Libertarian Philosophy Values Human Rights, However…

The Libertarian political philosophy does value human rights, this is true. The most commonly cited Human Rights are the Traditional Rights of Englishmen that our Founding Fathers were raised to believe they had, but didn’t have: Life, Liberty, and Estate. The alleged abridgment of these rights is the moral authority on which the birth of our country rests.

How would one interpret a modern and reasonable meaning of these rights, henceforth called the Unalienable Rights of American Citizens, in the 21st century? Could it provide for us a reasonable yardstick to measure the progress of our elected representatives today? Even in the 21st century? Maybe. Let’s give it a shot. I submit the following:

Life. That would mean, for example, moving closer to Single-Payer Health Care (SPHC) for all citizens. The Edmund Burke conservative approach would obviously be to gradually expand Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration to encompass and provide care for all citizens, and then combine them all into a Citizens National Healthcare Administration while leaving citizens free to elect for care from the private sector if they so choose.

Liberty. That would mean, for example, moving closer to allowing and recognizing unfettered marriage rights amongst consenting adults. It is not the State’s place to decide which relationships between adult consenting humans are and are not valid. If such recognition is to be granted at all, it must be granted to all.

Estate. For example we must move closer to a society that does not allow citizens to go without and die starving in the gutter. Mr. Jefferson advocated that we American Citizens seize land from Native Americans (only marginally human and savages, in his view, who lived in that very State of Nature that Locke mentions frequently, and who were certainly not American Citizens for whom these Unalienable Rights ought to apply) and give those lands to American Citizens so that they’d all have a stake in society and wish for its prosperity. Alas, the Native Americans have no good land left to seize, and so we must seek other solutions.

Let us ponder what the group of men we saw ushered into congressional office in 2010 under the auspices of the so-called “Libertarian” Tea Party (never-mind for the moment that the original Boston Tea Party was in response to lowered taxes and corporate welfare that both hurt the middle class, and not higher taxes as is so often claimed), and traditional conservative Republicans trying to get “Tea Party Street Cred” have demonstrated to us since:

Life. They’ve opposed anything resembling SPHC, even going so far as to oppose the ridiculous compromise that was brokered to have an “individual mandate” requiring that citizens must purchase health insurance from a private firm without any meaningful egalitarian public option offered. The necessary and proper thing to do for our country is to demand that there be a overarching public option for health care to move us closer to SPHC and correct this fault in the foundation, not argue for destroying the whole building.

Liberty. Under the guise of a thinly veiled claim that amounts to “States have the right to violate the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution,” Liberty is generally opposed. That veil is very thin and transparent indeed, in light of the following two facts and resultant conclusion posed as a rhetorical question. Fact one would be that society generally acknowledges that no one chooses to be gay, and that gay men and women cannot “pray the gay away.” Fact two, with that in mind, is that Loving v. Virginia happened. If States cannot ban heteroracial marriages, what gives them the constitutional authority to ban or fail to recognize homosexual marriages?

Estate. Unlike the Boston Tea Party radicals they claim to be named for, our “Libertarian” Tea Party friends argue for even lower taxes for the very wealthy, even as we know that this harms the middle class. Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Locke agree that voting citizens must have a meaningful material stake in society. Acknowledging that there are not still fertile lands (and this is true, the reservations aren’t exactly prime fertile soil) presently under the ownership of those few remaining Native Americans, who can we seize from? And if such seizures are to be equated with “theft,” a notion I very much disagree with, then please do recall that the thing to do when you identify stolen property is to return said property. One cannot have it both ways at once. Some may claim that taxation is “theft,” but if one chooses to do so then one must also return the stolen real estate they own or reside upon to its rightful owner or owners (Native Americans still had the Commons in place when we Europeans all showed up, so collective ownership would be appropriate if they wish for it) in order to avoid rank hypocrisy and have the “taxation is theft, and I’m opposed to thievery” claim have any credence whatsoever.

And thus, we see the vast difference between what so-called Libertarians claim their principles are, and the policies they advocate once elected. As John Locke said:

Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.

