(also see bottom of this article for a list of relevant Wikipedia
"There is little excuse for charging Malthus with spawning a dismal doctrine." (Petersen, quoting Canadian economist Samuel Hollander, 1979, 1999).
Introduction - Memes
The inspiration for this article is Richard Dawkins' seminal 1993 work, Viruses of the Mind (also available in A Devil's Chaplain, 2004) which considers the infectious nature of the competing memeplexes of established religions. This essay is intended to extend Richard Dawkins' analogy of infectious religious memes to infectious Malthusian memes. Also, as noted by Dawkins, memes evolve in a way similar to genes. I will therefore examine some of the changes in the Malthusian memeplex over time, such as the Neo-Malthusian memeplex.
Here is Malthus essentially discussing the evolution and differential replication of human memes (Malthus, 1798):
"Intellect rises from a speck, continues in vigour only for a certain period, and will not, perhaps, admit, while on earth, of above a certain number of impressions. These impressions may, indeed, be infinitely modified, and from these various modifications, added probably to a difference in the susceptibility of the original germs, arise the endless diversity of character that we see in the world; but reason and experience seem both to assure us, that the capacity of individual minds does not increase in proportion to the mass of existing knowledge. The finest minds seem to be formed rather by efforts at original thinking, by endeavours to form new combinations, and to discover new truths, than by passively receiving the impressions of other men's ideas." (my bolding)
Malthus' concept of evolving intellectual specks pre-dates Richard Dawkins' concept of the Meme by roughly 180 years.
Although Malthus was also famous as a political scientist and an economist, I will mostly limit the scope of this article to Malthus' Principle of Population memeplex. This essay will therefore consider the success and failure of Malthusian population memes over the last couple of centuries. Perhaps the two most significant memeplexes enthusiastically infused with Malthusian memes (at least initially) were the deadly rivals of natural theology and evolutionary theory. I will show that ironically, although Malthus favoured natural theology, his influence today is much stronger in evolutionary theory.
Opponents of Malthus often assume the phrase the dismal science was applied by Thomas Carlyle to economics due to the works of Malthus. In fact, although Carlyle did regard Malthus' views as dismal, Carlyle used the specific phrase in his racist tract Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question in which he argued for the re-introduction of slavery. Malthus was opposed to slavery (Petersen, 1970, 1999).
Malthusian Principle of Population memes were perhaps most influential with the memes of evolutionary theory and Neo-Malthusian related memes of contraception, family planning and population control. Not all Malthusian or Neo-Malthusian infections took. Some populations seemed inoculated by powerful rival memes such as Communism, Cornucopianism or Catholicism who all - for their different ideological reasons - typically deny the irrefutable Malthusian concept of limits to growth. I'll examine these rival memes, and the thinking of some of those who propagate them, along the way together with some historical context. In particular, I'll look behind the confused thinking of ant-Malthusian, anti-Darwinist, Marxist, American Exceptionalist, space advocate and Cornucopian Robert Zubrin. I'll also use my own Exponentialist theory to summarise why limits to growth really do matter, and clarify the terminology for types growth that apply to populations.
The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, in his Essay On The Principle Of Population, was the first to propose that all populations of all species tend towards exponential growth and thus outstrip the available food supply...with dire consequences (Malthus, 1798):
"The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction; and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague, advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world." (my bolding)
Having studied as a mathematician at Jesus College Cambridge before entering the clergy in 1788, it was probably at Cambridge that he first became infected with the memes of geometric growth (now called exponential growth) and arithmetic growth (now called linear growth) which led him to claim (Malthus, 1798):
As noted on the Exponentialist homepage and throughout my web site, subsistence (meaning food) always grows in populations and hence must also be capable of growing "exponentially". This is clearly a flaw in Malthus' argument, noted by opponents of Malthusian population theory. Here Marxist Communist Friedrich Engels also shows his Cornucopian colours (Engels, 1844):
"Where has it been proved that the productivity of the land increases in arithmetical progression? The area of the land is limited - this is perfectly true. But the labour power to be employed on this area increases with the population; and even if we assume that the increase that the increase in output associated with this increase in labour is not always proportionate to the latter, there remains a third element - which the economists never consider as important - namely, science, the progress of which is just as limitless and at least as rapid as that of population."
Another issue (or "embarrassing fact"), noted here in a Wired magazine interview with the triumphantly titled "Doomslayer" and Cornucopian Julian Simon, is that no population of any species has ever maintained exponential growth at a constant rate (Regis, quoting Simon, 1997):
"Population has never increased geometrically," says Simon. "It increases at all kinds of different rates historically, but however fast it increases, food increases at least as fast, if not faster. In other words, whatever the rate of population growth is, the food supply increases at an even faster rate."
This is a problem for Malthus' argument as he places much emphasis on constant population doubling periods (which would require constant rate exponential growth, also the equivalent of fixed rate compound interest). However, this flaw is easily remedied by assuming variable rates of compound interest which are just as powerful as fixed rates of compound interest - see What is Exponential? for more. Furthermore, despite Simon's rhetoric, even if food supply can match population increase this does not mean that it is not guaranteed to do so as the list of known famines throughout history in fact proves. Simon's confident assertion is fallacious, and ignores history. History also disproves Marxist Engels claims that natural increased production due to population increase combined with limitless scientific progress can feed the growing population. Also, Engels claim for limitless scientific progress is pure rhetoric and ignores the fact that human beings are made of atoms, not ideas, and thus discrete human populations need to take into account the dangers of overrunning their local resource base. Simon is wrong. Engels is wrong. There will be more on the Marxists and Cornucopians later.
See Malthus - An Exponentialist View, and Malthus and Evolution for more on Malthus in general.
However, rather than see these flaws in Malthus' argument as fatal, my Exponentialist approach is to examine the argument and see if it still contains any elements of truth (it does). The Exponentialist simplification and correction of the flawed Malthusian argument explains periodic famine in a different way to Malthus - instead of linear food supply versus exponential (constant rate) population growth (equivalent to fixed rate compound interest) we have variable rate compound interest (food supply population) versus variable rate compound interest (consumer population of food supply), with no guarantee that food supply can keep up with population increase - see my article Gigantic Inevitable Famine for more.
Note that Exponentialist theory actually forbids sustained exponential growth at a constant rate. All populations of all species grow via variable rate compound interest (sort of "exponential growth", but at variable rates). The evidence presented is that no population of any species has indefinitely sustained exponential growth at a constant rate - it is impossible, as limits to growth apply. Philosopher Karl Popper noted one test of good scientific theory is that (Popper, 1963):
"Every good scientific theory is a prohibition; it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is."
To disprove my assertion all you have to do is provide a single example of a population of any species that has maintained the same exponential growth rate indefinitely. What you will find is that, although populations may exhibit periods of exponential growth at a constant rate - an exponential phase - it is only ever temporary. Before and after an exponential phase the rate varies. In short, for every population of every species for all time, what you actually have are populations growing and shrinking at variable rates of compound interest.
Hence, the Exponentialist theory also meets Popper's falsification criterion.
Note that, even if we allow for variable rate compound interest, Exponentialist theory also forbids continued growth at variable positive rates of growth again due to limits to growth. Hence, all that is left is exactly what we see in Nature - during their existence all populations of all species must experience a mixture of positive and negative variable rates of compound interest - there are no exceptions. Even then, the overall balance of positive and negative variable rates cannot be positive, again due to limits to growth. Here's a logical summary of the possible cases and Exponentialist theory:
Type of Growth
(Over Full Demographic History of a Population)
|+ / -||Overall Trend||Allowed or Forbidden||Notes|
(classical exponential growth at a constant rate, also known as geometric growth)
|Positive only||Forbidden||Limits to growth apply, forced to experience negative rates|
(classical exponential growth at a constant rate, also known as geometric growth)
|Negative only||Forbidden||Positive rate(s) required for population to exist|
|Variable rate compound interest||Positive only||Forbidden||Limits to growth apply, forced to experience negative rates|
|Variable rate compound interest||Negative only||Forbidden||Positive rate(s) required for population to exist|
|Variable rate compound interest||Mixed rates||Positive||Forbidden||Limits to growth apply, forced to experience more negative rates|
(also sometimes referred to in this article as "exponential growth", or growing "exponentially")
|Mixed rates||Negative||Allowed||Leads to population extinction (or species extinction if applied to all populations of that species)|
(also sometimes referred to in this article as "exponential growth", or growing "exponentially")
|Mixed rates||Zero||Allowed||Known as "dynamic equilibrium"|
Table A - Exponentialist theory of forbidden and allowed cases of compound interest as applied to all populations of all species for all time
Limits to growth matter because humans are made of atoms. Hence, the more humans there are the more atoms are used up from your resource base. Thus human populations, like the populations of all living creatures, are restricted by the carrying capacity of an environment. This is why limits to growth are rightly the foundation stone of Malthusian population theory. Also, the nature of population growth matters. Given the variable growth rates, variable rate compound interest (or "exponential growth") may not be the identical twin to fixed rate compound interest (or exponential growth at a constant rate, also Malthus' geometric growth), but in practical terms it is the fraternal twin. To state the obvious, variable rate compound interest and fixed rate compound interest are both based on compound interest. They are equally powerful forms of growth. For example, our global human population doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion in 1999 - just 39 years - via variable rate compound interest. To deny these facts is to deny basic science.
