The Tragedy of Over-Population

(This is a demo essay)

In his essay, The Tragedy of the Commons, Garrett Hardin argued for the existence of a crisis of resources.

It is important to clarify some terms before we continue. Hardin does not use the term “Tragedy” in the conventional or “theatric” sense. Similarly he does not use the term “Commons” referring to what Lloyd used before him, coining the original term.

Hardin would go on to say that he should have titled the essay: “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons.”

Frank van Laerhoven & Elinor Ostrom have stated:

Prior to the publication of Hardin’s article on the tragedy of the commons (1968), titles containing the words ‘the commons’, ‘common pool resources,’ or ‘common property’ were very rare in the academic literature.

They continue:

In 2002, Barrett and Mabry conducted a major survey of biologists to determine which publications in the twentieth century had become classic books or benchmark publications in biology. They report that Hardin’s 1968 article was the one having the greatest career impact on biologists and is the most frequently cited.

Free Access to Resources

Access to resources for capital gain leads to over-exploitation, in the short-game or in the long-game. This happens because the benefits of exploitation are endless for the party that is involved. This however occurs to the point of which the customer or recipient of the produce becomes reliant on it.

This causes the demand for the resource to increase, which means that in the long-term the resource will inevitably run out, if not technologically prevented.

The Tragedy of Commons

This issue is mainly considered in relation to sustainability. This relates to a number of critical points in our society today. Consider the following factors:

  • Water

Hardin mainly uses the term in relation to overpopulation. He says that the “optimum population is, then, less than the maximum.”

There is however the “enormous” difficulty of defining that maximum. Is it the maximum of the calories that are to our disposal? Or is it the maximum that is essential for our survival?

Hardin suggests that energy (food) is utilized for both “maintenance and work.”

The maintenance of man requires an approximate amount of 1,600 calories. Work however, for Hardin also applies to practices of enjoyment, which would include any and all leisure activities.

If our goal is to maximize population it is obvious what we must do: We must make the work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible.

That would mean no vacations, no extravagant meals, no additional calories that are not essential. In other words: no gainers, no Dwayne Johnson, no Terry Crews, etc.

As you can see the issue is complicated. This is probably why no one has dealt with this since the time the essay has been published in 1968.

Freedom to Breed is Intolerable

In the case of animals we know that freedom to breed is something that does not benefit animals as a whole.

Hardin quotes from the United Nations, which in the year of 1967 all 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 must be irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

U Thant, Statement on Population by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Hardin then cites Raymond B. Cowles who “suggested that we create a ‘non-baby bonus.’ Beginning at age fifteen each girl would receive a generous sum on each Christmas Day if she has not had a child the preceding 12 months. The sum would be $300,or $1,000, or whatever it took to motivate the girls adequately.”

The bonus would not continue forever, it might stop at the age of 25. The older the women the less fertile she is, is the argument. An experience will show which system/amount is the most beneficial to society as a whole.

This, of course is a very Utilitarian (Think: Ethics) view of the world. It stresses that what is of most “utility” is what is most important to the collective. What matters is the consequences of an action, not the motivation.

Dentologists would disagree however. Depending on which set of beliefs, ethics, or Religious texts they believe in. This is more of a deterministic and consequentialist belief (Think: Kant’s Ethics).

Kant, alongside William K. Clifford, believed that what mattered was not the consequences of actions, but the motive behind them.

This is an important distinction because Hardin makes a similar distinction in his essay. He says that “We see that the ethics of game management is not an absolutist ethics but a relativistic or situation ethics. The foundation of situational ethics is this: The morality of an act is determined by the state of the system a the time the act is performed (Identical to the Deontological view). Ecology, a system-based view of the world, demands situational ethics.

Hardin’s thesis remember is useful for understanding how we have come to the brink of numerous environmental catastrophes both local-based and globally-based. The idea is that people’s collective behavior can cause civilization-threatening situations.

This could be one of the seemingly few problems of Globalization.

Hardin argues that if we are to rely on conscience solely, then this would put individuals that are known as free riders ahead of those that are more altruistic. They would then abuse the system to their advantage, which would eventually lead to over-exploitation and subsequently r

Written by

Author of “Up in the Air: Christianity, Atheism & the Global Problems of the 21st Century” on AMAZON | Exploring Ethical Living | IG: jakub.ferencik.official

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