I'm currently re-reading Rachel Carson. I think it's instructive reading.
How did this book spark what we now know of as the Environmental Movement?
If you've never read the book, I think the answer is in Chaper One, titled "A Fable for Tomorrow".
"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings" (Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Mariner Books, 20o2) the fable begins. And at the end of the fable?
"A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.
"What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain." (ibid)
Whether or not Ms. Carson's criticism of the use of pesticides is accurate or not, the template was set. Argument cloaked as science.
Ms. Carson was not a hack. She had strongly held beliefs that she supported with research. Whether or not her research still stands isn't necessary for this argument. She, herself, has stated that her objective was not to end the use of pesticides. And whether or not you agree with all, some or none of her conclusions isn't necessary for this argument. She may, or may not have been, correct in all or some of her conclusions.
That isn't important.
What is important is the template that she set for discussions about issues about which most of us know nothing.
Allow me to briefly to digress.
I, like thousands of other Oregon State grads, had the chance to study under and know Frank Dost.
Professor Dost attempted, like other Oregon State professors--before and after his tenure--to teach the truth. When others in the institution were dedicating their lives to an agenda, Dr. Dost was dedicating his to understanding the role that chemicals played in improving our lives. Or, to look at the other side, how a lack of chemicals applied appropriately could damage our lives.
Imagine the work of Paul Ehrlich being stopped because his work relied upon the use chemical compounds to end disease. And yet, today, modern revanchism decries the use of chemicals. (One of the dopier examples of this is the battle against plastic bags at grocery stores.)
And, again I note, that even Ms. Carson's intent was not to end the use of chemical treatments against pests. Or silvaculture. Or medicine.
And, again, that's not the point. It was the template that resulted from her publication of "Silent Spring" and the resultant tempest it created between populist politicians and corporate America. Here, in the first chapter of what was otherwise an informative work, was a narrative that moved people to be afraid.
What was, and is, at stake? An ability to apply the knowledge we have gained as a race to win our battle over our environment. And that is a curious distinction to make when talking to environmentalists.
It seems to me that to the environmentalist, all of us would be better off if we spent more time emulating the lifestyle of the 13th century indigenous American. Or, Indian. There has sprung from modern--or post-modern--American political thought the strange belief that if we were "more in tune with Nature" our lives would be better. And yet nothing empirically could be further from the truth.
Whether you need to re-learn the word pasteurisation, re-examine the work of Dr. Salk, or make a shout-out to your best friend on your cell phone, the idea that your life would be better "if only" we were more like the gentle creatures imagined by the Left as husbands of the Earth of 13th century America, you are leading a delusional life. Trust me. You wouldn't be reading this if that were so.
But the rational mind was never meant to be the target of Ms. Carson's work. Before the work actually met the mainstream, it was carefully crafted into a series of magazine articles that teased the imagination. Or, more like viewing pictures of the results of myasthenia gravis, meant to tittilate the imagination. The horror! The horror!
So, who read, with comprehension, the major body of her opus? Well, next to nobody.
It has been suggested that fewer than 10 percent of the US population has any understanding of the fundamentals behind the science of chemistry. Not science. Or sciencey stuff.
And yet here is a book, Silent Spring, which relies upon the readers ability to follow the narrative thread following Chapter One. What does this mean?
"It is now known that the mitochondra are tiny packets of enzymes, a varied assortment including all the enzymes necessary for the oxidative cycle, arranged in precise and orderly array on walls and partitions. The mitochondria are the 'powerhouses' in which most of the energy-producing reactions occur. After the first, preliminary steps of oxidation have been performed in the cytoplasm the fuel molecule is taken into the mitochondria. It is here that oxidation is completed; it is here that enormous amounts of energy are released." (ibid)
If the quote above makes sense and you disagree with my argument (that the whole basis of the environmental movement is based upon popular hysteria) then how can you find yourself in disagreement with the author of the work, Ms. Carson, who has clearly stated that it was never her intention to end the use of chemicals to control man's pests?