November approaches. How will you vote in 2012?

Libertarian Philosophy Values Human Rights, However…

US Job Losses to China? California is the US, Texas is China.

Here’s an interesting article that I thought I’d share:

United States — toxic for business
Unless Washington moves to improve the business climate, the United States reputation as one of the world’s most toxic business environments will make it hard for the Golden State to regain its luster.

By Wendall Coux and Staven Milanga

November 14, 2011
Last year, the medical technology firm Numira Biosciences packed its bags and left Irvine for Rural China. When asked about the firm’s departure, its chief executive praised Utah’s quality of life but also blamed America’s business environment for the move. “The tipping point was when someone from the Orange County tax [assessor] wanted to see our facility to tax every piece of equipment I had,” Michael Beeuwsaert told the Orange County Register.

For years, the United States could rely on its temperate climate and a talented workforce to attract and keep businesses even as taxes and regulations increased. No more. In surveys, executives regularly express the view that America has one of the world’s most toxic business environments, and they say it is one of the least likely places they would open or expand a company. Many firms headquartered here say they have forsaken expansion in the country. Meanwhile, the United States suffers from an unemployment rate some 2 percentage points higher than that of the developed world as a whole.

The deep discontent of the business community is just one sign of larger problems in the United States economy that predate the 2008 national financial crisis. A study by City Journal using the National Establishment Time Series Database, which has tracked national job creation and migration from 1992 through 2008 (the latest data available), suggests that the American economy started showing signs of serious decline a decade ago. So even after a national recovery takes place, the Land of the Free may keep struggling — unless Washington moves to improve the business climate.

Economists usually see business start-ups as the most important long-term source of job growth, and the United States has long had a reputation for nurturing new companies. Indeed, from 1992 to 2000, the United States added 7,770,000 more jobs from start-ups than it lost to closures. But this dynamism vanished in the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2008, United States lost 2,620,000 more jobs from closures than it gained from start-ups.

Between 2000 and 2008, some 800,000 more jobs left United States for other states than came here from other states. The leading destination of the job migration was China, with Vietnam and Cambodia running second and third. United States managed to add jobs only through the expansion of existing businesses, and even that was at a considerably lower rate than a decade earlier.

Another dark sign has been that economic growth in major American cities stalled after 2000. Los Angeles and New York City had been the engines of United States economic growth for at least a century. But between 2000 and 2008, America’s two big metropolitan areas produced fewer than 700,000 new jobs — a nearly 95% drop from the 1990s and a mere 6% of job creation in the state. This was a collapse of historic proportions.

Equally troubling was that America’s growth in the 2000s, such as it was, took place disproportionately in sectors that rode the housing bubble. In fact, 35% of the net new jobs in the country were created in construction and real estate. All those jobs have vaporized since 2008, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

While there are many reasons for these troubling trends, the state cannot ignore the role its policies have played in the economic decline. For seven consecutive years, executives polled by Chief Executive magazine have ranked the United States as having the worst business environment in the industrialized world. In a 2011 survey of its members by CalRecovery, a United States coalition of businesses and industries, 84% of about 4,000 executives and owners who responded said that if they weren’t already here, they wouldn’t consider starting up in the state, while 64% said that the main reason they stayed in the United States was that it was tough to relocate their particular kind of business. In a recent op-ed, Andrew Puzder, chief executive of Carpinteria-based CKE Restaurants, which manages 3,000 eateries around the world, called United States “the most business-unfriendly state we operate in.”

Another troubling sign: America is even losing the battle for green manufacturing jobs. Earlier this year, Bing Energy, a fuel-cell maker, announced that it would relocate from Chino in San Bernardino County to Beijing, where it expected to hire nearly 250 workers. “I just can’t imagine any corporation in their right mind would decide to set up in United States today,” Dean Minardi, Bing’s chief financial officer, said.

Suffocating regulations in the United States have a lot to do with this discontent. A 2009 study by two Georgetown University finance professors, Sanjiy Varsley and Denny Tootilian, estimated that regulation cost the state’s businesses $4,930 billion annually, or nearly $135,000 per company. Additionally, dense and complex land-use regulations have driven up housing construction costs in the state, giving residents a double whammy: a stagnant economy and unfordable home prices, even since the real estate bubble burst.

