Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 715, April 7, 2013

The interests of individuals and groups with massive mounts
of money and power are not merely divergent from the interests
of the rest of us, they run in completely opposite directions.

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Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism by Robert Zubrin
Reviewed by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

MERCHANTS OF DESPAIR: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism
by Robert Zubrin
(New Atlantis Books, 2012)
Buy from or Barnes &

Few things pain a writer worse than having to inform his readers that what may easily turn out to be the most important book of the century—

—isn't one of his.

The example at hand is Merchants of Despair, by Robert Zubrin, a name you may recognize. Zubrin is a "big picture" engineer who has done more than any other single individual to get humanity properly established on Mars, having earlier written The Case For Mars, which includes his unique plan, called "Mars Direct" for sending explorers, colonists, and settlement supplies to the Red Planet at a fraction of the estimated cost of any such undertaking by any government anywhere. He is also the founder of the Mars Society, meant to carry out his plan.

Zubrin has written several books on an impressively wide-ranging number of topics, but this one will earn the man his place in history. There's a famous line in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [Purchase Amazon instant videoRent Amazon instant video DVD Blu-ray], spoken by Walter Houston: "The world is being shaved by an insane barber". That was in 1948 (the novel was published in 1927; Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler's War is a Racket in 1935), following the Great Depression, bracketed by two world-spanning wars in half a century. Lots of people were beginning to realize that the way our civilization has worked, from at least the end of the 19th century, doesn't seem to make any sense.

Discovering a reason for this phenomenon is a lot like working a jigsaw puzzle—without any edge pieces. The valiant and stubborn individuals who attempt it are usually dismissed by members of the Establishment as "conspiracy theorists", mocked and labeled "kooks" and "cranks", despite the undeniable fact that, for good or ill, the bulk of history appears to have consisted of conspiracies and their consequences.

The struggle for American independence began as a conspiracy, as did the income tax, the atomic bomb, the Federal Reserve system, and the Vietnam and Iraq wars. The attempt to put all of these plots and counterplots together into a persuasively coherent pattern consumes hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Unorthodox scholars and ordinary individuals have investigated the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, the Knights Templars, and the Bilderbergers, always striving to discover who is actually in charge, and what they really want.

But, as I have observed on several occasions, the most successful conspiracies usually take place in the bright light of day, in full view of the public, usually in front of television cameras. The place to look for them isn't dank, dark, musty cellars among cloaked figures gathered around candles guttering in wine-bottles, but in the lavish boardrooms of the greatest banks of the world and other corporations, the capitol buildings of governments, most of the world's colleges and universities, and especially inside the United Nations building in Manhattan.

As to the puzzle of why the modern world operates the crazy way it does, Zubrin appears to have more pieces than anybody else. The short answer is that the interests of individuals and groups with massive mounts of money and power are not merely divergent from the interests of the rest of us, they run in completely opposite directions, like two lanes of country road. When these "malefactors of great wealth", as Theodore Roosevelt called them, assure us that they merely desire to make the world a better place, what they're really saying to us, in terms of your hopes and dreams and mine, is that they want to destroy it.

This book is so rich, so full of new ideas and new connections between them on every page, that even the longer answer, which goes back at least as far as 1798, can only scratch the surface of a fraud so vast, a scheme so evil, it beggars the vocabulary, let alone the imagination.

It begins with the initial publication of Essays on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus, aristocrat, academic, and economist (of course) who held that any collection of living entities, unchecked by natural enemies or some other sort of lethal influence, will keep multiplying until its resources are exhausted, at which point its numbers will collapse disastrously. Thus, to Malthus, catastrophes like war, disease, and famine were good things, since they kept human numbers properly under control, especially those of the lower classes (who, fortunately, tended to suffer worse when such disasters occurred) who must, on no account, be permitted to eat the wealthier, worthier, and obviously more deserving upper classes out of house and home.

what Malthus—and every admirer of his to follow afterward— didn't take into account was three pounds of fragile tissue within the human skull possessed with a potential to change the game, creating something useful and valuable out of something that had previously gone to waste. Petroleum, when it bubbled up out of the ground, was just a smelly nuisance in 1798; today it turns the wheels of the world.

Nevertheless, it was on the basis of deeply flawed Malthusian "reasoning" that in the 19th century, incredible numbers of peasants in India and Ireland, ruled by the British, were allowed to starve to death at the same time that their respective countries' agricultural exports, also owned and controlled by the British, reached record levels.

What Zubrin calls "the Cult of Antihumanism" had been born.

Predictions made by Malthus, of overpopulation-driven disaster, have proven to be as accurate as those of his intellectual heirs, the global warmists. Yet his ideas, disproven and discredited over and over again, are still the center on which modern political economy pivots, not because they have any logical or scientific validity, but because—exactly like Keynesian economic thory—they have proven extremely useful to those who desire power over the lives of other people.

Our current problem (if such a word is adequate) with government and its symbiotes stands on three legs. Malthusian doctrine is the first. The second leg is, at least to me, horribly and unnecessarily conflated with Charles Darwin's revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection, likely the most important scientific discovery ever made.

Darwin has always ranked very high among my personal heroes; one line from Inherit the Wind pretty much says it all: "Darwin took us up on a mountaintop and showed us the way we've come." To understand human evolution is to understand more about human nature than was known in all of the hundreds of thousands of years that preceded Darwin.

Zubrin, however, has a rather different view of Darwin, and for reasons honesty forces me to appreciate completely. True, as he points out, Darwin wasn't the first to think of evolution—although the actual value of contributions made by flim-flammers like Lamarck are questionable. But in Darwin's defense, Henry Ford wasn't the first individual to build an automobile, either. He simply made it work— both technologically and economically—and put an entire nation, and eventually the world, on wheels. Darwin, then, was the Henry Ford of biology.

