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Population Control and The Tragedy of the Commons

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I came across an article from Science that was published back in 1960′s.  It was worth another read. 

One of the themes in this article is that there is a class of problems that have no technical solution.  To continue to try to create ever more complex technical solutions to problems that are not solved by technology is misguided and futile.  They key is to recognize the nature of the problem and the class of solution that is appropriate.

There are many “uncomfortable problems” that society needs to confront and provide a long term solution.  One such problem  is population control in a world of limited resources.  Population control is just one of a class of problems that can be categorized under the heading of  ”The Tragedy of the Commons”.

Simply stated, the Tragedy of the Commons is that the natural tendency for each individual to maximize their own benefit and utility in a world of limited resources and this behavior brings ruin to all.

From the perspective of the Tragedy of the Commons one can see that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be misguided:

If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations. We should also join with Kingsley Davis in attempting to get Planned Parenthood-World Population to see the error of its ways in embracing the same tragic ideal.

In late 1967, some 30 nations agreed to the following:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irtevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

The author of the article quotes Charles Darwin:

In C. G. Darwin’s words: “It may well be that it would take hundreds of generations for the progenitive instinct to develop in this way, but if it should do so, nature would have taken her revenge, and the variety Homo contracipiens contracipiens would become extinct and would be replaced by the variety Homo progenitivus”

In essence, those individuals, as a group, who have few children (due to a conscious moral and ethical choice apropos the Tragedy of the Commons) would be replaced by those who, acting irresponsibly in a world of limited resources, choose to have many children.  Such would be the ultimate revenge of nature on the human race; overpopulation and the ruin of all.’

Although I hate to mention this in a context of an article from Science, the 2006 movie Idiocracy had the same general theme.  That those parents who only had children they could afford to have were replaced, over many generations, by those who were less responsible and demonstrated poor judgement.

The modern welfare state exacerbates this situation.

If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if, thus, overbreeding brought its own “punishment” to the germ line then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families.

But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons. In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement?

To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

In the animal kingdom, there is no welfare state and overpopulation is self-limiting to what a particular pair can support. Humans do not have such an advantage.   The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights coupled with the welfare state and poor judgement leads to the tragedy of the commons and the potential ruin for all.

These are difficult and uncomfortable problems to solve.  It takes people with courage and the long-view to craft a solution – as unpopular these solutions may be from a short-term perspective.

The courage to make tough decisons

In the recent news, at the time of this writing, you can see such people emerge who are willing to take a stand – as unpopular it may be in the short-term –  to position for long-term benefit which may not be seen for generations.  Of course, that would be Arizona governor Jan Brewer when she signed ( read more ) the immigration bill ( SB1070 ).

Read the article on the Tragedy of the Commons from Science.
The Tragedy of the Commons:
the population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality

Written by frrl

May 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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