Dumping chess pieces into the grinder

by Walter Olson on February 21, 2014

“Why America’s ivory ban won’t help elephants” — and will invite criminal elements further into the antique business [Spectator (U.K.) editorial; Doug Bandow, Cato Institute]

{ 6 comments }

1 DensityDuck 02.21.14 at 3:35 pm

Public Choice Theory.

The point is not to help elephants. The point is to be the kind of country that wants bad things to not happen to elephants.

2 Stewart Peterson 02.21.14 at 4:39 pm

Uh, maybe I’m missing something here, but if you’re trying to destroy the market for poached ivory, wouldn’t it be more effective to sell ivory that’s seized from poachers for pennies on the dollar?

3 Don Miller 02.21.14 at 6:08 pm

You were a trouble maker as child weren’t you Stewart

4 Hugo S Cunningham 02.21.14 at 6:23 pm

The eventual game plan may be to stigmatize ivory possession like child pornography. At present it is acceptable to document an ivory item’s age back to when elephant hunting was legal, but to the extent such documentation becomes essential in the future, it will be more likely to be forged and discredited by criminals.

5 MattS 02.22.14 at 7:40 pm

@DensityDuck

“The point is not to help elephants. The point is to be the kind of country that wants bad things to not happen to elephants.”

That is insane. To be the kind of country that wants bad things to not happen to elephants but at the same time make it so that bad things are more likely to happen to elephants.

6 Stewart Peterson 02.23.14 at 1:05 am

@MattS

(Just for the record and apologies in advance to anyone who considers this insultingly obvious. It’s not an original thesis.)

It is insane – but remember, we live in an intellectual bubble where the emphasis is on making the right decisions based on correct information. Most people aren’t geeks – that doesn’t mean they’re stupid, just that they’re thinking about people and interpersonal signals rather than things and ideas – and for them, the basic urge is to prove how loyal you are to the social group you identify with.

If that means doing something that you know is counterproductive, because you gauge the social cues in the situation as telling you that doing it will make you more highly thought-of, then so be it. It’s not about achieving the stated goal; it’s about wanting to be part of the group badly enough.

So, basically, arguing that they’re not achieving the stated goal is pointless, and will produce a vacant smile and “that’s nice.” There is no goal. The point of their lives is to do what is considered to be standard operating procedure in the group of people who have the same set of emotional reactions to events (known as “culture”) that they do. The “norms” (standard operating procedures) of the “culture” are inherently unassailable, because these people use the “normative” approach to defining correct behavior. Buy organic food? Everybody’s doing it! Join the Nazi Party? Everybody’s doing it! Wear a blue shirt on Tuesday? Everybody’s doing it! Have a completely different opinion today from what you had yesterday? Everybody’s doing it!

The kicker is that since these social norms are the mechanism by which these people decide what is right and wrong, “deviant behavior” is treated as criminality. The same emotional reaction kicks in: not buying organic food and, say, spray-painting the local school building both generate the same emotional reaction, so, to these people, they are functionally identical acts.

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