March 22, 2010
In 1850 the United States was a peaceful place to live. Some portions of New York had some small, violent gangs, and the Mariposa Indians out in California reacted violently to gold miners abusing their land, and of course, slavery produced problems of its own, but none of that measured up to anything like the America we live in today. The vast majority of Americans went about their daily business unconcerned with anyone or anything beyond their immediate sphere of influence. We were truly free, both as a nation and as a people.
It was nothing like today.
The difference, in my never humble opinion, was that the America of 1850 knew and understood natural law. While I am not a philosopher on the scale of John Locke, I have spent my entire life fascinated with nature. In nature, there are precise rules of organization that no individual species is capable of violating without suffering severe consequences. One thing that city people will never understand, no matter how involved they are in environmentalism, is that nature is completely unforgiving. If you violate one of her laws you will suffer disability or death. There are no exceptions allowed, no excuses accepted.
There are many myths about how the natural world is organized. Most people who subscribe to those myths have never lived intimately entwined with nature. They are city dwellers fascinated with the beauty of the natural world. Tourists in paradise, if you will (but not this paradise: Paradise Lost (Oxford World's Classics), nor this one: The Fountainhead (Centennial Edition Hardcover))
In nature there are three kinds of relationships: exploitative (such as: Hawaii's Humpback Whales), symbiotic (such as: Symbiotic Planet: A New Look At Evolution), and parasitic (such as: Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures). Any fully functioning natural system will have examples of all three relationships existing side by side. Human beings like you and I (if you are reading this then by definition you must be human, there are no real-world exceptions) are part and parcel of the natural order of things.
People who live in cities are divorced from their natural role and are living in a very unnatural way because they are wholly dependent on third-party providers for the food, water, and other resources they need to survive. In nature, the human animal is an intelligent exploiter (we hunt, fish and forage) who has the ability to become a symbiotic contributor (through agriculture, intelligent foraging, or even system creation). The difference between an intelligent exploiter and an instinctive exploiter is that the intelligent exploiter understands their dependence on the system they live in. A squirrel, for example, is an intelligent exploiter. It gathers nuts produced by the system and stores them. In the same way, early humans would hunt or fish and then dry the surplus in order to have food during the winter.
A big advantage we humans have over the squirrel is that we have the ability to rise beyond a merely exploitative relationship with the system that shelters us and become active contributors to that system. We can choose to develop symbiotic relationships with the world around us. In a symbiotic relationship both parties gain something and both parties contribute something. Although in recent years it has become fashionable to discredit them, oxpecker birds enjoy a symbiotic relationship with many different kinds of large mammals. The bird gets a simplified food search while the animal is freed of any number of parasites.
Humans shift from purely exploitative relationships into symbiotic relationships in any number of ways. One of the simplist is by the selection process used during foraging. Northern California natives such as the Wappo, for example, were often referred to as "digger indians" by the European settlers because of the way they used long sticks during their foraging. What those Europeans overlooked was how the Wappo uprooted and discarded unwanted plants while loosening the soil around young plants they favored. By doing this they maintained their natural system, minimizing the presence of invasive and destructive plants such as poison oak while encouraging useful plants such as wild grapes.
Farming is another way humans can shift from a purely exploitative to a symbiotic relationship with their surroundings. Not in the vast, commercial farms needed to feed all those millions of dependent city dwellers in our modern world, but in the smaller farms where an individual or a family gathers seeds of local plants they favor and plants them in the immediate area of their home. By doing this they alter the local environment in a way that can dramatically improve the biodiversity and biomass. In Japan, for example, it was recently discovered that abandoned satoyama-style village sites had dramatically higher populations of poisonous vipers, fewer varieties of birds, and dramatically reduced diversity of insect species than a functioning satoyama. Even worse, although frogs and salamanders were widespread in a functioning satoyama, in the abandoned ones these species were completely non-existent! In other words, the presence of a human village was good for the local ecology!
Parasitic relationships are also natural. However, they are the most destructive of the three and as a result, the number of active parasites in a given eco-system is always a small portion of the total biomass. Leeches, for example, are only able to multiply in slow-moving, stagnant waters that cannot support fish and amphibians. It is only when a lake or river system begins to collapse that leeches appear and grow plentiful. Parasites live a very precarious existence. Generally speaking, they contribute nothing to an ecology. As a result, when the ecosystem is functional and viable, parasites are few in number. When parasites become too numerous, the system collapses and it is only after the parasites die off that the system recovers. Black-tailed deer on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, for example, always exhibit more incidents of tick-infested animals just prior to a population die-off than they do when the deer population is low. Parasites are part and parcel of a dying system, not a healthy one.
