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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/14577/a-primer-on-natural-resources-and-the-environment-2/

A Primer on Natural Resources and the Environment

November 10, 2010 by

There is a fundamental fact about the world that has profound implications for the supply of natural resources and for the relationship between production and economic activity on the one side and man’s environment on the other: the entire earth consists of solidly packed chemical elements. FULL ARTICLE by George Reisman

{ 83 comments }

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 10:48 am

There’s an important item here that is glossed over:

“What is important from the perspective of economic activity and production is the subset of natural resources that human intelligence has identified as possessing properties capable of serving human needs and wants”

Preservation of natural environments for aesthetic reasons is a completely reasonable and appropriate human need and/or want. Casually dismissing this as unimportant, or not on the same value as other “production” to meet human needs/wants is poor reasoning.

King George November 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

Highly agreed. Traditional libertarian theory places nature in the commons unless it’s transformed or used in some way. This means that national parks and the like = impossible under traditional libertarian theory.

Beefcake the Mighty November 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm

E.g., transformed into a national park? Your comment is rubbish.

King George November 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm

So you’re denying that libertarians believe that labour must be mixed with the land in order for that land to be owned?

Beefcake the Mighty November 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Leaving the subtlties that exist across libertarian thought on how things come to be owned, my point was that there is NOTHING in libertarian thought that rules out owning land for the express purpose of keeping it in a state of nature.

King George November 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Really? Many on this site and elsewhere believe that land can only be owned if it is mixed with labour. If you do not mix your labour with the land, you have no right to keep others out and keep them from despoiling that nature in other to mix their labour with it. Seems to me this rules out owning land for the express purpose of keeping it in a state of nature.

Beefcake the Mighty November 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm

The libertarian position does not require that every molecule, say, of some area of land be admixed with labor to establish ownership. Nor does it preclude that multiple owners can voluntarily agree that a large area encompassing their separate properties be kept aside in a state of nature. I don’t think your understanding of the libertarian position here is sufficiently thorough.

King George November 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

Given how libertarians do not agree that one may claim land unless they mix labour, your argument seems to be rubbish and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You have yet to address how these landowners can legitimately prevent others from developing this land under homesteading theory.

Beefcake the Mighty November 11, 2010 at 6:34 am

I don’t have to address anything. It’s not my job to educate you on libertarian theory, and I certainly have no concern to do so. Your original statement (“national parks and the like = impossible under traditional libertarian theory”) is bunk.

Inquisitor November 11, 2010 at 6:58 am

I’d advise you to rid yourself of your caustic tone and educate yourself on Austrian property theory, beginning with Kinsella’s How We come to Own Ourselves. Very few Austrolibertarians still adhere to the labour-mixing theory…

King George November 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm

If you don’t like the caustic tone, then don’t reply with “Your comment is rubbish.” I am actually interested in learning more, and I am willing to read some articles (but not an entire book) to correct my apparently mistaken views, though, so if there are any others specifically relating to this example I would be glad for a reference. Thanks.

Inquisitor November 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm

The one I mentioned does relate to it as it mentions avenues for further reading on the topic, and as far as I recall, you’re the one who called other’s comments rubbish, not I.

Jay Lakner November 12, 2010 at 1:53 am

I think King George has raised an important question.

Can we all please stop insulting each other for a second and actually look at the argument being made?

I find the responses he received to be totally inadequate. He didn’t get a straight answer. And that leaves the reader with the impression that those answering him don’t really know the answer.
Simply mentioning that most libertarians have abandoned “mixing labor” explanations of homesteading for something else without saying what that “something else” is, is kind of silly.

And I don’t think the issue is as cut and dried as people here have made it out to be.

Let’s say you have abandoned the “mixing labor” explanation of homesteading in favour of something like Kinsella’s “objective link” explanation.
You still need to show how it’s possible for an individual to demonstrate an “objective link” to unaltered land. If the land has not been interfered with by any human ever, then how can anybody make a justified claim to it?

Beefcake the Mighty November 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

Also agreed, but how does the passage you quote conflict with or dismiss the preservation of nature for aesthetic purposes?

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Fair comment. The first sentence in the article is:

“There is a fundamental fact about the world that has profound implications for the supply of natural resources and for the relationship between production and economic activity on the one side and man’s environment on the other.”

This frames the entire article as one where preservation is explicitly not “economic activity”, which is what I think is the foundation of a poor argument.

Sione November 10, 2010 at 8:02 pm

OK. See I got this island what I don’t want anyone to change cause I like it exactly how it is. So I put up a sign on the wharf saying “Do not land here. Private island. No mooring. No anchoring. Go away.” Oooops, look like I just mixed in some labour. I built the wharf and made up a sign and posted it there.

Seriously, of course libertarian thought does not disallow the acqusition of land for the purpose of keeping it in nature. What a silly notion.

Sione

Gil November 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Why should you be allowed to homestead a large slab of land because you put a sign and a small building? To homestead a large area you need to do something large to the land and not merely fence it off and leave it be. To say otherwise is to allow to fence a small plot of land and declare “everything outside the fence belongs to me!”

Sione November 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Gil

Are you for real? Are you serious or just playing pillock?

“To say otherwise is to allow to fence a small plot of land and declare “everything outside the fence belongs to me!””

So tell us about all the millions of other people outside the fence? Or in your imagination don’t they exist? Or is it you intend to own them as well?

Silliness.

Pure silliness.

Sione

Beefcake the Mighty November 11, 2010 at 8:19 pm

“To homestead a large area you need to do something large to the land and not merely fence it off and leave it be. ”

I would say setting up a large fence around a large unowned tract of land DOES qualify as doing something large. But leaving aside one’s definition of “large”, the point is that the role of the fence is to establish objective boundaries between what is mine and what is yours, ie, to establish property rights in what the fence encloses.

“To say otherwise is to allow to fence a small plot of land and declare “everything outside the fence belongs to me!””

Sione is right, this example is ridiculous and totally misconstrues the issue.

Elwood P. Dowd November 11, 2010 at 10:56 pm

The incessant arguments over ‘homesteading’, or the process of making unowned
things owned, whatever you call it, has been a genuine shock to me. That
libertarians can be so woefully ignorant of the common law solutions to these
questions amazes me, the corruption of property rights by government coercion
seems to have almost eradicated thousands of years of progress by societies
freely solving these problems for themselves. Unowned land becomes owned by use
seems so simple. I guess not though.
The common claim that homesteading involves nothing more than fencing a
piece of property is the greatest misconception. A fence is an obstacle, there
is no right in an area of unowned land to simply place obstacles in the way of
other free people. They have every right to knock the obstacle down and go on
their way. To lawfully seperate your land from others land, IT MUST FIRST BE
YOUR LAND! Ownership comes first and is what gives you the right to keep others
out, otherwise you are aggressing on their rights. People who move quickly may
in fact begin using and fencing the unowned land simultaneously, but fencing
alone does not convey any rights to the land.
Yours Truly, the heretic and poor lost soul, Sy Akhplart

Beefcake the Mighty November 12, 2010 at 6:53 am

” Unowned land becomes owned by use seems so simple.”

“A fence is an obstacle, there is no right in an area of unowned land to simply place obstacles in the way of other free people. They have every right to knock the obstacle down and go on their way. ”

OK, so if you have some trees in your yard that are very old, they have never been altered by human activity, you’re saying these aren’t really your trees, they’re unowned? I can jump over your fence and establish residency in them? Or I can use a crane from my neighboring property to pluck them from the ground? I doubt you believe this. Surely you can’t mean that every square inch of land must be “used” for it to be part of one’s property.

Elwood P. Dowd November 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm

“Use” does not require alteration. Humans require space in which to exist,
fencing a plot of land and simply occupying said land constitutes use. The
actual amount of land one is able to occupy and use is sometimes open to
adjudication. Fencing a 10 acre parcel and occupying it is probably sufficient
to establish ownership. Fencing 100 square miles and occupying a spot in the
center of it does not suffice. Common law has dealt with all of these issues for
centuries. It is worthwhile for libertarians (at least those few libertarians
who actually believe in freedom) to become familiar with common law treatment of
making unowned land your property.
In your example, the trees are in your yard. Undoubtedly you must have
enjoyed the shade of these trees, you have probably raked the leaves that fell
from them, you might have eaten fruit that fell from their branches, your
children may have climbed these trees, all of these things, and more, constitute
‘use’. It is important to recognise that ‘use’ is very broadly defined in this
application. To follow the thread of your example, if these trees were far
enough from your house that you truly had never used them, then you are correct,
you do not own them.
Use does not have to be intensive nor does it have to be continuously
active. A farmer may safely let a field lie fallow for a season or two in order
to increase productivity. Letting it lie untouched in this fashion is recognised
as ‘use’.
Casual use of unowned property does not generally establish title, camping
for a few days and then moving on to another spot for instance does not convey
ownership. It may establish easement rights however, which is another problem
with simply putting up fences and doing nothing else to establish ownership.
Blocking trails and paths and roads that others have used violates their
property rights in those easements.
Use may not have to be continuous, but that does not prevent land from
reverting to unowned status if it is abandoned, again, common law adjudication
has dealt with the circumstances that constitute abandonment of various types of
property.
Government coercion in property titles has completely warped land ownership,
and through that, land use as well. The speculative holding of what is actually
unowned land (under common law) by individuals whose ‘ownership’ derives from
government decree of some sort is one example. Government ownership of ‘public’
lands is another, it encourages exploitative use by timber, mining and grazing
interests who have no chance of establishing ownership and thus the desire to
maintain the value of the land.
Yours Truly, the heretic and poor lost soul, Sy Akhplart

Beefcake the Mighty November 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Sorry, but appealing to “the common law” does not suffice to explain why it’s “probably” sufficient to fence off 10 acres but not 100 acres in order to establish ownership. You shouldn’t lecture libertarians on failing to understand common law when you employ it in a question-begging manner.

Elwood P. Dowd November 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Sorry, but I am not appealing to common law to explain anything, I am showing
that the principle that unowned property becomes owned by the first user has
been successfully applied in the real world and how people have freely worked
out the practical methods for determining what constitutes use and what does
not. The 10 acre example is a probable case because it is entirely possible that
an individual could use that much land consistent with the principle of first
use, but also entirely possible that they might only use 5 acres. Common law is
important because that is where this principle of first use has been examined
and applied by free people to the greatest extent in human history. If you wish
to throw out all of the prior experience and reasoning behind the common law
understanding of how the principle of first use is applied in real world
situations I think it would be a good idea if you at least knew what you were
throwing out.
Yours Truly, the heretic and poor lost soul, Sy Akhplart

Beefcake the Mighty November 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

You are not explaining at all why it’s legitimate to fence off 10 acres, of which you acknowledge only 5 acres might be used, but not 100 acres. I have no qualms about ignoring what common law has to say on this when its relevance is not being made clear. Until this relevance is established, you are making an appeal.

In your previous example, you note that the untouched tree is still being used by the person who fenced off the land on which it resides, eg for shade, etc. In what way do I not similarly “use” (in quotes since there’s clearly a subjective sense here) the fenced-off 100 acres? After all, I now enjoy it’s pristine state safe in the knowledge that I prevent others from despoiling it (and can offer like-minded outdoorsmen the same opportunity). Please explain.

Elwood P. Dowd November 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm

First, you should read more carefully, I did not say 100 acres, I said 100
square miles while occupying a spot in the middle, it is entirely possible to
establish ownership of 100 acres of unowned land or 100 square miles of unowned
land, but only if you actually use it. Again, your example does involve use, if
nothing else, it involves occupation of the land, which is use. The question is,
how much land are you using? If your use of it is that you do not use it
(including occupying the land), I don’t think that qualifies. Anyone who enjoys
the existence of land that is not used, thus not owned, can equally enjoy the
existence of any such land, no matter where they are. In fact, truly not using
such land would mean that you were not really aware of whether it existed or
not. Use can not meaningfully be defined as not use. After all, property rights
are for dealing with scarcity and conflict and are defined by the limited
ability of individuals to control the world around them. What is the limit on
how much land one can ‘not use’? Further, the principle of first use becomes
meaningless if use is defined too broadly, for instance, we all use gravity,
gravity is a property of the entire earth, therefore all of the earth has always
been used by all of the people on it, hence there is no such thing as unowned
land.
Property rights exist to solve conflicts between people trying to use
scarce resources, giving a general right to all individuals to insist on non-use
of resources makes a mockery of the whole point.
I think what you want from me is an absolute definition of ‘use’ that every
person on earth will accept. Do you really think that is possible? If you do,
why don’t you give it a try?
You have still not addressed my first point, fencing people away from
un-owned land is not anyones right, you only have a right to fence land you own.
Fencing alone cannot be the basis of land ownership.
Are you questioning the validity of first use as the basis of property? If
so, what do you propose instead?
Yours Truly, the heretic and poor lost soul, Sy Akhplart

Beefcake the Mighty November 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm

“You have still not addressed my first point, fencing people away from
un-owned land is not anyones right, you only have a right to fence land you own.”

This begs the question of why the fencing of land does not establish ownership, why it does not qualify as “use”. In some of your examples, it does not seem that you reject this possibility (namely, of fencing establishing ownership rights, you simply qualify certain size and time limitations on what you deem to be non-use). I’m not going to get into a hair-splitting match over what constitutes use.

“Fencing alone cannot be the basis of land ownership.”

Why not, exactly?

If I am able to successfully encircle previously unowned land, why does this not establish a right on my part to exclude subsequent entrants? No encirclement and subsequent occupation and use touches *all* of the land, yet you don’t seem to doubt that this residual is owned by the original encircler. Encirclement does establish an objective boundary that latecomers must cross in some way to access the land within. This objective boundary can indeed serve as basis for separating mine from yours, ie, a basis for property rights.

Elwood P. Dowd November 13, 2010 at 2:20 pm

You appear to accept first use as the principle guiding ownership. By extension,
if land has not been used by anyone then it is unowned. You are postulating a
right to fence a piece of property and specifically and deliberately not use it.
If you do not use it, you do not own it, that follows directly from the
principle of first use. Again, if you do not own (use) the land outside the
fence, and you do not own (use) the land inside the fence, where does your right
to obstruct the free movement of other people come from?
Yours Truly, the heretic and poor lost soul, Sy Akhplart

Beefcake the Mighty November 13, 2010 at 9:56 pm

OK, I’m willing to grant that some kind of occupancy must accompany an encirclement to establish property rights in the encircled land. Beyond this, any kind of spatial or temporal limits on “non-use” strike me as entirely subjective, and hence not decisive in revoking this property right.

The_Orlonater November 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Do you really think that Reisman is arguing that preservation is wrong-headed? It all depends on who is doing the preservation. I think you and other Mises.org readers would know that that is implied, at least if you are remotely familiar with any of Hayek’s writings.

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm

I’d rather analyze the article as written, rather than trying to divine the true meaning from Hayek’s work. Of course it is possible, or even likely, that the author has a richer and better argued view elsewhere but I don’t have access to it.

The_Orlonater November 10, 2010 at 5:15 pm

What John said.

Jonathan M. F. Catalán November 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

If the purpose of all economic activity is to satiate desires/demands, then it follows that if a property owner would like to conserve his property for the purpose of enjoying nature this falls within the realm of economic activity. Furthermore, such purposes can be productive if he offers the service to others, et cetera.

Dave Albin November 10, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Or if he solely wants it for his own enjoyment now…a long-term investment is his productive capacity, perhaps, or as investment land… Many options here…

Alex November 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

This is the most interesting article I have ever read by Reisman.

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 10:54 am

Some more poor reasoning here:

“Insofar as the essential nature of production and economic activity is to improve the relationship between the chemical elements constituting the earth and man’s life and well-being, it is also necessarily to improve man’s environment, which is nothing other than those very same chemical elements and their associated energy forces.”

This is collectivist nonsense. We don’t all collectively see our well-being equally (or even directionally) changed by production and any resultant pollution. The nature of environmental pollution is that some people enjoy the immediate benefits of productive activity but are able to externalize part of the costs (via pollution) so that others are made to pay. This is exactly the kind of arrangement that people who post on mises.org should be fighting tooth and nail, not dismissing as being collectively beneficial.

The_Orlonater November 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Why don’t you read the end of the article when Reisman was referring to the environmentalist notion that replaces man’s wants and satisfactions as a standard of value with the notion of keeping nature in its most unexploited order as a standard of value? He correctly points out that nature in and of itself as a standard of value is a concept used to mean that anything human manipulation and exploitation of nature in and of itself constitutes a “harm to the environment.” You’re erecting your very own strawman when you say Reisman is supporting environmental pollution, which would mean in libertarian legal theory to invade someone’s rights, which is not what Reisman was saying. Secondly, it’s not “collectivist nonsense” to say that production increases human well being, the terms “production” and “pollution” are not synonyms. You don’t have to necessarily have the latter when you perform the former.

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Thanks for your comments. Sorry if I erect a straw man, that is certainly not my intent. I think that the article is pretty clear in it’s attempt to “sell” economic production, even where there is pollution. As noted above, the article opens with:

“There is a fundamental fact about the world that has profound implications for the supply of natural resources and for the relationship between production and economic activity on the one side and man’s environment on the other.”

This passage pretty much does make production and pollution synonymous (for purposes of the article) in that it asserts that economic activity and the environment are on opposing “sides”.

Del Lindley November 10, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Production and pollution are not synonyms, but production can necessarily imply pollution if you define pollution to include thermal pollution. From an energy perspective, production in an advanced economy proceeds by liberating energy from chemical or nuclear potentials into kinetic energy. Some fraction of this energy is converted into work (the portion with economic value) and the remainder is dissipated as waste heat. If you are going to enhance wealth via production there is no way to avoid thermal pollution.

Jonathan M. F. Catalán November 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm

That production betters the standard of living of everyone is not collectivist. That there is a harmony of interest is not collectivism. I think you are reading too much into Reisman’s article, and interpreting too loosely.

SBMcManus November 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm

“That production betters the standard of living of everyone is not collectivist. That there is a harmony of interest is not collectivism.”

Except that the whole point of the environmental movement is that the production of consumer goods by SOME for use by SOME externalizes a part of the cost to ALL. To miss this point, or gloss over this point, in an article about the economics of environmentalism is a fatal shortcoming.

Iain November 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I think the environmental movement needs to come back to reality. There will be costs for progress and development. The fact of the matter is that we may need to sacrifice the beauty of the environment in the short term in order to create long term benefits for people and eventually the environment.

Ryan November 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm

The difference is whether the sacrifice that is made is on your property or on your neighbor’s. In a libertarian world, economic actors must keep their sacrifices to themselves.

gene November 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

“The fact of the matter is that we may need to sacrifice the beauty of the environment in the short term in order to create long term benefits for people and eventually the environment.”

unadulterated fascism. talk about a “planned” economy, now we get a “planned environment”? who delegated that authority to you?

Jonathan M. F. Catalán November 10, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Either way, whether the means of production are privatized or the means of production are collectivized, someone loses. Many more people lose with the latter than with the former, though. In any case, I’m not sure what this has to do with your original argument about collectivism (which was way off base).

The_Orlonater November 10, 2010 at 5:16 pm

That’s what I was trying to point out.

Ned Netterville November 10, 2010 at 12:44 pm

SBMcMannus said, “Preservation of natural environments for aesthetic reasons is a completely reasonable and appropriate human need and/or want.”

Yes, of course, but the State is the last entity one should count on to do that. For all my love of the magnificent habitats “preserved” in national parks here in America and other lands, I am convinced these places would be safer if they were not “owned” by governments but were in other, private hands. Let us not forget that it was the federal government–Corps of Army Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation (known in the Four-Corners area as Wreck-the-Nation Bureau)–that built Glen Canyon dam and Lake Powell, burying beneath them the most beautiful slot canyons on the face of the earth; that it was the federal government that was going to erect two dams to flood almost the entire length of the Grand Canyon if the Sierra Club hadn’t generated a public outcry that stopped ‘em;

“Public” ownership means political control, and the politics of the people exercising control changes with every change in the political winds and the economic situation of the nation at large. Only a complete fool would entrust the care of his most precious possessions to a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats.

Sam November 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm

But if you plow that field to grow wheat, you’ll destroy all the grass.

Del Lindley November 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm

In his effort to minimize man’s seemingly large energy expenditure Reisman states:

“Along the same lines, the entire supply of energy produced by the human race in a year is still far less than that generated by a single hurricane.”

While such statements may be helpful with regard to a comparison of simple energy magnitudes, they are misleading because dissimilar forms of energy are being equated.

The primary energy used in modern production is extracted in the form of chemical and nuclear potential energy. This form of energy is suitable for productive purposes because of a high energy density (ergs/cc) and that it can be liberated (via capital goods) to perform useful work at the time, place, and magnitude of man’s choosing. A hurricane’s energy is that of wind, i.e. the kinetic energy of air. Energy offered in this form can have only negligible productive value owing to a low energy density and that it is created at nature’s, not man’s, discretion.

