As I was
leaving our neighborhood grocery store, I was met by two college-age
women who told me that they were working for Greenpeace, and would
like to have my support.
do what?," I asked.
help save the rainforests, protect endangered species, and end
pollution," one of them responded.
sound like worthwhile ends," I said. "What is Greenpeace
doing to bring them about?"
trying to get the public to become aware of these problems,"
I was told.
that the public will do what?," I went on.
get people to stop doing business with the big corporations that
are engaging in these destructive practices," one woman answered.
no problem with people withholding their patronage of business
firms," I said. "But what if this approach doesn’t alleviate
the problems that concern you? What is your organization prepared
to do in that event? Is Greenpeace dedicated to using voluntary,
persuasive means to accomplish its ends, or will it resort to
violence if necessary?"
I was reassured
that Greenpeace was a peaceful group, and did not believe in using
any of the money Greenpeace raises go to political efforts?,"
do have lobbyists in Washington," I was told.
don’t these lobbyists try to persuade members of Congress and
other government officials to adopt policies and enact statutes
that you favor?"
course," one of the women replied.
isn’t this having resort to violence? Legislation gets enacted
that requires people to act in ways they do not choose to act
and, if they violate the statute, they will be punished or imprisoned,
isn’t that so?"
At this point
I was subjected to a brief review of my high-school civics class
catechisms about how the public interest is served by government
doing such things.
say government action is required to keep the ‘big corporations’
from engaging in the practices of which you disapprove. Who do
you think controls the government?," I asked.
do you mean?," one answered.
me put it this way: what did you do with your billion dollar
bailout money that President Bushobama shelled out some time back?"
that she hadn’t received any of these funds, leading me to inquire:
"if government acts to further the ‘public interest,’ why
did only major corporations receive this money? And if these big
corporate interests are the recipients of this bailout money,
don’t you suspect that they pretty much control other programs
to suit their ends?"
I then commented
on how "environmentalism" was a new religion, complete
with "original sin" (i.e., humans upsetting the pristine
conditions of Earth), an "apocalypse" (i.e., when mankind’s
profligacy will lead to its destruction), with all kinds of "sins"
you are truly interested in protecting wildlife, saving forests,
and the like," I continued, "why don’t you undertake
actions that you can control, and that don’t depend upon
your using government violence to force other people to conform
to your preferences?," I queried.
do you mean"," one answered.
are a number of conservation groups who have figured out that,
when they have to compete with big corporations for government
backing of their programs, they usually end up getting only a
trifling of what they want. They have decided that, instead of
devoting their resources to trying to persuade congressmen, they
are better off using their funds to purchase, for example, stands
of redwood trees. As the owners of these resources, they
can do what they want with them, including deciding to not
cut down the trees. With this approach, the conservationists
are no longer in conflict with lumber companies."
I went on
to point out the many privately owned forests that operate as
preserves, which members of the public can voluntarily support
and visit. Private groups have purchased ‘conservation easements’
from landowners, for the purpose of preserving wetlands. I told
them of the late actor, William Holden, who devoted most of his
wealth to creating and maintaining a preserve in Africa wherein
wild elephants could live. I also know of a man with no family
who plans to leave his entire estate to the care of wild gorillas
in Africa. "If individuals and private groups can do such
things – without putting themselves in conflict with others –
do you think you – or Greenpeace – could figure out non-political,
non-violent ways of accomplishing ends that you value?"
suggested that the people who want the government to undertake
various programs seem reluctant to enthusiastically devote their
energies or resources to such ends. "Do you really
want to accomplish these objectives, or do you only want the
government to compel others to do so?"
an apparent effort to conclude the conversation, one of the women
said: "we’ll just have to keep fighting!"
don’t you see that this is the problem? Political systems divide
people into exclusive groups, making their coercive powers
available to those who control the state’s machinery. This can
only produce conflict, anger, and, ultimately, the violent and
destructive world in which we now live. The corporations you fight
today can so easily become the people the government kills in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere."
came to an end, and I could see the look of complete bewilderment
on the face of the woman who had been the most vocal. I knew two
things: (1) I had not convinced her of my point of view, nor had
I sought to do so, and (2) she had heard ideas that were unfamiliar
to her. Having heard them, they will remain in her mind; she cannot
unhear them. At some point she will hear them from someone
else and they will not be so unfamiliar. When she hears these
ideas a third or fourth time from others, she may be inclined
to think to herself: "I’ve always known that."
As an aside,
I’ve thought of the benefits of having three or four libertarians
visit a grocery store on a day when statist proselytizers stand
outside to promote some piece of legislation. Each of these libertarians
would separately leave the store – perhaps five minutes apart
– stopping to argue with or question these clip-board collectivists.
What impact might this have on the statists’ assessments of public