The Lowest Common Denominator (Part I)
Over ten years later, I still remember the lecture. My law professor had drawn two squares on the chalkboard and labeled them A and B.
“These squares,” he explained, “represent two neighboring factories that manufacturer the same product. The product is of the same quality and sold for the same price. It is manufactured for export only, so all profits come from overseas markets.”
“The problem,” he continued, “is that manufacturing this product is environmentally harmful. The air pollution these factories generate has caused people living near them to suffer higher rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses than the average population.”
“To combat this problem, the owner of factory A decides to install “scrubbers” inside the smokestacks, which will reduce harmful emissions by fifty percent. But the costs of installing and maintaining these “scrubbers” will also require her to raise the price of her product by one dollar per unit.”
“So she approaches the owner of factory B with her proposal, and he responds as follows: ‘It’s really decent of you to be concerned about the welfare of the community. But since our profits come from overseas markets, I really don’t care about the harm my factory is causing locally. In fact, if I refuse to install “scrubbers,” I’ll actually be more competitive, since I can sell my product for a lower price.’”
Faced with the prospect of lost income, the owner of factory A abandons the idea of installing “scrubbers”: “Thus B’s refusal,” the professor stated, “reduced A to the lowest common denominator.”
The point of this lecture was to illustrate how laws were often required to achieve what a sense of higher purpose could not. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. explained after President Dwight Eisenhower denounced proposed civil rights legislation as an attempt to “legislate morality”: “A law may not make a man like me, but it can stop him from lynching me.”
But I discerned another lesson in the professor’s example: It is easier for evildoers to lower others to their depths than it is for those who do good to elevate others to their heights.
The most graphic illustration of this has been the abysmal legacy of George W. Bush and his cabal of criminals. In a few short years, his dictatorship has reduced the once hallowed principles of the United States to their “lowest common denominator.” And the rest of the world has followed.
Think how vacuous it sounds for members of the Bush dictatorship to condemn a fraudulent election in Zimbabwe, when they fraudulently seized the White House during the coup of 2000, aided by corrupt government officials, including Bush’s own brother, and equally corrupt Supreme Court “justices.”
Think how hypocritical it sounds for the Bush dictatorship to criticize China’s human rights record, while it has continued to engage in a policy of torture, rendition and illegal detentions.
Think how inane it sounds to argue that the lack of “democracy” in Cuba demands that an economic embargo remain in place, when on Cuba’s very soil, at Guantanamo Bay, hundreds of detainees, held captive by the Bush dictatorship, exist in legal limbo, denied the very due process rights that most democracies take for granted.
Think how hollow it sounds to condemn Myanmar’s government for its handling of relief supplies intended for cyclone victims, when the Bush dictatorship’s own response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina was an exercise in callousness and incompetence.
But, perhaps most hypocritical of all, think how ludicrous it is for the Bush dictatorship to condemn the Russian invasion and occupation of two separatist regions in Georgia when it illegally invaded and occupied the entire nation of Iraq.
Of course, Bush and his minions will argue that they are justified in their condemnations, because they’ve always acted for the “right” reasons, while these other nations have acted for the “wrong” reasons.
The fundamental problem with this logic is that no nation is ever going to admit it is doing something for the “wrong” reasons, and governments are certainly not inclined to listen to hypocrites who commit the same acts they condemn.
In fact, many Western journalists, albeit reluctantly, have conceded that the provocative actions of the Georgian government may have prompted the Russian invasion. Contrast this with the invasion of Iraq, which was fomented on outrights lies about Saddam Hussein possessing “weapons of mass destruction,” and having “ties to Al-Qaeda.” In fact, a new book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind alleges that the CIA, acting on orders from the White House, forged a letter in the name of Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil Habbush in an attempt to link the Iraqi government to the events of September 11th, 2001. Naturally the Bush dictatorship is denying this. But given its reputation for profligacy and mendacity such denials will forever ring hollow.
To be continued…
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru