Dr. Zaius Speaks

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New at Reason: Is Daniel Quinn's Ishmael an important work of environmental insight, or just another talking-ape story? Ron Bailey reviews what sounds like the Jonathon Livingston Seagull of overpopulation studies.

NEXT: "Get me different facts."

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  1. Hmm, well Malthus work was one of the larger seeds that germinated into Darwin & Wallace’s particular theory on the evolution of species (as opposed to the Lamarkian, etc, schools), so it can’t be all that bad.

    Also, to be frank, there are only a few ways to escape the Malthusian dilemma (Schumpterian growth for example), and none of these are guaranteed to work. So yes, a Malthusian catastrophe can be averted by expanding the Production Possibility Curve upward so as to extend the gap between it and demand (or at least keep the gap steady over time), but none of this is in fact guaranteed. In fact, historically, we have seen Malthusian catastrophes occur on many occassions – where growth seriously outstripped the carrying capacity (K) of a nation, which in turn lead to massive starvation when neither the rate of scientific progress nor the efforts of government could come to the rescue. To think that we ourselves are not susceptible to what our ancestors were is arrogance on our part, much like the arrogance exhibited by the West prior to plunging itself into WWI.

  2. BTW, don’t make me spank you with David Ricardo as well.

  3. Croesus: One of the ways is of course just to have less children, which people seem to do automatically in increasingly affluent societies. It seems that 1-3 kids is simply enough to satisfy most people’s child-having desires, and it is only other desires – like having someone to take care of you when you get old, social conformity, etc – that get people to have far more than that.

    Indeed, it is arrogance to think we aren’t capable of such self-destruction, as we simply are capable of it; it’s just that it clearly isn’t true, given that only a few generations ago it seemed as if everyone had 6+ children – at least those who could afford it – but now, in affluent societies, we just seemed to have rather naturally taken to having less.

    The other problem is simply that even in societies where there wasn’t enough food, the result was that people starved down to the point where there was indeed enough food at least to keep people alive and having children; indeed, that is what “balance” in nature is – animals just stop having children when they can’t feed them anymore, or they just die because they ran out of things to eat, while the existance of pecking orders generally assures that not everybody dies just because there isn’t enough food for everyone.

    So, come to think of it…I don’t get the point of food production vs population. Even you accept what Malthus said, the natural barrier of “you need to eat food to be capable of having children” would create the natural balance in human population automatically. Uh…so save the fact that some people will be born who will end up not being able to eat, and thus not having children and/or dying…but, we already have that now. So…what am I missing? So long as we don’t use the food supply in such a way as to actually cause it to rather suddenly crash (so that it’s total productivity shrinks majorly), I fail to see how even under semi-Malthusian population and food growth we would have a civilization-destroying apocolypse.

  4. He may look like Magilla Gorilla on the outside, but he’s Gorilla Grodd on the inside. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

  5. Bailey missed the point.
    Bailey missed the point.
    Bailey missed the point.

    Sure, Ishmael thinks we eat and fuck too much.

    But NOWHERE does he say “that civilization must return in some fashion to the ethos of primitive humanity.”

    He says that we need to stop acting like Takers and more like Leavers, within the social constructs we currently have.

    He is simply arguing that we should all let each other live how we would like to live, and be responsible for how our actions affect the environment and our neighbors, great and small.

    Gee, sounds mighty libertarian once you take the righteous indignation out of it.

  6. PS

    It would be nice if a few of the fart gobblers above me would READ THE DAMN BOOK before they comment on it, instead of writing up their opinions about a highly skewed review of the book. He said it was Malthusian, but knowing Malthus does not make you qualified to commend in Quinn. RTFB! RTFSs!*

    *Read the fucking sequels! (Story of B [religion], and My Ishmael [education])

  7. I thought Magilla Gorilla might have been more apropos

  8. Still, it does remind me of the folks who go livid about the horrible modern white men who discard aluminum pop tops and shards of plastic among the flint arrowheads and shards of pottery left behind by the noble Native Americans they admire.

  9. It seems clear. The first fallacy of the Malthusian population problem is the idea that human populations grow exponentially. The second fallacy is that food production grows geometrically.

  10. I always preferred the Great Grape Ape, myself.

  11. damn dirty apes

  12. I bet if I tried to make some intelligent, telepathic gorillas the Enivros would be up in arms about it.

  13. Of course, one should be aware that gorillas are _already_ intelligent – I think you just meant “super-intelligent”.

    In case you think this queer, consider the fact that gorillas and chimpanzees engage in the production and usage of tools that, if thought to be made by man, would qualify them for the stone age. One such use is the use of anvil and hammer stones to crack some of the hardest nuts on earth, such as panda nuts (no, not a panda’s nuts – panda nuts!) – a skill which actually requires years of development and practice, and a skill which is actually directly taught to youngsters typically by their mothers (and they engage in their practice for, if I reall, a period greater than the first five years of their life without so much as successfully cracking a single nut – and often getting clearly frustrated at times, and typically resulting in many instances of bruised fingers and thumbs).

    In fact, man is not the only animal to have actually developed technologies to create MORE food! Cracking panda nuts – which, to my knowledge, are not used as a food source by any other animal – are just one example of how intelligent creatures need not merely consume, but are actually capabable of PRODUCTION.

    That is perhaps the grand unifying fallacy of such things as Malthusianism – it is a story all of consumption of resources and the production of progeny, but what utterly misses the simple fact that intelligent beings can produce things other than more of themselves, including resources such as food and water.

  14. ants use tools

  15. ants use tools

  16. …huh?

    I know that ANT _is_ a tool, but I didn’t think ants used tools…

  17. My only problem with Bailey’s “Real Environmental Racism” article was his ad hominen demonization of his (and my) opponents on population and immigration issues as racist.

  18. You’ve never seen a troupe of ants hauling off a Makita?

  19. WW

    Never a makita, but I did catch a whole pack of em trying to cart off my table saw last week.

  20. The ants got Stan Makita? Damn them all to hell!

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