Atlas Shrugged: The Price of Progress

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter IX

As I’ve mentioned before, even though Atlas Shrugged is intended to be a complete guide to Ayn Rand’s economic and political philosophy, there are some fundamental aspects of an economy that she never addresses or makes only the vaguest of passing allusions to. I’m going to linger on the scene we discussed last time, because it has one of those fleeting mentions that’s of enormous importance.

Mr. Mowen looked at the skyline, at the belts, the wheels, the smoke – the smoke that settled heavily, peacefully across the evening air, stretching in a long haze all the way to the city of New York somewhere beyond the sunset – and he felt reassured by the thought of New York in its ring of sacred fires, the ring of smokestacks, gas tanks, cranes and high tension lines. [p.255]

Remember, this is in Connecticut. Even if it’s right on the state line, say near Greenwich, a plume of coal smoke that stretches all the way to New York City must be about twenty miles long at a minimum, and likely much longer.

Some people might find this thought alarming, but Rand clearly finds it romantic, even beautiful. Just look at her word choices: peaceful, reassuring, “sacred”. To her mind, it seems, smoke from burning coal and other forms of pollution are the visible evidence of capitalism at work and nothing more than that.

The reality is that coal is one of the dirtiest power sources there is. Nearly all coal deposits contain impurities like sulfur dioxide, which rises into the atmosphere when the coal is burned and reacts with water to form sulfuric acid, falling again in the form of acid rain that poisons wetlands and kills vegetation. Most coal also contains mercury, which is released into the environment by combustion and accumulates up the food chain (this is why pregnant women are advised not to eat too much tuna fish). And burning even the purest coal emits huge quantities of particulate matter – soot – which escapes into the atmosphere, forming that “haze” Rand talks about. But we get a lot more out of it than scenic sunsets: soot in the air causes asthma and all kinds of respiratory ailments, even heart disease.

And then there’s the problem of what’s left after coal is burned: fly ash, which contains a wide variety of heavy metals. One of the worst environmental disasters in recent U.S. history happened in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee, when a containment pond ruptured and disgorged over a billion gallons of ash slurry, a hundred times the volume of the Exxon Valdez spill, destroying homes and choking waterways with toxic sludge.

But the U.S., which has had decades of environmental oversight, is at best a mild example of how dangerous pollution can be. To see the true extent of the problem, look at a developing country with heavy industry and light regulation, like China. In Beijing, the smog has gotten so bad it’s been described as “like standing downwind from a forest fire“, and the U.S. embassy has embarrassed and angered the Chinese government by posting, on its Twitter account, accurate measurements of airborne particulates. It’s been estimated that as many as 400,000 Chinese people die prematurely each year from illnesses stemming from air pollution.

Nor is this just a problem in big cities. In the Chinese countryside, where heavy industrial plants are next door to rural farm communities, millions of acres of land are too contaminated to grow food. Hunan Province, China’s rice bowl, has been rocked by fears of “cadmium rice“, which is every bit as toxic as it sounds. (See also.)

Rand’s philosophy, as we’ve seen, is that if you don’t trust a business, just don’t buy their products. But that advice is no help when a company produces pollution that poisons you whether you do business with them or not.

It’s not that there are no technological fixes for any of these problems. It’s possible to install scrubbers and other safety measures that cut down the pollution a power plant emits. But in a Rand-style libertarian world, what incentive would there be to do that? After all, installing those safety measures inevitably costs money, which forces companies to raise the prices they charge their customers. This means that in true tragedy-of-the-commons fashion, socially responsible businesses will always be undercut by ones that aren’t so conscientious. (Granted, it’s probably bad business to poison your customers, but what if the power you generate is being bought by cities hundreds of miles away?)

As long as you rely on individual rational actors making decisions in their own self-interest, there’s no good way to solve this problem. The only way to prevent it is to introduce a government which can enact laws mandating that all businesses take steps to reduce the amount of pollution they emit, or otherwise clean up after themselves. It’s because of laws like the Clean Water Act that the Hudson River is no longer iridescent and filled with chemical foam, and the Cuyahoga River no longer catches fire.

But this solution was, of course, bitterly opposed by Ayn Rand. According to Jennifer Burns’ biography Goddess of the Market, Rand reviled the environmental movement as “the Anti-Industrial Revolution” and claimed that “it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy”. She insisted that pollution was “a scientific, technological problem – not a political one – and it can be solved only by technology”. The most reasonable reading of this is that in Rand’s ideal world, only the rich, who could afford hermetically sealed houses with water filters and air purifiers, would have the luxury of clean air and water. And as for the poor? Let them breathe smog!

Image credit: Smog in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, via Wikimedia Commons

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Using China as an example seems to undercut your point, since it is one of the most tightly regulated economies and nations in the world. They may well not have the environmental regulations that the U.S. does, but it is certainly the form of government that could put them in with less problems than most Western nations, which then raises the question of “Why don’t they?”, which raises the question of “What would motivate a government to do these things?”. The idea expressed here is that the government sees that there is a threat to the safety or happiness of the people, and then legislates that way. But this presumes that the Chinese government either is unaware that pollution is bad, or that it doesn’t care about its people at all. Well, the latter may be true, but it still then raises the question about what makes a government care enough to put in these regulations.

    And the answer will be surprisingly free market: the government will put these things in place when enough of the people notice the issues and demand that the government do something about the problem. Which is essentially the same way that you’d influence a business or corporation, particularly ones that have interests in multiple fields. If you are convinced that they are doing the wrong thing, you advocate for it and convince people that it benefits them more to buy the cleaner products than the less clean ones, or the goods produced by cleaner methods than by other ones. I’d say that the most successful clean product introductions haven’t come through government intervention, but from customer demand, where people were concerned about the issues and decided that they were willing to pay more to address them, which made all companies jump on the bandwagon and move to or at least provide those options … or, at least, to LOOK like they were providing those options.

    Part of the issue is that the argument relies on simple self-interest, with the idea that cost is everything. When you add in other factors of self-interest, it’s far easier to see that the means you need to motivate a government to act are essentially the same as the mean you need to motivate a corporation to act. At the end of the day, it all comes down to convincing society that you’re right and that they should demand other than what they’re getting. This is not to say that government intervention isn’t the best way to solve these problems, but rather that under both ideas what you need to do first is secure the support of the people, and once you have that things will change, no matter what system you’re running.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And the answer will be surprisingly free market: the government will put these things in place when enough of the people notice the issues and demand that the government do something about the problem.

    I think the word you are looking for is “democracy.” That is why China is failing to enforce any pollution regulations in place – its leaders are not answerable.

    What is it that libertarians/Objectivists/enlightened rationalists have against acknowledging the value of democratic governments? Is it because then they’d have to admit that it’s possible there are differences among governments and that therefore not all governments are bad?

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    It’s kind of refreshing to know that government regulation to promote the general welfare of society is now considered to be part of free market solutions. That point does not seem to have been acknowledged anywhere in “Atlas Shrugged.” If it had been, maybe the protagonists would have simply noticed laws like the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog” rule, and said to themselves, “Well, that’s what the free market has decided, so I guess we’ll recognize the will of the people.”

  • Alex SL

    Oh yes, there is an amazing number of people who have an interest in conflating free market and democracy. You complain about capitalism run amok, they ask you why you want a dictatorship. They claim that capitalism is always peaceful and democratic, and when you point at capitalist monarchies and dictatorships they pull a No True Scotsman. Pretending that anti-pollution laws are a product of the free market is a new one though, at least to me.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Granted, it’s probably bad business to poison your customers, but what if the power you generate is being bought by cities hundreds of miles away?

    This gets at the heart of the problem. The costs of a technology are potentially not borne by those who get the benefits.

    The Objectivist/libertarian approach to bad actors in a free market system is to wait until harm is done, and then we’ll all know better than to buy their products/services again. The people who were sacrificed in order to demonstrate the badness of the bad actors, well, that’s how it goes.

    Alan Greenspan explains that we can’t regulate before anything bad happens, because it will make businessmen sad to be treated with suspicion:

    Moreover “protective” legislation falls in the category of preventive law. Businessmen are being subjected to governmental coercion prior to the commission of any crime. In a free economy, the government may step up only when a fraud has been perpetrated, or a demonstrable damage has been done to a consumer; in such cases the only protection required is that of criminal law.

    - from The Assault on Intergrity essay in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

    So if you are dying thanks to eating cadmium rice, well you’ll be glad to know the government is finally allowed to step in and prosecute the polluters for your death.

    As for the new factory that is causing arsenic pollution – well we can’t regulate that. We can only wait until somebody is harmed and then we’ll prosecute the polluters. Maybe your heirs will even get a pay-out.

  • chrisrkline

    But the free market is not analogous to government. Obviously, there is no guarantee that a government will do what is in the best interest of the people–China being a good example. But in a democratic government the people can force each other to do things that we know collectively that we ought to do but for which there is no incentive to do individually. The free market is very poor at that. We have less pollution today not despite decades of regulation but because of decades of regulation almost all of which libertarians fought against.

    In a idealized market, we do not have equal power. I have power that is proportional to the level of goods and services I can demand. Some people have far more power than others. I don’t alway get what I want, but I always get what I, strictly, demand (once we reach equilibrium). And the rewards are individual. If I can afford an iPhone, I can buy an iPhone. That you don’t want one or cannot demand one at its current price is of no concern. So, what if I want less pollution? Who is selling it? I suppose I might choose to spend more and buy a product from Company A rather than Company B if A produces the product with pollution controls and B does not. But my buying from Company A has very little real affect on overall pollution and since their product is more expensive I would face a real, measurable, economic hurt with little measurable benefit. In other words, I cannot “buy” less pollution for myself in the same way I can buy an iPhone. Therefore, I have no rational reason to buy from Company A. In fact, Company A will go out of business if it is constantly undersold by Company B. This is true even if both A and B understand the long range problems of pollution. If they both decide to make a stand for a cleaner environment, Company C will undercut both and win the economic battle.

    In other words, in a true market, I gain very little when I make “moral” stands like this (which is why libertarians laugh at people who do.)

    In a democracy, unlike a market, I have no more power than any other person. The things I “gain” in a democracy are not things I can barter for or buy. I simply receive what we have voted on collectively. I cannot “buy” a little slice of progressivism. To get the society I want, I have to join with others and form a faction, which gives us power that we individually lack. If I want my pollution free world, I cannot rely on a market, since there is no real market for “less pollution”. It must be done collectively–it must be done politically.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I didn’t claim that they were the product of the “free market”, but that they occur when the people demand it … in ANY governmental system. That’s the same sort of demand that Randians rely on to regulate businesses, and works for them as well.

  • Verbose Stoic

    This response assumes that I’m making a Randian argument. I’m not. I’m pointing out that Adam’s analysis leaves out what would motivate a government to put in those regulations … and, it turns out that history has, for the most part, shown that it’s the same motivation that Rand relies on for corporations. As I said, none of this says that a government isn’t the best way to do it, but you have to secure the support of the people first under BOTH systems, and if you can’t then NEITHER system will work.

  • Verbose Stoic

    First, even non-democratic societies do listen to and have to listen to the people, and will make progress on similar issues and regulations if the people want it. Democracies are indeed more directly accountable to the people, which means that they can and will react faster to their desires … but also will be far slower to take required options if the people don’t like it. In theory, the Chinese government doesn’t need to care about what the people THINK benefits them, and so they could indeed put in these regulations if they thought they were a good idea. So why don’t they think they are a good idea?

    Second, I’m not sure what the last paragraph is in relation to. I’m not any of those things, and as I just said above it isn’t clear that a democracy is necessarily better either.

  • GCT

    Using China as an example seems to undercut your point, since it is one of the most tightly regulated economies and nations in the world.

    Citation needed, especially in regards to environmental law and enforcement of it.

  • Verbose Stoic

    You’ve hit on the one place where a government works better: cases where if one person does it and no one else does they suffer and the problem doesn’t get solved. That being said, in both cases if most people think it’s a good idea it will happen, and if they don’t it won’t. If the government puts in a regulation that most people think isn’t going to benefit them, they’ll hear about it from the people and risk losing the next election, in the same way as if they don’t put in a regulation that the people think does indeed benefit them. So it isn’t about forcing collectively what is a detriment individually, because in a democracy if it is not seen as benefiting the individual themselves then they won’t vote for it either.

  • Verbose Stoic

    You missed the next sentence where I said that they might not have those specific regulations, but it is, I think, hard to deny that the staunchly communist China regulates their economy and their people more stringently than most nations. They didn’t bother putting these ones in. Why didn’t they do that?

  • GCT

    So, it’s government and not the free market, thus contradicting what you wrote above. I think we’re done here.

  • GCT

    IOW, your point was nonsense for which you have no support and the use of China as an example does not undercut Adam’s point.

  • Nancy McClernan

    staunchly communist China regulates their economy and their people

    I question your use of the word “regulate” in this context.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So it isn’t about forcing collectively what is a detriment individually

    I think the people who believe gay marriage is a sin against their god would disagree with you. Or the people who once couldn’t get married prior to Loving vs. Virginia.

    Democracy isn’t perfect – plenty of laws have been used to force collectively what is a detriment individually. As Churchill said:

    Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    And of course in “Atlas Shrugged” the US is a democracy, which is why Kip Chalmers killed himself trying to get to a voter rally in San Francisco. According to Ayn Rand, democratic government was responsible for the decline of America, with its regulations and foreign aid and taxes, and that’s why John Galt must come again in glory to separate the producers from the parasites and usher in a new age of harmony, an age when rational men will not have any conflicts of interest.

  • fuguewriter

    > Atlas Shrugged is intended to be a complete guide to Ayn Rand’s economic and political philosophy

    Not correct. It is a vast panorama of her world-view (though not complete), but panoramae are not complete guides. There are a number of fundamental philosophical concepts not even hinted at in “Atlas Shrugged,” such as her theory of concepts (which is absolutely central). As to economics, it’s not at all complete – as a look at her later writings on economics suggest. I predict we’re going to see, once again, based on a false sweeping generalization a bunch of claims about how incomplete Rand is.

    > smoke from burning coal and other forms of pollution are the visible evidence of capitalism at work and nothing more than that.

    Let me help you, from her non-fiction writing:

    ” In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man’s life expectancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe’s population grew by 300 percent—which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.

    ” If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily. Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):

    “1900 47.3 years

    “1920 53 years

    “1940 60 years

    “1968 70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)

    “Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent Thank you’ to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.”

    - http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/ecology-environmental_movement.html

    > coal is one of the dirtiest power sources there is.

    Correct – the number of epidemiologically excess deaths from coal (especially in the underdeveloped Third World areas) is a scandal. I recall the WHO estimates it at about a million people a year. A great argument for not having underdeveloped countries, i.e., crushing statist government, literally looting dictators, Third-World Marxism for decades in the 20th c., and so on..

    > acid rain

    Not to make like Nancy, but:

    The principal natural phenomena that contribute acid-producing gases to the atmosphere are emissions from volcanoes. Thus, for example, fumaroles from the Laguna Caliente crater of Poás Volcano create extremely high amounts of acid rain and fog, with acidity as high as a pH of 2, clearing an area of any vegetation and frequently causing irritation to the eyes and lungs of inhabitants in nearby settlements.[24] Acid-producing gasses are also created by biological processes that occur on the land, in wetlands, and in the oceans. The major biological source of sulfur containing compounds is dimethyl sulfide. – Nitric acid in rainwater is an important source of fixed nitrogen for plant life, and is also produced by electrical activity in the atmosphere such as lightning. – Acidic deposits have been detected in glacial ice thousands of years old in remote parts of the globe.[13] – Soils of coniferous forests are naturally very acidic due to the shedding of needles, and the results of this phenomenon should not be confused with acid rain. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_rain#Natural_phenomena

    Most of your comments re. coal don’t take into account technological advances like clean(er) coal technology. Still, the *government fostered* permitting of coal pollution – now that the effects of pollution are better understood – is a scandal. I recall the U.S. suffered something like 15,000-20,000 epidemiologically excess deaths due to coal every year for many years. (Not sure about up to date figures.) Rand, of course, was writing “Atlas” long before such things were well-understood.

    > To see the true extent of the problem, look at a developing country with heavy industry and light regulation, like China

    To see the true extent of the problem, look at the former Soviet Union and its vassal states. They had omnipresent regulation – there was little but regulation..

    > In Beijing, the smog has gotten so bad it’s been described as “like standing downwind from a forest fire“

    Notice how you’ve filled up a long post with present time alleged factoids with, thus far, no relationship to “Atlas Shrugged”? Quantity over quality, again.

    > Rand’s philosophy, as we’ve seen, is that if you don’t trust a business, just don’t buy their products.

    “Trust” is a red herring. Rand’s philosophy is that people have inalienable individual rights and government exists to protect them. This includes not being poisoned, your land being rendered toxic, and so on. If a company next door to you is harmfully polluting past is property lines in any way or will so pollute, under Rand’s advocated system of government you have legal remedies. Critics regularly mistake Rand for some kind of “trust business or at most don’t buy” anarchist. She wasn’t.

