Subversion of Science: How Psychology Lost Darwin
When real history is finally written, mainstream social sciences during most of the twentieth century will be exposed as consisting largely of ethnically motivated disinformation. Much has already been written about the subversion of American anthropology: the shift from legitimate science to ideological pap under the direction of the Jewish immigrant Franz Boas (Degler, 1991; MacDonald, 1998; Pearson, 1996). Much less has been written about how psychology was transformed from a branch of natural science into a section of the Marxist-influenced social sciences. In this paper I will provide information on the subversion of psychology, pointing out the role of Boas and others in the subversion of psychology.
To understand what happened to the social sciences in the twentieth century, it helps to first place it in the context of the on-going ideological and political war. In the sciences this has been strange war because it has been so one-sided. On one side are effective ideological warriors, well versed in persuasion techniques and ruthless in the pursuit of their agenda. On the other side have mostly been naive, non-political scientists engaged in an objective search for truth about the real world. What’s worse is that many on the side of objective science have never even realized that a war was being waged. Viewing honesty as an essential first requirement and highest virtue in science, they naturally, but naively, have assumed that all those who call themselves scientists share these same values and objectives. Thus, at least in the short-term, honest science has been devastatingly out-gunned by adversaries who pursue very different objectives, and with a very different rulebook.
In this regard, I refer to two general commentaries about the cultural scene in America, and, by extension, in the West, that, in their titles, catch the flavor of the great transformation. One is entitled It’s a War, Stupid!, written by David Horowitz, Peter Collier and J. P. Duberg (1997). Horowitz is one of America’s most prolific “neo-conservative” writers. “Neo-conservatives” are mostly radical-left activists from the 1960s who have adopted a “conservatism” that is characterized particularly by militant support for Israel. Horowitz is a self-proclaimed “red diaper baby,” raised in the Communist party atmosphere of New York City’s Jewish community. It’s a War, Stupid! makes the point that throughout the twentieth century, socialists waged a one-sided ideological war against traditional society. As in any war, truth is one of the first casualties. Howowitz’s message is that many of traditionalism’s supporters never even realized what was going on. The title could just as aptly have been Wake Up, Stupid!
The other book is America’s 30 Years War: Who is Winning?, by Balint Vazsonyi (1998). Vazsonyi escaped his native Hungary during the short-lived 1956 anti-Soviet revolution. Having lived under two socialist totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Soviet, he is personally familiar with the tactics of each. In his book, his main concern is that socialism is slowly transforming America. While the media happily tells us that the collapse of the Soviet Union marks the end of the Cold War, in fact the international socialists are winning a worldwide ideological war. Vazsonyi identifies four American founding principles — rule of law; individual rights; guarantee of personal property; and a shared cultural identity — that, he says, are rooted in this country’s unique English, Anglo-Saxon heritage. These basic principles, he warns, are slowly being replaced by socialism. Thus, we today have government-mandated group rights, government controlled redistribution of property, and divisive multiculturalism.
It wasn’t always that way.
Early Darwinian Psychology
At the beginning of psychology as a science there was Darwin. In 1844 Charles Darwin (Desmond & Moore, 1991) penned a 230-page manuscript outlining his basic theory. It was never published, although Darwin instructed his wife to have it published in case he died. In 1859 his theory was presented to the public in what Darwin described as a “short abstract” — it was 490 pages of text — entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The essential features of this the theory are three straightforward notions. First, Differences: individual differences in many traits. Second, Heredity: the individual differences were to some extent inherited. And, third, Selection: the individually different heritable traits could contribute to differential success in the struggle for life. If the most successful types in this struggle for life differ from the average, if superior survivors had more or less of certain traits, then a species could change, that is evolve, under the pressure of natural selection.
In the Origin of Species Darwin almost completely avoided mention of man. Indeed the only comment on man is a brief passage near the end: “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” (Darwin, 1859, p. 458, 1st edition).
It was Sir Francis Galton (Whitney, 1990), Darwin’s half-cousin, who immediately pursued the implications for psychology. Galton was one of the many scientists who, upon exposure to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, reacted by saying something along the lines of “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” By 1865 Galton had published two papers dealing with the inheritance of individual differences, published under the title Hereditary Talent and Character, which were then elaborated in his 1869 book, Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences (Galton, 1869).
In his enthusiasm to discover the laws of inheritance, Galton originated much of biometrics, and invented many of the statistical techniques, such as regression, correlation, partitioning of variance, that are still in general use today (Stigler, 1986). Galton discovered that individual differences for many traits were distributed according to a normal distribution. Indeed, it was Galton who named the familiar bell curve “normal,” in the sense of commonly observed. He also discovered that psychological traits were no less heritable than were physical traits. He coined the term “eugenics” (well born) for the new science of human inheritance and evolution, and for the applications of this new science to the welfare of mankind (Whitney, 1990).
By the beginning of the twentieth century many social progressives were eugenicists, and the intellectual founders of the new social and psychological sciences were thoroughgoing hereditarians and Darwinists. For example William James, often called America’s first psychologist, and G. Stanley Hall, the founder of the American Psychological Association, along with many others viewed psychological science as a branch of natural science. Psychology’s main concerns included study of two central aspects of Darwinian evolution, first the study of heritable individual differences and second, a study of natural selection which resulted in human instincts and inherited behavioral predispositions. The major theoretical orientation in American psychology was named “Functionalism,” to emphasize the study of “function” in the sense of what good was some trait — how did it function — in the struggle for survival that was natural selection (Degler, 1991; Goodwin, 1999).
After a beginning in which Darwinian evolution was central to psychological theory, during the twentieth century Darwin was lost to mainstream psychology.
A Radical Shift to Egalitarianism
By the end of the twentieth century a remarkable theoretical and ideological shift had taken place. The basic tenants of a Darwinian approach — according to which inherited differences matter in real life — are routinely attacked as being morally and ethically repugnant. (In this view, truth or falsity is irrelevant, and only “feel good” slogans matter.) In this ideologically driven atmosphere, emotion-charged terms such as “racist,” “sexist,” “Nazi” and “neo-Nazi,” are routinely hurled at proponents of a Darwinian perspective.
Darwinian scientists are castigated for “genetic determinism,” which is dismissed as being overly simplistic. But this is a dishonest criticism. The label is a “straw man.” In fact, no Darwinian scientist has ever been a “genetic determinist.” Today the so-called social sciences support the prevailing notions and slogans of modern liberal democracy. These notions and slogans include: egalitarianism, the leveling down of everyone in society; environmental determinism, which assumes that heredity is socially insignificant; biological equality with cultural relativism, the “Politically Correct” view according to which all cultures are equally good, except for “bad” Western Christian civilization; Marxist socialism and Communism, which are regarded as the broadly “progressive” path to an ideal future (Hunt, 1999; Pearson, 1996; 1997; Whitney, 1997; 2000).
This radical shift from Darwinian science to an egalitarian or Marxist ideology occurred not on the basis of any new empirical evidence, but actually in opposition to many new empirical discoveries.
The anti-Darwinian ideology originated from within European social/political movements of the nineteenth century. Beginning with the French Revolution (1789) and then across Europe throughout the nineteenth century, the Jews of Europe were gradually “emancipated.” The last legal restrictions on their activities (at least outside of Russia) ended with the new German constitution of 1871. Although Europe’s Jews were legally treated as equal and fully integrated citizens in what was then a largely Christian civilization, much of the Jewish intelligentsia remained bitter hostile toward traditional European culture. Perhaps the most influential example was Karl Marx. Although his father was a lawyer who had been baptized as a Christian for social-business reasons, Marx was the descendent, through both parents, of a long line of rabbinical scholars.
Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection as a mechanism for evolution at about the same time that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels issued the Communist Manifesto. Shortly after its publication in 1847, a wave of attempted revolutions broke out across Europe. The first volume of Marx’s great work, Das Kapital, appeared in 1867, nine years after the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and two years before Galton’s Hereditary Genius. Marx had wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, out of appreciation for Darwin’s evolutionary materialism and the notion of progress in the world. But Marx was certainly no biologist.
According to Marx, mankind had evolved by Darwinian natural selection until the appearance of language and culture. Then a different mechanism of history completely replaced biological evolution. After the “means of production” came into private hands at the dawn of recorded history, Marx explained, struggle and warfare between social-economic classes became the all-decisive motor of human development. Along with nearly all educated persons of his time, Marx was, by current standards, both a racist and a sexist. But the intellectual and political movement that bears his name soon came to stand for a radical egalitarianism that is also characteristic of contemporary (and “politically correct”) democratic liberalism.
Franz Boas, a German-born intellectual who lived most of his life in the United States, is rightly credited, above all others, for displacing Darwinian evolution, at least in this country. But for insight into his approach and influence, we need to start with a consideration of his uncle-by-marriage, Abraham Jacobi.
Some Major Players
Abraham Jacobi (1830-1919). His family was close friends of Franz Boas’ mother’s family, the Meyers of Minden. When Jacobi was sent to study at the Gymnasium in Minden, Westphalia, he spent most of his social time at the Meyers’ household. Living there was a son his own age, as well as a younger boy whom he tutored, and the Meyer sisters, Sophie and Fanny. Sophie later married Meier Boas and become mother of Franz, while Fanny eventually married Abraham Jacobi. Uncle-by-marriage Jacobi remained a strong, life-long influence on Franz Boas.
Even while at Gymnasium the young Abraham Jacobi was attracted to ideas of the radical left. Later while a medical student he, along with Sophie Meyer and sister Fanny, were members of a radical political club. All three engaged in various activities in support of the Communist League during the failed revolutions of 1848-1851.
In a letter that has survived, Sophie expressed her bitter disappointment at the revolution’s failure, and her frustration over the role of women in traditional society (Cole, 1999). Sophie was also active in the revolutionary movements of the 1870s. Young Franz Boas would absorb these attitudes, almost literally, at his mother’s breast.
In August 1851, following Abraham Jacobi’s arrest in Berlin for high treason, the police searched his sister’s home in Minden. Jacobi was incarcerated for two years. After his release, but fearing another arrest, he fled to England.
Jacobi visited Karl Marx in London, and for a time was a guest of Friedrich Engels in Manchester. (Cole, 1999). Finding it difficult to practice medicine in England, Jacobi moved on to the United States, where he settled in New York. In due time he became a successful physician, a
leader in New York’s Jewish community, and a professor of medicine (pediatrics) at Columbia University.
Let there be no mistake with regard to Jacobi’s interests and activities. While benefiting from the freedoms in the largely Anglo-Saxon American republic, Jacobi strove to undermine the very society whose freedoms allowed him to thrive. Karl Marx took note of Jacobi’s activities promoting revolutionary socialism in the United States. Marx wrote “Jacobi is making good business. The Yankees like his serious manner.” (Putnum, 1967, p.17). And on March 29, 1917, he signed a cable of congratulations to the new liberal-democratic government in Russia. Other signatories were his fellow Jewish community leaders, Oscar Straus and Rabbi Steven S. Wise (Szajkowski, 1972).
Jacobi also helped Franz Boas. He introduced Franz to his future wife, the daughter of a successful New York physician. And it was Jacobi who encouraged Franz to emigrate, in 1886, to the United States, where he arranged for his friend a fellow “Forty-eighter” Carl Schurz to get Franz a job at a museum. (Schurz, prominent in American political and intellectual life, was for a time a U.S. Senator from Missouri and Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes.) Even with such influential backers, Franz Boas for some years drifted from one temporary or part-time position to another.) In 1896, after a full ten years in the U.S., Columbia University reluctantly offered him a part-time, and temporary, position as lecturer assigned to its Psychology Department. He landed this post only after Abraham Jacobi, the University’s influential professor of medicine, personally guaranteed to pay one-half of Boas’ salary (Cole, 1999).
In 1899 Franz Boas was finally appointed as a Professor of Anthropology in a newly created Department of Psychology and Anthropology (Hyatt, 1990). He secured this post, however, only after Jacobi had guaranteed, once again, to underwrite a major portion of his salary (Cole, 1999).
Franz Uri Boas (1858-1942) grew up in a radical socialist Jewish household where he early developed an enduring dislike — hatred may not be too strong a word — for the traditional Prussian Christian culture that surrounded him. Later, from his position in the United States as an anthropologist, he attacked and subverted traditional European-American heritage, norms and values.
Never a coward, as a student in Germany Franz fought numerous duels in response to real or imagined slights and anti-Semitic incidents. The tip of his nose was snipped off in one fight, and he lost a bit of scalp in another. He gained a scar above one eye, and a slash from chin to temple on one side of his face.
As early as 1894 Boas was arguing that biological race was not a factor in intelligence or ability (Hyatt, 1990). Even his sympathetic biographers make the point that Boas’ work on behalf of Negroes and prejudice was merely a convenient screen; the self-serving aspects of his work would have been only too evident had he directly addressed Jewish interests. By working toward leveling whites and blacks he was directly contributing to the ascendancy of Jews, because if the whites could be convinced to accept blacks as equals, they would then accept anyone (Hyatt, 1990).
Indeed, writing in the flagship journal American Anthropologist, Jewish author Gelya Frank maintains that
Franz Boas’ theories concerning race and culture were consistent with the assimilationist strategies of German Jews in America … By endorsing civil rights for blacks through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League, David Levering Lewis notes, if perhaps too dismissively, that Jews fought anti-Semitism by “remote control.” “By assisting in the crusade to prove that Afro-Americans could be decent, conformist, cultured human beings, the civil rights Jews were, in a sense, spared some of the necessity of directly rebutting anti-Semitic stereotypes; for if blacks could make good citizens, clearly, most white Americans believed, all other groups could make better ones.” (Lewis, 1992: 31, in Frank, 1997, p. 735)
Numerous authors have dealt with the influence of Boas in leading anthropology and associated sciences into the egalitarian and environmentalist fallacies. Carleton Putnam, for one, has insightfully commented:
What could have been more natural than that a movement calling itself, here, Communism, there, Marxism, somewhere else Socialism (but always having a base which I found easiest to describe by the word equalitarianism) should in its strategy include subversion of sciences as well as governments? (Putnam, 1961, p. 16)
Putnam went on to write that as he read Boas,
page by page my amazement grew. Here was clever and insidious propaganda posing in the name of science, fruitless efforts to prove unprovable theories … the pattern began to repeat itself, the slippery techniques in evading the main issues, the prolix diversions, the sound without substance. (Putnam, 1961, p. 18)
While much more could be said here about Boas’ technique, here I wish to point out explicitly the intellectual and personal ties between Boas, the Boasian approach to social sciences, and the development (or, perhaps, devolvement) of psychology.
The main propagandist for the elimination of Darwinian considerations in psychology, and their replacement with environmentalism, was John Broadus Watson, the father of so-called “behaviorism.” Watson was so influential that by mid-century much of academic psychology had re-defined itself as the “study of behavior”.
Among critics the shift from psychology as the study of mind to psychology as the study of behavior, led to some bitterly insightful jokes. One was that psychology — the word comes from “psyche” the greek word for soul, and “ology” which means the study of — began as the scientific study of the soul, the very basis of humanity. Then with the rise of materialistic science, psychology first lost its soul and became the study of mind and consciousness. Then came the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis with its emphasis on the importance of the unconscious; psychology lost consciousness. With Watson and behaviorism, it finally lost its mind.
John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) was born at Reedy River, South Carolina, and named by his devout mother after a famous Baptist minister, John Broadus. In the fall of 1900, J. B. Watson began graduate studies at the University of Chicago (Buckley, 1989). To understand his development as a protagonist of anti-Darwinian psychology, we need to look into what he encountered at Chicago.
A gift from John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago opened in 1892. Being very well endowed, it early became a leader in graduate education by hiring the best-available faculty. The so-called “functionalist” approach to psychological theory, which (as mentioned earlier) emphasized Darwinian natural selection, was often called “The Chicago School” because of its emphasis by important scholars at the University of Chicago (Buckley, 1989; Goodwin, 1999). This is somewhat ironic because it was an education provided by Chicago that led to the ridicule and downfall of “The Chicago School.” To understand the formation of Watson’s outlook, we must look at the influence on him of three of his professors there: John Dewey, Jacques Loeb, and Henry Donaldson.