Konrad Swart November 10, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Reisman has written a marvelous
article here. I really deplore it often, that he has such a low opinion of me.
(This stems from the past, wherein we had an e-mail exchange in which some
flaming occurred.) Nevertheless, I admire him in his recent two articles,
wherein he made some very important fundamental problems clear.

In this article he is making a step in the direction of my
own idea. Namely, that Man is, in my eyes, the third form of existence. The other two are ‘dead matter’ and
‘life’.

So what am I saying? There is a fundamental difference between dead matter, animals and Man.
Although all life forms are built out of the same 92 elements, and of the same
chemical compounds that can be found in rocks, it is not so that plants and
animals therefore are ‘just a new
form of chemicals’. No, plants and animals are a new, higher form of existence
than the elements. That what distinguishes life forms from dead matter is, as Ayn Rand puts it, ‘if you split a rock in two, you have two
rocks. But if you try to split a cat in two, you have not two cats, but one dead cat.’ Or, if you like, you
change the cat into its constituting chemicals. You reduce the cat to the lower form.

That what makes the cat a higher form of existence is the
fact, that all dead matter is the result of presently working causal natural
laws. No more is needed for a rock to exist, or to come into existence. The
existence of a cat, on the other hand, depends on a very, very long
evolutionary trajectory. It is the result of presently working laws of nature and the history of billions of years of evolution, resulting into
information stored in the information carrier
called the DNA molecule.

In other words, the DNA molecule is exactly the point of
demarcation that separates dead matter from life forms. It is the DNA molecule,
with its property to store information that has brought about a fundamental separation of dead matter
and life forms.

And, what is also very important to realize, the ‘mechanism
of differentiation formation’ of the DNA molecule is evolution. Evolution is,
by definition, ‘adaptation of life forms to the environment’. And dead matter,
together with space and time, is the
environment life adapts to.

Of course, after billions of years of evolution, the
relationship between life forms and its environment became more complex. For
example, plants have become, and
therefore are the environment of
animals. And dead matter, space, time, energy from the sun is the environment of plants. So life itself develops into layers
of complex life forms that form the environment of higher life forms. So life,
in its later incarnations, not only adapted to dead matter, but also to other
life forms. This caused a feedback loop in complexification
that first made multi-cellular, and later the higher
forms of life possible. (Much can be said about this topic, but I restrict
myself to these few remarks.)

Nevertheless, the ‘differentiation process’ behind life
consists of evolution, that is, mutation + selection = random variation +
adaptation to the environment.

Biologically speaking, Man is a species. Saying this,
however, is as unimportant as saying that chemically speaking, plants and
animals are molecules. (I am using here Linus Pauling’s definition of molecule.
A molecule is the smallest amount of matter defined by its chemical properties.
So  according to
this definition, and applying it strictly to life, a cat is ‘the smallest
amount of matter having the property of being a cat. And, therefore, according
to Linus Pauling’s definition of ‘molecule’ a cat is a molecule’, and,
according to his definition, all different
species are different molecules.)

The thing that makes Man fundamentally
distinct from all other life forms is the fact that Man does not survive
through evolution. That is, through adapting himself to the environment. No,
Man survives, lives, through the
exact opposite. Man adapts his environment to himself. That makes that evolution does not apply to Man!

This is more than survival. I define survival as: ‘adapting
to the environment, whatever it is’. So if a civilian is a citizen of a country
under the rule of a dictator, which forbids him to use his own thinking up to a
point, he is adapting to the environment, and therefore, as a life form, is
forced to exist as an animal. Adaptation to the environment is, in my
definition, only survival.

But if you do the opposite. If you
try to improve your lot through adapting the environment to yourself, whatever
it is, you do something fundamentally different than what animals do. You are
not just mere surviving, but you are living!

(In fact, this new form of existence deserves its own name.
I myself call it revolution. Revolution
is therefore the successor of evolution. Evolution is survival. Revolution is
living.)

Lower life forms are only capable of survival. And even the
higher life forms are severely limited in their capacity to live. Only Man is a
form of existence, whose capacity to uphold itself into existence depends on his capacity to do the exact
opposite of that what evolution requires: adaptation of his environment to
himself. This makes Man into a higher form of existence than any other life
form. In short, it makes that Man is more
than just a life form. It is, we are a completely new form of existence. Or at least we can choose to be. (Many people only
survive.)

Existence seems to develop ever more involved strategies of
differentiation. The strategy of life has been obsoleted by the emergence of
Man, just like the strategy of laws of nature has been obsoleted by the
emergence of life. Man is not just a particular life form,
and not even just a higher life form, but is the successor of life
itself. And that through
his capacity to exist by adapting his environment to himself.

Moreover, the more Man
chooses to use this capacity, the more he
lives. Man is the only form of existence that has control over the degree in
which he is able to live. This is the core of Objectivist ethics, or at least
as I understand it. It is also the perspective from which George Reisman seems to speak.

Pierre Teilhard the Chardin had a very interesting way to express this same
insight. I see him as somebody having an intuition of what I am trying to say
here. He made a distinction between the Exisphere,
which is the ‘sphere of dead matter’, the ‘biosphere’, which is the ‘sphere of
life’, and the ‘noösphere’, in which he placed animals
with a central nervous system. However, I restrict it more, and only allow
forms of existence that no longer comply to evolution,
but turn it around to belong to the Noösphere. In other words, only ‘beings that exist through adapting the
environment to themselves’ belong properly to the noösphere.
And that is only us, humans.

That what gives us the capacity to transcend life is our
capacity to think. This is
fundamentally more than what animals and plants do. DNA only allow for the storage of information, leading to the
differentiation that manifests itself in the tremendous amount of different
life forms. Our brains, our mind, on the other hand, is
not only capable of storing information,
but is capable of processing information.
 That is what thinking is.

Evolution always has a tree form. That is, successive life
forms are the result of previous, less differentiated life forms. Evolution is
fundamentally incapable of combining, for example, the wings of a bird with the
trunk of an elephant and the long neck of a giraffe. An elephant cannot have
birds as its successor, for example, no matter what Disney shows through Dombo. But we are capable of studying the different forms
and functionalities of existence, and can cook up an airplane containing a tip
that has the same functionality of the trunk of an elephant and to make a
cockpit as remote from the body of the plane as the head of the giraffe is from
his body. And if we wish, we can make it in such a way that it can not only fly, but also swim under water as a submarine,
and maybe even burrow under ground like a mole, as
can be seen in the puppet movies: Thunderbird Four. Of course, such a thing is
technologically very difficult to make, and maybe very expensive economically
speaking, not to mention whether such a thing is economically relevant to make.
The point is, we can imagine such a
thing, and then set out to create it if we wish. And it is not at all
unthinkable that we can even succeed.

If I compare this with the branch-like structure of evolution,
then what makes us much more powerful than evolution is our capacity to make
branches come together. Therefore, from a structural perspective, evolution can
only make structural trees, but we can make structural cycles. This is again an
example why Man is a fundamentally higher form of existence. Trees are
instances of the general class of graphs.

There is also a very interesting connection to time. All
laws of nature can be expressed as differential equations with a second order
time component. In ordinary language, this means that in dead matter only the present is real. This is why we only
experience the present, although we
can recollect the past, and imagine the future.

Evolution, on the other hand, has added a new structure forming component to this. Through the DNA
molecule it has introduced the past as
a second differentiation – forming
process. Thanks to the capacity of the DNA molecule to store information it has created
the past as a reality. And we have copied it through the invention of
writing and the alphabet.

Through Man, and his capacity to process information, existence has added a second new structure forming component, of which we are the
embodiment. Namely the capacity to imagine something that does not exist anywhere, and then take
action to make it real, to bring it into existence. So, thanks to our
capacity to imagine something that
does not exist in the present, but which might
exist in the future through our
actions, it has made us the embodiment of future
as a new structure forming component.

Therefore, the fundamental distinction between dead matter,
life, and Man can ultimately be reduced to the fundamental distinction between
the present, the past and the future.

Environmentalists are ‘screaming their heads off’ when the
activity of Man to adapt his environment leads to the destruction of animals
and plants, and even whole species of animals and plants, and therefore the
diminishing of the bio-diversity. But what they fail to realize is that this is
not just mere destruction, but replacement.
The bio-diversity becomes less. But in its place a new kind of diversity
arises. A form of diversity that is fundamentally much, much more powerful than
the bio diversity, because it is not limited by the tree-like structure
formation inherent in evolution. Bio diversity is replaced by techno – diversity. And therefore it is not something
to deplore, but something to welcome.

After all, this is not without precedence. After DNA
succeeded to bring together many chemical so that the result was the
differentiation of life form, it came with the cost of destroying the chemical
differentiation that took place before it. Because cells ‘suck up’ chemicals
through their membranes and the osmosis it made possible, it depleted the
freely occurring chemicals that existed before life emerged. Therefore many
chemical processes that could occur with greater concentrations of the various
substances was made impossible, leading to a reduction
of the chemical differentiation. The emergence of life therefore reduced the
complexity of the ‘chemical world’ that predated life, and replaced it by the complexity, and the far more differentiatable
biosphere.

In the same manner, the Noösphere replaces the biosphere. Biological
differentiation becomes less and less. But in its place there emerges a new
kind of differentiation, that is, potentially at least, much more viable: technological differentiation.

I think that there are two terms that are important here
from an economic perspective. If I think of something that has never existed
before, and, through thinking and experimentation show that it can exist, by
producing an example of this, I have made an invention. But if that same thing
turns out to be something that helps us to fulfill our needs and/or satisfy our
desires in a way that is better than anything else that cost the same amount of
money, I have succeeded in the creation of something I can use to earn money.
And when that happens, the invention
becomes an innovation.

For example, the Wright brothers showed an invention that we
could use to fly. But it took about 30 years before the Douglas company succeeded to construct the DC-3, the first
commercial aircraft. That is, a device that could be used to earn money.

My point is: the more powerful the economy, the less the
demands that have to be put onto inventions to become innovation.

Reisman’s article is very good,
but it does not go far enough. As many of you know, I am writing a book about
money and value. I am almost finished with it. Writing a book also leads to a
lot of thinking and surprising clarifications. One of the subjects I ‘stumbled
over’, was taxes and taxation. I discovered that there are 6 kinds of taxes and
taxations. There is (1) taxation on wages, on (2) interest and/or profit, (3) on
capital goods, (4) on raw materials, land, and there is (5) VAT. I used to
think that these 5 taxes were the only 5 fundamental taxes there could be.
Moreover, my calculations made it possible to determine which of the taxes were
the most destructive. (My calculations showed, that all taxes are destructive, economically speaking.) It turned out that
from these 5 taxes, the tax on capital goods is the most destructive. A 5% tax
on capital goods causes about as much disruption as a 30% taxation on wages.
But through my writing I discovered, theoretically speaking, a 6th
form of taxation: investment tax. First
I could not make much sense of it, and I thought it did not exist. However, I
saw from my calculations, that when it exists, it is the meanest and  the most
destructive tax there is. A 3% tax on investment is about as destructive as a
35% tax on wages, and a 20% VAT taxation.

But then I discovered, that
investment tax definitely does exist.
The only reason I thought it was only theoretical is because when this tax is
introduced, it does not have this name. Only Norway has an explicit mention of
investment tax.

I discovered, much to my dismay, that
investment tax does exist. First let
me define it. An investment tax is the obligation to pay for the right to set up a business. So if you
buy something before you have set up
the business, you have to pay for the
right
to buy the means of investment.

And that is exactly what environmental payments are!

If, for example, under the Kyoto treaty people have to pay
for ‘so much tons of CO2 emission’, or to ‘pay for
setting up a factory in a certain region’, then these are taxes that have to be
paid before the factory is allowed to
run. Therefore environmental taxes are investment
taxes. These taxes are all based on the false presupposition that the
environment needs to be protected. In particular, that we
need to safeguard bio-diversity.

Nobody apparently has ever asked himself why. I think that
the sentiment is: ‘if the bio-diversity is diminished, then the capacity of the
earth to sustain life forms is diminished. Since human beings are a life form
just like the others, a particular species that survive through being smart,
like the cheetah is a particular species that survives through being fast, then
if we diminish or destroy the bio-diversity we destroy our own capacity to
survive. Therefore our survival is at stake.’

Or, worse, there are environmentalists who sense that there is something
fundamentally different about Man. But they explain
it negatively. They explain this
by just stating that Man is a kind of parasite, a mistake of existence.
Therefore the activity of Man to live, that is, our capacity to adapt our
environment to ourselves what defines us as the higher form of existence we truly
are, is used as an argument to
curtail, frustrate, and diminish to make use of our capacity to live as much as
possible. Hence the introduction of this most destructive form of taxation
there is: ‘environmental taxation’.

I think that if Man is left alone by those mistaken
thinkers, in the end there will be no pollution
whatsoever. Remember, the petrol of our cars was once a waste product. In the
same manner, whenever something appears as waste, and therefore as pollution,
we know exactly the components it
consists of. Nuclear waste, for example, is not just radio-active, but hot.
Therefore, in principle at least, it can be used to warm our houses. I am told
that nuclear waste takes thousands of years before its radio activity, and
therefore its heat to disappear. So in principle it could be used to warm our
houses for thousands of years. The only reason why we do not do this is because
it is not economically sound. It costs far more money to exploit the heat
coming from nuclear waste than to lock it up in salt mines, and use the energy
from nuclear reactors.

So the article is marvelous, but, in my eyes at least, it
does not go far enough. We can go much, much further in understanding the
world, and our own position in it.

Konrad Swart November 10, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Reisman has written a marvelous
article here. I really deplore it often, that he has such a low opinion of me.
(This stems from the past, wherein we had an e-mail exchange in which some flaming occurred.) Nevertheless, I admire him in his recent two articles, wherein he made some very important fundamental problems clear.

In this article he is making a step in the direction of my own idea. Namely, that Man is, in my eyes, the third form of existence. The other two are ‘dead matter’ and ‘life’.

So what am I saying? There is a fundamental difference between dead matter, animals and Man. Although all life forms are built out of the same 92 elements, and of the same chemical compounds that can be found in rocks, it is not so that plants and animals therefore are ‘just a new form of chemicals’. No, plants and animals are a new, higher form of existence than the elements. That what distinguishes life forms from dead matter is, as Ayn Rand puts it, ‘if you split a rock in two, you have two rocks. But if you try to split a cat in two, you have not two cats, but one dead cat.’ Or, if you like, you change the cat into its constituting chemicals. You reduce the cat to the lower form.

That what makes the cat a higher form of existence is the fact, that all dead matter is the result of presently working causal natural laws. No more is needed for a rock to exist, or to come into existence. The existence of a cat, on the other hand, depends on a very, very long evolutionary trajectory. It is the result of presently working laws of nature and the history of billions of years of evolution, resulting into information stored in the information carrier called the DNA molecule.

In other words, the DNA molecule is exactly the point of demarcation that separates dead matter from life forms. It is the DNA molecule, with its property to store information that has brought about a fundamental separation of dead matter and life forms.

And, what is also very important to realize, the ‘mechanism of differentiation formation’ of the DNA molecule is evolution. Evolution is, by definition, ‘adaptation of life forms to the environment’. And dead matter, together with space and time, is the environment life adapts to.

Of course, after billions of years of evolution, the relationship between life forms and its environment became more complex. For example, plants have become, and therefore are the environment of animals. And dead matter, space, time, energy from the sun is the environment of plants. So life itself develops into layers of complex life forms that form the environment of higher life forms. So life, in its later incarnations, not only adapted to dead matter, but also to other life forms. This caused a feedback loop in complexification that first made multi-cellular, and later the higher forms of life possible. (Much can be said about this topic, but I restrict myself to these few remarks.)

Nevertheless, the ‘differentiation process’ behind life consists of evolution, that is, mutation + selection = random variation + adaptation to the environment.

Biologically speaking, Man is a species. Saying this, however, is as unimportant as saying that chemically speaking, plants and animals are molecules. (I am using here Linus Pauling’s definition of molecule. A molecule is the smallest amount of matter defined by its chemical properties. So  according to this definition, and applying it strictly to life, a cat is ‘the smallest amount of matter having the property of being a cat. And, therefore, according to Linus Pauling’s definition of ‘molecule’ a cat is a molecule’, and, according to his definition, all different species are different molecules.)

The thing that makes Man fundamentally distinct from all other life forms is the fact that Man does not survive
through evolution. That is, through adapting himself to the environment. No, Man survives, lives, through the exact opposite. Man adapts his environment to himself. That makes that evolution does not apply to Man!

This is more than survival. I define survival as: ‘adapting to the environment, whatever it is’. So if a civilian is a citizen of a country under the rule of a dictator, which forbids him to use his own thinking up to a point, he is adapting to the environment, and therefore, as a life form, is forced to exist as an animal. Adaptation to the environment is, in my definition, only survival.

But if you do the opposite. If you try to improve your lot through adapting the environment to yourself, whatever
it is, you do something fundamentally different than what animals do. You are not just mere surviving, but you are living!

(In fact, this new form of existence deserves its own name. I myself call it revolution. Revolution is therefore the successor of evolution. Evolution is survival. Revolution is living.)

Lower life forms are only capable of survival. And even the higher life forms are severely limited in their capacity to live. Only Man is a form of existence, whose capacity to uphold itself into existence depends on his capacity to do the exact opposite of that what evolution requires: adaptation of his environment to himself. This makes Man into a higher form of existence than any other life form. In short, it makes that Man is more than just a life form. It is, we are a completely new form of existence. Or at least we can choose to be. (Many people only survive.)

Existence seems to develop ever more involved strategies of differentiation. The strategy of life has been obsoleted by the emergence of Man, just like the strategy of laws of nature has been obsoleted by the emergence of life. Man is not just a particular life form, and not even just a higher life form, but is the successor of life itself. And that through his capacity to exist by adapting his environment to himself.

Moreover, the more Man chooses to use this capacity, the more he
lives. Man is the only form of existence that has control over the degree in which he is able to live. This is the core of Objectivist ethics, or at least as I understand it. It is also the perspective from which George Reisman seems to speak.

Pierre Teilhard the Chardin had a very interesting way to express this same insight. I see him as somebody having an intuition of what I am trying to say here. He made a distinction between the Exisphere, which is the ‘sphere of dead matter’, the ‘biosphere’, which is the ‘sphere of life’, and the ‘noösphere’, in which he placed animals with a central nervous system. However, I restrict it more, and only allow forms of existence that no longer comply to evolution, but turn it around to belong to the Noösphere. In other words, only ‘beings that exist through adapting the environment to themselves’ belong properly to the noösphere.
And that is only us, humans.

That what gives us the capacity to transcend life is our capacity to think. This is
fundamentally more than what animals and plants do. DNA only allow for the storage of information, leading to the
differentiation that manifests itself in the tremendous amount of different life forms. Our brains, our mind, on the other hand, is not only capable of storing information, but is capable of processing information.
 That is what thinking is.

Evolution always has a tree form. That is, successive life forms are the result of previous, less differentiated life forms. Evolution is fundamentally incapable of combining, for example, the wings of a bird with the trunk of an elephant and the long neck of a giraffe. An elephant cannot have birds as its successor, for example, no matter what Disney shows through Dombo. But we are capable of studying the different forms and functionalities of existence, and can cook up an airplane containing a tip that has the same functionality of the trunk of an elephant and to make a cockpit as remote from the body of the plane as the head of the giraffe is from his body. And if we wish, we can make it in such a way that it can not only fly, but also swim under water as a submarine,
and maybe even burrow under ground like a mole, as can be seen in the puppet movies: Thunderbird Four. Of course, such a thing is
technologically very difficult to make, and maybe very expensive economically speaking, not to mention whether such a thing is economically relevant to make.
The point is, we can imagine such a thing, and then set out to create it if we wish. And it is not at all unthinkable that we can even succeed.

If I compare this with the branch-like structure of evolution, then what makes us much more powerful than evolution is our capacity to make branches come together. Therefore, from a structural perspective, evolution can only make structural trees, but we can make structural cycles. This is again an example why Man is a fundamentally higher form of existence. Trees are instances of the general class of graphs.

There is also a very interesting connection to time. All laws of nature can be expressed as differential equations with a second order time component. In ordinary language, this means that in dead matter only the present is real. This is why we only experience the present, although we can recollect the past, and imagine the future.

Evolution, on the other hand, has added a new structure forming component to this. Through the DNA molecule it has introduced the past as a second differentiation – forming process. Thanks to the capacity of the DNA molecule to store information it has created the past as a reality. And we have copied it through the invention of writing and the alphabet.

