Slow-Growth Pains

I don't care much for Steven Hayward's article "The Growth Brokers" in your August/September issue. The writing style was good; the reasoning, lousy. Basically he criticizes the "slow growth" movement that seeks to limit excessive real estate development. I live in an area where I wish to God there had been an effective slow growth movement about 20 years ago.

I bought my home here in 1955. I wanted to get out of the crowded city—Tacoma—and into a place with some elbow room. This area, then called Adelaide, looked like an ideal spot: lots of room (nearest house 300 feet), plenty of woods, and friendly neighbors who mostly minded their own business. Nobody bothered to lock their doors—or needed to. Nearest business district was 3 miles away, nearest traffic light about 10. The crime problem was near zero. Plus, these conditions were protected by single-family-dwelling zoning. Ideal place to raise a family.

It seems a natural law in our present society that anytime you discover something good—depend on it—the vultures will gather and try their best to take it away or destroy it. In this case the vultures were the developers. About two decades ago they started buying up big tracts of land and petitioning the county authorities to change the zoning. Zoning restrictions were removed, huge chunks of natural beauty were bulldozed flat, and condos and shopping centers were packed in tightly. The area, now called Federal Way, currently has around 60,000 residents, horrendous traffic jams, uncounted traffic lights, a growing crime problem, a hint of future water rationing, and a property tax about five times what it used to be.

After ruining my neighborhood, they have the nerve to call the mess "progress." Progress is improvement—this is actually "regress."

Howard J. Hanson
Federal Way, WA

Mr. Hayward replies: Mr. Hanson's letter is a model example of NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) thinking. And one would have to be wholly insensitive to have no sympathy with Mr. Hanson's perception, which is rooted in the seemingly innate human dislike of change, or at least change that makes one's life less convenient. But can this sentiment be the basis for sound public policy?

Consider: I've never heard of a single developer who sells his products at gunpoint. I make the point this way to dramatize how developers have become a red herring in the growth controversy. Mr. Hanson's real quarrel is not with "vulture developers," but with the customers of developers, who all too often have the bad taste to pay money for these ostensibly tacky and ruinous new homes and commercial buildings. Blaming developers as the cause of the problems of growth is about as accurate as blaming car manufacturers for causing traffic. Developers without customers go by a different appellation than "vulture": They are known as "bankrupt." Just ask John Connally and his Texas friends.

The point is, growth is natural, and therefore unstoppable without tyrannical government. The fault for the kind of problems Mr. Hanson describes—traffic, water shortages, etc.—belongs generally to state and local government, who fail properly to accommodate growth (preferring to spend their vast revenues on income transfer programs instead), rather than with developers, who are usually restricted in their private ability to provide services such as new roads and water lines. To encourage greater government control or restriction on development, as Mr. Hanson's letter advocates, not only misses the point but entails a further extension of government control over private property, the peril of which readers of this journal do not need to be instructed in.

As I say, I have deep sympathy for Mr. Hanson's experience, but justice compels me to conclude that there is no basis in right to regulate where other people may live and work so that our own lives will be comfortable, or our views unobstructed. Finally, a salient point to remember is that people in Mr. Hanson's position—long-time residents of fast-growing areas—are usually the biggest winners in terms of increased property values. Thus, if people like Mr. Hanson place their highest value on trees and open space, they usually have ample means to move to such a place—a financial option most of the newcomers no doubt envy.

Debate Not Yet Aborted

Although I initially disregarded Virginia Postrel's "Reconsidering Roe" (May), the series of letters in the August/September issue requires a rebuttal lest libertarians grossly tarnish their intellectual and philosophical heritage. The founders held very strong religious and moral views—although Tibor R. Machan fails to adequately explore them—clearly enunciated in the Declaration: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life.…"

Similarly, Rod Long's illogical assertion that "a fetus is not a bystander but an aggressor…and so [its] right to life does not entitle it to demand the use of its mother's body as an incubator," nesciently denies the nature of the causal relationship. The fetus can no more aggress against his/her mother than can a pot of boiling water on the stove. Rather, there exists a clear responsibility, for a man and a woman, when they engage in the procreative act (or drive recklessly, or consume too much alcohol, or…). To seek to evade personal responsibility for one's actions is inconsistent with the classical liberal premise. Is there not, after all, a logical and moral inconsistency when we, on the one hand, criticize government welfare programs for allowing individuals to abdicate personal responsibility, and yet seek the same "right" when it comes to our physical behavior? As Dr. Ron Paul has noted, "A careless attitude toward the sanctity of human life can hardly promote an energetic and intellectually acceptable defense of individual rights."

Robert P. Roth
Mt. Zion, IL

The letters section of the August/September issue dealing with abortion was as provocative as most feature articles—bravo!

I found disturbing the letters that suggested the question of whether a fetus is a "life" is irrelevant since the fetus is a mere parasite and hence entitled to no legal protection. The ramifications of such a contention for other "parasites" (such as children?) whose welfare taxes other people's liberty are sobering.

