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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Humility

One cannot help but feel humbled before the violence of nature. The tiniest of twitches within the crust of our planet and thousands, tens of thousands or even millions die with barely time enough for a prayer.

All of us must face the question: “How should a planetary civilization of free people deal with events on this scale?” What do we as libertarians have as an answer to human misery on this level?

I know some will shrug their shoulders and say “people chose to live there”, “it should be handled by an insurance pool” because it is the “responsibility of everyone there to be fully insured” … as if people could get or afford it in areas like this which only recently have clawed their way far enough up the hierarchy of values to even know such things exist. I am not suggesting an answer. I have none. I am at a loss.

It was easier a few decades ago. Horrendous natural disasters happened in far away places to strange and alien people. They had nothing to do with us, no connection to our daily lives. Now we see real people in real time;
people who no longer seem the least bit alien; who may be related to the wife of friend’s son or the next door neighbor or friends of many years standing at a favoured resort. Given the massive amount of business and vacation travel in today’s world, it might well be one’s own sibling, parent, spouse or child laying dead on that no longer faraway beach.

It is difficult verging on the impossible to feel distant from the horror we see on television. I will not be surprised if the final toll tops 250,000: a quarter million souls. As horrifying as this number may be, it is by no means the worst nature can dish out.

Some day Yellowstone Park will go up. The entire park is, after all, a caldera that blows sky high every now and again. When next it happens, much of the American West will die. Denver and other cities will not look like human disaster areas. They will lie invisible hundreds of feet somewhere beneath thousands upon thousands of square miles of volcanic ash. Denver will become the Mile Under City.

There is a deadly fault near St Louis. A century and a half ago New Madrid was the site of perhaps the largest earthquake recorded in US history. It mostly shook trees, scared vast clouds of Passenger Pigeons into flight and annoyed the bears. No one knows when it will slip again. It is not difficult to imagine hundreds of thousands of Americans dead in an unprepared Midwest.

Then there is the disaster to rule them all. Short of the once in a hundred million year Dinosaur killer, the worst I am aware of is the Canary Islands landslide scenario. Some believe every once in ten millenia or so half a mountain slides off into the sea there. An Isle of Mann dropped into the Pond. Some scientists think there are signs of shifting already (others do not), and that perhaps we are closer to the next catastrophe than the previous. If such did occur, the resulting mega-tsunami would wipe out the Carribean islands and lay waste to the entire East Coast of the United States for tens of miles inland.

There are not many truly safe places on this living planet of ours. The next disaster might be bigger… and closer to home. Give whatever help you can as you might one day find yourself relying on the kindness of strangers.

The UK Earth Quake Appeal is reachable at 0870-606-0900. You can also give online.

24 comments to Humility

  • Cumbre Vieja, according to scientists of The Tsunami Society, is a false concern, though your central point that disaster could strike anyone is valid.

  • Jake

    Sadly Dale, everything you say about Yellowstone Park is true.

    Yellowstone Park sits within a crater of an explosive volcano (non-lava type) that explodes every 600,000 years.

    The last explosion of the Yellowstone Park volcano was 631,000 years ago. When a Yellowstone Park geologist was asked whether there are any signs that the volcano is ready to explode. He replied the geothermal activity at the Park for the last 150 years indicate the volcano could explode at any time.

    I learned all of this one month after I purchased property 40 miles north of Yellowstone Park.

  • veryretired

    Two comments come to mind in this ghastly situation in response to the question you pose.

    First, it is often forgotten by those of us who long for a less intrusive state that there are simply no other agencies that can act in this type of disaster as well as a well prepared military organization. As in the case of the Lincoln carrier battle group, it has the ability to go anywhere, protect itself and its mission, manufacture power, fresh water, transport large amounts of people and supplies, provide medical facilities, etc., etc.

    I live in an area often affected by floods, tornadoes, and forest fires. Our National Guard forces are called upon in a variety of emergencies, and they perform superbly. It is one of the many benefits of living in a society in which the concepts of Duty, Honor, and Country are still highly valued. These are not, by the way, antithetical to to the rights of the individual, but allow those to be both protected and fulfilled.

