Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Tired of the hackneyed ‘Frankenstein’ theme, wherein robots destroyed their creators, the science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov came up with stories of robots that obeyed his three laws, namely :

1)A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2)A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3)A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

In short, a robot was programmed to protect itself, so long as that act did not harm a human being.

Similarly, Libertarian philosophy preaches the principle of individual liberty, that an individual human being has sovereign rights over his life and property, making allowance only for the life, liberty or property of another human being. An individual enjoys total freedom, except when such freedom impinges on the freedom of another individual.

At a time when this principle was propounded or when Ayn Rand wrote her “Atlas Shrugged’ glorifying the role of entrepreneurial industrialists who created wealth in a free market, it was assumed that such acts did not harm any other human being and so were in consonance with the philosophy of individual liberty.

But, is there any act of an individual’s that does not impact another human being? . Bastiat, who came up with the definition, “Existence, faculties, assimilation—in other words, personality, liberty, property—that is what man is.”, also argued, in the same breath, that even the freedom to vote could be confined to the ones who have the capacity to weigh issues, :

“Because it is not the voter alone who must bear the consequences of his vote; because each vote involves and affects the whole community; because the community clearly has the right to require some guarantee as to the acts on which its welfare and existence depend.” ( via).

So, even my right to vote comes with a certain caveat.

But, back to the question, “Is there any act of an individual that does not impact another human being? Now, we are a little more enlightened on the matter than during the era of Ayn Rand. An American industrialist quietly pouring metal in his steel plant is consuming and depleting non-recyclable resources that belong to the earth, and emitting CO2 that adds to the greenhouse effect and changes the climate where I live. Every single substance that any one of us, using our individual freedom, quietly produce and consume - from a paper cup to pins to Coke and pizzas- profoundly impacts individuals in distant parts of the world.

That’s why the concept needs a re-think today. That’s why regulation becomes necessary. Libertarian cheerleaders again claim that a ‘carbon trade’ mechanism, when let loose in a free market, will automatically ensure the happening of whatever is intended to be achieved through regulation. This is saying that whatever harm the free market has created will be cured by the same free market, which certainly lacks credibility.

Note : Taking a cue from my previous post, a friend comments that he is not sure if I am trying nowadays to be the most humorous of the serious writers or the most serious of the humour writers and will the real Raj stand up and stop making an ass of himself? So, in deference to these sentiments, I shall label such posts as “boring stuff’ for ease of skipping. I am coming up with such posts merely to understand the subjects myself.


John Donohue said...

Under your implication that the actions of a human being, such as exhaling carbon dioxide, impact all others negatively, one must conclude that those actions violate others and the earth.

Therefore, isn't it a crime to bring a child into life?

John Donohue

Raj said...

John, we can't stretch an argument to ridiculous limits.

John Donohue said...

What you mean is, you don't want YOUR argument stretched to ridiculous limits. However, your thesis cannot avoid my conclusion, can it?

This is your thesis:
"Every single substance that any one of us, using our individual freedom, quietly produce and consume - from a paper cup to pins to Coke and pizzas- profoundly impacts individuals in distant parts of the world."

You use the phrase "profoundly impacts." I am replacing that with the more exact 'violates the rights of' since we are speaking of political action here (regulation).

Since my pizza box and exhaled carbon dioxide violate the rights of others, isn't it a crime to bring a child (a new criminal) into existence?

John Donohue

Raj said...

John, I can't fault your logic. Yes, from a CO2-emission perspective, it is wrong to add a child to the world.

But, when you look at the carbon footprint of an individual, you already factor this in. So, a person or child who breathes out Co2 and also consumes more pizzas, pins and paper cups leaves a bigger footprint. The degree of crime is higher.

Filarial said...

there are regulations in place - just that in third world countries it is not implemented... about adding co2 to the environment - the effect of the green house gasses on the climate is not known.. the climatic conditions on which doomsday is predicted is based on 100 years ( as compared to a million years of existence) of recorded climatic conditions which is not enough to really pinpoint a cause for the concept of "global warming" ( on which the scientific community is devided upon as to its existence).. not that i am for more pullution but just something to think about..

John Donohue said...

Here are my thoughts on the subject...this is my website:


I am not for pollution either, but I am WAY not in favor of collectivizing the human race on a criminal basis due to some real but managable consequences of modern civilization, let alone fantasies dreamed up by Al Gore and his ilk.

John Donohue

Raj said...

John, I visited your website. I acknowledge that you have argued rationally and with painstaking detail and scientific data, to dispel what you consider are myths on global warming. I don’t see any posts in 2007. Have you examined new data that has been presented by the IPCC?

As you say, many of the voices of the ‘global warming alarmists’ are indeed inappropriately shrill and we should not get carried away. Also, the Al Gores of the world have sensationalised it too much, and invited a negative backlash.

But, my position on the subject is similar to Pascal’s wager on God. It is safer to believe that a) climate change is happening b) that it is caused due to human action and c) that something ought to be done about it, than to accept the view that regardless of what we are doing, the climate would change anyway.

Also, the larger point I was trying to make with regard to liberty is that no individual action can be claimed to be completely in an island mode, without in some way affecting another individual. Your act of smoking a cigarette may be in exercise of your personal liberty, but you are doing it at the cost of mine.

So, even if you feel that there is no link between human action and climate change and therefore it is an encroachment on your personal liberty when I protest about the smoke blowing from your power plant stack, it is as much an encroachment on my sensibilities when you let out that smoke, because I believe that it affects the climate around me.

Raj said...

Filarial, yes there are regulations in place and yes, the compliance in third world countries is notoriously lax.

But, that’s not the whole issue.

When there is unrestricted and unregulated consumption of all kinds of goods in developed countries, to that extent, there is expenditure of energy, depletion of non-recylable resources and release of non-sequesterable CO2. I invite you to watch the video, ‘The story of stuff” that I had posted on earlier.