Taxes are another burden. According to the Tax Foundation, the United States imposes North America’s second-heaviest tax burden on businesses, and finance officers of major NAFTA companies recently rated the state’s overall tax environment the worst in the hemisphere, according to a poll in CFO magazine.

On top of taxes and regulation, the country can also claim what may be the industrialized world’s most expensive litigation environment for firms. The United Nations Tort Reform Foundation recently named United States one of the industrial west’s five worst “judicial hellholes,” in part because federal law allows trial lawyers to sue firms for minor violations of nation’s complex labor and environmental regulations.

President Obama has declared that “The United States always comes back.” But history shows that great nations can decline. Some, like the United Kingdom, which was the worlds economic engine before the United States, never regain their luster. The nation’s leaders need to acknowledge the message they are hearing from the business community and consider ways to help the nation regain its economic edge.

Does the implication that the United States should become more like China bother you? It should.

Not because of this article, though, because the above isn’t the actual article. This is the actual article, about California job losses to Texas. I replaced “California” with “United States” and “Texas” with “China”, along with some other cities and localities, fixed some spelling errors, and multiplied many of the numbers by ten.

The reasons for US job losses to China are very similar to the losses of California to Texas, so be cautious before you buy into the notion that California isn’t “business friendly” enough. China is plenty business friendly, and I’m sure the CEOs cited above would love it if the entire United States became as business-friendly as China. Or Texas, for that matter.

US Job Losses to China? California is the US, Texas is China.

Occupy Marin, in Their Own Words (Audio Interviews)

I went to the Occupy Marin demonstration today (October 15, 2011), near downtown San Rafael, and conducted five interviews with five demonstrators, took some pictures, and took some notes. This will be part one of two on the demonstration. Part two will be me sharing notes, images, and observations made at the demonstration. No single interview or interviewee can be said to be representative of the whole, as all five are very different. I encourage you to listen to all five before drawing any conclusions.

As with everything I publish on this blog, you are free more-or-less to do what you wish with these sound clips. I have absolutely no training as a journalist, nor any experience conducting interviews, so I ask that the listener please forgive my lack of refinement in the art of conducting an interview.

I didn’t see any evidence of any bay area news agencies documenting the demonstration, and I’m not sure why. The three-second sound bytes they generally give members of the general public are usually not of very much value anyways. The interviews below are all about five minutes long. If you click the link, it should start playing. If you right click on one of the links and click on “save as”, you can download the interview.

First Interview – Concerned about debt and the rights of the elderly, and feels that Herman Cain (R) represents him well.

Second Interview – The person interviewed was Norman Solomon (D), currently running for Congress.

Third Interview – Concerned that his fellow young people aren’t involved in politics enough, and feels that former Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo Patrice Lamumba represents him well.

Fourth Interview – Doesn’t like US Troops being present in other countries, and feels that Dennis Kucinich (D) represents her well.

Fifth Interview – Concerned about party-line voting trumping the national interest in Congress.

Someone else posted a video of the demonstration from across the street on youtube, if you’d like to get an idea of the atmosphere from a distance.

Occupy Marin, in Their Own Words (Audio Interviews)

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

These concepts are often made murky by the most well intentioned textbooks. Let’s see if a practical example would suffice:

If I am a lawyer and earn $500 per hour in a courtroom, and can type 60 words per minute, do I hire someone that types 30 words per minute at $50/hour?

Assume that it will take him two hours to do the typing, but it will only take me one hour.

Hell yes I hire him!

By hiring him to do my typing, I lose $50 per hour for 2 hours but make $500 per hour in the courtroom for a total profit of $900.

If I type myself, I miss out on $500 per hour for one hour and hop into the courtroom for the other hour for a total profit of $0.00.

So even if I am better at both lawyering and typing than the person I hire, I should still hire him.

Now pretend instead of me and a typist, we are talking about two entire countries.

