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Guns and the Environment

Two topics on which the Libertarian position stands worlds apart from that of the majority of people, particularly young people, in the United States. I culled the following from a post to the libertarianism community and the accompanying comments.

carrotgold asked:
What exactly is the Libertarian view on the environment? Like do the candidates plan to enact environmental protection laws?

And also, are libertarians fully against all gun control laws? Or are they okay with treating guns like we do cars (need to learn how to use it and get a license)?


fishsupreme answered with:
The Libertarian view on the environment is that you can do whatever you want to your property, including destroy it. However, you must repay anyone for any of their property you destroy.

Thus, if you pollute the hell out of your own land, but nothing leaves it, that should be legal. But if a cloud of smoke leaves your land and drifts onto someone else's, then you owe them money. Litigation is the most fair way to resolve this, but it's also quite inefficient (each individual having to sue each polluter), so some limited environmental protection laws could be legitimate, so long as they're directed toward restitution to those whose life or property has been harmed. Other environmental laws (e.g. the Endangered Species Act) are not legitimate at all, as they do not seek to protect the rights of others.

As for gun control, most libertarians are fully against all gun control laws. The reason the government wants to register your guns is so they know where they are to take them away from you later. I'd rather they just lacked the knowledge. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure the populace has enough firepower to fight off the government if need be -- to ensure the general public can defeat the army. If it can't, either the army's too big or the general public is too lightly armed. This said, I'd prefer treating guns the way we do drivers licenses (you can have whatever you want, so long as you demonstrate you can use it with a modicum of competence) over the way many places treat them now.


I liked what fishsupreme wrote, and I responded to it with:
The purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure the populace has enough firepower to fight off the government if need be -- to ensure the general public can defeat the army. If it can't, either the army's too big or the general public is too lightly armed.

I agree whole-heartedly, and yet today, this position falls so far outside of conventional wisdom that no candidate for national office (aside from Ron Paul, perhaps) would dare utter words to that effect in public.

I recently received an email link to a site dedicated to protesting the expiration of the "assualt weapons ban." The tacit assumption underlying just about every argument against maintaining an armed citizenry was that the only legitimate purpose for which a civilian could use a firearm would be for hunting. For example, they'd show a picture of Osama bin Laden holding an AK-47, explain that people in the US can legally own a semi-automatic version of the same weapon, and close with "Yeah, like you're really going to go hunt deer with that!"

This said, I'd prefer treating guns the way we do drivers licenses (you can have whatever you want, so long as you demonstrate you can use it with a modicum of competence) over the way many places treat them now.

How do you do that without simultaneously creating a list of folks with guns that the government can use to disarm the (law-abiding) populace?


On the question of the environment...



I replied to carrotgold with:

the problem with the libertarian position


In general, I think, Libertarians only recognize the value of "wilderness" in terms of it's quantifiable financial value as private property. I call this a problem not so much because I disagree with it as because it violates the ethical convictions of the majority of people who think that "wilderness," "the environment," or "the bioshpere" have an intrinsic value that neither correlates with nor depends upon its market value as private property.

From the Libertarian perspective, one can own land, but one cannot own something as nebulous as "wilderness" or "the environment," and since the only legitimate functions of government are to maintain the integrity of individual liberty and to protect property rights, legislation aimed at "environmental protection" not only exceeds the mandate of good government, it doesn't even count as an intelligible proposition.

In this way, the Libertarian mindset is from Mars compared to the from-Venus mindset of most (particularly young) people who consider the environment something quite real and in need of vigorous protection.


I find myself conflicted on the question of environmental regulation. On the one hand, I think many environmentalists hold the mistaken view that in the absence of human intervention, "nature" maintains a sort of homeostatic balance and that climate change and extinction only result from human mis-management. In fact, Earth's climate has undergone continuous change over the entire course of the planet's history, and 99% of all of the species that ever lived have gone extinct, most of them prior to the arrival of humans on the environmental scene.

The authors of the first Matrix movie expressed this mistaken conception of how "nature" works in a great speech that Agent Smith delivers to the captive Morpheous:
Agent Smith: I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure. [emphasis mine.]


Mammals do not "instinctively develop a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment." Elephants decimate forests by knocking down trees. Some predators seem to maintain their numbers at a fixed percentage of their prey's population, but they don't do it by "instinctively developing a natural equilibrium" with their primary prey species. They do it by starving to death when they over-hunt their prey and fail to adapt to take advantage of an alternate food source. Rabbits and foxes introduced into Australia did not "instinctively develop a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment." In the absence of other animals to keep their numbers in check, they multiplied wildly and then starved to death in droves. Cats introduced to island environments did not "instinctively develop a natural equilibrium" with the local populations of flightless birds which had evolved in those isolated habitats. They hunted them to the brink of extinction.

Now, the religious environmentalist, intent on holding humans morally culpable for any and all changes to the planet, may counter that most of the instances I cited resulted not from the actions of non-human animals, but from the actions of humans who introduced these animals into "unnatural" settings. For this claim to make any sense, the environmentalist must assume that in the absence of human intervention, no species ever moved out of the region in which it originally evolved and upset the seeming "balance" of animal and plant life in regions to which they entered as aliens. We must assume that no animal ever caught a ride on a floating tree trunk. All boats are made-by humans. Nonsense.

I could harp on the fuzzy-headedness of the knee-jerk environmentalist all day, but I'll stop here. By now, you either get the picture I'm painting, or you think I'm the Devil.

That said, I don't buy the Libertarian solution that all land should be privatized so that its owner will take whatever action needed to safeguard it from destruction.

As gothaminserenia suggested, we should:


Support private-property ownership as the best way to protect the environment, since owners have a vested interest in protecting & maintaining what is theirs. This could include environmental organizations like the Sierra Club owning lands that they wanted to protect, rather than having the government set aside "national parks" (where politicians can then grant favors for logging, oil drilling, etc, when those companies donate generously to their re-election campaigns). In the past, most environmental problems (such as pollution of rivers) have occurred because "no one" was an owner, so everyone felt they could abuse it.


Are we to assign private ownership to every acre of Amazon rain forrest, to every cubic meter of ocean? Who will buy these properties? At what price? To whom will they pay the purchase price? How will they use it?

The likely answers to these questions seem to be: Only corporations will have the funds to buy most of this newly designated private property. At sweetheart prices. The proceeds will go to governments. They will despoil it for short term profit.

Not exactly a Libertarian dream come true.

I don't have the answer. My intuitive pragmatism seems to call for some kind of government-funded environmental protection, though I also think that governmental "solutions" tend to exacerbate the problems they set out to remedy.

I remain conflicted on this issue.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
prester_scott
Oct. 10th, 2004 04:44 pm (UTC)
a great speech that Agent Smith delivers to the captive Morpheus

Yeah, I remember thinking pretty much the same thing you did when I first heard that.

I don't have a good answer re: environmental concerns either.
tragemorph
Oct. 10th, 2004 05:15 pm (UTC)
So the idea of the Second amendment was once that the people could defeat the army- great, except the time when that could be a reality has long passed us up. If the people have handguns, the army has assault rifles. If the people have AK-47s, the government has fighter planes. And if the people get fighter planes, then, the government has nuclear weapons.

Ultimately I don't see what place the argument of "the ability/responsibility to take on the army if it is justified" has in the modern-day issue of gun control, except as a sort of charming antiquity.

Also, it's interesting what he wrote about the illegitimacy of such things as the Endangered Speciest act. Now, I think private property is great. I think people have a right to keep the things which they create. If you've worked for money, you have a right to your money. If you've created an algorithm or designed a widget, that's yours. But who owns the earth, who owns the natural resources, who owns all the other creatures and forms of life which have independently evolved for millenia?

What kind of "liberty" is it if these sovereign fates are simply defaulted to the hands of monied interests?
kmo
Oct. 10th, 2004 07:01 pm (UTC)
the military
If the people have handguns, the army has assault rifles. If the people have AK-47s, the government has fighter planes. And if the people get fighter planes, then, the government has nuclear weapons.

