Thursday, April 10, 2003

I have an old friend, with whom I haven’t spoken in some time. The last time I saw her, she was with her significant other, who was decidedly Marxist – well…I don’t presume to offer a label for her own particular nuanced flavor of communism – but I gathered from our long conversation that she was pretty hostile to capitalism. I consider my friend a brilliant artist and while I was only just meeting her girlfriend for the first time, she struck me as possessing a quick, clever wit. My friend, at the time had just received an impressive post-graduate degree from a highly-esteemed art school and her girlfriend was pursuing the like from the same. They are both within five years of my age, I believe. These are smart people.

I think their particular type of intelligence exacerbates the issue I was kvetching about in my 4/6 post. I learned a lot from my discussion that evening, vis-à-vis trying to package very pragmatic concepts in a way that speaks to lateral-thinking minds, but there was much that I felt I communicated, perhaps accurately, but not compellingly. While this was many months ago, these things roll and loll in my cranium and since only Skye reads this thing, I thought I’d try to repackage some of my libertarian yang to her communist yin.

One of the sort-of subcutaneous threads of the discussion was the perceived dichotomy between science and nature. She seemed to suggest that the results of the application of science and empiricism were ugly, dehumanizing and destroying the planet. She is by no means alone in her belief.

Let me really get down to primacy here. Real freedom for all individuals is a product of enlightenment philosophy. In particular, empiricism suggests that you can prevent people from lording over you through appeals to religion or the supernatural, by testing their claims against your own experience. This is practical for everyone provided the issue is a very simple one like, “if you don’t do my bidding, you’ll immediately be struck by lightning” – anyone can test this claim – but empirical knowledge of some things require special tools. For example, your practical knowledge of the moon is dramatically increased through the intercession of a telescope.

One of the dangers she mentioned – and I’ve heard it mentioned many times – is that posed by industrialized farming practices. When examining this issue, the equivalent “telescopes” of agricultural science produce dazzling images like this one. Here are some highlights:

“Stated simply, 1960 yields would require virtually all of the land not yet being used for crops — or taken out of cultivation for habitat and wildlife conservation — to be cultivated.”

“Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer costs money, so farmers attempt to become more efficient in its use. The best measure of this is the ratio of nitrogen in the fertilizer applied to the nitrogen in the crop. This ratio fell for American farmers by 2% per year from 1986 to 1995.”

“…water needs for food per capita halved between 1961 and 2001…”

“…cropland for grain-fed animals to produce meat for Americans shrank 2.2% annually…”
These things are all a result of the technologies employed. Seeing these kind of results is especially noteworthy when you consider that agriculture is probably the oldest human technology – we’ve pretty well sussed it out.

Now what the hell was I talking about?

Sorry about the length of the post, Skye.

Jeez, my one reader makes one request, "keep the posts short like you have been," and I've already blown it.

posted by Malaclypse the Tertiary at 12:52 AM ·

Smart Blogs:
(in no particular order)
Deinonychus Antirrhopus
The Knowledge Problem
The Volokh Conspiracy
The Kolkata Libertarian
Andrew Sullivan
Little Green Footballs
Dave Barry
Libertarian Samizdata
Balloon Juice
Discount Blogger
Truck and Barter
Peking Duck
The Gweilo Diaries

Ludwig von Mises Institute
The Cato Institute
Junk Science
David Friedman
Tech Central Station

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