The problem with many of my fellow libertarians is they indulge their nihilistic impulses and overlook the necessity of individuals' taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The creation of a human life is surely a foreseeable consequence of sexual intercourse.

Clint Bolick
Arlington, VA

Wrong Number?

If the purpose of REASON is to advance the cause of libertarianism, this mission is ill-served by the soft thinking evidenced in John Dentinger's article ("The 976-ME Decade," Aug./Sept.). In it he lambastes conservatives as cantankerous fools who quake with fear at every new technological development. Drawing such false distinctions between conservatives and libertarians serves no purpose and damages the credibility of the libertarian movement.

Conservatives support the free market because it provides the most goods and services to consumers at the cheapest possible prices. Among these goods is, obviously, better phone service, and I don't know any conservative who doesn't believe that local phone service should be deregulated.

And, by the way, Buckley's comment about standing athwart history referred not to the advance of technology but to the rising tide of socialism—a sentiment strongly shared, one would suppose, by the readers of REASON magazine.

John Merline
Washington, DC

Because I was left laughing I take no offense, but John Dentinger might more carefully mark the line between plain facts and satire: Some readers might be left believing that the "telephone company" has all this time actually known who was ringing that phone, deliberately withholding the information from the answering party. Although phone numbers eventually make it onto phone bills, that takes a few days—days, not seconds—to traverse the machines and desks of the accounting departments.

Telephone manufacturers have had the equipment and programming for immediate display of calling numbers for only the last five years. We the public continue waiting to buy it and use it because federal and state regulators, who know more about consumers' needs and desires than do we ourselves (satire), have needed all that time to decide to finally allow it into parts of the market (fact). And once we get our incoming-number displays, they will only function if the calling phone is "close enough" to the ringing phone. Technically, the communications systems could forward the incoming phone number across the world, but legally, our federal judicial system has forbidden its transfer across any of the 100 "LATA boundaries" that have been drawn on the U.S. map.

Any fault here is not with the workers and leaders of the communications industry but in the government that used to protect it from stimulation and now restricts it from response.

David JJ Iverson
Saint Charles, IL

…Lest Ye Be Judged

I was sickened and angered by Paul Weaver's grossly inaccurate review of Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day: My Years with Ayn Rand ("The Unbearable Lightness of a Protege's Being," Aug./Sept.). The review contains many shocking, easily confirmed factual errors regarding the book's content. Among them are his claims that Branden:

• "says that in the effort to satisfy the need for ecstasy, people should do whatever turns them on," making war and taking drugs included, "and not look back";
• "wants us to understand that he has no regrets";
• "insists that the only thing amiss in his relationship with Rand was an age difference."

Additionally, Weaver frequently uses the flimsiest of excuses to fly into his own shallow, cynical, overreaching speculations. A glaring example is Branden's alleged "lightness" referred to in the review's title. In other cases, the reader is left with the impression that these flights represent ideas expressed in the book.

I found Judgment Day to be a thoroughly believable, enormously inspiring story of a man's winning struggle for integrity and happiness. Reading the book brightly colored my personal life, long sections of it giving me the sustained and marvelous experience of seeing through the eyes of one who deeply loves life and his own soul. Weaver's review does a great injustice.

Merrill Gibson
Culver City, CA

In describing a review of Atlas Shrugged in Judgment Day Nathaniel Branden said, "The review attacked the novel on every possible level. I recall, as clearly as if it were ten minutes ago, my stunned inability to grasp how anyone…could permit himself such dishonesty and lack of intellectual scruples."

That statement describes exactly my response to your review. How could it be possible to read Judgment Day and then attribute the following to Branden: "If sex is your thing, Branden counsels, get thee into the sack. If religion, athletics, drugs, or war is what you get off on, he declares, do it and don't look back"? This is simply dreadful misrepresentation.

Duane Goddard
Vista, CA

Where Mr. Weaver finds Dr. Branden vindictive or hostile, I find him compassionate and frank. Where Mr. Weaver finds Dr. Branden without regrets, I find him reporting in a clear and convincing manner the enormity of the mistakes he made. Where Mr. Weaver finds Dr. Branden self-aggrandizing, I find him truthful, factual, and positive in his assessments. Where Mr. Weaver finds Dr. Branden a "prisoner of lightness" in his biography, I find his memoir a courageous, intimate, and brilliant commentary on the deeper (and to date more ignored) aspects of the Objectivist political-intellectual-philosophical movement.

This powerfully written book was, admittedly, somewhat ruthless in its appraisal of his relationships with Ayn Rand and those around her, but until now Dr. Branden had never publicly responded to 20 years of mud-slinging and innuendos about his contribution to and involvement with Objectivism. The book can only be fully evaluated and appreciated in the context of the circumstances giving rise to its origin. Dr. Branden has written something about intellectual history from a unique vantage point. Mr. Weaver somewhat grudgingly acknowledges, "I'm in awe of Branden's achievement in courageously and often movingly bearing witness to so intimate and vast a range of personal experience."

