Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Gun Control In a Free Society: A Thought Experiment

I don't really like guns. I think I don't really like guns because I grew up on a farm and owned a .22 rifle and a BB gun and my experiences with them weren't entirely positive. I almost shot my foot a couple times with the rifle as a teen, I shot critters for fun and felt horrible afterwards, and my friends and I used to shoot each other with BB guns until one of them almost got hit in the eye. I've seen guns take lives like they were nothing and I've seen myself and friends almost seriously hurt by guns. Guns scare me because I've experienced how dangerous they can be.

Every time there is a tragic shooting somewhere we have the same debate occurring between people with a left wing brain like me and people with a right wing brain. In a future article I'm going to write about what this means. Essentially a left wing brain was exposed to a primarily matriarchal family environment and the right wing brain was exposed to a primarily patriarchal family environment. Understanding this about oneself is important, preferences and politics were not developed through rational thought but rather our exposure to family. Predictably the debates that occur are between people who do not understand this about themselves  are emotionally charged and irrational.

On the left we have gun control advocates who are scared of guns and want to exert matriarchal power over the family (the state) and want guns removed, and on the right we have those who want to exert patriarchal control over the family which means they want to be able to use guns to protect against tyranny. The debate that ensues is essentially a debate over who should be running the family, mom or dad. The people advocating gun control are rarely the people that are the tyrants and the people advocating gun freedom are rarely the criminals. As nutty as Ted Nugent is, I'm just not all that worried about him owning guns.

My article on Oil Sands Anarchy seemed to resonate with readers so I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the topic of gun control from the standpoint of the non-aggression principle (NAP) which would dictate that no person has the right to initiate force against another person. This would mean that using force to disarm a peaceful human or prohibit them from owning a weapon would being would be prohibited. Force can only be used protectively from a moral standpoint, and since purchasing and possessing a weapon is not initiating force against anyone there is no justification to use force against gun owners.

My House - My Rules

Libertarians often jump on the anti-gun control bandwagon pointing out that government has no right to control guns and they are right, but often they miss a key point...I have the right to control guns. I have the right to control guns in my own house and my own business. So what kinds of rules would I have about weapons in my house? Well there are certain principles that I would follow:
  1. It is preferable to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who would use them against peaceful people. So the insane, the sociopaths, or those trying to impose their opinion with force would all be prohibited from carrying guns in my house.
  2. The greater the potential damage of a weapon the more precautions would be necessary. Knives would be at one end of the spectrum requiring less precautions and Nuclear weapons would be at the other end requiring an incredible amount of precaution.
  3. I feel safer when trusted and trained friends around me are packing heat. Strangers, or people who aren't "bondable" would have to earn my trust before I'd allow them to pack heat in my house.
I think that most people with left and right brains would generally agree with these principles and have similar rules in their own houses. Once everyone gets past projecting their fears perhaps a rational conversation can happen. If you agree that my principles are rational, then as a left brainer you have to admit that force can't be used to disarm a peaceful person or prevent them from owning a weapon and as a right brainer you have to admit that a truly free society would likely have far more regulation on weapons than we currently have making it much more difficult for criminals to get weapons and much easier for law abiders to get them. Incidentally these same rules apply for just about anything that can kill including automobiles.

The Arms Race

Listening to some gun enthusiasts talk about gun ownership I'd swear that their solution is to essentially start an arms race. The terrorists, government and criminals all have assault weapons and so we need to match the force that could be used against us. Maybe they are right, I mean 3-D Printers are available for under $1000 and the price is dropping and the technology is improving. Individuals are already able to print/manufacture guns in their homes. It seems likely that the ability to cheaply manufacture increasingly lethal weapons is inevitable. Stefan Molyneux, an anarchist philosopher, once posited that the safest possible world from aggression would be one where everybody could kill everybody else with the power of their thought and as soon as you killed someone everybody else would know it...this would be the ultimate super weapon and everybody would have it. I'm not sure I agree with the arms race view of protecting our freedoms.

One thing for sure is that eliminating guns from society from the top down with force is not going to work. It seems to me that just like prohibition of drugs and alcohol, the prohibition of weapons is a recipe for disaster. Imagine if a prohibition on all gun manufacturing and gun sales was imposed right now by the state, what would the result be? I would predict an increasing disparity in power between peaceful people and criminals. Criminals would manufacture and sell guns like crazy to cash in on the high prices and society would pay a heavy price in terms of the rate of violent crimes.

Prohibition doesn't work for a number of reasons; 1) It puts criminal gangs in charge of the market, 2) the only mechanism to resolve disputes is violence, 3) products quality is dangerous, 4) taboo things are more attractive than they otherwise would rationally be, 5) it punishes non-violent and responsible users, 6) It reinforces unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

So what then is the answer for a someone like me who is interested in less drug abuse and less gun violence? It seems to me to be a matter of reverse engineering; 1) Put peaceful people in charge of the market, 2) provide a peaceful process for dispute resolution, 3) regulate quality control, 4) remove the mystique and taboo around a subject by providing accurate information, 5) encourage and reward non-violent and responsible behaviour under professional guidance, and 6) offer help to those stuck in unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

Market Law

Normally the state takes on the role of dispute resolution, third party arbitration, law enforcement, and geographical defense and like any corporation that uses guns to enforce its monopoly, it gets inefficient, corrupt and expensive. As David Friedman points out, "Producing laws is not an easier problem than producing cars or food. So if the government's incompetent to produce cars or food, why do you expect it to do a good job producing the legal system within which you are then going to produce the cars and the food?"1

Third party arbitration services, free market insurance and dispute resolution organizations (DRO's) are all idea's or predictions that freed market scholars have about how people engaged in voluntary relationships following the NAP might solve particular predictable problems inherent in economic transactions and human relationships. For the next little bit I'm going to put on my entrepreneurial thinking cap and imagine I run a DRO and think about how I might attract customers and serve their need for decreased gun violence.

The Wrong Hands
The first thing I would do is recognise that it would be terrible business to underwrite gun ownership for people who are at high risk for violent behaviour. These would be people with a history of violence, the insane, sociopaths, and those who are intent on imposing their opinion with force. Underwriting these people would result in a huge liability to my company and my personal assets, if someone I underwrite goes on a rampage I will have huge settlement costs on my hands and I'll essentially be out of business and in the poor house.

Suppose someone in a high risk category decides they are going to own a gun, how will they go about getting one and what is to be done about this? Gun manufacturers, like everyone, would need DRO subscription/representation to do business with customers not having this would be like driving without insurance. It would be bad business to sell guns to unstable individuals because no DRO would want to insure you, and if you aren't subscribed to a DRO no reputable customer would want to risk doing business with you. Not having DRO representation would be a really good way of predicting who shady people are and these people would have a really hard time engaging in any economic transactions including; driving on roads, renting or owning property, or even buying groceries.

Lets suppose an unstable person wants to own a gun. They have two choices really, they can breach their contract with a DRO and be subject to the terms and conditions in their contract if they want to get back in good social standing, or they could terminate their contract and go off the grid in which case an immediate red flag would be raised that criminal activity is likely being premeditated. Let us imagine that a high risk client gets ahold of a gun. Possession of a firearm for this person would be a breach of contract meaning that they be unable to do business anywhere and in order to get back some sort of social credit rating they would have to repair their credit through voluntary incarceration into a treatment program and/or submission to closer scrutiny by their DRO. It is likely that there would be DRO's that specialise in high risk clients who would pay a premium for their service and would likely have to submit to close scrutiny until they were found trustworthy.