Instead, rather than lose the velocity behind the hysterical argument, you deny the truth of the value and use of chemicals in modern society. As your computer relies upon arsenium, lithium and what other chemicals, to read this missive? At what point will your own honesty stretch to make consonant the truth of your needs with the dishonesty of your politics?
So, what are the commons? And why is the definition of the commons important?
Because the use of chemicals is a private right. And the commons has been extended beyond the public square into the private rights of property.
Do you have the right to use penicillin?
Do you, if you live in Washington, South Dakota or Connecticut, have the right to limit the miners of arsenium?Is the use of arsenium a violation of the commons?
And would it matter if you knew that arsenium is just another name for arsenic oxide?
Do you have the right to use it?
After Silent Spring the template was set. It was never important after that point whether or not the science was good. What was important was the narrative. And Silent Spring resulted in the largest taking of private rights that we have experienced as a people.
In the rush to avoid waking up tomorrow dead, whole categories of useful chemicals were thrown into the drink. In an attempt to avoid some science fiction calamity, the usefullness of chemicals was distorted. All the while, we advanced, even through the prescience of The Graduate's introduction to "plastics". (And I am a fan of Frank's "plastic boots and plastic hats, and you think you know where it's at".)
Regardless of the contempt that we have felt towards the chemical industry, you couldn't live without it. No, not figuratively. Literally.
From the hypodermic syringes that your doctor uses to vaccinate your children, to the sensors that regulate your engine's performance, plastics, chemicals, compounds have improved your life, shortened the burdens of your work day, and improved the likelyhood that your child would survive serious injury. Changes in our understanding the of way the world works has increase our lives two-fold. If you are over the age of fifty, you are only living because of our understanding of chemicals and the role they play in our lives.
But the template set by Ms. Carson's work won't allow you to admit that truth.
Chemicals kill. We'll wake up tomorrow living in a silent spring.
Get real. Nature is out to kill you. Nature's ability to kill you is greater than your ability to kill it. Test it. Go outside and hit Nature with an axe. If Nature is still alive, try a gun.
We've been gifted with the ability to hold Nature at our doorstep. Not always successfully. Just ask me about the effects of the December 2nd storm. Or those who have lost their battle against flood or tornado.
But there are still those folks out there who view the 13th century in some type of weird reverence. Like totems and dream catchers are all you need for successful living. (These people, we call hippies.)
And these people are dangerous. These are the people who would restrict the use of the commons for their own religious ends. Rather than being concerned about your children and your children's health, they will deny you the use of the true commons to achieve a religious end; the recreation of the 13th century hogan, replete with running sores and diseases.
The worst misuse of the commons is as an impediment to its use at all.
In Hardin's essay, he talks about the fault of over-grazing. But today we're not talking about over-grazing or sustainable use. We're talking about denying the commons to any user that we disagree with. If a corporation asks to use the commons, we must deny the use of the commons because the corporation is only interested in profit.
I've read and re-read Hardin and I find his criticism relies upon the use of the commons. How did we get to this pass?
It gets back to the hysteria generated by Silent Spring. One day we end up dead. Or, according to the former Vice-President, we have thirty foot waves enveloping New York City and dead polar bears floating in the flotsam. So, to avoid this pass, we must end resource utilization!
Carbon! Carbon! Everywhere, Carbon! And not a drop to drink. (There is no carbon in water, but there is in Coca-Cola!)
What are the Commons if the use of the commons is denied to those who find use there? They become the province of the religously motivated. Sure, it's the religion of Gaia, of Earth Worship, but a religion nonetheless.
And I, for one, want to assert my use of the commons. Whether individually or corporately. The Commons are for use. And whether it's the ANWR tract in Alaska, or off-shore drilling in Oregon, California or Florida I demand my right to the commons.
And the arguments in opposition have been full of worry and care, and short of consequence.
Perhaps it's time to take back the Commons.