John Dewey, famous for his endeavors in experimental and progressive education, was for ten years chairman of Chicago’s Philosophy Department, before moving on in 1904 to Columbia University. Although Dewey is famous for a number of things, including an emphasis on applying the results of experimental psychology to education, and for his support of so-called “progressive” movements in society and education, he was not a Communist. Indeed, although early a supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), during the 1930s he resigned from the ACLU with the complaint that it had been taken over by Communists (Scruton, 1995). J. B. Watson originally applied to Chicago to study philosophy under Dewey. He rather quickly shifted to psychology, later saying that he never understood anything Dewey said. (Dewey is said to have been a terrible lecturer.) Although Watson switched his major to psychology, he kept philosophy, and Dewey, as a minor.
Jacques Loeb was a famous physiologist who emigrated from Germany in 1891. He was also one of the more outspoken socialist radicals of his time. He was bitterly hostile to Darwinian evolutionary theory because, he said, it could be used to support Christian theology and free markets. He also argued that evolution did not fulfill the true role of a science because it was not experimental enough (Pauley, 1987). J. B. Watson later emphasized that a true science of psychology would be able to “predict and control” behavior — a mantra that he acquired from Jacques Loeb. Loeb taught that the control of behavior was the ultimate object of scientific research. For Loeb, “Scientific knowledge was a tool to modify and control the behavior of existing organisms and ultimately to produce new organisms artificially through biological engineering” (Buckley, 1989, p. 41).
This was a message that the young Watson thoroughly absorbed.
The third strong influence on J. B. Watson was the well-known brain specialist, Henry H. Donaldson. Before going to Chicago in 1892, Donaldson had been on the faculty at Clark University where, at the same time, Franz Boas held a one-year-at-a-time appointment as a docent. Donaldson and Boas, with their respective wives, lived only one block apart, were of nearly the same age, and each had one child, also about the same age. Furthermore, their wives got on famously together. They quickly became fast friends. Years later Boas would describe Donaldson as his best friend in America; the Boas’ even named a later baby (Henri) after Henry Donaldson (Hyatt, 1990; Cole, 1999). It was in the laboratory of this best friend and soulmate of Franz Boas that John B. Watson did his research for his doctoral dissertation. A volume was put together to honor Boas on the 25th anniversary of his Ph.D. (Boas, 1906). The first paper in this special honorary volume was authored by Henry Donaldson, with appreciation to J. B. Watson (Donaldson, 1906). Thus Watson’s indoctrination in progressive socialist environmentalism, and anti-Darwinism, came through three of his most influential teachers in his graduate education.
By all accounts Watson was a bright student and a hard worker. When he was awarded his doctoral degree in 1903 he was, at 25, the youngest person to ever earn a doctorate from Chicago up to that time. Also in 1903 Watson married a 19-year-old undergraduate student that provided another link to liberal socialism. His new wife, Mary Ickes, was the younger sister of Harold Ickes (Buckley, 1989). Watson’s new brother-in-law played a major role in promoting egalitarian, socialist policies in the United States. For a time Harold Ickes was president of the Chicago branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He later was Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Roosevelt, who put him in charge of some of the most famous “New Deal” make-work projects (Clarke, 1996; Watkins, 1990). So dedicated was Ickes to racial egalitarianism that historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., described him as the Roosevelt administration’s “informal Secretary of Negro Relations” (Schlesinger, 1957).
As a 65-year-old widower, Harold Ickes married a woman nearly 40 years his junior. Their son, also named Harold Ickes, later held influential posts, both official and unofficial, in the Clinton administration.
Thus did John B. Watson begin his academic career well connected, both academically and politically, to liberalism. In 1913 he was invited to present a series of lectures at Columbia University. The first was published under the title “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it” (Watson, 1913). One of its main themes was that the “theoretical goal” of psychological science should be “the prediction and control of behavior”, and that behaviorism would produce techniques for social control to improve society.
In 1915, Watson’s presidential address to the American Psychological Association was entitled “The place of the conditioned reflex in psychology” (Watson, 1916). Here Watson introduced the conditioned reflex, studied by the Russians Pavlov and Bechterev, as central to all psychological development. In his view learning-conditioning was central, while inherited influences on development were simply unimportant.
Watson continued to write for decades in a provocative and propagandistic style. Here are some samples of that style, from his 1930 book Behaviorism:
Our hereditary structure lies ready to be shaped in a thousand different ways — the same structure — depending on the way in which the child is brought up.… Objectors will probably say that the behaviorist is flying in the face of the known facts of eugenics and experimental evolution — that the geneticists have proven that many of the behavioral characteristics of the parents are handed down to the offspring.… Our reply is that the geneticists are working under the banner of the old “faculty” psychology. One need not give very much weight to any of their conclusions. We no longer believe in faculties nor in any stereotyped patterns of behavior which go under the names of “talent” and inherited capacities. (Watson, 1930, pp. 97-99)
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. (p. 104)
Watson’s view could hardly have been more incorrect. As one eminent psychologist has pointed out, “Since Watson’s pronouncement, no single year has passed without publication of some evidence showing it to be wrong” (McClearn, 1962, p. 237). Against the evidence, this extreme environmentalist and anti-hereditarian view in time became the entrenched “traditional view” that is today tamely accepted by most psychologists.
This anti-hereditarian view does not differ in essence from the ludicrous “Lysenkoism” of the Soviet Union, which is often cited as a sterling example of the folly of trying to subordinate science to political ideology (Soyfer, 1994). But whereas the Lysenkoist anti-heredtarianism of the Stalin-era Soviet Union was imposed by government order, in the United States it prevails de facto by “consensus.” Sadly, these counter-factual egalitarian and environmental determinist theories are still central to the views of many social scientists, and today underlie much social and educational policy in the United States (Whitney, 1998a).
What Watson did for psychology, another disciple of Boas did for sex. Margaret Mead (1901-1978), a bi-sexual graduate student of Franz Boas, went to Somoa to carry out the research for her doctoral dissertation. Upon her return she published her findings in a book entitled Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilization (Mead, 1928), which became one of the most influential works in the United States from the 1940s through the 1970s. The sub-title should have been a warning. The gist of Mead’s best-selling book is that the sexual constraints of traditional Western Christian civilization caused the emotional difficulties of puberty and led to wars, prejudice, bigotry, and suppression of women. Mean claimed that Samoan adolescents were allowed, in fact encouraged, to engage in free, casual, promiscuous sex. The result was a society of happy, well adjusted, peaceful, open, kind people. This outlook was expressed in the popular late-1960s slogan, “Make Love, Not War,” and encouraged the “sexual revolution” of that era. In the final years of her life, Margaret Mead was a cultural icon.
Cultural anthropologists loved Coming of Age in Samoa, who made it one of most often assigned works in the field. In the early 1980s it was exposed as a pack of lies (Freeman, 1983; O’Keefe, 1983). In the year 2000, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Delaware, named Mead’s 1928 treatise the worst nonfiction book of the past century. They could have named it the worst book of fiction. On this there is now broad scholarly consensus. The main unresolved question is who was the worst liar: was it Mead herself, or was she misled by her young native informants (Freeman, 1998)? But even though it has been thoroughly discredited, some anthropologists maintain that the importance and goodness of Mead’s message overrides her book’s lack of veracity (Barkan, 1992; Foerstel & Gilliam, 1992; Lamb, 1994). “Mead’s first husband, Luther Cressman, later recalled Mead’s characteristic response upon being shown that a conclusion of hers was not true: ‘If it isn’t, it ought to be,’ she would say.” (Price, 1999, p. A17)
Among Mead’s other influential works was another classic of creative writing, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935). Here Mead tried to show that the male chauvinism of Western Civilization was a cultural phenomenon with no basis in human biology. She claimed that in other cultures, with their non-Western traditions, relations among the sexes were very different. In one, she contended, women were the sexually aggressive ones while the males played coy. Women ran things politically, while men tended the home. In another non-Western culture, she maintained, both men and women were peaceful and lady-like, while in a third both were nasty strivers, similar to white, Western males. In the three cultures she portrayed, along with Western civilization, every possible combination of female-male dominance relationship was manifest. The conclusion was obvious: differences in the social roles of the men and women in Western and European culture must be due to the evils of traditional Western Christian civilization.
Franz Boas and his disciples were not always bashful about proclaiming the social and political implications of their ideology. Boas received funding, in part, from the American Jewish Committee and from Jacob Schiff, the prominent Jewish banker who, it is said, helped to finance the February 1917 Russian revolution. And Boas himself was a member of more than 40 organizations identified as Communist or Communist front groups (Hyatt, 1990). (Interestingly, the daughter of vice president Al Gore, Jr., married Andrew Schiff, the grandson of Jacob Schiff.)
In October of 1935, Franz Boas wrote to Raymond Pearl requesting a statement on race that, after being signed by prominent scientists, would be widely circulated. In demurring Pearl wrote that he questioned
the wisdom and strategy of taking the action you suggest in your letter.… I have strong aversion to round-robins by scientific men, and most particularly where the pronouncement is really, however camouflaged, about political questions or angles of political questions which have more or less relation to purely scientific matters.… I am unalterably opposed now and all times towards any attitude of pontifical authoritarianism under the aegis of science. (Provine, 1973)
Perhaps the most outstanding example of “pontifical authoritarianism under the aegis of science” was the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race, which, after scientific protests, was modified and reissued in 1952. Among its other falsehoods, this widely cited statement declared that there was no evidence for hereditary psychological differences among races. The UNESCO declaration was the product of a committee headed by one of Boas’ students, Ashley Montagu (born Israel Ehrenburg) (Provine, 1973; Pearson, 1996). Montagu had earlier authored a heavily promoted book that sought to debunk the biological reality of race, Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (1942). The UNESCO statement was sent to 106 anthropologists or geneticists for comment. Of the 80 who responded, 31 had substantial criticisms, principally about the provision implying equality of mental traits among races. Twenty-six disagreed with details, while only 23 accepted the statement as presented (Provine, 1973).
Kenneth Clark, a prominent, Columbia-trained black psychologist, was secretly funded by the American Jewish Committee (Svonkin, 1997). Clark provided false and misleading testimony that the U.S. Supreme Court used in its landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka Kansas, which forced school desegregation (van den Haag, 1960).
Another Boasian, psychologist Otto Klineberg (1899-1992), spelled out the social-political agenda in his supposedly scholarly book Race Differences (1935):
The general conclusion of this book is that there is no scientific proof of racial differences in mentality.… There is no reason therefore, to treat two people differently because they differ in their physical type.… There is no reason to make immigration laws stricter for one people than another.… There is no reason to pass laws against miscegenation.… There is no innate aversion of races to one another.
There is an increasing tendency to see in the race problem merely one aspect of the class war, in which those who are in a position of privilege make of unimportant differences in skin color or religion or language a convenient excuse for their own continued domination. Those who look upon race relations from this point of view see little hope of any real improvement until the present competitive system has been replaced by a new social order. They point with conviction to Russia, where the economic change has been accompanied by a more sympathetic treatment of minorities, and where the class struggle and the race problem seem to have disappeared together. (Benjamin, 1997, pp. 617-618)
Suppression of Common Knowledge
That the social sciences have been largely corrupted, mainly by Jews with a leftist ideological agenda, is common knowledge among academics in the field. An example is Franz Samelson, in his 1978 paper, “From ‘race psychology’ to ‘studies in prejudice’,” published in the scholarly Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. After taking note of what some regard as a paradigm shift in psychology, “from evolutionary genetics to the culture concept, from Darwin to Boas,” Samelson wrote: “It seems arguable that a change in the pattern of ethnic backgrounds among psychologists contributed significantly to the shift.… Early American science was predominantly ‘Puritan’ or at least Anglo-Saxon. From the twenties on, however, ethnics began to move into the profession in ever-increasing numbers, at first primarily with recruits from Jewish backgrounds.” (Benjamin, 1997, p. 639).
Gelya Frank (1997), in an example of Jewish triumphalist writing, points out that cultural anthropology remains largely a Jewish endeavor that consists of training for social activism. Svonkin (1997) writes in a similar vein. MacDonald (1998) presents an extensive and excellent study of these activities.
With knowledge of behavior genetics and race differences increasing at a prodigious rate (Whitney, 1999), members of the Jewish intelligentsia are, if anything, becoming more strident in attempting to subvert Darwinian psychology. Examples include the widely praised book by Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), which argues against genetic race differences, and Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (Rose, 2000).
Even though this process is common knowledge among academics, the suppression of knowledge about Jewish involvement in issues linking genetics, race, psychology is being actively pursued. In many countries “politically incorrect” discussion of these topics can get one fired, while worldwide the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and allied pressure groups are pushing to criminalize any serious discussion of race differences (Whitney, 1998b). Hopefully the tide will turn before the “traditional enemies of the truth” gain total control.
Barkan, E., (1992) The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States Between the World Wars. Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univ. Press.
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About the Author
Glayde Whitney (1939-2002), was a nationally renowned psychologist. At the time of his death, he was a full professor of psychology at Florida State University (Tallahassee), where he had taught for 31 years. This essay is adapted from his lecture on May 29, 2000, at the 13th Conference of the Institute for Historical Review, Irvine, Calif. Preparation for this paper was supported in part by a grant from the Pioneer Fund.
[The Journal for Historical Review, March/April 2002]
What the West can learn from Africa: Interview with French Economist Serge Latouche
VENICE, Italy, OCT. 5, 2000 (ZENIT.org).- Despite its poverty and violence, Africa works — and in ways that would baffle most Westerners.
That seems to be the view of French economist Serge Latouche, who has expressed his distrust of Western economic science as the principal instrument for knowing the world.
He developed his ideas in his 1998 book “L’autre Afrique” (“The Other Africa”), and today he confirmed his thesis at an international congress on “The Debated Globe,” being held in Venice through Sunday. The congress was organized by the “Fondamenta” cultural institution.
Latouche took advantage of the occasion to talk about Africa — deemed the “hopeless continent” by one Western magazine this year — in unconventional terms.
The professor of economics at the University of Paris-Sud-Sceaux sees Africa as a parable of the failure of the West’s idea of a rational, technical society. In the following interview, he analyzes the play between globalization and culture.
–Q: According to official figures from the World Bank, Africa is dying. Do you have this impression?
–Latouche: When I go to Africa I am amazed by a reality that is incomprehensible in the light of Western logic: I meet happy people; well-dressed, well-fed children, popular neighborhoods where the people live with dignity, despite the poverty and austerity of the surroundings.
The tragedies we hear about — epidemics, genocide — are very real. But 800 million people are able to survive thanks to their capacity for self-organization. This is due to the wealth of social ties, the famous African solidarity, which allows people who do not have an official job, to produce for one another outside the logic of the market, and to find the necessary goods and services to live and not just survive.
–Q: So the Africans go back to the culture that existed prior to Western colonization?
–Latouche: Culture, in the anthropological sense of the term, understood as that which gives meaning to life, is essential. It completely overlooks the economy tied to objective data, namely, that which can be calculated, such as production and consumption.
When a youth leaves his village in Africa, because he can no longer survive there, and arrives in slum neighborhoods of the metropolis, he immediately tries to form part of a clan, to have the most extensive relations possible. Thus he finds a certain mutuality, a life insurance, unemployment insurance.
It is the clans that create sport societies, as well as theater and prayer groups. They are the ones who calculate the dowry of a girl who is to marry, and organize funerals for those who die. In a word, they take charge of all the aspects of social life.
Like South America, Africa has extraordinary creativity, which is expressed, among other things, with incredible prophetic flowering: in fact, a union of prophets was created recently! This creativity, which sometimes makes us laugh, is also a form of do-it-yourself work in a situation in which traditional cults no longer function — how can one believe in animism in the era of Internet?
Therefore, we are faced with a coherent complex, made at an imaginary level, to which are joined solidarity networks and technical and economic do-it-yourself works.
–Q: In face of globalization, which flattens everything and makes it uniform, must we withdraw in defense of our identities?
–Latouche: The Africans have had no choice: At most they would have preferred to live like us, but given the condition in which they find themselves, they take recourse to self-organization, whose foundation is the “cultural setting” to which they belong.
Our situation is very different: We have invented the “megamachine” [technical-economic system]; uprootedness and the destruction of traditional culture are a consummate fact. Those who are excluded among us do not have the possibility of organizing themselves like the Africans do. What can be done? We must negotiate on three different fronts: survival, dissidence and resistance. If we do not negotiate with the world just as it is at present, we shall not survive. Therefore, we must come to specific agreements.
