False Dichotomy

False dichotomy, via Mother Jones:

Faced with a world that can support either a lot of us consuming a lot less or far fewer of us consuming more, we're deadlocked: individuals, governments, the media, scientists, environmentalists, economists, human rights workers, liberals, conservatives, business and religious leaders. On the supremely divisive question of the ideal size of the human family, we're amazingly united in a pact of silence.

My guess is that the authoritarians at Mother Jones don't particularly care which is the outcome, so long as they get to wield the coercive power to make the choice for us.  Thank God these guys didn't run things in 1900.  Or 1800.  Or 1700.  Or 1600.  Or 1500.  Given their belief in zero sum choices and their complete lack of confidence in the power of the human mind to innovate, who knows what kind of sub-optimal world we would have been locked into?


  1. Gil:

    Why presume technology is forever surging ahead? What if technology, esp. farming, stagnates such that the only way you can have more food is to clear more land? Why presume there's always going to be Norman Borlaug just around corner to solve the problem of how to feed another billion humans?

  2. mesaeconoguy:

    Why presume technology is forever surging ahead?

    Paging Jethro Tull……….


    Thanks, I’ll be here all week. ;)

  3. epobirs:

    Because, Gil, we aren't waiting for Norman Borlaug's heir. They're already here. Thousands of them.

    The very concept of 'professional scientist' is relatively new in human history. Until recently, most major contributors to science relied on other trades or hereditary wealth for their living. Some historians credit Benjamin Franklin as pioneering the idea of scientist as a full-time pursuit. Even then, it was only possible because he made his fortune in printing relatively young and was able to retire and pursue his other interest. The circumstances of the era offered little assurance that he'd see any significant returns on the inventions resulting from his efforts.

    Things have evolved considerably since then. The role of scientist as a career is well established and there are more people pursuing research today than all those before the mid 20th Century combined. And those researchers are far better able to interact and share data than just a few decades ago.

    There are real technologies in use today that were the stuff of science fiction in my teens. We don't have flying cars (actually we do but imagine the carnage if everybody had a Cessna in the driveway) but we have lots of stuff we take for granted but nobody saw coming. I recently read a book on the history of important inventions. One of the striking aspects is noting how many of these items were devised in just the last two centuries. A person born in 1400 didn't have much trouble being on top of all the major innovations that had occurred in their lifetime. The world of, say, 1465, was different but not greatly. There had been a few new technologies but few radical changes from them. The stuff that killed people hadn't changed much at all.

    Compare that to what changes a 65-year-old of today has seen. Without appreciating history it can be difficult to appreciate the pace of innovation that we regard as ordinary.

  4. Gil:

    Get your hand off it epobirs. Most people of the world are passive consumers of technology than producers of it. The only answer that Coyote & co. are implying is that when you create the problems then the solutions will present themselves. Had everyone done the 'right' thing and capped world population at 1 billion back in the early 1900s then the current agricultural technological wouldn't have developed since there was no reason to develop it. Presumably all we need to develop true space travel is have a world population of 100 billion on the brink of falling apart from overpopulation and the only pleasant is to - develop true space travel and find other worlds.

  5. Jeff:


    How do you propose to determine who gets the privilege of breeding? Do you enforce this with privilege with forced abortions or sterilization? When population goes over your arbitrary cap, do you stop allowing people to procreate? Or do you kill off the elderly?

    You Malthusians are all the same, murderous tyrants in a green wrapper.


  6. Andrew:

    Actually gil, you're exactly right. At the point where it is economically feasible to move off the planet we will be ready to do so.

    Congratulations on belonging to the naysayers of history.
    People like you were busy announcing that man made machines could never fly while two bike mechanics made it happen.