The primary problem with Darwin, though, from Zubrin's viewpoint, and, I confess, from my own, as well, is that he was an early enabler of and enthusiast for a particularly nasty line of thinking. It had occurred to his cousin, Francis Galton (who, for many reasons, might be called the father of modern statism), that given the way evolution works (occasional mutations, tested by the exigencies of a harsh reality), and given the way people have selectively bred plants and animals for at least ten thousand years in order to get results that are more useful and pleasing, why couldn't we breed people (whoever "we" turns out to be) in order to obtain a more useful and pleasing humanity?

Galton called his idea "eugenics", meaning "good birthing" and gained an extremely lofty following among individuals like Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, Havelock Ellis, John Harvey Kellogg, John Maynard Keynes, Linus Pauling, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells, and, of course, eugenics' most famous advocate, Adolf Hitler.

Since you couldn't, and still can't, build a better human being from the genes up, the only way is to cull the existing population like livestock—don't even bother asking by what right—so that whatever remains, on average, is better than whatever you began with, and likely to produce even better stock though inbreeding desirable traits.

In the end, thirty states passed eugenics laws that permitted their governments to forcibly sterilize anybody whom the bureaucrats—an early incarnation of Obama's "Death Panels"—decided was undesirable in one way or another, from the deaf, to the feeble- minded, to gays, to epileptics, to habitual criminals. Wikipedia say Nazi Germany based their eugenics laws on those of California. Incredibly, the Swedish state had laws like this on the books until 1976.

Although they're usually reluctant to call it by its proper name, eugenics is still very popular today among a self-appointed political and economic elite who apparently believe they own the rest of us, either by Divine Right or simply by gaming the dials and levers of democracy.

Unable to convince those among us whom they calculate need culling (perhaps because we are afflicted with what the putrescently corrupt American Psychological Association defines as "Oppositional Defiance Disorder"—meaning an inclination toward political dissent—and because we insist on remaining armed well enough to keep them from doing to us whatever they'd like to do if only we'd give up our guns), they have resorted to a new strategy to justify forcing us to do their bidding.

That strategy, the third leg on which antihumanism stands today, is environmentalism, with special emphasis on the phenomenon of global warming.

Just as Obamacare provides government with an infinite supply of excuses to pry into people's lives and examine their minutest, most personal details, so environmental legislation in general, and the "threat" of global warming in particular allows the state to interfere and tinker with every aspect of the working machinery of an entire nation.

History show that's bad enough when the intentions are naively benign—"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need"; "The greatest good for the greatest number"—it's disastrous when the underlying agenda is to stop the machinery. A small handful of murderous lunatics at the top can bring down whole civilizations.

Legitimate conservationists, with a decent regard for private property and individual rights, have been with us for a century or so. Before that, our ancestors didn't have much use for nature. Forests were dark and spooky places, full of monsters real and imagined. They—and swamps—stood in the way of progress. Drain the swamps. Cut down the trees, pull the stumps, plow the fields, harvest a degree of peace, freedom, progress, and prosperity previously unknown in human history.

Somewhere along the line, about the time photography began to be widespread, and pictures started coming back from the west, people began to notice that cities were replacing countryside and pavement was replacing prairie. Something needed to be done to preserve what little wild land was left. Unfortunately, in the Progressive Era. it was inevitable that would be a political something—even if that meant exceeding the constitutional limits of Article 1 Section 8— national parks that the government could mismanage for the next century.

Decades later, smog, a complex consequence of geography, topology, and the now-beloved trees, which spew out more hydrocarbons every day than all the cars ever manufactured—yet commonly asserted to be the exclusive product of the internal combustion engine, had to be dealt with.

More laws, more government.

Enter Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and writer with a poetic touch who, in 1962, published Silent Spring claiming, without any respectable evidence, that the world's birds were dying because of DDT, a revolutionary insecticide that had virtually wiped out malaria—a mosquito-vectored disease—in the American south and the Third World.

Carson was adored by every tree-hugger and technology-detester on the planet. The fascistic, unconstitutional Environmental Protection Agency was created because of her, and she won many awards, including a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. DDT was internationally outlawed, and since then, millions of malaria victims have died who would otherwise have lived—and made who knows what contributions to civilization—establishing Carson as one of history's top-ranking mass-murderers.

That was only the beginning. The list of government intrusions and injustices, of evasions, omissions, and outright lies, of intimidation, theft, and kidnappings is endless. And then they tried acid rain, ozone depletion, and the noodle that finally stuck to the wall, global warming.

This phenomenon, they decided, with just as little scientifically respectable evidence as Rachel Carson had, was a Very Bad Thing. It was caused by carbon dioxide (a natural component of the atmosphere that the EPA at one point even attempted to have classified as a pollutant) which is generated by every activity of which humanity is capable.

And just as environmentalism had now become a religion for tens of millions of gullible idiots, so the natural and unavoidable processes of everyday living—exhaling carbon dioxide, for example—became Original Sin, bringing with it a desperate need for expiation that can never be satisfied (except, perhaps, by giving all of your money to Algore). For others, it was the best justification ever for reversing the Industrial Revolution, and for turning the entire planet ino a prison.

I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll stop here, with the following observation. In an exceptionally lucid and enjoyable style, Robert Zubrin has provided us with the best, most impassioned defense of individualism and private capitalism since Ayn Rand. On more than one occasion, he waxes downright lyrical about the endless promise of the unfettered human mind, the technology it has created—and the cruel stupidity of those people and institutions that would suppress it.

If anybody has ever published a "must-read" book—besides my own, that is—MERCHANTS OF DESPAIR: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism is it.

I got my copy on Kindle.

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