What does any of this have to do with anything? Well, in 1850 the majority of Americans lived in rural environments. Among European settlers small-scale farms were abundant while native tribes lived by foraging or hunting. The only place where large-scale agriculture took place was in the slaveholding areas. In those areas, despite a bustling agriculture-based economy, food was routinely imported. Southerners imported beef from Missouri and Texas, grain from Ohio and Illinois.
A decade later the Civil War tore the nation apart. The Southern economy, parasitic in nature with its high dependence on the North and West for basic food supplies and manufactured goods, had been collapsing for some time. Money was concentrated in the non-slaveholding portion of the nation largely because of the parasitic nature of slaveholding as an institution. You see, slavery forced the South to send more and more money out of the area in order to feed themselves and their slaves. The presence of slaves was a constant, fixed economic drain that the Southern plantation owners refused to recognize, blaming the rest of the nation for their problems instead. The violent collapse of this parasitic economy killed over half a million Americans.
Modern America is no different. Our increasing emphasis on city life, city culture, and urban lifestyles has created a lop-sided economy. The parasitic nature of this economy has forced us to shift most of our production capability to Mexico, China, India, and Southeast Asia. We can no longer afford to provide our workers with the financial compensation they need to buy food, get healthcare, and acquire other necessary items. We have become a net importer of everything we consume, including food. Because this is not a natural way for the human animal to live, our cities are infested with narcotics, poverty, violent crime, and pollution. Instead of providing incentives for people to move back into the countryside, we disincentivize such movement through unrealistic and destructive environmental regulation. We should be making it easy for people to move into the countryside, but instead, we trivialize the contributions of farmers, cast aspersions on ranchers, and create labrythine usage regulations that favor a two-inch long fish over thousands of working farm families.
Now, in the first of what threatens to be many regulations that feed the parasites while killing off the producers, yesterday the 111th Congress passed a bill forcing the top 15% of working age adults to pay for the healthcare demanded by the bottom 15% who prefer sitting around getting high. The next item on the agenda is "cap and trade", which forces 85% of the American people to suffer dramatic reductions in their quality of life in order to allow the remaining 15% to continue living in luxury, with the excuse being the overproduction of a harmless gas that encourages plant growth. Some people will call this "fair". What those people are overlooking is how taking the resources of the wealthy in order to bring comfort to the poor helps no one. The poor are encouraged to continue their parasitic lifestyles while the wealthy soon run out of resources, leaving them poor as well!
This is not natural. A progressive agenda favors the growth and expansion of a parasitic lifestyle. Not only is this unnatural and harmful to those trapped in it, the drain on the overall system will be unsustainable. By nature we are intelligent exploiters or symbiotes and not parasites. Natural human societies contribute to the system through expansion of beneficial plants and animals rather than merely exploiting the system until it collapses (which is a self-destructive choice we can make but would be wise to avoid). Instead of healthcare reform or cap and trade, we need to be setting in place systems which will encourage city dwellers to move out into the countryside and set up small, environmentally beneficial agricultural businesses by providing them incentives such as tax breaks, low-interest loans, and easy access to local markets. Despite over two centuries of intense development, there are still massive amounts of land that with careful nurturing could be made to support both food crops for human consumption and dynamic ecosystems with high biodiversity.
In my never humble opinion, the key to America's future lies in the encouragement of small-scale farming of the kind I am trying to build here in Ohio. We still need factories, naturally, along with powerplants and highways. Naturally this means we will still have to have cities with concentrated labor forces and industrial production. We will still need large-scale commercial farms to feed the city dwellers. Healthcare reform such as that passed yesterday, however, does not encourage industry. It encourages people to be lazy, to sit around getting high instead of looking for work in factories and shops or working in their yards to produce food to supplement their family's budget and diet. We need to encourage something more akin to the 19th Century Japanese satoyama than to 19th Century London.
How do we do this?
It starts with reducing the size and reach of the American government. Our government, like any government, is wholly and completely parasitic in nature. Government always is. The larger the parasite becomes, the more likely it is to kill the host. At this point in time the parasite has already surpassed the host in size and consumption; thus, the debt clock, rapidly counting down the days until we implode. Our only hope is to dramatically reduce the size of the parasite by cutting off limbs and apendages and seeing to it they do not regenerate.
