What? Senior Editor Machan doesn't read his own magazine?
In his September "Viewpoint" he caricatures Tibor Scitovsky's book The Joyless Economy as a "sophisticated smear campaign against the only system of politics that has made it possible to develop what capitalism's numerous enemies proclaim themselves to be for: culture, wealth, equality of opportunity, health care, etc."
Yet a reading of my review of Scitovsky's book in the August REASON shows that his book is not a smear campaign against anything. It is a campaign for consumers. Scitovsky wants consumers to delight in consumption and therefore to acquire the skills necessary to being quality consumers. And the reason he finds it important to emphasize this, as I point out in my review, is that "affluence makes it very easy to satisfy our basic needs…[and] thus provides a wonderful opportunity" to indulge in cultured pleasures.
Now it's true that Scitovsky doesn't say, "Hurray, capitalism, for bringing affluence so that we can take up the pleasures of art, travel, reading, etc." But neither does he damn it, and he certainly doesn't lament our affluence under it. Rather, he explores what that affluence makes possible.
Sure, he recommends State involvement in the improvement of people's consuming capacities. But so do 99 out of a hundred writers call upon the State to help solve whatever social trauma they've picked up on. That certainly doesn't warrant Machan's placing Scitovsky in the league of the smear campaigners with Daniel Bell and Michael Harrington.
Ah, what a little reading of REASON will do for you!
Rights and Self Ownership
In regards to "Those 'Natural' Rights Aren't" [September] I suggest that Goodson and Longinotti should have found out where the foundation for natural rights really lies before they put all that effort into their article. As it stands they made some sound criticisms of some statements that dealt with natural rights but by no means could be considered the arguments for natural rights. The major mistake made by Goodson & Longinotti is that they overlooked the fact that all natural rights are based solely on the notion of self ownership. Without a criticism of that notion and the theories behind it their paper is worthless as a critical analysis of natural rights.
If Goodson and Longinotti were aware of the true bases for natural rights they wouldn't ask the question "Why Not Coercion?". They'd realize that coercion, the taking of control by force, is totally alien to the concept of ownership, having total control; and that voluntarism is inherent in the concept of ownership, since total control cannot be realized under the strain of coercive forces. Also they'd realize that many of the other arguments they made against natural rights were really beside the point, i.e., whether people inherently steal or have elements of savagery.
I admit that there is much to be criticized in most of the arguments for self ownership and consequently for natural rights. Also I strongly believe that we libertarians should be spending more time reevaluating and refining those arguments. In light of this I must congratulate Mr. Goodson & Longinotti for their fine idea, it's just too bad they missed the point.
Roy E. Cordato
Goodson & Longinotti reply: The concept of self-ownership is synonymous with the concept of natural rights. The justification that Murray Rothbard, in For A New Liberty, provides for self-ownership is that "each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish," and "the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation." This, in a nutshell, is the argument that was examined in our essay and found wanting. —J.G. and D.L.
I've wished to drop you a line for quite some time to say: many thanks for the continuous improvement in REASON magazine. I take a great many different publications in the news business, and yours is one I do look forward to receiving more than others—even though there are often things with which I disagree. But after all, under a "forum" format, that should be expected, no? I think your new layout is much more distinguished and easier to follow. Mr. Wood deserves a good word for the work he put into the change.
Above all, you people deserve thanks for your long-range perspective on things. I appreciate the general levelheadedness of your editorials. It does take a long time to create a free society. Your patience-with-passion approach will do far more for the cause of liberty than that of advocates for near-distant dismantling of government. Your magazine shows every indication of ensuring its own survival for a long time. And as it is the only such publication which seems to keep in mind not just the scholar, but the layman, too, it appears to have gained the status of a publication that can truly enhance the survival of liberty.
"The Great Plutonium Scare," [September] by Dr. Petr Beckmann was informative. But Dr. Beckmann left one question untouched: How do we dispose of radioactive waste?
I have been told that elemental sodium is the heat-transfer agent in a nuclear power operation. Over a period of time the sodium gets radioactive, and ultimately has to be thrown out. Where do we put it?
I'd very much appreciate Dr. Beckmann's comments.
J. Quinn Curtin, M.D.
Dr. Beckmann replies: Nuclear waste disposal is not a subject peculiar to breeder reactors. The breeder merely reduces a small and artificially exaggerated problem to even smaller dimensions. Since it is not possible to do the subject justice in a short reply, I recommend Prof. B.L. Cohen's article "The disposal of radioactive wastes from fission reactors," Scientific American, June 1977. (Cohen's article is one of the few that compares nuclear to coal and other wastes.)
As for sodium becoming radioactive, that does not interfere with its function of transferring heat. Should it ever be necessary to discharge it, there are no problems: The halflives of its two radioactive isotopes (Na 22 and Na 24) are 2.6 years and 15 hours, respectively. —P.B.
Pseudoscience No Threat?
Doctrinaire axe-grinding is nowhere more conspicuous than in Robert Sheaffer's polemic against pseudoscientists-cum-Marxists. [August]
It is easy enough to take pot-shots at UFO reports. In fact, it was Major Donald Keyhoe who observed that upwards of 99 percent of all "UFO" sightings are ultimately explained or dismissed as "IFO"s (Identified Flying Objects)…and that the remaining one percent are more properly called UFO's. The debunkers of UFO's are only trotting out the known IFO's; they do not try to cope with the data collected by Keyhoe's National Investigatory Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP). NICAP has compiled extensive, documented case histories of aerial, visual, and radar encounters witnessed by engineers, pilots, law-enforcement officers, technicians, ad infinitum. Many of these episodes recount serious near-collisions and active pursuit of unidentified objects exhibiting prodigious performance, of unknown origin. Further, it wasn't until Hynek made a survey of case histories that he began to change his thinking on the subject (remember, Hynek was the father of the "swamp gas" brush-off). He discovered that the more "incredible" sightings were witnessed by persons of the highest testimonial reliability (engineers, etc., as above), thus suggesting the actuality of UFO's. These results were communicated about 4 or 5 years ago in Astronautics & Aeronautics, the member journal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics—hardly a clutch of zanies. The inexplicable behavior of the Air Force in its efforts to smother information and impugn the credibility of commercial or military pilots who report such encounters also is suspicious. Project Blue Book is still active, by the way.
In a similar vein, it is easy enough to seize upon Uri Geller's more sensational pronouncements…but this does not account for the fact that hundreds of persons in England began to demonstrate spoon-bending ability concurrent with Geller's notoriety. These manifestations are quite restrainedly recorded by John Taylor in his book Superminds (the choice of title is misleadingly frivolous). And Taylor is a professional physicist who is no dummy—and who cannot honestly dismiss these unusual phenomena by accusing his subjects and witnesses as liars and charlatans.
Moreover, Sheaffer draws an entirely unmotivated and unwarranted parallel between "pseudoscientists" and Marxists, leading to the inference that the two are somehow inextricably linked. This is not even guilt by association, which is ignominious enough—it is guilt by innuendo, which should be beneath anyone's dignity.
I am a professional scientist and, in my experience, the "pseudoscientists" are far from being the subversive threat Sheaffer pictures them. Science and technology are not in such poor stature that it must be upheld against the heathen, and Sheaffer's doctrine of scorn and privilege is a poor advertisement for the free and inquiring mind. Rather should we hasten to make amends in those areas where technology has been encouraged to run amok: pollution, rapacious consumption of nonrenewable resources, and the pandering to a mighty war-oriented economy. These are the real reasons for technology's low popularity among the general public, and blaming the situation on astrologers and UFO enthusiasts is so obtuse a response that I cannot credit it for an instant.
Mr. Sheaffer replies: "(debunkers) are only trotting out known IFO's: they do not try to cope with the data collected by Keyhoe's (NICAP)". We UFO skeptics, recently incorporated to form the UFO Subcommittee of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (sponsored by the American Humanist Association), have never shied away from the sensational claims made by any group or individual. The most famous case in the NICAP files is the Bett/Barney Hill "UFO abduction" tale; my article in the August, 1976 issue of Official UFO blows that one out of the water. The 1965 "UFO photos" from Beaver Falls, PA, were described by a NICAP analyst as "one of the most valid of the UFO's on record"; see the Condon Report, and my Official UFO article of October, 1976, for an expose of those photos. Recently NICAP selected the "space UFO" photo by astronaut McDivitt as one of the four best "UFO photos" in its files: see James E. Oberg's article in Space World, February, 1977, for a definitive refutation of that one. Stuart Nixon, NICAP's former Executive Director, whose integrity and candor hastened his UFOlogical demise, admitted in a TV interview that "NICAP doesn't have actual proof…we don't feel we've ever come up with solid proof that something extraordinary occurred." Also, Keyhoe is no longer Director of NICAP, and has not been for approximately five years.
"Astronautics & Aeronautics": It is apparent that Mr. Dunn, UFOlogist, has not read UFO's Explained (Klass, Random House, 1974), which places him in the position of an English professor who has not read Shakespeare. The AIAA UFO Subcommittee was composed of a small but dedicated group of "true believers," who saw no need whatsoever for discourse with outsiders. Klass spent six months of his own time in exhaustive technical research on the radar set that registered the "UFO" in the AIAA's "classic" UFO incident, and was able to pinpoint the precise electrical failure, fully explaining the incident to the satisfaction of the principals involved. The AIAA, however, was unwilling to grant him equal space to explain its "unidentified," and suggested that he condense his research to a 'letter to the editor'. Some scientific journal!
"Taylor is a professional physicist who is no dummy": It is a commonplace among stage magicians, the professionals of deception, that scientists are among the easiest people to fool, because in their own field outright deception is so rare. They consequently have no experience in guarding against sophisticated deception and sleight-of-hand. Sir Oliver Lodge and Sir William Crookes, two brilliant scientists, were taken in time and again by fraudulent Spiritualists. In 1923 a panel of experts from Scientific American was thoroughly bamboozled by a famous "medium," whose trickery would have gone undetected were it not for the work of Houdini. A stage magician is far more qualified to judge "psychic" matters than any scientist, and magicians are the most persistent and vocal critics of the "paranormal." Magician James ("The Amazing") Randi, who is also a member of our skeptics' Committee, has a standing offer of $10,000 for anyone, anywhere, who can produce any "paranormal" effect that he cannot himself duplicate using trickery! Randi informs me that his money has never been in serious danger!
"Project Blue Book is still active, by the way." Project Blue Book, the Air Force's UFO investigative effort, was discontinued on December 17, 1969.
To enhance technology's public image, "we should hasten to make amends…(for) rapacious consumption of nonrenewable resources": apparently Mr. Dunn has never heard of free-market supply and demand, which has been able to generate rapacious supply in every known instance of rapacious demand. Technology has tripled the average human lifespan, abolished hunger and many diseases in the advanced nations, and has created a level of affluence unprecedented in all history. Yet it is still widely mistrusted. I suspect that technology is chiefly despised among the pseudo-intellectuals because it has thus far been unable to change water into wine, to divine the future from chicken entrails, or to perform any of the other traditional functions of the old-time, animist-universe religions, which it has so effectively displaced. —R.S.
Abortion and Right to Life
Doris Gordon's letter [August] discussing abortion suggests that Gordon supposes that libertarianism entails the absolute rejection of the killing of human beings, in any circumstances. This is not what I have understood the libertarian position to be. In my understanding, it is that any form of violence, killing included, against person or property is legitimate if and only if it is directed against the violator of another person's rights and serves to minimize the extent of the harm done from the violation. If a fetus has human rights (I do find it reasonable to consider a fetus as human), then it also has the responsibility not to violate the rights of other human beings, voluntarily or involuntarily (if my pet tiger gets out while I'm vacationing in Antarctica and starts to eat your child or your dog, you have the right to stop it even though your methods may inflict losses on me). The presence of a fetus is not always consented to by the woman carrying it (if Gordon wishes to dispute this, I would like to hear her view of pregnancy due to rape), nor does her being willing to carry it initially create an obligation for her to do so. Its presence inflicts substantial costs on her, in time, money, comfort, health, risk to life, and psychological change due to the hormonal consequences of pregnancy. Unless and until it becomes possible to end pregnancy without killing a fetus (transplant to another uterus, ectogenesis, etc.), her right to control her own person protects her from involuntary pregnancy and entitles her to an abortion as the only defense. Indeed, until other methods cost no more in time and risk, abortion will remain a legitimate option. Involuntary pregnancy is to willing motherhood as rape is to willing lovemaking; and I would rather like to hear what Gordon would say to a man whose wife or lover died in childbirth because she had been forbidden an abortion. In fact, so long as government provides defense for other rights at no charge, equal protection would seem to require that it also provide abortions at no charge. The "right to life" is central to the abortion issue: the pregnant woman's right to life, since she is the one on whom costs are being inflicted, and the fetus the one who inflicts them.
William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".