"Chernobyl!" ≠ "We Need the EPA."

Monday, June 19, 2017

(And Related Thoughts)

At the start of a collection of eyewitness accounts from Chernobyl comes the following quote:

Everyone who thinks the EPA is not necessary and the regulations on power plants are there to stifle growth and profit should read every comment here...
Although I don't think the government should regulate the power industry, this individual is no mind reader. I appreciate that, while many regulations do "stifle growth and profit," they are not necessarily created with that in mind. Indeed, some accomplish what industry engineering standards, watchdog groups, or other non-government efforts would and should otherwise accomplish.

That said, let's accept his challenge for a moment and look at another quote:
Fruits and vegetables from the contaminated areas were sold feely [sic] at Moscow markets. In fact, that summer there was quite an incredible abundance of produce and the prices were low. The levels of radiation in produce from certain areas were very high. Some of our friends who used Geiger counters to check produce at Moscow Central Market had the counters confiscated then and there.
Soviet Russia and the EPA are both examples -- the one more consistent than the other -- of central planning. Chernobyl and its aftermath happened in a centrally planned economy. The above instance shows just how well that "EPA for everything" worked, at least to achieve the goal of the protection of individual rights. (I am not by any means asserting that that was the goal, but it's the most benevolent interpretation I can muster of the notion that we "need" the EPA.)

I won't, without further evidence, attribute hatred of the individual to the author of the first quote. However, I will say that facts alone are insufficient to settle the implicit question he raises, which is, "Should we have central planning?" For starters, I bet if I made a painstaking case -- which I am not, here -- that Chernobyl is exactly what happens under central planning, many people would shrug it off as an anomaly or even dismiss my factual statements as "propaganda." And many would, sadly, dismiss out of hand the idea that the purpose of the government is to protect individual rights. (Other possibilities exist: Some of these people might be persuaded to change their minds about these objections, but only with much more effort. Also, I could make such a poor case for the idea that Chernobyl exemplifies how "well" totalitarian regimes respect individuals that I'd rightly be dismissed.) The bottom line is that, when one wants to pitch an intellectual argument, he must set limits that account for some potential audience members being too far away from his position to engage -- anytime soon (because of fundamental differences, despite a basic level of intellectual honesty) or at all (because of a lack of intellectual honesty or for other reasons).

The fact that there are people who are unreachable by rational argument in no way lessens the value of rational argument -- when directed at the right audience. Never let their seeming ubiquity demoralize you: They are unwittingly helping you with the task of prioritizing your time by honing in on the audience one can most profitably engage with.

I do not accuse the author of the first quote of being the type of person I am discussing, but his remark caused me to think of the kind of reaction I might get if I engaged him personally about it, and of past reactions I have observed from others after similar conversations. Those reactions are more useful that I once thought.

-- CAV

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