The Deer Crossing Principle of Social Policy
by EDWARD CLINE
October 24, 2012
Listening to a video recently that featured numerous stills of deer, deer crossing signs, and of cars dented or mangled by close encounters between reckless drivers and bounding deer, I had an epiphany: I finally grasped, for all time and for all mankind, how statist economists and society managers thought. A new sun rose, and I heard trumpets and a heavenly chorus singing "Hallelujah!" I didn't quite experience "rapture," but it was very close that state of exaltation.
The revelation was this: Statists old and new, freshly minted and long retired, think like the lady who called into a radio talk show to complain about deer crossing signs. Not about the deer, but about the location of the signs.
Her reasoning, if it can be called such, was that if the signs were placed at local roads and highways with low traffic volume, there would be fewer deer casualties and fewer crumpled cars. It made no sense to her to place those signs at high-volume traffic locations. Wasn't that obvious?
The host of radio Y94, in Fargo, North Dakota, listened patiently to Donna - that was her name - and refrained from audible smirks and guffaws while he explained in very simple terms the purpose of the signs. He was a paragon of courtesy and tolerance and public civility.
Now why, I asked myself, would any rational person come to the conclusion that the location of a deer crossing sign would have any effect on, well, deer? Or, rather, the proper question to ask was: How would any rational person come to such a conclusion?
Well, no rational person would establish a causal connection between the signs and deer. No rational person would ascribe to deer the ability to read signs, or even grasp the silhouettes on them of leaping deer. Perhaps not even the caller. We must allow Donna that much - in spite of evidence to the contrary - for she does drive a car, and it has physically encountered deer a number of times, much to the cost of her bank balance and insurance premiums. She did not say that she had tired of exchanging insurance company information with the offending deer, or had had mutual cuss-out incidents with any one of them. Or so she claims. But she was clearly fed up.
No, the explanation for this lady's reasoning must be that the signs impart some kind of existential power over the deer. The deer are like metal shavings, or filings, so to speak, and the signs are super magnets. Deer magically gravitate towards these signs. Move the magnet and watch the filings move. Move the signs, and watch the deer move. That part of academia studying the metaphysics and epistemology of deer hasn't quite nailed down why deer follow deer crossing signs, just as scientists haven't quite nailed down what gravity is - is it undetectable gravity waves, volitional quarks, or what? - although gravity certainly works. So should deer crossing signs. They are preparing a major experiment on the power of deer crossing signs to manipulate the impenetrable predisposition of deer to cross roads and highways.
But deer want to cross the road, just like chickens, raccoons, possums, squirrels, and other groundlings that are regularly squashed. The deer don't necessarily take note of the signs. They just show up near them, collectively or by their lonesome. Photographs prove this.
Of course, a deer can have the quirky habit of outrunning a car and deliberately crossing in front it. It appears to be in a rush to play chicken with a driver. Or perhaps its day just isn't made without a brush with metal and risking death or maiming by a two-ton entity. Perhaps it is vain and wishes to show the noisy entity just how nimble and agile it is. Deer anthropologists claim there are "show-offy" deer. Such a deer is determined to cross the road ahead of the vehicle. Its self-esteem must depend on it. Or something.
Anyway, back to the complaining lady. She was sincere in her reasoning. Or perhaps she was pulling the legs of the show's two hosts. But she sounded sincere. Let us grant her a state of genuine perturbation.
You see, your average economist and your average politician and your average teacher and your average voter all think the same way as Donna. Never accuse of them of harboring a dichotomy between cause and effect. Donna has a unique epistemology; it established for her the causal metaphysical connections between deer and deer crossing signs. Our group of averages is also imbued with a similar epistemology. But Donna could never validate that knowledge, because, well, she couldn't. Just as the undetectable powers of Ouija boards and the miraculous powers of pyramid hats can't be validated. One can't validate what can't be detected, what isn't open to sensory perception. Or what isn't and never was there.
Donna has reached her end game. Her epistemology and metaphysics are the stuff of Road Runner cartoons. And Groucho Marx's seven-cent nickel. And global warmng.
Paul Krugman, champion of inflation and government interference and moving the country in a different direction, shares Donna's epistemology and metaphysics. He believes that if the Fed moves the deer crossing signs, the public will follow and cross the road where he and Bernard Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have designated the true and proper point to cross. Or rather, where the public should follow, but too often does not, thus throwing a monkey wrench into their best laid deer crossing plans. Millions of metal filings fly in every direction but in the direction forecast by the planners, usually as far away from the magnet or sign as possible. They haven't quite validated their metaphysics. Because their epistemology hasn't quite worked yet. They haven't quite figured out the composition of those countless metal filings. They seem to have minds of their own.
Now, take your average socialist. You know, the one who wants to just "spread the wealth around a little." Or a lot. One you will find in a stinking, vermin-infested sleeping bag with Occupy Wall Street; the other you will find in the meticulously clean White House, bacteria- smoke-, and class-free. They together possess in common a cornucopia of deer crossing signs, in many sizes and colors and styles. All property is theft, you see - they both agree with John Reed, who was an acolyte of socialist-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who worked out his own deer crossing sign hypothesis before Karl Marx did (Karl stole it from him, that was only fair) - so the OWSer and the White House guy share the credit.
The OWS fellow wants to maneuver the deer with baseball bats and curtain rods and pooper-scoopers in the manner of Indian tiger-beaters and herd them in a direction that will stampede them off a cliff. Just as those other Indians used to do to buffalo herds, resulting in piles of dead buffalo at the bottom of a precipice, from which Indians managed to carve out some edible buffalo meat and the makings of a teepee and a wrap-around coat before the whole pile putrefied.
The average OSWer doesn't believe there ought to be any roads for any deer to cross, not until he first has had everything provided to him for free, including a vehicle in which to play "dodge the deer." Then he will deign to use the roads, as long as they are always torn up by contractors and municipalities being paid with stimulus money to repave those roads and confuse the deer who might want to cross it.
Of course, once the property is seized and redistributed and consumed, that is the end of it. There is no more, not unless deer living beyond the range of an OWSer's deer crossing signs decide to volunteer for the experiment and provide the OWSer with freshly stolen property. To the Donnas of OWS, all property is also static, but that's just a theory which doesn't bear close examination, so they don't talk about it much. After all, there was the Soviet Union, and that experiment in deer crossing signs finally collapsed much to the embarrassment of sign planners and deer manipulators, and that section of the road was taken over by a champion tiger beater by the name of Putin.
The fellow in the White House wishes to maneuver the deer with executive directives and mandatory health insurance and subsidized solar energy companies and an auto company that produces cars that deer do not want to tangle with. He has the same deer management philosophy as the OWS fellow, but has infinitely more power to experiment with his policies, and a nasty army of tiger-beaters, as well. His rule of thumb is simple and easily understood by the graduates of Sesame Street: If you change the deer crossing signs, the deer will come. Just like in that fabulous Kevin Costner movie about baseball fields and deceased baseball stars.
If you pour millions into a solar panel company or two or three, the sun will come and so will the deer. And if the deer don't come, then the molecular composition of the crossing signs must be awry and not friendly to deer vibes. Or something. The guys in the lab are working on it, following John Dewey's philosophy of pragmatism: If you build it, and it doesn't work, try something else at random, such as putting deer into a super-microwave oven and setting it at full blast to see exactly when they explode.
If you force banks to accept billions in imaginary money and credit, prosperity and full employment and economic solvency will come. All that money, causing the machines at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving to hover close to over-heating and breakdown, and all that credit, are the deer crossing signs. But now the deer crossing signs are so numerous and thick that they form a barrier that deer cannot cross. They remain across the road because they cannot penetrate through the signs, and exhaust the foliage and begin to starve.
Deer crossing signs were urgently needed in the Mideast. Dozens were erected at all the designated crossings in hopes of altering the deer's social environment. The species of deer that inhabit the Mideast, however, is particularly destructive, even carnivorous, and have pulled down and trampled on all the signs, and have staged mass attacks on passing traffic, such as cars full of female journalists and Coptic Christians and ambassadors. These deer look like normal, peace-loving, plant-munching deer, but the workers who attempt to erect the signs and befriend the deer with handfuls of foliage have had their hands bitten off and their torsos gored. These aggressive deer have taken over whole sections of the highway, and the sweltering pavement is littered with human road kill as far as the eye can see.
This species of deer is infected with an incurable strain of rabies. The Donnas of deer crossing sign policy implementation refuse to send in professional hunters to cull the herd or perhaps even eradicate the whole lot. Rabies is not, by Donna's thinking, a disease, but just a different way of looking at things. There is room on this earth for all classes of deer, even ones that froth at the mouth and whose coats are thick with tics and chiggers and other viral bugs.
So, there it is. The Donna principle of people management and deer crossing sign guidelines. Don't everyone get up and applaud me for the discovery. After all, I didn't build it. I must give credit to deeper thinkers than I, such as Plato and Augustine and Kant and Comte and Proudhon and Marx and Dewey and all those other guys.
The metaphysics is: Reality is malleable, movable, and flexible. It can be anything one wishes. The consequent epistemology is: Deer will cross wherever you erect a sign. Automatically. Without fail. Except when they don't and you must take a fistful of filings and do it yourself with your back turned to the audience, or the electorate. That's cheating, of course, but with artful sleights of hand, no one will notice. But whether or not it works or is cheating, is irrelevant, because it accomplishes the desired end. Deer or filings wind up in the right place, where they belong.
Will someone please gag that guy in the front row who did notice?
Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk novels set in England and Virginia in the pre-Revolutionary period, of several detective and suspense novels, and three collections of his commentaries and columns, all available on Amazon Books. His essays, book reviews, and other articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Journal of Information Ethics and other publications. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason, Family Security Matters, Capitalism Magazine and other Web publications.