The Shoulder to Shoulder Option to Change the World

I remember, back when I first read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, doing a little cheer complete with pompoms in the back of my head when a character discredits the idea that "everyone" will boycott Earth goods and march shoulder to shoulder on the Warden’s residence.

I had to cheer, because, seriously, who wouldn’t who had lived for years (I think I was sixteen) in a “socialist on the way to the perfect system, communism” (as my 11th grade history book called it) school system?

If anything was wrong, we were supposed to “shoulder to shoulder” it and make our displeasure known. We were all supposed to “do this” and “not do that,” and when the plan failed, it was because we hadn’t believed in it hard enough, or perhaps had not done more than our part to make up for the ten slackers per productive person.

The flaw in “if we each do our share” is that it’s utopian, and thus impossible, as is “if we all grow wings and fly.”

I was reminded of this when I visited the Denver Zoo with my older son. (He’s loved elephants since he was five, and even now that he’s a grown man, a visit to the zoo cheers him up. And before you ask, no, I’m not his preferred companion in these expeditions. I’m the one who was free that day, though.)

Normally, no matter whom I go with, we avoid the zoo's little "endangered species" lectures, because frankly, I start mumbling under my breath about all the logical flaws, and it upsets everyone and makes whoever is with me want to hide. (I should get all the guys T-shirts that say “I’m with the unstable libertarian Latin.”) But we didn’t walk fast away from this lecture, because the zoo has a new little boy-elephant (I think five or six) and the person giving the lecture was putting him through his paces, which my son enjoys seeing.

However, that meant listening to the lecture, which, yes, means I gave my son an earful as we walked away. The Denver Zoo elephants are all Indian and the lecture was about how endangered they are (I didn’t rant about this part, because I simply don’t know enough, but I have a vague idea that it’s very hard to tell how endangered species really are, and that some species considered endangered are just really, really well hidden and are doing fine).

The lecture enjoined us, of course, not to buy anything made from elephants, including ivory (which is slightly daft, since tusks can be cut and grow back). But more importantly, they say, palm oil is becoming very popular in the U.S., and is in a bunch of products, and the elephant habitats are being destroyed for palm-oil farms.

We are therefore supposed to examine everything we buy and reject it based on palm oil being used, and there’s an app that will tell us what products to avoid.

Aside: There might or might not have been a pitch for "fair trade" palm oil. I remember it, but by that time I was foaming at the mouth from the effort not to talk back, so I might have imagined it. If it was there, it’s probably dumber than the rest. Paying more for a smaller portion of something doesn’t discourage the clearing of more farms or the harvesting of more palm oil (it occurs to me I actually don’t have a clue how palm oil is made. And I won’t look, because otherwise, I’ll lose three hours). It’s one more instance of Leftist economics, also known as wishful thinking. I have actually seen it applied to similar products. Apparently, they think if people make more money, they’ll be content and not try to make yet more. I don’t know if it’s because they believe all foreigners are “noble savages” or if they’re that ignorant about what motivates all humans beings, not just foreigners who tan.

Anyway, I walked away telling son just what was wrong with this pitch (yes, it looked exactly as you imagine, complete with wildly waving arms. Shut up).

He didn’t answer, and I have no idea if he agreed or was just tuning me out, which is the most likely, since he’s been exposed to my economic and social theories from an early age, and the only reason to survive that and not kill me is to go inside to your happy place.

However, here is the thing: Suppose everyone who comes to a zoo and listens to that lecture or similar lectures got the stupid little app and eliminated palm oil from their lives?

They are what? One percent of the people in America? Or less? And that’s, mind you, if you posit that everyone who hears and pays attention remembers or has enough time to use the app while grocery shopping with kids (most of the audience were families with kids).

Will that make any difference? No. Not really.

Then why have the stupid little lecture, instead of doing something substantive? (And as much as son hated that idea – he actually squawked back at me at that one – the best solution would be to make elephant farming legal, or ivory selling, or something. Let me remind everyone that cows are in no danger of going extinct. This is somewhat complicated because elephants are probably sentient at some level. But it’s still better and more likely to succeed than the shoulder to shoulder option.)

Well, because the little lecture sounds good, and makes the lecturer and those who use the app feel all virtuous. It’s the secular equivalent of the sale of indulgences and probably does as much good as that did.

I don’t know if it’s a mental defect in the leftist brain, or in the human brain in general (and that’s possible because in a small ape band “if we all do this or that” works, and our brains still only work well in small bands), though I see it more often on the left, but there is this default system people fall into of “if only everyone did this.”

This assumes toxic aspects on the left, where the hatred of males is justified with the idea that if only all men condemned rapists or wife abusers, there would be no rapes or wife abuse.

This ignores the fact that men perpetrating such horrors have already withstood condemnation and argument from everyone in society, men and women.

But somehow, on the crazy feminist Left, it’s justifiable to hate all men, because if only all men “did this one simple thing” the bad men would stop. They tend to get rather upset when I tell them that men can no more control/change rapists than I can control/change crazy feminists.

Enjoining everyone to use neat apps, or wear a ribbon, or disown (I can’t disown what I never owned), or whatever crazy thing they want us to do today, would make no difference.

Even under totalitarian regimes, the rate of compliance is never 100%. How much less when there’s no enforcement? And no, enforcement is not an option either, because you can’t force the market. It will find other paths and they might be just as bad.

Instead, find a free market solution that rewards the behaviors you want to solve the problem – and for the love of Bob (Heinlein) make sure the problem exists and that the solution you want would work – and let people do the work themselves.

Compliance will never be 100%. Or probably much above 80%.

But it will be as close as you can get, and closer than on the shoulder to shoulder option.

As Sarah Palin (or her speechwriters) put it in '08, Hope is not a plan and Change is not a destination.

Also, shoulder to shoulder is not a plan of action, nor is “if we all look at this neat app” a strategy.

If there is a problem, and if you care about solving it, find a plan that works with humans as they are.

If it’s a made-up problem, and your only interest is to virtue signal, carry on.

You’re doing great.