Poor countries specialize in cheap labor (“typing”), wealthy countries specialize in design and engineering (“Lawyering”), and both are better off than before the deal was struck to (hopefully, temporarily) create that arrangement.

The First World does things (like offer IMF loans that have strings) in order to keep them poor because it is in the interests of all of the First World to do so. If we created another Japan, we’d have competition. If we keep them around as another metaphorical China, then the wealthy people in the developing country can exploit our middle class for profit and our wealthy people can exploit the poor desperate people in the developing country for profit (via minimizing costs). As long as you aren’t a poor person in a developing country, you win.

Why is it that no one seems to care about poor people in developing countries, and instead the well-intentioned but misinformed First World philanthropists do silly things like give them free corn that destroys the local farmers’ and forces them to grow poppy or marijuana in a desperate attempt to stay afloat by entering the drug trade? When I find the answer to that one, I’ll happily be accepting my Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter and credit any suggestions you may have to offer in the comment section.

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants

EDIT: If you are actually looking for Open Source Restaurant Reservation software, take a look here.

I recently came across a question asked by a high school student in the United Kingdom. One of his teachers had asked a question that seemed to imply that needing to share improvements to open source restaurant reservation software with the open source project that created the software was a disadvantage of using open source software.

Im currently delivering a high school qualification in the UK and part of the course is on open source. We have just had an examination paper with a question on what are the disadvantages of using open source software to create a restaurant booking system.

One of the model answers says that the restaurant would have to then release their changes to the public.

For some reason, the fact that this was a model answer bothers me, because that implies that this answer is something the student should strive to emulate to receive a good grade. As if that answer could possibly be part of a coherent answer that makes any reasonable attempt to take the full implications of open source economics into consideration.

So, let us examine the many ways in which sharing code improvements with “the public” for $0.00 is to the advantage of the individual restaurant. Each of the below points could easily be expanded to be an essay unto itself, but I shall endeavor to be brief. We will start by examining a few ways in which it has no negative effect on the individual restaurant because it almost certainly isn’t going to help the competition. Then, we will look at how it will help the restaurant.

Sharing Hurts Nothing.

To begin with, their food and customer service will never be identical to another restaurant – a streamlined reservation system does not change the attire or politeness of staff, nor the amount of curry in the food. Restaurants supply a heterogeneous product, and that product ain’t software.

Furthermore, the software would not even necessarily work for any other restaurant unless it was using an identical software stack minus these trivial modifications.

Thirdly, restaurants outside that city or county are not competitors. If one restaurant in several cities or counties use, improve, and share the software then each of these restaurants will benefit at the expense of all other restaurants in their respective cities. Unless the software becomes ubiquitous, odds are the small number of restaurants adopting the software will be from different cities — located in different markets.

Sharing Has Many Benefits.

It is in each individual restaurant’s best interests to submit the improvements upstream so that each time a new version of the software comes out, they can benefit from all of the other improvements without the need to re-patch the new version of the software with the stuff they wrote. It is far more efficient and streamlined to allocate resources towards working as part of the wider team than to allocate all of the resources that would be needed to maintain internal patches and revision control.

If a single competing restaurant in the given city does use the improved software, then it will still be in that other restaurant’s best interests to share-alike as well any improvements they make (or bug reports, or even feature requests) — so the two restaurants in the same city (eg, market) using this software can both share a comparative advantage over the other n restaurants in town.

Finally, explicit costs of sharing code improvements upstream (eg, “to the public”) are nil as the IT guy that is familiar with Open Source and can do a bit of coding is already assumed to be an employee in the scenario created by the question, and the Marginal Benefit of releasing modified source code back is almost certainly going to exceed Marginal Cost. If there is one thing drilled into the head of any student of economics, it is that if MB > MC – you move forward and do it. Period, and end of story.

So, clearly, it is not a disadvantage for a restaurant to share improvements made to the software “with the public”. They will not be getting any direct revenue for this software, but they will be getting additional indirect revenue through the continuous improvement in their critical customer service infrastructure that this is a key contributor to. The restaurant should not contribute code improvements upstream to be nice or to be communists, they should share this stuff for $0.00 to be greedy rational self-interested business people trying to make as much money as humanly possible.

