Monday, June 29, 2009

An Act of God, or TOBA?

Advocates of the Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA) frequently defend the law by declaring that those who build on the beach are aware of the possibility that their land may some day be seized by the state. In an OpEd article in Saturday's Chronicle, real estate attorney Daryl Bailey writes:
[T]he exercise of such authority by the state is a far cry from when it is exercised to make way for development. In fact, it is the opposite, to prevent development of public areas that exist because of an act of God, not an act of the state.
Wikipedia describes an "act of God" as:
Act of God is a legal term for events outside of human control, such as sudden floods or other natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible.
Bailey is referring to Hurricane Ike as an "act of God", but it wasn't Ike that wrote TOBA. While Ike may have changed the vegetation line, Ike did not mandate that land outside of that line is a "public beach".

In her essay "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made" Ayn Rand writes:
Any natural phenomenon, i.e., any event which occurs without human participation, is the metaphysically given, and could not have occurred differently or failed to occur; any phenomenon involving human action is the man-made, and could have been different.
An "act of God"--such as Hurricane Ike--is the metaphysically given; TOBA is the man-made. And it is TOBA that is responsible for the seizure of private property. In other words, while no individual is responsible for the devastation caused by Ike, the Texas Legislature is responsible for the devastation caused by TOBA. For Bailey to imply otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

In her article Ayn Rand goes on to write:
It is the metaphysically given that must be accepted: it cannot be changed. It is the man-made that must never be accepted uncritically: it must be judged, then accepted or rejected and changed when necessary. Man is not omniscient or infallible: he can make innocent errors through lack of knowledge, or he can lie, cheat and fake. The man-made may be a product of genius, perceptiveness, ingenuity—or it may be a product of stupidity, deception, malice, evil. One man may be right and everyone else wrong, or vice versa (or any numerical division in between).
As a man-made phenomenon, TOBA must be judged. Bailey would have us treat it as the metaphysically given--as an immutable fact that cannot be changed. It exists, and therefore it must be good. At the same time, he regards public access to beaches as a natural right, while simultaneously discarding the actual rights of property owners:
On one side of the eye is the right to public beaches — created by Ike’s fury. On the dirty side — some might say — are the rights of a few owners of private property who are trying to assert a new exemption from the 50-year-old Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA).
Bailey's choice of words is quite revealing. Those who assert their property rights are on the "dirty side" (this is a reference to the northeast quadrant of a hurricane, which typically has the most rain and wind). Those who want to seize private property, we must conclude, are "clean". While such language is certainly "cute", it is nothing more than a smear against those who are angry that their property is being taken by the state.

Theft is theft, no matter how many people support it, whether it is done by private thugs or under the pretense of law. And theft is never clean. It is a violation of individual rights, and the perpetrator is not God, but the government.

That defenders of TOBA routinely argue that the victims were warned about the law demonstrates their callous disregard for individual rights and individual lives. While posturing as humanitarian guardians of "the public", they do not hesitate to destroy the lives of some of the individuals who constitute that public.

Their justification for trampling on individuals is altruism. They believe that the individual must place the welfare and interests of others before his own, that the "good of society" or the "public welfare" supersede any individual good. And who will determine the "public welfare"? The public, or their appointed spokesmen. This elevates "the public" above any principles; "the public" may do as it pleases with no constraints. If a few "dirty" individuals get hurt in the process, that's just too bad.

Ironically, while supporters of TOBA substitute society for God as the ultimate moral authority, they rely on an "act of God" to justify their brazen and heartless thievery. Their ethics are just as irrational as the most devout mystic, and the consequences are the same--the use of force as the means for dealing with others.

Neither TOBA nor any other statist policy can be defeated while clutching to altruism. Defenders of liberty must reject the premise that man's purpose for existence is to serve others. More importantly, they must defend the right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, the pursuit of his own happiness, and his own property.


JG said...

I have recently started to read your blog postings regularly. Excellent, principled, blog.

I found this particular posting on TOBA to be very lucid -you have identified and separated the irrational premises that make the basis of TOBA brilliantly.

Brian Phillips said...

Thank you Jasmine. I have to admit that I particularly like this post myself.