However, it does not mean that one must be in ideological agreement with the delirium of the system in which we live, which is already a form of mental resistance to the brainwashing that is the result of the globalization of the market.
I am convinced that we are on a meteorite that is traveling at a crazy speed, without a driver, without breaks, and now runs the risk of not even having fuel. We must abandon it, before it crashes into the wall.
The alternatives are dissidence, the creation of local exchange networks, like “the time bank” [a system by which people offer time in exchange for others’ time: for example, a dressmaker gives two hours in exchange for two hours from a mason] and associations
For a Society of Declining Growth
“Declining growth is a pure necessity..The volumes of worldwide traffic of persons and goods with its negative consequences could be put in question (relocalization). The loud sensational advertising with its disastrous consequences could be put in question. Finally, the vast amount of throwaway products and gadgets could be put in question,, We must alight from the logic of the economy..”
[The French sociologist and philosopher of technology Jacques Ellul was an optimist: “It will be a satisfaction”, he said in an interview, “when we eat healthy food, endure less noise, live in a balanced environment and no longer have to tolerate all the street- and freight traffic.” A first prerequisite for this reorientation would be the general insight of a policy of declining growth. The fatal belief that nothing happens without growth still prevails among the right and the left, neoliberals and social democrats.
On February 14, 2002 George W. Bush declared in a speech before meteorologists: “Growth is the solution, not the problem. Growth is the key to progress in environmental protection and makes possible investments in clean technology.” (1) Many leftists share this position. Some advocates of another globalization think that growth will also ultimately solve the social question by creating jobs and a balanced income distribution.
For example, Fabrice Nicolino who wrote an ecology column for the Paris weekly Politis left the paper after an editorial conflict over pension reform. (2) The subsequent discussion revealed a current uneasiness of the left. A reader’s letter to the editor rejoiced, “Someone dared write against a standardized thinking shared by France’s whole political class. This uniform thinking starts from the idea that our happiness come what may depends on more growth, more productivity, more purchasing power and therefore more consumption.” (3)
After decades of uncontrolled waste, we have obviously fallen into a cyclone. Climate change and belligerent conflicts around oil arise. Wars around water resources are imminent. (4) Biogenetic catastrophes are foreseeable and could represent the end for important plant- and animal species. Thus the growth society is neither future-friendly nor desirable. A society of “declining growth” could solve existing problems convivially.
The growth society has the tendency to be only defined by a growth-oriented economy. The growth society is not future-friendly because it will strike the limits of the biosphere sooner or later. If environmental encumbrance is measured by the “ecological footprint” left behind on the earth by our way of life, our land consumption is neither socially balanced nor mindful of the regeneration capacity of the biosphere. A US citizen on an average consumes 9.6 hectares of land to maintain his living standard, a Canadian 7.2 hectares and the average European 4.5 hectares. Thus we are far from equal rights worldwide and from a culture of sustainability requiring 1.4 hectares per person with a constant world population. (5)
With “eco-efficiency”, the central term of sustainable development, the experts now believe they have found the magical formula for reconciling the contradictory interests of economic growth and environmental protection. The goal is the reduction of environmental burdens and resource consumption to a level below the maximum load of our planet. (6)
The eco-efficiency of our mode of production has noticeably risen. At the same time global environmental conditions have worsened with a largely unbridled growth. The declining environmental pollution per produced unit is systematically shattered, a fact known as “negative feedback”. The new economy is clearly less material than the traditional economy. However the traditional economy is supplemented, not replaced. Resource consumption is even increasing. (7) Only rigid neoliberals insist that the science of the future will solve all problems and artificially produced substitutes can be developed for everything natural.
For the culture critic Ivan Illich, the programmed end of the growth society is not unconditionally bad news. “The Good News is that we need not renounced on our lifestyle to avoid the negative effects – as though we had to choose between the enjoyment of an excellent food and the risks bound with that food. No, this food itself is bad. Turning away would be good for us. Living differently is a way of living better.” (6)
The growth society is not desirable for at least three reasons. The growth society leads to growing income disparities and more injustice. It produces a largely illusory prosperity. A convivial society among the better off is not created but an anti-society sick in its own wealth.
The increasing standard of living from which most citizens of the North think they can profit increasingly proves to be an illusion. Certainly, they can buy more goods and services with their money but they repress the partly monetary and partly non-monetary costs that rise even more quickly. The quality of life (air, water and environment) is clearly worse. The modern way of life inflicts massive compensation- and reparation-costs (medicines, transportation, leisure-time pleasure). Scarce goods become constantly more expensive (mineral water, energy, green spaces).
The Established Left Condemned to Social Liberalism
With the “Genuine Progress Indicator” (GPI), the environmental economist Herman Daly developed a synthetic index that corrects the gross domestic product (GDP) with the losses caused by pollution and encumbrance of the environment. In the US, the index has stagnated since the beginning of the 70s although the GDP has risen. (9) Thus growth is a myth even within the affluent- or consumer society since ever- greater environmental losses occur.
To prevent any misunderstandings, declining growth isn’t an ideal in itself, the only goal of a society beyond growth or the only goal of another possible world. Declining growth is a pure necessity. We should make a virtue out of distress and regard declining growth in the societies of the North as a worthwhile and useful good. (10) The motto “declining growth” calls us to bid farewell to growth for growth’s sake. However declining growth isn’t synonymous with “negative growth”, an absurd compound word that only shows how much the notion of eternal growth rules our thinking.
As everybody knows, our societies fall into distress with slackening growth. This leads to unemployment and cuts in social spending, culture and environmental protection that assure people of a minimum quality of life. Thus the catastrophic effects of negative growth rates can be easily imagined. As there is nothing worse for the work society than the ending of work, there is nothing worse for the growth society than growth that doesn’t arrive. Therefore the established left is condemned to social liberalism and doesn’t tackle the de-colonization of our conceptual world. Declining growth can only be envisioned in a “society of declining growth”. The contours of this society should be sketched.
A policy of declining growth first consists in reducing environmentally harmful encumbrances that do not satisfy any need. The established volumes of the worldwide traffic of persons and goods with its negative consequences could be put in question (slogan “re-localization” of the economy). The loud sensational advertising with its disastrous consequences could be put in question. Finally, the vast amount of throwaway products and gadgets could be put in question. All this would considerably reduce consumption of material resources in the sense of declining growth.
Seen this way, declining growth does not automatically mean lower prosperity. For Karl Marx, 1848 was the time of social revolution. Marx believed the system was ripe for the transition to the communist surplus society. The incredible over-production of cotton products and industrial goods seem more than adequate to feed, clothe and house at least the western population after the abolition of the capital monopoly. The material “wealth” at that time was far less than today. There were neither cars nor airplanes, neither plastics nor washing machines, neither refrigerators nor computers, to say nothing of biotechnologies, pesticides, fertilizers or nuclear energy. Despite enormous upheavals through industrialization, needs were still modest and their satisfaction was possible. You7 could almost touch happiness.
To strive for a society of declining growth, we must alight from the logic of the economy and put in question the primacy of the economy in our heads. One precondition for that transformation would be a drastic reduction of paid or gainful working hours to assure satisfactory employment for everyone. Jacques Ellul, one of the pioneering thinkers of a society of declining growth, set the upper limit at two hours in 1981. (11)
The programmatic can be summarized in six terms relying on the charter “Consumer Habits and Lifestyles” presented at the forum of non-governmental organizations in Rio: reassessing, restructuring, redistributing, reducing, reusing and recycling. These six interwoven goals could set in motion a circulus virtuous of calm, convivial and future-friendly declining growth.
Values must change: altruism instead of egoism, cooperation instead of unrestrained competition, leisure instead of obsessive work, joy in the beautiful outcome instead of productivist efficiency and reason instead of rationality. The problem is that the values have a system character. They are produced and stimulated by the system and contribute to strengthening the system. The personal decision for another value orientation like a simple life may dodge the dominant trend and undermine the ideological foundations of the system. This personal decision remains without consequences without a radical questioning of the whole.
What an immense, utopian program! Is this transition possible without revolution? Is the spiritual or intellectual revolution possible without social authority? The drastic reduction of environmental encumbrance, the production of exchange values, requires a limitation of the production of practical values…
Market and profit may have their justification as indicators for scarce goods. They have abdicated as foundations of the system. Step-by-step goals can be imagined. Whether they will be simply accepted by the “privileged” is as hard to answer as the question whether the present victims of the system who depend intellectually and physically “on the needle” of this system will accept them. The heat wave that afflicted southwest Europe in the summer of 2003 contributed more than all our arguments to planting in the general consciousness the necessity of a society of declining growth. The educative effect of catastrophes will help in the future to the de-colonization of our conceptual world.
Serge Latouche is an emeritus professor of the University of Paris. This article originally published in: die tageszeitung, November 14, 2003, is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.taz.de/pt/2003/11/14/a0021.nf/textdruck.]
Is ‘Development’ Good For The Third World?
Over the years, magazines like The Economist have promoted the idea that financial growth is ‘development’ and that this ‘development’ is good for the Third World. However, this sort of growth is not ‘development’ — it is more often than not destruction of the environment, the livelihoods and the cultures of Third World communities.
What is referred to today as ‘development’ is actually ‘maldevelopment’. It is designed and driven by external forces for the profits and control of external agents and actors. The World Bank generates $3 of business for western companies for every dollar it lends to the Third World for ‘development’. ‘Development’ allows $500billion to flow out from the Third World to the rich West in interest and debt payments and low prices for Third World products, while $50billion goes in the opposite direction as development aid.
‘Development’ is a trick played on the people of the Third World, especially rural communities, to rob them of their resources and wealth, and leave them dispossessed and in debt. While the people of the Third World are supposed to be ‘developed’ by this process, they are instead uprooted and displaced. Their resources are snatched from them, converting them into ‘development’ refugees. Two hundred million people have been forcibly removed from their homes, ecosystems and cultures in the name of development. The tribals in India’s Narmada Valley, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and Papua New Guinea and the coastal communities along India’s 7,000km coastline do not view the giant dams, superhighways, mines, ports and industrial aquaculture that uproot them as ‘development’. For them, these activities spell disaster, which is why they are resisting.
One of the most ominous commercial developments of the past decade has been the merger of chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and seed companies to create what are called ‘Life Sciences’ corporations. A more accurate name would be ‘Death Sciences’, because these are the bodies that produce genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant seeds which lock farmers into dependence on chemical inputs, destroy biodiversity and render agriculture more vulnerable. For farmers, the shift from open-pollinated plant varieties to hybrids, genetically engineered crops and sterile ‘terminator’ seeds, is not a symbol of ‘development’ but of debt, dependency and destitution. For seed corporations, forcing farmers to buy seed every year implies bigger markets and faster growth. But this increase in corporate profits is based on the destruction of nature and her processes of renewal and abundance, as well as a destruction of local economies.
This destruction of nature’s economy and peoples’ economies is never taken into account by modern economics, and hence processes that lead to ecological destruction and poverty and deprivation for millions are presented as ‘growth’ in national accounts and the global economy. However, it is not growth when assessed in terms of the health of ecosystems and societies. This contrived pseudo-growth camouflages the destruction it unleashes on the lives of Third World communities.
A good example of such pseudo-growth is in Third World agriculture. The shift from a ‘food first’ to an ‘export first’ agricultural policy in India is justified on grounds of food security, because export earnings are supposed to pay for food imports. In fact, export-oriented agriculture has reduced food security by encouraging a shift from small-scale, sustainable local production to large-scale, non-sustainable industrial production. It also brings changes in ownership over natural resources and means of production, from small autonomous producer/owners to large corporate interests. Peasants are displaced from farming, while commercial interests take over land for production of export commodities. These enterprises often have negative environmental impacts, creating further hardship for local communities.
Meat, vegetable, shrimp and flower exports, for example, have costs that often far exceed the earnings generated. Large-scale meat exports have an external ‘shadow’ cost that is 10 times higher than export earnings. This is due to the former ecological contribution of livestock in small-scale agriculture, now on the wane.
Particularly in developing countries, livestock is not just meat on legs. Livestock in India helps produce $l7million-worth of milk and $1.5billion-worth of food grain; they also provide $l7million-worth of energy. If the animals are slaughtered, all these benefits are lost. In the case of one export-oriented slaughterhouse alone, meat exports earned $45million, whereas the estimated contribution of the slaughtered animals to the economy if they had been allowed to live was $230million.
Multidimensional, multifunctional economies based on mutuality are being systematically destroyed by a development model which is unable to take diversity, reciprocity, complexity and sustainability into account. It is time to ask the basic questions: growth of what? Development for whom? It is time to move beyond the fictions and illusions of economic growth which siphons wealth from the poor to the rich, and take into account the reality of ecological catastrophes and social disintegration that have been unleashed by ‘development’ processes and which leave the poor poorer.
Hoping that the new millennium will bring new economic thinking based on principles of inclusion rather than exclusion.
[The Ecologist, April, 2000]
|There Is No Global Population Problem
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin
Almost two hundred years have passed since Malthus disturbed the world’s slumber with his celebrated Essay on Population. Today, the world has more than five times as many people in it, and the rate of population increase is nearly four times as great as it was in Malthus’s day. Each year, the globe must support 90 million more people. Population control is needed.
Many plans have been proposed, and some have been half-heartedly tried. Out of these trials has come the realization that we are caught in what novelist Joseph Heller called a “Catch-22” situation If the proposal might work, it isn’t acceptable; if it is acceptable, it won’t work.
Unacceptable schemes to control numbers are easy to find. We could elect a dictator and let him shoot the excess population. But we won’t. Such a solution would “work” only in a theoretical, beyond-politics sense. (Homo sapiens, the political animal, as Aristotle called the human, does not live “beyond politics.”) Or we might take no action while waiting for gross overpopulation to produce its own cure in the form of starvation and mass disease. But who is willing to call such inaction a “solution?”
Looking at the other fork of the population Catch-22 is more productive. When we understand exactly why acceptable proposals fail, we may be able to correct them. Humanists, committed to the rational analysis of problems, are in a favorable position to ferret out workable solutions. But a real solution to overpopulation may be as painful to humanists as to others. An effective solution will not be obvious, for, as Freud taught us, the preconscious mind protects its peace by blocking off painful avenues of thought.
The simplest defense against dangerous thinking is to presume a natural self-correcting mechanism. Such a presumption worked pretty well in economics in Malthus’s day. Hitherto, some governments had fixed prices to keep greedy merchants from fleecing their customers. Unfortunately, price-fixing caused more harm than good. Leaving prices free to fluctuate — laissez-faire economics — worked better. Merchants who were too greedy got less business; some of them went broke. Overall, laissez-faire benefitted the consumer by producing low prices.
Reasoning by analogy, some optimists in the twentieth century have argued for a laissez-faire approach toward population growth. They postulate a “demographic transition” process that automatically stops population growth before it hurts. Since European fertility fell as Europeans became richer, it was argued that all we need to do to help today’s poor countries is to try to make them rich. The past half-century has shown that a laissez-faire approach toward population growth fails. The needy poor greatly outnumber the charitable rich, and the poor breed faster. Africa’s numbers are increasing more than ten times as fast as Europe’s.
The argument that greater prosperity produces lower fertility has some support in rich countries, where the industrial-ized, urbanized way of life leads many couples to prefer a better automobile to another child. In poorly industrialized, rural nations, an increase in income translates into more medicine, less infant mortality, and a faster rate of population growth. The ancient saying, “The rich get richer and the poor get children” has more wisdom in it than does the demographic transition theory.
China may have found a way out of the population trap. What is China doing and what can we learn from its experiments? We must begin by acknowledging that we don’t know as much as we would like to about that huge country. China’s population is four times as great as that of the United States. Government policy seems not to be very stable; outsiders need almost daily quotations to know what is going on there. Nevertheless, some parts of China are governed in such a way that ultimate population control looks like a possibility.
In the large industrialized cities, an important decision-making unit is the “production group” — individuals who work together in the same factory. In attempting to control population, the government has assigned a key role to female members of the production groups. The central government tells each group what its budget is for the next year — how many bags of rice, for instance, as well as how many babies the group as a whole can produce. It is made perfectly clear that exceeding the baby budget will not result in any increase in the food budget, either then or later. It is left to the local group to decide which of its members will be allowed to have babies in a given year.
