procurement while minimizing environmental destruction. And the basic assumption was of opposition and conflict, of win/lose scenarios where those who lose the most are ignored or rationalized away. There was neither an environmentalist conception of the human species living sustainably balanced within the earth’s biosphere nor a religious belief of humanty as caretaker of God’s Creation. The focus of the discussion was ‘management’ and so the implication was how do we best control and manipulate nature toward our desired ends. What was missing was the possibility of humans not creating problems in the first place that need to be managed.

- – -

I was thinking about how this opposition attitude is common in American society right now. There is the idea that for one person or group to win that others must lose. And there is is the idea that society can only be run well through hierarchies with the only disagreement being which system the hierarchy is organized according to. All of this depresses me.

My friend and I went to see the new X-Men: First Class movie. We were discussing the view portrayed of human evolution and change. It was mostly a view of Social Darwinism (by the way, I’ve always thought it odd how many right-wingers will dismiss Darwinian evolution while promoting Social Darwinism). I mentioned to my friend the thoughts I wrote about above. As a liberal, he of course agreed with me about NPR being a mainstream establishment voice. And we had a discussion on our walk home about the relationship of society and nature.

I told him about some thoughts I’ve had while working at the city parking ramp. In particular, I brought up my wonderings about what kind of vision of the world is implied by the building of large concrete structures in which to store large hunks of mobile metal.

I noticed a pigeon nesting in the ramp and I knew its days were numbered. Management seeks to block all possible nesting sites within the ramp and some of the maintenance workers find great pleasure in ‘hunting’ the pigeons who do manage to find a roost. This mentality is repugnant to me. I understand that animals and humans don’t always cohabitate well, but this situation isn’t ‘natural’ or inevitable. Parking ramps are designed to be ecosystem deserts, to be utterly opposed to all that is natural. But there is no reason to do this other than an ideological paradigm, a worldview that disallows people to envision any other possibility.

A parking ramp could be designed that gave pigeons nesting areas that would keep their poop away from cars and walkways. It could even be designed so that the pigeon poop could be collected and used as it traditionally was used (and still is used in many places) as fertilizer. This pigeon fertilizer could be used as free fertilizer for city gardens or it could be sold in order to make additional profit. That would be a win-win solution. To take this a step further, ramps (or any other structures for that matter) could be designed with habitation for all kinds of animals. Downtowns could be as beautiful to look at as parks filled with trees. And the habitat could help ease some of the environmental destruction that are causing many species to become endangered and go extinct.

What is the advantage of seeing nature as the enemy? There is no practical advantage. It actually goes against the practical benefit of the continued survival of the human species. Yes, we’re talented at ‘managing’ nature, but too often this just means destroying nature. My friend pointed out the conservative position that it shouldn’t be the role of government to spend taxpayers’ money on the liberal agenda of saving nature. My response was that neither should it be the role of government to ensure the private profit agenda of destroying of nature.

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This problem extends beyond just nature. If we perceive nature as lesser than us, then our treatment of nature demonstrates how we wish to treat humans that are considered as lesser than other humans (poor, minorities, indigenous, etc) and how we wish to treat communities that are considered lesser (in terms of legal rights and political influence) than big business. To treat nature fairly is akin to the democratic ideal of treating all people fairly.

The reason I was thinking about democracy was because of an article on The Nation. Here is the article:

Reimagining Capitalism: Bold Ideas for a New Economy
William Greider

And following it is my response:

Our societal problems are caused and contributed to by a lack of democracy. A functioning democracy isn’t just about votes but about participation. In all aspects of society (politics, media, business, etc), power and wealth have become concentrated while wealth disparity and political disenfranchisement grows. Early great thinkers warned against such concentration, but in recent history many wrongly thought such warnings no longer mattered.

A political democracy is meaningless without social democracy (i.e., democratic values such as in the constitution). I don’t know if capitalism’s problems can be solved or if capitalism must be replaced. If there is any hope for capitalism in a democratic society, it will be by capitalism becoming a part of democracy rather than in opposition.

The founders and other early Americans were careful about regulating capitalism. They created protectionism to defend the local economy against transnationals, subsidized presses ensuring a functioning free press available to all citizens, and defined corporations narrowly. The last may be most important. Corporations:

- were only allowed to serve a single project or product, large conglomerate corporations having been illegal.

- could only exist as temporary entities so as to not outlive the people who are responsible for creating them.

- weren’t allowed to participate in politics.

Free market is just another way of saying democratic market. A system, political or economic, can only be free to the extent people involved in the system are free. As some early Americans (Paine, Jefferson, Thoreau, etc) realized, freedom can’t exist without equality (of power and wealth, and of opportunities to fairly earn power and wealth).

Democracy only functions well on the local level where people know the people they are impacting by their decisions and actions. A market can’t be considered free when it impacts people who can’t influence or protect themselves against those (e.g., transnationals) who seek to profit at their expense (including local communities and environments). The more localized democracy becomes the more it becomes direct democracy. Elites mistrust the people, but we the majority need to stop being subservient to the elites in politics and business. The problem is that the system we have now is designed by and for the upper class.

We need a government and an economy that is literally by and for the people:

1) a modernized version of Jefferson’s agrarian democracy (meaning an economy run mostly by small businesses and a society where most people are small business owners);

2) something like what Chomsky describes with anarcho-syndicalism (where businesses are owned, controlled and/or otherwise greatly influenced by the workers and by the members of the community in which the business is located); or

3) a system closer to Germany’s model with strong unions, a publicly trained workforce, high levels of civic participation, well-funded social safety net, community banks, and protected manufacturing.

- – -

Obviously, we live in a messed up society with messed up priorities. We are still operating society according to some very old ideas about human nature, but we are facing very new problems.

True Costs are ‘Punitive’

I was listening to Coast to Coast AM tonight.

http://www.coasttocoastam.com/show/2011/01/15

The second guest was Eduardo Porter.

http://eduardoporter.com/

He was discussing his book, The Price of Everything.

The price of gas came up. Eduardo Porter mentioned data about the actual cost of gasoline versus the lower price we pay for it. The host, Ian Punnett, said he didn’t like such ‘punitive’ pricing. I’m not sure what Punnett believes about global warming, but I suspect he doesn’t believe in it. Anyway, his reaction annoyed me.

We know we aren’t paying the full cost of the pollution we create through such things as gasoline. This is true in terms of future costs, but the costs of pollution have direct impact on our lives in the present. For example, gas used to have high levels of lead. When the government regulated gas to lower lead levels the violent crime rates decreased. In order to implement such regulation, it does cost us money, but ‘punitive’ is such an odd way to label the attempt to improve the world and avoid negative consequences.

So, it’s ‘punitive’ to pay the costs of the environmental destruction we cause? I suspect future generations will feel our present actions were rather ‘punitive’ towards them if we don’t change our ways. This attitude of socializing costs is just bizarre. Private corporations socialize their costs and losses so that the rest of us have to pay for the economic and environmental problems they cause. In return, we the taxpayers want to socialize the costs toward future generations. It’s a constant shifting of costs that no one wants to take responsibility for. I find such an attitude to be depressing to say the least.

There is only one way I can see that this attitude can be rationalized. Someone like Punnett must believe there never will be any costs or at least nothing we need to worry about. I don’t know if Punnett is a fiscal conservative, but it would seem probable. Fiscal conservatives love laissez-faire ideology and believe that free markets can solve all problems. Such a belief is naive. Maybe future ‘free markets’ will solve the problems we cause in the present, but then again maybe not. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not create the problems in the first place? What advantage is there to destroying the environment only to later on trying to figure out how to fix it again?

Ian Punnett doesn’t seem like a bad guy nor does he seem stupid, but his opinion implies a profound disconnection from reality. He told the author that we can’t know what the true costs are. By doing so, he was dismissing what data we do know. Yes, the data is imperfect, but denying inconvenient data is even worse. How does it make sense to base one’s opinions on an anti-intellectual denial of all known data because one doesn’t like the data? If Punnett had other data that contradicted what the author presented, that would be different. But he offered no data. He just criticized. Punnett apparently was making the argument that, by basing our public policies on the known data, it would be punitive to make people pay for the problems they help cause. Huh!?!

If I was more cynical than I already am, I’d start thinking people like Punnett actually want to destroy the world. Such a disconnection from reality almost seems psychotic. No amount of facts can change this view because this view is based on a mistrust of the facts. It’s a self-enclosed worldview.

It makes me sad.

Anarchism vs Progressivism

I was having a discussion with an anarcho-capitalist who was moderate rather than ideological. It was quite refreshing. Most of the anarcho-capitalists I’ve met have been extremely ideological.

I myself am persuaded by both anarcho-primitivism and progressivism. I think civilization is problematic, but as long as civilization exists I consider it morally optimal to seek the greatest good for the greatest numbers while preventing as many problems as possible. I’m unpersuaded by the idolization of enlightened selfishness and the monetization of human life.

Here is a video this person shared with me to present his anarcho-capitalist view:


Here are two of my responses:

FIRST RESPONSE

He is right about the problems of government building logging roads and selling trees at below market cost. Derrick Jensen discusses that issue. Ownership does increase short-term responsibility. A company will want to ensure its profits are maintained in the near future, but this becomes less certain in terms of decades & completely uncertain in terms of generations.

Also, this video leaves out some important issues.

