Get Me a Butterfly Net

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Julia
“Butterfly” Hill is in the news again – suing
OmniSky
for ads that, she contends, try to capitalize on her
counter-culture fame. (Apparently, Miss Butterfly feels that only
she should be able to capitalize on her counter-culture fame.)

Miss
Butterfly is the young lady who spent more than two years living
in a giant redwood that she christened “Luna.” Luna is on land owned
by the Pacific Lumber Company, and Butterfly was worried that PLC
might, at some point, decide to harvest the tree, what with “Lumber”
being so prominent in their name and all. Hill attracted an enormous
amount of attention with her sit-in, with web sites and environmental organizations sprouting
like mushrooms around her story.

Hill’s
lawsuit stems from an ad campaign OmniSky is running that features
a young woman living in a tree, using their electronic equipment.
“Yesterday’s radicalism is today’s normal behavior,” boasts Darryl
Cherney of Earth First!. “To me, having tree huggings in the mainstream
of advertising or the Sunday funnies is an indication of our supreme
success.” Yes, Darryl, this sort of outlandish stunt does get the
public's attention, much like streaking does. So, to the extent
that streaking is a “supreme success,” so is environmental radicalism.

It
is somewhat ironic that Butterfly is willing to go to court to protect
her ownership of the idea of tree-sitting, while being contemptuous
of Pacific Lumber’s right to use its own land. The belief that Luna
is more valuable than whatever PLC might have been made of her is
the personal judgment of Miss Butterfly and her supporters. Perhaps
they are, in some ultimate sense, “correct.” However, what Hill
did as a result of her belief was an act of violent theft.

It
is the mark of fanatics that they believe their value judgments
are so superior to those of others that there is no sense even taking
others’ valuations into account. Hill’s “poetry” speaks of “our
battle cry to war.” To these fanatics, those who value items differently
than they do are the enemy, possessed of “stone hearts” and “twisted
authority.”

In
dealing with such an enemy, the idea that they might have rights
and values of their own is absent. Pacific Lumber owns this land,
so depriving them of its use is theft. And it is violent because
Hill was forcing PLC to kill her if they wanted to use their own
property. But instead of reviling Hill as the criminal that she
is, the radical environmental movement has made her a hero.

This
sort of fanaticism makes a cooperative social order impossible between
groups that do not share the same value systems. The great Austrian
economist Ludwig von Mises said, in Theory
and History
:

Judgments
of value are voluntaristic. They express feelings, tastes, or
preferences of the individual who utters them. With regard to
them there cannot be any question of truth or falsity. They are
ultimate and not subject to any proof or evidence.

Since
no such group will ever succeed in convincing all others that its
value system is “correct,” if alternate value systems cannot be
tolerated, then they must be violently suppressed, by whichever
group can gain ascendancy.

It
apparently never occurs to people like Miss Butterfly and her friends
that there is a perfectly legitimate, legal, and non-violent way
to protect Luna – buy the land she stands on! This is, in fact,
the way that the free market allows us to express our deeply held
values within a system of social cooperation. If Indian tribes feel
certain sites are sacred to them, buy the sites. If an environmental
group doesn't want a farm developed, buy the farm. Some will complain
that sites like these are “priceless,” and that they should not
be turned into commodities. But if it is true that they are priceless,
than the group in question has made an enormous profit if the site
can be purchased, for example, for a mere million dollars. It is
precisely a system of freely negotiated market prices that allow
us to express our values without stifling the ability of others
to do the same. If Miss Butterfly and her friends valued Luna more
than Pacific Lumber, they should have expressed that by paying Pacific
Lumber for the land.

It
is only by accepting the fact that others will go and create their
own values, in other words, that they are not our slaves our servants,
that we can live with them in a system of social cooperation. Without
this acceptance, each value system has no choice but to sound its
“battle cry to war,” until only one is left standing, on the ruins
of human civilization.

July
18, 2000

Gene Callahan is a regular contributor to mises.org.

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