    > But that advice is no help when a company produces pollution that poisons you

    How many companies in today’s culture would do that, when they obsessively worry about every stray Tweet? You’re also neglecting the phenomenon of boycotts. Remember, in a Randian world there would be *fewer* favors for business. Comcast wouldn’t have local monopolies. Coal power stations wouldn’t get magical waivers to pollute. The Randian ethic cuts against bad business very harshly, and she describes it in “Atlas.” I’m quoting from memory: “But Orren Boyle’s best alloy was some crackling mixture that no one cared to buy.” There’s loads of examples of bad businessmen in “Atlas” (and in “Fountainhead” businessmen are less heroic yet). Don’t mistake Rand for a reverse Marxist as to favored class. Marxists (at least vulgar ones) say “Trust the industrial proletariat and they’ll magically take care of you.” Rand doesn’t hold that about businessmen. She wants each person to be independent, proactive, and protected as to their individual rights.

    > It’s possible to install scrubbers and other safety measures that cut down the pollution a power plant emits. But in a Rand-style libertarian world, what incentive would there be to do that?

    Possibility of lawsuits. Public pressure. Doing things right in a craftsmanly way – much easier when government isn’t ruining the economy, as with fake money.

    > those safety measures inevitably costs money

    This is what comes of not actually studying a thinker. Rand never said “violate rights if it gets you more money.” Just the opposite. Notice how well the Taggart do under Dagny and then other people. This is an extremely shallow view. Why do you see only selected things?

    > socially responsible businesses will always be undercut by ones that aren’t so conscientious.

    This depends upon a mechanistic theory of business, in which everything remains the same except the variable you want to play with, and so there’s a race to the bottom. If business became a more morally-uplifted activity – notice that *Rand is bringing morality into business*, then more businessmen would act with pride – like Steve Jobs, with his finishing off the interiors of his machines with the same care as the exteriors. (It’s interesting that one of his rare public outings just before death was to see pt 1 of the “Atlas Shrugged” trilogy.)

    > it’s probably bad business to poison your customers, but what if the power you generate is being bought by cities hundreds of miles away?

    Where did the courts and tort law go? Rand didn’t advocate their being abolished, so what happened? Also, so many of these arguments depend upon the magical isolation and disempowering of individuals. If Power Company X is a killer, do you seriously think it would long survive? Especially since in Rand-world there would be truly, completely, holistically deregulated power markets.

    > rely on individual rational actors making decisions in their own self-interest

    Not what she advocates. She advocates *action* guided by rational self-interest, which is first and foremost self-initiated action. Is it to any of our rational interests to permit any company to kill an innocent (or a guilty, in supplanting government functions)? Hell no. There’s your answer.

    > enact laws mandating that all businesses take steps to reduce the amount of pollution they emit, or otherwise clean up after themselves.

    Apparently, for you the State is the only powerful actor. You’re wrong: people are powerful! ; )

    Anyway, your solution is weaker than hers. Under her theory, business would have to *not pollute* (in a defined harmful way) past their property lines, and yes, that includes future pollution too (like maintaining an ash slurry in a dangerous way).

    > It’s because of laws like the Clean Water Act that the Hudson River is no longer iridescent and filled with chemical foam, and the Cuyahoga River no longer catches fire.

    It’s principally because a) pollution was not well-understood until lately – if you want to talk about the Hudson and industry, talk about PCBs from General Electric and b) there were millenia of habituation to pollution behind it.

    > But this solution was, of course, bitterly opposed by Ayn Rand.

    The payoff comes! And is incorrect. Rand did not oppose “the solution” you have trotted out.

    > Rand reviled the environmental movement as “the Anti-Industrial Revolution”

    She opposed it for the actual agenda of stopping or (almost same thing) hampering industrial progress – which was quite public and vocal in the environmental movement of the time, as with the Zero Growth movement and preposterous figures of Barry Commoner and Paul Ehrlich. (For real heartlessness, look to these kinds of would-be dictators. Forced sterilization and all.) We see it has not died with things like self-proclaimed “eco fascists” and such. More of her actual thinking is at http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/ecology-environmental_movement.html

    > “it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy”.

    There’s certainly support for this. Read her reasoning.

    > She insisted that pollution was “a scientific, technological problem – not a political one – and it can be solved only by technology”.

    Essentially true – observe the environmentalists who believe in global warming who now endorse the former Evil Incarnate: nuclear power. Bear in mind the current scientific understanding of the time and what environmentalists were saying then, e.g.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb

    The Objectivists (and others) have gathered plenty of quotes to support their conception of an underlying hatred of technology and industry.

    > The most reasonable reading of this is that in Rand’s ideal world, only the rich, who could afford hermetically sealed houses with water filters and air purifiers, would have the luxury of clean air and water. And as for the poor? Let them breathe smog!

    Another fantasia based on free-association. If only it had more to do with Rand’s actual beliefs, namely that each person regardless of class has the right to his/her own life, which g – which has severe consequences for actual polluters and poisoners (as opposed to the million and one eco-moral-panics, like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daminozide , to pick one of many ).

    P.S. Since mods have been interestingly selective about posting my replies, I may or may not (be able to) answer replies.

  • fuguewriter

    The Objectivist approach is that government and tort law exists to safeguard individual rights. Actual polluters would be more harshly dealt with in a Randian world than in a pressure-group mixed economy in which they can buy favors, exemptions, permits, etc. – as in “Atlas” as it goes on. Which would constrain future polluters all the more – as would negative public reaction. This oh-well-everyone-can-die idea is laughable. It shows an inability to process what Rand actually says.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes we know what kind of regulation Randians want – use people as guinea pigs to assess the danger, rather than attempting to assess and prevent the danger in the first place.

  • Nancy McClernan

    This is what you said:

    I’m pointing out that Adam’s analysis leaves out what would motivate a government to put in those regulations … and, it turns out that history has, for the most part, shown that it’s the same motivation that Rand relies on for corporations.

    How is that anything but you claiming that Ayn Rand’s laissez-faire capitalism has been vindicated by history?

    Do you really believe that the free market represents the will of the people in exactly the same way that democracy does? And yet Adam presented empirical evidence for what happened when the free market was permitted to pollute. It would have continued polluting except that government regulations put an end to it.

    The Rand solution would be to let pollution get so bad that it is indisputable that it is causing wide-spread death and ilness and then prosecute the polluters.

    The government solution is to say that it’s likely the pollution will cause widespread death and illness and so let’s stop it before it happens.

    It’s about trade-offs. We want the benefits of technology but must deal in some way with the dangers. The Randians so worship the free-market that they’d gladly sacrifice people’s lives on its altar.

  • Nancy McClernan

    First, even non-democratic societies do listen to and have to listen to the people,

    Examples please.

    Democracies are indeed more directly accountable to the people, which means that they can and will react faster to their desires … but also will be far slower to take required options if the people don’t like it.

    What does this mean? Far slower – than what?

  • skyblue

    Flying into San Diego there can be a good view of the difference in air quality between that city and nearby Tijuana, which often has a brown cloud hanging over it. The first time I saw this the difference was striking and it had me wondering about differences in environmental regulations across the border.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And of course Rand could easily solve the problem in “Atlas Shrugged” – just have John Galt invent a pollution-free form of coal. That should be easy enough for someone who creates a limitless source of energy.

    Here on earth we don’t have that option, and we have the likes of the Koch brothers fighting coal pollution regulation every step of the way.

    http://www.polluterwatch.com/koch-industries

    The Koch brothers of course are libertarians who are associated with Reason magazine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_Foundation

  • Verbose Stoic

    Why would it be more in the benefit of a government to do that than it would be to the benefit of individuals to do that? That’s a completely unfounded assertion, as BOTH sides — as I pointed out — need to have the evidence to convince people before they can do anything, however or whenever they get it.

    A government’s only advantage here is to have funded agencies set up to do nothing else BUT look for these sorts of issues, but any such organization only gets funded if they indeed find them. Making that their main purpose runs the risk of the organizations overreacting to potential problems to justify their own existence.

    The issue with Randian solutions is that they tend to overemphasize the rationality of people to do things that are in their own self-interest, or to expect self-interest to do more than it can achieve. The issue with the alternatives is that they tend to ignore self-interest issues and assume that people won’t put their own self-interest ahead of the good for all. We don’t really have a full set of alternatives that properly balance both … although this is NOT to say, as people tend to interpret such comments, that a government is a bad way to go about solving those problems.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Would you have rathered I said “run”? They control pretty much everything and there is pretty much nothing that a business can do in China without the government’s involvement, as far as I know. To make it abundantly clear, if those businesses AREN’T doing the things Adam talks about to reduce pollution you can bet that it isn’t because the government doesn’t want them to.

  • Verbose Stoic

    You assume that I’m claiming that the motivation that Rand relies on is the one that Rand SAYS they rely on. I’m not claiming that at all. I’m claiming that the motivation they both rely on is: convince the people that they should want X to be the case. History has indeed shown that democratic societies — and all governments — rely on that as much as Rand would rely on her “free market” convincing of the people. Is it the exact same way? No. Under the free market, the currency is dollars; in a democractic government, the currency is votes; in non-democratic governments, the currency is resistance. But all of these stem from the people and them taking direct action, and that requires them to be convinced that it isn’t good for them and convinced enough to take direct action. Thus, you have to be able to convince people that your actions are best for them under all systems.

  • Verbose Stoic

    French Revolution is probably the most famous, but we’ve seen it time and time again in non-democratic nations, including in communist ones. Heck, “Arab Spring” ring a bell? No, it’s not as often, not as quick, and is far more dramatic than it would be in a democracy, but that doesn’t mean that they’re ignored completely … and good dictators, for example, do enough things to make the people happy so that those big events never happen.

    As for the last point, far slower than non-democratic nations. If the government decides that something needs to be done but knows that the people won’t like it and won’t support it, a non-democratic government can just go ahead and do it and take the popularity hit. Democracies can’t, if for no other reason than if it’s unpopular enough they’ll be voted out next election by a government that will roll it back to keep a promise to the people and make them happy.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I think the people who believe gay marriage is a sin against their god
    would disagree with you. Or the people who once couldn’t get married
    prior to Loving vs. Virginia.

    I don’t get this point; it has nothing to do with the point of a government regulating something so that it benefits the collective, but may hurt individuals. You seem to be appealing to the idea that some people don’t LIKE same sex marriage, but again in a democracy if the majority don’t like it you won’t put it in. So, the only point here would be that we can convince people who won’t benefit from the policy to vote for it, meaning that you can convince people who will never marry someone of the same sex themselves to vote for a policy that allows it. Which is probably true, but works against the point that a government has to be the one to do it since if you can convince people to do that you can convince them to support other cases as well.

    Again, a government that is less democratic, if it was convinced that same sex marriage, for example, was right would have an easy time putting it in place; they’d just do it. Which is why, at least from what I’ve heard, the Soviet Union had, at least in part, equal representation for men and women in the government.

    As for the last point, I think it has been conceded that Rand was staunchly opposed to communism, and almost certainly liked it less than democracy. I suspect, then, that Rand didn’t dislike democracy so much as what a democracy with the societal attitudes she railed against would do or institute.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The French Revolution is the first example you thought of for societies that listen to the people? The French Revolution is an example of regime change. Not the same thing.

  • GCT

    The Rand solution would be to let pollution get so bad that it is indisputable that it is causing wide-spread death and ilness and then prosecute the polluters.

    Maybe prosecute. I’ve yet to see a way for one to do so in a Randian system.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And as for the other item:
    You:

    Democracies are indeed more directly accountable to the people, which means that they can and will react faster to their desires … but also will be far slower (than non-democratic nations) to take required options if the people don’t like it.

    Yes, well what’s the good of the speediness of the actions of a non-democratic nation if it doesn’t take the will of the people into acount? This comparison makes no sense.

  • GCT

    You assume that I’m claiming that the motivation that Rand relies on is the one that Rand SAYS they rely on.

    So, we can’t take Rand’s actual arguments as meaning what she says, we have to assume that she meant the right thing? Why aren’t you done yet?

  • GCT

    IOW, you were wrong to make the claim you made, as I’ve already pointed out and you seem to be admitting to here, although your over-sized ego won’t allow you to admit it.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m claiming that the motivation they both rely on is: convince the people that they should want X to be the case. History has indeed shown that democratic societies — and all governments — rely on that…

    In the case of a democracy it’s the other way around. The US government didn’t care about gay marriage – a group of people who wanted gay marriage convinced the US government (with great resistance in many cases) that there should be gay marriage.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Do you think that “running things” and “regulating things” are synonymous?

  • Robert Scott McKnight

    But, as we have clearly seen in banking, oil, and other industries, Rand’s ideal simply does not hold water. Less regulation and less oversight simply leads to monopolistic corporations and no choices for consumers to actually make to drive bad actors from the market. Big Bank simply buys up smaller banks, and you are left with price fixing oligarchies. The same with big energy, big oil, big retail, and etc. The problems we have now are exactly linked, by demonstrable Mt. Everest size piles of evidence, to the insanity that is deregulation and privatization. Did we prosecute the directors of RBC Bank for money laundering? We had the evidence. Nope, “To big to jail.” Politicians complaining (the Rand Acolytes) that BP had to clean up its mess in the gulf. Rand was just an insane old Social Security recipient and complete hypocrite. I, honestly, do not even understand why people would give her any attention at all.

  • Nancy McClernan

    A government’s only advantage here is to have funded agencies set up to do nothing else BUT look for these sorts of issues, but any such organization only gets funded if they indeed find them. Making that their main purpose runs the risk of the organizations overreacting to potential problems to justify their own existence.

    Yes, there are no perfect fool-proof systems. That doesn’t mean that therefore we should not have government regulation agencies. You want a perfect world based on your own preferences? Write a novel, like Ayn Rand did.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Not synonymous, but t’would be odd to expect that a government that can only make things against the law would be more efficient at regulating the environment, say, than a government that not only can make things illegal but can also literally tell all the businesses to change, right now.

    Government regulation beats out private free market arrangements on the basis of control, as they can control, through the laws, what happens in their society because they have been given that power. Communist societies, and China is no different, have as much control as you could possibly have. So having control is not, in and of itself, sufficient to get these things put in place. As an example, in the U.S. you can blame the lack of certain laws on the constitution, or resistance from voters. That’s not an excuse in China, and can’t be. So it can never be the case in China, as it could be in the U.S., that the government sees the need but won’t do it because they’ll be voted out if they do. So, again, why don’t they do it?

  • Nancy McClernan

    The issue with Randian solutions is that they tend to overemphasize the rationality of people to do things that are in their own self-interest,

    The issue with Rand and “self-interest” is that people’s self-interest is whatever Ayn Rand says it is. Which is why the employees of the State Science Institute get no sympathy from Rand when they object to Rearden Metal. Stadler tells Dagny that they object because they realize it will make them look bad because they are scientific incompetents. How is opposing Rearden Metal in this scenario NOT in their own self-interest?

    It is of course in their self-interest to hang onto their jobs and their reputations – both of which are threatened by Rearden Metal.

    Rand believes that they should recognize that the objective superiority of Rearden Metal cancels out their self-interest.

    And then there’s the case of the Taggart Death Train Incident, where one of the parasites is a mother who puts the concerns of her family before that of the wealthy. In Rand’s opinion the woman should have recognized that objectively the concerns of the wealthy should trump concerns of the family. Which is why Rand felt the woman deserved to die, along with the woman who thought she deserved transportation and the playwright who was a meanie to businessmen.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I’d take your word more seriously if I thought you capable of understanding what claim I had made, but you are usually incapable of actually seeing that, so I’ll wait for a more detailed demonstration of what I am “admitting to”, either from you or from someone else.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Um,do you think that I was saying that the GOVERNMENT had to do the convincing? I don’t say or imply or require that at all, so this isn’t any sort of “other way around”.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Since I’m not a Rand supporter, I can quite easily point out where she doesn’t understand the basis of her own arguments and use that to demonstrate that two sides who think they are rabidly disagreeing that they rely, at their base, on the same or similar presumptions. All I have to be able to do is demonstrate that, and no one is disagreeing with that idea.

  • Verbose Stoic

    No, as an example of a case where if the government doesn’t listen to the people, it gets itself into deep trouble. The replacement need not be any better, which again Arab Spring seemed to demonstrate …

  • lawrence090469

    Have you read the part about how wonderful cigarettes are yet? Or is that in Fountainhead? Something about man’s mastery of fire, blah blah, regurgitated Nietzsche, etc. I am embarrassed that I ever admired this crap. High school was not my finest hour.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I think you try to do too many things at once in any given comment which is why it’s often very difficult to understand what you are trying to say.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Because the will of the people and what most benefits the people aren’t necessarily the same thing. This is what hammers Rand’s view, so let’s not ignore it when arguing against her and it applies to your arguments.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I’ll concede to that … although I tend to think that it’s more that my views aren’t polarized; they tend to be in the middle and so tend to attempt to criticize both sides at the same time, which means that people can’t slot me into a nice positional slot, meaning that you can’t use that as a context to understand what my views are. Which is why people like GCT tend to argue based on assigning me to the slot they hate the most and then claiming to have figured out my hidden agenda.

  • Nancy McClernan

    No, as an example of a case where if the government doesn’t listen to the people, it gets itself into deep trouble.

    But that’s not what you were initially talking about. And since I can’t read your mind, I can only judge what you are thinking by what you write. You changed the subject at some point between the time you introduced the notion of governments that listen to the people and the time you offered the French Revolution as an example of governments not listening to people, without telling me.