Through Man, and his capacity to process information, existence has added a second new structure forming component, of which we are the embodiment. Namely the capacity to imagine something that does not exist anywhere, and then take action to make it real, to bring it into existence. So, thanks to our capacity to imagine something that does not exist in the present, but which might exist in the future through our actions, it has made us the embodiment of future as a new structure forming component.

Therefore, the fundamental distinction between dead matter, life, and Man can ultimately be reduced to the fundamental distinction between the present, the past and the future.

Environmentalists are ‘screaming their heads off’ when the activity of Man to adapt his environment leads to the destruction of animals and plants, and even whole species of animals and plants, and therefore the diminishing of the bio-diversity. But what they fail to realize is that this is not just mere destruction, but replacement. The bio-diversity becomes less. But in its place a new kind of diversity arises. A form of diversity that is fundamentally much, much more powerful than the bio diversity, because it is not limited by the tree-like structure formation inherent in evolution. Bio diversity is replaced by techno – diversity. And therefore it is not something to deplore, but something to welcome.

After all, this is not without precedence. After DNA succeeded to bring together many chemical so that the result was the differentiation of life form, it came with the cost of destroying the chemical differentiation that took place before it. Because cells ‘suck up’ chemicals through their membranes and the osmosis it made possible, it depleted the freely occurring chemicals that existed before life emerged. Therefore many chemical processes that could occur with greater concentrations of the various substances was made impossible, leading to a reduction of the chemical differentiation. The emergence of life therefore reduced the
complexity of the ‘chemical world’ that predated life, and replaced it by the complexity, and the far more differentiatable biosphere.

In the same manner, the Noösphere replaces the biosphere. Biological differentiation becomes less and less. But in its place there emerges a new kind of differentiation, that is, potentially at least, much more viable: technological differentiation.

I think that there are two terms that are important here from an economic perspective. If I think of something that has never existed before, and, through thinking and experimentation show that it can exist, by producing an example of this, I have made an invention. But if that same thing turns out to be something that helps us to fulfill our needs and/or satisfy our desires in a way that is better than anything else that cost the same amount of money, I have succeeded in the creation of something I can use to earn money. And when that happens, the invention becomes an innovation.

For example, the Wright brothers showed an invention that we could use to fly. But it took about 30 years before the Douglas company succeeded to construct the DC-3, the first commercial aircraft. That is, a device that could be used to earn money.

My point is: the more powerful the economy, the less the demands that have to be put onto inventions to become innovation.

Reisman’s article is very good, but it does not go far enough. As many of you know, I am writing a book about money and value. I am almost finished with it. Writing a book also leads to a lot of thinking and surprising clarifications. One of the subjects I ‘stumbled over’, was taxes and taxation. I discovered that there are 6 kinds of taxes and taxations. There is (1) taxation on wages, on (2) interest and/or profit, (3) on capital goods, (4) on raw materials, land, and there is (5) VAT. I used to think that these 5 taxes were the only 5 fundamental taxes there could be. Moreover, my calculations made it possible to determine which of the taxes were the most destructive. (My calculations showed, that all taxes are destructive, economically speaking.) It turned out that from these 5 taxes, the tax on capital goods is the most destructive. A 5% tax on capital goods causes about as much disruption as a 30% taxation on wages.

But through my writing I discovered, theoretically speaking, a 6th form of taxation: investment tax. First I could not make much sense of it, and I thought it did not exist. However, I saw from my calculations, that when it exists, it is the meanest and  the most destructive tax there is. A 3% tax on investment is about as destructive as a 35% tax on wages, and a 20% VAT taxation.

But then I discovered, that investment tax definitely does exist. The only reason I thought it was only theoretical is because when this tax is introduced, it does not have this name. Only Norway has an explicit mention of investment tax.

I discovered, much to my dismay, that investment tax does exist. First let
me define it. An investment tax is the obligation to pay for the right to set up a business. So if you buy something before you have set up the business, you have to pay for the right to buy the means of investment.

And that is exactly what environmental payments are!

If, for example, under the Kyoto treaty people have to pay for ‘so much tons of CO2 emission’, or to ‘pay for setting up a factory in a certain region’, then these are taxes that have to be paid before the factory is allowed to run. Therefore environmental taxes are investment taxes. These taxes are all based on the false presupposition that the environment needs to be protected. In particular, that we need to safeguard bio-diversity.

Nobody apparently has ever asked himself why. I think that the sentiment is: ‘if the bio-diversity is diminished, then the capacity of the earth to sustain life forms is diminished. Since human beings are a life form just like the others, a particular species that survive through being smart, like the cheetah is a particular species that survives through being fast, then if we diminish or destroy the bio-diversity we destroy our own capacity to survive. Therefore our survival is at stake.’

Or, worse, there are environmentalists who sense that there is something fundamentally different about Man. But they explain it negatively. They explain this by just stating that Man is a kind of parasite, a mistake of existence. Therefore the activity of Man to live, that is, our capacity to adapt our environment to ourselves what defines us as the higher form of existence we truly are, is used as an argument to curtail, frustrate, and diminish to make use of our capacity to live as much as
possible. Hence the introduction of this most destructive form of taxation there is: ‘environmental taxation’.

I think that if Man is left alone by those mistaken thinkers, in the end there will be no pollution whatsoever. Remember, the petrol of our cars was once a waste product. In the same manner, whenever something appears as waste, and therefore as pollution, we know exactly the components it consists of. Nuclear waste, for example, is not just radio-active, but hot. Therefore, in principle at least, it can be used to warm our houses. I am told that nuclear waste takes thousands of years before its radio activity, and therefore its heat to disappear. So in principle it could be used to warm our houses for thousands of years. The only reason why we do not do this is because it is not economically sound. It costs far more money to exploit the heat coming from nuclear waste than to lock it up in salt mines, and use the energy from nuclear reactors.

So the article is marvelous, but, in my eyes at least, it does not go far enough. We can go much, much further in understanding the
world, and our own position in it.

RTB November 10, 2010 at 10:50 pm

As if the post isn’t long enough, it’s in here twice!

I jest. Very interesting. I think the point about Man adapting his environment to himself as opposed to the other way around is an especially important distinction. But I wonder how this fits in: one does see animals burrowing holes and building dams and birds building nests. Although clearly not on the same level, it seems they are adapting their environment to themselves. I must admit, I got a little lost in your discussion about tax types. I would hope you will be much clearer in your book.

Konrad Swart November 11, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Thank you for the compliment, RTB.

Yes, I am. In my book I give a fairly thorough discussion of the 6 major types of taxes. I did not explain it in the above. I just mentioned it.

Concerning your question. The brains of Man have gone through a very interesting transition, which is very well described in the book “The Symbolic Species” of Terrence Deacon. In this book he wonders why only humans know proper language. It seems that there is a barrier to take, which our brains are able to take naturally.

To give the gist of this. Many people have a very primitive idea of language. They think it consists of a 1-1 connection between pictures and sounds. For example:

{Picture of a Rose} Word: ‘Rose’.

But that is not what language is really about. To see what is involved here, consider the two sentences:

“John sees Mary”

and

“Mary sees John”

Both sentences consist of the exact same sounds, but nevertheless have different meanings. This shows that language is more than just the direct linking of sounds to pictures or meanings. The distinction of the meaning is coded in the ordering of the sounds. To be precise, what we do is look at an entire situation, and then code it in a sentence, that as a whole represents the situation.

This is a much more powerful way to deal with the world, because you can make use of combinatorics. To see what I mean with this, take our writing, which is the next step that contains the same principle. How many one letter words can you make? Of course, there are 26, because there are 26 letters in the alphabet. How many two-letter words? This is 26 times 26, or 26 squared= 676 words. How many 1 + 2 letter words = 26 + 676 =702 words . How many 10 letter words? 26^10 = 141,167,095,653,376 words. In general you can make 26/25 (26^(n+1) – 26)/25 words that have letters from from 1 to n letters. In other words, the number of different words you can make grows exponentially with the numbers of letters the word can contain.

In the same manner, the number of sentences you can make, even with the restriction of grammar, grows exponentially with the word length. In other words, language gives us an exponentially more powerful way to deal with existence than any animal has. You can also say, that language, and its more powerful successor, mathematics, is for the new form of existence we are what the genetic code of the DNA was for life. Especially, if you consider that we cannot only form sentences from situations we observe, and circumstances we are in, but also are able to manipulate the words in sentences so that they correspond to imaginations that have no correspondent in reality. Therefore the combinatorial power of language, and the stronger combinatorial power of mathematics, gives us not only a way to store information, but to process it.

According to Deacon this was a formidable barrier to take, because it requires not only learning a new trick, but ,unlearning to make the direct connection. This unlearning is something we do naturally, but even the most evolved animal can only do it after intense training. In fact, people have succeeded to train a monkey to come to the level to make distinctions like the rose example I just gave. This was hard work, exactly because of this barrier. Therefore it is safe to say, that no animal is capable of this by nature.

Humans, on the other hand, when bereft of any language, develop a fully developed new language within 2 to 3 generations! No explicit training is necessary for that.

The building of dams by beavers and the making of honeycombs of bees is not an act of explicitly imagining something that does not exist anywhere, and then act to make it. It is more like evolution working directly on the brains. Therefore such adaptations of the environment by these animals is not truly an act comparable of what we are capable of. What I mean is that it is not just a matter of difference in degree, but the way we adapt our environment is fundamentally different because it depends on explicit processing of information in our brains. Acts like those of bees and beavers can be fully explained by evolution, as responses and amplifications like the tail of the peacock. There was no beaver in the past, that imagined a dam, and began to build it, after other beavers followed his example, and it became part of their cultural inheritance. These type of behaviors are partly innate, just like the transmitting of bird songs.

Gil November 11, 2010 at 12:09 am

By your logic, humans are special because they are the “most evolved”. This could classed as “speciesist” or “human sumpremacy”. It’s as if all animals have no survival, care of their safety or care of their offspring. Yet for some strange reason whenever you were to stumble into their territory or want to hurt their young they tend actually want to harm you as if you were a trespasser or something.

By the same logic, the species that is most evolved gets to have rights and every other species no mater how close (or far) to sentience has no rights to anything whatsoever. Hence in the case of “V” TV series we should welcome our Reptilian Overlords and let them do whatever want to us and the Earth. They are obviously a higher evolved species therefore our right to life free from of whimsically harm has been negated. If such an alien species wants to convert Earth into a planet similar to their homeworld and they bring forth their own flora and fauna as well as demolish our cities for their own then we have no right to intervene. If they see humans as a unnecessary species that stand in their way and must be rendered extinct then we should accept it willingly.

Anthony November 11, 2010 at 12:56 am

“most evolved” is a meaningless term… there is absolutely NO validity to any statement that relies on the idea that some species are more evolved than others, since this assumes that evolution is directed towards a specific end (and it is not).

King George November 11, 2010 at 12:22 pm

You did nothing to address his point except pick out a technicality. If humans do make such a distinction, what’s to stop others from doing so?

Konrad Swart November 11, 2010 at 6:21 pm

You seem to have a point, but it also betrays a misunderstanding of what evolution really is, or what it is really about.

I know that Richard Dawkins has made a big fuzz about a possible split between religion and science. He, and many with him, think that the discussion is about an intelligence behind existence on the one hand, and assuming that all of the marvelous complexity we see in existence and life form can be the result of blind random processes working for millions or billions of years. To give an example much like his own reasoning. If you find a working mechanical watch on the beach of a remote desert island, it cannot be explained as the result of purely blind forces of nature. Some intelligent being must have made it. But, if you imagine a huge planet covered with billions of parts of mechanical watches, and many storms blowing over it for billions of years, it is very unlikely that no watch will form somewhere by accident on that planet. I know, this example is somewhat contrived, but this is the essence of his argument. Therefore, this is the argument, you do not need the concept of intelligence to explain the complexity we find in life.

What this argument overlooks is one intriguing third possibility. Before making all kinds of statements about intelligence behind existence or blind random processes in existence, there is also the possibility that existence itself can be intelligent itself. In other words, that evolution is not blind, but is itself a form of intelligence!

How can this be? Let us first ask ourselves a very basic question. What, exactly, is intelligence? This is a question I have pondered for a long time, and I arrived at a very simple answer, which now seems to be corroborated by a new emerging science. Namely the science of complexity, which also moves in this direction.

I think that intelligence as such consists of two components. The first component consists of something like a blind generator of possibilities. You might also call it the creative part of intelligence. And the second component consists of some kind of selector. This part is akin to consciousness.

Now let me apply this definition to dead matter. What is the generator? The generator is simply energy. And what is the selector? The selector consists of destructively interfering quantum waves. (Existence is fundamentally quantum mechanical.) Within physics, this leads to something that is called: ‘The Variational Principle’ which is expressed mathematically as something called ‘The Lagrangian’. Any law of nature can be formulated in the form of some Lagrangian. Each law of nature can be seen as special cases of some or other Lagrangian. The variational principle is not uniquely exclusive though. You can also formulate some Lagrangian of something that is not a law of nature. But that is what it has in common. Evolution does not explain that the life forms we now see are a necessary consequence of evolution as we know it. In other words, the Lagrangian is for dead matter what evolution is for life.

In particular, a Lagrangian always has to consist of two terms: a kinetic energy term and a potential energy term. The kinetic energy term functions as the generator, while the potential energy term functions as the selector.

This analysis suggests, that the first realm of existence, dead matter, contains the two components necessary for intelligence as I have defined it. Therefore the sometimes even very complex structure of dead matter is not the result of just randomness, but the result of what I call the first form of intelligence. Matter, and energy, form the creative part, and the quantum waves that interfere destructively form the eliminator part of the intelligence of dead matter. Therefore the realm of dead matter is intelligent.

In the same manner, evolution consists of two parts. A generative part, which is the random shuffling and changing of genetic information on the DNA molecule, leading to variations in life forms. And the selector is the environment. Therefore there is no intelligence behind evolution, but evolution is intelligent!

I call it the second form of intelligence. So Dawkins and others like him are only partly right. It is true, that there is no guiding principle behind evolution. There is no goal. But it is a mistake to think that therefore you cannot speak of lower and higher forms of evolution.

You might ask: how do you determine ‘lower and higher’? There must be some criterion. And, indeed there is. It is the differentiation that the DNA molecule makes possible in life forms. The length of the DNA molecule of a worm is only half that of a mouse or a cheetah or a human. But, considering that the differentiative power of the DNA molecule is also based on a combinatorial principle, like language is, this means that the differentiative power of the particular kinds of DNA molecules that are in the cell of mammals or in us is much greater than that of the worm. Therefore the lengths of the DNA molecules (we have several in our cells) are a measure of the evolutionary superiority. Therefore, although it is true that there is no direction in evolution, it is not true that it follows from this that no distinction between lower and higher life forms can be made.

Therefore, what is possible, is showing that a certain way of dealing with reality is less powerful in its capacity to create distinctions. In that sense, there is more symmetry, and therefore less differentiation in dead matter than there is in life. (Read: there are vastly more kinds of plants and animals possible than there are chemicals possible.) In the same manner, every human being has a unique past, present, and has the capacity to create completely new ideas. Therefore, in potential at least (also considering that we do not exist yet very long seen from the perspective of the time scale of the existence of the universe itself) our own capacity to add differentiation to existence is, potentially at least, vastly greater than that of life forms. Therefore we are a higher form of existence because the capacity to form combinatorial strings through language and information processing gives us a vastly greater power, in principle at least, to extend the differentiation of existence. And therefore, in that sense we are a third and even a higher form of existence than both the intelligence inherent in dead matter and in life. We are the embodiment of a new and higher form of intelligence.

To conclude I want to answer just one more question. If all forms of intelligence consist of a generator and an eliminator, what, in us, are these two components?

I can give an extensive answer, or a brief answer. Let me restrict myself to a brief answer. The generator – part of our intelligence consists of our fantasy. And the eliminative part of our intelligence consists of our consciousness. I confine me to these two remarks, because it would take me too long to explain why.

Russ the Apostate November 11, 2010 at 6:27 pm

“Before making all kinds of statements about intelligence behind existence or blind random processes in existence, there is also the possibility that existence itself can be intelligent itself. In other words, that evolution is not blind, but is itself a form of intelligence!”

I think you’re guilty of reifying evolution. There is no thing out there that you can point to that is called evolution. Evolution is just what we call it when the traits of populations change over time. Same with natural selection. It doesn’t really make much sense to say that natural evolution is a form of intelligence itself, because what would we say it is that has this intelligence? Natural selection is just what we call it when death causes evolution; it’s not a thing, either.

Konrad Swart November 11, 2010 at 7:07 pm

You write: “There is no thing out there that you can point to that is called evolution. Evolution is just what we call it when the traits of populations change over time. Same with natural selection. It doesn’t really make much sense to say that natural evolution is a form of intelligence itself, because what would we say it is that has this intelligence? Natural selection is just what we call it when death causes evolution; it’s not a thing, either.”

There does not seem to come an end to the things I have to respond to. To begin with, you equate evolution with change as such. Therefore you make the mistake to think that only variation is evolution. What you overlook is that evolution consists of two components, variation and selection.

Moreover, you are implicitly addressing quite another question. Namely the question in what sense we can say that our thoughts ‘correspond to reality’. My own position in this matter is: ‘since all thoughts begin as fantasies, in the strictest sense no thought can be said to be a true representation of reality as it is. Truth as such is a concept, that does not belong to science, but to religion’. In previous blogs I have treated this position quite extensively, and therefore I do not repeat it here.

To use your type of thinking, anything is ‘what we call it’. Therefore, in the strictest sense, you are, logically speaking, not saying anything at all, because I can use the very same argument against your argument, logically speaking. I can say: ‘there is no thing outside that you can point to that is called a thing outside that you can point to’. Therefore you are arguing without arguing. If I would take your words very seriously, I should not respond to you at all, simply because you are defending the position that you cannot take any position on anything, because there is nothing you can point to that you can call anything.

Ayn Rand has made a very interesting remark about her own epistemology. She said, that the only thing that distinguished her thinking from Aristotelian thinking is that according to Aristotle, essentials, that is ‘things that are out there’ are metaphysical, that is, ‘really out there’. But according to her thinking, essentials are epistemological. This means that things you observe as being out there are never out there, but are just orderings that take place in your own mind.

If you think this trough, this means that truth, that is, a thought whose contents is equivalent with existence as it is is a moot concept.

Faced with this realization, the question is no longer whether our thoughts are ‘true’, but whether they are ‘effective’. That is, is our thinking and the actions that we do based on our thinking capable of transforming fantasies into experiences? If so, they are effective. And that is good enough. They do not need to correspond to things that are really out there.

If not, they are ineffective and therefore worthless. For, basically, all of us are driven either by needs (= the wish to avoid pain) or by desires (=the wish to create pleasure). And the way we do either consists of an action that always tries to transform some imagination into an experience, be it an experience of bringing something new about, or an experience of avoiding some discomfort or even disaster. The question whether the experience itself is an illusion is unimportant, because it is not the reality we are after, but what it does with us; how it makes us feel. Bluntly put, you do not want to have an orgasm so that you can know reality, but you want to know reality to have an orgasm.

What my words do, is not defending some gospel, but I am showing other alternatives to mainstream thinking. In particular, I present a body of possibilities that can be used to defend praxeology against environmental arguments, or present ammunition to defuse environmentalism. And as such I have experienced, illusory or not, that they are quite effective.

Konrad Swart November 11, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Gil, you are missing my point. My point is that humans are not just another species like other species but a fundamentally different and higher form of existence, just like life is a fundamentally different and higher form of existence than dead matter and chemicals are.

Evolution is not applicable to human beings, because we are a form of existence that has moved beyond it. We have been ‘kicked out of evolution’, so to speak, and have entered a new realm of existence. We are the result of evolution, but not belonging to evolution. Just like life itself is the result of chemical processes, but life, as life, no longer can be considered only chemical in nature.

What you do is blindly assuming the universal validity of evolution, and then applying it to my argument, and then thinking that you have refuted it. But, through it you miss the important point that what I am presenting here is nothing less than a fundamental paradigm shift.

What I assert is that we are not just ‘more evolved’, but beyond evolution altogether. By stating that I am just saying that we are ‘more evolved’ you are applying the very presuppositions I am disputing.

We have entered the realm of revolution. We are the embodiment of a higher form of differentiation than life itself, just like life is a higher form of differentiation than dead matter is. Moreover, I am pointing at a criterion on which I base a distinction of three fundamentally different forms of existence, and do not only speak of essential differences like you do. A mouse is essentially different from a cheetah, an elephant, and even a flower, but it is not fundamentally different, because a mouse, a cheetah, an elephant and a flower are all ‘only life forms’. But the difference between a mouse and a rock is fundamental. In the same manner I assert that the difference between a mouse, and a human, and even the difference between a mouse and a chimpanzee is fundamental.

