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Reply to a Misanthrope

Reply to a Misanthrope

Robert James Bidinotto

5 Mins
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September 7, 2010

July/August 2008 -- I maintain an online blog (http://bidinotto.journalspace.com) that allows me to comment (and sometimes to rant) about the events of the day. Recently, someone posted the following comment to one of my blog entries critical of environmentalism. The comment revealed, with graphic clarity, the mindset and premises of the radical environmentalist, and it prompted me to respond.

Here is that person’s comment (with my apologies to you for the crude language):

    Regardless of what people think about the environment or about living selfishly like a hunk of contaminated puss just nursing off earth’s limited resources like an oversized grownup suckling on a midget’s shriveled tit—polluting and spewing ooze after nursing ever last bit of life out of the donor—I do wish people would take a mere hour to think about how their behavior does impact the rest of the world. Social and environmental awareness (as well as saying “please” and “thank you”). That would be just oh so nice. And while I’m on topic: How about a little personal responsibility and self government for a change and a whole lot less finger pointing and preaching at one another.Oh—and “have a nice day” LOL.

Philosophically (and grammatically) speaking, the preceding is a target-rich environment. But I limited my response to the philosophical aspects of the comment, and here it is:

Leaving aside (for the moment) your crudeness and misanthropy, your fundamental error is that you tacitly equate production with consumption. Specifically, you equate the production of goods and services with the consumption of “earth’s limited resources.” In fact, you implicitly believe that human life itself—which must be sustained via production—is a zero-sum game, in which some people’s existence occurs only at the expense of those who are deprived of their “share” of a finite quantity of common “resources.”

“Resources”? The term itself implies that they do not exist “for themselves,” but that they acquire value only insofar as they are used. Yet you condemn man’s use of natural resources.

You apparently don’t grasp that nature, left unused, is just so much worthless stuff—that, in fact, humans produce “resources.” Unlike animals, which simply consume each other and whatever food they happen to find, man must creatively transform all that unused, worthless stuff into useful values that sustain and enhance his life.

And, driven by the laws of economics within a competitive marketplace—which prompt people to economize and use those scarce resources ever more prudently—man does his creative tasks with ever greater efficiency, striving to gain more benefits while consuming fewer resources.

Since, in your ignorance of economics and science, you don’t understand any of this, let me provide a concrete and specific example.

In my April 28, 2008, blog entry, I described Amazon’s Kindle, a revolutionary new reading device that is a harbinger of things to come in the publishing industry. This single product of human science and technology will soon replace vast quantities of paper products—physical books and magazines—and, eventually, entire industries that are now based on books and magazines and that consume vast quantities of resources.

These industries include lumber companies, pulp mills, paper mills, warehouses, printers, magazine and book publishing houses, bookstores, newsstands, libraries, the mailing operations that ship books and magazines, the post-office and delivery services that bring them to homes and offices, the manufacturers and deliverers of bookshelves and magazine racks, portions of the related advertising, marketing, and circulation industries that support all of the above, the whole paper-recycling industry, the trucks that transport all the resources and products for all the preceding industries, the cars that transport all the customers to bookstores and magazine outlets—and all the workers to jobs in all these industries—not to mention the oil-and-gasoline industries that fuel all the vehicles for all the preceding industries, and the power plants that run their electric lights and heat or cool their offices.

That’s just off the top of my head. There are probably many more.

Think of it. One small gadget—spawning a new, high-tech, more-efficient industry motivated by nothing but profit-seeking in the quest to satisfy paying customers—will put all of those older, “resource-consuming” industries out of business. For environmentalists, “e-books” like the Kindle should represent their wildest fantasies come true: Forests will remain untouched by human blades and perhaps open for more recreational use instead; pollution will be cut back dramatically; huge amounts of space will be saved as people move from paper and ink to the digital world.

And all of this accomplished without a single government law or bureaucratic edict.

You’d think that the greens would be celebrating in the streets. But they are largely silent.

Ask yourself why.

In fact, that is the pattern with every new invention: It replaces and makes obsolete older, less-efficient, more-resource-hungry products. And that is why every dire prediction by environmentalists (and Malthusians of other sorts) has failed to come to pass. Doomsayers consistently fail to consider the creative power of the human mind to invent new ways to use resources far more efficiently.

That—man’s reasoning mind—is what the late economist Julian Simon called “the ultimate resource.”

Inventions are the products of human reason. But in order to see the light of day, they require the freedom of an unhampered, profit-driven, capitalist economic system. People must be motivated in order to innovate and produce, and the material rewards of capitalism are great motivators of the creative process. All the do-gooder preaching in history has failed to do a tiny fraction of the “good” for society—and, in fact, for the environment—that the profit motive has done by marshaling the creative efforts of free, productive people.

So, enough of your tiresome, misanthropic sermons about man “living selfishly like a hunk of contaminated puss,” “just nursing off earth's limited resources,” and “polluting and spewing ooze after nursing ever last bit of life out of the donor.” Donor? Man is no passive recipient of ready-to-use donations from some benevolent Mother Earth. Nature’s “donations” to man consist of nothing but raw materials—chemicals—plus the transformative power of the human brain. Without man’s active use of his creative mind, those chemicals would remain a meaningless, unintegrated jumble of stuff on and in the ground—and human life would perish from the planet.

It is the man’s reason that brings meaning to what would otherwise be just another tiny, meaningless rock spinning in space. Human reason is man’s power and glory. And if man is allowed the freedom to use that power to seek his own selfish well-being and happiness, there is no limit to the good that he can do.