Big businesses want big governments. Big businesses don’t want anarchistic markets that they can’t control or reliably predict and they don’t want anarchistic societies with populations that aren’t controlled where protesters can shut down factories and an unrestrained population can start revolutions.

People who advocate ownership rights in terms of capitalism too often ignore the non-capitalist ownership rights of indigenous people. Big business wants big government to deal with unruly indigenous people who think they have a right to the land their people have lived on for centuries. Big businesses are too often fine with colluding with the genocide or displacement of the indigenous. Sometimes they don’t even need big govt to do this since there are examples of big business hiring mercenaries or local goons to kill or scare away the indigenous.

http://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/does-poverty-rise-as-biodiversity-falls-pavan-sukhdev/

Anarcho-capitalism might benefit small businesses, but it would never benefit big businesses. Big businesses have immense power. If big businesses didn’t like big govt, they could easily use their power to decrease the size of govt. But big business types such as the Bush family want the big govt. The Bush family is even personal friends with Saudi royal family which rules one of the most oppressive big governments in the world. There is no incentive for a big business owner to help create a truly free market where they have to fairly compete. If competition existed, then businesses would be forced to decrease in size and wealth would no longer be concentrated. These big business types like having their wealth and power. They would never willingly give it up just for some noble ideals of a free market.

SECOND RESPONSE

We seem to both agree that the extreme examples of corruption and oppression as seen with concentrated power isn’t human nature. However, I take it a step further in saying all modern civilization is contradictory to human nature.

Maybe I’m less critical of statism and progressivism simply because I’m equally critical of all modern systems of social, political and economic organization. My cynicism makes me have lower standards and more moderate expectations. I’m more accepting of the failings of our society because I just assume that one kind of failure or another is inevitable with civilization as we know it. Or maybe, as someone who feels like a failure at life, I feel it would be hypocritical to be too judgmental of the failure of others. I have a strong sense of sympathy for human imperfection.

Anyway, I had some thoughts that I wondered how you would respond to.

Not all costs and benefits can be monetized, but capitalism (whether free market or not) almost entirely by design excludes anything that can’t be monetized. This is less of a problem with small communities. Hunter-gatherer tribes, for instance, were more widely spread apart so the actions of one community were less likely to impact other tribes. Similarly, early small agricultural communities caused less large-scale problems. But in todays world of industrialization and globalism, impacts are non-local and the human mind isn’t evolved to understand or care about non-local impacts or the strangers elsewhere impacted. I don’t see how a free market can solve this problem inherent to the limits of human nature.

Some costs and benefits are collective such as fire prevention. A private for-profit company couldn’t solve this problem nor could you get everyone to voluntarily agree to a single solution. A collective solution has to be forced on all because the dangers and costs of fires, especially wildfires, impact everyone in a community. A fire can spread from house to house and from community to community. Fires don’t know property boundaries. If not for government, who would bear the costs and implement collective action to do control burns and watch over vast areas of wilderness to spot fires before they spread?

Also, what about long-term costs and benefits such as with local ecosystems? And what about the extremely non-local costs and benefits of the entire biosphere? Pollution doesn’t know property boundaries or national boundaries. We all collectively share the same water and air and we share even many of the same food sources such as seafood. The challenge with environmental costs and benefits is that they’re usually only seen after decades or centuries. A problem prevented may have no short term benefits, but if not prevented it may have massive long-term costs.

As an example, the President Carter helped create the EPA. The reason it was created was because there was little monetary incentive for companies to solve the problems of pollution and environmental destruction. Much of the costs were invisible to everyday experience. Even scientists didn’t know all the potential problems with pollution, but they knew enough that prevention was the wise course despite there being no immediate and apparent benefits. One of the pollutants decreased was lead and the benefits to this weren’t seen for decades. It was only until recent research that scientists could see that the decrease of lead helped to vastly decrease the violent crime rate. No one could’ve predicted this, but problems like this need to be prevented for the very reason we don’t understand them. It’s the precautionary principle.

This issue is complicated with the inherent conflict between transnational corporations and local communities. What monetarily benefits a company such as mining often doesn’t benefit the local community. And the costs of the companies actions may not be seen until years or decades after the company has moved it’s business elsewhere or maybe even has gone out of business. Who is responsible for those costs?

When indigenous people experiences diseases introduced by foreigners… when the water supply is polluted or the wildlife scared away causing the indigenous to be no longer able to sustain their traditional lifestyle… when industrialism leads to poor health because of pollution and malnutrition, who is responsible for the costs to individuals and communities? How does a free market monetize the costs and benefits that are collective and long-term?
I’m reminded of an example that Derrick Jensen used. He was describing this particular community that was established before there was a large federal government and when people mostly solved their own problems. The first settlers killed and scared off the Native Americans living there. The people who live there and own the land are the descendants of the people who stole the land originally. The same Native Americans still live in the area among the people who still possess their stolen land, the people who are descendants of those who killed their ancestors and destroyed their way of life. The creation of such an ownership class is inherently built upon violence and sustained through oppression. All of that violence and oppression happened before big govt.