One of the few people to have understood human population growth in terms of variable rate compound interest is evolutionist, secular Humanist and Neo-Malthusian Julian Huxley, which in 1964 allowed him to provide an almost perfect estimate of the probable world population for the year 2000 (Huxley, 1964, p.242):
"But the real explosion is a twentieth-century phenomenon, due primarily to the spectacular developments in medicine and hygiene, which have drastically cut down death-rates without any corresponding reduction in birth-rates - death control without birth-control. The compound interest rate of increase meanwhile crept, or rather leapt, up and up, from under 1 per cent in 1900 to 1 1/2 per cent at mid-century, and nearly 1 3/4 per cent today; and it will certainly go on increasing for some decades more. This means that the rate of human doubling itself has doubled within the past 80 years. World population has more than doubled since 1900 to reach about 2 3/4 billion today; and it will certainly reach well over 5 1/2 billion, probably 6 billion, and possibly nearly 7 billion by the year 2000." (my bolding)
The United Nations Day of 6 Billion was 12th October, 1999. So Huxley was out by only two and a half months! Huxley also understood Malthus' error in describing food as growing arithmetically (or linearly), and called it a "minor error" (Huxley, 1964, p.239).
Extinction can be seen a function of population rates (Whitfield, 1993, p. 182):
"The extinction of a species does not usually involve the sudden death of all its individual members. Rather, it is a function of the dynamics between rates of birth and death. Species will persist when their overall birth rate equals or exceeds their death rate. But if the latter exceeds the birth rate for a long enough period, replacement of one generation by the next ceases to exist. If no new factor intervenes then the species will go extinct."
Given the physical reality of limits to growth, the geological timeframes involved and the fact that all populations of all species grow "exponentially" it is no surprise that nearly all species that have ever existed have gone extinct, as the fossil record proves. In terms of population growth rates for a species, avoiding extinction is like performing a high-wire trapeze act on a very long wire for a very long time.
Years ago I argued that Zero Population Growth is a myth, due to the power and instability of "exponential" growth and the fact that evolution - through differential reproduction - favours populations that are capable of sustaining higher rates of growth (Coutts, 2000). This is true, but I was pessimistic about our ability to lower global population growth rates on Earth and keep them low. All it takes is a minority to "breed like rabbits" and their "exponential" growth will ensure that they become a majority, out breeding the responsible majority stable population. But if it can be managed then the smart option is the last one, dynamic equilibrium, as it can in theory be maintained for the longest duration by far. This allows for periods of population growth, and periods of population shrinkage. Tricky to achieve though, and especially so for factious human society due to the emotive and complex politics involved - after all, what's the best approach and who decides? Who wins, and who loses? How do we decide? With the American War of Independence in living memory, and living at the time of the American Indian Wars, the War of 1812 between the British Empire and the USA, the French Revolutionary Wars ('wars of liberty') and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars (wars of empire), and working for the British East India Company at the time of Company Rule in India, Malthus had warfare foremost in his mind when he said that (Malthus, 1798) "The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation". But Malthus was opposed to warfare as a means of depopulation. And as Malthus explained, Nature's solutions - especially pestilence and famine - are certainly less preferable than a human and humane solution and hence Malthus advocated moral restraint (sexual abstinence / late marriage). The problem is, as you'll discover as you read the rest of this article, as a global species...we humans actually don't have much time to get our act together before Nature will do it for us. And when it comes to the incomplete history of localised human famines we can see that Nature has already had some practice (sometimes even with human assistance).
Hence, as an Exponentialist, I advocate all voluntary and humane approaches to reducing human population growth rates and achieving a global demographic transition, including education on population theory, female emancipation, contraception and family planning, moral restraint, voluntary euthanasia, voluntary sterilisation, and same sex marriage. In the absence of such measures then voluntary abortion and coercive population control may become necessary. Then we are reduced to brutal human "vices" such as compulsory abortion, compulsory sterilisation, infanticide, execution (including Capital Punishment and political executions), murder, and warfare (including state sponsored famines). I do not advocate any of these brutal human "vices."
