Friday, November 20, 2009

Tragedy Of The Commons IX: Recognition Of Necessity

Hardin summarizes that commons are justifiable “only under conditions of low population density. As the human population has increased, the commons has had to be abandoned in one aspect after another.”

We started with food, abandoning hunting and gathering for agriculture. Later we abandoned the commons as space for waste disposal. Restrictions on sewerage disposal are typical in the developed world, but we ‘are still struggling” with disposal of toxins, radioactive waste, exhaust, etc.

“In a still more embryonic state, is our recognition of the evils of the commons in matters of pleasure.” Hardin mentions canned music, noisy airliners (specifically the SST which is now gone, leaving behind slower, but noisy enough kin), and advertising. He wonders if we are slower to recognize and regulate interference with pleasure because of Puritan guilt, and our acceptance of punishment for pleasure.

(There was a passage I didn’t outline in the section, “Pathogenic Effects of Conscience.” The passage about pleasure reminded me of it. “We in the Western world are just emerging from a dreadful two centuries-long Dark Ages of Eros that was sustained partly by prohibition laws, but perhaps more effectively by the anxiety-generating mechanisms of education. Alex Comfort has told the story well in The Anxiety Makers. It is not a pretty one.” Alex Comfort was the author of The Joy of Sex. I approve Hardin’s recognition of pleasure and its repression, but have a hard time integrating that with this essay.)

Hardin says every enclosure of the commons infringes on somebody’s liberty.

(“Enclosure of the commons” is a specific historical reference to the nobility’s forcing peasants and yeoman farmers into mines and factories.)

Past infringements don’t disturb us because, never having had the liberties, we don’t feel the loss. New infringements make us conscious of our rights or prerogatives. Hardin asks what freedom means. He says that when people outlawed robbery, we became more free. “Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.” He quotes Hegel that “Freedom is the recognition of necessity.”

Our greatest current necessity is to abandon the commons in breeding. He reminds us that there is no technical solution to overpopulation. He continues to recap that we’re tempted to propagandize for conscience so that we don’t have to do the hard work of negotiating coercion. We should avoid that “temptation, because an appeal to conscience selects for the disappearance of conscience in the long run, and increases anxiety in the short run.

He says this is the only way we can “nurture other and more precious freedoms.” Education should “reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed.”

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