Consider the EPA, for example, despite all they accomplished in the first decade of their existence, for the past two decades they have become highly destructive and now we are at the point where places like Angel Island see massive numbers of malnourished deer, places like south Ohio see wild pigs destroying tens of thousands of acres of farmland, and places like the Florida Everglades see more invasive species than native! Ecosystems throughout the United States were better balanced and had higher biodiversity before the EPA started regulating everything under the sun than they have now. What good has the EPA accomplished? Well, Los Angeles has about six smog-free days per year and a dozen or so former mines have been converted to forest. On the other hand, tens of thousands of companies have moved their factories outside the United States in order to avoid expenses related to EPA compliance issues, creating jobs overseas while leaving the American workforce sitting at home getting high.
A century and a half of progressivism has failed us. Sure, the slaves were freed and women gained the right to vote. I would never suggest reversing those two accomplishments. Also, all of our major cities now have better air quality than at any time since the late 19th Century. That was quite an accomplishment, too! But at what cost? The children of those slaves are slaughtering each other in our streets as they seek to control the underground market for marijuana, opiates, and stimulants. Is this what the slaves were freed for? So that their children could kill each other over drug sales? Somehow I don't believe that is the future either the slaves or the abolitionists hoped for.
As recently as the decade following World War Two, black neighborhoods outside the South had high employment, stable families, good schools, and vibrant economies. For everything the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s achieved, the downside has been bankrupting an entire generation that had already achieved economic and social parity! Why? Because every solution created by the Civil Rights movement has been parasitic. It led to greater, more overbearing government agencies, higher taxes, more complex regulations, and a younger generation convinced that because their ancestors were slaves they themselves should live the life of kings and queens supported by their ancestor's oppressors! This is completely unnatural!
Kings and queens were parasites. It took centuries, but over time their grip on the host was loosened, their power diminished, and now those who remain are little more than pretty figureheads. One of the most powerful tools in destroying their hold on human society was the creation of the United States of America through warfare, consolidation, and the creation of the Constitution of the United States.
We must, it seems, have a parasite. Every natural system has a few. However, natural law is very strict. If the parasite becomes too large, the host dies. The healthcare bill that passed yesterday dramatically increases the size and reach of the parasite. When Pres. Obama signs it into law, he will be insuring the death of the host. This expansion is unsustainable. It has proven unsustainable in Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan, and even in Massachusetts. Natural law dictates that it will be unsustainable for us as well.
Think back on the "digger" tribes of California. They enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with their environment. The satoyama in Japan was the same. In fact, the Japanese system worked so well it survived for over ten thousand years without any major changes! These are perfect examples of natural law in action.
Now ask yourself, what rights and freedoms did those people enjoy? They were free to think and feel whatever they liked. In the satoyama, unlike in the cities and lowlands, the Japanese peasants during the most oppressive periods in history still enjoyed freedom of expression and belief within their community. Neither the Wappo nor the satoyama villages were subject to taxation. The Wappo because they had no central government and the satoyama because they remained outside the reach of the central government. They ate the products of their own labors, and even though they shared their surplus, no one forced them to share through confiscation and redistribution schemes.
Likewise, the Europeans in North America's open frontier lands. Any taxes they paid were collected locally and used locally. No one tried to tell them what to think or how to feel. They were free to speak their mind and did so openly (see: Village Life in America, 1852-1872). Freedom, thanks to small government with limited reach, was part and parcel of everyday life.
Notice something else, they had no "right" to employment (if they did not work, they did not eat!), no "right" to healthcare (even in villages, the shamans and healers charged a fee for their services), and no "right" to the products their neighbors produced. If they wanted to eat pork, they had to hunt for a pig. If they wanted grain or vegetables, they had to either grow them or go out and forage for them. If they needed new clothes they had to make them. When their tools broke, they had to make new ones. This is what natural law is for human life. It is independent, resourceful, and intelligent. Anyone who does not hunt, forage, or farm, starves to death. Remember, nature is completely unforgiving. If you violate natural law, you will suffer the consequences. Creating dependency on a parasitic government through expansion of entitlement programs which allow an individual to live off the production of others is analogous to one vampire bat feeding off another. If two parasites attempt to feed off one another, both of them die.
No human society can survive the violation of natural law. Continuing to encourage the poor to feed off the parasitic government creates an unsustainable condition where two parasites feed off one another while the host they both depend upon slowly dies. That is where we are now. The poor feeds off the government, the government feeds off wealthy people until they are poor, forcing the host to become a parasite.
Natural law allows no exceptions, accepts no excuses. A big government with massive bureaucratics enforcing countless regulations along with entitlement programs like Social Security and Welfare have already disabled us. Healthcare reform of the kind that has just passed will most certainly kill us.