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I would like to focus your attention not on the subject of thearticle (national security in a nuclear world) but on the kind ofconclusion they reached, namely that there is no technicalsolution to the problem. An implicit and almost universalassumption of discussions published in professional andsemipopular scientific journals is that the problem underdiscussion has a technical solution. A technical solution may bedefined as one that requires a change only in the techniques ofthe natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way ofchange in human values or ideas of morality.

Some would say that this is a platitude. Would that it were!In a sense, it was learned thousands of years ago, but naturalselection favors the forces of psychological denial. The individual benefits as an individual fromhis ability to deny the truth even though society as a whole, ofwhich he is a part, suffers. Education can counteract the naturaltendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession ofgenerations requires that the basis for this knowledge beconstantly refreshed.


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In a still more embryonic state is our recognition of theevils of the commons in matters of pleasure. There is almost norestriction on the propagation of sound waves in the publicmedium. The shopping public is assaulted with mindless music,without its consent. Our government has paid out billions ofdollars to create a supersonic transport which would disturb50,000 people for every one person whisked from coast to coast 3hours faster. Advertisers muddy the airwaves of radio andtelevision and pollute the view of travelers. We are a long wayfrom outlawing the commons in matters of pleasure. Is thisbecause our Puritan inheritance makes us view pleasure assomething of a sin, and pain (that is, the pollution ofadvertising) as the sign of virtue?


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The pollution problem is a consequence of population. It didnot much matter how a lonely American frontiersman disposed ofhis waste. "Flowing water purifies itself every tenmiles," my grandfather used to say, and the myth was nearenough to the truth when he was a boy, for there were not toomany people. But as population became denser, the naturalchemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded,calling for a redefinition of property rights.

1. J. B. Wiesner and H. F. York, 211 (No. 4), 27 (1964).

In passing, it is worth noting that the morality of an actcannot be determined from a photograph. One does not know whethera man killing an elephant or setting fire to the grassland isharming others until one knows the total system in which his actappears. "One picture is worth a thousand words," saidan ancient Chinese; but it may take ten thousand words tovalidate it. It is as tempting to ecologists as it is toreformers in general to try to persuade others by way of thephotographic shortcut. But the essence of an argument cannot bephotographed: it must be presented rationally -- in words.

4. J. H. Fremlin, No.415 (1964), p. 285.

Recycle Mania is a friendly eight-week competition between halls. Earn points to win glory and stuff for your hall; the hall with the most points wins!

5. A. Smith, (Modern Library, New York, 1937), p. 423.

That morality is system-sensitive escaped the attention ofmost codifiers of ethics in the past. "Thou shaltnot " is the form of traditional ethical directiveswhich make no allowance for particular circumstances. The laws ofour society follow the pattern of ancient ethics, and thereforeare poorly suited to governing a complex, crowded, changeableworld. Our epicyclic solution is to augment statutory law withadministrative law. Since it is practically impossible to spellout all the conditions under which it is safe to burn trash inthe back yard or to run an automobile without smog­control, bylaw we delegate the details to bureaus. The result isadministrative law, which is rightly feared for an ancient reason-- --Who shall watch thewatchers themselves? John Adams said that we must have a"government of laws and not men." Bureauadministrators, trying to evaluate the morality of acts in thetotal system, are singularly liable to corruption, producing agovernment by men, not laws.