There is no talk in China of a woman’s “right” to reproduce or of married couples’ “right to privacy.” Decision-making is the right of the production group because the whole group has a budget to meet. The women of a production group meet together and decide as a group who shall and who shall not have babies during the year. Can you imagine such a scheme working in the United States?
In China it works, apparently pretty well. Chinese traditions and cultural ideals make it easier to put the good of the group ahead of individual desires. A woman who gets pregnant without permission is pressured by her sisters to have an abortion. Westerners react with horror to this, but such coercion in the East should be compared to forcing a Westerner to pick up the litter he or she has dropped on the ground in a public park. In both instances, the environment is seen as the possession of the group; littering it (with anything) is not a right of the individual.
Why are Chinese women controllable by coercion? The answer, in a word, is shame. A truly socialized individual is ashamed to go against the expressed wishes of the group he or she lives and plans with. Shame is an effective control, provided the number in the group is small.
That numbers play a role in shaping human behavior we know from the experiences of the Hutterites on our own continent. This hard-working religious group lives by the Christian-Marxist ideal expressed so well by Karl Marx in 1875 “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Two centuries of experience have taught the Hutterites that this ideal works only within small groups, 100 to 250 as a maximum. When the number of the operating community is small, backsliders can be shamed into behaving better. When the number goes beyond 150, non-cooperators destroy social unity. Hutterites respond to this threat by constant, amoeba-like fissioning of their communities, thus minimizing the numbers involved in decisions.
The combined experiences of the Chinese and the Hutterites tell us that a voluntary system of population control, when it is not backed by legal sanctions, can work only with small groups of people who are intimately involved with one another daily. Shame works when “everybody lives in everybody else’s pocket.”
So, what are the chances that American society as a whole can achieve population control by voluntary means? Essentially zero, at present. We have nothing like the Chinese production groups to build upon. If we cannot or do not want to evolve in the Chinese direction, we will have to find a means of population control that builds on the traditions of our own society.
Let’s look again at the Chinese system. I don’t know whether the Chinese language has any equivalent for the word coercion, but if it does I see a way the Chinese could acknowledge the propriety of their population control without cringing at the word coercion as we Westerners do. Each woman in a production group must realize that the others need to be controlled by the coercion of shame and that she herself can be no exception. The control of all is achieved by mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon. Mutuality removes the sting that would come from being singled out of the group.
Can such coercion be generated in our society? Of course it can. In fact, it has been from time immemorial. “Mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon” is an apt description of any restrictive law passed by a democracy. I might want to rob banks, but I certainly don¡¦t want you to do so. So, since I know of no way to keep all others voluntarily from robbing banks, I will help pass a law that keeps everyone — including myself — from doing so.
Does mutual agreement have to be unanimous? Certainly not. Only a majority is required to pass a coercive law. In some cases, however — remember Prohibition — a very large majority may be required. But to demand unanimity would be to abandon all hope of a workable democracy.
By what means will Americans achieve real population control? We don¡¦t know yet. Americans are too comfortable to try hard to find an answer; poor countries — more strongly motivated — may beat us to it. Whatever methods prove effective must be grounded in human nature, as China¡¦s method is. Individuals must be rewarded for actions that benefit primarily the group (which includes all individuals). In China, freedom from shame is an effective reward. In America, we shall probably have to offer monetary rewards for relative sterility. For instance, we might limit the dependency deduction on income tax to two children, or maybe only one. Or the government might give an allowance to every female between the ages of twelve and twenty so long as she does not get pregnant. Ingenuity is called for.
In the meantime, one large step toward population control is already necessary and may be possible We must bring immigration virtually to an end and do so soon. In the absence of immigration, present trends in fertility, if continued unchanged, would bring America to zero population growth in about fifty years. If needed then, the government could offer incentives to parenthood, thus producing population stability. But all that is so far in the future that there is no profit in trying to spell out the details.
It is more important that we know what continued immigration will do to America. For perspective, let us begin with a few facts. First, the United States takes in more immigrants than all the other 180-odd nations combined. Second, the United States has the highest population growth rate in the developed, industrialized world. Third, immigration to the United States is increasing, not decreasing. Fourth, when immigration is added to “natural increase” (births minus deaths), the resultant population increase shows no sign of leveling off before we are impoverished. All worries about the dangers of a decline in population are vacuous.
In recent years, the United States has taken in over a million immigrants a year. Any suggestion that we might put an end to immigration is met with the anguished cry, “But we are a nation of immigrants.” But so is every nation. The natural history of a nation is simple First, outsiders move into a land virtually vacant of people; the land fills up; congestion is felt; then, the residents close the gates. Unrestricted immigration characterizes a new nation; restrictions are the mark of a mature nation.
Someone asks, “But is not variety a necessary component of a healthy nation?” Before we answer hastily, we should note that Japan admits essentially zero immigrants per year — and what American would be so bold as to say that the Japanese are not doing very well in the modern world? They don’t admit new bodies, but they do admit new ideas — from everywhere. With modern methods of communication, ideas no longer have to be brought into a country wrapped In human bodies. A wise nation admits just the ideas, leaving the bodies to be taken care of by the nations that produced them. This is the way of survival. Patriotism is rather unfashionable in our time, but can a conscientious humanist be contemptuous of the survival of the people with whom he or she associates daily?
Lastly, someone cries, “But the population problem is a global problem. We need global solutions!” Before panicking, let us look at the word global. Some problems are certainly global. Take acid rain. Take the greenhouse effect. Both cases involve the atmosphere, which is forever distributed and redistributed over the entire globe. Admittedly, it will be difficult to produce the global cooperation that is needed to solve such global problems, but no lesser solutions will work.
Now, let’s look at the potholes in the streets. There are potholes all over the civilized world, but is that any reason for setting up a global pothole authority to fix our potholes? Would the pothole in your street be filled sooner if we globalized the problem?
The moral is surely obvious Never globalize a problem if it can possibly be solved locally. It may be chic but it is not wise to tack the adjective global onto the names of problems that are merely widespread — for example, “global hunger,” “global poverty,” and the “global population problem.”
We will make no progress with population problems, which are a root cause of both hunger and poverty, until we deglobalize them. Populations, like potholes, are produced locally and, unlike atmospheric pollution, remain local — unless some people are so unwise as to globalize them by permitting population excesses to migrate into the better-endowed countries. Marx”s formula, “to each according to his needs,” is a recipe for national suicide.
We are not faced with a single global population problem, but, rather, with about 180 separate national population problems. All population controls must be applied locally; local governments are the agents best prepared to choose local means. Means must fit local traditions. For one nation to attempt to impose its ethical principles on another is to violate national sovereignty and endanger international peace. The only legitimate demand that nations can make on one another is this “Don’t try to solve your population problem by exporting your excess people to us.” All nations should take this position, and most do. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to believe that our nation can solve everyone else’s population problems.
I have presented no more than a sketch of “the population problem” but this is surely enough to show that humanists have some hard thinking to do in the near future. Humanism, like science, is a self-correcting system. Humanists should not cling to error merely because it is traditional. With deeper insight into the nature of the world, humanists must reexamine their past attitudes toward rights in general, universal human rights, the primacy of the individual, coercion, the imperatives of the environment, human needs, generosity, and our duty toward posterity. The inquiry will be painful, but faith in the power of reason can give us strength to do what has to be done.
Garrett Hardin, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This essay appeared in The Humanist of July/August 1989 and is reprinted by permission.
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|Protection, Yes. But Against Whom? And for Whom?
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin
I would like to discuss some of the great generalities about environmental protection that lie at the foundation of what we are all trying to accomplish. Foundations are often neglected because we are so busy working on the upper stories, correcting the previous inconsistencies. Many of the objections we encounter (as well as the support that we fail to get) arise because we have not considered the implications of our assumptions.
For example, environmental reforms are often impeded by tacit assumptions about the meaning of property. Most people assume that this is a simple idea, that property is a thing, the way specific gravity is a “thing.” But, of course, it is not at all; “property” is an interpretation of the relationships between people. My friend, Dan McKinley, once protested that “private property includes the smokestack, but not what comes out of it.” And that is the problem. To be ecologically acceptable, the concept of property must weld privilege and responsibility together. He who benefits from the products must accept responsibility for the by-products. This is a shocking idea for people brought up on a simpler view of “private property.”
Ecologists are trying to teach people what can only be called “total economics.” Card-carrying economists do not like this interpretation. They think of economics as one of the great academic disciplines, with ecology as no more than a problematic one. In contrast, ecologists focus on the relationships between peoples and many other elements of “the real world.” From that perspective, economics is just one subdivision of ecology. This attitude does not get us any Nobel Prizes, of course, or even attract many friends from the competing discipline. Our excuse society must learn to deal with all aspects of the humanity-environment interchange.
The most basic fact in human ecology is this we human beings create nothing. We merely take the atoms the earth gives us and, using the sun’s energy (sometimes in fossilized form), reorganize them into arrangements that are better suited to our purposes. For example, we cite figures on “the yearly production of petroleum.” Question: How many barrels of petroleum did human beings produce last year? The correct answer is zero. We extracted the petroleum from the earth and burned it, deriving energy thereby. We certainly did not truly produce any oil. All we do is transfer commodities from the account called “nature” to the account called “human society.”
Legions of influential people casually identified as “well educated” live by persuasive superstitions. In the early 1990s, Malcolm S. Forbes, Jr., the editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, wrote: “Overpopulation is all nonsense. Since Malthus’ time, the Earth’s population has increased six-fold and the standard of living has become infinitely higher.” So here is a man who is certainly “educated,” yet he gloriously supports the superstition that perpetual growth is possible in a severely limited world.
Evidently there is more than one kind of education. I think it helps to distinguish three kinds of competence produced by education. I will refer to the variety as three kinds of intellectual filters. The oldest is literacy, which can be defined as competence with words, whether the result is expressed in speech or in print. In the 1950s, someone coined the term “numeracy” to stand for a second kind of filter, which is coupled with a facility in using numbers and quantitative reasoning. Speaking broadly, we may say that, as a class, scientists are more numerate than the typical novelist or poet. Journalists, who should be both literate and numerate, are often weak in the second area.
Beginning about 1960, with the sensitization of the public to the importance of ecology and environmentalism, it became apparent that there needed to be a third intellectual filter, which was soon called “ecolacy.” This orientation implies sensitivity to “And then what?” types of questions, and to the ability to see and predict subtle and delayed interactions of many influences.
Over time, for example, a herbicide may have an important side effect on herbivores, thereby diminishing its value to humans; an insecticide may kill more than just harmful insects. Bactericides may select for inheritable resistance not only among useful microorganisms, but also among the harmful ones. So widespread are these effects that, as a working hypothesis, we now say that each blank-icide selects for its own defeat as a controller of the unwanted blank. Not meliorism, but rather pejoration is the new expectation in the Era of Ecology.
The ecolate view is not welcome to timid minds. Even if you come up with a true answer, you may have a hard time persuading others that you are on the right track. But we have to try. Literacy, numeracy, ecolacy: we need all three abilities.
We moderns are following in the footsteps of the old Romans who habitually asked, “Cui bono? Cui malo?” Who is benefited (by a new measure), and who is harmed? Though the word “society” is grammatically singular, the reality is very plural indeed: many people, many vested interests. Whenever we propose changing a system of reward and control, we must try to predict who will be harmed, and who helped by the change. Most pressing is the need to foresee how those who are harmed will respond to the change. We must not forget that we cannot just throw away unwanted things. In whose backyard might they land? What is he or she then likely to do about it? Such questions must be ever in the forefront of the environmentalist’s mind.
Numbers influence results; situation ethics acknowledges this. The relative blindness of traditional ethics to real-world situations creates ever-new problems for environmentalists. As long ago as the fourth century A.D. one of the Fathers of the Christian church, Tertullian, implied as much in a passage that has shocked many traditionalists over the centuries: “The scourges of pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have come to be regarded as a blessing to overcrowded nations, since they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.”
A standard reaction to that statement is that the writer must really have hated human beings, since he saw some good in death. But let us take a second look. Note, first, that Tertullian implies that this was not a new thought in the world: he says that the negative factors (disease, etc.) “have come to be regarded” as benefits, in part. He did not originate the thought; he merely reported it. The second thing to notice is the agricultural image that shaped Tertullian’s words. He says that pestilences can be regarded as blessings because “they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.” That is both a numerate and an ecolate contention, since it implies the reality of limits and carrying capacity. And “pruning” is an eminently agricultural figure of speech: a city dweller would be unlikely to use such language. These days most Americans are born and raised in cities; for that reason they seldom think in the rural images implied by the concepts of carrying capacity, overpopulation, and pruning.
It is amusing to observe the results of citified thinking when a long-time urban resident moves to more spacious suburbs and decides to have a garden. He is almost sure to plant seeds too close together, being poor at imagining the future as biological expansiveness threatens the inflexible limits of the environment. As his crowded plants get bigger, he has trouble bringing himself to thin them out: long exposure to the propaganda resident in the phrase “the sanctity of life” has stunted his imagination. Citified persons need to muster courage to reject the “civilized” images they were brought up on as they liquidate the excess members of the population of plants for the sake of a fraction that can survive into the future in a state of vigorous health. Ours is now a thoroughly citified world. To save civilization, we must educate its citified denizens to understand the language of agriculture and the environment. People must become ecolate in their thinking.
By virtue of the content of their specialty, economists should be among the principal supporters of ecolate thinking. Unfortunately, the accidents of history have made them powerful opponents of the concept. Through and through, their theory assumes limitless supplies. This has led to the amazing assumption that if a society wants more of a good thing, it has only to raise the price of it and supplies will increase without limit. Julian Simon and Herman Kahn stated in 1984 that “the term carrying capacity has by now no useful meaning.” It is true that when we are dealing with the earth’s carrying capacity for human beings, there is considerable wiggle room for variations in the standard of living assumed; but wiggling at what cost?
One of the peculiarities of modern economics is that though the indexes of elementary texts sometimes include the entry “diseconomies of scale” — the important observation that in many situations, beyond a point things may get worse as size or numbers increase — the subject is not treated extensively in most of them. But the positive economies of scale are always dwelt upon at length. One can only conclude that both sales personnel in business firms and economics professors in colleges know that optimism pays.
In the opinion of human ecologists, the bottom line of economic and political organization is this: with unfettered growth, diseconomies of scale rule. Consider democracy, for example. As the number of participants grows, a reasonable facsimile of true democracy is still possible — up to about 100-150 souls, according to the centuries-old experiments of the Hutterites, an earnest religious group in the northwestern United States. Beyond that point, the greater the population, the less the democracy, and eventually it must be abandoned and replaced by some sort of representative government. But were we to achieve the idealists’ dream of “One World,” our schoolbooks would no doubt crow about a global democracy of ten billion people. “Democracy” is a sacred word, and sacred words cannot be easily replaced by the truth.
More generally, many aspects of the quality of human life are negatively related to the number of people living in the community, once it exceeds a certain size. If every family now living on Earth is to have two automobiles, the number of families living on nature’s bounty will have to be markedly reduced. The question that begins with “How many people…” is meaningless if it is not preceded by the question, “What kind of life…” Widespread agreement on the second question will be hard to achieve; once it is introduced, the pejorative word “elitism” is likely to dominate the discussion.
Reaching a community-wide agreement on the size of the population to strive for involves not only scientific questions but also arbitrary decisions. Unfortunately, the word “arbitrary” is understood differently in science and law. In the law, the word is used with obvious distaste. By contrast, scientists frankly defend the word and its related practices, particularly in the field of statistics, where an arbitrary standard of significance has to be agreed upon. If you want to make one in twenty the limit for non-significant deviation from pure chance, fine. If you choose one in one hundred, also fine. But in every contested case some arbitrary decision has to be made. (Actually, John Q. Citizen makes such decisions every day, but he may not be aware of this fact.) If you cringe at “arbitrary,” you might try to coin a new word.
The ecologist’s basic question, “And then what?” runs all through human affairs. Different stages in the development of a nation may evoke different answers. For example, in this country, there was a time when Kit Carson, traveling across the prairies, would shoot a buffalo, cut out the tongue for eating and leave the rest of the carcass to rot. “What a waste!” we say now, but the lonely horseman had no refrigerator with him; and for him to interrupt his journey to build a fire (with what fuel?) and smoke-dry the extra carcass would involve wastes of other sorts. “Waste” is defined by circumstances.
