|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
The killing times are here: population policy
Garrett Hardin is a spokesperson for a particular environmental perspective that has been profoundly influenced by liberalism and especially by that form of liberalism under the sway of the Rev. Malthus. Hardin’s work is neither philosophy, history, politics, nor science, and therein is the problem. Hardin’s work is historically uninformed and this ignorance has led him to significantly misrepresent the nature of the problem. This is nowhere more obvious than in his thesis of what he terms “the tragedy of the commons”, as well as his 1968 article of the same name.
For an historically informed account of what happened to the “commons” see E.P. Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters: Origin of the The Black Act as well as his Customs in Common. There is also a useful Wiki entry on the Black Act.
In a major article some thirty years ago Hardin used the metaphor of the earth as a lifeboat to pose the problem of resource distribution on an overpopulated planet. He likens our common circumstances to a survival situation in which those who are in the lifeboats must decide how to respond to those who are in the water and seeking rescue. The dilemma is that there are more people in the water and at risk of drowning than there are available spaces in the lifeboats. Moreover, as the survivors of the Titanic sinking testified, the danger for those in the lifeboat of assisting those in need of rescue is that the desperation of those in need of rescue will likely overturn the lifeboat and put all at peril.
The lifeboat metaphor is a wickedly simple one that resonates with our deepest fears. Howard was able to manipulate the insularity of island Australia and turn it into prison
When Hardin first proposed his lifeboat ethics more than thirty years ago it was on the back of Ehrlich’s Population Bomb and the Club of Rome’s Report, both of which made the point that the planet was a finite and closed system. Back then this was not so obvious. In the intervening period all attempts at rational population control and more equitable resource distribution between centre and periphery (or first world and third world) have failed. The poor, predictably enough, have kept on reproducing until now it is a commonly held view that there is a problem not amenable to rational and humane policy response.
The Catholic Church among others has a lot for which to answer.
On the thread Depopulate or Perish there appears to be a reasoned consensus that the gross numbers are now so great that the political economy of overpopulation is no longer an issue. The gross numbers have it – there simply are too many people. In the past whenever I've encountered those who feel that there are too many people on the planet I've responded with the suggestion that they are free to take matters into their own hands and do the reasonable thing by reducing the population by one person. In other words, I've issued them with a polite invitation to do themselves in as the only ethical approach. This is because those who feel that there are simply too many people inevitably feel that there are too many of somebody else’s family, class, ethnicity or nation. In other words the problem is constructed as “too many of them” rather than "one too many of me".
Which raises the point: how are we to proceed now that it is apparent that the raw numbers are just too great for rational and humane policies to work? Effectively we are considering who to kill by policy neglect and exclusion from the lifeboat.
Let us pursue not the metaphor of the Titanic but the real history to see who dies, who gets saved and what are the crucial factors in the moment of urgency. I think that the real history is very informative. Wikipedia shows the percentages of survivors and dead by class composition (ie by ticket) as:
More than 60% of the First Class passengers survived. Less than 25% of the Third Class passengers survived. Less than 25% of crew survived.
Apparently a disproportionate number of women survived compared to men and some suggest that this resulted from the quaint “women and children first” policy of the times. It is of note that:
I think that the above facts are readily understood. If the earth is the Titanic then it is the poor and the working classes of the world who are about to get shafted. This then is where we are at. Let us not kid ourselves. The moment has arrived where we are beginning to consider these sorts of issues – who will live and who will die. The most dignified way to do this is with total transparency about what we are doing. No shirking the fact that the poor of the world are about to be left to their own devices, hopefully to die with as much grace and as little trouble as possible, while the developed and industrialised nations steadily row away from their rescue.
How does that feel?
[ category: ]