It is also important to note that the more dangerous the weapon the much more precautious I'm going to be about underwriting ownership of it. So for example assault rifles, tanks, and nuclear weapons are all extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. Someone who seeks to own a nuclear weapon essentially puts themselves in a voluntary prison of intense scrutiny by multiple parties. In an anarchic society the level of practical freedom one gets from weapon ownership essentially diminishes as the weapons one owns becomes more deadly.

The Right Hands

Protection against aggression would be a market demand. People would be worried about rogue gunmen, statists bent on imposing the greater good, terrorists, and aggressive nation states. Geographic defence and security is a lengthy article in and of itself so I won't get into it in detail. Entrepreneurs and organisations that serve this market demand would need to hold themselves up to heavy scrutiny. I imagine most customers would be anxious about a group of highly trained people with weapons forming a gang/government and so if I were trying to attract customers I'd have to find convincing ways of alleviating this concern in a climate where competitors are looking to make themselves more attractive than my services. I might do something like submit myself to regular third party random audits or offer large sums of money held in escrow payable to a customer that finds me in breech of contract in order to guarantee the contract. It is important to note that prolonged deadly wars, giant armies and massive stockpiles of weapons are only possible because of central banking and fiat currency which would essentially be abolished in a free society. It would be very difficult for a defense agency to stockpile weapons beyond what customers expect because it would require increasing subscription costs to the customer.

As an entrepreneur wanting to attract customers to my defence and security agency I would have to have highly trained and competent officers that understood the sensitive nature of their job and the incredible accountability they had with customers for the job they are contracted to do. As owner of this company I would be held personally liable if my officers beat up a Rodney King for example. Officers would be experts at de-escalating situations and preventing crimes as opposed to today where the system grows officers that escalate force and act as historians after crimes have been committed. These are the type of people we want to pack heat, people that understand how to resolve disputes peacefully and are very sensitive to serving the customers needs. Candidates with low academic achievement and an inferiority complex need not apply to my security agency.

So to sum up gun control in an free society; everybody has a right to own weapons and everybody has a right to withdraw from economic transactions with people who own weapons. Since all property is privately owned there is no problem of the commons except in unowned wilderness and if you are mentally unstable and want to own a weapon you'll likely find yourself alone in that wilderness being watched by intelligence agencies until you're ready to submit to the rules of my house.

There is no End Point

One thing is guaranteed and that is change never ceases. There is no end point called "free society" because even as we increasingly respect self-ownership and property rights we discover new ways to flourish and gain more liberty to do things we never imagined possible. Suppose we manage to gain a peaceful society with a citizenry that is armed to the teeth, what next? I would imagine that most people would realise that owning the means to easily kill other people is not as liberating as it once felt. Freedom in this anarchic world might mean beating swords into plow-shares and freeing oneself from the scrutiny and responsibility of gun ownership. Even now the idea that owning assault rifles protects you from our real assailants, the government tax farmers, is kind of silly. Central banking has given the state overwhelming power and owning guns didn't exactly help protect those at Ruby Ridge and Waco all that much, so the idea of an arms race against our biggest oppressors doesn't seem like a very practical solution to creating peace.

Darwin said that the organism fittest to the environment survives and flourishes. Most people misinterpret this as "the physically strongest survives". This is not what he was saying at all. The ability to physically dominate other humans may have led to flourishing in a brutal world like Sparta, the ability to dominate minds with propaganda may lead to flourishing in today's society (think religious and government leaders), and in a peaceful world of widespread NAP enlightenment the ability to meet the needs of others would be the fittest trait. People who try to dominate will not flourish or survive very well in an enlightened free society.

One trait that I think may be recognised as a disability in the world of the future is an enlarged right amygdala. An amygdala becomes enlarged when children are exposed to what George Lakoff might call "The Strict Father" model of parenting. An enlarged right amygdala is highly correlated to right-wing politics, and these are the people that love guns.2 Now I'm admittedly veering off into highly speculative territory here, but, I would guess that this enlarged right amygdala that conservatives have which makes them far more sensitive to fear (think xenophobia, terrorist threats etc) also leads to their love of guns to protect themselves against perceived threats. It is conceivable that as "Strict Father" parenting diminishes, the desire to own weapons will as well.

Portugal legalised ALL drugs a decade ago and is now reaping the rewards of treating the root cause of drug abuse, crime is down and addiction rates are falling. It could be that in the future, the desire to own weapons to quell irrational fears will be viewed on the same spectrum as the desire to abuse drugs and help will be available to people who want to kick the habit and lower their insurance premiums. Amygdala's could be treated with therapy to make them smaller or less sensitive to fear so that people with this disability could flourish.

I should note in all fairness here that I'm not suggesting there are no problems with the left-wing brain, its admittedly harder for me to see the problems because I have this type of brain. This brain is characterised by an enlarged anterior cingulate which makes me more tolerant of uncertainty, but also far less organised. This organisational disability may be something that could be overcome with treatment as well.
The Roots of Violence

The shooting that occurred in Connecticut at Sandy Hook School have a root cause, that root cause was not the gun because guns can't point themselves, the root cause isn't a crazed gunman because crazed gunmen aren't born they are created, the root cause isn't even the obvious suffering inflicted on this gunman as a child by his caregivers, nor is the root cause an incompetent mother or mental health professionals because these people weren't created in a vacuum either. There is a pattern at play here and it must be recognised to be broken. Nobody along the line was looking in the mirror asking how they might be contributing to the problem. Adam Lanza saw the world as the problem, the psychiatrists saw a disease process as the problem, Adam's mom saw a defective child as the problem, liberals see guns as the problem, conservatives see liberals as the problem etc.

Nobody ever seems to look at themselves and asks the right questions because we are trained to be dependant. The solution exists outside ourselves in mom and pop, in the state. It is classic co-dependency at work and it is tragic, looking inward is not on the program. Imagine if Adam had the insight to look at how his thought patterns were contributing to his own mental suffering. Imagine if the psychiatrist made a concerted effort to see life through Adams eyes instead of pathologizing his suffering, imagine if Adams mother saw Adam's behaviour and obvious suffering as a by-product of her parenting, imagine if liberals understood that asking for force to be used against peaceful people who want to own guns only makes them cling harder to those weapons, and imagine if conservatives understood that law and order aren't accomplished by pointing guns at people.

Lack of self-knowledge dooms us to be automatons playing out our childhood programming. It prevents us from noticing that as we argue about whether guns should be banned we fail to do the one thing that would cause real and measurable change for the better in this world...looking in a mirror.


1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4CcannofnY
Private Law

Monday, 10 December 2012

Oilsands Anarchy: A Thought Experiment

I recently came across an online discussion on a libertarian site about what the libertarian view should be of a big Chinese state-owned corporation (CNOOC) owning a piece of the oil sands. For those that don’t know a libertarian is generally someone with a political position that revolves around the non-aggression principle (NAP) which says that no person has the right to initiate force against another person. It got me thinking about what development of the oil sands might look like if the NAP was adhered to strictly by a tipping point of people living in the oil sands region so here is my thought experiment. Please feel free to leave comments, suggestions or how you think things might work in an environment of adherence to the NAP.