The ecologist’s “And then what?” needs to be applied to one of the most ancient of the commandments in the Bible. “Be fruitful and multiply.” The rabbi who wrote this was living in a village, and it was a village version of morality that he was calling for. In a world of many separate villages, tribes, and ethnic groups, vigorous reproductive competition arises naturally. (If you do not believe that, read the Old Testament.) Other things being equal, fast multipliers win out over slow ones.
Circumstances have changed now, but most ethnic groups continue to follow the biblical advice just cited. We are thus laying the ground for the great tragedy that would follow from transgressing the carrying capacity of the earth, unless we somehow find the wisdom and ability to come to grips with the situation. There may not be much time, but we do not have too many other choices.
As you can see, ecological analysis is not for the faint of heart.
Garrett Hardin, Ph. D., is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of many articles and books including
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The myth of progress
I can remember vividly sitting at the dinner table arguing with my father about progress, using upon him all the experience and wisdom I had gathered at the age of fifteen. Of course we live in an era of progress, I said, just look at cars – how clumsy and unreliable and slow they were in the old days, how sleek and efficient and speedy they are now.
He raised an eyebrow, just a little. And what has been the result of having all these wonderful new sleek and efficient and speedy cars, he asked. I was taken aback. I searched for a way to answer. He went on.
How many people die each year as a result of these speedy cars, how many are maimed and crippled? What is life like for the people who produce them, on those famous assembly lines, the same routinized job hour after hour, day after day, like Chaplin’s film? How many fields and forests and even towns and villages have been paved over so that these cars can get to all the places they want to get to – and park there? Where does all the gasoline come from, and at what cost, and what happens when we burn it and exhaust it?
Before I could stammer out a response – thankfully – he went on to tell me about an article written on the subject of progress, a concept I had never really thought of, by one of his Cornell colleagues, the historian Carl Becker, a man I had never heard of, in the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, a resource I had never come across. Read it, he said.
I’m afraid it was another fifteen years before I did, though in the meantime I came to learn the wisdom of my father’s skepticism as the modern world repeatedly threw up other examples of invention and advancement – television, electric carving knife, microwave oven, nuclear power – that showed the same problematic nature of progress, taken in the round and negatives factored in, as did the automobile. When I finally got to Becker’s masterful essay, in the course of a wholesale re-examination of modernity, it took no scholarly armament of his to convince me of the peculiar historical provenance of the concept of progress and its status not as an inevitability, a force as given as gravity as my youthful self imagined, but as a cultural construct invented for all practical purposes in the Renaissance and advancing the propaganda of capitalism. It was nothing more than a serviceable myth, a deeply held unexamined construct – like all useful cultural myths – that promoted the idea of regular and eternal improvement of the human condition, largely through the exploitation of nature and the acquisition of material goods.
Of course by now it is no longer such an arcane perception. Many fifteen-year-olds today, seeing clearly the perils with which modern technology has accompanied its progress, some of which threaten the very continuance of the human species, have already worked out for themselves what’s wrong with the myth. It is hard to learn that forests are being cut down at the rate of 56 million acres a year, that desertification threatens 8 billion acres of land worldwide, that all of the world’s seventeen major fisheries are in decline and stand a decade away from virtual exhaustion, that 26 million tons of topsoil is lost to erosion and pollution every year, and believe that this world’s economic system, whose functioning exacts this price, is headed in the right direction and that direction should be labeled “progress.”
E.E. Cummings once called progress a “comfortable disease” of modern “manunkind,” and so it has been for some. But at any time since the triumph of capitalism only a minority of the world’s population could be said to be really living in comfort, and that comfort, continuously threatened, is achieved at considerable expense.
Today of the approximately 6 billion people in the world, it is estimated that at least a billion live in abject poverty, lives cruel, empty, and mercifully short. Another 2 billion eke out life on a bare subsistence level, usually sustained only by one or another starch, the majority without potable drinking water or sanitary toilets. More than 2 million more live at the bottom edges of the money economy but with incomes less than $5,000 a year and no property or savings, no net worth to pass on to their children.
That leaves less than a billion people who even come close to struggling for lives of comfort, with jobs and salaries of some regularity, and a quite small minority at the top of that scale who could really be said to have achieved comfortable lives; in the world, some 350 people can be considered (U.S. dollar) billionaires (with slightly more than 3 million millionaires), and their total net worth is estimated to exceed that of 45 per cent of the world’s population.
This is progress? A disease such a small number can catch? And with such inequity, such imbalance?
In the U.S., the most materially advanced nation in the world and long the most ardent champion of the notion of progress, some 40 million people live below the official poverty line and another 20 million or so below the line adjusted for real costs; 6 million or so are unemployed, more than 30 million said to be too discouraged to look for work, and 45 million are in “disposable” jobs, temporary and part-time, without benefits or security. The top 5 percent of the population owns about two-thirds of the total wealth; 60 percent own no tangible assets or are in debt; in terms of income, the top 20 percent earn half the total income, the bottom 20 percent less than 4 percent of it.
All this hardly suggests the sort of material comfort progress is assumed to have provided. Certainly many in the U.S. and throughout the industrial world live at levels of wealth undreamed of in ages past, able to call forth hundreds of servant-equivalents at the flip of a switch or turn of a key, and probably a third of this “first world” population could be said to have lives of a certain amount of ease and convenience. Yet it is a statistical fact that it is just this segment that most acutely suffers from the true “comfortable disease,” what I would call affluenza: heart disease, stress, overwork, family dysfunction, alcoholism, insecurity, anomie, psychosis, loneliness, impotence, alienation, consumerism, and coldness of heart.
Leopold Kohr, the Austrian economist whose seminal work, The Breakdown of Nations, is an essential tool for understanding the failures of political progress in the last half-millennium, often used to close his lectures with this analogy.
Suppose we are on a progress-train, he said, running full speed ahead in the approved manner, fueled by the rapacious growth and resource depletion and cheered on by highly rewarded economists. What if we then discover that we are headed for a precipitous fall to a certain disaster just a few miles ahead when the tracks end at an uncrossable gulf? Do we take advice of the economists to put more fuel into the engines so that we go at an ever-faster rate, presumable hoping that we build up a head of steam so powerful that it can land us safely on the other side of the gulf; or do we reach for the brakes and come to a screeching if somewhat tumble-around halt as quickly as possible?
Progress is the myth that assures us that full-speed-ahead is never wrong. Ecology is the discipline that teaches us that it is disaster.
Before the altar of progress, attended by its dutiful acolytes of science and technology, modern industrial society has presented an increasing abundance of sacrifices from the natural world, imitating on a much grander and more devastating scale the religious rites of earlier empires built upon similar conceits about the domination of nature. Now, it seems, we are prepared to offer up even the very biosphere itself.
No one knows how resilient the biosphere, how much damage it is able to absorb before it stops functioning – or at least functioning well enough to keep the human species alive. But in recent years some very respectable and authoritative voices have suggested that, if we continue the relentless rush of progress that is so stressing the earth on which it depends, we will reach that point in the quite near future. The Worldwatch Institute, which issues annual accountings of such things, has warned that there is not one life-support system on which the biosphere depends for its existence – healthy air, water, soil, temperature, and the like – that is not now severely threatened and in fact getting worse, decade by decade.
Not long ago a gathering of elite environmental scientists and activists in Morelia, Mexico, published a declaration warning of “environmental destruction” and expressing unanimous concern “that life on our planet is in grave danger.” And recently the U.S. Union of Concerned Scientists, in a statement endorsed by more than a hundred Nobel laureates and 1,600 members of national academies of science all over the world, proclaimed a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” stating that the present rates of environmental assault and population increase cannot continue without “vast human misery” and a planet so “irretrievably mutilated” that “it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”
The high-tech global economy will not listen; cannot listen. It continues apace its expansion and exploitation. Thanks to it, human beings annually use up some 40% of all the net photosynthetic energy available to the planet Earth, though we are but a single species of comparatively insignificant numbers. Thanks to it, the world economy has grown by more than five times over in the last 50 years and is continuing at a dizzying pace to use up the world’s resources, create unabating pollution and waste, and increase the enormous inequalities within and between all nations of the world.
Suppose an Objective Observer were to measure the success of Progress – that is to say, the capital-P myth that ever since the Enlightenment has nurtured and guided and presided over that happy marriage of science and capitalism that has produced modern industrial civilization.
Has it been, on the whole, better or worse for the human species? Other species? Has it brought humans more happiness than there was before? More justice? More equality? More efficiency? And if its ends have proven to be more benign than not, what of its means? At what price have its benefits been won? And are they sustainable?
The Objective Observer would have to conclude that the record is mixed, at best. On the plus side, there is no denying that material prosperity has increased for about a sixth of the world’s humans, for some beyond the most avaricious dreams of kings and potentates of the past. The world has developed systems of transportation and communication that allow people, goods, and information to be exchanged on a scale and at a swiftness never before possible. And for maybe a third of these humans longevity has been increased, along with a general improvement in health and sanitation that has allowed the expansion of human numbers by about tenfold in the last three centuries.
On the minus side, the costs have been considerable. The impact upon the earth’s species and systems to provide prosperity for a billion people has been, as we have seen, devastatingly destructive – only one additional measure of which is the fact that it has meant the permanent extinction of perhaps 500,000 species this century alone. The impact upon the remaining five-sixths of the human species has been likewise destructive, as most of them have seen their societies colonized or displaced, their economies wrenched and shattered, and their environments transformed for the worse in the course of it, driving them into an existence of deprivation and misery that is almost certainly worse than they ever knew, however difficult their times past, before the advent of industrial society.
And even the billion whose living standards use up what is effectively 100 percent of the world’s available resources each year to maintain, and who might be therefore assumed to be happy as a result, do not in fact seem to be so. No social indices in any advanced society suggest that people are more content than they were a generation ago, various surveys indicate that the “misery quotient” in most countries has increased, and considerable real-world evidence (such as rising rates of mental illness, drugs, crime, divorce, and depression) argues that the results of material enrichment have not included much individual happiness.
Indeed, on a larger scale, almost all that Progress was supposed to achieve has failed to come about, despite the immense amount of money and technology devoted to its cause. Virtually all of the dreams that have adorned it over the years, particularly in its most robust stages in the late 19th century and in the past twenty years of computerdom, have dissipated as utopian fancies – those that have not, like nuclear power, chemical agriculture, manifest destiny, and the welfare state, turned into nightmares. Progress has not, even in this most progressive nation, eliminated poverty (numbers of poor have increased and real income has declined for 25 years), or drudgery (hours of employment have increased, as has work within the home, for both sexes), or ignorance (literacy rates have declined for fifty years, test scores have declined), or disease (hospitalization, illness, and death rates have all increased since 1980).
It seems quite simple: beyond prosperity and longevity, and those limited to a minority, and each with seriously damaging environmental consequences, progress does not have a great deal going for it. For its adherents, of course, it is probably true that it doesn’t have to; because it is sufficient that wealth is meritorious and affluence desirable and longer life positive. The terms of the game for them are simple: material betterment for as many as possible, as fast as possible, and nothing else, certainly not considerations of personal morality or social cohesion or spiritual depth or participatory government, seems much to matter.
But the Objective Observer is not so narrow, and is able to see how deep and deadly are the shortcomings of such a view. The Objective Observer could only conclude that since the fruits of Progress are so meager, the price by which they have been won is far too high, in social, economic, political, and environmental terms, and that neither societies nor ecosystems of the world will be able to bear the cost for more than a few decades longer, if they have not already been damaged beyond redemption.
Herbert Read, the British philosopher and critic, once wrote that “only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines.” It is a profound insight, and he underscored it by adding that “only such people will so contrive and control those machines that their products are an enhancement of biological needs, and not a denial of them.”
An apprenticeship to nature – now there’s a myth a stable and durable society could live by.
|Nobody Ever Dies of Overpopulation
The Social Contract (Summer 1991)
by Garrett Hardin
Following the recent loss of life due to a cyclone in Bangladesh Dr. Garrett Hardin’s 20 year-old column came to mind. It is here reprinted with permission from Science, 12 February 1971, Volume 171, Number 3971, © 1971 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Hardin has retired from teaching in the biology department of the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Those of us who are deeply concerned about population and the environment — econuts, we’re called, — are accused of seeing herbicides in trees, pollution in running brooks, radiation in rocks, and overpopulation everywhere. There is merit in the accusation.
I was in Calcutta when the cyclone struck East Bengal in November 1970. Early dispatches spoke of 15,000 dead, but the estimates rapidly escalated to 2,000,000 and then dropped back to 500,000. A nice round number it will do as well as any, for we will never know. The nameless ones who died, unimportant people far beyond the fringes of the social power structure, left no trace of their existence. Pakistani parents repaired the population loss in just 40 days, and the world turned its attention to other matters.1
What killed those unfortunate people? The cyclone, newspapers said. But one can just as logically say that overpopulation killed them. The Gangetic Delta is barely above sea level. Every year several thousand people are killed in quite ordinary storms. If Pakistan were not overcrowded, no sane man would bring his family to such a place. Ecologically speaking, a delta belongs to the river and the sea; man obtrudes there at his peril.
In the web of life every event has many antecedents. Only by an arbitrary decision can we designate a single antecedent as cause. Our choice is biased — biased to protect our egos against the onslaught of unwelcome truths. As T.S. Eliot put it in Burnt Norton
Go, go, go, said the bird human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Were we to identify overpopulation as the cause of a half-million deaths, we would threaten ourselves with a question to which we do not know the answer How can we control population without recourse to repugnant measures? Fearfully we close our minds to an inventory of possibilities. Instead, we say that a cyclone caused the deaths, thus relieving ourselves of responsibility for this and future catastrophes. Fate is so comforting.
Every year we list tuberculosis, leprosy, enteric diseases, or animal parasites as the cause of death of millions of people. It is well known that malnutrition is an important antecedent of death in all these categories; and that malnutrition is connected with overpopulation. But overpopulation is not called the cause of death. We cannot bear the thought.
People are dying now of respiratory diseases in Tokyo, Birmingham, and Gary, because of the need for more industry. The need for more food justifies overfertilization of the land, leading to eutrophication of the waters, and lessened fish production — which leads to more need for food.
What will we say when the power shuts down some fine summer on our eastern seaboard and several thousand people die of heat prostration? Will we blame the weather? Or the power companies for not building enough generators? Or the econuts for insisting on pollution controls?
One thing is certain we won’t blame the deaths on overpopulation. No one ever dies of overpopulation. It is unthinkable.
1 The UN Population Card indicates that the population of Bangladesh has a net gain of 6 persons per minute. Please see the article about the Population Card on page 216.
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Not On My Lifeboat
“I feel guilty about my good luck,” say some. The reply to this is simple Get out and give your place to others.
— Garrett Hardin,“Living on a Lifeboat”
Stand by to repel boarders…
— Anonymous sailing ship captain
Perhaps the most gratifying sound in public discourse is the pop of punctured preconceived notions — particularly when the notions thus deposed are manifestly harmful ones. With the ascendancy of universalist Liberalism as a compulsory ethical model, there are plenty of injurious pre-conceptions to choose from. No one harpoons them better than biologist Garrett Hardin, Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hardin, now in his 80s, has wielded his pen with the impact of a wrecking ball ever since his seminal essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” appeared in 1968.
Based in part on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 book, The Limits of Altruism, it explores the moral flaws of universalism and their implications for the future. Hardin is the author of numerous books and essays on ethics, ecology, population and immigration. Book credits include The Limits of Altruism An Ecologist’s View of Survival; Living Within Limits; The Immigration Dilemma Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons; and Exploring New Ethics for Survival. The most recent release, a reprint of Stalking the Wild Taboo, includes several essays and a new preface illuminating the destructive impact of the universalist ethos on our society. Besides “The Tragedy of the Commons,” his most influential essays include “Living on a Lifeboat,” “Carrying Capacity as an Ethical Concept,” and “Discriminating Altruisms.”
Much of Hardin’s work advances the thesis that universalism is an inherently flawed, even suicidal, ethical system. It compels those deceived by its siren song to sacrifice self and group interests for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Yet it is practiced widely only by European peoples — who are thereby impaired in competing with those whose loyalty remains closer to home. Universalism harms those we care about most — our own friends, relatives and kinsmen. It benefits those who are, at best, indifferent to our beliefs — and, at worst, utterly contemptuous of them.
