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Filters Against Folly

by Garrett Hardin

Penguin, 1986, 256 pages, paperback

The ecological problems facing our world are frequently addressed by a barrage of experts whose slogans and solutions frequently confuse, rather than clarify our understanding of ecological issues. In Filters Against Folly, Garrett Hardin shows how the filters of literacy—understanding what words really mean, numeracy—being able to quantify information, and ecolacy—assessment of complex interactions over time, can allow us to make sensible judgments about ecological issues.

Praise for Filters Against Folly

"For 20 years Garrett Hardin has been our most hardnosed thinker about ecological problems." --Michael Crichton

"Filters Against Folly offers an antidote to some of the more perverse and dangerous irrationalities of our time: wishful self-delusion, educated incapacity, and foolhardy optimism."--Lynton K. Caldwell, School of Public Environmental Affairs, Indiana University

"Cuts through fuzzy thinking to get to the heart of the issues. . . Should be read carefully by both conservatives and liberals."--Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University

Quotes from Filters Against Folly

"What is the free enterprise system? . . . Calling the system a 'profit system' is misleading, because it is truly a 'profit-and- loss system' as far as the competitors are concerned. The general public wins because competition ensures low prices. The great fortunes made by some enterprisers can be viewed as commissions for helping to keep prices down for everyone. Unfortunately, the truth is not always so simple. A comprehensive history of great business fortunes would show a disconcertingly large number that were made in a quite different way: the enterpriser devised a silent way to commonize costs while continuing to privatize the profits. . . . The hidden rules of the game are these: Commonize Costs and Privatize Profits. The result we may refer to as . . . the CC-PP Game. Such a union of privatism and commonism is not even hinted at in the official apologies for free enterprise. . . . Commonize costs and privatize profits--but don't tell anyone. This has been a formula for success for centuries."

"If smoke from my factory causes a housewife to spend more on laundry soap (and spend more time at the washing machine), the cost is called an external cost of the business enterprise, or an 'externality'. What a marvelous euphemism! The implied meaning is clearly this: 'external to the accounting books of the firm producing the pollution.' The euphemism illustrates well the principle that language is as much action as it is description. The word 'externality' has the effect of pushing costs away from the speaker and toward an otherwhere too vague to evoke emotion. An external cost is a cost imposed on the public without its consent. How one wishes Marshall had proposed the word 'imposition' for these 'external' costs! . . . Perhaps an even better term would have been the word 'excretion.' . . . We no longer permit an individual to deposit the excretions of his body wherever he likes; neither should we permit factories promiscuously to broadcast theirs."

"From Plato's time to the present, professional philosophers have too often tried to solve problems of "the good" without considering how potentialities, behavior and value are affected by scale. Science has taken a different path. As far back as the seventeenth century, Galileo gave sound mathematical reasons why a mouse simply cannot be as big as an elephant. The weight of an animal goes up as the cube of its linear dimensions, whereas the strength of its supporting limbs goes up only as the square. From this simple mathematical difference profound practical conclusions follow."

Table of Contents of Filters Against Folly

  1. Not Vices But Properties
  2. The Expert as Enemy
  3. Three Filters of Reality
  4. Sins of the Literate
  5. The Numerate Filter
  6. The Pursuit of Reliability
  7. The Ecolate Filter
  8. The Binding of Time
  9. A Tragic Distribution System
  10. The Double C - Double P Game
  11. Compassion vs. Principle
  12. The Effect of Scale on Values
  13. The Global Pothole Problem
  14. A Truly Global Problem
  15. Origins of the Global Dream
  16. The Paradoxical Wealth of Information
  17. One World: An Ecolate View
  18. Telephilanthropy: A Modern Invention
  19. Renunciation Resurrected
  20. By Way of Summary

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