First of all strict adherence to the NAP means that government goes away and interactions are regulated by individuals engaged in voluntary relationships. Note this is slightly different than the typical libertarian position that concedes a certain amount of NAP violation is necessary and advocates small government (minarchism), what I'm talking about would be more accurately described as anarchy. Government is a group of people who claim a monopoly right to initiate force in a defined area and so if the NAP is adhered to strictly government cannot exist. All government laws are essentially threats of violence for non-compliance with a particular groups opinion. Threats of being locked in a cage, or threats of having money/property taken from you are how government laws are enforced. Radical disobedience of even the most trivial of laws, like say a ban on plastic bags, results in death if the government enforces the law: You disobey, receive a warning, continue to disobey, receive a fine, refuse to hand over money, continue to disobey, eventually enforcers try and shut you down, use defensive force to match the enforcers aggressing against you, guns get drawn, death ensues. All statist law is backed by murder.

Anarchy is a word most people use as a euphemism for chaos, lawlessness, and hooded hooligans. Here I am using it by its proper definition – no rulers. A huge body of scholarly work exists about the subject that delves into how a population would function if we did not have people initiating force and have every reason to believe (I’ll save this for another blog) that it would be a highly ordered, socially just world…the opposite of the chaos, lawlessness, and social injustice that exists today. Violation of the NAP would be viewed as criminal activity and so all governmental activity would be viewed as criminal enterprise.

The Regional Municipality of Woodbuffalo (RMWB) is one of the largest municipalities in North America and encompasses the Athabasca Oilsands where the majority of oil sands operations are located. Lets imagine that the majority of people in this region suddenly awaken one morning to the fact that the NAP is constantly being violated in the name of ‘the greater good’ and can see exactly how coercion is used being used and stop supporting it. What would the result be?

Power Structures Change to Empower Structures

People in positions of power would suddenly realize that they no longer want or would be legitimately recognized as having power (access to the use of violence) over others. So for example Mayor and Council would no longer be in power, however it is likely that most of them would still be recognized as community leaders and would start to exhibit what I would call legitimate leadership. Legitimate leadership is what happens when people strive to serve the needs of others and strive to eliminate the need for their leadership. So they would immediately start looking for ways to create private ownership of the RMWB’s assets and services which would immediately be open to entrepreneurs competing to serve the needs of customers.
Dispute Resolution and The Law

Since the only type of force permissible in a group of people following the NAP is protective force against aggression, dispute resolution and the practice of law would change dramatically. No longer could you threaten people with violence (or have some elected official do it for you) for non-compliance with your opinion. Entrepreneurs would recognize a market opportunity and would like start providing the type of services Molyneux1 describes with Dispute Resolution Organizations (DRO's) competing to meet the legal needs of people within the region. In fact because disputes are foreseeable it would be unlikely that anybody would lack DRO coverage, it would be too risky to engage in economic transactions with them. They would focus primarily on prevention, like a good insurance company, and justice would be restorative focusing on the restoration of the victim instead of punishment of the criminal. Criminals that failed to comply with their contracts or to abide by their DRO's ruling would be ostracized from all sorts of economic transactions as their social credit/reputation rating would make them very unappealing people to do business with and they would be unable to rent or buy homes, conduct business, buy groceries etc. For far more detailed info about how this might work see the references provided.

Geographical Defense (Defending off the Statist Hordes)

It is conceivable and even likely that people in the federal and provincial governments would take umbrage with over 100,000 individuals suddenly seceding and no longer recognizing them as rulers or property owners within the RMWB. There would likely be a need and a market demand for geographical defense of the RMWB from foreign states like Canada that could send in an invading force. Owners of security firms and DRO's would likely be called upon to negotiate on their clients behalf with elements that would invade and use violence. Every incentive would be to establish their clients sovereignty peacefully.

There is reason to believe that sovereignty can be achieved. We have numerous nations within the geographical boundaries of Canada called First Nations. For example the Kahnawake Nation2 in Quebec is probably considered by most politicians to be a reserve, however to the residents it is considered a sovereign nation apart from Canada. It flagrantly disregards Canadian law and houses a majority of the worlds on-line gambling servers and politicians leave it alone, possibly because they don't want another Oka Crisis3.

Crown Land and Waterways

Property from a libertarian perspective is based in the idea that you own yourself, the product of your labour, that which you homestead and that which you freely trade your property for4. This means that RMWB residents would suddenly realize that Crown Land is not owned and no permission is needed from the Queen to develop it and own it. The rivers and waterways in the region would be available for individual ownership as well5. This would bode well for individuals living downstream from the oil sands plants as they would now have a real legal mechanism for getting serious restitution and restoration if their property (the water) gets polluted.

The Oil Sands

Corporations are byproducts of the government. The idea that a non-material concept should be treated as a biological person is preposterous and problematic. Since only real people are responsible for the consequences of their actions it is real people that must bear the accountability for their actions not imaginary people called corporations. In todays world the state largely protects the heads of corporations from liability, you do not see corporate leaders losing their house and personal assets when poor decisions are made that they are responsible for, rather the imaginary person is punished and maybe even killed leaving real victims damaged and real criminals off the hook. This privatization of profit and socialization of risk obviously leads to a huge amount of moral hazard. In a newly awakened RMWB organizational behaviour would change drastically.

Oil sands operations like Syncrude and Suncor would no longer be recognized as legal entities. Rather they would be viewed as a group of individuals (each legally accountable) working and cooperating for a shared goal...the extraction, refinement and sale of oil products. Individuals who understand that they are now 100% accountable for their own actions and may have to pay for restoration if they cause damages, would become much more sensitive to other people and property owners that might be damaged by their operations. So for example property owners downstream in Fort Chipewyan would no doubt be constantly monitoring water levels and quality and would be entitled to restoration of any damages caused by individuals engaged in operations upstream. DRO's would be monitoring safety and environmental factors extremely closely to mitigate the risk of having to pay out massive amounts of insurance in the way of damages. 

Right now if an employee makes a mistake the owner of a company isn't likely to have to pay personally for that mistake, however in this new climate they will. Company owners (individuals that raise the capital and own the means of production) in this new environment would have a difficult time maintaining their personal span of control, so development of any mega-corporations is highly unlikely. It is likely that with an open market of competitors raising the capital and equipment necessary to develop the oil sands, all with an increased sensitivity to environmental and safety factors because of personal liability, that large operations like Syncrude and Suncor would split into smaller companies and sell off capital equipment and land to start-ups and that these operations with tighter spans of control would result in more efficient production of product.

What about state owned entities like CNOOC and other state monsters like LLC's and mega-corporations?
A prerequisite to engaging in economic activity in an anarchic region like this would be representation by a DRO. It would just be too risky to engage in transactions with strangers without insurance like this. That means you would need a DRO subscription to drive on roads and highways, purchase any items, rent any property etc. Selling to a known criminal would put your social credit rating at risk and it is unlikely that an existing operation would sell to what would be recognized as a mafia owned organization. If CNOOC or some other criminal organization did manage to either homestead or buy an oil sands operation they would find it extremely difficult to operate without being able to drive on roads, buy building supplies, pay their staff etc. They'd need to bring an army and military invasion by a state other than Canada would be highly unlikely.

Dealing with criminal customers outside the anarchic RMWB zone, in places like Canada, the U.S. and China will be unavoidable if one wants to sell oil. If I owned a DRO I would give discounts to my oil sands clients (who in turn would be able to sell cheaper oil) who found customers that were either peaceful private citizens willing to sign an NAP agreement and possibly even move to RMWB, or were willing to sign on to our NAP outreach program, or were willing to provide guarantees that they would not invade. Guarantees might include things like a large sum of money put up as invasion collateral paid by the customer in a trust account administered by a trusted 3rd pary that gets paid out to the DRO in the event of aggressive actions. These are just some ideas off the top of my head, but you can see that keen entrepreneurial minds competing to provide the best service can find millions of ways to incentivize good behaviour.

In this type of society you have much higher incentive to behave well. Oil sands would be developed in a much more environmentally conscientious and cost effective way. In fact, given that the rest of the world needs the oil in this anarchic zone, the rest of the world would be incentivized to be on its best behaviour moving towards a new enlightenment.


If you aren't steeped in libertarian or anarchic philosophy, this post will likely have confused or irritated you profoundly and if your curiosity has been tickled then I would suggest delving into some of the references below starting with the first one. If you're a fellow freedom lover then I hope I've given you some food for thought. I believe these thought experiments are useful because they make us think about how to apply the NAP to our own lives and create and expand our own zones of anarchy, even if its just ourselves and our family and friends to start, and incentivize and spread enlightenment values and virtue to those that are within our sphere of influence. I'd love to hear you thoughts :)


Philosophy of Liberty

Dispute Resolution and Private Law

Geographical Defense
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4639016n (Kahnawake nation is featured starting about 7.5 minutes)

Property Rights

Privatizing Water

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Student Explains Brainwashing to Macleans Mag

The following is a letter to the editor of Macleans Magazine that I helped my step-daughter craft after she came to me for help (with her teachers permission) to write a response to an article about schools brainwashing children. Needless to say it was not published.

Dear Editor,
I agree that kids are brainwashed by their schools.  Schools should teach kids how to think or learn instead they teach kids what to think. H.L. Mencken said the aim of public school, “... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”
Public schools are this way by design, based on the Prussian model that was developed to create a class of obedient factory workers and military men. How else would you describe an institution where the people (yes us kids are people) are compelled to attend, required to sit still in desks oriented towards a power figure, required to learn what the authority figure dictates, conditioned to turn our minds to a new subject and think a different way when a bell rings, segregated by age into classes that exist nowhere else in the real world, and trained that achievement is based on the judgment of an external authority figure who grades us? We are trained in obedience and conformity, we don’t even have control over our own biological needs, when we eat and use the washroom is controlled by an authority figure. What we are not taught is how to learn, to think rationally, to obtain self-knowledge, or to engage in critical thinking.
The predictable result of 12 years of government school is generations of grown-up children who appeal to mommy and daddy government to solve their problems. To think they are doing something important when they engage in popularity contests that determine who rules them. To tolerate the ruling class owning up to half their labour by way of taxation. To consume products and popular culture until they die.
Slaves that ran away from the plantation and refused to work were diagnosed with Drapetomania and prescribed lashes, and children that can’t sit still or listen to authority figures are diagnosed as defective (ADHD, ODD etc.) and drugged.  It is my hope that one day children will be afforded the same rights that slaves and women eventually gained. To be viewed as the freeborn humans we are, to have our interests and preferences be noticed and nurtured and to no longer be viewed as clay to be molded to the masters vision. Btw if you can’t figure out a major root cause of bullying after this letter you may be the product of a public school.
Grade 10 student

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Meet the Zombies (Part 2)

In my last blog post I outlined why I think there is a prevalence of the zombie meme in pop culture; namely that there is an increasing anxiety about mindless, brain eaters. In the spirit of full disclosure I have a bias towards this metaphor because I have a fair amount of anxiety about mindless, brain-eaters but I do think it is a rational fear. This all started when I saw a video of a horde of Black Friday shoppers at a Walmart and I mistook it for an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’. I posted a tweet comparing the average person to a zombie and was challenged by a reader who did not think my comparison was fair or accurate. After my last blog post she still doesn’t think its fair or accurate to call the average person a zombie, so I feel the need to further my case for the metaphor before I delve into the origins and possible cure for what I think could aptly be called the zombie virus.

The first thing I need to do is define my terms. For the purpose of this metaphor I will define a zombie as a person that lacks awareness of where its appetite, desires, motivations, and feelings come from and therefore acts essentially as an automaton. I will get even more precise here and define a zombie as somebody who is not aware that they lack self-awareness. Contrast this with a living person who is aware that they have unconscious patterns of behaviour, thoughts and feelings and are therefore able to modify and change themselves. A fully living person can not only empathize with others, by imagining themselves in that persons shoes, they can also imagine what that other persons experience of them might be…they are able to observe themselves. Activating this inner observer is the key to learning (Short, 1998) because it allows us to be in congruence with reality, fully engaged with the external world. The essence of being undead is being cut-off from your self…a zombie is a bag of meat interacting with the external world without an internal driver.

When I say the average person is a zombie I mean that the majority (greater than 50%) of the population are zombies…they are unaware that they are unaware. I went through a great deal of my life like this, never once questioning where my beliefs and assumptions about the world came from, oh I had ready made rationalizations and justifications for my beliefs, but not once did I stop and examine how I came to have these assumptions about the world and the resultant thoughts, feelings and behaviours that followed. So I am not writing this with any sense of inherent superiority to my fellow human apes. It took a radically life altering experience coupled with an incredibly powerful sense that something wasn’t right to help bring into my awareness the fact that I was completely unaware about all the assumptions and beliefs I held.

So there are two ways of looking at my claim that the majority of people are unaware of their own lack of awareness about their desires, motivations, feelings, and assumptions about the world. The skeptic would have to assert the opposite, that the majority of people are aware that they are unaware…I think this is a much more difficult hypothesis to support and as a corollary that a much more intuitively rational default position is that the majority of people are unaware of their lack of awareness. However, I’ll try and support my case.

If the majority of people were NOT zombies you would expect to see the following:
·        Insatiable curiosity about the world
·        Insatiable curiosity about the self
·        Insatiable curiosity about their relationships and other people
·        Recognition of cognitive dissonance as a learning opportunity
·        Insatiable curiosity about other world views
·        A high degree of psychotherapy would be prevalent, self-knowledge would be a top priority
·        Most social conversations would be deeply meaningful and intimate, people would leave conversations feeling empowered and connected
·        Consumerism, debt slavery and addiction would be very low as people would be able to balance and understand their life as it connects to deferred vs immediate gratification
·        Mob scenes would be almost non-existent (Black Fridays, Political Rallies, Huge Sporting Events etc.) because individuals just wouldn’t get a charge out of losing their individuality.

Now let me address these points one by one:
  • I do not see a great deal of curiosity about the world in people I’m surrounded by, most people I see around me consume and regurgitate media.
  • Even fewer people are curious about themselves and their motivations and feelings. If you have ever heard someone say, “She made me mad” you are hearing lack of self-awareness.
  • People I know in long-term relationships do not exhibit much curiosity about why the same patterns continue over and over again.
  • I’ve noticed that most people don’t know what to do with cognitive dissonance. I’ve often experienced telling someone a rational argument or epistemology and you can see that it makes them uncomfortable because they recognize it as true and it conflicts with another belief they have. This is a common occurrence and is actually at the root of learning, but the key is what you do when you experience cognitive dissonance. A zombie addresses it by being dismissive, passive aggressive, judgmental, lashing out with ad hominems, attacking a strawman, evading or a number of other intellectually dishonest means. The living accept uncertainty, remain curious and open to reason and evidence, and ruminate on the matter.
  • I don’t experience a great deal of curiosity or empathy from those around me about the world views of other people. I usually just see regurgitation of media for example when it comes to matters in the middle east. Most people aren’t curious about the experience or view of someone in Gaza, Israel, Iraq, or Afghanistan for example yet they will readily make a judgment or statement of fact.
  • Quest for self-knowledge is a hallmark sign of life. Psychotherapy is a well recognized path to obtaining self-knowledge with the help of someone trained. The number of Americans who have attended psychotherapy is under 4% * and of those I would guess that far less than half attended psychotherapy with the goal of obtaining self-knowledge.
  • Maybe I’m going to the wrong places for social conversation, but most of the time I experience conversations about work, weather, physical activity, politics, the news, gossip or sports. I rarely experience intimate conversations, outside close friends, of deep meaning about the joy, sorrow, and suffering someone is experiencing. Never talked about are adverse childhood experiences or the practice of life affirming virtues for example.
  • Consumerism, debt, and addiction are immediately gratifying but they are unhealthy in the long term. Delayed gratification would be much more prevalent today if the majority of people were alive, rather we have fiat debt based currency that is based in the impulse for immediate gratification.
  • A big part of being a zombie is losing ones individuality and becoming one with the mob. Why does it feel so good to chant, “U-S-A, U-S-A..” or rally for you politician or rockstar? Why doesn’t it feel as good to do it by yourself? Why is group conformity and belonging so important to our sense of self-esteem?

I hope to answer these questions in an upcoming blog about where the zombie virus comes from and how to cure it. I'll also let you know who I think represent vampires in this world and why we see a prevalence of blood sucking, power mongers, exhibiting superficial charm and beauty and who can't see themselves in a mirror (lack self-knowledge)...hazard a guess?

Now to my friend and reader who challenged me; first I want to say thank-you and secondly I want to say that I do not look down on zombies with disdain and I don't think they are hopeless and incapable of rationality and self-awareness, I simply experience anxiety and sometimes fear when I am around them...mostly fear for my children, thirdly I recognize the dearth of references here and will make up for it when I get into how the zombie virus was socially engineered. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Short, R. (1998). Learning in Relationship. Bellevue, Washington: Learning in Action Technologies, Inc.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meet The Zombies

Zombies are mindless automatons that are neither dead nor alive, eat brains and are singularly focused on consumption. I hypothesize that there is a rational reason that the zombie is an increasingly popular figure in today’s culture, namely that it closely resembles what we fear most…our fellow humans. We’ve all seen the video's of crazed shopping mobs on Black Friday and faced the holiday throngs ourselves in crowded stores intent on pushing our way through and getting what we "need". These are the zombie hordes and we ourselves are part of what we most fear.

Let us look at what defines a zombie.

1)      Neither Dead nor Alive Automatons – They are drifting through an existence that is mindless and seemingly never ending, unaware of their own motivating drive to consume. How much does this resemble our everyday lives? Get a job, work 9 – 5, watch TV, consume products, and repeat until death. Most of us have a nagging itch in our minds that something isn’t right, that we aren’t really alive in any meaningful way. Zombies are unaware of themselves and their own motivations.

2)      They Eat Brains – You’ll have experienced what it means to have your brain eaten if you’ve ever had an original thought that you’ve been excited about. Especially a thought that is outside the normal narrowly constrained paradigm of dogma that exists in culture. The undead around you will quickly notice your bright light of originality and bring you into conformity with them. You’ll rarely be met with the curiosity of the living if you say something like, “What if god(s) and governments are made up and illegitimate?” Zombie’s must eat your brain and zombify you, it is an unconscious drive to bring you into the zombie collective.

3)      Focused on Consumption – Zombies have an insatiable appetite. They have a constant unconscious desire to consume. It is as if they are trying to fill a void that can never be filled.

I see the rise of zombie movies as a healthy sign. You’ll notice that the common thread of what defines a zombie is that they lack self-awareness, they are acting unconsciously. The fact that people are beginning to recognize the zombie virus that infects those around them represents hope! Eventually they will look in a mirror and notice themselves. This growing awareness is a natural cause for anxiety, zombies are dangerous and scary and waking up to find yourself surrounded by them is unsettling to say the least. This growing anxiety is reflected in pop culture I believe.

In the near future I will write about how the zombie virus is created and spread and how we can prevent it and maybe even cure it while fighting off the hoards.

Cheers, from a recovering zombie.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Why Voting May Be Harmful

     Imagine that there is a powerful thug who comes around every so often to rape you and your neighbours.  But he is a nice thug in the sense that he allows you to vote on the way he is going to rape you, you can choose which orifice and perhaps choose the sweet nothings he whispers in your ear as he violates you.  The people all around you activiely participate in their democratic right to choose how they are violated.  The fine and intricate details of rape philosophy are passionately debated as some prefer the mouth while others prefer the anus and so two groups form and the neighbourhood is collectivised and labelled in these terms...you are either a mouther or an anuser (right wing or left wing).

      Advocates of democracy argue passionately that our ancestors fought and died to get this new rapist, remember the old rapist never gave us a choice.  They praise the qualities of our rape system and rave about how lucky we are to be raped in this manner.  They engage in loving dialogue with the rapist and understand that while they don't enjoy being violated they understand that it is a necessary unpleasantness so that we may have order and peace in the neighbourhood and that the poor are looked after and the sick tended too. They rave about the good feeling they get taking collective action to create change and celebrate victories about orifice changes and small victories like the loving sweet nothings we get to hear as the rape occurs.

       Does anybody get why voting is harmful?  Its a dialogue with thugs that lends credibility to human rights violations.  Now I don't think voting is immoral because I think that a case can be made that it may reduce immediate harm in certain circumstances, for example I would prefer lube to rectal tearing, however what is the cost of this dialogue?  I posit that the cost is dignity, pride, and corruption of the self.  When we bring ourselves to believe that rape is virtue as long as we get to vote, we further degrade ourselves, we form a detachment from reality.

       I don't vote on how I will be violated because I see it as an affront to my dignity.  I prefer
 to look my rapist in the eye and tell him that I recognize that he is evil and that he is violating me and my neighbours. I prefer a little rectal tearing because I see it as less degrading than pretending I'm not being violated.

Monday, 22 October 2012

A Crooked Middle Finger Salute

I Solute Your Irrational Meme

Why did my broken middle finger heal crooked in this highly touted single-payer (aka socialist) healthcare system? The answer to that is both really simple and also highly nuanced and complex. The simple answer is that the orthopedic surgeon, you know the bone specialist who trained for an extra 5 years to get really good at mending bones, did the wrong thing.

The level of inquiry I find most people engaging in on matters like this is superficial and leads to an unsatisfactory and childish answer, “That’s a bad doctor.” I don't buy that explanation, I think that after 13 years of medical training this orthopedic surgeon knows how to properly mend a broken finger. The question is why didn't he do what he knew to be the best treatment for my middle finger?

I was told by both the ER Physician and the orthopedic technician that I would require a pin to be put in my finger. Imagine my relief when the specialist said he'd just straighten it out and splint it in place and see me in 3 weeks...no surgery necessary. He told me what I was hoping to hear, that everything would be ok without having to go through an invasive procedure. Now I have a crooked middle finger and the things that I love to do -play guitar and piano, hold my spouses hand- will never be the same.

I don't think anybody can accurately answer why the doc didn't do the right thing but let me take a stab at some plausible answers.

1) The payoff to put in the pins wasn't enough. In order to put in pins he would have to book an OR room have staff prepped, provided he could even get an OR room on short notice. He would have to arrange a schedule and make time. What he would get in return would be seeing fewer patients, making less money, and having more work backed up when he was done with me.

2) He was overwhelmed with patients. The day I had my consult with him there were 50 other patients waiting to see him that morning. I can’t imagine spending several hours of his week dealing with a broken finger would be at the top of his priority list.

The rational thing for an orthopedic surgeon to do given these conditions is to look for the quickest way to deal with my finger, it would be irrational to take the time to do surgery when something else might fix it reasonably. This is just a small personal tip of the iceberg glimpse of system that incentivizes mediocre and crappy health care.

Lets set aside the fact that as a double income family in Fort McMurray my spouse and I pay over $30,000 in health insurance (that’s the portion of income tax that goes to health care), that the government enforced monopoly on healthcare drives the cost way up, and that licensing and regulatory environment make it difficult for healers to set-up shop. It is illegal for me to find and pay for a specialist in Alberta to spend some extra time with me making sure I’ll be able to play the guitar again. If I did find an orthopedic surgeon who was willing to accept payment from me to fix my finger he would risk losing his practice.

I don’t really blame the physicians, heck I don’t even really blame the legislators for this they are only doing what people want them to do…they are acting rationally to keep their jobs. If I had to blame anybody I’d probably place it on the people who vote and say things like, “they oughta do…x”. These people in aggregate form the base of legitimacy for an irrational and immoral system where threat of violence is the organizing force. Please be aware that your irrational beliefs result in real physical harm to others.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

My Birthday Wish

I've orbited the Sun thirty-nine times as of today. This feat wouldn't be possible without this amazing planet I'm riding around on with all of you. Think about the fact that we are on a planet in a very narrow orbital zone that allows water to exist as solid, liquid and gas with a size and gravity that is just right and a disturbingly shallow atmosphere that offers us just enough protection from solar radiation and meteorites. A Planet that sustains life in a seemingly precarious balance in an otherwise inconsequential arm of one of trillions of galaxies each containing trillions of stars. As Sagan pointed out stars died in order for us to exist. We are made up of starstuff and we are contemplating the stars. We've got something special going on here.

This ride is made wonderful because of all of you, and I don't just mean my loved ones and those close to me. My life is made wonderful by a guy in a factory somewhere putting graphite into pencils allowing me to put my thoughts into symbols and language, by a poor man in a Chinese factory making parts for my iPhone, and by the guy who invented the yoke for cattle allowing my ancestors the ability to obtain less expensive food and not have to toil all day just to feed themselves. To think about the way we are all connected to each other on this planet boggles ones mind. I want this ride called humanity to keep going.

There is a disease, a cancer, that is capable of destroying this ride and my birthday wish is that this disease is cured. This disease is within your individual power to cure because it resides in you, it is a mind virus, a meme and it is subject to your will. Like heroine addiction this mind virus causes you to take actions that sooth an immediate ache within your heart but in the long run cause destruction and chaos. This virus turns us into zombies that unthinkingly and reflexively consume and destroy all that is life affirming in the world; the environment, our relationships, our children, and each other.

If I had to put a name to this mind virus I would call it fear of our own individual greatness.  I agree with Marianne Williamson who said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."* I remember reading that the most difficult things for average people to do in psychologist Nathaniel Brandens workshop on self-esteem is to say out loud with believable conviction to a group of fellow participants that they are worthy of living and are worthy of happiness. Wrap your head around that.

We are not born with this virus, it is transmitted to us as children by the infected. Religion teaches us that we are wretches in need of salvation (I cringe every time I hear Amazing Grace). Parents teach us that power is the source of virtue..."Do as I say or there will be consequences." Schools teach us that our preferences don't matter and prepare us to be docile citizens engaged in our own enslavement. I'm convinced that this is mostly an unconscious reinforcing feedback loop like any cycle of abuse.

The original source of this mind virus is speculative although Lloyd Demause (http://www.psychohistory.com/) has some compelling research and theories on the matter. The result of this mind virus is devasting. We either cower and whine to those who hold power over us or we crave that power ourselves. Anytime we have social anxiety we beg those with power to alleviate our anxiety by using force against 'the other'. We argue and fight with our fellow slaves about the best way to manage the plantation while simultaneously ignoring the shackles that bind us. We consume ever increasing amounts of our chosen opiate to try and sooth the anxiety in us, like zombies mindlessly trying to satisfy insatiable hunger. We are lions walking around thinking we are lambs.

What would happen if we didn't fear our own worthiness? I posit that we would recognize that we no longer need to ask for permission to be ourselves, to be free. I posit that we would no longer try to control, or rule others to try and sooth our anxiety or make us feel worthy. We would recognize others that are deeply infected by the words of collectivism dripping from their mouths as they speak to adoring crowds who willingly cast votes and destroy their own individuality to experience a moment of ecstacy. We would take full accountability for our actions and expect the same in our fellow humans. We would recognize that initiating force, or asking a politician to do it on your behalf, is not only destructive to that person but to ourselves and ultimately to this planet.

The cure for this may sound hippie dippie but it is not. The cure is love. Real love. Not hollywood love. Not romantic love. But real love for your self. Stand up tall. Own the space you're in and repeat after me, "I am fucking worthy! I'm worthy of being me, I'm worthy of happiness. I am not a lamb to be ruled or sacrificed for anothers ego. I don't need permission to be free. I was infected and couldn't see straight but now I see... I am a fucking LION!!"

No more will you accept anything less than love for your true self in your relationships. No longer will you allow zombies and vampires to suck the life out of you and eat your brains. No longer will you play small so that another can feel big. You are now capable of giving and recieving true love because you see your true self and accept your worthiness. You are now capable of true intimacy...the kind that comes from knowing yourself. You are now capable of seeing the infected and triaging them. You are now incapable of fighting wars for power hungry old men who would use you as pawns. You are now able to experience true anxiety, the kind that comes from knowing that the zombie hoards are trying to infect you and eat your brain or put another way by the mass of sheople who want you to diminish yourself and not think to hard.**

The survival of our offsrping and our planet is directly connected with you ability to love yourself and therefore your ability to embrace non-aggression as a pre-requisite to life affirmation. As an aggregate of people learn to overcome this mind-virus of unworthiness the forces of destruction will fall away and the world will begin to heal itself. Governments and rulers will disappear and be replaced by a more organic, dynamic and life affirming order - anarchy. Individuals who excel at meeting the life affirming needs of others will thrive and individuals who would use force to suck the life blood of others will not be tolerated and will either be rehabilitated and cured or they will perish.

My birthday wish is for you to look in the mirror and see a worthy individual so that my childrens children can live in a thriving world of peace.
Here's to many more rides around the sun ;)

* The full quote is worth reading - "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

** As an aside I've often wondered if the surge of Zombie movies this past decade has anything to do with the growing number of people who feel uneasy about the throngs of mindless people around them constantly trying to make them conform.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Bag Ban Manifesto


“Single use” plastic retail bags are banned in Fort McMurray.  This is the result of a passionate 2 year crusade by 16 year old Sean Graham who watched a documentary at his school and got a 2000 person petition and brought it to city council.  Reasons for the ban are somewhat vague.  Melissa Blake implied on the RMWB website that it is to reach the RMWB’s goal of reducing waste in the landfill by 50% by 2012.  Sean’s reasons seem to be based on the environment and seems to focus on the landfill and the manufacturing process used to create the bags.  There was very little opposition to the ban made to council, save for one fellow who made some seemingly feeble arguments that the law would unjustly impact the poor in the community who relied on public transportation, or walking to and from the grocery stores as well as concerns about shoplifting.  So the ban passed with politicians and environmentally minded citizens feeling good that they are doing there part to green up the community, and those that may not like the ban keeping there yaps shut afraid to be painted as an anti-environmental.  After-all the evidence that a bag ban is good for the environment is overwhelming…isn’t it?

I’m going to present the contrarian side of this issue.  I don’t buy that this ban is helping the environment…in fact I think I think its causing more damage to the environment, so I’ll present some arguments from pragmatism.  I’ll also argue from a moral position that the use of force is not a legitimate way to solve social or environmental problems.  Finally I will offer up some viable solutions that might actually make a real impact on decreasing waste and therefore reducing environmental impact.

A Pragmatic Argument

Anytime a law is passed there are unintended consequences.  For example drug laws are aimed at decreasing problems associated with drugs, but, we all clearly see that these laws only create violence, more dangerous drugs and victimize drug addicts and users.  I will try and highlight a few obvious unintended consequences based on some very basic research and logic.

First this bylaw outlaws ‘single use bags’ like the light plastic bags used at grocery stores.  Implied is that false assumption that these bags are only ever only used once.  How many people use them to line small garbage bins or pick up dog-doo etc.  Ireland recently banned these types of bags and found a 400% increase in sales on thicker less environmentally friendly plastic garbage bags presumably because consumers no longer had light grocery bags at their disposal to recycle as poop bags and garbage liners. 

I couldn’t find any information on how much of our landfill is taken up with these plastic bags, however, they represent 0.4% of California’s landfill volume.  That’s all plastic bags mind you including heavy garbage bags, which, I imagine make up the bulk of the 0.4%.  Even if council banned all plastic bags from the city it would make a pretty dismal dent in our landfill usage.  So as a method to reduce our landfill usage by 50% (Mayor Blakes implied suggestion for the efficacy of this regulation) it seems a terrible waste of time and effort. There doesn’t appear to have been any pre or post regulation audit of the landfill to see whether the ban is making any impact in landfill usage.

It’s also interesting to note that plastic mining technologies are starting to take off.  There are currently plastic mining companies that are scouring landfills and collecting plastic to convert into petroleum products.*  They do this because it is economically feasible…they can make money at it as oil becomes scarce and oil prices go up. This fact alone should put to bed a lot of the critics of plastic bags in landfills.  The fact that they don’t break down is a positive because they can eventually be mined out of landfills and reused. Could it be that landfills are the best place for plastic bags…I mean they are all there in one convenient location.

It could be that the ban’s goal is to reduce litter in the community and it certainly seems like there are less bags blowing around town. Studies I came across showed that plastic retail bags make up a miniscule amount of litter in communities as well and litter audit in San Fransisco before they banned plastic bags showed that retail plastic bags made up 0.6% of all litter.  In Toronto it was 0.1% and in Florida it was 0.7%. In a recent Edmonton litter audit retail plastic bags made up 1.3% of litter.** So in terms of litter reduction it seems to be a small impact as well. If we were serious about curbing litter we would ban all paper and fiber products in the region as this comprises about 50% of litter in audit studies I found in other cities. Banning paper would probably be considered ridiculous by most people and it should be, the sale and use of paper is not the problem and it would be silly to punish people who use paper responsibly. Perhaps rather than punishing the people responsibly using these materials the litterbugs should be targeted.

Now I want to turn my attention to these reusable bags that people are forced to use.  The assumption is that they are more environmentally friendly because you can use them over and over again.  Is this really the case?  Do we know what environmental impact these bags have? We do not. Nobody appears to be measuring. Here are some of the things we would need to measure, compare and contrast to determine whether the environment is receiving a net benefit from using these bags:

·        Green house gas emissions from
o       Manufacturing bags
o       Transportation and distribution
o       Manufacturing technology and factories to make these bags
·        Emission of pollutants/toxins in manufacturing processes
·        Amount of energy and resources required in manufacture
·        Litter and waste produced in the manufacture of these bags
·        Litter Audit
·        Landfill Audit
·        Bag Reuse Rate
·        Energy, soap, and waste produced by bag washing

Measuring these things directly would be difficult if not impossible and may not account for every unintended effect of this regulation. Luckily price tells us all sorts of information about the amount of energy, resources, labor and infrastructure required to bring the product to market because it is a direct reflection of these things in aggregate. We are paying $1-$1.50 for these bags which is anywhere from 20-100 times more than we were paying for the plastic bags before. A Wall Street Journal article cited that the most common reusable bags shipped from China take up to 28X more energy to produce than regular plastic.  Wrap your head around that.  Even if the bag is made up of recycled materials all sorts of virgin resources had to go into the making of that bag…at least 28X as much in fact.***  This doesn’t even include the cost to ship it.  These bags are generally about 10 times heavier and have a greater volume than the thin plastic bags and so you can tack on increased energy to ship them as well. 

Cursory math says that I would have to use the bag at least 20-100 times before it has a net benefit to the environment. So another necessary metric would be how many times the bag is reused. My experience has been that I don’t always have a reusable bag with me when I need one and so I am continually buying new ones and throwing out the growing surplus I accumulate…sorry bout that environment, maybe the RMWB can pass some more laws and hire more enforcers as these unintended consequences pile up. This population is very transient with up to 20,000 people staying in camps. I often see these people purchasing bags, what do they do with them? Take them back to Newfoundland when they leave to make sure they get at least 28 uses out them? Do they squirrel them away in a safe place or give them away to friends or even give them a seconds thought in their busy lives? An interesting metric to me would be to see how many customers are buying bags during a day in a grocery store if its more than 1 in 28 or 3.5% of customers (its probably closer to 1 in 60 or <2%) then we have a problem…the environment is taking a shit kicking.

Lets suppose you are a good conscientious citizen that thinks this is a fantastic initiative despite everything I’ve presented. Once you have the bag the energy consumption does not stop.  Anybody who has bought meat at the grocery store knows that those lovely juices usually spill out of their packaging. In fact the RMWB’s web-site itself encourages frequent washing of these bags as if treating and heating water, running a wash cycle, using soap and draining water doesn’t have an environmental impact itself.  Suddenly these bags don’t seem to be all that environmentally friendly. 