Hardin has a warning for those whose actions are guided by such beliefs “Noble intentions are a poor excuse for stupid action. Man is the only species that calls some suicidal actions ‘noble.’ The rest of creation knows better.” To Hardin’s words, we would add: The penalty for those who fail to grasp nature’s realities is the same as it is in the animal kingdom—disappearance.
The Tragedy of the Commons
To understand Hardin’s message, one may begin with “The Tragedy of the Commons.” In concise, elegant prose, Hardin introduces many of the ethical themes that have illuminated his work since. Among them anything that is free invites exploitation (an apt description of welfare); the carrying capacity of any resource is a vital ethical consideration (a realistic justification for limiting immigration in a finite world); and voluntary “ethical” behavior, without regard to the actions of others, can act as agent for its own elimination.
The tragedy of the commons, first advanced in 1833 by mathematician William Forster Lloyd, is simple in concept. Imagine a pasture, held in common by a group of herdsmen. All are free to graze their animals in the commons. The depletion of resources caused by adding additional animals is borne by all, but the benefit accrues only to the individual. Thus each herdsman, acting purely out of self-interest, will tend to exploit the commons by adding more animals.
But the ability of the commons to support more animals is finite. This limit is called the carrying capacity. Exceeding the pasture’s carrying capacity destroys its ability to produce grass and leads to soil erosion, takeover by weeds, etc. Thus, it is almost certain that the commons will be exploited to exhaustion. The inevitability of this outcome is the “tragedy” alluded to in the essay’s title.
The tragedy of the commons is not confined to animal husbandry. Any system, natural or human, may constitute a commons. Our own land is a prime example. Immigration is turning Europe itself into a vast commons, a fragile human ecosystem ripe for exploitation not only by the teeming billions of people in the Third World — to whom Europe looks like the proverbial land of milk and honey — but also by callous and rapacious elites who care nothing about the irreversible damage they cause.
Fortunately, restraint is possible even in the presence of human greed. If the pasture has an owner, he has a vested interest in preserving it for the future. If he fails to limit use to the pasture’s natural carrying capacity it will be ruined, and he will suffer great loss. The tragedy of the commons is a persuasive argument for private property ownership. It is also a telling indictment of Marxism’s denial of private property.
In a similar manner, the ethnic and cultural binding of the peoples of traditional nation-states with the geography they inhabit motivates preservation of historic homelands for future generations. Without this close, sometimes mystical association between blood and land (“the motherland,” “the fatherland”), there inevitably ensues a rootlessness that renders impossible the conservation of nature’s fragile endowment.
The Cult of Conscience
Taken by itself, the commons case is a profound one. It explains much of the tendency of societies to wreck their environment. But Hardin does not stop there. He adds another crucial point, one that deals with the flawed and potentially self-destructive nature of conscience.
Since conscience — adherence to a “moral” code of behavior without coercion by others — is one of the shibboleths of both secular Liberalism and Christian dogma, this will strike many readers as heretical. However, reality is quite indifferent to our preconceived notions, Conscience is self-eliminating from a population.
Hardin first illustrates why by examining voluntary birth control. He then generalizes the conclusion to all acts of self-sacrificing conscience.
People vary. Confronted with appeals to limited breeding, some people will undoubtedly respond to the plea more than others. Those who have more children will produce a larger fraction of the next generation than those with more susceptible consciences. . . The argument here has been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good – by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race.
Returning to the commons example, imagine that some herdsmen, imbued with concern for the land, forego overstocking the commons with their own animals. They will fare less well than their contemporaries who are under no such compulsion. Their families will live less well. Their children will inherit less and likely will also live less well. They may even be displaced by more aggressive herdsmen, whose assets have brought added power
If even one person in the community follows a lower standard [of conscience] that person prospers at the expense of the others. A laissez faire market system ruled by conscience alone rewards for a lack of conscience. . .The second stage in the dissolution of a conscience-ruled system takes place because of envy. As the ‘good guys’ see the ‘bad guys’ prosper their envy is energized and one after another good guys become bad guys.
Some will object that Hardin’s conclusion is false. After all, conscience still exists. Indeed, Europan peoples may be its highest exemplar. The answer is that until recently, European-descended peoples were largely isolated from other peoples. Now, modern transportation and communication has changed all this. Our conscience-induced refusal to curtail immigration is importing vast numbers of people who do not share our moral code—and who thereby threaten to displace us permanently.
The commons model, where exploitation is restrained only by conscience, is an inherently flawed ethical system. This raises the question Is there a more survivable way? Rather than treating our land as an endless vista of inexhaustible largess, to be bestowed on all comers as an act of kindness, Hardin asks us to consider a different approach.
His “Living on a Lifeboat,” published in 1974, deals with the ethics of a finite world occupied by an ever-growing population. Consider the case of lifeboats floating on the ocean — each limited in its “carrying capacity” and each filled with an ample cargo of humans. Suppose occupants of some lifeboats are leaping into the water and swimming toward our lifeboat. It may be that they have reproduced to a level that they cannot sustain. Or they may be hungry, unable to feed themselves due to their lack of ability or motivation. Or they may simply wish to avail themselves of the amenities with which we have outfitted our lifeboat.
The ethical dilemma we face is what to do about these potential “immigrants” in the water. Hardin considers three possibilities. First, “We may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being ‘our brother’s keeper,’ or by the Marxian ideal of ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’” This ethical code will lead us to take in everyone. Since people in other boats are multiplying endlessly, our lifeboat will eventually capsize, leaving us to drown. As predicted in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” our conscience will have been our undoing.
Second, we may take in none at all. To those who object to this alternative, Hardin offers the advice quoted earlier “Get out and yield your place to others.” [Emphasis in the original.] Although letting in these sad-eyed strangers may seem to epitomize compassion and moral virtue, it is in reality a fatal embrace. If we do not reject them, we shall perish — overrun by people whose self-interest is not blinded by “noble intentions.”
Finally, we may take in only a few. But who do we admit? “How do we discriminate?” We shall return to this theme in a moment, for there is a natural criteria by which we may guide our choice.
“Living on a Lifeboat” shows that immigration has turned Europe into a precarious human commons. Our ecosystem is being plundered by those who have not duplicated for themselves our European way of life. Although we already pay a high price for immigration in crime, welfare and destruction of our culture, our children and grandchildren may pay a higher price still.
To be generous with one’s own possessions is one thing; to be generous with posterity’s is quite another…rejection of the commons is still valid and necessary if we are to save at least some parts of the world from environmental ruin. Is it not desirable that at least some of the grandchildren of people now living should have a decent place to in which to live?
This last point provides us with a clue as to how to “discriminate” among potential immigrants. Our lifeboat is not filled with strangers. It is occupied by our own family and kin, an adjunct of the process that created ethnically-based nations. Immigration proponents ask us to imperil the safety and future well-being of our children to make room for these strangers. If we see our own kin in the water, we will no doubt gladly take them in, but we cannot admit every stranger who clamors for admission.
After all Whose lifeboat is it, anyway? Does it belong to the people in the water — who are demonstrably unable to rise to our standards — or does it belong to those of us who made it what it is? The answer is clear if we value our children’s future It is ours — and we must take whatever steps necessary to make sure it remains ours. To those who clamor for admittance, we have no choice but to respond not on my lifeboat.
Nature’s Moral Order
Is this “moral”? This is equivalent to asking, is it moral to survive? To even ask the question is to reveal the extent to which our instincts as well as our powers of rational thought have been corrupted. Leaving aside debilitating liberal platitudes and enervating Christian passivity (“…the meek shall inherit the earth.”), one thing is certain; those who do not seek to survive will not do so.
Nature’s moral order values loyalty to those to whom one has distinct ties, usually ties of kinship — what we would call ethnic groups or tribes.
“The politicizing of universalism by European elites and their legal and social institutions … has deluded many European-derived people into believing that it is immoral to survive as a distinct group. As a result, they can find no reason to resist the Third World flood inundating Europe.” Hardin writes “The essential characteristic of a tribe is that it should follow a double standard of morality — one kind of behavior for in-group relations, another for out-group.” In-group relations are governed by cooperation while out-group relations are properly governed by, at best, a tit-for-tat code. Hardin argues that, because of the nature of altruism and competition, the dual code of morality is inescapable
In the absence of competition between tribes the survival value of altruism in a crowded world approaches zero because what ego gives up necessarily … goes into the commons. What is in the commons cannot favor the survival of the sharing impulses that put it there — unless there are limits placed on sharing. To place limits on sharing is to create a tribe — which means a rejection of One World.… A state of One World, if achieved, would soon redissolve into an assemblage of tribes.
Those who demonize this as racist or xenophobic — and therefore immoral — are being disingenuous. That which is built inextricably into the laws of the universe cannot be immoral. The in-group, out-group distinction still operates today; only the battleground has shifted. Violence has diminished, only to be superseded by irredentism and dueling birthrates. Any idealistic group that unilaterally dismantles its own group identity will be the loser in this new form of competition.
Understanding the Script
Behind the pious rhetoric of those who condemn fealty to nature’s plan is a dirty little secret Universalism also provides an insidious means of securing power and wealth. It exposes us to exploitation by amoral men who use any weapon available to advance their own self-interest — including our innate sense of moral probity. Says Hardin “[S]uch verbal devices as ‘principles,’ ‘liberty,’ and ‘fairness’ can be used as competitive weapons.”
Despite the currently fashionable conceit that “democracy” and “free enterprise” have routed the worst excesses of marxism, what is happening in Europe is recognizably Marxist in design. To understand how this is so, one must follow the dramatis personae in the West’s unfolding passion play — of which there are three principals.
First, there is a group ripe for exploitation — a commons. This group is the historical body of European-derived people who created European civilization. They are largely moral people who go quietly about their lives, often without concern for the grand design unfolding around them. Because they are productive, they have something others want. Because they are kind-hearted, they are vulnerable to appeals of conscience.
Second, there is a vast reservoir of disaffected people who, if cleverly manipulated, may be incited to envy of the first group’s success. Call them the “poor” and the “oppressed”; they are largely Third World in composition. Their role is to function as a social battering ram in service of whoever is able to secure their allegiance.
Finally, there is a third group who stands to profit by pitting the second group against the first. It is this group that James Burnham, author of The Suicide of the West, called the “managerial elite.”
Immigration is a potent weapon in this struggle for dominance. The politicizing of universalism by European elites and their legal and social institutions — among them government, education, media, entertainment, religion, etc. — has deluded many European-derived people into believing that it is immoral to survive as a distinct group. As a result, they can find no reason to resist the Third World flood inundating Europe — a flood that is rapidly breaking down the culture, institutions and unique character of European civilization.
The Ethics of Diversity for evolutionary progress of the species
Unity within nations, coupled with diversity among nations, is surely the best recipe as a whole.” — Garrett Hardin This disintegration benefits the elites who perpetuate it by creating hitherto unimagined opportunities for securing power and wealth at the expense of historic peoples and their cultures. This outcome can hardly be described as moral. Indeed, it may be the most immoral design ever inflicted on a long-suffering humanity. The elites’ “return on investment” is the very antithesis of the moral code they espouse. It is not “liberty, fraternity and equality.” It is something far more venal power, wealth and dominance. Hardin writes
Why poor people should want to make this transfer is no mystery but why should rich host encourage it? This transfer, like the reverse one, is supported by both selfish interests and humanitarian ones.
The principle selfish interest in unimpeded immigration is easy to identify; it is the interest of the employers of cheap labor, particularly that needed for degrading jobs. We have been deceived about the forces of history by the lines of Emma Lazarus inscribed on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty…
The Lazarus poem (“Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…”) is a particularly pernicious example of exploiting the commons. Lazarus, a Sephardic Jewess from a wealthy New York family, exploited American sentimentality in order to prepare the way for more immigration by victims of the Russian pogroms. Likewise, the “melting pot” metaphor — created by playwright Israel Zangwell — also conditioned public opinion for the dismantling of turn-of-the-century barriers.
To Hardin’s indictment of employers seeking cheap labor, we would add condemnation of politicians catering to minority voters. Just as Radical Republicans exploited the Southern black vote during Reconstruction, both parties pander shamelessly to minorities today. Whereas most whites vote their consciences, thereby diluting their effectiveness, minorities well understand their own self-interest — many bloc-vote to get it. Minority power is thus highly magnified while the majority’s dispossession is largely conscience-inflicted.
”Democracy” is not an answer. When applied to “diverse” peoples, democracy simply “legalizes” the rape of the commons. The problem is not that democracy is inherently evil but rather that it has limitations. If the interests of those grouped as voters are sufficiently divergent, exploitation of the producers by envious have-nots is inevitable. The real enemy of democracy is “diversity” — as Hardin notes in The Immigration Dilemma
Since diversity is so highly praised these days, it would be well for us to examine the environment needed to foster and conserve this virtue. Many people think that One World — a single political sovereignty governing the whole world — will be achieved some day …Year after year the studies of Freedom House show that the great majority of the nations are not democratically run. In the formation of a single sovereignty, democracy would probably not survive the bargaining of the major non-democratic powers. …Unity within nations, coupled with diversity among nations, is surely the best recipe for evolutionary progress in the species as a whole.
Western Survival at Stake
In an aptly titled 1971 essay, “The Survival of Nations and Civilizations,” Hardin strips away feel-good humanitarian delusion and forces attention onto the ultimate issue that confronts us—our continued existence as a distinct people. We must maintain sufficient numbers to constitute a viable population group and to defend our “territory” or we will surely drown. Of Europeans’ diminishing percentage of the world’s population, Hardin writes
If we renounce conquest and overbreeding, our survival in a competitive world depends on what kind of world it is One World or a world of national territories. if the world is one great commons, in which all food is shared equally, then we are lost. Those who breed faster will replace the rest. Sharing the food from national territories is operationally equivalent to sharing territories in both cases a commons is established, and tragedy is the ultimate result.
Biologists have a name for this phenomenon — the Competitive Exclusion Principle. In the competition for living space and resources between two species (or two groups that occupy the same ecological niche), one will inevitably and inexorably eliminate the other. “[I]n a finite universe — and the organisms of our world know no other — where the total number of organisms of both kinds cannot exceed a certain number … one species will necessarily replace the other species completely if the two species are ‘complete competitors,’ i.e., live the same kind of life.”
But, why should we care if our living space is overrun by strangers? After all, if every one is “equal” why does it matter? The unpleasant truth is that all people are not equal — either by standards of objective reality or by their own perceptions. (Is there a mother anywhere who would concede that her own child is not in some way special, at least to her?) Indeed, if all peoples were equal, Europe’s prosperity would exist equally everywhere in the world. No one would want to come here. The very fact that others are attracted to Europe is proof that our character — and the way of life it has created — is different, and therefore worthy of preservation.
One need not yield to liberal-condemned stereotypes of superiority and inferiority to justify the distinctiveness of the world’s peoples. Distinctiveness is an inseparable part of human nature — a heritage we have an unalienable right to preserve. To attempt to destroy it — whether out of humanitarianism or out of something altogether more malevolent — is an act of aggression. Whether distinct groups be called tribes, nations, religions, ethnic groups or races, they are still worthy of respect and conservation for their distinctiveness. One of Liberalism’s most poisonous evils is that it condemns such loyalties as morally wrong.
If carried to its logical conclusion, our universalist, “melting pot” ethic — which ignores the realities of life in a competitive world — can only result in the inexorable eradication of our distinctiveness. Others not fettered by fastidious consciences will occupy the land and multiply to the utmost limit. There is a word to describe this outcome, and Hardin does not flinch from its utterance. “It may be that no one is ever killed; but the genes of one group replace the genes of the other. This is genocide.”
It is difficult to understand how anyone could view this outcome as morally defensible. But, of course, that’s the point isn’t it? The most cunning promoters of this view do not believe it themselves, nor do they practice it. For them, universalism is simply a path to power. Over whom that power is exercised — whether it be the endangered heirs of European civilization’s creators or an empire populated with Third World masses — seems to matter not at all. This is universalism’s ultimate malediction; far from being the most righteous of moral systems it is the most corrupt.
[The Social Contract (Fall 1997)]
|Living on a Lifeboat
The Social Contract (Fall 2001)
by Garrett Hardin
Susanne Langer (1942) has shown that it is probably impossible to approach an unsolved problem save through the door of metaphor. Later, attempting to meet the demands of rigor, we may achieve some success in cleansing theory of metaphor, though our success is limited if we are unable to avoid using common language, which is shot through and through with fossil metaphors. (I count no less than five in the preceding two sentences.)
Since metaphorical thinking is inescapable it is pointless merely to weep about our human limitations. We must learn to live with them, to understand them, and to control them. “All of us,” said George Eliot in Middlemarch, “get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.” To avoid unconscious suicide we are well advised to pit one metaphor against another. From the interplay of competitive metaphors, thoroughly developed, we may come closer to metaphor-free solutions to our problems.
No generation has viewed the problem of the survival of the human species as seriously as we have. Inevitably, we have entered this world of concern through the door of metaphor. Environmentalists have emphasized the image of the earth as a spaceship — Spaceship Earth. Kenneth Boulding (1966) is the principal architect of this metaphor. It is time, he says, that we replace the wasteful “cowboy economy” of the past with the frugal “spaceship economy” required for continued survival in the limited world we now see ours to be. The metaphor is notably useful in justifying pollution control measures.
Unfortunately, the image of a spaceship is also used to promote measures that are suicidal. One of these is a generous immigration policy, which is only a particular instance of a class of policies that are in error because they lead to the tragedy of the commons (Hardin 1968). These suicidal policies are attractive because they mesh with what we unthinkingly take to be the ideals of “the best people.” What is missing in the idealistic view is an insistence that rights and responsibilities must go together. The “generous” attitude of all too many people results in asserting inalienable rights while ignoring or denying matching responsibilities.
For the metaphor of a spaceship to be correct, the aggregate of people on board would have to be under unitary sovereign control (Ophuls 1974). A true ship always has a captain. It is conceivable that a ship could be run by a committee. But it could not possibly survive if its course were determined by bickering tribes that claimed rights without responsibilities.
What about Spaceship Earth? It certainly has no captain, and no executive committee. The United Nations is a toothless tiger, because the signatories of its charter wanted it that way. The spaceship metaphor is used only to justify spaceship demands on common resources without acknowledging corresponding spaceship responsibilities.
An understandable fear of decisive action leads people to embrace “incrementalism” — moving toward reform by tiny stages. As we shall see, this strategy is counterproductive in the area discussed here if it means accepting rights before responsibilities. Where human survival is at stake, the acceptance of responsibilities is a precondition to the acceptance of rights, if the two cannot be introduced simultaneously.
Before taking up certain substantive issues let us look at an alternative metaphor, that of a lifeboat. In developing some relevant examples the following numerical values are assumed. Approximately two-thirds of the world is desperately poor, and only one-third is comparatively rich. The people in poor countries have an average per capita GNP (Gross National Product) of about $200 per year, the rich, of about $3,000. (For the United States it is nearly $5,000 per year.) Metaphorically, each rich nation amounts to a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. The poor of the world are in other, much more crowded, lifeboats. Continuously, so to speak, the poor fall out of their lifeboats and swim for a while in the water outside, hoping to be admitted to a rich lifeboat, or in some other way to benefit from the “goodies” on board. What should the passengers on a rich lifeboat do? This is the central problem of “the ethics of a lifeboat.”
First we must acknowledge that each lifeboat is effectively limited in capacity. The land of every nation has a limited carrying capacity. The exact limit is a matter for argument, but the energy crunch is convincing more people every day that we have already exceeded the carrying capacity of the land. We have been living on “capital” — stored petroleum and coal — and soon we must live on income alone.
Let us look at only one lifeboat — ours. The ethical problem is the same for all, and is as follows. Here we sit, say fifty people in a lifeboat. To be generous, let us assume our boat has a capacity of ten more, making sixty. (This, however, is to violate the engineering principle of the “safety factor.” A new plant disease or a bad change in the weather may decimate our population if we don’t preserve some excess capacity as a safety factor.)
The fifty of us in the lifeboat see a hundred others swimming in the water outside, asking for admission to the boat, or for handouts. How shall we respond to their calls? There are several possibilities.
One. We may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being “our brother’s keeper,” or by the Marxian ideal (Marx 1875) of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Since the needs of all are the same, we take all the needy into our boat, making a total of one hundred and fifty in a boat with a capacity of sixty. The boat is swamped, and everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.
Two. Since the boat has an unused excess capacity of ten, we admit just ten more to it. This has the disadvantage of getting rid of the safety factor, for which action we will sooner or later pay dearly. Moreover, which ten do we let in? “First come, first served?” The best ten? The neediest ten? How do we discriminate? And what do we say to the ninety who are excluded?
Three. Admit no more to the boat and preserve the small safety factor. Survival of the people in the lifeboat is then possible (though we shall have to be on our guard against boarding parties).
The last solution is abhorrent to many people. It is unjust, they say. Let us grant that it is.
“I feel guilty about my good luck,” say some. The reply to this is simple: Get out and yield your place to others. Such a selfless action might satisfy the conscience of those who are addicted to guilt but it would not change the ethics of the lifeboat. The needy person to whom a guilt addict yields his place will not himself feel guilty about his sudden good luck. (If he did he would not climb aboard.) The net result of conscience-stricken people relinquishing their unjustly held positions is the elimination of their kind of conscience from the lifeboat. The lifeboat, as it were, purifies itself of guilt. The ethics of the lifeboat persist, unchanged by such momentary aberrations.
This then is the basic metaphor within which we must work out our solutions. Let us enrich the image step by step with substantive additions from the real world.
The harsh characteristics of lifeboat ethics are heightened by reproduction, particularly by reproductive differences. The people inside the lifeboats of the wealthy nations are doubling in numbers every eighty-seven years; those outside are doubling every thirty-five years, on the average. And the relative difference in prosperity is becoming greater.
Let us, for a while, think primarily of the U.S. lifeboat. As of 1973, the United States had a population of 210 million people who were increasing by 0.8 percent per year, that is, doubling in number every eighty-seven years.
Although the citizens of rich nations are outnumbered two to one by the poor, let us imagine an equal number of poor people outside our lifeboat — a mere 210 million poor people reproducing at a quite different rate. If we imagine these to be the combined populations of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Morocco, Thailand, Pakistan, and the Philippines, the average rate of increase of the people “outside” is a 3.3 percent per year. The doubling time of this population is twenty-one years.
Suppose that all these countries, and the United States, agreed to live by the Marxian ideal, “to each according to his needs,” the ideal of most Christians as well. Needs, of course, are determined by population size, which is affected by reproduction. Every nation regards its rate of reproduction as a sovereign right. If our lifeboat were big enough in the beginning it might be possible to live for a while by Christian-Marxian ideals. Might.
Initially, in the model given, the ratio of non-Americans to Americans would be one to one. But consider what the ratio would be eighty-seven years later. By this time Americans would have doubled to a population of 420 million. The other group (doubling every twenty-one years) would now have swollen to 3,540 million. Each American would have more than eight people to share with. How could the lifeboat possibly keep afloat?
All this involves extrapolation of current trends into the future and is consequently suspect. Trends may change. Granted, but the change will not necessarily be favorable. If, as seems likely, the rate of population increase falls faster in the ethnic group presently inside the lifeboat than it does among those now outside, the future will turn out to be even worse than mathematics predicts, and sharing will be even more suicidal.
The fundamental error of the sharing ethics is that it leads to the tragedy of the commons. Under a system of private property the man (or group of men) who own property recognize their responsibility to care for it, for if they don’t they will eventually suffer. A farmer, for instance, if he is intelligent, will allow no more cattle in a pasture than its carrying capacity justifies. If he overloads the pasture, weeds take over, erosion sets in, and the owner loses in the long run.
But if a pasture is run as a commons open to all, the right of each to use it is not matched by an operational responsibility to take care of it. It is no use asking independent herdsmen in a commons to act responsibly, for they dare not. The considerate herdsman who refrains from overloading the commons suffers more than a selfish one who says his needs are greater. (As Leo Durocher says, “Nice guys finish last.”) Christian-Marxian idealism is counterproductive. That it sounds nice is no excuse. With distribution systems, as with individual morality, good intentions are no substitute for good performance.
A social system is stable only if it is insensitive to errors. To the Christian-Marxian idealist a selfish person is a sort of “error.” Prosperity in the system of the commons cannot survive errors. If everyone would only restrain himself, all would be well; but it takes only one less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint. In a crowded world of less than perfect human beings — and we will never know any other — mutual ruin is inevitable in the commons. This is the core of the tragedy of the commons.
One of the major tasks of education today is to create such an awareness of the dangers of the commons that people will be able to recognize its many varieties, however disguised. There is pollution of the air and water because these media are treated as commons. Further growth of population and growth in the per capita conversion of natural resources into pollutants require that the system of the commons be modified or abandoned in the disposal of “externalities.”
The fish populations of the oceans are exploited as commons, and ruin lies ahead. No technological invention can prevent this fate; in fact, all improvements in the art of fishing merely hasten the day of complete ruin. Only the replacement of the system of the commons with a responsible system can save oceanic fisheries.
The management of western rangelands, though nominally rational, is in fact (under the steady pressure of cattle ranchers) often merely a government-sanctioned system of the commons, drifting toward ultimate ruin for both the rangelands and the residual enterprisers.
In the international arena we have recently heard a proposal to create a new commons, namely an international depository of food reserves to which nations will contribute according to their abilities, and from which nations may draw according to their needs. Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug has lent the prestige of his name to this proposal.
A world food bank appeals powerfully to our humanitarian impulses. We remember John Donne¡¦s celebrated line, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” But before we rush out to see for whom the bell tolls let us recognize where the greatest political push for international granaries comes from, lest we be disillusioned later. Our experience with Public Law 480 clearly reveals the answer. This was the law that moved billions of dollars worth of U.S. grain to food-short, population-long countries during the past two decades. When P.L. 480 first came into being, a headline in the business magazine Forbes (Paddock and Paddock 1970) revealed the power behind it: “Feeding the World’s Hungry Millions: How It Will Mean Billions for U.S. Business.”
And indeed it did. In the years 1960 to 1970 a total of $7.9 billion was spent on the “Food for Peace” program, as P.L. 480 was called. During the years 1948 to 1970 an additional $49.9 billion were extracted from American taxpayers to pay for other economic aid programs, some of which went for food and food-producing machinery. (This figure does not include military aid.) That P.L. 480 was a give-away program was concealed. Recipient countries went through the motions of paying for P.L. 480 food — with IOUs. In December 1973 the charade was brought to an end as far as India was concerned when the United States “forgave” India’s $3.2 billon debt (Anonymous 1974). Public announcement of the cancellation of the debt was delayed for two months; one wonders why.
“Famine — 1974” (Paddock and Paddock 1970) is one of the few publications that points out the commercial roots of this humanitarian attempt. Though all U.S. taxpayers lost by P.L. 480, special interest groups gained handsomely. Farmers benefited because they were not asked to contribute the grain — it was bought from them by the taxpayers. Besides the direct benefit there was the indirect effect of increasing demand and thus raising prices of farm products generally. The manufacturers of farm machinery, fertilizers, and pesticides benefited by the farmers’ extra efforts to grow more food. Grain elevators profited from storing the grain for varying lengths of time. Railroads made money hauling it to port, and shipping lines by carrying it overseas. Moreover, once the machinery for P.L. 480 was established, an immense bureaucracy had a vested interest in its continuance regardless of its merits.
Very little was ever heard of these selfish interests when P.L. 480 was defended in public. The emphasis was always on its humanitarian effects. The combination of multiple and relatively silent selfish interests with highly vocal humanitarian apologists constitutes a powerful lobby for extracting money from taxpayers. Foreign aid has become a habit that can apparently survive in the absence of any known justification. A news commentator in a weekly magazine (Lansner 1974), after exhaustively going over all the conventional arguments for foreign aid, self-interest, social justice, political advantage, and charity, and concluding that none of the known arguments really held water, concluded: “So the search continues for some logically compelling reasons for giving aid…” In other words, Act now, Justify later — if ever. (Apparently a quarter of a century is too short a time to find the justification for expending several billion dollars yearly.)
The search for a rational justification can be short-circuited by interjecting the word “emergency.” Borlaug uses this word. We need to look sharply at it. What is an “emergency?” It is surely something like an accident, which is correctly defined as “an event that is certain to happen, though with a low frequency” (Hardin 1972a). A well-run organization prepares for everything that is certain, including accidents and emergencies. It budget for them. It saves for them. It expects them — and mature decision-makers do not waste time complaining about accidents when they occur.
What happens if some organizations budget for emergencies and other do not? If each organization is solely responsible for its own well-being, poorly managed ones will suffer. But they should be able to learn from experience. They have a chance to mend their ways and learn to budget for infrequent but certain emergencies. The weather, for instance, always varies and periodic crop failures are certain. A wise and competent government saves out of the production of the good years in anticipation of bad years that are sure to come. This is not a new idea. The Bible tells us that Joseph taught this policy to Pharaoh in Egypt more than two thousand years ago. Yet it is literally true that the vast majority of the governments of the world today have no such policy. They lack either the wisdom or the competence, or both. Far more difficult than the transfer of wealth from one country to another is the transfer of wisdom between sovereign powers or between generations.
“But it isn’t their fault! How can we blame the poor people who are caught in an emergency? Why must we punish them?” The concepts of blame and punishment are irrelevant. The question is, what are the operational consequences of establishing a world food bank? If it is open to every country every time a need develops, slovenly rulers will not be motivated to take Joseph’s advice. Why should they? Others will bail them out whenever they are in trouble.
Some countries will make deposits in the world food bank and others will withdraw from it: There will be almost no overlap. Calling such a depository-transfer unit a “bank” is stretching the metaphor of bank beyond its elastic limits. The proposers, of course, never call attention to the metaphorical nature of the word they use.
An “international food bank” is really, then, not a true bank but a disguised one-way transfer device for moving wealth from rich countries to poor. In the absence of such a bank, in a world inhabited by individually responsible sovereign nations, the population of each nation would repeatedly go through a cycle of the sort shown in Figure l. P2 is greater than P1, either in absolute numbers or because a deterioration of the food supply has removed the safety factor and produced a dangerously low ratio of resources to population. P2 may be said to represent a state of overpopulation, which becomes obvious upon the appearance of an “accident,” e.g., a crop failure. If the “emergency” is not met by outside help, the population drops back to the “normal” level — the “carrying capacity” of the environment — or even below. In the absence of population control by a sovereign, sooner or later the population grows to P2 again and the cycle repeats. The long-term population curve (Hardin 1966) is an irregularly fluctuating one, equilibrating more or less about the carrying capacity.
A demographic cycle of this sort obviously involves great suffering in the restrictive phase, but such a cycle is normal to any independent country with inadequate population control. The third century theologian Tertullian (Hardin 1969a) expressed what must have been the recognition of many wise men when he wrote: “The scourges of pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have come to be regarded as a blessing to overcrowded nations, since they serve to prune away the luxuriant growth of the human race.”
Only under a strong and farsighted sovereign — which theoretically could be the people themselves, democratically organized — can a population equilibrate at some set point below the carrying capacity, thus avoiding the pains normally caused by periodic and unavoidable disasters. For this happy state to be achieved it is necessary that those in power be able to contemplate with equanimity the “waste” of surplus food in times of bountiful harvests. It is essential that those in power resist the temptation to convert extra food into extra babies. On the public relations level it is necessary that the phrase “surplus food” be replaced by “safety factor.”
But wise sovereigns seem not to exist in the poor world today. The most anguishing problems are created by poor countries that are governed by rulers insufficiently wise and powerful. If such countries can draw on a world food bank in times of “emergency,” the population cycle of Figure 1 will be replaced by the population escalator of Figure 2. The input of food from a food bank acts as the pawl of a ratchet, preventing the population from retracing its steps to a lower level. Reproduction pushes the population upward, inputs from the World Bank prevent its moving downward. Population size escalates, as does the absolute magnitude of “accidents” and “emergencies.” The process is brought to an end only by the total collapse of the whole system, producing a catastrophe of scarcely imaginable proportions.
Such are the implications of the well-meant sharing of food in a world of irresponsible reproduction.