    Secondly, it is common knowledge that the depredations of repressive states have caused suffering and death in numbers that dwarf this tsunami incident. North Korea comes to mind, where millions have been imprisoned and starved to death under the misrule of that malignant dwarf, “The Dear Leader”. We all know this is true. Yet, the same voices that belittle any assistence provided by the US as insufficient in the tsunami case, would be absolutely aghast if we took the steps necessary to relieve the people of N K from the oppression that has turned their lives into a nightmare beyond our comprehension.

    It is odd that if the problem is a natural disaster, then we cannot do enough, fast enough. But if the problem is an entirely human disaster, then any meaningful response is too much, and inaction is the only acceptable posture.

  • Chris Harper

    A report on Australian ABC newsradio -
    Some clubs (working class drinking, poker machines and entertainment) in New South Wales raised half a million dollars from their patrons and offered it to Worldvision, who declined it. Tainted money you see. The clubs then offered it to Care Australia who accepted it on the basis that flood victims wouldn’t give a fuck where help came from.

    Worldvision have reversed their position but the clubs have said that as far as future donations are concerned they are happy with their relations with Care.

    There are some real sanctimonious dipshits in this world.

  • Stephan

    The bottom line is that disasters will happen, and with a good many of them there isnt a damn thing anyone can do to stop them. oppresive state or none, can one actually think of anything we could currently do to stop something like the Yellowstone caldera? With the free market allowed to flourish I can imagine after the fact response to a disaster being far better. But no matter what, some disasters are just to large to stop with any ease. We just have to live with them and deal with the effects as best as can be done. I have firm belief that one day some ingenious entrepreneur will come up with some way to actually control the movement of whole tectonic plates, thus halting earthquakes, but until then response can certainly be improved.
    I wonder if anyone has considered how much quicker and more efficient the cleanup from this tsunami would have been, had all sorts of idiotic NGO’s and bureaucrats not done their meddling. I have read many reports indicating that, in some of the affected areas private help has completely stepped in with help while local governments do little or nothing.

  • J

    “Yet, the same voices that belittle any assistence provided by the US as insufficient in the tsunami case, would be absolutely aghast if we took the steps necessary to relieve the people of N K from the oppression that has turned their lives into a nightmare beyond our comprehension.”

    I don’t think that’s a valid comparison. You are comparing on the one had, actions to prevent a disaster, with on the other hand, actions to mitigate a disaster. I don’t think any liberals would criticise the US for providing food aid to NK, and I think plenty of people would criticise a plan to _prevent_ earthquakes.

    Natural disasters are just that. Natural. We have to deal with them as they come along. For centuries, the people affected by this disaster have benefited from being on the edge of a placid, warm sea, with all the benefits to fishing (and tourism) that has brought. And now, sadly, they are suffering the downside to haveing to shore defenses and living on low lying land at the edge of the sea.

    I would be rather sad if they refuse to rebuild in the same way or if they cover the shoreline with huge concrete flood defenses.

    As for the next big one… Yellowstone may be “imminent”, but that just means “in the next 10,000 years or so”. I can live with those odds. I think a flu or sars epidemic is actually the biggest threat in body count terms. As world population increases, and as travel increases, we become ever more susceptible to a real bastard of a pandemic…

  • D Anghelone

    What do we as libertarians have as an answer to human misery on this level?

    >

    I am not suggesting an answer. I have none. I am at a loss.

    If you thought you had those answers then you’d be statist, no? You’d surely be obligated to implement the cures.

  • Rob

    If you thought you had those answers then you’d be statist, no? You’d surely be obligated to implement the cures.

    That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Merely knowing of a possible cure to a specific problem does not force a person to implement it. Even if there were some magical government solution to the problem, we would still be wise to reject it if the negative effects outweighed the positive.

    I interpret the use of the word “answer” differently though. The dictionary definition of the word gives several meanings, one of which is “an act in retaliation or response”. I believe that our answer should be to offer aid and assistance, either directly or through charities. It is simply the only way we (as individuals) can respond.

  • D Anghelone

    Having answers (solutions) to problems of human misery, at any level, is the mentality of tyrants, petit tyrants (politicians) and devotees of coercive isms. They know the way that has the answers and are impelled to impose whatever is their way.