    It’s very tiresome.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Well there’s definitely a writing clarity issue here. I recommend tackling one issue per comment. It will save much unnecessary angst I believe.

  • Verbose Stoic

    The issue with Rand and “self-interest” is that people’s self-interest
    is whatever Ayn Rand says it is. Which is why the employees of the State
    Science Institute get no sympathy from Rand when they object to Rearden
    Metal. Stadler tells Dagny that they object because they realize it
    will make them look bad because they are scientific incompetents. How is
    opposing Rearden Metal in this scenario NOT in their own self-interest?

    I think I commented on that there, but I don’t see that as “acting in your self-interest is bad” but more “we shouldn’t have a societal idea that the people in these agencies AREN’T acting on their own self-interest”. It only causes problems for Rearden because people think the agency isn’t self-interested, and is only saying that because there really is a problem. However, they aren’t saying that because there really is a problem, but because it’s in their self-interest to have people THINK there’s a problem even if there isn’t one. If we all thought that every agency or person we dealt with was always putting their own self-interest first, then we could evaluate their claims better and won’t have to rely on acting blind.

    Admittedly, government agencies have an easier time making it so that the self-interest of those in it is finding the right answers, by punishing them for missing problems and for delaying advances unreasonably. That’s about the only way to make those sort of oversight agencies work in all cases; some people will be dedicated to safety, but what about those who aren’t?

  • Verbose Stoic

    I never said we shouldn’t have them, but let’s not ignore the problems with them when we posit them as our main solution.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Um, I never held up the French Revolution government that formed AFTER it as an example of a government that listened to the people, which seems to be what you’re arguing about here. I held up the French Revolution as an example of the CONSEQUENCES of a government not listening to the people. That you jumped to my considering their government as being a good one despite the fact that the French Revolution was an event and not a government itself seems to be a problem with your way of reading things, not mine with expressing them.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Let’s have an example of what “Rand actually says” pertaining to this issue.

    In a Randian world rational men would have no conflicts of interest, so that would solve any and all pollution problems. Do you believe in that too? Or is that just what those Objectivists, who you are certainly not one of, not in a million years, would say.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I predict we’re going to see, once again, based on a false sweeping generalization a bunch of claims about how incomplete Rand is.

    I predict we’re going to see irony.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Not to make like Nancy, but:

    The principal natural phenomena that contribute acid-producing gases to the atmosphere are emissions from volcanoes. Thus, for example, fumaroles from

    A citation, just like Nancy! And imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

  • fuguewriter

    Considering that Adam typed his article on capitalist computers created by free market transactions (which also fund government), which were powered by George-Westinghouse-fostered polyphase AC networks which are fired in no small measure by coal, we’ve already seen it.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I prefer to use the work of bona fide anthropologists rather than the Ayn Rand lexicon to get my facts about the relationship between the industry and human life-expectancy

    Stone age populations lived healthier lives than did most of the people who came immediately after them: during Roman times there was more sickness in the world than ever before, and even in early nineteenth-century England the life expectancy for children was probably not very different from what it was 20,000 years earlier. Moreover, stone age hunters worked fewer hours for their sustenance than do typical Chinese and Egyptian peasants – or, despite their unions, modern-day factory workers.

    - Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/067972849X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

    While there are definitely benefits to the industrial revolution there is not a simple connection between industrialization and human health.

  • fuguewriter

    What Rand said: “Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company)”

    As for life-expectancy:

    Upper Paleolithic – 33 Based on data from recent hunter-gatherer populations, it is estimated that at age 15, life expectancy was an additional 39 years (total age 54).[10]
    Neolithic[11] – 20
    Bronze Age and Iron Age[12] – 26
    Classical Greece[13] – 28
    Classical Rome[14] – 20–30 – At age 10, life expectancy an additional 35 to 37 years (total age 45 to 47)
    Pre-Columbian North America[15] – 25–30
    Medieval Islamic Caliphate[16] – 35+
    Medieval Britain[17][18] – 30 – At age 21, life expectancy additional 43 years (total age 64).[19] [dead link]
    Early Modern Britain[12] – 25–40
    Early 20th Century[20][21] – 31
    2010 world average[22] – 67.2

    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#Human_life_expectancy_patterns

    As for the basic Motor that’s driving it: http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/12/chart-of-the-greatest-and-most-remarkable-achievement-in-human-history-and-one-you-probably-never-heard-about/

  • Nancy McClernan

    OK, it’s helpful to be clear going forward on which are your views and which are Rand’s views. Especially since I may not necessarily agree with your views of Rand’s view.

  • GCT

    Blah blah blah. You argue out of both sides of your mouth so that you can’t be pinned down. Yet, I still take you to task for the actual arguments you make. It must be nice for you to be able to hand-wave away all objections as being my irrationality, but it’s simply not true. You made some egregiously bad statements above that I, and others, exposed. Now, you’re trying to weasel out of them so that you can claim that you’re not wrong. Why are you so pathologically unable to admit any sort of error?

  • fuguewriter

    Nancy mistakes Rand’s idea of “no conflicts of interest” for “never disagreeing.” What Nancy doesn’t account for is that Rand is talking about what she calls their actual, objective interests – not their own understandings/misunderstandings.

    “No conflicts of interest” isn’t the solution to pollution issues – which must be properly defined – they don’t include non-issues like eco-panics over Alar or claims that nuclear power can blow up like Hiroshima – a popular claim in the ’70s. The ultimate solution in a Rand-advocated society is that it’s not to your rational self-interest to pollute: it violates the rights of others, it’s bad craftsmanship, it will expose you to lawsuits and other types of liability and horrible PR and loss of reputation (remember, in a Randian world respecting the rights of others – including property rights – would be more of a component of reputation than now), and so on.

    The cost of clean tech wouldn’t be terribly much, anyway, with all the productive ingenuity and investment capital let loose.

  • GCT

    Adam made the claim that China has very little in the way of environmental regulations, and that it’s resulting in much pollution that is harming the people there. You claimed that it’s a bad example to use because China actually has tons of regulations. When pressed on it, you admitted that they don’t have environmental regulations, but you still want to claim that Adam is somehow wrong for using China as an example. If you weren’t such a raving liar and dishonest charlatan, you would’ve retracted your statement by now.

  • GCT

    How would that work? How do I sue a polluter? For what? Have they stolen from me? Have they violated my freedom? Have they stopped me from taking my ideas to market? Have they violated a contract? No? Then, on what basis would I take them to court in a Randian world?

  • GCT

    At least you grew up. Some here have yet to do so.

  • GCT

    “Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent Thank you’ to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.”

    May I suggest you do so by standing over it and breathing in that life elongating coal smoke? What? You don’t want to do that? Why not?

  • Azkyroth

    If only.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I said from the beginning that they don’t have these environmental regulations. It was the main point of my comment, asking WHY a government that has no problem regulating everything that happens in their people’s lives doesn’t have these regulations. YOU were the one who jumped to the idea that I was saying that they HAD these environmental regulations in place and then from that misunderstanding to my backtracking or retracting my statement. I have nothing to retract: China has a tightly controlled economy and nation, and has absolutely no practical or philosophical objections to regulating businesses in this manner, and yet it doesn’t. So it’s not just a matter of “get the government to regulate”. You have to ask what motivates a government TO regulate specific things … and that’s what my comment was aimed at trying to answer.

  • GCT

    To see the true extent of the problem, look at the former Soviet Union and its vassal states. They had omnipresent regulation – there was little but regulation..

    False dichotomy. It’s not either omnipresent regulation or no regulation. There are many degrees in between. But, continue to tilt at your windmills and burn those straw men.

    Notice how you’ve filled up a long post with present time alleged factoids with, thus far, no relationship to “Atlas Shrugged”? Quantity over quality, again.

    The relationship is that the policies that lead to what is happening in China are what Rand was championing. We can see the real world effects of such ideas happening, right now, and none of us like them. Even you seem to think that what is happening in China isn’t that great. The problem is that you can’t bring yourself to see that it’s what Rand pushed for – deregulation.

    This includes not being poisoned, your land being rendered toxic, and so on. If a company next door to you is harmfully polluting past is property lines in any way or will so pollute, under Rand’s advocated system of government you have legal remedies.

    Does this include any second-hand smoke that might have billowed over from her property to someone else’s when she was indulging in those rational cigarettes of hers? What about the smoke stacks you were talking about before that are so great? Where do you think that smoke goes, or do you actually believe that breathing in that smoke makes one live longer?

    Comcast wouldn’t have local monopolies.

    Antitrust laws were on the books before Rand was writing. They were enacted because it was possible to form monopolies based on the law. Those pre-antitrust laws were very short on regulation and other things that Rand rails against. IOW, Rand would have approved. And, why not? If I provide the best service for something, why should I not be able to obtain a monopoly (or really, if I just have enough money to buy out the competition)? Neither you nor Rand have an answer for that. But, I guess you only don’t like monopolies when you think they have government imprimatur. So, either you’re a hypocrite or just oblivious to your inconsistencies.

    I’ll leave others to wade through the rest of your rant.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Oh it’s all there – times ten. John Galt has his own brand of cigarettes.

  • GCT

    Let me quote you back:

    Using China as an example seems to undercut your point, since it is one of the most tightly regulated economies and nations in the world.

    Considering that the point was about environmental regulations and you admit that Chine does not have a lot of environmental regulations, are you prepared to say that you were in error in claiming that China is a bad example? Oh, and hedging your bets by claiming that maybe they might not have the regulations we do isn’t exactly a strong statement.

    It was the main point of my comment, asking WHY a government that has no problem regulating everything that happens in their people’s lives doesn’t have these regulations.

    Which is why you claimed it was a bad example? No, wait, that can’t be it, because it doesn’t show that China was a bad example at all.

    YOU were the one who jumped to the idea that I was saying that they HAD these environmental regulations in place and then from that misunderstanding to my backtracking or retracting my statement.

    You said they have one of the most tightly regulated economies and that it was a bad example because of it. Given that it was an example of a country with lax environmental regulations, perhaps you can see why I might take you to task for that. Except, that would mean you would have to admit that you are wrong about something. If you had an ounce of integrity, you would admit that China is not a bad example of a country with lax environmental regulations.

    I have nothing to retract…

    Because you are a hypocrite and a liar.

  • fuguewriter

    This reflects that you don’t understand Rand’s system. As she might say it, you’re taking it as a disconnected series of intrinsic absolutes (which absolutes it doesn’t even advocate, like “business is always right and never wrong and can be trusted to take care of us.” Whether you agree with her system or not, you have to understand it if you critique it.

    Here’s the basic derivation. (This is necessarily very broad – you’re not going to get a whole book written for free – and is based on real-life, normal applications and not every marginal situation that can be constructed – so please don’t flip contexts, e.g. to the microscopic.)

    You have the moral right to your own life. From this comes your moral right to your property. What is the right to property? It is the right to quiet or unmolested use, enjoyment, and disposal. What is the act of pollution? It is the emission of a harmful or noxious substance past the emitter’s property lines or within public spaces (like public thoroughfares – which do have a place in Rand’s thought, though how much she never said – that’s for another discussion), or the danger of same. Property rights include the right to not be endangered – to endanger (as by your neighbor keeping a pile of leaking toxic-chemical drums, or drums that will leak the next day or month or year) is to violate property rights. Anyone who pollutes/attempts to pollute/is producing the danger of pollution is subject to immediate injunction by a peace officer and suit at law, the same as anyone who steals/attempts/plans to steal or brandishes a weapon illegitimately or any other rights-violation. This, of course, includes issues like pollution of subsurface water tables – there’s a well-developed body of law on riparian and sub-surface water rights.

    To turn to your specific examples:

    > Have they stolen from me?

    Stealing is one specific form of violating property rights. In the sense of absconding with an object, obviously not. But, as Rand might say, you can’t take one of her derivatives and ignore a primary.

    > Have they violated my freedom?

    Yes, though that’s not the primary objection: you have the right to the free use, etc. of your property.

    > Have they stopped me from taking my ideas to market?

    Highly derivative issue.

    > Have they violated a contract?

    Possibly, but not at all necessarily. Bear in mind that in a Rand-advocated world, all sorts of cultural practices and business developments would arise that we cannot possibly predict. And please don’t maintain that doesn’t happen – study spontaneous/emergent order. This is one problem with these discussions: no small group of people can do justice to the ingenuity of people left even semi-free. Unexpected consequences will always arise – including in a Rand-advocated world.

    There would be many ways to address pollution to the extent that it was an issue. One example would be for cultural practices to arise in which people don’t do business with polluters … boycott-networks … the various forms of the press would keep track of pollution convictions, injunctions, and do investigations … another would be HOA-type restrictions, designed to make places people choose to buy property safe and clean … and the curious thing is, your own argument takes shows that people *would*. If pollution were such a danger in such a world (which is doubtful – it would be much less, for reasons already said in this thread – prosperity, optimism, etc.), then there’s every reason for people to act in their many ingenious ways to fix the problem,

    > on what basis would I take them to court in a Randian world?

    A final note: the single victimized property-owner – who somehow exists outside all social and legal context and the many others who would be concerned at his/her plight – is an atomized artifice. In a Rand-advocated world, the heavy penalties meted out to polluters would exercise a deterrent effect on possible future would-be polluters.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’ll leave others to wade through the rest of your rant.

    There’s so much that there’s plenty to go around.

    Pollution is one of the better examples of the failures of the free market to regulate itself, because it is so liable to occur as the result of technologies that benefit other people. Acid rain is a perfect example. As the Wiki article that fuguewriter cites notes:

    The principal cause of acid rain is sulfur and nitrogen compounds from human sources, such as electricity generation, factories, and motor vehicles. Electrical power complexes utilising coal are among the greatest contributors to gaseous pollutions that are responsible for acidic rain. The gases can be carried hundreds of kilometers in the atmosphere before they are converted to acids and deposited. In the past, factories had short funnels to let out smoke but this caused many problems locally; thus, factories now have taller smoke funnels. However, dispersal from these taller stacks causes pollutants to be carried farther, causing widespread ecological damage.

    So the Objectivist faith in the market will not serve because the people benefitting from the employment, power etc from the local factories don’t have to live with the down side – they just send the pollutants downwind and let somebody else worry about it. The people downwind have no ability to remedy the situation through the market – they are not part of the local market. They can only count on the empathy and the good will of the factory people.

    But of course once John Galt comes again in glory, rational men will have no conflicts of interest, so that will solve all problems, without government intervention.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Remember that this has to relate to what Rand wanted.

    Rand wants a government that will not regulate business matters except in extreme cases.

    Adam points out that the U.S. does regulate on business matters — with the specific example of environmental regulations here — and because it is willing to do that it is better than what Rand wants.

    He then uses China as an example of a nation that does, presumably, what Rand wants.

    Except … China is a country that is more than willing to regulate business matters. They do it all the time. Their lack of environment regulations has NOTHING to do with their views on regulation. They like regulating. They do it a ton. Thus, using an example of a country that will regulate business matters and DOES regulate business matters even MORE than the U.S. does is a BAD example to use against Rand, because all she’d do is turn around and point out that being willing to regulate and having a government that does regulate doesn’t mean that you’ll be any better off. I then went on to examine why that is, and why it is that a country like the U.S. that IS far less willing to regulate businesses than other nations has those regulations, and the argument I make is that it is because the people supported doing that … which, then, is the same mechanism that Rand suggests will do it without a government. Now, as I pointed out, a government may still be better at doing this, but Rand and Adam effectively, without realizing it, start from the same point: get the people to demand it, and either a government or a corporation will provide it.

  • fuguewriter

    Better to breathe in the indoor coal smoke in underdeveloped nations held down by socialism and Marxism, aye? As I recall, the WHO estimates about a million people a year die early due to primitive coal-burning indoors in said nations.

    The Americans who were alive when Rand wrote that in the early 1970s were alive in no small measure because of said life-prolonging coal-generated electricity. This is what comes of tearing Rand out of context, thus: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/context.html

    Pollution is better understood now. Rand herself said her system was historically contingent: that she could not have come up with Objectivism before the industrial revolution.

  • GCT

    Remember that this has to relate to what Rand wanted.

    Oh, so Rand wanted environmental regulations? She didn’t? Oh, then why are you still claiming that you aren’t in the wrong…oh yeah, because you’re not just dishonest but insufferable to boot.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    Nice quote-mine from Wikipedia there on acid rain.

    The immediately preceding line to your quote is:

    70 Tg(S) per year in the form of SO2 comes from fossil fuel combustion and industry, 2.8 Tg(S) from wildfires and 7–8 Tg(S) per year from volcanoes.[23]

    i.e. human activity releases ~7 times as much SO2 as natural sources.

  • Alex Harman

    No, it’s an example of why even non-democratic governments have to give some attention to what the people want — if they ignore the people long enough, the leaders tend to end up shorter by a head.

  • Alex Harman

    “cases where if one person does it and no one else does they suffer and the problem doesn’t get solved.”

    There’s a term of art in economics and political science for that (extremely common and prevalent) case, which Adam already invoked in his post above: The Tragedy of the Commons. It’s perhaps the greatest Achilles heel of libertarianism, which is why libertarians tend to downplay its importance or pretend that it can always be solved by privatizing whatever commons are at issue.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I’ve talked about it in other threads, but the Tragedy of the Commons isn’t an issue for Objectivism, because Objectivism is based on rational egoism, and the solution to the Tragedy of the commons is to get people to realize that if they want to take all the resources they can carry, and everyone else does the same thing, they’ll end up with nothing and so in the long run it benefits them more to compromise than it does for them to be “selfish”. What I mean here is more a case where a product or action won’t be useful at its task or benefit anyone until you have a certain critical mass; in short, if one person buys that product, they will pay more and won’t solve the problem at all, so there is no benefit for that person at all, while if, say, half of the people buying the worse product switches then it would be cost effective and would solve the problem. It’s very difficult to convince someone to care about something they really don’t care about, and you can’t really appeal to benefit in these cases. Here, the government can intervene to make the loss less prominent, allowing the other benefits into play and so getting that critical mass.

    I guess what I’m trying to talk about are cases where the short-term loss definitely outweighs the long-term gain for most of the people who would have to take the action. You can’t solve that through rational egoistic reasoning, but you can solve that through the government intervening to tweak the relative loss/benefit numbers.

  • Alex Harman

    That’s the other important concept in economics that libertarians like to downplay or ignore: externalities, the economist’s term for effects a transaction may have on individuals who are not party to the transaction. Pollution is one of the major negative externalities of many kinds of transactions in an industrial society. The purpose of many regulations is to internalize externalities — that is, force the actors causing them to deal with the costs themselves, instead of dumping those costs on other people.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes – another good example is the big banks counted on the public to cover losses incurred by their reckless but so-profitable gambling with unregulated derivatives (among other things.) You can thank Ayn Rand’s #1 fanboy Alan Greenspan for the unregulated derivatives.

    They tanked the world’s economy, got fat bonuses and are paying their lobbyists to try to hinder derivatives regulations (among other things) to this very day.

  • Alex Harman

    “Rational egoism” as a solution to tragedies of the commons is unjustifiably optimistic about human nature. In a system where a shared resource is used at a sustainable level because all users voluntarily limit their use, all it takes is a few individuals whose self-interest is a bit less enlightened than the rest to ruin it. They may not even perceive themselves as cheating — their biases might lead them to rationalize that the amount they’re taking isn’t really too much. For that matter, it’s often difficult to estimate what rate of extraction will be unsustainable for a particular commons (fisheries come to mind as a good example), and motivated reasoning will lead many users of the commons to argue for the highest plausible level of use for themselves, rather than err on the side of caution as they ought to.

    I’m not saying voluntary associations can never solve the tragedy of the commons: the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, for example, established rules more stringent than any government has on the size and numbers of lobsters each boat may harvest, and its members are quite good about following them. In particular, they set an upper limit on size (four pounds), as well as a lower one (one and a quarter pounds), because it turns out that the number of eggs a lobster produces increases exponentially as it grows (IIRC, a five-pound lobster produces ~100 times as many eggs as a one-pound lobster). Thus, very large lobsters are much more valuable to the lobstermen in the ocean breeding the next generation of their species than they ever could be as catch to be sold.

    It helps that it wouldn’t be easy for a lobsterman to violate the rules unilaterally; if a boat brings in more than its quota, or lobsters larger or smaller than the permitted size range, the owners of the lobster pounds on shore won’t buy that portion of the catch, because they too have a vested interest in preserving the lobster population as a resource. However, that means that Rand or one of her followers might decide the MLA was “collectivist” and therefore not a “proper” capitalist solution to the problem of maintaining the lobster fishery at all.

  • fuguewriter

    We’re not seeing that from banking, oil, and other industries. Rand wasn’t in favor of “deregulation” – which always turns out not to be what it claims to be, Rand was in favor of a full-blown free market under objective law, which means total separation of State and economics, When the government controls currency (and makes it into unsustainable paper), you don’t have a full-blown free market.

  • fuguewriter

    > i.e. human activity releases ~7 times as much SO2 as natural sources.

    There’s a dimension called time this does not include. How much longer have there been volcanoes versus humans?

    Acid rain appears to be another eco-moral-panic. Like Alar and so much else.

  • Anathema
  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    “Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent Thank you’ to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.”

    That is an astounding display of illogic. A basic example of the post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy. Is this a person who passes for a deep thinker in your view?

    Here’s what actually happened. The industrial revolution was preceded by the agricultural revolution, led by New World crops and imported fertilizer, which produced lots of excess food. This caused a population boom and resulted in lots of people migrating to the cities, who provided labor for the new factories. Life expectancy for these people went down compared to those living in rural areas. It wasn’t until about the mid 19th century in the UK, by which point you had child labor laws, unions, and public sanitation, that the lot of the average city dweller started improving.

    The biggest contributor to life expectancy was public sanitation, brought to you by Big Government. Another was child labor laws and compulsory education, brought to you by Big Government. Another was clean air and water laws, brought to you by Big Government. You get the idea.

    No one denies that the industrial revolution was a great thing that, eventually, make things better for everyone. The question is how the externalized costs and public goods problems were best dealt with. History is quite clear on this. Go give a silent thank you the nearest, grimiest, sootiest bureaucrat you can find.

  • Science Avenger

    I guess you’d have to show they’ve damaged you, similar to what you’d do to someone who poisoned you. If their pollution destroyed your property, you’d go that route. Seems ridiculously inefficient to me. With all due respect to Greenspan and Co., we do know a bit about the world. We don’t have to wait to see the carcinogens kill the fish to realize we ought not put it in the water.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    By the logic laid out here by fuguewriter, we could also eliminate the police in a Randian utopia and just rely on tort law.

    After all, if you get mugged, raped or murdered, all you have to do is figure out who harmed you, gather sufficient evidence to prove it, track the guilty party down to where they live, and then sue them for damages. And if they don’t have money, they’ll lose “reputation”, which is just as bad. Let the markets decide how much justice you get!

  • Tova Rischi

    I live in Fresno, CA. I’ve been to Beijing. There is (according to my tour guide) dust that blows in from the Gobi aiding specifically Beijing’s problem, but yes, Beijing and China are very very bad air wise due to pollution. But to be honest, sometimes I think Fresno’s worse; at least, the San Joaquin. There was a day in mid December – I stepped out, and couldn’t see the house 500 feet away. It was not fog, too late, too dry, and too hot for that, though we do get that.

    Our best geographical excuse is that the San Joaquin Valley is part of a larger system, unlike any other in the world. No where else is there a place like this, where, on the one or two days a year after it rains and the stars align, you can be surrounded by mountains so distant but majestic you could honestly believe nothing existed beyond them.

    That greater Valley likes to create systems though where potentially clean air is pushed up and blows over the entire valley over to the other side. So we get stuck with whatever in the air until the rain, which is infrequent and light enough that some want to call us a desert climate, not a Mediterranean one.

    Why? Agriculture, mostly. Field burning and the dust stirred up. But also from Power, from industry, from cars. We’ve also seen 120°F dry temps and summer is often at around 110 so that just adds to it; the whole damn state was on fire when I came back from Beijing actually and from the plane I could tell that the valley was in worse condition that year. I have bad asthma, but I actually remember feeling relative relief in Beijing and Xi’an.

    I also feel like I should share this: my dad was born in Albany, OR in the Willamette Valley. There was a paper mill there that’s still there, which causes the entire valley to stink rather badly. Like, sulphury fart bad. Apparently his family use to tell people they were from the “Armpit of the Willamette Valley”. Oh yeah – bad weather means that that stink still gets trapped there now and again, like say, around Christmas time about a week ago.

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    Time is irrelevant because these are cycles – the amount of sulphur coming down as acid rain equals, on a long enough timescale, the amount released into the air in the first place.

  • Verbose Stoic

    “Rational egoism” as a solution to tragedies of the commons is unjustifiably optimistic about human nature.

    Oh, I agree completely. If people really were fully rational egoists, you might be able to solve a lot of these problems, but we know that people aren’t and don’t seem to be capable of being that fully rational. Ironically, her view suffers from the same problem that communism suffers from: both might work, in theory, as long as you fundamentally change human nature. Without that, both collapse.

  • fuguewriter

    “Time is irrelevant ” said no scientist ever.

  • Nancy McClernan

    That’s not fair – I hear the collectivists allow the bureaucrats a weekly ration of soap these days.

    ;-)

  • antialiasis

    If people are supposed to just be able to sue companies that pollute outside their property, it seems to me the only real difference between that and making it illegal in the first place for companies to pollute outside their property is that in Rand’s version individuals have to waste their time and money to personally sue the companies every time it happens. What exactly is the benefit here? It seems to me that leads to more individuals’ rights being violated, because the requirement that people personally sue the companies as individuals will discourage them from actually doing anything about it. Why not let the government handle such things?

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    I used to live in Fresno, and I well remember those “holy crap, there’s a mountain range there” days.

  • Alex Harman

    Which actually makes sense, as both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx were believers in the tabula rasa fantasy that there is no innate human nature. Marx thought that the blank slate was filled in by one’s class consciousness, Rand by one’s philosophical premises, and neither of them was capable of admitting how much our cognitive capabilities and biases are shaped by our evolutionary past. That they reached such equally but oppositely wrong conclusions from the same false premise might be the most amusing thing about those two destructive clowns.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Not just evolutionary past (and if you are a proponent of evolutionary psychology then I have just as many issues with you as I do with Rand) but infrastructural present.

    For example, Rand despised the cow worship of Indian culture without having any interest in considering the possibility of material survival reasons for the practice. The Indians just had incorrect premises.

    But Rand has much in common with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris in the belief in the primary importance of thinking the right things. Dawkins and Harris (and their many supporters in the atheist community) are convinced that the reason a segment of Muslims are terrorists is because of violent text in the Koran, with virtually no acknowledgment of the complex historical-political-economic factors that drives the terrorist activities. The Muslims just have bad premises, as far as Dawkins and Harris are concerned, and if they’d never read the Koran all would be just fine.

    It’s a simplistic view of human culture and unfortunately Rand is by no means the only believer in the “idealist” view of culture and behavior.

  • Alex Harman

    I’m not a proponent of pop evolutionary psychology, most of which is extremely shallow and promoted by people with little understanding of evolutionary biology or psychology, but it would also be extraordinarily naive to think that evolution has no effect on our psychology. The main error most evo psych proponents make is grasping for evolutionary explanations of phenomena that are highly culturally variable, and posing overly specific adaptations and causes for them. I think a good rule of thumb is that if you don’t find a feature in all human cultures and some form of it in other primate species as well, there’s probably not much point looking for an evolutionary explanation for it, as you’re unlikely to be able to come up with a testable hypothesis.

    On the other hand, there are some cultural universals, such as incest-aversion, that do appear to be evolved traits of all hominids (the family, by its current definition, includes chimps, bonobos, and gorillas, as well as us and the extinct members of Homo and Australopithecus) or even all catarrhine primates. For that one, Freud and Westermarck came up with competing testable hypotheses — Freud’s cultural, Westermarck’s evolutionary. The Westermarck Effect is pretty well-supported by several lines of evidence now, while Freud’s Oedipus Complex is largely discredited, at least as an explanation for why essentially all human cultures have incest taboos.

    Your description of Dawkins and Harris doesn’t sound as though you’ve actually read any of their work, only some of their critics who also haven’t taken the trouble to do more than skim their writings before criticizing them. Arguing against the naive view that religion is not a factor at all in Islamic terrorism and misogyny is not the same thing as denying the importance of political, historical, and economic factors, and I have never seen Dawkins or Harris come remotely close to doing the latter in anything by either of them that I have read.

    By the way, there’s a petition behind that link above that you might want to sign, assuming you disagree with the lower house of the Afghan parliament’s position that family members of people who torture and murder women and girls should not be allowed to testify about the crimes they witness.

  • J-D

    It would surprise me a lot if Ayn Rand and Adam Lee disagreed about everything. But I know that Adam disagrees with Rand about some things.

    If the quotes from Ayn Rand are accurate, she thought that the imposition of environmental regulations by government power was a bad thing. Adam obviously disagrees, thinking that at least sometimes the imposition of environmental regulations by government power is a good thing.

    And, as far as I can tell, on that specific point you agree with Adam and disagree with Ayn.

    However, you’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that everybody agrees that one plus one equals two. Yeah, sure, we do, but that’s not the point.

  • Nancy McClernan

    On the other hand, there are some cultural universals, such as incest-aversion, that do appear to be evolved traits of all hominids

    If there’s incest aversion, why are there so many cultural traditions that forbid it? If it wasn’t a temptation, it wouldn’t be a sin.

    If there was a biological incest-aversion, why does it happen so often?

    http://www.wcasa.org/pages/Resources-Info_Sheets-Incest-2004.php

    Explain the mechanism by which so many people somehow override their evolutionarily-endowed traits, and then tell me what percentage of people must engage in incest until evolutionary psychologists give up claiming it’s an innate biological aversion.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Your description of Dawkins and Harris doesn’t sound as though you’ve actually read any of their work, only some of their critics who also haven’t taken the trouble to do more than skim their writings before criticizing them.

    You really want to get into it with me about Dawkins and Harris and what bigoted douchebags they are? OK, if that’s what you want.

    The issue isn’t whether religion is a factor, the issue is whether religion is the causative factor in terrorism. Dawkins believes so because in The God Delusion he suggested that Christianity is a bulwark against Islam – because in his opinion, while violence is inherent in Islam, it is not inherent in Christianity – or at least to the same extent. So belief in Christianity is keeping out the alleged more-violent Islam.

    Islam does not have a monopoly on misogyny, as Richard Dawkins has gleefully demonstrated. Do you disagree?

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m not a proponent of pop evolutionary psychology

    It’s all “pop evolutionary psychology” unless you want to provide examples of the other kind. I’d be curious to see what you come up with.

  • Nancy McClernan

    What Dawkins likes to do is to try to blame Islam for misogynist practices like FGM – when it isn’t a specifically Islamic practice and it isn’t only practiced by cultures that have a high percentage of Muslims. Dawkins demonstrated how he does this in his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter.

    Harris is on the record as opposing the “Ground Zero mosque” (Park 51) on the premise that all Muslims are guilty of the 9-11 terrorist attack. He also favors ethnic profiling of people who “look Muslim.”

    Do you really want to defend that scumbag? Because I’m just getting started on what’s wrong with Sam Harris.

  • Nancy McClernan

    By the way, there’s a petition behind that link above that you might want to sign, assuming you disagree with the lower house of the Afghan parliament’s position that family members of people who torture and murder women and girls should not be allowed to testify about the crimes they witness.

    Because if I disagree with Dawkins’ and Harris’s claims that Islam is uniquely misogynist, you are unsure if I am against torturers and murderers evading justice? Wow, what a dick move.

  • Nancy McClernan

    while Freud’s Oedipus Complex is largely discredited, at least as an explanation for why essentially all human cultures have incest taboos

    Well that hardly seems likely. What don’t you elaborate though, this is a new one on me.

  • J_Enigma32

    Re Nuclear power: when you find some place to put those spent fuel rods – which last for millions of years, by the way – then we’ll talk. I understand that you’re planning on offering your backyard as a storage location, right?

    I also understand Germany has gotten along quite well without it, using solar. Only something like 18% of their power is nuclear. You know, Germany. Less-sun-light-than-the-American-southwest-but-still-does-it-with-solar-power-anyway Germany. Granted, Germany is smaller, yes. But they also have less sun.

    The solution is progressive technology. Crap from the 1950s and 60s is not progressive. Case in point: Atlas Shrugged.

    You’re wrong: people are powerful!?

    Especially when the people gather together and act with force, as a unified collective, to push back against abuse and demand justice and punishment for those who would damage or destroy something that’s shared by everyone. Now, if only there was a name for this hypothetical body, controlled by the people, maybe with elected leadership, that makes these laws.

    Huh. I dunno.

    Anyway, your solution is weaker than hers. Under her theory, business
    would have to *not pollute* (in a defined harmful way) past their
    property lines, and yes, that includes future pollution too (like
    maintaining an ash slurry in a dangerous way).

    Huh? How’s that work?

    Do they construct mythical force fields that divide their little plots of land from mine, so I don’t have to worry about their pollution leaking in? What kind of fantasy world are you… wait, nevermind. Don’t bother answering that.

    She advocates *action* guided by rational self-interest

    Given so few seem to understand the “rational” in “rational self-interest” (for instance, it’s in your own rational self-interest to support a welfare state, because someone’s got to take care of you when you can’t anymore), including Rand herself, I think his criticism is fair.

    “Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent Thank you’ to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.”

    Because smokestacks are the ones that are sponsoring government research into anti-virals, viral vector cancer treatments, and other treatments for diseases that you can pick up through exposure to unhealthy chemicals.

    Oh, wait…

    Hey, hugging a smoke stack! There’s that “rational” “self-interest” again!

  • J_Enigma32

    China isn’t communist anymore. If anything, they’re totalitarian/oligarchic capitalist.

  • J_Enigma32

    As I mentioned above, it’s in my own rational self-interest, rational egoism, as well as your own, to pool funds so that we can support one another when we’re down on our luck, that way neither of us has to suffer. And the best way to do that is to devise an entity that legislates those funds, and hands them out evenly without bias. It is in my rational interest to ensure that I never have to suffer, just like it’s in your own. The best way to do that is to pool together and become collectivist, and take care of one another (i.e., it’s in your own rational interest to support a welfare state).

    Ideally, this entity tasked with dividing up the funds and channeling the funds would have elected officials. Not the best system, but no system is going to be perfect and it’s better than “every man for himself.” That attitude is rather firmly against my own rational self-interest.