This story has been repeated a million times around the world. Right now as I write there are indigenous people being exploited and oppressed often by big business or sometimes by small business owners that settled on the homeland of the indigenous. Early settles used the principle of property rights to steal land because they believed/rationalized that he who makes use of the land has the right to the land. This was based on the concept that land in it’s natural state is worthless. This bias continues to this day. We are only beginning to understand the value of health ecosystems to ensuring water and air is clean, things we normally take for granted without considering the costs and benefits.

All these problems I speak of have their origins at the beginning of civilization. The problems of pollution and environmental destruction, malnutrition and disease became apparent the moment people left behind the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and formed permanent villages which became city-states which became states which became empires which became our present industrialized globalism. Indigenous people have perfectly healthy teeth until they are civilized and start eating a grain and sugar based diet. Capitalism or statism then offers the solution of dentistry, but capitalism and statism are part of the social condition that caused the problem in the first place. That relates to wildfires as well. We have to control nature in order to build stable societies and economies, but that control leads wildfires to become larger than they would ever have become naturally. So, once again, businesses or governments have to create solutions for the problem created by the entire system. All of civilization is the solving of problems that civilization created and every solution creates further problems.

So, the fundamental problem is civilization itself. The human species and human communities, ecosystems and the biosphere didn’t evolve under the conditions of civilization. Civilization has only existed for a few thousand years. Civilization has developed faster than evolution can happen. This has led to the extinction of massive numbers of species and the destruction of massive numbers of cultures.

The further problem is that civilization has created massive concentrated populations which are in themselves unnatural and which preclude natural solutions. We humans are a clever species, but it’s our cleverness that gets us into trouble. We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but fundamentally we are driven by the same non-rational impulses as any animal. The difference is that no other species has ever had the power to destroy nearly all life on the planet.

I don’t see how free markets or any other human idea can solve all these problems without just causing more problems… as history has proven. As has been said before, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. But how do we stop? Civilization is built on continual progress or else the whole house of cards might fall down. We collectively as a species have to keep running just to stay in place. Solution? We don’t even understand the problem. We are the problem or are at least inseparable from the problem. Any solution will have to be a complete transformation of how humans operate on a collective level, but such a solution could never be predicted just as we have never been able to predict any of the problems we’ve created. So, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.

I feel frustrated when someone offers up something like the free market. The striving for freedom won’t save us. The problem is that we aren’t free. We are embedded and enmeshed in, intertwined with and integral to the entire world. We aren’t free of anything. The very idea of freedom is one of those many abstractions that keeps us trapped in the Iron Cage of rationality, the bureaucratization of humanity… costs and benefits, ideologies and systems, improvement and progress. It’s not that any given idea is wrong. Free markets, for example, sound wonderful. What frustrates me is the mindset that constantly creates more ideas to be forced on humanity, on reality, on all the world around us. We think that if we just find the right idea or principle, the right method or framework then the the problems will be solved… but the fundamental problems of civilization are never solved… or at least not so far.

Maybe you don’t share my frustration. Maybe you have more hope in solutions despite the all the failings of history. I realize most people don’t see the world as I do. I just don’t see anything changing until something forces humans to change. I’m not filled with hope.

What’s Nature’s Economic Value?

(Full video: http://fora.tv/2010/08/03/Pavan_Sukhdev_What_Is_the_World_Worth)

I wish more people understood this very basic view of nature and the biosphere that supports all life and all civilization.

Species are going extinct and ecosystems are being destroyed at fast rates. I’ve looked at the data before and it’s impossible to really comprehend. There is nothing more important than the biosphere and yet there is nothing that humans treat so badly. People tend to only look at nature in terms of the worth that can be gained by destroying it, but few consider the worth of not destroying nature.

If we don’t collectively start acting according to the precautionary principle, we will inevitably destroy ourselves and possibly most of the biosphere as well. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s hard to comprehend and most people would rather ignore the problem in hopes it will go away, but sadly reality doesn’t conform to our wishes.

There are still large numbers of people denying man-made global warming despite all the scientific research and despite the consensus of scientists and scientific organizations around the world. When ever I see someone denying the most basic facts of science, I just want to punch them in the face. I don’t get it. Will the average person only wake up when we’re on the brink of extinction? We really need to improve science education in this country and around the world. The only problem bigger than mass destruction of nature is the mass ignorance of the average person.

The following is a good analysis of the failure of ‘free market’ advocates to truly understand the problems of how external costs get placed upon third parties (in terms of our present corporatist/fascist/inverted-totalitarian system, this means pviatized profits and socialized costs).

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