How Not To Fight Environmentalism

Environmentalists succeed largely because they are able to pretend that their goal is to protect nature for man, while the truth is that they want to protect nature from man. They regularly oppose projects that demonstrably benefit human beings, on the grounds that nature—fish, turtles, owls, trees, wetlands—will be damaged.

While at first environmentalists made some nominal claims about how people would ultimately be harmed, such claims have now become largely unnecessary. The environmentalists’ “package-deal,” which blurs the distinction between effects on nature and effects on man, has become entrenched in people’s minds. Consequently, many people now regard the value of preserving the “environment” as a given.

Even professed opponents of environmentalism accept this premise. Consider the campaign currently being waged by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a generally good, pro-capitalist organization. It is opposing the policies that are exacerbating, and perpetuating, the effects of California’s drought. Or rather, it is trying to oppose them.

The headline in its latest newsletter says: “PLF Fights government ‘Green’ Policies That Help Turn California Brown.” In order to protect the Delta smelt—a fish on the official endangered-species list—the government there has been diverting water away from reservoirs. But instead of categorically stating that human life is the source of our values, and that man has rights while fish, and the “environment,” do not, PLF is accepting the environmentalists’ main premise.

“We litigate for the urgent needs—human and environmental—that the feds ignore,” PLF declares. It complains that “the water cutoffs for the smelt hurt other species (along with millions of human beings).” Government bureaucrats, PLF says, must be “made to recognize that their responsibility extends to all species affected by their decisions—including human beings.”

To say that we should be concerned with both human and environmental needs, is to concede everything. It’s like saying that the reason to clean your house is that it is both good for you and good for your house. Which means that we have to “protect” the house from being dirtied, irrespective of any effect on you. But there is no intrinsic value to cleanliness as such, nor to a house as such, nor to nature as such, when divorced from its value to human beings.

And underlying the environmentalist ideology is the ethics of self-sacrifice. This is the ethics under which you have no moral right to your self-interest, but rather must subordinate it to the needs of any non-you—including the Delta smelt. 

With respect to environmentalist assertions, therefore, about the need to keep endangered species and free-flowing rivers and swampland unaffected by man, the proper response is threefold: first, an insistence that the life of rational, productive man be taken as the standard of value; second, an insistence that only after there is objective evidence of harm to human beings can any discussion even begin; and third, an insistence that the individual has no moral duty to sacrifice his well-being to that of animals and plants. (For more on the meaning of this ethics, see the chapter “The Goal of Self-Sacrifice” in my book, In Defense of Selfishness amzn.to/1sd2EQP).♦♦ 

Altruism and Patriotism

You can love something even as you try to change it. You cannot, however, love something that you are trying to change into its opposite. The same applies to the question of whether President Obama genuinely loves America.

Patriotism is a rational attitude toward one’s country—when it deserves to be loved. But to someone living in a nation with a long heritage of authoritarian rule, the proper attitude toward his country is hatred—a hatred of being enslaved, a hatred of being prevented from living his life and achieving his goals. If he tries to change the nature of his country by fighting for freedom, he is being motivated by a love for that which his country is not. He has evaluated it as something bad and he wants to transform it into something good.

According to the code of altruism, however, this evaluation holds true for America.

Altruism demands self-sacrifice. It demands that you surrender your money, your values, your rights for the sake of others. It declares that you have a moral duty to subordinate your interests to the needs of others, and that the state must enforce that duty by taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have-nots.” It demands that the individual be sacrificed to the collective.

And since it does not stand for collectivism, America—according to this philosophy—is an object of opprobrium. After all, the rest of the industrialized world has nationalized health care, yet we still have a private, selfish system. We have severe inequality in incomes—we have an economy that is not fully regulated—we permit greedy corporations to “underpay” their workers—we allow the rich to keep too much of their money—we have an inadequate welfare state—we fail to provide free college education, free child care, free birth control. There is too much self-interest in pursuit of private profit, and not enough self-sacrifice in pursuit of the “public interest click this site.” Under the altruist-collectivist ethics, America should not be loved; it should, instead, be reshaped into something very different.

America was founded on the idea of individual rights—the idea that you have a right to your life, your liberty and the pursuit of your happiness. It was the first nation in history to be established on the principle of freedom, the freedom to live for your own sake without coercion by the state. This principle is what distinguished this country from others. It is what defined American exceptionalism. It is what made America a magnet that drew immigrants, from all over the world, who wanted to live in the land of opportunity—the opportunity to make what they could of their lives by their own efforts, not the opportunity to have the state provide for their needs.

This is what America was and, in its core spirit, still is—and it is what the collectivists seek to quash. “You didn’t build that,” President Obama says scornfully. This country, he believes, must forsake its foundation of independence and its heritage of individual liberty.  Consequently, he embraces a foreign policy under which the citizen is ordered to sacrifice for an international collective, and a domestic policy under which he is ordered to sacrifice for a national collective. He embraces an ethics incompatible with that of a free society.

President Obama may declare that he loves America—but it is an America that, by having abandoned its original principles, has been transformed into its antithesis.♦♦ 

Christmas, Objectivism and Selfishness—
Objecting to a “Season of Giving”

The “season of giving” comes with its own set of commandments. Give back, we’re told. Remember the needy. Don’t give because it makes you feel good; give because it’s the right thing to do. But these platitudes don’t represent my perspective on the Christmas season. As an Objectivist, I’ve adopted an ethics not of altruism but of rational self-interest. . . .

To see the full article, published as an op-ed in the Washington Post, click here

Also published in the Chicago Tribune, under the headline "Christmas with Ayn Rand"—click here