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Monday, January 19, 2015

Constrained Choice and Owning the Wilderness

Bow can choose whether he wants an apple or some yogurt.

He can choose whether to stay inside or go out.

He can choose to exercise or to rest.

But these are all constrained choices, and he can't, for instance, choose to move to Africa tomorrow. Then again, neither can I.  My choices are constrained, too, though, admittedly, not as much.

Bow can no more change his place of residence by mere choice, than I can go live next door instead of here, without consulting the neighbors about it, or emigrate to a different country without getting permission from the local authorities.  We are all very constrained about where we are allowed to go.

Many people would like to come live here, but they can't.  Many others may want to leave this area, but they don't know how. Not without a job or a place to live or some friends or someone to support them.

People sometimes feel trapped. They may want to go live someplace else, but they can't, unless the people who are in charge of someplace else agree, and even then, they would have to live by rules set down by the people in charge there. Most Americans who are out of work do not even consider working abroad. The natural emigration out of difficult economic circumstances is thwarted by borders -- real and psychological. When there is a famine in one country, people tend to go someplace else where there is no famine, but sometimes the life that they find there is not good.

Sometimes people become enslaved, because they don't know any other way to live. Involuntary servitude happens when choices are so constrained that in order to live, you have to do another person's bidding. whether you like it or not.

Bow is not a slave, because he does not have to work for a living at all, and can choose what he does, albeit from a limited menu of choices. He is not supporting me. I am supporting him. He does not serve me; I serve him. I serve him all day long, meeting his  basic needs, so much so that I can't really leave or go someplace else until he goes to sleep each night, unless I have a sitter.

But wouldn't it be better if Bow were free, free to live in his natural habitat? Yes, much in the same way that it would be good if I could go live free in my natural habitat. But my natural habitat has been destroyed, and his is in the process of being destroyed. So we are refugees, in a way, both of us.

In this article from the New York Times, George Monibot addresses the great loss that most humans have suffered by the ecological changes that humanity has wrought.

While part of this lament resonates for me, another aspect of the article is very annoying. Like most people who are allowed to publish articles in the New York Times, Monibot is a left-winger. So he gets in a few jabs at an unconstrained economy before proceeding with his paean to primitive living.

We fetishize the freedom of business from state control; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to carry guns and speak our minds and worship whom we will. But despite, in some cases because of, this respect for particular freedoms, every day the scope of our lives appears to contract.
We most certainly are not free to conduct our business any way we want, and where did he get this freedom not to pay taxes? I don't know of anyone who has such a freedom, whether the taxes are on income, purchased items or on the real estate and personal property that we already own, but must keep paying taxes on every year in order to be allowed to continue to own them. And yes, this taxation has a great deal to do with the constraints on our choice to live a more primitive life.

Property taxes are kept high so that land will be maximally exploited. Small farms have ceded to large, corporate agriculture not because the small farmers did not want to hold onto their family farms, but because regulation of food production, taxes on income and on land ownership and other government created pressures, including inheritance taxes that apply to the family farm when one generation ends and another takes over, have over the past hundred years pretty much eliminated the majority of privately held farming operations. Now many people who want to farm have to do it on the weekend, as a hobby, while they work in  a big city all week long.

Monibot is actually aware of this, and he has a plan for what to do with the abandoned family farm:

Across many rich nations, especially the United States, global competition is causing the abandonment of farming on less fertile land. Rather than trying to tame and hold back the encroaching wilds, I believe we should help to accelerate the process of reclamation, removing redundant roads and fences, helping to re-establish missing species, such as wolves and cougars and bears, building bridges between recovering habitats to create continental-scale wildlife corridors, such as those promoted by the Rewilding Institute.
I have not heard of this Rewilding Institute, but it sounds sinister. Mind you, I am allowing my own land to go wild just by not tending to it.

I don't need an institute to help me do that. My fences are crumbling on their own, my woods are being reclaimed without planting.  I just need to be left alone. In the wild corridors that Monibot envisions, will humans be allowed? Will they be allowed to hunt for a living and to become hunter-gatherers again? Or will government thugs keep these wild corridors wild by keeping everyone out? Will it be a paradise no one is allowed to enter, much less live in?