Dead matter ‘commands’ only the present. Life ‘commands’ the present and the past. We command the present, the past and the future. Only we have the capability to have full mastery over time. Only we can really understand the future, and therefore understand that there will be a point in the future whereby are no longer there, individually speaking. But if we truly grasp the fact, that we are a fundamentally higher form of existence, higher than both dead matter and life, then we will understand that we are not just a species that will be extinct in, say, a couple of million years, like happens with most species. No, because we are a fundamentally higher form of existence, it will follow that even after, say, 200 million years, and even a billion years, there will be humans ‘all over the place’. Which means, that we will inhabit huge parts of not only our solar system, but we will spread out over the galaxy, and even over many galaxies. (I do not think it very likely that there will be other beings like us anywhere else in our galaxy, considering the fantastically many coincidences that were necessary for the emergence of us, humans. In other words, projects like SETI fail, because other beings of similar intelligence just are not ‘out there’. I think we are the first, and maybe only form of conscious intelligence, just like life probably emerged from just a single DNA molecule.)

I consider praxeology a great breakthrough. For those who have seen my comments before, they know that I have criticized Misean thinking very often. But, through the writing of my book I began to understand that my own thinking is not really different from Misean thinking. On the contrary, it is fully grounded in Misean thinking, and just the next step. I began to see, that the essence of Human Action consists of exactly the capability of transforming our imaginations into reality. In particular my theory of value turns out to be a direct, and even mathematical extension of the core idea of Praxeology itself. That is also how I am presenting it in the first part of my book.

Konrad Swart November 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

and even the difference between a mouse and a chimpanzee is fundamental.

Correction: and even the difference between a chimpanzee and a human is fundamental.

Gil November 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Strange you didn’t answer the question of an alien species that is obviously more evolved again over humans. If such a species has no time for humans and sees them as another pest in their way and wants to render us extinct then we should find this no more offensive than humans rendering animals extinct for the sake of progress.

Beefcake the Mighty November 11, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Far stranger that you would think this question is so important. Alien species? Really? You have nothing better to ponder?

Konrad Swart November 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm

There cannot be an alien species more evolved, because evolution has been replaced by revolution. Again, we are a third form of existence, the other two being dead matter and life forms. There cannot be any more forms of existence than these three, as I have explained. Therefore I did not answer the question because the question itself is a false one in my eyes.

I think that it is a good idea to give this third form we belong to a new name. You have dead matter belonging to the exosphere. These can be called matter forms. You have beings belonging to the biosphere. These can be called life forms. And then there is us, who belong to the noösphere. I suggest the name noös – forms.

If beings from another solar system and planets are developed further both in technology and economy, they are also noös – forms.

When I was about 16, I read a book that showed an encounter between one human and an alien culture. It has had a profound influence on me, because, although it describes a kind of Utopian, and never realizable Super-Socialism, it gave one of the clearest examples of a culture that is so much different from that of ours, that it made me question anything and everything about our own culture. Especially, because the description of that culture was so very, very detailed.

After having read that book, there was nothing about our own society I took for granted.

When I was young, I believed that the writer actually had had that encounter he describes in that book. But when I became older, I began to see more and more that such an Utopian socialism as described in the book could never exist, and therefore the whole story had to be fabricated.

Nevertheless, the book was the beginning of all of my thinking about technology, economy, and even mental development. This, because it described a culture that was supposed to be 1000 years further advanced than us, technologically, economically, and mental. Therefore it made me study science and technology, economics, and mental processes. I am very interested in meditation, for example, and every effect it can bring about. Also I am very interested in science, and especially interested in how economy can be made into a science. That is what my own book is about.

Recently I found, that a translation of the entire book can be found on the web.

If you are interested, this is the link that contains a translation of the book.

http://www.galactic.no/rune/iarga.html

Matt Butler November 11, 2010 at 1:23 am

I agree completely with the article. Wonderful job. I would only add that man should endeavor to know all of the costs associated with realigning chemicals in nature. Sure, it’s true, man is benefitted by rearranging iron ore so as to build steel bridges. But are there no other costs than those directly from extraction and production? What about the costs associated with pollution of the air? What about runoff and pollution of our streams and rivers? The destruction of wetlands that sustains a biologically rich food supply?

To ask these questions is not to argue they are true. Its merely to suggest that, along with others, they can be understood by entrepreneurs, and tested, and it is possible in certain circumstances to profit financially from this understanding. Our ideal free market allows consumers the choice to live sustainable lives. The wise entrepreneur can serve these consumers, but only to the extent he is better than his competitor at identifying the costs and mitigating them without substantial expenses. In some cases he may go beyond mitigating costs to actually improving the environmental balance.

Mushindo November 11, 2010 at 2:08 am

Prof Reisman makes a fine point here .

I might add though, an aspect of human progress which is only implied in th earticle, and which curiously seems to have been little remarked by anyone since Buckminster Fuller some decades back. It is this: with the advance of innovation in all spheres of technology , there has been a relentless trend to get more and more usefulness out of less and less stuff. Some examples:

1. Buildings of a given size once needed thousands of tons of stone and iron, not to mention hardwoods, but the same size today would only need perhaps hundreds of tons of concrete, steel and composite materials, and is far more resilient for it.

2. Your ordinary entry-level automobile has gone from probably 3 tons of steel 60 years ago to hardly more than 1, and requires less fuel to yield more performance and better reliability and comfort, and its relative cost fallen from many months’ wages to perhaps one at most ( the latter still artificially held higher than it need be due to onerous regulation, but I digress…).

3. The first generation of computers weighed many tons , required thousands of vacuum tubes, consumed megawatts of power, and were fantastically expensive to build. All for meagre processing power orders of magnitude smaller than what is available in the cellphone in my pocket today, which weighs maybe 200 grammes, consumes mere milliwatts of power, and which cost less than a week’s wages. (just to underscore the point, that cellphone has far more power than th eentire computing capability available to NASA in the 1970s!).

This almost universal trend, and the ever-increasing pace of innovation, redoubles the assurance that running out of resources is never going to be an insurmountable one for the human species.

In my (only partly cynical) view, the far bigger threat to the human species is the relentless drive of some of its members to eschew the effort of innovation, and instead annexe by force the usefulness that has to date emerged from the innovations of others.

Mushindo November 11, 2010 at 2:15 am

PS If I may add a quote I stumbled into just this morning:

‘”Any alchemist (still) looking for the philosopher’s stone should call off the search. Intel has turned something far more basic than base metal – sand – into something far more valuable than gold, the Pentium 4 chip’.

-Johann Rupert.

that says it all, really…..

Lemmywinks November 11, 2010 at 10:00 am

I read the article 3 times and I still don’t really see the point. Everyone knows we have to use resources to get the stuff we want, but the author makes it seem like he’s approaching some profound idea. Pollution is essentially a property rights issue, but this article seems to imply that we should all accept pollution for the sake of our collective progress as human beings.

“A final inference that may be drawn is that a leading problem of our time is not environmental pollution but philosophical corruption. It is this that underlies the belief that improvement precisely in the external material conditions of human life is somehow environmentally harmful.”

This just seems like a really lame way to ignore environmental problems without using any science to back it up. If Reisman had a chemical plant upstream from his drinking water, and found himself consuming a consistent supply of mercury or other chemical, he’d suddenly be an environmentalist. Or, less likely, he sits back and accepts his own misfortune, happily knowing that his continual decline in well-being is just the price of serving the human race. SBMcManus said it earlier….but this really sounds like straight up collectivism.

Scott D November 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm

If Reisman had a chemical plant upstream from his drinking water, and found himself consuming a consistent supply of mercury or other chemical, he’d suddenly be an environmentalist.

Or he could sue the chemical plant for dumping its waste where it will pollute the drinking water that flows to his land.

The only downside to that option is that it doesn’t require the state to violently intervene.

Lemmywinks November 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm

but that is a pretty huge part of what environmentalism is. The modern environmental movement started in the 60s when people got concerned about being on the receiving end of negative externalities from industry. If there’s any purpose to this piece, is seems to be intent on trivialising environmental pollution, when pollution should be a focus to those concerned about property rights.

There are some people who want to preserve everything (philosophically, but never in practice), and to that, I say go buy some land (although, sadly, this requires that the government doesn’t someday choose to build a road through it.

Gil November 11, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Or if Reisman doesn’t own the stream he can get himself a water filter.

Elildo Carvalho Jr November 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Boy, I really wanna be a libertarian.

But when it comes to nature, I´m still unconvinced by most arguments. Most libertarian literature on this subject still regards that the earth is an infinite source of natural resources – that the earth is nothing more than “solidly packed chemical elements”. Well, simplistically speaking, this may be true.

But the earth is also composed of a biosphere. Ecosystems are not abstractions!

We all depend on biological productivity to survive. Biological productivity of course varies from place to place and from time to time, but it is a fact that it can be degraded or even ruined by human activity.

To disregard this is to erode our natural capital.

Lemmywinks November 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I think land use is fairly simple, since an individual can by land they want to preserve (in the absence of government interference), but I’ve yet to read any good libertarian literature on how to manage water systems. Reservoirs can encompass hundreds of miles, and if anyone tapping into the system is free to take as much as they want, and without regulation, this would quickly end badly. At best, one company or organisation would manage the entire water system, but this is no better than having the government do it.

It’s rather cheesy, but when it comes to natural resources, there’s just some things we can’t help but share. In the absence of excessive pollution, nature purifies water for free. Once this natural regulation is diminished, we have to start paying someone to do the previously free service.

Ofcourse, if anyone has any good literature on the subject, please send it this way.

Price November 14, 2010 at 8:52 am

Google David Zetland or listen to his recent conversation at Radio Free Market.

Sione November 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Elido

You write about libertarians considering, “that the earth is nothing more than “solidly packed chemical elements”. ”

Firstly, that description is correct. That is what the Earth actually is. It is fact.

“But the earth is also composed of a biosphere.”

And it has a mantle and a crust and a core. It also has an atmosphere which has various parts such as a troposphere, an ionosphere, a stratosphere etc. It even has oceans. None of this invalidates the original description. It’s all solid packed chemical elements.

“We all depend on biological productivity to survive.”

What each person actually relies upon to survive is his own productivity or that of other people with whom he interacts. That is, the ability to extract from nature that which is necessary for survival and, further, wellbeing. Man exploits the Earth or he dies. He must choose to act in certain ways to do survive. The Earth does not do it for him. The Earth does not feed him, clothe him, protect him from the elements, house him, defend him from infection or accident or attack by hungry predators. It does not prevent him from sunburn, disease, starvation, exposure, hunger, falls or even lonliness…

Man must act. He must produce the means for his own survival. He must rearrange what he discovers about around him and direct it to the ends he sets. He must be productive.

