Dear OSPIRG Gal...

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Responding to the door bell, there was a young gal with a vaguely eastern European accent at the door, who immediately started a spiel about how she is a member of Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, and how they are working on a campaign to stop overuse of antibiotics by farmers. Normally I would enjoy talking with a cute lady, but I was grumpy and annoyed at all the door knocking recently, and sent her on her way with an abrupt, “I’m not interested.” I thought she looked sore at my reaction, which I thought was pretty funny in a door-to-door campaign. I put up a little sign hoping to ward off the future doorbell ringers. Maybe I should have written on it, “Please, no soliciting, unless you’re cute.”

I have gone door-to-door myself in my younger days, also trying in my way to save the world, in some way or another. That was before I understood that the world does not want to be saved.

In this particular campaign, there certainly are downsides to the overuse of antibiotics. In the future it is likely that many people will die needlessly, due to antibiotics being rendered impotent against new strains of bacteria. But what can be done? People are what they are. Mother nature does not care; the world does not care. Everybody is going to die anyway. Hell, I know it is un-PC to say it, but the Earth might actually be better off with a smaller population of humans on it, in a lot of respects (but not all - I am not of the opinion that human action is uniformly evil or harmful to the environment, as some people seem to be). The entire history of the Earth is a big arms race in evolution, and humans and their tools (one of which, antibiotics, is also tied to evolution) is just a tiny side-show in the big picture.

OSPIRG’s main tool seems to be the lobbying of legislators. Now we are really getting into la-la land, as government does not ever solve problems, but only manages them, and keeps them going forever so there is lots of make-work for regulators and bureaucrats.

The other funny thing is that OSPIRG folks think they are fighting the special interests by using the government. But the special interests own the government. Without special interests, government would not exist in any recognizable form. In the very process of utilizing government, OSPIRG reaffirms the system in which special interests run our lives.

What could OSPIRG do instead? How about promoting a free market? Small farmers do not use antibiotics at near the rate that factory farms do; and even less do the organic farmers. These small farmers are invariably burdened by government, making their job ever more difficult. Yes, OSPIRG could lobby for less government, rather than more (good luck with that).

How about promoting the reduction of municipal government controls over what people do with their properties, so they can keep a few chickens or rabbits in the back yard? I hear traffic noise all day and much of the night, and there are always dogs barking now and then. Is the clucking of chickens so much more objectionable? Collecting chicken manure locally for the garden, rather than chemical aids made by a conglomerate and sold in a chain store - what’s wrong with that?

OSPIRG could also interact with farmers directly and try to get them to use alternatives. OSPIRG could interact with consumers and try to get them to understand the benefits of food from the garden and from small farmers. OSPIRG could interact with food retailers. OSPIRG could support scientists looking for alternatives to antibiotic use, or other scientists looking for new antibiotics.

All of these things have to be more effective than lobbying a legislature to pass a law - assuming they (OSPIRG) really do care about saving lives. Supporting legislators who might be likely to push such laws, will probably also support legislators who, for example, like gun control, thus making a future holocaust more probable. Holocausts tend to use up human lives as well as overuse of antibiotics do. You get a package deal when you elect a legislator. It is hopeless to try to get them to do good (in your eyes), because there are others fighting to get them doing good from a different viewpoint. And if there is anything we can understand after decades of observation, it’s that legislatures don’t do good. Not when you take all the unintended consequences into account.

Anyway, passing a law regulating antibiotic use, how enforceable is it? Won’t farmers just quietly use it anyway? Are you going to respond with a farm gestapo to make sure the law is followed? Won’t the cost of food then rise? Won’t farming become even more bureaucratized, further harming the small farmers? Forcing people is just a bad way to go about things.

In the end, I believe earnest young people just have this overpowering desire to DO SOMETHING, and are taken advantage of by old political hacks for venal ends, much like the young men and women who enter the military to fight for freedom and just end up sacrificed for empire. I was just the same; in fact, I had a very strong case of “save the world.” I hope they get over it more quickly than it took me to do it, and hope they really think about what they are doing and where they are going, about what is effective and what is not. A more local and personal approach, just living well and correctly, has a lot to recommend itself. Does my little OSPIRG gal have her own garden, along with some chickens? Does she buy her food from a small farmer? It seems doubtful.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Samarami's picture

Good points, Paul. Shades of Butler Shaffer a few years ago over at Lew Rockwell: