Friday, March 18, 2011

David Suzuki at 75

Among the soldiers of the Green-Gestapo, Canadian David Suzuki holds the rank of Generalfeldmarschall at least. He will be turning 75 in a few days, and he is enjoying iconic status among many Canadians, with a movie, a foundation and unrivalled popularity amongst the green and wanna-be-green-gliterati. Personally I think its way-way overdone, but I'm sure Suzuki thinks he is doing the right thing, and yet I totally disagree with him on so many issues. So how could he and I have such a different perspective on things? We're both good people, I am, anyway.
The answer is that we have different world-views, different first premises and as a result a different moral structure.
My view is that humanity is a part of the biota of this planet, and each person on the planet is entitled by virtue of their existence to certain rights. The chief among these rights, is to their own life, each person is in charge, and is the owner, of their own life once they are old enough to leave the caring umbrella of their parents. When are they old enough? They are old enough when they can use their own reason and their own abilities to fend for themselves, and reason is the primary tool that separates us from the other creatures on Earth. As free individuals, people are also free to form associations with others in order to achieve common goals. So far many of you might agree with me. Where we might part is here: individuals or groups may come into conflict when the rights of an individual are infringed upon by another, or by a group. Even if that offending group calls itself the lawful government of the land, by coercing individuals to do things that are essentially contrary to the rights of an individual or individuals, then that is immoral, not justifiable and should be resisted. I believe the government's proper primary purpose is to defend the rights of individuals and settle disputes between them. From a look at the Suzuki's website, my last two statements is where we disagree.

The Suzuki Foundation (DSF) is a lobby group, freely formed and entitled to exist within the laws of the land (although they are not registered lobbyists). I'm fine with that, I even agree with some of their causes. Part of their stated purpose is to " with government, business and individuals to conserve our environment by providing science-based education, advocacy and policy work, and acting as a catalyst for the social change that today's situation demands." Not a problem, generally, but I believe DSF has too much sway on government, and government should not be doing some of the things it does in its policy planning and enactments.
On their website, DSF has a page titled Declaration of Interdependence. I have excerpted a section below:
I'm fairly certain Suzuki would agree with the Declaration and with the part excerpted above. The first sentence spells out that humans are a blight on the Earth, the second sentence claims that the our wealth (in Canada etc.) comes at the expense of the "suffering of millions." The rest is a demand for reparations to pay for the "full ecological and social cost ..... of development." In essence, this document of interdependence  actually separates us from the other creatures on the planet rather than connecting us. How dare we reproduce and become the dominant species of Earth. How dare we presume to alter the planet to bring ourselves comfort at the expense of  "fellow creatures." How dare we succeed! That's my problem with Suzuki!
Don't get me wrong here, I understand how important it is to do the right thing for the environment, and I agree that protecting and preserving all aspects of nature where possible is virtuous. I love to see and be a part of nature in all its glory, that is a value to me and my family. But given the extent of pollution and destruction that has occurred already, do our current rules really work? Even where there is massive government regulation, pollution occurs, oil spills occur, species are lost because of shrinking habitat, and on and on. Will doing more of the same, more regulation by government work? I doubt it.
The problem might simply boil down to ownership. Property that is owned by individuals is property that is protected by individuals. I know it might sound counterintuitive, but private property is always better protected than public property. The legal issues are complex, but the argument that free markets better protect the environment than governments is out there, here for example.
So maybe Suzuki is barking up (or hugging) the wrong tree. I only disagree with him on fundamentals, and the means to arrive at the proper ends. I don't disagree for the most part on the ends, but I do disagree that the means justify the ends. I'm sure his birthday will be well attended anyway.


  1. A good critique. The Declaration is essentially a blueprint for totalitarian control, disguised with nice, soothing politically correct language. To achieve all the good things sought from a fractious human nature, the only solution is detailed control by a regime deemed so much wiser than ordinary mortals. It is also a dubious proposition that this alternative regime will be any kinder and gentler towards people than current ones, although it may burnish eco-friendly talking points.

    How for example does banning DDT help humans, who have seen a resurgence in malaria because DDt use has been scaled back in several places? How does banning genetically modified crops with the potential to give high yields with less fertilizer use on marginal lands help poor African farmers? It doesn't. The "friends of the earth" get to congratulate themselves on their enlightenment, while sipping their lattes (themselves produced via a pollution generating process, and consumed in a pollution generating building that displaced native flora and fauna), while said Africans continue to be malnourished. The examples of such hypocrisy can go on and on.

    Bright Libertarian said:
    I believe the government's proper primary purpose is to defend the rights of individuals and settle disputes between them. From a look at the Suzuki's website, my last two statements is where we disagree.

    Fair enough, I would add though the caveat that to do this, the actions and perceived or claimed rights of individuals will, one way or another, have to be curtailed, limited and/or preempted by governments in order to fulfill this function. Claims of individual rights are often just expressions of one set of humans seeking to impose their own preferences on others. The claims of slaveholders or unions are a typical example. The only question remaining is at what level the coercion will take place, and at what cost?

  2. Thanks, I certainly agree with you or the first point, and I am well familiar with Rachel Carson and the DDT story - ongoing and being fought with "nets," what a joke, unless you get malaria. Agree on the GMO's - I'm even against (perpetual) aid to Africa (see Dambisa Moyo, and H. de Soto), although I'm hearing that some African counties are pulling themselves out of the muck.
    I can't agree that claims to rights, to self-ownership, is a preference. In fact I will go so far as to say that slavery is not abolished, in most "Western" counties slavery has become part of our system. Slaves by definition are not entitled to the fruits of their labour, the slave owners take that. In Canada (and most countries) we pay taxes, mostly involuntarily, through income deduction or other mild methods of coercion (until you refuse then the methods become less mild). So if you are taxed at 50% involuntarily then you are half a slave. When that is recognized for what it is, attitudes might change. My rights end when my choices are limited. I do not choose to send jets to defend Libyan's, but my government did anyway. Where is my right to choose? Why must I submit to 50% + 1?

  3. By rights being the imposition of one set of preferences over another, I mean the way claims of "rights" are sometimes used to essentially impose unfavorable conditions on other parties. Claims of "rights" may actually just be cover plea for special treatment. Thus for example various local activists claiming a "right" to "green space" can use the courts or bureaucracies to impose onerous restrictions on the construction of new housing that overrides the preferences of those who need more housing. Said green activists may also personally benefit by higher property resale values if the restrictions say prevent a new apartment building from blocking their view of a nearby lake etc. In other words, their claim of "green space rights" is really just a cover for their own personal agendas, clothed in the noble language of "rights."

    Likewise slave owners who claimed a "right" to trade and own slaves, had their investments to consider, but their rights in this area were really an imposition of their preferences over those of the less powerful slaves, who in turn might have had other preferences. Libertarian style writer Thomas Sowell expands on these angles in detail in several of his books. Thus could it not be said that sometimes "rights" are relative, depending on who is claiming or asserting them - and that governmental power, to create a balance of competing interests or rights, must needs restrict, limit and/or favor one set of rights over another?

    I would qualify the above by noting that every individuals entitled to pursue his/her self-interest, but still, government action is needed at some level to settle interests that will necessarily clash. Coercion in some way is thus inevitable in attempting to arbitrate disputes of self-interest humans - mandatory court orders for example when a legal case is decided. Would it be fair to say that your key concept is the LEVEL of coercion? Suzuki would deploy maximum coercion, by allegedly wiser mortals and intellects? Libertarians by contrast would employ only the minimum coercion necessary, giving the wisdom of the masses primary credit and scope?

    Re aid- I would endorse your call for reducing or eliminating most aid to Africa, especially when so much of that aid goes to (a) Western financiers who pump up the continent's debt bubble, (b) an army of Western bureaucrats, consultants and other miscellaneous processors of paper who make a good living from their cut of the cash, and (c) the local kleptocrats, corrupt dictators and their supporters. The "poor", in whose name such aid is invoked, seldom see actual cash in hand. Most of it is siphoned off by the iron triangle above. I should add a fourth leg: the vast army of non-profits or NGOs who siphon off their share and actually hinder local initiative and resource generation.

    I have no objection to private aid, charity or investment however, or some public info sharing as to helpful technology and methods. If for example the US Dept of Agri come up with some crop variety good for tropical soils, or the Health Dept comes up with a means to locally produce a cheap vaccine, by all means share the info, and let private entrepreneurs or parties or groups run with it. The public sector has some role to play, as it did in the development of Canada and the US, but why should it be the dominant force, whether directly, or via proxy NGos?

    I have heard of Soto, but what's the story on this Dambisa Moyo you reference?

    Re- taxation and slavery- now that you mention it- it can indeed be likened to involuntary servitude!

  4. Sorry for my tardiness, been busy, we have an elect up here likely and I am involved.
    I have a very narrow definition of rights. I believe there are just a few - negative rights (see, pretty much as defined in the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence: "...certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." And I also believe in limited government, in the same spirit as the D of I.
    Both de Soto and Moyo think aid is pointless. I can direct you to an interesting debate where both of them appeared and debated some socialists, here is the link:
    Unfortunately you will need to register (free) to see it.