    Libertarians, I think, have a tad more humility.

  • Jacob

    Dale, thanks for the heartening new year post.

    However, you forgot to mention Global Warming which is very fashionable among doomsayers these days.

    I hope space blogging resumes soon.

  • toolkien

    I am not suggesting an answer. I have none. I am at a loss.

    As a individualist and a libertarian I think this is a good root to start with. Accepting that there are limitations and finding a comfort zone within it is a start. Sort of mirrors comments above, but it seems the roots of Statism begin with the belief of being able to change the unchangeable or assuming that everything has an answer.

    I’m not quite sure where humility plays in this, at least at an individual level. It is the system of Statism and entitlement which has lead to criticism of the World against the US for not giving enough. No one seems to pause and point out that that which the US government is giving was stolen from its citizens. Thus the giving is not based on the values of the citizenry per se, but Statists. Isn’t this a lack of humility? That all this suffering can be cured with Statism? It can’t. It never will be. But arrogant Statists continue to think they can either undo or significantly mitigate natural disasters through using force on disinterested people. It seems to be the opposite lesson to me – a reaction to this disaster of more Statism seems to be arrogance not humility.

  • Rob

    Having answers (solutions) to problems of human misery, at any level, is the mentality of tyrants, petit tyrants (politicians) and devotees of coercive isms.

    At any level? If I hold any belief whatsoever in my ability to alleviate the suffering of others, I am a statist? (and thus the enemy of all right-thinking people, I assume).

    I believe that it is not wrong to believe that, in my capacity as a private individual, I can do something to alleviate the suffering of others should I choose to do so. I can’t alleviate all suffering, or promise that my efforts will be successful, but I can surely respond to suffering in certain ways likely to benefit the sufferers. If I do so by my own choice, how does this violate any libertarian principle?

    There is no ultimate solution to human suffering; it is inevitable, and anyone claiming otherwise is either a fool or a charlatan. But anyone claiming that nothing can be done is equally foolish.

    Libertarians, I think, have a tad more humility.

    Being humble in the face of disaster does not require one to be passive. There are ways in which we can respond, and these responses are a matter of individual choice.

    The only present justification I can see for state intervention is that governments are typically the only organisations which have the technology (military transports, etc.) needed for effective disaster response. Beyond that, I don’t think governments should donate tax revenues for foreign aid when private citizens are perfectly capable of donating their money themselves.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Dale, what you say is 100 pct true. I also think you end on a particularly important point, which is that one day, those of us in the West may need the help of folk now living in the tsunami affected areas. They will hopefully not forget the generosity of those who have gone to their aid. Giving aid is not just the right thing to do, it is also a case of long term self interest.

  • D Anghelone

    At any level?

    I thought scale to be implicit but I guess not and stand corrected.

    If I hold any belief whatsoever in my ability to alleviate the suffering of others, I am a statist? (and thus the enemy of all right-thinking people, I assume).

    Dale Amon wrote: “”How should a planetary civilization of free people deal with events on this scale?” What do we as libertarians have as an answer to human misery on this level?”

    He wasn’t speaking to the beliefs or actions of individuals and neither was I.

  • Dale Amon

    Individuals form voluntary associations. The sum total of those voluntary associations is a civil society. In an internet connected world with cheap global travel, we are becoming a planet-wide society. Society is people. Society is neighbors. Society and community are *not* government. A civilization is *not* a government.

    Now please continue :-)

  • D Anghelone

    Individuals form voluntary associations. The sum total of those voluntary associations is a civil society. In an internet connected world with cheap global travel, we are becoming a planet-wide society. Society is people. Society is neighbors. Society and community are *not* government. A civilization is *not* a government.

    If it looks like a canard and walks like a canard…

    But seriously, folks, as said by toolkein, “…it seems the roots of Statism begin with the belief of being able to change the unchangeable or assuming that everything has an answer.”

  • Nick Timms

    Dale

    Surely your last post answers your earlier question?

    Individuals freely forming associations in the form of charities have achieved far more for each £1 than government agencies ever have. State provided aid is stolen from individuals who, if they were voluntarily donating, would probably donate far more.

    It has been used as an example many times but it still valid. The RNLI in the UK is funded completely by voluntary donation and is almost entirely operated by voluntary crew and staff. It is extremely effective.

    If we were not having half our incomes coerced from us to pay for things, that mostly, we wouldn’t pay for voluntarily, I am sure that most of us would still contribute a large proportion of our disposable incomes anyway. It would just be for things that matter to us as individuals rather than things that statist bullies tell us we should pay for.

  • Dale Amon

    I still say I have no answer. That is one of the reasons the article is titled Humility. No matter what plans or ideas or institutions we come up with, the power of nature will trump us.

    ‘We’ will have to look a father in the eyes as his little girl dies and tell him we have done all we could. That is the hell of these things. I wish there were an answer. I wish there were some way we could magically create a voluntary instution that would do the job. But we cannot.

    Unless there is some reader who has a brilliant idea for a way to organize some form of new voluntary institution we just have to admit that in the face of terrible disaster, we have no better answers to suffering than anyone else. The only difference is, hopefully, we have the humility to admit
    that we do not have answers.

    We simply have to be human and give what help and comfort we can.

  • dunderheid

    For someone who blogs on space flight you seem particularly defeatist in the face of the power of nature.

    Human beings have altered and adapted ‘nature’ since we invented fire. The effects have been as small as warming an individual or as great as warming the whole planet. I fervently believe that human ingenuity if given the right enviroment in which to prosper can solve or adapt to all the destructive powers that nature can throw at us. This may seem unlikely now as we view in horror the misery in the Indian Ocean. But no more unlikely than it must have seemed to someone a century ago that someone would have walked on the moon.

    What is the right enviroment? Like most who post on this blog, I ,again fervently, beleive it is one in which the free market is allowed the free-est possible reins and the state the tightest. However returning to the title of Dale’s post, I would hope to have the humility to accept a ‘statist’ solution to a crisis if none other existed, unlikely as that may be.

    The true catastrophe would be, that in the face of this disaster, we all stopped looking for answers or solutions to the challenges that living on this rock throws in our way.

  • Dale Amon

    Defeatist? Not really. Just realistic. Modifying tectonic activity might be something doable at the end of this millenium, but not in any time frame that affects any one here. There will always be challenges bigger than we are until such time as we start controlling the very fabric of space and time and engineering it to our own desires. Whether that is possible I have not a clue. It certainly will not be very soon.

    We’ll be able to shift asteroids long, long before we control the interior of our planet.

    Striving is good… but Godhead is very, very far in our future, (assuming we don’t get smacked down first.)

    I also intentionally stayed away from all of the Extinction Event possibilities (a ‘nearby’ GRB for example). We can’t even guess at those likelihoods and the timescales are so long it is outside the realm of this discussion: How we deal with very,very bad (“high end”) natural disasters which are known to occur regularly? Santorini’s, Krakatoa’s, Yellowstones, mother s of all earthquakes in worst of all locations, that sort of thing.

  • I think Dr Eamonn Butler and Johan Norberg are pretty close to the answer.

    Rich people are not as affected by natural disasters because they have the technology and resources to mitigate their effects. The answer is to make people richer — and we all know how to do that, don’t we?

  • Tony Di Croce

    Good Point!

    Arthur C. Clarke lives in Sri Lanka and he is both loaded, and still with us.

    tanstafl@gmail.com

  • Mashiki

    Look on the bright side Jake, if you are living at your place 40 miles away and it blows you’ll be one of the few who won’t feel a thing. The rest of us will see 1-6ft of ash over 30-60% of the country. Give or take on the ash amounts and prevailing winds along with other such stuff.

    It’s not pretty when you consider it, it is however not the only super-volcano around.

    Funny thing is, look back in the geologic time scale charts and start plotting out the last mass-explosion from the super volcano’s. It gets…interesting.

  • Bribery has been an important part of American Foreign Policy since the beginning. Jefferson the uber libertarian practiced bribery. The only question brought up when the bribes became know was were they cost effective.

    These day bribing masses may be as important to our foreign policy as bribing individuals. It gave Americans a lot of good will post WW2. This was a valuable political asset long after the countries involved got on their feet.

    The effect of those post war bribes lasted for twenty or thirty years. They still have some small residual value.