On this day in 1770, James Cook first landed in Australia in a place he will call Botany Bay. It was there that he first met with the aboriginal tribe, Gweagal. I think that must have been interesting. It is like us looking into the sky every day and mostly seeing nothing — perhaps a small airplane in the distance. And one day a huge spacecraft shows up filled with people we did not previously know about. It is not surprising that the Gweagal were intrigued but shy toward the strangers.
These kinds of interactions between civilizations are fascinating to me. They show the lie of the libertarian utopia. As you may have noticed, Botany Bay is not under the control of the Gweagal. But when Cook showed up, it was their land. In fact, archaeological digs indicate that settlements date back 5,000 years. Meetings between stronger groups and weakers groups tend to go the same. Things often start out nice enough with trading. But after a while, the stronger group decides that they would like what the weaker group has. And regardless of how the stronger group justifies it, in the end it comes down to the fact that they take it.
This is so ingrained in people, that the great defender of individual rights herself, Ayn Rand, could not see that her own philosophy ultimately degenerated into: might makes right. Matt Bruenig has dealt with the subject from a philosophical standpoint, Non-Aggression Never Does Any Argumentative Work at Any Time. But the truth is that not even the libertarians who claim to follow the non-aggression principle even stick by it. And it doesn’t make sense, anyway. Would it have been all right for the first human to think of it to say, “I own all property.” And then no one could do anything because that would be interfering with his “rights”?
In a perfect world, we would have a just way of divvying up resources. But in the real world, we have no such method. So we stick with what we’ve always done: might makes right. And that is why bad things happen when civilizations collide. That’s not to say that “might makes right” isn’t also what’s happening in downtown San Francisco, but it isn’t as big an issue.
Happy anniversary for the “discovery” of Botany Bay!