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants

Summary & Opinion on the “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy”

Rumor has it that one is supposed to introduce a source prior to citing it. So, here we go (emphasis on prestigious titles is mine):

Commissioners:

  • Asma Jahangir, human rights activist, former UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions, Pakistan
  • Carlos Fuentes, writer and public intellectual, Mexico
  • César Gaviria, former President of Colombia
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil (chair)
  • George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece
  • George P. Shultz, former United States Secretary of State, United States (honorary chair)
  • Javier Solana, former European Union High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Spain
  • John Whitehead, banker and civil servant, chair of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, United States
  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ghana
  • Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, President of the International Crisis Group, Canada
  • Maria Cattaui, Petroplus Holdings Board member, former Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, Switzerland
  • Mario Vargas Llosa, writer and public intellectual, Peru
  • Marion Caspers-Merk, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health
  • Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, France
  • Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve and of the Economic Recovery Board
  • Richard Branson, entrepreneur, advocate for social causes, founder of the Virgin Group, co-founder of The Elders, United Kingdom
  • Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Minister of Home Affairs
  • Thorvald Stoltenberg, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norway

I think we will all agree that this is a pretty impressive list of folks. Here is my bullet-pointed summary (mostly copy/pasted topic sentences, but sometimes paraphrased) of what they advocate in their Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (English and Spanish version available). Text in (parenthesis) is my occasional commentary.

  1. End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  2. Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens. This recommendation applies especially to cannabis. (Some call it insanity to continue to carry out a slightly different variant of the exact same approach, and to nonetheless expect vastly different outcomes. That describes the current US “War on Drugs”, in a nutshell.)
  3. Offer health and treatment services to those in need. (YA THINK?)
  4. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse.
  5. Apply much the same principles and policies stated above to people involved in the lower ends of illegal drug markets, such as farmers, couriers and petty sellers. (Folks gotta earn a buck to feed their families. These people should be regarded as blue-collar unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, not as evil criminal masterminds.)
  6. Invest in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems. (That approach is working wonders with cigarette use, no?)
  7. Avoid simplistic ‘just say no’ messages and ‘zero tolerance’ policies in favor of educational efforts grounded in credible information and prevention programs that focus on social skills and peer influences. (Similar to what most rational people advocate for sex education.)
  8. Focus repressive actions on violent criminal organizations, but do so in ways that undermine their power and reach while prioritizing the reduction of violence and intimidation. (People already engaged in illegal businesses are more likely to use violence than established businessmen. Once the business in question is no longer illegal, how well do you think these violent criminals will fare when their business competition is a bunch of Fortune 500 CEOs who, whatever their other flaws, generally do not hire assassins? People are going to continue to get wealthy in the drug trade, regardless of any policy. Who would you rather see get wealthy – violent criminals, or legitimate businessmen? Pick one, because “neither” is not a realistic option, nor viable.)
  9. Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Base policy on the scientific method and on the scientific principals used by social scientists and medical practitioners, not on political convenience commonly used by politicians. (That second sentence was a heavy paraphrasing of what I suspect the commissioners would have wanted to say.)

Well, there it is and there is my commentary on the subject. But what does the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have to say about the subject?

Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.

Someone should point the ONDCP to point 2, above. That “stay the course” argument made by the ONDCP may have been a credible argument in 1995, but it’s a complete joke and lacking all credibility in 2011 unless you measure the success of the War on Drugs purely by using the famed “body count” model that characterized “stay the course” arguments during the Vietnam War,  replacing dead bodies as the measure of success with incarcerated people as the measure of success. The United States does have the largest per-capita prisoner ratio in the world, after all, even higher than places such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Belarus, and any other country or so-called “Police State” that you’ve ever heard is a “human rights concern.” Yay for the War on Drugs?

I think not.

The entire industrialized world – including a minority within the United States –  and many leaders of the developing world know exactly what the problem is and how it can be fixed. For these solutions to work, though, the largest economy in the world needs to get on board. Spain, Brazil, Columbia, and Germany can do what they wish, but so long as there is a strong demand for illicit drugs in the wealthiest nation on the planet, a supply will be furnished and all of humanity will suffer as a result.

We know what the current Civil War in Northern Mexico is about, right? I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t about Mexicans that want to use drugs…

Wake up, President Obama (D) and United States Congress (R). This Report with those prestigious signatures attached is your call to action. You cannot play dumb any longer, nor – given that list of signatures – can you continue to use ad hominem attacks to characterize those advocating policies such as those above as the advice of a foolish, uneducated, and inexperienced minority.

Summary & Opinion on the “Report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy”

Mark Zuckerberg’s Moral Courage

I’ve got some ethical issues and disagreements with Mark that mostly pertain to Facebook, but his latest announcement regarding his personal life isn’t one of them. Below is an e-mail he wrote to Fortune, outlining his goal for the next year. If you want the quick version, only read the parts I have bolded.

To start, let me give you some background on what I’m doing. Every year in recent memory, I’ve taken on a personal challenge — something to learn about the world, expand my interests and teach myself greater discipline. I spend almost all of my time building Facebook, so these personal challenges are all things I wouldn’t normally have the chance to do if I didn’t take the time.

Last year, for example, my personal challenge was to learn Chinese. I blocked out an hour every day to study and it has been an amazing experience so far. I’ve always found learning new languages challenging, so I wanted to jump in and try to learn a hard one. It has been a very humbling experience. With language, there’s no way to just “figure it out” like you can with other problems — you just need to practice and practice. The experience of learning Mandarin has also led me to travel to China, learn about its culture and history, and meet a lot of new interesting people.

This year, my personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself. So far, this has been a good experience. I’m eating a lot healthier foods and I’ve learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising of animals.

I started thinking about this last year when I had a pig roast at my house. A bunch of people told me that even though they loved eating pork, they really didn’t want to think about the fact that the pig used to be alive. That just seemed irresponsible to me. I don’t have an issue with anything people choose to eat, but I do think they should take responsibility and be thankful for what they eat rather than trying to ignore where it came from.

The closest I’ve come to what Zuckerberg plans to do was back in Mauritania. Every month, me and the other Marines would purchase a calf and have it taken directly to the butcher and from there directly to a large freezer at our house — none of the storefront butcher shops or grocery stores in that country had refrigeration and there was no equivalent to the FDA, so it was that or get fly-covered meat that has been out for who knows how many hours or days. We did this about once a month, and usually gave the calf a name – eye contact with the animal was an implicit part of this process.

I’m better off for having had the experience of making eye contact with something that was thereafter to be my food. I’m at least aware of what I am eating on more than an abstract theoretical level.

I eat meat, and don’t hunt or butcher, but I do occasionally give pause for what is implied by the meat I eat. I don’t say a prayer or anything like that, but it’ll be on my mind while I nonetheless continue to eat. Is that taking it for granted that the very reason an animal was brought into existence and lived its entire life was for me to enjoy a single luxurious meal? Perhaps.

Here is something I do have a problem with, from he Boy Scouts of America:

Unauthorized and Restricted Activities

The following activities have been declared unauthorized and restricted by the Boy Scouts of America:

[…]

12. Hunting is not an authorized Cub Scout or Boy Scout activity.

Is fishing next?

Boy Scouts wishing to do so are prohibited from trapping and butchering the meat they eat at official Boy Scout functions, but meat can presumably still be consumed at such functions. One part of being a Boy Scout, as I recall from my days as one, was regarding nature and the luxuries we routinely enjoy with a bit of humility and respect. One of those luxuries, for most of us, is a high level of meat consumption on a regular basis. A prohibition on obtaining the moral understanding that can only be obtained with a first hand experience in the production of that meat is ridiculous. I’m not saying killing an animal should be some form of universal requirement to “become a man” or even a requirement for advancement within the Boy Scouts hierarchy, but such activities shouldn’t be prohibited either. If Vegetarianism where to become a Boy Scout requirement, such a prohibition would make sense. However, that clearly is not the case.