I wonder if anybody bothered to tabulate the human cost to this endeavor as well.  How many man hours was spent on this campaign….this is not an insignificant thing.  Time is one of our most precious and scarce resources on this planet, and to think of all of that resource of time wasted on an endeavor that may well do the exact opposite of it intended purpose is a shame. Municipal employees spending time on useless endeavors aren’t just wasting time and money, they are paying an opportunity cost in lines of work that could be productive and make a real positive impact.

But, maybe it wasn’t all a waste.  I’ve noticed that I feel better when I recycle…even though I know that rationally I’m probably not benefiting the environment.  At the end of the day it seems that much of environmental activism is emotionally driven.  What we’ve done here with this law is provide our community with a much needed injection of self-esteem.  After all our community has taken its brunt of environmental criticism…this ought to help alleviate our environmental guilt and make us feel like we are making some real environmental contributions. At the end of the day the only metric that matters in politics is popular opinion. This is why a recent public review of the bag ban was aimed at measuring opinions not any measure of actual effectiveness at reducing harm.

A Moral Argument

Its important that we remember that anytime a law is passed it is backed by lethal force.  This sounds crazy and shocking, but think about it. What are the logical implications of a store owner disobeying and resisting this law. According to the bylaw he can be fined $1000 a day.  This means money that he has earned rightfully through voluntary exchange with customers can be taken from him by force, this is called theft.  If he refuses to allow his property to be taken from him eventually people with guns will come (aka Peace Officers).  If he defends his property from being taken, or his business from being interfered with he will be met with equal or greater force.  Of course it would be ludicrous to try and defend against this initiation of force. The path of least resistance is to just comply with the overwhelming force, just like it would be silly to try and resist a knife wielding bandit who demands $5 from you… it’s best to comply with threats of violence.

It would be extraordinary to claim that the initiation of force is moral, because this is a principle that cannot be universalized.  This means that it is immoral to initiate force against anybody else.  Politicians and police officers are supposed to get their right to govern and enforce laws from the people.  The act of voting supposedly delegates a citizens authority to the people in government.  So how is it that the people in government end up with authority that no man has…in fact doing so is always a violation of self-evident human rights. In this case it’s the right for men to engage in voluntary exchange with each other. If I do not have the right to point a gun at a store owner and tell him to cease and desist what he is doing with his bags, then neither does government.

While I’m arguing that its immoral to initiate force against others, I’m also saying that a person has the self-evident right to defend themselves and by extension their property…especially to the degree to which that property is used to allow them to provide a means to live and flourish…no other man has a right to destroy or take that property because it interferes with an individuals ability to live and flourish.  So lets see how we can apply these principles to effectively solve this environmental problem without resorting to violence.


If I had a problem with plastic bags littering my property from other people dumping them or carelessly littering I would have every right to hold them accountable and have my property restored.  So at a minimum I would have the right to have the litter bug come and clean-up my property and restore it to its original state.  I would not have the right to go to the bag manufacturer and get restitution, they didn’t litter on my property, I wouldn’t have the right to go to the store and ban them from selling the bag.  My beef is with the person who owned the bag and littered it.  So it seems crazy to me that merchants and consumers are automatically paying the price for criminal litterbugs.  If it’s a litter issue the litterers should be targeted, if it’s a landfill issue the landfill users should be targeted.

How do you target the landfill users.  Well to start with you stop funding the landfill with extorted money (aka taxes).  You allow it to become a private enterprise where competition can come up with cost effective and environmentally effective ways of disposing or recycling waste.  You allow landfill users to bear the actual cost of disposing of garbage. People are accountable for their own decisions and actions and therefore should bear the cost of them. According to the RMWB budget the unaudited Landfill Operating Budget was over $18,000,000 in 2008.  If this is accurate it represents between $500-900 per household of funding. The landfill expansion is costing us $24,000,000 which represents over $1000 per household.   I imagine industry pays a huge portion of this cost, because the landfill is only a fraction of the municipalities operating budget.  If it really costs that much per household to run a landfill, we are seriously generating garbage. Right now people who generate small amounts of garbage are funding people who generate large amounts of garbage…and industry is subsidizing all of our garbage disposal with their higher tax rates.  The costs of dumping are not born by the individual landfill user, oh sure we pay a small $10 fee when we bring a load to the dump (the last 2 times I went it was actually free), but, this does not accurately reflect the actual cost of disposing of garbage.  If we had to bear the cost as individuals of the garbage we generate and dispose of…as we rightly should…we may find new motivation to reduce and reuse things.

I also want to take some time to address the guilt many of us in this community have. You can see hints of this guilt in one of our RMWB council members quotes in a national paper, “As a community we're very strongly environmentally conscious. Frankly, we get a bad rap. Fort McMurray is associated almost singularly with oil sands and the external media tends to focus on the negative rather than what is being done and what is positive. Right from industry right down to the mother who's doing the shopping, we're always looking at ways at improving our environmental footprint.”  Clearly he echoes the sensitivity our community has about our status in the world.
Common in environmental activism rhetoric is that humans are sinful creatures and extreme environmentalists seem to advocate a world without humans. One environmentally conscious friend of mind suggested in a blog that Gaia was showing signs of eliminating its human parasites. It strikes me as self-hatred being projected outwards onto others, this is what humans do, we unconsciously project our inner world and anxieties on others. There is something wrong with feeling the need to defend ourselves against the mischaracterizations and lies of people who are selling their ideology and not interested in hearing what we have to say anyways. We shouldn’t feel the need to respond to bad press and lies, we should be telling the good news about the natural resource we have under our feet and how it is benefiting the world.

I think we should feel proud to be up here and in this economy.  We do this world a major service by producing the lifeblood of an economy. Energy consumption is required for all life to survive and flourish. Until alternatives come along, oil is needed in developing countries to bring them out of stone-age poverty, it is needed for human life to flourish.  Human life is not innately sinful, we are not the scourge of this planet, we are its caretakers, we are its greatest achievement, we are by virtue of having prefrontal cortexes its consciousness…we are the culmination of billions of years of simple systems becoming more complex and developing self-awareness.  Eventually we will kick our need for oil, and will continue to find new and better ways to steward the eco-system we rely on to survive, but right now oil is needed for our species to survive and pick itself up out of dirt  and squalor and we ought to be proud that we are helping our fellow humans out through the production of oil products.  The ramifications of stopping so-called “environmentally unfriendly” practices are that many millions of people suffer.  By some peoples definition this is environmentally friendly…not by mine, people are a legitimate part of the environment and this is definitely unfriendly to them.

Like garbage and litter, drug addiction is also bad. Common sense would say that passing laws banning these substances would be a good way of preventing their negative social effects, but decades of drug prohibition tell a different story, these laws actually contribute and add to the problem. Portugal legalized all drugs a decade ago and has seen a decline in addiction rates ever since. Instead of using guns to get people to change their behaviour Portugal is treating it as a health problem and connecting with the hearts and minds of the individuals to create sustainable change from within. The lesson here is the sustainable environmental and social change comes from first letting people be free to change, then connecting with them, hearing their needs first so that you can be heard and being open to learning…now put down your guns and lets talk.