Commercialism: Response

Just a couple of random thoughts on the advertising editorial:

1) Who runs ads that use terror as the selling method? Public service ads, of course. Almost everyone is a thinly covered threat—and not always so thinly covered.

For example: Tobacco is evil and will kill you. Seat belts or die. Give to the X-foundation or you'll cripple children. You made inflation, you piggy person, you! Etc.

2) You forgot to mention Consumer's Union, etc. and the Better Business Bureau—all market units that protect the customer. One point that Bob LeFevre made is that people don't bother to check the quality of the goods when they feel they are protected. Before that they did check and had a set of rules and things to look for. Worked fine for the most part. A consumer guide lets it work even better—you get decimal place readings and ratings to go by there!

3) The rube that buys a $5 pair of shoes for $10 because it was on the top floor or under a different label is getting something with his shoes that someone else might not want—status. It is stupid; but if you're willing to grant that he can have a religion for the same sorts of reasons, then let him walk around in $10 shoes, already. Now, how does a company add this wonder material, status, to its product? Advertising—either word-of-mouth (the best kind of advertising) or paid ads. If this adds to the value of the product, then fine, they profit (VW had lots of word-of-mouth before they had a paid ad in this country, while paid ads built American Motor sales—there are other examples, of course). If they just blow it, they lose (Edsel).

Status is a tricky material to work with—very high risk. More power to the man that can handle it so it works right for him!

Joe Celko
Metro Magazine
Atlanta, Georgia

America the Beautiful: Response

Rosalie Nichols raises a questionable point in "America the Beautiful—On Whose Land?" (January, 1971) when she claims that "private collective ownership…is perfectly valid and moral. As long as it is voluntary, there is not a violation of rights." She then cites as examples the Mormon Church, Goodwill Industries, Rampart College, and "any other voluntary organization." So far, I agree. But an Indian tribe is not a charity, fraternity, social club, etc.—it is not a voluntary organization since one is born into it, just as one is born into the US and is thereby a citizen subject to the draft, taxes, etc.

Imagine, for a moment, that the US had in fact been uninhabited before Columbus. Assume further that a single ethnic group had settled the US, and had set up a "Tribal Constitution" in 1789, asserting collective ownership of the North American continent. Would not a person born today into such a society be justified in demanding the right to secede with his own portion of land (that he used and occupied) and be free of tribal authority?

Yet under Miss Nichol's conception of "voluntary tribal ownership," "the only restriction placed on land even where it was individually cultivated was that it could not be alienated from the tribe. Members could give, sell, or lease an individual tract to another member, but not to somebody outside the tribe." How libertarian! Isn't this tribal society just a small-scale version of the oppressive state, with a different level of technology (particularly transportation and communication)?

The social system one is born into does not affect the existence or extent of his rights as a human being (whether or not they are recognized). If there exists—for anyone—the right to own land individually (i.e., to use and dispose of it), then this right exists for every individual. A tribal authority can call itself "owner," but this does not mean that its claim is valid, any more than the US government's like claim would be.

Therefore, the question of whether an Indian is entitled to land ought to be phrased in terms of individual circumstances—whether the individual Indian or his ancestors were validly using and occupying a particular piece of land, according to some sort of objective standard. Where the tribe made strictly collective assertions of ownership which could not logically be subdivided into objective individual claims (as in the case of nomads claiming the entire region over which they could conceivably roam), such claims should be rejected. The issue is not over whether the claim was in fact subdivided—merely whether the nature of the claim is such that it could have been. I think this criterion provides a good test for distinguishing between valid and invalid collective ownership, valid collective ownership being logically based on and justified by the prior existence (or potential existence) of individual ownership.

John McDavitt
Charleston, South Carolina

Force is moral only against those who initiate its use. The recipient of a stolen good via free trade has not initiated force to obtain it. Therefore, forcing it away from him, even to restore it to the original owner, would be an act of coercion every bit as damnable as the injustice sought to be rectified.