I think we need a new word for systems like this. The adjective “melioristic” is applied to systems that produce continual improvement; the English word is derived from the Latin meliorare, to become or make better. Parallel with this it would be useful to bring in the word “pejoristic” (from the Latin pejorare, to become or make worse.) This word can be applied to those systems which, by their very nature, can be relied upon to make matters worse. A world food bank coupled with sovereign state irresponsibility in reproduction is an example of a pejoristic system.
This pejoristic system creates an unacknowledged commons. People have more motivation to draw from than to add to the common store. The license to make such withdrawals diminishes whatever motivation poor countries might otherwise have to control their populations. Under the guidance of this ratchet, wealth can be steadily moved in one direction only, from the slowly breeding rich to the rapidly breeding poor, the process finally coming to a halt only when all countries are equally and miserably poor.
All this is terribly obvious once we are acutely aware of the pervasiveness and danger of the commons. But many people still lack this awareness and the euphoria of the ¡§benign demographic transition¡¨ (Hardin 1973) interferes with the realistic appraisal of pejoristic mechanisms. As concerns public policy, the deductions drawn from the benign demographic transition are these:
1. If the per capita GNP rises the birth rate will fall; hence, the rate of population increase will fall, ultimately producing ZPG (Zero Population Growth).
2. The long-term trend all over the world (including the poor countries) is of a rising per capita GNP (for which no limit is seen).
3. Therefore, all political interference in population matters is unnecessary; all we need to do is foster economic “development” — note the metaphor — and population problems will solve themselves.
Those who believe in the benign demographic transition dismiss the pejoristic mechanism of Figure 2 in the belief that each input of food from the world outside fosters development within a poor country thus resulting in a drop in the rate of population increase. Foreign aid has proceeded on this assumption for more than two decades. Unfortunately, it has produced no indubitable instance of the asserted effect. It has, however, produced a library of excuses. The air is filled with plaintive calls for more massive foreign aid appropriations so that the hypothetical melioristic process can get started.
The doctrine of demographic laissez-faire implicit in the hypothesis of the benign demographic transition is immensely attractive. Unfortunately there is more evidence against the melioristic system than there is for it (Davis 1963). On the historical side there are many counter examples. The rise in per capita GNP in France and Ireland during the past century has been accompanied by a rise in population growth. In the twenty years following the Second World War the same positive correlation was noted almost everywhere in the world. Never in world history before 1950 did the worldwide population growth reach one percent per annum. Now the average population growth is over two percent and shows no signs of slackening.
On the theoretical side, the denial of the pejoristic scheme of Figure 2 probably springs from the hidden acceptance of the “cowboy economy” that Boulding castigated. Those who recognize the limitations of a spaceship, if they are unable to achieve population control at a safe and comfortable level, accept the necessity of the corrective feedback of the population cycle shown in Figure 1. No one who knew in his bones that he was living on a true spaceship would countenance political support of the population escalator shown in Figure 2.
ECO-DESTRUCTION VIA THE GREEN REVOLUTION
The demoralizing effect of charity on the recipient has long been known. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days.” So runs an ancient Chinese proverb. Acting on this advice the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations have financed a multipronged program for improving agriculture in the hungry nations. The result, known as the “Green Revolution,” has been quite remarkable. “Miracle wheat” and “miracle rice” are splendid technological achievements in the realm of plant genetics.
Whether or not the Green Revolution can increase food production is doubtful (Harris 1972, Paddock 1970, Wilkes 1972), but in any event not particularly important. What is missing in this great and well-meaning humanitarian effort is a firm grasp of fundamentals. Considering the importance of the Rockefeller Foundation in this effort it is ironic that the late Alan Gregg, a much-respected vice-president of the Foundation, strongly expressed his doubts of the wisdom of all attempts to increase food production some two decades ago. (This was before Bourlaug’s work — supported by Rockefeller — had resulted in the development of “miracle wheat.”) Gregg (1955) likened the growth and spreading of humanity over the surface of the earth to the metastasis of cancer in the human body, wryly remarking that “Cancerous growths demand food; but, as far as I know, they have never been cured by getting it.”
“Man does not live by bread alone” — the scriptural statement has a rich meaning even in the material realm. Every human being born constitutes a draft on all aspects of the environment ¡X food, air, water, unspoiled scenery, occasional and optional solitude, beaches, contact with wild animals, fishing and hunting; the list is long and incompletely known. Food can, perhaps, be significantly increased, but what about clean beaches, unspoiled forests, and solitude? If we satisfy the need for food in a growing population we necessarily decrease the supply of other goods, and thereby increase the difficulty of equitably allocating scarce goods (Hardin 1969b, 1972b).
The present population of India is 600 million, and it is increasing by 15 million per year. The environmental load of this population is already great. The forests of India are only a small fraction of what they were three centuries ago. Soil erosion, floods, and the psychological costs of crowding are serious. Every one of the net 15 million lives added each year stresses the Indian environment more severely. Every life saved this year in a poor country diminishes the quality of life for subsequent generations.
Observant critics have shown how much harm we wealthy nations have already done to poor nations through our well-intentioned but misguided attempts to help them (Paddock and Paddock 1973). Particularly reprehensible is our failure to carry out post-audits of these attempts (Farvar and Milton 1972). Thus have we shielded our tender consciences from knowledge of the harm we have done. Must we Americans continue to fail to monitor the consequences of our external “do-gooding?” If, for instance, we thoughtlessly make it possible for the present 600 million Indians to swell to 1,200 million by the year 2001, as their present growth rate promises, will posterity in India thank us for facilitating an even greater destruction of their environment? Are good intentions ever a sufficient excuse for bad consequences?
IMMIGRATION CREATES A COMMONS
I come now to the final example of a commons in action, one for which the public is least prepared for rational discussion. The topic is at present enveloped by a great silence which reminds me of a comment made by Sherlock Holmes in A. Conan Doyle’s story “Silver Blaze.” Inspector Gregory had asked, “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” To this Holmes responded:
“To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”
“The dog did nothing in the nighttime,” said the Inspector.
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
By asking himself what would repress the normal barking instinct of a watchdog, Holmes realized that it must be the dog’s recognition of his master as the criminal trespasser. In a similar way we should ask ourselves what repression keeps us from discussing something as important as immigration.
It cannot be that immigration is numerically of no consequence. Our government acknowledges a net inflow of 400,000 a year. Hard data are understandably lacking on the extent of illegal entries, but a not implausible figure is 600,000 per year (Buchanan 1973). The natural increase of the resident population is now about 1.7 million per year. This means that the yearly gain from immigration is at least nineteen percent, and may be thirty-seven percent, of the total increase. It is quite conceivable that educational campaigns like that of Zero Population Growth, Inc., coupled with adverse social and economic factors — inflation, housing shortage, depression, and loss of confidence in national leaders — may lower the fertility of American women to a point at which all of the yearly increase in population would be accounted for by immigration. Should we not at least ask if that is what we want? How curious it is that we so seldom discuss immigration these days!
Curious, but understandable, as one finds out the moment he publicly questions the wisdom of the status quo in immigration. He who does so is promptly charged with isolationism, bigotry, prejudice, ethnocentrism, chauvinism, and selfishness. These are hard accusations to bear. It is pleasanter to talk about other matters, leaving immigration policy to wallow in the crosscurrents of special interests that take no account of the good of the whole, or of the interests of posterity.
We Americans have a bad conscience because of things we said in the past about immigrants. Two generations ago the popular press was rife with references to Dagos, Wops, Polacks, Japs, Chinks, and Krauts, all pejorative terms which failed to acknowledge our indebtedness to Goya, Leonardo, Copernicus, Hiroshige, Confucius, and Bach. Because the implied inferiority of foreigners was then the justification for keeping them out, it is now thoughtlessly assumed that restrictive policies can only be based on the assumption of immigrant inferiority. This is not so.
Existing immigration laws exclude idiots and known criminals; future laws will almost certainly continue this policy. But should we also consider the quality of the average immigrant, as compared with the quality of the average resident? Perhaps we should, perhaps we shouldn’t. (What is “quality” anyway?) But the quality issue is not our concern here.
From this point on, it will be assumed that immigrants and native-born citizens are of exactly equal quality, however quality may be defined. The focus is only on quantity. The conclusions reached depend on nothing else, so all charges of ethnocentrism are irrelevant.
World food banks move food to the people, thus facilitating the exhaustion of the environment of the poor. By contrast, unrestricted immigration moves people to the food, thus speeding up the destruction of the environment in rich countries. Why poor people should want to make this transfer is no mystery; but why should rich hosts encourage it? This transfer, like the reverse one, is supported by both selfish interests and humanitarian impulses.
The principal selfish interest in unimpeded immigration is easy to identify: It is the interest of the employers of cheap labor, particularly that needed for degrading jobs. We have been deceived about the forces of history by the lines of Emma Lazarus inscribed [inside the entrance to] the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the
The image is one of an infinitely generous earth mother, passively opening her arms to hordes of immigrants who come here on their own initiative. Such an image may have been adequate for the early days of colonization, but by the time these lines were written (1886) the force for immigration was largely manufactured inside our own borders by factory and mine owners who sought cheap labor not to be found among laborers already here. One group of foreigners after another was thus enticed into the United States to work at wretched jobs for wretched wages.
At present, it is largely the Mexicans who are being so exploited. It is particularly to the advantage of certain employers that there be many illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrant workers dare not complain about their working conditions for fear of being repatriated. Their presence reduces the bargaining power of all Mexican-American laborers. Cesar Chavez has repeatedly pleaded with congressional committees to close the doors to more Mexicans so that those here can negotiate effectively for higher wages and decent working conditions. Chavez understands the ethics of a lifeboat.
The interests of the employers of cheap labor are well served by the silence of the intelligentsia of the country. WASPS — White Anglo-Saxon Protestants — are particularly reluctant to call for a closing of the doors to immigration for fear of being called ethnocentric bigots. It was, therefore, an occasion of pure delight for this particular WASP to be present at a meeting when the points he would like to have made were made better by a non-WASP, speaking to other non-WASPS. It was in Hawaii, and most of the people in the room were second-level Hawaiian officials of Japanese ancestry. All Hawaiians are keenly aware of the limits of their environment, and the speaker had asked how it might be practically and constitutionally possible to close the doors to more immigrants to the islands. (To Hawaiians, immigrants from the other 49 states are as much of a threat as those from other nations. There is only so much room in the islands, and the islanders know it. Sophistical arguments that imply otherwise do not impress them.)
Yet the Japanese-Americans of Hawaii have active ties with the land of their origin. This point was raised by a Japanese-American member of the audience who asked the Japanese-American speaker: “But how can we shut the doors now? We have many friends and relations in Japan that we’d like to bring to Hawaii some day so that they can enjoy this land.”
The speaker smiled sympathetically and responded slowly: “Yes, but we have children now and someday we’ll have grandchildren. We can bring more people here from Japan only by giving away some of the land that we hope to pass on to our grandchildren some day. What right do we have to do that?”
To be generous with one’s own possessions is one thing; to be generous with posterity’s is quite another. This, I think, is the point that must be gotten across to those who would, from a commendable love of distributive justice, institute a ruinous system of the commons, either in the form of a world food bank or that of unrestricted immigration. Since every speaker is a member of some ethnic group it is always possible to charge him with ethnocentrism. But even after purging an argument of ethnocentrism the rejection of the commons is still valid and necessary if we are to save at least some parts of the world from environmental ruin. Is it not desirable that at least some of the grandchildren of people now living should have a decent place in which to live?
THE ASYMMETRY OF DOOR-SHUTTING
We must now answer this telling point: “How can you justify slamming the door once you’re inside? You say that immigrants should be kept out. But aren’t we all immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants? Since we refuse to leave, must we not, as a matter of justice and symmetry, admit all others?”
It is literally true that we Americans of non-Indian ancestry are the descendants of thieves. Should we not, then, “give back” the land to the Indians; that is, give it to the now-living Americans of Indian ancestry? As an exercise in pure logic I see no way to reject this proposal. Yet I am unwilling to live by it, and I know no one who is. Our reluctance to embrace pure justice may spring from pure selfishness. On the other hand, it may arise from an unspoken recognition of consequences that have not yet been clearly spelled out.
Suppose, becoming intoxicated with pure justice, we “Anglos” should decide to turn our land over to the Indians. Since all our other wealth has also been derived from the land, we would have to give that to the Indians, too. Then what would we non-Indians do? Where would we go? There is no open land in the world on which men without capital can make their living (and not much unoccupied land on which men with capital can, either). Where would 200 million putatively justice-loving, non-Indian, Americans go? Most of them — in the persons of their ancestors — came from Europe, but they wouldn’t be welcomed back there. Anyway, Europeans have no better title to their land than we to ours. They also would have to give up their homes. (But to whom? And where would they go?)
Clearly, the concept of pure justice produces an infinite regress. The law long ago invented statutes of limitations to justify the rejection of pure justice, in the interest of preventing massive disorder. The law zealously defends property rights — but only recent property rights. It is as though the physical principle of exponential decay applies to property rights. Drawing a line in time may be unjust, but any other action is practically worse.
We are all the descendants of thieves, and the world’s resources are inequitably distributed, but we must begin the journey to tomorrow from the point where we are today. We cannot remake the past. We cannot, without violent disorder and suffering, give land and resources back to the “original” owners — who are dead anyway.
We cannot safely divide the wealth equitably among all present peoples, so long as people reproduce at different rates, because to do so would guarantee that our grandchildren — everyone’s grandchildren — would have only a ruined world to inhabit.
MUST EXCLUSION BE ABSOLUTE?
To show the logical structure of the immigration problem I have ignored many factors that would enter into real decisions made in a real world. No matter how convincing the logic may be it is probable that we would want, from time to time, to admit a few people from the outside to our lifeboat. Political refugees in particular are likely to cause us to make exceptions. We remember the Jewish refugees from Germany after 1933, and the Hungarian refugees after 1956. Moreover, the interests of national defense, broadly conceived, could justify admitting many men and women of unusual talents, whether refugees or not. (This raises the quality issue, which is not the subject of this essay.)
Such exceptions threaten to create runaway population growth inside the lifeboat, i.e., the receiving country. However, the threat can be neutralized by a population policy that includes immigration. An effective policy is one of flexible control.
Suppose, for example, that the nation has achieved a stable condition of ZPG, which (say) permits 1.5 million births yearly. We must suppose that an acceptable system of allocating birthrights to potential parents is in effect. Now suppose that an inhumane regime in some other part of the world creates a horde of refugees, and that there is a widespread desire to admit some to our country. At the same time, we do not want to sabotage our population control system. Clearly, the rational path to pursue is the following: If we decide to admit 100,000 refugees this year we should compensate for this by reducing the allocation of birth rights in the following year by a similar amount, that is, downward to a total of 1.4 million. In that way we could achieve both humanitarian and population control goals. (And the refugees would have to accept the population controls of the society that admits them. It is not inconceivable that they might be given proportionately fewer rights than the native population.)
In a democracy, the admission of immigrants should properly be voted on. But by whom? It is not obvious. The usual rule of a democracy is votes for all. But it can be questioned whether a universal franchise is the most just one in a case of this sort. Whatever benefits there are in the admission of immigrants presumably accrue to everyone. But the costs would be seen as falling most heavily on potential parents, some of who would have to postpone or forego having their (next) child because of the influx of immigrants. The double question Who benefits? Who pays? suggests that a restriction of the usual democratic franchise would be appropriate and just in this case. Would our particular quasi-democratic form of government be flexible enough to institute such a novelty? If not, the majority might, out of humanitarian motives, impose an unacceptable burden (the foregoing of parenthood) on a minority, thus producing political instability.
Plainly many new problems will arise when we consciously face the immigration question and seek rational answers. No workable answers can be found if we ignore population problems. And ¡X if the argument of this essay is correct — so long as there is no true world government to control reproduction everywhere it is impossible to survive in dignity if we are to be guided by Spaceship ethics. Without a world government that is sovereign in reproductive matters mankind lives, in fact, on a number of sovereign lifeboats. For the foreseeable future survival demands that we govern our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat. Posterity will be ill served if we do not. ¡½
Anonymous. 1974. Wall Street Journal, 19 Feb.
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Wilkes, H. G. 1972. “The Green Revolution.” Environment 14(8): 32-39.
Garrett Hardin, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of many articles and books including Creative Altruism An Ecologist Questions Motives; The Ostrich Factor: Overpopulation Myopia; The Immigration Dilemma: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons; Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos.
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