    “Rational” – they use that word. Do you think they even understand what it means? Because it doesn’t mean “lick rich people ass and hope they feed us table scraps.”

  • fuguewriter

    Terrestrial solar is wimpy energy and always will be. That’s why we don’t fry taking a stroll.

    As for fuel rods – that’s right, summon undefined dangers and assume technology is at its final state.

  • Verbose Stoic

    This doesn’t really change anything, since they’re STILL a controlled and regulated society, and we’d still need to ask why they have become so very aggressively capitalist and are starting from the same point Western nations did — ie no environmental regulations — when they don’t have “freedom of individuals/businesses” concerns and can see how we progressed.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I’m not saying that their assessment is always right, although when dealing with Rand you have to be careful to evaluate her arguments not on what we know today, but what we knew or thought then. But if your argument is indeed rational, then you ought to be able to convince rational egoists of it. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hobbes start from a similarly egoist standpoint and justifies a far stronger government than Rand would probably accept.

    But then the debate isn’t or shouldn’t be over Objectivists being bad people or doing what you assert in the comment, but instead about what actually is in each individual’s personal self-interest.

  • Cactus_Wren

    Here on earth we don’t have that option, and we have the likes of the Koch brothers fighting coal pollution regulation every step of the way.

    While trying to push through legislation mandating financial penalties for using solar power:

    http://climatecrocks.com/2013/12/27/koch-brothers-war-on-the-free-market-fines-for-using-the-sun/

  • BenjCano

    http://books.google.com/books?id=-2D6VqMXfFIC&pg=PT19&lpg=PT19&dq=ayn+rand+air+pollution&source=bl&ots=D82FS9wu6o&sig=1i8l5_KZfFvm87EEF9D5huzdyts&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oVTJUriXF6zNsQTyg4G4Dw&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

    According to “Ayn Rand Speaks,” a collection of her Q&As, her stance on pollution was as follows:

    Q: Should the government control air and water pollution for the sake of public health?
    A: No. The government’s only proper roll is protecting individual rights. That means: the military, the police, the law courts.Problems like pollution can be settled by agreement among free individuals. If anyone is demonstrably hurt by pollution, he can appeal to the courts and prove his case. No special laws or government controls are required.

  • GubbaBumpkin
  • Nancy McClernan

    OK, tell me how it’s possible you don’t see the contradiction in saying this:

    As for fuel rods – that’s right, summon undefined dangers and assume technology is at its final state.

    After you said this:

    Terrestrial solar is wimpy energy and always will be. That’s why we don’t fry taking a stroll.

    What is it about nuclear technology that makes it likely to evolve and solar energy that makes you so certain that it will never evolve?

    Except of course the obvious shameless right-wing ideology.

  • Nancy McClernan

    As for the basic Motor that’s driving it, I’ll use the Wikipedia link you provided:

    Public health measures are credited with much of the recent increase in life expectancy. During the 20th century, the average lifespan in the United States increased by more than 30 years, of which 25 years can be attributed to advances in public health.[32]

    You never tire of being hoisted by your own Wikipedia petards.

  • Nancy McClernan

    His point was not that coal is bad, his point is that there is a cost to using coal that Rand blithely ignores. So where’s your gotcha now?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Nancy bases her idea of Rand’s “no conflicts of interest” not only on Rand’s own statements but by the way the rational men in Galt’s Gulch behave. They never fight or even argue. And neither Hank, who is currently involved with Dagny and previously behaved possessively towards her, nor d’Anconia who has been saving himself for Dagny in total celibacy for years(!) respond to Dagny choosing John Galt over themselves with even a hint of mild disappointment. Because they “rationally” know that John Galt is superior to them.

    And Objectivists believe so much in the magic of John Galt and the “philosophy” of Ayn Rand that they think this is a perfectly plausible way for actual human beings to behave.

  • Nancy McClernan

    claims that nuclear power can blow up like Hiroshima – a popular claim in the ’70s

    Citations needed.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The cost of clean tech wouldn’t be terribly much, anyway, with all the productive ingenuity and investment capital let loose.

    The magical invisible hand of the market will solve all problems. You just have to believe!

  • fuguewriter

    Previous eras would have called the work [and results] of people freely trading and sharing magic, yes.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes because Rand was an absolutist and an extremist. She can’t handle complexity – it’s always either/or.

  • fuguewriter

    We see a small snapshot of time in the Gulch. We also do not see them using toilets – shall we conclude they have n toilets? The premise among Nancy and others that everything in the Gulch has been depicted (like sewers) is incorrect.

    To give one relevant quote from Ayn Rand: “I am not a government planner nor do I spend my time inventing Utopias.” – http://ellensplace.net/ar_pboy.html

  • fuguewriter

    This is what comes of seeking forced contradictions.

    Nancy should familiarize herself with the idea of an upper limit. That’s what terrestrial solar has – as I recall, 1 kwh/h per meter square at perpendicular intersection with 100% efficiency. That’s wimpy energy density compared to nuclear (and oil and coal), and energy density is critical.

    One can’t evolve past a natural hard limit. Even near-earth power satellites can’t gather very much power per square meter.

    And such people hold forth about Rand and physics.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Property rights include the right to not be endangered – to endanger (as by your neighbor keeping a pile of leaking toxic-chemical drums, or drums that will leak the next day or month or year) is to violate property rights. Anyone who pollutes/attempts to pollute/is producing the danger of pollution is subject to immediate injunction by a peace officer and suit at law, the same as anyone who steals/attempts/plans to steal or brandishes a weapon illegitimately or any other rights-violation.

    Do “property rights” cover being poisoned by the toxic while not on ones own property?

    How is “anyone who… attempts to pollute” handled in Rand’s system? How might they be prevented from attempting to pollute, prior to actually polluting?

  • fuguewriter

    I suggest any advocate of this go back to 1300 and pass public health measures like secure iron sewer and water pipes without technology that makes them implementable and see what changes. And that technology was free-trading created.

    What Nancy (and some others) ignores is that public health legislation, unions (which AR often spoke highly of), and such lag technology and business – they don’t lead. Without the ability to implement, legislation accomplishes nothing,

    AR never spoke specifically about public health legislation as far as I know, but she was in favor of property rights, which would include not having water tables and land contaminated by substantively harmful things like fecal coliform bacteria. In that sense. there certainly would be a body of law punishing rights-violators in this respect, too.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Thank you BenjCano. It’s clear that Rand felt that pollution could be addressed only after one was “demonstrably hurt” by pollution. There was no room for prevention in her “philosophy.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    You must be deliberately obtuse. How are “yeah well other societies have pollution” and “electric power sources are good” in any way relevant to the point being made that there are costs to power generation that Rand ignores in her “philosophy”?

    You just cannot let go of the belief that Rand was a super-genius who had an answer for everything, can you?

    Although maybe that’s why you are hanging around here. Perhaps subconsciously you do want to have your mind changed and you know that this is the place to help you do it.

  • BenjCano

    Reading through this, I find it bizarre that someone who claims to love rationality and science as much as Rand can be so dismissive of ecology and environmental science.

  • J_Enigma32

    So you *are* willing to plant them in your backyard. How nice of you.

    If terrestrial solar power is so wimpy, why does Germany – a country with less sunlight than the United States (I figured I have to spell this out now) can manage with more than 50% of their power coming from solar and do just fine? And they don’t have the American Southwest.

  • fuguewriter

    Nancy’s mistaken to think it’s the province of philosophy (certainly in Rand’s conception) to have any position on a matter within the special sciences. Rand said emphatically that such things should be kept out – hence her rejection of philosophical cosmology a la Thales. For a parallel, mathematics doesn’t ignore the colors of jellybeans – it takes no proper notice of them as such. She held that the most philosophy can say to the special science is that speculations that undermine reason or objective reality (such as some constructs, they think, in QM) are invalid.

    Nothing so far presented as to generation costs in any way challenges her philosophy or (more widely, her thinking or writing). I’ve been publicly calling attention to fatalties due to coal for years, as have some other Rand-influenced writers since the 1980s. One can’t project scientific knowledge backwards and hold people liable for the unknown.

    Nancy again wrongly imputes total agreement with and total worship of Rand to me, One reason I don’t take her seriously is because I’ve passingly indicated areas of disagreement or exception with Rand, and (as with the personal narratives in “100 Voices”) she cherry-picks. In fact, I’m not an Objectivist or even a Randian. My interest here is in factual accuracy and cogent argument.

  • fuguewriter

    Germany is the world’s top photovoltaics (PV) installer, with a solar PV capacity of 35.526 gigawatts (GW) at the end of November 2013.[2] The German new solar PV installations increased by about 7.6 GW in 2012, and solar PV provided 18 TWh (billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity in 2011, about 3% of total electricity. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaic_in_Germany

  • Nancy McClernan

    Nancy’s mistaken to think it’s the province of philosophy (certainly in Rand’s conception) to have any position on a matter within the special sciences.

    Where did you get that from? We have not been discussing the province of philosophy.

    And Rand’s Objectivism covers anything that Rand says it does, since it is strictly about the personal preferences and predilections of Ayn Rand.

    Nancy again wrongly imputes total agreement with and total worship of Rand to me,

    You have yet to express any substantial disagreements with Ayn Rand in this ongoing Daylight Atheism analysis of “Atlas Shrugged” as far as I’ve seen. You simply claim that you do disagree with her.

    So why don’t you list your disagreements now?

    And as far as your claim that you are not an Objectivist, I’ve displayed evidence before that you were a member of the “Sense of Life Objectivists” web site. What do you have to say about that? Did you change your mind about Objectivism but never bothered to disassociate yourself from the web site? In which case, what made you change your mind about Objectivism?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    The total amount of solar energy that reaches the earth’s surface each day is greater, by many orders of magnitude, than the amount of energy used by human civilization. If humanity had the will to do it, we could easily power the planet with solar energy alone, even assuming that photovoltaics and other solar technologies never get any more efficient than they already are.

    Here’s a map of how much land area would be required to power human civilization with solar energy at present consumption levels. Compared to the total surface area of the earth, it’s almost laughably small. Intermittency is an issue that we’d have to deal with; lack of sufficient available energy isn’t.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Why do you respond directly to my comments yet refer to me in the third person?

    The issue isn’t “upper limits” the issue is you have double standards when it comes to the evolution of nuclear vs. solar technologies.

    Especially in view of the evidence that solar power does improve, according to all metrics and even Forbes Magazine has no problem admitting it:

    But there is another piece of the equation that is improving the economics of the solar industry and that is the steady and relentless increase in panel efficiencies themselves. In other words, how well the PV cells convert sunlight into electric power. Since the average conventional panel currently possesses a conversion efficiency rate of between 15% and 16%, a very small improvement in that number can represent a significant increase in total output.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdetwiler/2013/07/16/as-solar-panel-efficiencies-keep-improving-its-time-to-adopt-some-new-metrics/

  • Nancy McClernan

    AR never spoke specifically about public health legislation as far as I know

    Hm, that’s odd. Here I thought you were familiar with the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

    Since there is no rational justification for the sacrifice of some men to others, there is no objective criterion by which such a sacrifice can be guided in practice. All “public interest” legislation (and any distribution of money taken by force from some men for the unearned benefit of others) comes down ultimately to the grant of an undefined, undefinable, non-objective, arbitrary power to some government officials.

    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/public_interest,_the.html

  • Nancy McClernan

    Trade has existed as long as human culture has. So which “previous eras” would call it magic?

  • fuguewriter

    Nancy forgets I won’t converse with her, since she’s negative and cherry-picks.

    > you have double standards when it comes to the evolution of nuclear vs. solar technologies.

    Nancy didn’t understand the construct “100% efficiency.” The photons that come down on a square meter of surface, perpendicular to the direction of travel, provide about 1 kwh/h of energy at 100% conversion efficiency on a perfectly cloudless, dustless day. This is why terrestrial solar will always be wimpy (and why sunbathing doesn’t kill us and we can grow plants). Its energy density is poor and it is often diluted by clouds, night, dust, etc.

    It was never maintained that solar technology doesn’t improve. The limitation’s in sunlight itself.

    We won’t get into the other problems with solar, like the heavy metals pollution, the sun-starving of massive areas of land, the grid problems, the maintenance nightmare … it will never replace energy-dense power like nuclear. And shouldn’t.

  • fuguewriter

    A pretty graphic, if accurate, but meaningless. One issue would be getting the power all over the world – consider the transmission losses.

    The blogger says: “Obviously this extreme localization is also not ideal — what is needed is a plan that captures the best balance of centralized/localized and best mix of renewable and clean resources.”

    Nothing cancels out ~1kwh/h/m^2 at 100% efficiency, perpendicular intercept, on a cloudless, dustless day. Lousy energy density. At present creates serious heavy metals pollution thanks to Chinese, etc. We’d need some serious rare earths to do it.

    Not what the world needs. The world needs safe, energy-dense energy generation. Small-scale thorium reactors will probably be good.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    One issue would be getting the power all over the world – consider the transmission losses.

    The amount of single-minded concentration it must have taken you to miss the point here is quite remarkable.

  • Nancy McClernan

    You have got to be kidding me:

    We see a small snapshot of time in the Gulch

    Dagny’s ditching Rearden and especially d’Anconia are major plot points. So much so that when Dagny ditches d’Anconia, John Galt uses d’Anconia’s failure to express jealousy as a jumping-off point for yet another lecture on the Great Dichotomy:

    “…there is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business, nor in trade, nor in their most personal desires – if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible, and destruction from their view of the practical. There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another, if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t. The businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor, the worker who wants a share of his employer’s wealth, the artist who envies a rival’s higher talent – they’re all wishing facts out of existence, and destruction is the only means of their wish. If they pursue it, they will not receive a market, a fortune, or immortal fame – they will merely destroy production, employment and art. But men will not cease to desire the impossible and will not lose their longing to destroy – so long as self-destruction and self-sacrifice are preached to them as the practical means of achieving the happiness of the recipients… you should have had more respect for him and for me than to fear what you had feared…

    And in case anybody is interested, there appears to be a Russian web site that has posted “Atlas Shrugged” in its entirety online. Makes for easy access to quotes.

    http://www.rulit.net/programRead.php?program_id=65241&page=1

  • Nancy McClernan

    To give one relevant quote from Ayn Rand: “I am not a government planner nor do I spend my time inventing Utopias.”

    What Ayn Rand claims she does and what Ayn Rand actually does are not always the same things. It is clear that Galt’s Gulch is a Utopia by any normal use of the term.

    And Midas Mulligan refers to the world outside the Gulch as “that hell” – so what does that make the Gulch?

  • Nancy McClernan

    You are conversing with me, you just refuse to use the standard second-person form of address because you’re sulking.

    It was never maintained that solar technology doesn’t improve.

    In that case then who cares? Your deriding solar energy as “wimpy” doesn’t seem to mean anything other than that the technology is not 100% efficient.

    But given that it is so much less likely to pollute than other forms of energy it’s certainly a worthwhile trade-off.

    This seems to be another of those Objectivist black and white obsessions – if it is not possible to harvest solar energy without some inefficiency it isn’t any good at all.

    And when are you going to get around to providing evidence that someone was going around in the 1970s claiming that nuclear power could result in a Hiroshima-like explosion?

    And what about your list of disagreements with Ayn Rand which you keep claiming you have?

  • Nancy McClernan

    We won’t get into the other problems with solar, like the heavy metals pollution, the sun-starving of massive areas of land, the grid problems, the maintenance nightmare …

    Oh but I think we should. You seem to have so much information on the topic you should share your knowledge.

  • Nancy McClernan

    This appears to be a thorough cost/benefit analysis of energy sources and the technological options available to improve the cost to benefit ratio.

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13412-013-0149-5

  • GCT

    We’re not seeing that from banking, oil, and other industries.

    Yes, we are, or have you already forgotten about the recent crash we had due to lax regulations on banking, for instance?

    Rand wasn’t in favor of “deregulation”…

    Correct. She wanted “No regulation” which is even worse for your argument.

    When the government controls currency (and makes it into unsustainable paper), you don’t have a full-blown free market.

    And, history has already shown that a “full-blown free market” is not sustainable. Those were the days where people, including children, were forced to work 16+ hour days, 7 days a week in order to scrape by enough to survive while those who owned the factories got filthy, stinking rich simply for owning the property. What in the hell is wrong with you that you want to return to that?

  • GCT

    This reflects that you don’t understand Rand’s system.

    I understand it quite well. Just because I point out the problems doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a case of misunderstanding. That you immediately jump to that is lazy.

    Anyone who pollutes/attempts to pollute/is producing the danger of pollution is subject to immediate injunction by a peace officer and suit at law, the same as anyone who steals/attempts/plans to steal or brandishes a weapon illegitimately or any other rights-violation.

    This is directly at odds with your statements that anyone who is over thirty should hug a smokestack. Smokestacks pollute.

    There would be many ways to address pollution to the extent that it was an issue. One example would be for cultural practices to arise in which people don’t do business with polluters … boycott-networks … the various forms of the press would keep track of pollution convictions, injunctions, and do investigations … another would be HOA-type restrictions, designed to make places people choose to buy property safe and clean … and the curious thing is, your own argument takes shows that people *would*.

    None of these are court actions. None of these show how I would take a polluter to court to make them stop. In all of these cases, I’m hoping that they will simply stop on their own. And, I have no idea what you are talking about with the comment about my “own argument takes shows.” My argument is that there’s no legal remedies for those who pollute in a Randian world. What laws have they violated? The “solutions” you have put forth do not even attempt to touch on that subject.

    In a Rand-advocated world, the heavy penalties meted out to polluters would exercise a deterrent effect on possible future would-be polluters.

    What penalties, meted out by whom, and for what? Bad press? Seriously?

  • GCT

    That you are typing this on the internet just destroys your whole argument.

  • GCT

    What laws would be violated? Would this body of law contain strictures about how much pollution can be created, how it must be disposed, etc? Isn’t that government imposition on business? Isn’t that….regulation…?

  • unbound55

    I’ve read through a lot of your “answers”, and I’m having a hard time believing you aren’t a Poe…but, in case you aren’t.

    By definition, deregulation is either elimination or loosing of regulation (i.e. essentially laws for businesses in much the same way that we have laws for individuals which state that we have to behave around each other). Deregulation has been exactly that in the past 2 to 3 decades. Just because you are uncomfortable with the results (you should be enraged) doesn’t mean that they “…turns out not to be what it claims to be…”.

    One of the primary flaws with libertarians in general (including Ayn Rand) is that they fail to understand that the free market principles only work when there is a lot of competition. Most of the markets in existence today are heavily dominated (sometimes exclusively dominated) by 3 or 4 large corporations. This is substantially less than what is needed for free market principles to be realized. With this lack of competition, we see a great deal of implicit collusion in the marketplace where all the corporations are making big profits. Think hard about that last sentence…in an ideal marketplace, it would be impossible for all corporations in a market segment to make large profits…by definition, it means that they aren’t actually competing against each other.

    Additionally, with the break down of regulations, we are starting to see illegal activity out in the open without consequences. A few years ago, the Verizon CEO announced that he was working on a deal to get the iPhone exclusively with AT&T (i.e. no other carriers would be allowed to carry the iPhone). Simply making that announcement publicly should have resulted in his immediate arrest (explicit collusion is illegal and people have been arrested and charged as late as the 1980s for such things), but he is continuing to move happily along (even though the iPhone deal broke down).

    In the US, we continue to work towards the Ayn Rand ideal, and we continually witness the negative results. The richest put out PR that it is only because of the remaining regulations, but they can never cite how the few remaining regulations cause this problem…because it is nothing more than a PR show. The reality is that the Ayn Rand philosophy is hopelessly naive and incomplete as Adam has broken down now for quite some time.

    How many more times do you have to be lied to before you figure out that you are being lied to?

  • GCT

    Better to breathe in the indoor coal smoke in underdeveloped nations held down by socialism and Marxism, aye?

    That there are worse things one can do does not get you off the hook. And, which nations are these? Somalia? Oh wait, no, Somalia is an unregulated and free marketplace.

    Pollution is better understood now.

    You’re trying to have it both ways.

  • GCT

    Are you really that dense, or are you just desperate since your dishonest quote-mining was pointed out?

  • GCT

    1kwh/h/m^2

    You do realize that kwh/h is the same as just kw, right? Energy density is expressed in kw/m^2. And, it’s actually closer to 1.4, not 1.0. And, you’ve failed to answer the point Adam raised.

  • fuguewriter

    > the recent crash we had due to lax regulations on banking, for instance?

    “For instance” is a weasel-out. There were endless regulations – and any claim that *if only* X and Y had been there is all would be well is – convenient. Government dominated the US housing market significant ways: Fannie, Freddie, FHA, HUD, CRA (which fostered subprime) and all kinds of other political incentives [not a one of which one would have in an unregulated market] had been creating price inflation for decades. The *essential* problem is that the medium of currency isn’t and wasn’t real – i.e., isn’t a precious metal (and is government-manipulated) – and hadn’t been for many decades. Notice that the whole crisis hinged on inflated.asset prices, which were made possible by debt, which balloons uncontrollably in fiat currency and deficit spending. When you debase the monetary unit, calculation becomes progressively distorted. Note that the dominoes began to fall in the even-more-regulated economy of Great Britain with Northern Rock. Even a mainstream Wiki take doesn’t agree with your take: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_the_Great_Recession

    > She wanted “No regulation” which is even worse for your argument.

    Unargued assertion. Also, she was against torts in business? No law for business at all? Anyone could violate anyone’s rights at will?

    > history has already shown that a “full-blown free market” is not sustainable.

    Demonstrate. And the 19th c. was by no means a perfect free market – look at all the fiddling with currency, the government waste in the transcontinental railroads, the antitrust laws (touted by many big businesses to gain advantage over competitors), and so on. But the innovations came from the freeing-up of trading that began in England in the 1700s. And the world began to improve.

    > Those were the days where people, including children, were forced to work 16+ hour days, 7 days a week in order to scrape by enough to survive

    Far better for pre-Industrial conditions to prevail. Let those pesky children die.

    > while those who owned the factories got filthy,
    stinking rich simply for owning the property.

    This is twaddle unworthy even of Marx. “Simply owning the property” – which magically just got designed somehow, built somehow, businesses strategies fell from the sky, and ran day by day somehow. Magic! Businessmen just sat back and raked in the excess labor value of the workers. Risible.

    > What in the hell is wrong with you that you want to return to that?

    Economic freedom would certainly mean exactly that.

  • Science Avenger

    It’s far more than just a small snapshot. Rand specifically states in the text that they have the great Objectivist Judge among them, who quit over the same case Midas quit over, but never need his services.

    This isn’t minutia we are talking about. Rand depicts the Gulch dwellers as never having the problems that have plagued mankind throughout its history. To respond with requests for explanations of how they pulled this off with “I’m not a government planner” is a “somehow” of epic proportions.

  • Science Avenger

    The people I know like that were poisoned by the 70s. They hippies were trying to destroy society, therefore everything the hippies believe must be wrong. Rand predated that, so no idea where her bias came from, except perhaps that pollutant in her mouth she was addicted to.

  • Science Avenger

    “…created by free market transactions (which also fund government)”

    Of course they do, so what? NFL revenues pay their referee salaries too. Does that mean the NFL would be better off without refs?

  • Science Avenger

    Tell me fuguewriter, do you accept the anthropocentric global warming hypothesis? I have to ask.

  • fuguewriter

    Come now, my good man, that’s so ’90s. All that exists now is Climate Change.

    I accept that climates change. : )

  • Alex Harman

    If there’s incest aversion, why are there
    so many cultural traditions that forbid it? If it wasn’t a temptation, it wouldn’t be a sin.

    Seriously? The cultural taboos against incest, which are found even in very primitive cultures that haven’t figured out that sexual intercourse causes pregnancy, are an expression of our biological aversion to it, not evidence against our having a biological aversion to it. Something similar probably drives cultural taboos against homosexuality: for a lot of heterosexuals, especially heterosexual men, even ones who aren’t prejudiced, the idea of having sex with another man is squicky; it just feels wrong, on a completely irrational level, and an awful lot of people take such feelings for divine revelations that are meant to apply to everyone, instead of their own personal preferences. What those people can’t comprehend is that the idea of having sex with someone of the opposite gender just feels wrong to most gay men and lesbians (or so I’ve been told by the gay and lesbian people I’ve talked to — I have no reason to doubt them). It makes perfect sense to me, but conservatives tend to have trouble imagining anyone not thinking exactly the same way they do.

    If there was a biological incest-aversion,
    why does it happen so often?

    The Westermarck Effect works by desensitizing individuals to sexual attraction to others with whom they live in close proximity during the first few years of either individual’s life (the age at which the effect tapers off is not well-established, ranging from a minimum of two-and-a-half to a maximum of six years in the literature I’ve seen). It’s a good theory in that it generates a number of interesting, testable hypotheses:

    1. It predicts that rates of incest involving adoptive parents and their children, adoptive siblings, and step-parents, step-children, and step-siblings who do not live together during the earliest years of either person’s life should be significantly higher than rates of incest between biological parents and their children, biological siblings, and adoptive or step-parents and step-children or step-siblings who do live together during the first few years of the younger one’s life. It also predicts that incest should be more common between more distant relatives who don’t cohabit for extended periods during either’s childhood, such as uncles and aunts with nephews and nieces, grandparents with grandchildren, and cousins. Quite a lot of data exists that affirms this prediction, including some from the link you just posted.*

    2. It predicts that sexual attraction between siblings or parents and children separated from birth who only meet as adults should be no less likely than between unrelated people. Based on the limited data available, that also appears to be true. (The Genetic sexual attraction hypothesis proposes that close relatives who first meet as adults should find each other more attractive than unrelated individuals, all other things being equal. There is some evidence to support that hypothesis, but compared to Westermarck it’s pretty thin. If true, the GSA hypothesis would be an additional line of evidence in favor of the Westermarck Effect, since the latter explains why GSA only promotes incest between close relatives when they’re separated at a very early age.)

    3. It predicts that sexual relationships and marriages between people raised in close proximity under the conditions that generate the effect should be extremely rare even when those people are not related and there is no cultural taboo against such relationships. This is born out by studies of the Israeli kibbutzim, where individuals from the same creche cohort virtually never marry one another despite there being no rule against it in law or custom, as well as the Oneida community and a few other societies that raise children communally.

    4. It predicts that the curious Taiwanese practice of sim-pua marriage, in which a family with an infant son would arrange his future marriage to another family’s infant daughter and take her into their household immediately, raising the future couple together, would have a much higher rate of adultery, childlessness, divorce, and even outright refusal by both the girl and the boy to consummate their marriage after the wedding than other arranged marriages where the couple are only introduced shortly before they marry. That prediction also turned out to be true, to the consternation of tens of thousands of Taiwanese parents, leading to the abandonment of the practice.

    5. It predicts that we will see incest-avoidance behavior
    between individuals raised together from an early age for at least one of them in many other species of animals, and especially in our closest relatives, the great apes and old world monkeys. That also turns out to be an accurate prediction. The demonstrated presence of the Westermarck Effect in the great apes and other primates means that its probable presence in our own lineage almost certainly predates the evolution of language and culture, and places the burden of proof on those who contend that humans don’t have it; when a trait is found in four members of a family with five extant species, the null hypothesis is that the fifth species also has it, and anyone proposing that it won’t should have to present a convincing reason why the trait evolved out of that species’ ancestry in order to be taken seriously.

    There are a couple of corollaries to the Westermarck Effect. One is that it’s likely to be stronger in females than in males, because the higher per-offspring investment inherent in egg production or pregnancy means that females suffer a higher fitness cost from inbreeding depression. There is direct evidence from psychological studies that supports this parental investment corollary. Another is that it’s likely to be stronger in the younger individual, whose brain is still developing during the period of cohabitation that creates the effect, than in the parent, older sibling, or other older
    relative. Taken together, these lead to the further prediction that the modal form of incest when it does occur in humans will be nonconsensual, abusive sexual behavior perpetrated by older, usually male relatives upon younger, usually female ones, which is also consistent with the patterns documented at the WCASA page you linked to, and many other places as well.

    *That link is problematic, by the way, in that it emphasizes
    the possibility of repressed and recovered memories of real incidents of sexual abuse, but fails to acknowledge the possibility of therapy-generated false memories of abuse that never actually occurred. That phenomenon condemned a number of innocent people to long prison sentences during the moral panics of the eighties and early nineties associated with the myth of “Satanic Ritual Abuse,” and left many more traumatized by memories of things that hadn’t happened to them and estranged from innocent relatives they falsely believed had abused them. It also probably helped some genuine abusers get away with it — like the little boy who cried “wolf,” the cases that were conclusively shown to be false cast doubt on all cases involving repressed memories, and even some where the victims claimed they had never forgotten the abuse but had simply been afraid to speak out until they were out from under their abusers’ control.

    Explain the mechanism by which so many
    people somehow override their evolutionarily-endowed traits

    Most incest involves the Westermarck effect being absent due to the lack of cohabitation during the critical years of either person’s life, not overridden. The latter can
    happen because the sex drive itself (which is also an “evolutionarily-endowed trait,” of course) is not totally suppressed by Westermarck’s reverse imprinting, only reduced, and because like any other biological trait, the strength of the Westermarck effect is variable within a species.

    I give you some credit for at least not using the cringeworthy phrase “hard-wired.” Nothing in the human brain is inflexible enough to qualify as “hard-wired” in the sense a computer engineer would use that term, and I’ve never seen a serious researcher in evolutionary psychology use it, either. It’s one of the hallmarks of scientifically illiterate pop evo psych as practiced by Menz Rightz Assclowns, and of equally scientifically illiterate pop criticism of evo psych (which, as you demonstrate below, fails to distinguish between serious academic research and the nonsense promulgated of various, mostly misogynistic armchair theorists).

    and then tell me what percentage of people
    must engage in incest until evolutionary psychologists give up claiming it’s an innate biological aversion.

    That’s a lot like asking how many snowstorms need to happen before climatologists give up claiming that the average global temperature is increasing. You need to understand what a theory actually predicts before you
    go around asserting that a particular observation refutes it, something that science denialists seldom bother to do.

    Obviously, if sexual relationships between siblings were just as common as between unrelated individuals who know each other similarly well and have similar quantities of shared interests and personality traits, we’d have no reason to think there’s a biological aversion to incest. However, incest-aversion clearly exists; the only question is whether it’s rooted in our biology, or imposed by culture acting against our biology. The latter is implausible unless you make the mistake of assuming the human mind is a tabula rasa and that culture is something that arises de novo, independent of human brains, and then somehow imposes itself upon those brains. (For a philosophy that bills itself as “dialectical materialism, Marxism involves quite a remarkable amount of magical thinking.) Even if you do assume that, though, you haven’t explained how so many other species of animals without laws, language, religion, or any of the other accoutrements of culture also display an aversion to incest.

    I will note that the Westermarck effect isn’t the only possible mechanism of biological incest aversion. However, using that to try to refute the entire concept of evolutionary psychology and replace it with strong social constructionism is no more cogent than using the fact that straight natural selection isn’t the only possible mechanism of adaptation and speciation to refute the entire concept of evolutionary biology and replace it with creationism.

  • Alex Harman

    You really want to get into it with me about Dawkins and Harris and what bigoted douchebags they are?

    That depends: have you actually read either of their books, or are you relying on quote-mining reviewers for your knowledge of their work and opinions? Nothing you’ve said so far makes the former hypothesis appear more likely than the latter, and if it’s the latter, and you’re not willing to learn more, than “getting into it” with you would be a waste of time.

    The issue isn’t whether religion is a factor, the issue is whether religion is the causative factor in terrorism.

    We have good reason to believe that it is an extremely
    important factor, though neither necessary nor sufficient in and of itself; that’s the position I have seen Dawkins and Harris take. If you’re arguing otherwise, you’re going to have to come up with something a little more compelling than an Argument from Incredulity or an Argument from Outrage.

    Dawkins believes so because in The God Delusion he suggested that Christianity is a bulwark against Islam – because in his opinion, while violence is inherent in Islam, it is not inherent in Christianity – or at least to the same extent. So belief in Christianity is keeping out the alleged more-violent Islam.

    A plausible hypothesis; certainly, the relative violence of Christian and Muslim responses to criticism of their beliefs and sacred figures is consistent with that position. Of course, Christianity has its own problems, which I have not seen either Dawkins or Harris ignore or downplay.

    Islam does not have a monopoly on misogyny, as Richard Dawkins has gleefully demonstrated. Do you disagree?

    Not a monopoly, no, but Islam is to misogyny more or less what Apple is to the MP3 player market. If you’re trying to draw a moral equivalence between the privileged douchebaggery of Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” letter and the atrocities perpetrated upon millions of women by the Taliban, the Saudi and Iranian religious police, Algerian fundamentalist rebels, etc., I’m not sure what more there is to say to you, other than telling you to pull your head out of whatever dark hole you’ve got it stuck in and stop bouncing your reality checks.

  • Alex Harman

    It’s all “pop evolutionary psychology” unless you want to provide examples of the other kind. I’d be curious to see what you come up with.

    “The other kind” is the kind that actually develops falsifiable hypotheses and tests them; see the discussion of the Westermarck Effect above, or try reading some of the peer-reviewed research papers in Evolutionary Psychology, The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, and Evolution and Human Behavior.

  • Alex Harman

    What Dawkins likes to do is to try to blame Islam for misogynist practices like FGM – when it isn’t a specifically Islamic practice and it isn’t only practiced by cultures that have a high percentage of Muslims.

    Citation needed for the assertion that Dawkins believes FGM is the product of Islam, rather than a pre-existing cultural practice that has been reified by Islamic misogyny. Said citation must be to something Dawkins wrote, not a secondary source.

    Dawkins demonstrated how he does this in his infamous “Dear Muslima” letter.

    Dawkins trivialized sexual harassment at a convention by
    comparing it to the infinitely worse treatment routinely inflicted on millions of Muslim women, and drawing the illegitimate conclusion that “not nearly as bad” is the same thing as “not bad at all.” First world problems are still problems, and quite unpleasant enough for the people who have them, and implying otherwise was a dick move on Dawkins’ part. However, some of the reactions to it, including yours as illustrated by these comments, have been even worse, trivializing the enslavement, rape, torture, mutilation, and murder of Muslim women by suggesting that the misogyny Dawkins displayed toward Rebecca Watson is just as bad as those atrocities. Congratulations, Nancy, you’ve managed to show yourself a bigger douchenozzle than Dawkins.

    Harris is on the record as opposing the “Ground Zero mosque” (Park 51) on the premise that all Muslims are guilty of the 9-11 terrorist attack.

    Citation needed for the assertion that Harris believes all
    Muslims are guilty of the 9-11 terrorist attack. Said citation must be to something Harris wrote, not a secondary source.

    Do you really want to defend that scumbag? Because I’m just getting started on what’s wrong with Sam Harris.

    Do you have any fresh, new vilification of Harris that he hasn’t already disposed of in this article, that didn’t come from Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, or John Gorenfeld (all three of whose libelous, quote-mining mendacity on the subject of Harris is positively Coulteresque), and that you can source directly to a book or article by Harris that you, yourself have read? If so, I’ll take a look at it. Otherwise, don’t waste any more of my time.

  • Alex Harman

    Because if I disagree with Dawkins’ and Harris’s claims that Islam is uniquely misogynist, you are unsure if I am against torturers and murderers evading justice? Wow, what a dick move.

    If you disagree that Islamic misogyny is uniquely extreme, oppressive, and violent, you need to show some other religion engaging in a comparable level of systematic abuse of women to that perpetrated by the Taliban or the Saudi regime in order to demonstrate that such gender apartheid is not unique to Islam. I’m not holding my breath. I do, however, assume that you are in fact opposed to the sort of law the Afghan parliament is considering, and would probably want to sign the petition, for whatever good it may do. It’s possible some of my rage at the topic of that petition spilled over onto you, which you don’t deserve just for being obtuse.

  • Alex Harman

    See above; Westermarck’s alternative hypothesis (he was a
    contemporary of Freud) is far better supported by the available evidence from experimental psychology, anthropology and animal behavior than Freud’s.

  • GCT

    Actually, power density is kw/m^2. Watts are power. Joules are energy.

  • unbound55

    “Granted, it’s probably bad business to poison your customers, but what if the power you generate is being bought by cities hundreds of miles away?”

    We’ve already seen this occur with tobacco. The corporations knew they were poisoning their customers at least as far back as the 1970s (they actually hired their own scientists to disprove the notion only to have their hired scientists confirm that smoking causes lung cancer), and happily continued selling their product.

    The reality is that their customers weren’t dying quickly (so plenty of years to make a profit from them), and the PR to create confusion wasn’t all that expensive since people love to rationalize what they want anyways. Sounds an awful lot like some other big issues today, doesn’t it…

  • Nancy McClernan

    The cultural taboos against incest, which are found even in very primitive cultures that haven’t figured out that sexual intercourse causes pregnancy,

    LOLOLOLO! I think we’re done here.

    No, wait, I spoke too soon. Please provide a list of the “very primitive cultures” you know of which haven’t figured out the sex->babies connection.

  • Nancy McClernan

    you need to show some other religion engaging in a comparable level of systematic abuse of women to that perpetrated by the Taliban or the Saudi regime

    The Taliban and the Saudi regime are not religions. The fact that you conflate them with Islam is no doubt part of the problem.

  • Nancy McClernan

    by suggesting that the misogyny Dawkins displayed toward Rebecca Watson is just as bad as those atrocities.

    If you believe that you’re an idiot.

    The reason the Dear Muslima letter was so illuminating was because it displayed both Dawkins misogyny and his Islamaphobia in one neat package:

    Dear Muslima
    Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade,

    Right at the very beginning of the letter, he conflates being Muslim with FGM.

    But since you conflate the Taliban and the Saudi regime with Islam, I suspect that you agree with Dawkins about FGM, so you wouldn’t see this as a problem.

  • Nancy McClernan
  • Nancy McClernan

    Do you have any fresh, new vilification of Harris

    By “villification” you must mean “critique of Harris that shockingly doesn’t treat him as a brave hero of atheism or one of the Greatest Minds of Our Age.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    Although my favorite piece is “Why does anyone take Sam Harris seriously?” in Salon. I’ve been asking myself the same question for years. The essay focuses on Harris’s anti-gun control position and contains the best characterization of Harris I’ve yet seen:

    Before delving further into this NRA wet-dream of an essay, let us reflect on an important facet of Harris’s personality. The common thread running through all of Harris’s logic-abortions, the key to understanding how a purported “intellectual” can be so consistently wrong and so morally repugnant, is his unbridled cowardice — both of the intellectual variety and an all-pervasive, crapping-his-pants fear that manifests itself in the form of sophistry and a brazen disregard for following the available evidence to its logical conclusion.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/10/why_does_anyone_take_sam_harris_seriously/

  • Nancy McClernan

    Also excellent is Bruce Schneier’s take-down of Harris’s ethnic profiling scheme.

    https://www.schneier.com/essay-397.html

  • Nancy McClernan

    Here we see Dawkins tweeting recently:

    Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins
    Most confused pro-FGM argument: “It has nothing to do with religion, therefore to criticise FGM is Islamophobia”.
    http://twiends.com/richarddawkins

    The reason the link to Islamaphobia was made in the first place is because Richard Dawkins presents FGM as an Islamic issue. Because he’s so incredibly Islamaphobic.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/08/10/richard_dawkins_does_it_again_new_atheisms_islamophobia_problem/

  • Science Avenger

    I’ll take that as a “no”, and not a surprising one. Both Objectivism and Fundamentalist Christianity have ideological reasons to resist the notion that human behavior could destroy our living space.

    BTW, the notion that “global warming” became “climate change” due to political influence is just one of the many untruths of the Deniers (along with “it used to be all about global cooling”, and well, everything else they say). Both have been around for decades.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The Westermarck effect isn’t an example of biological incest aversion – it’s an example of social incest aversion. In other words, without the socialization, incest would occur.

    The fact that you can’t tell the difference between biological and social phenomena indicates that there isn’t much point discussing these issues with you further.

  • arensb

    Once you acknowledge that government can be part of the solution — e.g., by allowing lots of ordinary individuals to band together and curb some wealthy industrialist’s excesses — then you open up a whole can of worms, including the possibility that it’s cheaper and easier for a company to lobby against pollution regulation, than to fix the pollution.
    Or that company A’s inferior product can have a bigger market share than company B’s comparably-priced superior one, because company A wisely spent money on advertising, while B blew their budget on R&D.
    I don’t think these sorts of effects are supposed to exist in Randland.

  • fuguewriter

    You meant, I took it, the more mainstream term “anthropogenic global warming.”

    I’ll take that as a “no”

    Contra-textual as ever.

    The anthropogenic global warming hypothesis isn’t convertible with “[a] notion that human behavior could destroy our living space.” That would require additional inputs, such as some sort of feedback loop mechanism with a precipice built in, if even in the form of a logarithmic increase.

    I’m not a student of the subject, since it is so clotted with ideologically-biased disinformation *on all sides.* From my cursory look, four problems with the non-null hypothesis are the quality of data gathering stations, the non-open status of all raw data, the role of subjective statistical interpretive choices, and institutional politics. The prior record of prediction isn’t so good.

    From a broader point-of-view, I’ve seen these claims come and go – I was old enough to remember the terror over Global Cooling (then the diagonally-related Nuclear Winter) – and the demands were the same: shackling industry because the disaster was Coming Very Soon and It Is Already Almost Too Late. In the 1980s it was nuclear power and the whales. In the 1910s we were going to be out of coal in 30 years or something. Etc. So, as social movements, the pedigree is not so hot.

    Still, even if the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is correct, it does not follow the industry must be shackled. I’m with the adaptationists: humans, like all other species, must be ready to adapt – we’re living in something of a fool’s paradise, as we see from the inflexibility about natural processes.

    I’m with Camille Paglia: “Nature should be not the object of pity, but awe.” And wonder.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m with Camille Paglia: “Nature should be not the object of pity, but awe.” And wonder.

    Paglia is such an idiot. You would mention her favorably.

    But at least I finally discovered a disagreement between you and Rand:

    “I don’t either.” Then she smiled. “But think how often we’ve heard people complain that billboards ruin the appearance of the countryside. Well, there’s the unruined countryside for them to admire.” She added, “They’re the people I hate.”

    ******

    Still, even if the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is correct, it does not follow the industry must be shackled.

    That’s the extremist view – if we do something to address global warming, it means industry will be “shackled.”

  • Alex Harman

    The fact that you think “biological phenomenon” and “social phenomenon” are mutually exclusive means there’s definitely no point discussing these issues with you further. Unless and until we discover (or create, in the form of artificial intelligence) a society of entities that are not biological organisms, social phenomena will remain what they have always been: a sub-set of biological phenomena.

  • Alex Harman

    Off the top of my head, Trobriand Islanders and at least some groups of Australian Aborigines. I got in touch with an old friend who’s a cultural anthropology professor, and he offered to look up the rest of the known ones tomorrow — they’re discussed in a book by Ladislov Holy which he has at his office, not at home where I reached him.

  • Nancy McClernan

    They are not mutually exclusive – that’s exactly my point. It’s only evolutionary psychologists who claim that virtually all social phenomena are the result of innate biological tendencies.

    And as always, proponents of evolutionary psychology like to present the issue as one in which if you don’t agree there are specific biological modules, like the empirically unsupported anti-incest module you believe in, it means you don’t think we are biological organisms.

    We certainly are dependent on biological realities – not these mythical mind-modules that EPs have invented, but rather on the bio-psychological constants identified by anthropologist Marvin Harris:

    1. People need to eat and will generally opt for diets that offer more rather than fewer calories and proteins and other nutrients.

    2. People cannot be totally inactive, but when confronted with a given task, they prefer to carry it out by expending less rather than more energy.

    3. People are highly sexed and generally find reinforcing pleasure from sexual intercourse – more often from heterosexual intercourse.

    4. People need love and affection in order to feel secure and happy, and other things being equal, they will act to increase the love and affection which others give them.

  • Alex Harman

    If you believe that you’re an idiot.

    If you don’t notice the equivalence implied by saying “Islam does not have a monopoly on misogyny, as Richard Dawkins has gleefully demonstrated,” then you are.

    Right at the very beginning of the letter, he conflates being Muslim with FGM.

    What percentage of all women are subjected to FGM? What percentage of Muslim women are subjected to FGM? If you can show that the latter figure is less than or equal to the former, then you have a point. But you can’t, because it’s not. The fact is, if you know nothing about a woman other than that she is a Muslim, that fact significantly increases the prior probability that she has suffered genital mutilation, and if you know nothing about a woman other than that she has suffered genital mutilation, that fact significantly increases the prior probability that she is a Muslim. Dawkins chose to address his letter to a woman who had been genitally mutilated; the majority of such women alive today are Muslims.

    Female genital mutilation as a cultural practice certainly predates the rise of Islam, but the expansion of Islam into the parts of the world where it’s practiced did not eradicate or reduce it; instead, it was incorporated into the beliefs and practices of Islam by converts from those areas, despite the fact that there’s nothing to support it in the Quran (some of the hadith, on the other hand, do refer to it approvingly).

  • Alex Harman

    You fail statistics 101. Mormonism adds a large number of highly improbable claims to the highly improbable claims common to all Christian denominations, and subtracts very few. As Harris says, “It is mathematically true to say that whatever probability one assigns to Jesus’ returning to earth to judge the living and the dead, one must assign a lesser probability to his doing so from Jackson County, Missouri.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    LOL – Mormons also don’t believe in some of the improbable claims that Christians do.

    Here’s an idea, why don’t you and Sam Harris get together and review the doctrines of Mormonism and Christianity and make a freaking list of all the “improbabilities” and then count them up and see which one has the most. It’s a stupid waste of time of course, arguing which brand of woo is more “objectively” superior but at least it will keep Sam Harris too busy to dream up any more bigotry-inspired security schemes.

  • Alex Harman

    No, I mean an attack that relies on quote-mining to distort his views beyond recognition… which, apparently, is all you do have.

  • Alex Harman

    The Taliban and the Saudi regime are organizations of Muslim men, who enforce laws that they understand to be mandated by Islam, and cite the Quran and various hadith extensively to support that position. The fact that you see acknowledging that fact as “conflating” them with Islam is no doubt why you don’t make any sense on this topic.

  • Nancy McClernan

    “If you don’t notice the equivalence implied by saying “Islam does not have a monopoly on misogyny, as

    Oh so you inferred from that I’m saying that all forms of misogyny are equal. Explain how your came up with that one.

    Female genital mutilation as a cultural practice certainly predates the rise of Islam, but the expansion of Islam into the parts of the world where it’s practiced did not eradicate or reduce it;

    Yes, that’s how cultures work. When the pagan Europeans turned Christian they didn’t suddenly drop all their traditions, they combined the new religion and the old traditions in a variety of ways.

    But those who believe that ideas rule human culture (as Dawkins does) reject the theory that cultural institutions evolve in response to a complex web of means of production, reproduction (and birth control), environmental degradation, etc. etc. Instead Dawkins believes that if there are words of violence in the Koran (although last I heard he still hadn’t read it) that must be the ultimate cause of terrorism from groups in Muslim countries.

    And as far as your claim about FGM and Muslims – groups who are Christian, Jewish and African traditional religionists are known to practice FGM. So clearly there isn’t something unique to Islam that causes it to be practiced.

    Something that Dawkins prefers to ignore. Because Islam is the great satan as far as he’s concerned.

  • Alex Harman

    Mormons also don’t believe in some of the improbable claims that Christians do.

    A fact which I acknowledged when I wrote that “Mormonism adds a large number of highly improbable claims to the highly improbable claims common to all Christian denominations, and subtracts very few,” and Harris acknowledged when he wrote that “Mormons are committed to believing nearly all the implausible things that Christians believe” — but never mind, it’s clear you’re either unwilling or incapable of reading carefully and honestly once you decide you don’t like someone, or of thinking in statistical terms.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Oh no, please, I want you to compile the evidence that Christians believe fewer implausibilities than Mormons. Go ahead. I don’t think Sam Harris is going to bother coming up with empirical data to support his claim – it’s too easy to simply make assertions that his devoted followers would never dream of questioning. So it’s up to you to do it. I look forward to reading your statistical-terms-laden report.

  • Nancy McClernan

    What percentage of all women are subjected to FGM? What percentage of Muslim women are subjected to FGM?

    You’re free to Google it. I did and it’s actually very difficult to discern what overall percentage of groups that practice FGM are Muslim, especially since it appears that the record of groups practicing traditional African religions, as opposed to Christianity and Islam don’t have a lot of information available.

    Of course not having empirical data doesn’t prevent bigots from being absolutely certain.

  • Alex Harman

    Christians in general believe at least the core claims of the Bible — that God exists, that he performed the miracles described in the Old Testament, that Jesus was his son/incarnation and rose from the dead, that humans have an immortal soul, etc. Mormons believe all that, plus all of the additional implausibilities set down in the Book of Mormon — golden tablets, that the ten Lost Tribes of Israel migrated to North America, and had a long, complicated history here (that’s not only completely unsupported but flatly contradicted by archaeological evidence), that human souls originate on the planet Kolob and that men have the potential to become gods after they die, etc. Assigning specific, numerical probabilities to all these propositions isn’t necessary; this is basic Bayesian reasoning. However low the odds of winning the lottery, the odds of winning it two days in a row are necessarily much, much lower.

  • Alex Harman

    The closest thing to a comprehensive review of the topic I can find is Gerry Mackie’s “Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account”, American Sociological Review, 61(6), December 1996, (pp. 999–1017) Key points: “FGM is found only in or adjacent to Islamic groups (some Christians practice it to avoid damnation). This is curious, because FGM, beyond the mild sunna supposedly akin to male circumcision, is not found in most Islamic countries nor is it required by Islam. … FGM is pre-Islamic but was exaggerated by its intersection with the Islamic modesty code of family honor, female purity, virginity, chastity, fidelity, and seclusion.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    I said you conflated them because you said this:

    you need to show some other religion engaging in a comparable level of systematic abuse of women to that perpetrated by the Taliban or the Saudi regime

    How is that not you asking me to compare the systematic abuse of “some other religion” to the “Taliban or the Saudi regime.”

    Of course you picked that apple and orange because they are two of the worst entities as far as the rights of women go that also adhere to Islam. You were transparently weighting the scale against Islam by representing it by that particular political movement and that particular country.

    Which is a technique that Dawkins uses to make Islam seem worse than it is – by associating it with FGM as much as possible regardless of the non-Muslim groups that also practice it.

  • Alex Harman

    They are two of the worst entities as far as the rights of women that have existed on Earth in living memory; that they are both Muslim doesn’t seem like a coincidence, especially when one adds the Algerian fundamentalist rebels, the Janjaweed, the Iranian regime, etc. But here, I’ll amend the question to be more precise: you need to show an organization made up of adherents to and motivated (according to them) by their belief in some other religion engaging in a comparable level of systematic abuse of women to that perpetrated by the Taliban or the Saudi regime. Can you?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Something from 1996? Wikipedia is better than that. Here you go:

    Religious views on female genital mutilation (FGM) vary even within the same religious tradition. FGM is found only within and adjacent to Muslim communities, but the practice predates Islam, is not required by it, and is not found in most Muslim countries. It is also practiced by the Christian Copts in Egypt and Sudan, and by animist groups.[1] The only Jewish group known to have practiced it are the Beta Israel of Ethiopia.[2]

    It is generally accepted that there is no close link between the practice and religious belief. Despite this, there is a widespread view in several countries, particularly in Mali, Eritrea, Mauritania, Guinea and Egypt, that FGM is a religious requirement.[3]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_on_female_genital_mutilation

  • Nancy McClernan

    Not good enough. I want a list of all Mormon beliefs and all Christian beliefs – from all Christian sects, including Amish, Coptics and Liberians who practice FGM. It’s going to take you quite some time, I’d estimate. Better get on it.