The wonderful thing about a wild existence is that you are allowed to pick all the flowers, hunt all the wildlife, eat all you can eat at a buffet served by nature, with only your strength to prevent others from encroaching on your own little eden. I wish I could give that to Bow, but how can I, when I can't even win this for myself? Taxation and regulation are a big part of the reason why.

All around the world, primates are being deported from their natural habitats and sent to sanctuaries and zoos, just as aboriginal people are moved to reservations.  Even macaques in Gibraltar get shipped off to places like Scotland, when doing what comes naturally bothers the people in charge.

The same people who believe in universal healthcare and high taxation of asset ownership  -- who think children should not be allowed to inherit the property that parents leave behind -- are the people who decry the loss of nature. Can't they see that it's their own policies that lead to this?

If real wealth is the ability to control vast expanses of nature, then aboriginal tribes wherever they are found are the richest people on earth. But they are also a small elite: less than the one percent. And yet most of the people who hate the wealthy don't think that less than one percent should be allowed to own wealth that, if exploited to the fullest, could feed billions of people. The policy articulated by James Monroe  in his presidential address  is the policy that most liberals support against the wealthy.
The hunter state can exist only in the vast uncultivated desert. It yields to the more dense and compact form and greater force of civilized population; and of right it ought to yield, for the earth was given to mankind to support the greatest number of which it is capable, and no tribe or people have a right to withhold from the wants of others more than is necessary for their own support and comfort.

 When you speak out against the one percent, remember this address by President Monroe and who the one percent are and always have been.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Taste for Snow

It snowed this morning, and school was canceled.

Bow spent most of the morning  after breakfast asleep, completely hidden by his blanket. But around 10:30 am he asked to go outside. I was skeptical. There was still snow on the bench.

However, Bow insisted that he did want to go outside, so I complied.

At first Bow just settled on the ledge, reluctant to step on the floor below, where there was snow.

But then he started to take an interest in the snow that had accumulated on top of the horizontal support bars.

The snow was starting to melt a little, and Bow decided to sample it.

After making some loud, slurpy, lip-smacking noises of satisfaction with the quality of the snow, Bow decided to go back inside, where it is warm.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Chess, Anyone?

Yesterday, Bow seemed bored. He kept asking for his blanket, then when he got the blanket, he really didn't want it. It was raining outside. "You look bored," I told Bow. "You want to play chess?" He said yes.

He helped me to set up the board.

But he really didn't want to play chess.

That's okay. I didn't really want to play chess, either! There are plenty of other people who are good at playing chess and do it all the time, and those are the people who by rights should be playing chess.

In life, you cannot force people to do what they don't want to. I mean, you can, up to a point, but it really does not pay off.  Bribing people also does not work that well. Leave them alone and see what comes naturally to them, and that is what people will end up doing.

It is better to choose people who want to do something and are willing to do it just for the love of the thing.

Wouldn't it be silly to assume that nobody would ever play chess unless they were paid to do so? Then why do people believe nobody would engage in scientific research or build airplanes or defend their country, unless the government were paying them to do so?

Have you seen the new movie by Hayao Miyazaki about Jiro Horikoshi who designed the Zero fighter plane? Miyazaki makes a great case for the fact that Horikoshi  did not design the Zero in order to make war or to make money, but just because an airplane is a beautiful thing. Too bad the Japanese government was able to make use of his work. Do you think he would not have designed a beautiful plane without government funding?

The 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans is coming up. There is going to be a symposium about it. At the symposium, some historians are going to argue that the British had a superior force because they were better trained and equipped by their government. They are going to try to suggest that Jean Laffite, with his private flints and gunpowder and artillery and well trained privateers did not win that battle!

In Australia, the scientific community is all a-flutter because they have no science minister, and the sciences are getting de-funded. But have you ever met a science minister who made an independent scientific discovery?  A War Minister who won a war? A National Endowment for the Arts bureaucrat who made beautiful art? Keep the government out. Let the chips fall where they may.

Are you worried that civilization will come to a grinding halt? Let it go! Let them all do what they do when they are neither bribed nor forced. Let them do what they do when no one is looking and no one is overseeing. Laissez faire! Beautiful things can happen when people just do what comes naturally.