The term “biological productivity” is meaningless in this regard. Productivity is a property of Man.

Your use of the term is really the result of a subjective evaluation of some entities which you consider important. You consider them of high value. That’s well and good. Human action relies on the making of decisions and that in turn relies on assigning valuation.

When you write biological productivity, “can be degraded or even ruined by human activity”, you are making a subjective valuation regarding an arrangement of certain chemicals/elements. You prefer them to be in a certain way. Others may not agree with you though. They may consider that there are superior arrangements.

How is this disagreement to be resolved in civilised, non-violent fashion?

Suffice to say the concept of private property is vital here. If I own something, then I determine its disposition. Same goes for you. We can trade or co-operate (or not, as the case may be). Where libertarianism differns from other ideologies is in how the principle of private property is derived and recognised- what individuals are allowed to do in regards to their own property and how they treat that of others.

In conclusion, should you value certain arrangements of chemicals etc., libertarianism leaves you free to purchase the requisite property and have at it. Preserve that which you prefer or rearrange what you own to better align with your values.

SIone

Elildo Carvalho Jr November 12, 2010 at 6:00 am

Slone,

I agree with you that I used the term “biological productivity” in a vague sense, and also that man must act upon nature in order to survive. But the point is that biological productivity is not an abstraction. I was thinking about primary production, the fixing of solar energy by the plants and the subsequent transference of this primary productivity into the food chain. Of course, we can manipulate biological productivity within certain limits and even increase it for our wellbeing (e.g. by agriculture, farming, etc). But we also may ruin it.

This is not a subjective valuation. It is a fact. We may increase soil erosion. We may silt rivers and even induce floods and droughts. Blame the government if you like.

I do not simply valuing a certain arrangement of chemicals. I´m saying that there is a balance in nature that must be properly considered by any theory. By technical standards.

There are limits to growth. The earth is not infinite. The author gave the impression that, as the earth is a bunch of chemical elements, and as we only scratched its surface, we have no limits. This is false.

So we have this problem, and I´m not defending here government intervention or other collectivist solution to this problem. I´m just saying that libertarian reasoning is still quite weak in this regard. Lemmywinks gave a good example based on water basins. I really hope somebody will come with a good libertarian theory of conservation of natural resources based on private property.

Elildo

Donald Rowe November 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Elildo,

From above: “Boy, I really wanna be a libertarian.”

I gather certain aspects of the existing libertarian concept of property give you pause in becoming one. Yet you still consider the option.

“I really hope somebody will come with a good libertarian theory of conservation of natural resources based on private property.”

It’s already in there, respect for individual rights and non aggression. There is confusion and conflict concerning the integration of the concepts of ownership of property and individual rights. You may witness this in any of the discussions concerning intellectual property that occur with regularity on this site. Progress will be made, and you may be the one to make it.

Cordially,
Don

Sione November 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Elido

“I do not simply valuing a certain arrangement of chemicals. I´m saying that there is a balance in nature that must be properly considered by any theory. By technical standards.”

This is a indeed subjective valuation. You value certain ideals. You value, accept and employ particular standards.

Whose “technical standards” do you employ? Why so? Why not some other ones? Is someone who has different values from you necessarily wrong? Is it permissable to impose force, frauds or coercion upon him solely because he prefers to, say, mine his own land rather than preserve it in exactly the original state it once was?

“There are limits to growth. The earth is not infinite. The author gave the impression that, as the earth is a bunch of chemical elements, and as we only scratched its surface, we have no limits. This is false.”

Actually Prof Reisman is correct. As he demonstrates the Earth is so massive in comparison to the present activities of Man that it imposes no resource limits or, at least, none in the real sense that resources are going to “run out.” What limitations that do exist are down to Man’s knowledge, his ability to employ the knowledge he has in his possession, his ability to discover new knowledge (wrest it from reality), his subjective values (what people individually want) and the application on an individual basis of the real disciplines of production (focus, work, expenditure of effort, investment, striving for excellence, identification of tasks, performance of tasks, postponement of pleasure etc.).

What he is pointing out is that the “environmental” politics of “we gotta do something about the resources running out” is corrupt and wrong. That goes for “biosphere” just as surely as any other component or system of resource superset Earth. Take note that he is not saying that one can behave in a destructive manner without concern for consequences. Indeed it is his contention that one must bear the long term consequences for one’s actions in mind when deciding on a course of action. He has written a text “Capitalism” which explains the situation in some detail. Worth the investment of purchasing.

As I recall there was a Mises daily essay about water ownership rights some while ago (actually there have been several). I can’t recall the name of the author. If you are seriously intersted in the issue then you can search the site for relevant essays on that topic. As a start you could try the search term “water rights”. There are other terms you could try as well. Have at it and have fun! Suffice to say this issue is not much of a problem for libertarianism. There are plenty of mechanisms available to deal with it given a free society operating within a free market.

Finally, this brings us to one of the most valuable aspects of this site. The Von Mises Institute provides many of the important works of libertarianism right here. Among their number may be found the great works of Mises (including Human Action) and Rothbard and so on. It is all free. That is there is no charge to gain access to this vast resource of knowledge. All you need to is download it and study it. How good is that!

If anyone is interested in a particular issue and how it is addressed in a libertarian system, then all one has to do is learn libertarianism and apply it consistently! My recommendation would be to start by studying the basis for libertarianism in the main texts and then progress from there into specific areas of enquiry. That way the main principles can be understood first and then applied to specific context.

Cheers

Sione

Marc Sheffner November 14, 2010 at 3:25 am

Like Lemmywinks, I thought the environmental pollution part of Reisman’s article was weak, to say the least:

Insofar as the essential nature of production and economic activity is to improve the relationship between the chemical elements constituting the earth and man’s life and well-being, it is also necessarily to improve man’s environment, which is nothing other than those very same chemical elements and their associated energy forces. The notion that production and economic activity are harmful to the environment rests on the abandonment of man and his life as the source of value in the world, and its replacement by a nonhuman standard of value — i.e., the belief that nature is intrinsically valuable.

That final sentence is surely nonsense, as Lemmywinks’ example of the mercury-polluted river shows. The notion that SOME production and economic activity are harmful to the environment rests on objective fact. Those who disagree should try arguing their case with Minamata victims, or those Iraqis giving birth to deformed children probably caused by depleted uranium.
And as Lemmywinks pointed out, the environmental movement at least in its early years rested on valuing human life.

Sione November 14, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Marc

Either the natural environment has intrinsic value or it does not. If you accept that it does, then the next question is whether you set that standard above that of Man’s life (Man’s well-being). As a matter of consistency you are likely to (indeed it appears that you already have). This approach is opposed by Prof Reisman for obvious reasons.

Lemmywink’s example does not demonstrate what you assert. That the arrangement of matter arising as a result of someone’s action can harm to others is entirely solvable by the proper and consistent application of property rights. In Lemmywink’s example the context is that of tragedy of the commons (where the commons are unowned) or a govt grant of special priviledge for some to violate the property rights of others. His example is an illustration of the absence of properly construed individual rights including the property right.

Returing to the issue at the heart of the enquiry- is the standard to apply that of Man’s value or is it environmentalism (as in the well-promoted ideology)? Dealing with the examples you cite, is the arrangement of matter in each case an advancement in well-being? Or is it a deteriortion? Who decides? The environment? The point is that it is Man who is the sole source of value. The environment is mute. It does not think, it does not evaluate and it does not act (in the sense of a rational, self-directed entity). It is Man who does that.

That final sentance of the quote you posted is the strongest part of the entire essay. It encapsulates the exact philosophic choice that must be made. If Man sets value and if it is his life that is the standard, then the environment is his to alter to his purposes and as he sees fit to suit his values.

On the other hand, if the environment has intrinsic value, if it is the source of and standard of value, then necessarily Man is out. For consistency it is not then possible to consider Man’s welfare as the standard. It is always available to be trumped. It is the environment that has intrinsic value and hence it must be protected from that which would alter it. That is, from Man. Man’s interests, life and values are therefore superceded by the existence of an argument of appeal to environment (whatever “environment” may happen to be at a particular instant).

Sione

Elildo Carvalho Jr November 16, 2010 at 6:15 am

I thank everybody for this discussion. You have provided some food for thought, although I´m still not quite convinced by your arguments. But this may be my fault: I did not articulated my own arguments very clearly. You bet I will search and read the literature you recommended. Environmental aspects, including the problem of the so-called “commons”, is a major stumbling block not only for me, but for other prospective libertarians.

Best regards,
Elildo

TokyoTom November 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Elildo:

I really hope somebody will come with a good libertarian theory of conservation of natural resources based on private property.

Thanks for visiting. I’m sorry I didn’t note this post and your questions/comments earlier. Believe it or not there IS a well-developed body of libertarian/free-market literature on environmental issues; perhaps you’ll find that the following links to resources I have assembled and my own commentary scratch the surface a bit:

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/10/11/cordato-humans-cannot-harm-the-environment.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/pages/environmental-markets-links-to-austrians.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/10/15/elinor-ostrom-austrian-praise-for-the-nobel-laureate-and-a-reprise-of-my-posts-on-her-thoughts-on-how-human-communities-successly-manage-commons.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/10/16/positive-sum-games-get-yer-elinor-ostrom-here-a-reprise-of-tokyotom-posts-on-rolling-up-our-sleeves-to-address-real-problems-that-at-present-quot-markets-quot-aggravate.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2009/11/20/bruce-yandle-on-the-tragedy-of-the-commons-the-evolution-of-cooperation-and-property.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2010/06/18/a-handy-list-of-tt-posts-on-bp-the-tragedy-of-the-government-owned-commons-corporations-and-oil-serfdom.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/archive/2007/09/27/too-many-or-too-few-people-does-the-market-provide-an-answer.aspx

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=amazon

http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=avatar

By the way, I must praise this post by Dr. Reisman; despite the glaring flaws in his thinking, he’s he’s still come a long way towards productive discourse:
http://mises.org/Community/blogs/tokyotom/search.aspx?q=Reisman

Sincerely,

TT

MLJ March 30, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Paragraph 9 should also mention tires. The rubber in tires (mixed with sulfur) is more useful to us than when it was pure and in a tree. It’s not more useful to the tree but we should be able to think of a tree as something useful to us.

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