Recently by Butler Shaffer: Even Bill Clinton Knows It’s Over!
As I was leaving our neighborhood grocery store, I was met by two college-age women who told me that they were working for Greenpeace, and would like to have my support.
"To do what?," I asked.
"To help save the rainforests, protect endangered species, and end pollution," one of them responded.
"Those sound like worthwhile ends," I said. "What is Greenpeace doing to bring them about?"
"We're trying to get the public to become aware of these problems," I was told.
"So that the public will do what?," I went on.
"To get people to stop doing business with the big corporations that are engaging in these destructive practices," one woman answered.
"I have no problem with people withholding their patronage of business firms," I said. "But what if this approach doesn't alleviate the problems that concern you? What is your organization prepared to do in that event? Is Greenpeace dedicated to using voluntary, persuasive means to accomplish its ends, or will it resort to violence if necessary?"
I was reassured that Greenpeace was a peaceful group, and did not believe in using violence.
"Does any of the money Greenpeace raises go to political efforts?," I asked.
"We do have lobbyists in Washington," I was told.
"And don't these lobbyists try to persuade members of Congress and other government officials to adopt policies and enact statutes that you favor?"
"Of course," one of the women replied.
"But isn't this having resort to violence? Legislation gets enacted that requires people to act in ways they do not choose to act and, if they violate the statute, they will be punished or imprisoned, isn't that so?"
At this point I was subjected to a brief review of my high-school civics class catechisms about how the public interest is served by government doing such things.
"You say government action is required to keep the u2018big corporations' from engaging in the practices of which you disapprove. Who do you think controls the government?," I asked.
"What do you mean?," one answered.
"Let me put it this way: what did you do with your billion dollar bailout money that President Bushobama shelled out some time back?"
She acknowledged that she hadn't received any of these funds, leading me to inquire: "if government acts to further the u2018public interest,' why did only major corporations receive this money? And if these big corporate interests are the recipients of this bailout money, don't you suspect that they pretty much control other programs to suit their ends?"
I then commented on how "environmentalism" was a new religion, complete with "original sin" (i.e., humans upsetting the pristine conditions of Earth), an "apocalypse" (i.e., when mankind's profligacy will lead to its destruction), with all kinds of "sins" thrown in.
"If you are truly interested in protecting wildlife, saving forests, and the like," I continued, "why don't you undertake actions that you can control, and that don't depend upon your using government violence to force other people to conform to your preferences?," I queried.
"What do you mean"," one answered.
"There are a number of conservation groups who have figured out that, when they have to compete with big corporations for government backing of their programs, they usually end up getting only a trifling of what they want. They have decided that, instead of devoting their resources to trying to persuade congressmen, they are better off using their funds to purchase, for example, stands of redwood trees. As the owners of these resources, they can do what they want with them, including deciding to not cut down the trees. With this approach, the conservationists are no longer in conflict with lumber companies."
I went on to point out the many privately owned forests that operate as preserves, which members of the public can voluntarily support and visit. Private groups have purchased u2018conservation easements' from landowners, for the purpose of preserving wetlands. I told them of the late actor, William Holden, who devoted most of his wealth to creating and maintaining a preserve in Africa wherein wild elephants could live. I also know of a man with no family who plans to leave his entire estate to the care of wild gorillas in Africa. "If individuals and private groups can do such things — without putting themselves in conflict with others — do you think you — or Greenpeace — could figure out non-political, non-violent ways of accomplishing ends that you value?"
I further suggested that the people who want the government to undertake various programs seem reluctant to enthusiastically devote their energies or resources to such ends. "Do you really want to accomplish these objectives, or do you only want the government to compel others to do so?"
As an apparent effort to conclude the conversation, one of the women said: "we'll just have to keep fighting!"
"But don't you see that this is the problem? Political systems divide people into exclusive groups, making their coercive powers available to those who control the state's machinery. This can only produce conflict, anger, and, ultimately, the violent and destructive world in which we now live. The corporations you fight today can so easily become the people the government kills in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere."
Our conversation came to an end, and I could see the look of complete bewilderment on the face of the woman who had been the most vocal. I knew two things: (1) I had not convinced her of my point of view, nor had I sought to do so, and (2) she had heard ideas that were unfamiliar to her. Having heard them, they will remain in her mind; she cannot unhear them. At some point she will hear them from someone else and they will not be so unfamiliar. When she hears these ideas a third or fourth time from others, she may be inclined to think to herself: "I've always known that."
As an aside, I've thought of the benefits of having three or four libertarians visit a grocery store on a day when statist proselytizers stand outside to promote some piece of legislation. Each of these libertarians would separately leave the store — perhaps five minutes apart — stopping to argue with or question these clip-board collectivists. What impact might this have on the statists' assessments of public opinion?
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.