If your Indian lands were stolen, collect from the thief. Where that is not possible, suffer. Don't try to correct one injustice with another, by initiating force against those whose only "crime" was to give value for value.

Kris Kott
Bloomington, Ind.

It is not my intent to argue with Rosalie Nichols' article (Reason, Vol. 2 Nos. 9, 10). I disagree with many of the points about the epistemological/ethical principles relating to the evaluation of cultures. My interest lies at this point in considering means by which the ills done by past generations of individuals and those still undertaken can be remedied now or in the future. Miss Nichols has accomplished part of the task of analyzing the sense in which those who live today are responsible to deal with injustice. Now let us look if a means of dealing with injustices can be discovered.

The courts of the United States need a set of laws which will enable good lawyers to make many claims in behalf of anyone, including various individual or groups of Indians. There are now some laws on the books which can be utilized. Of course, political pressure is needed to bring about justice from government itself. That is very difficult, admittedly, but not impossible. The heat can be put on with sufficient support from, for example, libertarians across the country.

Still, the more important matter is the theoretical one, for our purposes. I gather Miss Nichols realizes the low probability of getting major things accomplished in the near future in behalf of any person being treated unjustly, not to mention the inhabitants of reservations. But the legal principle to utilize for purposes of theoretical analysis could be "the obligation to fulfill proprietary exchange promises" or the law of contracts in general. Some of the treaties, though often unfair (yet very often goods desired were exchanged for goods desired, e.g., whisky for land), were quite explicit and implicitly respectful of property rights. (The gypsies in Europe have it much worse—they are entirely without the concept of "property rights" in their legal systems throughout their places of wandering.)

The concept of "property rights" makes sense only in conjunction with a legal system; it is the connective between morality and law. It needs both for it to be a workable concept in a culture. (It is a necessarily true statement that a legal system must be based on human rights; those familiar with Rand's theory of government will perceive this. These rights provide the foundation of a legal system. But without a legal system, they have no practical function.) Inasmuch as Indians were accepted within that legal system, their ownership rights ought to have been recognized and acted upon. Inasmuch as this was not the case the Indians must look back to the treaties.

I believe that I have at least indicated a means by which it could be possible to ensure justice for Indians and others. We must develop the legal mechanism and begin to dig up all the legal evidence toward the development of the avenue of presenting cases to courts. We need to develop a better legal system, one more consistent with human rights. If we develop such a system in harmony with the present legal precedents—i.e., don't redo the whole damn system—we can then employ this evidence toward the securement of justice.

Tibor R. Machan
Bakersfield, California

I wish to announce the founding of the American Association for the Abolition of Involuntary Mental Hospitalization. The nature and aims of the Association are set forth in the following excerpts from the organization's "Platform Statement": Throughout the entire history of psychiatry, involuntary psychiatric interventions, and especially involuntary mental hospitalization, have been regarded as morally and professionally legitimate procedures. No group of physicians, lawyers, or social scientists has ever rejected such interventions as contrary to elementary principles of dignity and liberty and hence as morally and professionally illegitimate. The AAAIMH does.

It is not in the province of the AAAIMH to promote or oppose any particular method of mental or psychiatric intervention, provided that it is undertaken with the informed consent of the client and is freely terminable by him. We take this position not because we do not hold some opinions about what are desirable or undesirable psychiatric practices, but because we wish to focus sharply on what we consider the most pressing practical issue facing the mental health professional today: the separation of voluntary from involuntary interventions…

Membership in the Association thus offers a means to identify publicly those persons (in the mental health field and outside of it) who oppose currently accepted psychiatric and psychiatric and psychological practices resting on the use of state-supported force and fraud.

Membership is open to all persons interested in supporting the aims and programs of the Association.

Thomas S. Szasz
Chairman of the Board of Directors,
116 Bradford Parkway
Syracuse, N.Y. 13224