In keeping with our tradition on JPGB, Halloween is the time to announce the winner of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award. “The Al” is meant to honor a person who has made a significant contribution to improving the human condition.
The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:
“Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards. Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997. And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu. Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists. From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.
Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone. By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian. But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.”
Last year’s winner was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag, beating out Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing, Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban, Ralp Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.
This year the nominees were The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.
These are all worthy nominees. They all meet the minimum requirements in that none of them threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone. And they all have done something to significantly improve the human condition. But I think we can rule out The Most Interesting Man because I’m not comfortable with the idea of giving the award to a fictional person. I also think we can rule out Herbert Dow because I’m not sure that he did anything beyond what almost all entrepreneurs have to do — overcome the government-assisted cartels of existing businesses to prevent the entry of new competitors.
Stan Honey’s yellow first down line is an amazing improvement for watching football on TV, but what about those who see the game in the stadium? I keep expecting there to be a yellow line on the field, which decreases my pleasure from watching the game in person. As soon as Stan Honey figures out how to install yellow lights to form lines in the turf, I’ll be sure to give him The Al, but until then he will have to be satisfied with a nomination.
Marion Donovan and Victor Mills greatly improved my life and the life of countless million with the invention of the disposable diaper. I should mention that in addition to their greater convenience, better function, and lower cost, disposable diapers may even be better for the environment.
All of this makes for a compelling case to award The Al to Donovan and Mills. But there is an even more compelling case to give The Al to Wim Nottroth. All of the consumer items that improve our lives, whether spicy chicken, roller-bags, or disposable diapers, depend on the existence of liberty for people to choose how they live, including what they make, what they buy, and what they believe. If the forces of tyranny that Wim Nottroth resisted prevail, we will eventually lose the liberty to enjoy these other benefits.
The tyranny Nottroth directly resisted was the kowtowing of Western governments to radical Muslims who found it offensive to say “Thou Shall not Kill” in the aftermath of the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fascist who disliked a film made by van Gogh criticizing Islam. If we allow these restrictions on free speech we are surrendering our liberty bit by bit.
The only way we lose our liberty completely is if we surrender it to the new wave of fascists. Contrary to the gloomy claims of defeatists during the Cold War and today, freedom is not at a disadvantage in a struggle with tyranny. Freedom does not make us weaker; it makes us much stronger. Freedom makes us richer, which gives us the material advantages to defeat the enemies of freedom. Freedom improves the quality of our information and decision-making. Under tyranny everyone distorts information to fit the wishes of the tyrants for fear of punishment. And no one scrutinizes the quality of decision-making. The competitive market of ideas and the freedom to critique decisions improves the their quality in free societies.
As long as we maintain our appreciation for freedom and our desire to struggle for it, both at home and abroad, we are sure to win. The problem is that it is all too easy forget how wonderful our freedom is relative to the tyranny that exists in many other places. And it is an even greater danger for us to tire of having to struggle to preserve it, both at home and abroad. That struggle never ends. When the challenge from Nazis faded, the threat from the Soviets rose, and when that crumbled the danger has come from radical Islam. And when we defeat them, as I am confident we eventually will, some other threat will take its place.
There will always be people who prefer to tell other people how to live — what you can say, what you can buy, what you can sell, with whom you can sleep, and what you can think. In fact, there is nothing natural about freedom. It’s natural to want your own freedom, but it is equally natural to want to tell everyone else what to do. Respecting other people’s freedom is something that is acquired and sustained, not something with which we are born.
Clearly some government officials in The Netherlands as well as in other places in the free world are failing to teach and sustain the love of freedom. They tire of the struggle to preserve freedom and look for compromises with tyrants. Wim Nottroth resisted his government’s unacceptable surrender to tyranny. He reminded us how free speech is worth fighting for, even in the face of murderous thugs and their lackey government enablers. For that he has significantly improved the human condition and is most worthy of this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.