Of all the falsehoods in the review about Dr. Branden, perhaps none is more astonishing than Mr. Weaver's statement toward the end of the piece that the ultimate conclusion of Dr. Branden's book is that, in their search and need for ecstasy, "people should do whatever turns them on." Whether they want religion or sex or drugs or_____, "do it and don't look back." I have never heard Dr. Branden, in his voluminous writings or in person, ever take the position which Mr. Weaver characterizes in essence as "go ahead and do just what makes you feel good."

Robert W. Smiley, Jr.
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Smiley is a trustee of the Reason Foundation. —Eds.

Paul H. Weaver takes the easy way in his harsh review of Nathaniel Branden's Judgment Day and essentially misses the point. Since Branden is very harsh on himself and revealing, it is easy to attack him with his own testimony; but his book is about honesty, not what a great guy he is. When he told Rand the truth, she tried to crucify him. Her world required lies. Branden had some important responsibility for that. After the break it imploded on her. Ironically, the validity of the basic principles of her philosophy didn't matter, for they weren't applied.

After "judgment day," practically everybody got what he or she deserved. Branden became the effective champion of self-esteem and personal autonomy and invented and refined the sentence-completion technique, which is to psychotherapy what the wheel is to transportation. A psychotherapeutic technique of his even more important, because it is more basic, is his honesty. As a therapist, he tells you what he really thinks and feels. This memoir is an extension of that.

Now Branden is becoming a champion of an ecstatic state of consciousness, but he never says people "should do whatever turns them on." He gives examples of behaviors that try to fulfill this need; he doesn't necessarily endorse their means.

Branden tries to be completely honest. Not being God, he doesn't completely succeed. If we are lucky, there will be another book to complement this one.

Brant Gaede
Park Ridge, NJ

Mr. Weaver replies: Contrary to these letters, it is no misrepresentation of Judgment Day to say, as I did in my review, that in the book's closing pages Branden tries to glorify himself and sanitize his tragic relationship with Ayn Rand by asserting a human need for an "ecstatic state of consciousness" and a corresponding ethic of "whatever turns you on." I might, however, have made it clearer as to which things Branden says explicitly and which things he implies. He's explicit when he advocates ecstasy and implicit about the whatever-turns-you-on stuff.

Having described the need for ecstasy, he argues that people should satisfy it. For example, he reports that when he broke with Rand, he acknowledged a need for the ecstasy he'd been getting from her and made sure the need was met in new ways.

In the course of this discussion, Branden lists some of the ways in which people achieve the ecstatic consciousness he advocates: love affairs, war or battle, religion, drugs, and athletics. It's a list that cries out for ethical comment—morally and existentially, these are a diverse and problematic bunch of pastimes. But Branden offers no comment. He doesn't say that as pathways to ecstasy, love and religion and athletics might be preferable to war and drugs. He doesn't say that the ecstasy of drugs might be a self-destructive chimera. He doesn't say that if war is the only thing that turns you on, maybe you'll have to forget about ecstasy. By this silence he suggests that in his opinion, war, drugs, and love are all good for people who can get off on them.

It's no accident that Branden ignores the moral issues raised by his list. For one thing, as anyone who's read Nietzsche will understand, ecstasy isn't a moral or prudential passion; the only ethic it acknowledges is the rule of Whatever Turns You On. Moreover, as I said in my review, Branden is talking about ecstasy, not because he wants to discuss ethics or psychology, but because he wants to end his book on a note of self-glorification. The whatever-turns-you-on ethic provides the context that enables him to get offstage in a warm, hazy glow of The Way We Were and Aren't I Great?

Sheenway Shines

Coincidentally, I read REASON for the first time while in Washington, D.C., attending a summer institute whose theme was "Restructuring the Schools: What Does It Mean?" I found Craig Collins's article ("The Wizard of Watts," Aug./Sept.) very timely because it clearly illustrated what a person with a vision of education can do to make a difference. Dolores Sheen is to be commended for the creativity, dedication, and determination she has to keep Sheenway School open. Hers is a nontraditional program; the learning components have been structured to make the students understand the school setting is also a community setting. By sharing learning experiences and responsibilities the students have an enriched educational opportunity.

It is indeed sad that Sheen has such a financial struggle and feels that she cannot apply for state or federal monies. Although it is understood that there must be regulations and guidelines with granted monies, it should also be possible to have some programmatic autonomy. Traditional schooling is not working for many children; nontraditional schools should have a chance to strive and survive.

Mary G. Bennett
Irvington, NJ

It was heartening to read of Dolores Sheen's Sheenway School. Does the school accept cash donations; if so, could you provide their mailing address?

Arne J. Almquist
Denton, TX

A number of readers asked the same question. Contributions may be sent to: Sheenway School, 10101 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013. —Eds.