  • GCT

    “For instance” is a weasel-out.

    How so? Because I didn’t list every single possible instance? I’ve yet to see you do so.

    There were endless regulations…

    Even Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan admitted that his policies of reducing regulations allowed for bad actors to act badly and force the country into an economic downturn for their own profit.

    The *essential* problem is that the medium of currency isn’t and wasn’t real – i.e., isn’t a precious metal (and is government-manipulated) – and hadn’t been for many decades.

    This is asinine. Going off the gold standard helped us out of the Great Depression. We’ve not been on it for about 70 years now, but it just now caused a crash? LOL.

    Unargued assertion. Also, she was against torts in business? No law for business at all? Anyone could violate anyone’s rights at will?

    Rand argued that the only functions of government toward business are to enforce contracts and agreements, not to regulate business. Are you claiming that this is not correct, that she argued for regulation of industry?

    Demonstrate.

    Guilded Age, Somalia, the recent banking crash…

    Far better for pre-Industrial conditions to prevail. Let those pesky children die.

    Where were the worker protections in the pre-industrial era? Oh, they didn’t exist then either. Do you even understand the arguments you’re making before you make them, or do you wait for us to explain it to you?

    This is twaddle unworthy even of Marx. “Simply owning the property” – which magically just got designed somehow, built somehow, businesses strategies fell from the sky, and ran day by day somehow.

    If you honestly believe in the Randian superman that designs the product, designs the buildings, builds the buildings with their own work, staffs them, runs them, designs all the machinery, etc. then you’re way past gone.

    Economic freedom would certainly mean exactly that.

    LOL. You’re one of those people who think that in a zombie apocalypse, you’d be the rugged survivor who fights off the zombie horde, when in reality you’d probably be just another zombie. You actually think you’d be the business leader who becomes stinking rich off the backs of your laborers who are working 16 hour days, 7 days a week for you – laughable and naive on your part. But, even if that were the case, what is wrong with you that you’d want to make other people work 16 hour days, 7 days a week in order to scrape by?

  • fuguewriter

    >> “For instance” is a weasel-out.
    > How so?

    Vagueness. When I refer to things broadly, there’s enough indication to see what is and is not indicated.

    > Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan

    Who rejected Objectivism in the 1980s – see his memoirs “The Age of Turbulence.” Moreover, the Fed’s grossly contrary to Rand’s thinking.

    > reducing regulations

    Rand wasn’t in favor of “reduced regulations.” She pointed out constantly that a [strongly] mixed economy is unstable. This is the fallacy of “deregulation.”

    The housing market’s essential problem was a debt-fueled casino mentality made possibly by non-real currency and myriad government interventions driving up underlying prices while keeping monthly costs down by below-market interest rates. That is an infallible formula for disaster (and pricing out lower-income people).

    > force the country into an economic downturn for their own profit.

    Not what he said.

    > This is asinine.

    And stupid and idiotic, etc. Yes, you say so at every opportunity.

    > Going off the gold standard helped us out of the Great Depression.

    Economic ignorance. When did the Great Depression end?

    > We’ve not been on it for about 70 years now, but it just now caused a crash?

    You don’t know economics. The abandonment of the gold standard was progressive, starting with the Fed in the early 1910s, when we were nominally gold standard. Note that the worst, longest-lasting Depressions and recessions happened under the Fed. The gold *international exchange* standard was only abandoned in the early 1970s by Nixon. Shocker: complex sysems act in long cycles. And not with simple instant linearity.

    > LOL.

    Your most personally honest argument.

    > Rand argued that the only functions of government toward business are to enforce contracts and agreements

    False. This is an evasive argument. First off, the dichotomy “contracts and agreement” versus “regulation” isn’t exhaustive. The fundamental error here is that she didn’t hold that government had some special hands-off function when it came to business. See her definition of government: “The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.” – http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/government.html

    This covers any rights-violation, in or outside of trade: whether it be [knowingly] selling [actually] worthless securities, or snake-oil patent medicine, polluting your neighbor’s soil, water, or air, or any more subtle variation that involves the violation of individual rights. You don’t attempt to understand her actual system and buy into popular memes like Somalia, that she defends evil businessmen (or doesn’t believe there are any), etc. Tell me, was James Taggart – her most loathsome villain – a working man? Name one villain of hers who is working-class.

    > Are you claiming that this is not correct, that she argued for regulation of industry?

    As shown, false alternative.

    > Guilded Age

    Naming places and times, like the Gilded Age, is not a demonstration. By that token, I could answer “Soviet Union. Southern Italy. China.” That gets us very far.

    > Somalia

    So individual rights in Somalia are/were flawlessly respected under the rule of objective law. Fascinatin’.

    > the recent banking crash

    Already shown not to be unregulated. Indeed, massively intervened in and regulated – from the currency on up. This is why your airy references hold no water.

    > Where were the worker protections in the pre-industrial era? Oh, they didn’t exist then either.

    And they couldn’t have, because the technology didn’t exist. Go back in a time machine to 1295 and institute sanitation laws like iron sewer pipes and see how that works. Free trading people hadn’t yet invented and produced them. That’s the function of people trading.

    Oh, but free trading between people is supposed to instantly make all conditions better? Well, oddly, welfare statism hasn’t done that either. After 50 years of LBJ’s war on poverty and something like $15 trillion. We’ll leave aside the insane unfunded liabilities ahead for us.

    > Do you even understand the arguments you’re making before you make them, or do you wait for us to explain it to you?

    I wait for you to twist and evade, then I set the record straight. One and all you don’t understand Rand’s system (which can be criticized), but leap to screech.
    > Randian superman that designs the product, designs the buildings, builds the buildings with their own work, staffs them, runs them, designs all the machinery, etc. then you’re way past gone.

    Leaving aside the inaccuracy re. Rand, another false alternative. The alternative isn’t “fat factory owner sitting back and doing nothing” versus “lone genius who does absolutely everything solo.” Rand’s genii don’t do that, incidentally. Not a one of them.

    > LOL.

    The best you’ve got. All you’ve got.

  • Science Avenger

    The mathematician in me must rise to note that these sets you are discussing aren’t countable. That is, its impossible to list all beliefs because there is no clear demarcation between one belief and another. Is believing that Christ was the living god arisen one belief or three? More? You see the problem.

    The only way to look at it is as general sets: Judaism is a subset of Christianity (and Islam), which is a subset of Mormonism, with the implausibility rising at each step.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And on what data are you basing the value “plausibility” in this subset method? It would work only if all the implausibilities remained each step up the hierarchy and the others were added to the existing ones. But that isn’t how it works. Christians haven’t retained the taboo against pork. And then there’s the main problem which you mentioned of imprecise belief demarcation.

    The entire exercise is absurd. The basis of all religions is myth. Searching for plausibility based on a foundational myth is futile.

    And that’s my point. Sam Harris made an absurd claim on the basis of one myth not shared by two religions. It takes two seconds of reflection to understand how inane it actually is. And it’s based not on rational analysis but on Sam Harris’s typical cowardly xenophobia. He was raised closer to Christian mythology than Mormon – that’s why he thinks it’s more plausible.

  • Science Avenger

    “The entire exercise is absurd.”

    On that we agree.

  • Science Avenger

    Well, just out of curiosity I read through the first article, and color me unimpressed. It seems another variant of the Courtier’s Reply: you haven’t read/paid sufficient homage to our favorite obscure philosophers/theologins, therefore your view is poorly supported. I wonder how long it will take such people to understand WHY they are so obscure? Perhaps its because of word salad like this:

    “…the exaltation of communal worship, the ecstasy of mystical union with the cosmos and the ambivalent coexistence of faith and doubt.”

    I literally burst out laughing when I read that. Keep babbling on so, keep being irrelevant.

  • Science Avenger

    Holy crap Nancy, did you even read these articles, or did you just post them because they were critical of people you don’t like? The Salon piece is pure dreck, misrepresentations and non sequitors abound. It sounds like it could have been written by Ann Coulter. I confess to not getting through the first page before deciding I had better things to do. Tabloid hit-piece is too elevated a term.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Disagreeing with something doesn’t make it “word salad” – but here’s something meatier from the essay:

    One would think that Harris’s intentionalism would have him distinguish between the regrettable accidents of collateral damage and the deliberate cruelty of torture. But after invoking a series of fantastic scenarios ranging from the familiar ticking time bomb to demonic killers preparing to asphyxiate 7-year-old American girls, Harris concludes that the larger intentions animating torture can be as noble as those that cause collateral damage: there is “no ethical difference” between them, he says. Torture, from this bizarrely intentionalist view, is somehow now a form of collateral damage. Both are necessary tactics in a fight to the death against Islamic unreason. “When your enemy has no scruples, your own scruples become another weapon in his hand,” Harris writes. “We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms.” Most treacherous are the qualms of pacifists, whose refusal to fight is really “nothing more than a willingness to die, and to let others die, at the pleasure of the world’s thugs.” (Reading this passage, one can’t help wondering why in 2005 PEN bestowed its Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction upon The End of Faith.) Given the implacable opposition between Islam and Western modernity, “it seems certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be a part of our future for many years to come.” It is the endless war against evil, the wet dream of every armchair combatant from Dick Cheney to Norman Podhoretz.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Why don’t you specify what you don’t like instead smearing me and the authors? Or do you dare not because it isn’t properly respectful of a brave hero of atheism to actually detail what is wrong with his statements?

  • Donalbain

    OK.. a really simple hypothetical.
    An inhabitant on a island in the Pacific is made homeless by the rising waters caused by climate change, which is caused by the massive input of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by industrial processes.

    Who the fuck does he sue to get compensation?

  • fuguewriter

    There are a number of premises in this hypothetical which must be broken out. (The “fuck” part shows your bias, but that’s disregarded)..

    1. That the globe is, or will be, warming.
    2. That said warming is substantially due to man’s activities.
    3. That such activities are industrial processes, whether done by private actors or governments.
    4. That this industrial-process-caused warming is sufficient to cause the rise in sea levels that resulted in the uninhabitability of this person’s home.
    5. That the person lived next or near to the sea.
    6. That the (or his/her) solution is to look for someone to sue.
    7. That there is a legal venue for a desert island property.

    We’ll grant, for the hypothetical, all these premises and grant they could be proved sufficiently in an objective, fair court. 2-4 would be difficult, but let’s grant them. The “homeless” stipulation is extrinsic.

    The resolution comes from an analysis of the area that the person lives in and the nature of the actual property rights the person has.

    The shoreline (and, for that matter, sea level) is not a naturally immutable boundary, though it normally tends to change slowly except for violent oscillations like tsunamis, huge falls of sheared landmass (which evidently threatens the U.S. eastern seaboard – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatsunami#Canary_Islands ). Living near the sea presents certain natural risks, and some of them are changes in sea level, inundation, etc. Desert islands [presuming here they’re nearly flat, which is the point) are *intrinsically* non-stable and are somewhat ephemeral. Therefore,, they present a more limited field of possible land property rights.

    I’d answer, then – and this is my answer, not Rand’s, though based on her premises and approach – that this person’s island presents him with somewhat limited land property rights by its very nature. He does not have a rational expectation of preponderant immutability. He *does* have the right not to be inundated by violent action, as by a factory on the nearby island that causes large waves, or of course not to have toxic or noxious substances emitted onto his land or air.

    Your interesting argument, then, builds in a segment of property rights that doesn’t hold. So a suit at law would not be appropriate.

    Lawsuits are by no means the only answer in a free society/world. What would be appropriate would be things like (and it’s going to be “things like” because, as always in these arguments, there’s no way for us to recreate a whole worldful of human ingenuity and cultural practices and a body of law):

    1. a property insurance policy, if he had one or could afford one – a sensible precaution if he’s counting on immutability on a desert island. Insurance policies would be a very important component of risk management in a free country/world – the insurance company, bearing liability, would carefully assess risk – and changing situations create different premium adjustments, including over time. This is an instance of the signaling function of prices.

    2. a public appeal highlighting this as a case of the dangers of industry-caused global warming.
    3. not having chosen to reside on a largely flat desert island (presuming he wasn’t born there).

    I’ve played around with the idea that substantially-emissions-causing industries should have to dispose of all emissions and not belch into the air, as under a Fuller Dome – fully self-contained and all. Of course, another solution will be cleaner and cleaner tech – emissions are generally a sign of lower tech – look at London’s deathly smog in the Victorian era and again in the 1950s – which could include doing a lot of industry off-planet. Solar energy is less wimpy ex-atmosphere and closer to the sun. You can’t predict human ingenuity ahead-of-time.

    But your premises 2-4 would be a challenge.

    (The broader thing you’re raising is that of aggregate effects. Which would be a separate discussion.)

  • Science Avenger

    “Disagreeing with something doesn’t make it ‘word salad’”

    True enough, it’s too meaningless to form a disagreement with, it’s gibberish, that’s what makes it word salad.

  • Science Avenger

    To detail what is wrong with his statements it would have to actually deal with his statements. It doesn’t, nor have any criticisms like this that I’ve seen of the new atheists. It’s dishonest from the start: “…rationalizing away the possibilities of cosmic forces.” He doesn’t rationalize (a loaded dishonest term), and he never says such things aren’t possible. What part of “almost” in “Why there almost certainly is no God” is not clear? “Scientific proof there is no god”? Totally dishonest, never said it, never will.

    Obviously these guys hit some nerve that causes otherwise reasonable people to completely lose their ability to be objective. I think its just because they don’t give religion the special deference it expects that no other subject gets. Apparently you are one of them if you can’t see what’s wrong with that article. It’s a dishonest embarrassment, and so typical, which is why I long gave up trying to have reasonable discourse with people on this subject. For whatever reasons, they are simply incapable of it.

  • Science Avenger

    Or when all the garbage in that man-made island of plastic floats over and kills all his fish.

  • Nancy McClernan

    If you don’t want to have a debate just drop it. I’m not interested in your whining about the stupid meanies who dare to criticize the Great Men of Atheism, based on articles you can’t be bothered to read.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I understand the meaning just fine. Perhaps you have a reading comprehension issue?

  • Science Avenger

    Jesus, how obvious can you be? I criticize the article, you ask for specifics, I give you specifics, you characterize it as whining and yammer on about The Great Men of Atheism, a straw man fabrication of your overactive imagination, and lie about me not reading the article, which I clearly did.. You’re dishonest Nancy, thanks for the concrete evidence.

  • Science Avenger

    I have a low BS tolerance issue, as well as one with dishonest well poisoners such as yourself. But please, enlighten us unwashed masses as to the exact meaning of “the ecstasy of mystical union with the cosmos”, or to what exactly is wrong with the passage you cite, the meaning of which seems to have sailed over our overread but underthought critic, who’s more interested in seeing how many obscure literary references he can make than he is in understanding what he’s pontificating about. Pompous polysyllabic posturing is no substitute for clear thinking.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So it is a reading comprehension issue. Glad that’s sorted out.

    Bored now.

  • Alex Harman

    I don’t care what you think is good enough; if you want that list, you’re welcome to get it yourself by reading the Bible (which both Christians and Mormons take to be the Word of God) and the Book of Mormon (which only Mormons take to be the Word of God). That there are extra-textual beliefs that particular sub-sets of Christians and Mormons hold is irrelevant to the point; Harris was comparing the mainstream of Mormonism (i.e. the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints centered on the Salt Lake City Temple and currently led by Thomas S. Monson) with mainstream Christian denominations, and whether you’re talking about Catholics, mainline Protestants, or Evangelicals, none of them add anywhere near as many additional improbable assertions to the improbable assertions contained in the Bible to rival the Book of Mormon.

  • Alex Harman

    I can’t actually tell for sure if she’s dishonest or just not very bright. Either way, she’s certainly quick to resort to vituperation in lieu of argument. It’s starting to remind me of certain Monty Python sketch:
    “I came in here for an argument!”
    “Oh! I’m sorry, but this is abuse.”
    “Oh, that explains it.”
    “Yes, you want Room 12A. Next door.”
    “Thank you.”
    “Not at all. (Door shuts) Stupid git.”

  • Nancy McClernan

    Harris couldn’t be bothered to make a convincing argument about the relative plausibility of religions and neither can you. Harris’s comparison consisted of on element of Mormon mythology. One element may be enough for you, but it’s not enough for me.

    But of course making an argument even with all possible elements is silly given that any plausibility associated with any religion is utterly beside the point. You don’t need 10 examples of the supernatural to make a religion – you only need one. After which point the entire thing fails from an atheist perspective.

    And only a second-rate thinker like Sam Harris would waste his time with such pointless exercises.

    Well, as this analysis of the work of Ayn Rand demonstrates, being a second-rate thinker is no barrier to a devoted fandom.

  • Donalbain

    It seems that fuguewriter is stuck in moderation hell again. But nobody will be surprised to note that our libertarian friend is a climate change denier.


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