The military can only remain so over-blown and seemingly omnipotent for as long as we continue to feed it the quantity of tax revenue to which it has become accustomed. The disparity between the power of the military and the power of the citzenry is not an inevitable fact of nature, government, or human psychology. It persists because and so long as we allow it to persist.

The single biggest polluter in the United States is the United States military. The EPA can fine companies that befoul the land, but it doesn't fine the military. To do so would be absurd given that the military doesn't create any wealth. Imposing financial penalties on the military would amount to fining the tax-paying public at large.

But who owns the earth, who owns the natural resources, who owns all the other creatures and forms of life which have independently evolved for millenia?

There's the trouble, for me. If individuals or corporations own it and can do with it as they please, then we seem to have no say in our own collective destiny beyound what measure of say we can purchase. If everybody/nobody owns the land and natural resources, then the government becomes the de facto owner and manager, and the government has demonstrated time and again that it will turn over the natural resourses to whomever has suceeded in currying its favor and that it will polute as despoil to a degree and with an impunity matched by no corporation or private interest.

What kind of "liberty" is it if these sovereign fates are simply defaulted to the hands of monied interests?

I struggle with that question, and intuitively the free-market/private-property model does seem like a dangerous road, but compared to the road we've actually taken, it seems like the more prudent path.
tragemorph
Oct. 10th, 2004 07:23 pm (UTC)
Re: the military
well, okay, sure you can talk about how it would be nice if the US military would chill out a bit, maybe get a bit smaller, less powerful and less expensive, but at the end of the day, you do realize that's not happening in our lifetimes. You may as well try to abolish a force of nature. It's simply not going to happen in a post 9/11 world, and as such whatever we decide to plan for our future, we've at least got to start from our situation as it exists now.

You mention that mass privatization and the free-marketizing of entire ecological systems seems dangerous, but "more prudent than what we are doing now."

Is this not the same thing the vanguard of any revolution thinks? Doesn't every Marxist realize there may be kinks to work out in the implementation of Socialism, but figure that for all it's problems, it's "more prudent than what we are doing now?" After all, if you had the same idealized view of Socialism that a Marxist did, then wouldn't you be saying the same thing?

I really wish we could all just dispense once and for all with the foolish notion that once the revolution happens, the way things are run is going to be less a big hierarchy of half-domesticated monkeys than it was before. Every time they've told us that would be different, and every time they've been wrong.

You can overthrow a government, you can change the political tide of a nation; but you can't change human nature.
meatbody
Oct. 10th, 2004 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: the military
Having been part of the military for almost my entire adult life, I can say with certainty that a large scale uprising my the citizenry of this country would result in probably better than 70% of the military leaving the service, legally or not, to side with the populace. And I say this as a member of the Marines, the most fanatical and dedicated of the country's forces.

Given that the uprising is even decently armed, the technological supremacy of those who might remain on the side of the government would be insufficient.
tragemorph
Oct. 10th, 2004 09:42 pm (UTC)
Re: the military
well, sure, obviously if all the individuals in the military deserted and joined sides with the populace, then the military could theoretically be defeated.

but there will be no "large scale uprising:" there will be some "right wing gun nuts" who are "holding the nation hostage" because that's how it will be reported in the media. Especially given how much everyone's nerves are on edge because of terror, that wouldn't ever catch on with the mainstream; rather, the mainstream would would pitch in mightily to squash the uprising Waco-style long before it had a chance to present any tangible threat.

As a Marine I'm sure that you and the men and women you serve with as trained and equipped to deal with all sorts of opponents bearing all different kinds of weaponry in all different kinds of situations. The psychological effect of a "large scale uprising," specifically one which might make you consider changing teams, might seem to be a potential "weakness" so to speak, but that's simply because that's not what they train you for; it's not your job.

But make no mistake, there's a contingency plan out there. And those in charge of it are not incompetent to even let the tiniest seeds of a large scale military uprising against the governments army occur. Not in a pre-9/11 world, and certianly not after.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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