The fact that Boy Scouts are formally prohibited from obtaining a real understanding of what they are putting into their mouths is a problem, part of the larger problem of the moral degradation of Western Society. We like our meat, but are unwilling to ponder from whence it came. We like our manufactured shoes, but are unwilling to ponder the life lived by the people in the Third World that assembled those shoes. We love our Foxconn-produced Apple products, but we are largely unwilling to even contemplate the staggering rates of suicide among Foxconn factory workers.

At some point in the life of a young boy or girl in Western Society, that boy or girl should be introduced to the source of the meat they eat. If they still choose to eat meat according to their own ethical impulses, so be it. Ditto for the working conditions of shoe manufacturers and electronics assembly factory workers.

If you are reading this on a computer or device you personally own – you are wealthy beyond the imaginations of many by virtue of that alone, and the lifestyle you maintain rests on the backs of millions. Some of those millions are animals, and some are humans treated no better than animals. At the very least, be willing to be aware of that and contemplate it once in a while.

And, for the record, Zuckerberg’s plan to be intimately aware of the food he is eating is not the luxury only a rich man has. Being wealthy, by world standards, means you can afford not to make eye contact with anything you’ve eaten. You can afford to have it abstracted from you. I recall eating at a nice restaurant in the third world, and seeing a restaurant employee butcher a goat in plain sight of customers.

A “poor” man in the first world can certainly afford to have the life of the animal abstracted from him – he probably shops at grocery store. The subsistence farmer or fisher or herder should be considered our example of poverty, not someone that can afford to pay someone else to grow, butcher, package, and ship food to his local grocery store. By definition, those subsistence farmers have absolutely zero economic impact at all, and are similarly of zero economic value. If someone is willing to pay you $10 an hour for a good or service you can provide and you are thus not forced to grow your own food or livestock, you are not poor by world standards. Poverty certainly exists in the United States, and certain parts of the United States certainly resemble the third world (Detroit comes to mind, comparing Detroit literacy rates and infant mortality rates to those rates in Third World nations) but it isn’t nearly as prevalent as some would have us believe – no one should be considered to be in poverty simply because they cannot afford a smartphone, a laptop, and a car.

It takes a helluva lot more than that. Do you have shelter? Clean drinking water? Is your child likely to be functionally literate as a result of attending a public school? Can you put 2,000 calories worth of food and necessary vitamins and minerals into your body? Do you sleep on a mattress? If Fred answers yes to all of those questions, Fred is not poor and Fred should be thankful for what he has. Fred has enough resources that he can probably make his way to somewhere that he can at least watch a factory farm video on youtube and then decide if he still wants to consume meat as a source of those needed calories, vitamins, and minerals. My answer is “yes,” but Fred’s answer can only be Fred’s own and ought to have at least some foundation of awareness of the implications.

If the thought of catching a fish, killing it, and gutting it sounds so appalling that you aren’t sure you can handle even thinking about, I’m not entirely sure you are on solid moral footing when you order fish at a restaurant. There may even be a small bit of hypocrisy there. The same applies to a horse, and using glue. Be honest with yourself: could you feed and pet an adorable cow or piglet, give it a name, and then subsequently kill it for nothing more than the desire to have a delicious meal? Do you avoid even thinking about the notion that someone else may be doing that, to provide you with a meal? If you find it repulsive to even think about, how do you justify eating bacon or beef (if you do)?

I’m certain there are people all over these United States that are forced to turn a feral dog or trapped raccoon into a meal from time to time. They do not have the wealth needed to abstract the food from the animal every single time. Zuckerberg clearly does have the wealth needed to abstract the food from the animal, and he has chosen to give up that luxury.

So, Concluding: Thank you Mark Zuckerberg for having the moral courage to lead by example – to be willing to look an animal in the eye and perhaps even pet the animal prior to butchering, preparing, and consuming it. Hopefully, other young people in Western Society will at least follow your example at least to the extent of pondering the source of the luxuries enjoyed.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Moral Courage