Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Environmental" Movies

Following up on my point about boomer environmentalism ("stop killing Bambi") and kindergarten Marxism (capitalism is going to kill us somehow), I'll bring up some famous movies. In a way the environmental movement, especially in its focus on global warming, is saying: Let's give Erin Brockovich (even) more money--she's such an advocate for forcing companies to take responsibility for the harm they do to the environment. Let's bring Karen Silkwood back to life--it's terrible the way corporate interests had her killed for trying to tell the truth about the awful dangers of nuclear power. And (fictional) Michael Clayton should be made a full partner in his firm; he knows what justice is when it comes to companies corrupting our food supply and endangering innocent people.

The whole idea that as a general rule, a company would order a street murder as a solution to their problems, and that this demonstrates what capitalism is really like, is infantile. Of course there are people who kill witnesses, or arrange to have them killed, in order to make a trial or lawsuit go their way: street criminals, and sometimes more sophisticated people like lawyer Paul Bergrin. Surely it is more likely, however, that a company would use cash to make issues go away--the very tasty carrot, rather than the brutal stick. As the senior lawyer played by Sydney Pollack says in the Clayton movie, when Clayton has melodramatically suggested that their corporate client is guilty: "Is that all? I thought this case stank from the beginning." Apart from this, is it common for companies to have the kind of skeleton in the closet that makes them cornered and panicky?

And even if this does happen with some regularity--gritty reality cannot be defended--does this mean that capitalism does more harm than good--that it is just as likely to kill us as to keep on making us rich?

Wikipedia suggests that if anyone conspired to kill Karen Silkwood, it was more likely the U.S. government than the Kerr-McGee corporation. Brockovich didn't exactly have to prove, in "peer-reviewed" fashion, that the Kerr-McGee corporation had made anyone sick. She just had to prove that people were sick, and that the company had placed poison nearby. A jury was ready to do the rest. John Edwards made a big career out of suing companies that could afford to pay big lawsuits. Are his sucesses a sign that he carefully investigated the harm that doctors and hospitals had actually done? It is known, for example, that Edwards more or less invented the theory that babies suffer from cerebral palsy if they are delayed in passing through the birth canal at birth. He got at least one doctor to keep on testifying to this, but there was never a scientific basis for it, and when good evidence started to come in, it was against Edwards' theory rather than for it.

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