Monday, November 16, 2009

Tragedy of the Commons V: Freedom To Breed Is Intolerable

Hardin uses a quote from an essay for International Planned Parenthood News by U Thant in this section. U Thant was secretary general of the United Nations between 1961 and 1971, maybe the period when that body was most effective and widely respected. “ ‘The Universal Declaration on 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 irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.’”

Hardin disagrees vehemently and essentially (and regretfully?) with U Thant’s assertion. He says that population affects the commons by its demands on resources as well as by using it as a sink for pollution. In a “dog-eat-dog” world parents who breed too enthusiastically would contribute less the gene pool/world’s population. (Note that the contribution is to both the number of booties on the ground, and to the population’s character.) Enthusiastic parents would be less able to care for their children, so fewer children would survive. He says this has been found to be the case among birds. “But men are not birds,” and may never have acted like birds. We don’t let the children of improvident parents starve. Hardin says society is committed to the welfare state. (Maybe the commitment is deeper than society, deeper than inventions like the welfare state. Hardin hinted at this in the discussion about birds, saying, men have not acted like birds for millenniums, at least.) The fact of the matter is that overbreeding limits the freedoms of society’s less prolific members, by concentrating resources among the more prolific families. (This is the point when Hardin most succinctly and cogently makes the case for what seems like a trespass, limiting human freedom at its most intimate. I don’t have to allow you the freedom to promiscuously limit my freedom. This thought resonates with Hardin’s earlier statement that “It is when hidden decisions are made explicit that the arguments begin.” I think he would agree that many of our libertarian inhibitions are merely conditioned, although this thought is far beyond any of “Tragedy’s” discussions.)

(In this section, Hardin is introducing the idea of selection in human heredity. You don’t have to believe that species come into being because of natural selection to recognize that humans pass on their physical characteristics. If you were to prevent marriage between tall people, over the generations, there would be fewer and fewer tall people.)

“...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 so deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.”

(What is the "tragedy of the commons"? It is that individuals' "rationally" maximizing their own gains from a common resource, inevitably ruins the common.)

The dilemma in a contemporary “welfare state” is that freedom to breed is recognized as inalienable, and everyone is seen as having an equal right to the commons. Hardin says this dilemma “locks the world into a tragic course of action.”

Because this dilemma is held adamantly, either formally or tacitly in most of the world (this is the point when Hardin quotes U Thant), it’s difficult but important to deny “the validity of this right.” Hardin says that in denying it he imagines he knows how difficult it would have been for a seventeenth century resident of Salem, Massachusetts to deny the existence of witches. He says that there is a liberal taboo against speaking against the UN which has articulated the idea of a right to breed freely. He recommends speaking openly against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and persuading both the UN and Planned Parenthood away from their points of view.

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