Power Is What They Want

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The headline blared out at me: u201COmaha Schools Split Along Race Lines.u201D The Nebraska legislature had enacted a statute subdividing the Omaha public schools into three independent geographic districts: one populated primarily by whites, one by blacks, and one by Hispanics. This throwback to earlier u201Cseparate-but-equalu201D thinking should not be surprising in a culture that has seen individual liberty supplanted by politically-defined categories of group rights. If groups — not persons — have u201Crights,u201D then dividing political power and benefits among the u201Cchosenu201D collectives seems inevitable.

What called my attention to this story was the fact that, prior to moving to California nearly three decades ago, my family lived in Omaha. At that time, the government schools were embroiled in another controversy: school busing. The statists used governmental power to forcibly move students from one school to another in order to achieve a racially-balanced distribution throughout the city. Today, just the opposite seems to be the underlying policy, with separate districts dominated by separate racial/ethnic constituencies.

On the surface, this appears to be but another example of the inconstancies associated with political programs. For the same reason that orthodontists need overbites, and lawyers need disputes, statists need an endless supply of social u201Cproblemsu201D for which to offer their violent remedies.

All that is essential to the politically-minded is that the threats they perceive, and the solutions they propose, have a sufficiently plausible basis that will allow the boobeoisie to embrace their programs. There is no need for consistency in purpose or outcome in their policies. If unintended consequences should arise, they can be dismissed as evidence of just how complicated the u201Cproblemsu201D are for which only the foresight and skills of state planners are capable of resolving. Contradiction, in other words, is taken as a confirmation of our personal inadequacies for functioning in a complex world!

In such ways have we learned to accept the contrary promises of politicians who promise us both tax cuts and increased defense spending; free trade and the protection of American industries; and the virtues of personal liberty along with increased police powers. So heated is the debate over abortion, that we fail to grasp the antithetical positions of the contestants. Most of those who preach the importance of u201Cchoiceu201D nevertheless seek to mandate human conduct in other matters; while many of the u201Cpro-lifeu201D advocates tend to be supporters of wars and capital punishment. Likewise, the advocate of urban renewal — resulting in the destruction of older buildings — can equally endorse historic conservancy. In either case, it is the power to make decisions over the property of others that underlies both programs.

We do not pay sufficient attention to the fact that statists are less interested in either the substance of their specific u201Cproblems,u201D or the merits of their proposed solutions, than in retaining and aggrandizing control over the lives of others. We spend far too much of our time giving credence to statists’ issues by making reasoned or empirical responses to their proposals, and too little time addressing the underlying power ambitions. Though some of their fellow travelers doubtless care about the merits of the policies, the statists’ principal concern is to advance a tenable case for extended state control. I am not suggesting that their proposals go unchallenged, but that we understand them as fungible expressions of a deeper need for power.

The self-styled cause of u201Cenvironmentalismu201D is a case in point. The idea of centralized, state economic planning met its death following decades of failed efforts. Such planning was organized around the premise that the lives and resources of people should be subject to the collective decision-making of the state. When such thinking proved destructive to material needs, a different rationale for such systems had to be discovered. The regulation of the u201Cenvironmentu201D provided just such an alternative. After all, what is the environment except u201Ceverything that is not me?u201D

Threats to humanity, to other life systems, and to the planet itself were quickly forthcoming as a justification for the state regulating property interests and human activity. No more did control over the lives of people have to depend upon failed examples of state planning for the production and distribution of goods and services. It was now the salvation of life, itself, that provided statists the raison d’tre for their ambitions for power. They were unable to deny the superiority of the marketplace for the production of food, television sets, houses, and even toilet paper. But protecting the entire planet from the alleged ravages of self-seeking humans was a u201Cproblemu201D that could only be undertaken by, . . . yes, you guessed it, a new form of state planning!

We were initially warned of a coming u201Cice age,u201D with mankind facing a refrigerative fate unless a collective solution was found. Not long thereafter, the source of the threat was not in global cooling, but warming, with many of the advocates of the incipient u201Cice ageu201D now warning us of a slow death in a u201Cgreenhouse.u201D It mattered less whether cold or heat was to do us in. Indeed, the u201Cproblemu201D has more recently been described as u201Cglobal change,u201D a prognosis that allows for any deviation to be regarded as an environmental u201Cthreatu201D around which the statists can offer their collective, coercive responses.

Is the planet getting warmer? The answer is clearly u201Cyes,u201D although — as polar shifts from u201Ccoolingu201D to u201Cwarmingu201D illustrate — the causal factors may be too complex to permit of simple reasons. The politically-correct explanation has been that increasing levels of carbon dioxide are to blame. But the production of carbon dioxide is an unavoidable byproduct of the life process. Plant and animal life have long been engaged in a symbiotic exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen for their mutual survival.

Many of those who profess affection for the environment forget this essential fact: nature pulsates. Birth and death; periods of global cooling and warming; seasonal and climatological variations; tectonic processes of growth and disintegration; polar reversals; and the creation and destruction of star systems, are just a few of the more apparent examples of nature as a great synthetic dance between seemingly opposite but symbiotic forces.

I admit to an ignorance of all the forces at work upon the world at any point in time and, for this reason, am unwilling to employ the powers of the state to enforce my momentary visions upon the rest of you. I embrace the sentiment so well expressed by H.L. Mencken: u201CThe fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.u201D I do, however, believe that most of our personal and social difficulties arise from our insistence upon superficial answers to problems generated by complexities we are unwilling to examine. This is why politicians — and their statist camp-followers — are so eager to translate every undesirable condition into a u201Cproblemu201D to be resolved by the transfer of power to themselves.

The dumping of our entropic byproducts into the air, water, and ground, are nothing more than trespasses upon the property interests of others. They are ways in which we have been taught, largely by the state, to socialize our costs by imposing them upon others. How different, in kind, is the man who throws an empty beer can from his car from an Air Force pilot who drops bombs from his plane? Is there not a parallel between a government that imposes corporate research and development costs upon taxpayers, and businesses that loose dust, chemicals, and other pollutants upon their neighbors? Responsible behavior consists in the internalization of all the costs of our activities. By its very nature, the state never has been and never can be a model for responsible, non-trespassing behavior.

As one who shares with Carl Jung the view that the world will become better only as I address and deal with my contributions to social turmoil, I have my own solutions to the problems of environmental pollution. Unlike the state — which can function only as a socializer of costs — I am able to confine my decision-making to what is mine (i.e., my property interests). While recognizing the inevitability of my actions producing entropic byproducts (e.g., I have no intention to cease breathing in order to reduce my contributions to carbon dioxide levels!) I will use reasonable means to internalize the costs of my conduct.

Life is an endless process of autonomous change. Those who call upon the state to regulate this process, and to bring it within restricted boundaries that they imagine themselves fit to design and control, are in stark opposition to living systems. I am unwilling to entrust anyone with such power over my life or yours, particularly to those who are uncertain as to whether we shall collectively expire in a refrigerator or a sauna. In words whose source I do not recall, u201Csuch power would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of those who fancied themselves fit to exercise it.u201D

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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