Human liberty cannot survive global overpopulation. Human decency and human dignity cannot survive global overpopulation. Humanism cannot survive global overpopulation. The rest of Earth's biosphere cannot survive our global overpopulation. We're meant to be "the wise ape", Homo sapiens. We need to re-learn how to live in balance with Nature, on a global scale. We need a World Population Policy (Huxley, 1964, p.250):
"We do indeed need a World Population Policy. We have learnt to control the forces of outer nature. If we fail to control the forces of our own reproduction, the human race will be sunk in a flood of struggling people, and we, its present representatives, will be conniving at its future disaster."
To the human species I say "Time is short, don't leave it to Nature to teach us her lessons on overpopulation."
Being a man of the cloth, Malthus was at pains to present his Principle of Population memeplex as supporting another infectious idea, namely that of Natural Theology. Indeed, the last two chapters of Malthus' essay (1st edition) were largely a work of Natural Theology anyway. Natural Theology was a failed attempt to "prove" the existence of God through scientific argument and evidence.
Having published the first edition of An Essay on The Principle of Population anonymously in 1798, by 1826 Malthus went on to publish another five editions of his work under his own name and A Summary View in 1830. The second edition is considered the most significant revision, and the whole thing was really quite infectious. Thus, despite much unwarranted personal vilification against Malthus, the Malthusian Principle of Population memeplex has continued to mutate and spread like some virulent epidemic over the last two centuries.
Initially, Malthusian memes were enthusiastically embraced by those who propagated the memes of natural theology, such as Archdeacon William Paley. Here is Paley effectively restating Malthusian memes from Malthus' 1798 work (Paley, 1802):
"The order of generation proceeds by something like a geometrical progression. The increase of provision, under circumstances even the most advantageous, can only assume the form of an arithmetic series. Whence it follows, that the population will always overtake the provision, will pass beyond the line of plenty, and will continue to increase till checked by the difficulty of procuring subsistence (Note: See a statement of this subject, in a late treatise upon population.)"
Paley's Natural Theology proved to be a popular memeplex and went through 12 very editions between 1802 and 1809. Paley's Watchmaker meme - severely weakened by Charles Darwin - was famously destroyed by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker (1986). The memeplex of Natural Theology, which once reigned supreme, has slowly and gradually vanished. It has gone extinct or it has mutated into modern forms such as Creationism, or Intelligent Design.
We know that Malthus - who argued for reduced population growth rates through moral restraint (late marriage / sexual abstinence)- disagreed with Paley on one key point (Peterson, 1979, 1999, p.38):
"I cannot agree with Archdeacon Paley, who says that the quantity of happiness in any country is best measured by the number of people. Increasing population is the most certain possible sign of the happiness and prosperity of the state; but the actual population may only be a sign of the happiness that is past."
Evolution - Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin
As noted by Wallace in his autobiography, it is indeed a "most interesting coincidence" that both he and Darwin were independently led to the theory of evolution after reading Malthus on population. After all, Malthus believed in creation, not evolution.
Yet Wallace understood the significance of the Malthusian memeplex to his own evolution memeplex, though it took years between separate readings of Malthus' essay before it lead him to conceive of his own version of the theory of evolution and approach Darwin with his paper (My Life, Wallace, 1905):
"...the most important book I read was Malthus' Principle Of Population...It was the first work I had yet read treating any of the problems of philosophical biology, and its main principles remained with me as a permanent possession, and twenty years later gave me the sought-after clue to the effective agent in the evolution of organic species."
See Wallace - An Exponentialist View for more.
Darwin called Malthus "that great philosopher" (Letter to his friend J.D. Hooker 5th June, 1860), and had nothing but the highest regard for Malthus. J.D Hooker, British botanist and explorer, was also the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. I regard Darwin as Malthus' bulldog (just as Thomas Henry Huxley was Darwin's bulldog). Darwin also understood the significance of Malthus, and considered those that didn't to be "incapable of reason" (Letter to C. Lyell, 6th June, 1860). Charles Lyell was a close friend of Darwin's, and contributed enormously to our understanding of geology with his Principles of Geology which itself influenced Darwin's thinking on gradualism in evolutionary processes.
Darwin, again thanks to Malthus, reached very similar initial conclusions regarding evolution as Wallace. He had in fact been working on the theory for years, and it was his correspondence with Wallace which then promoted him to publish Origin of Species in 1859. Herbert Spencer later added to the arsenal of memes supporting evolution by inventing the meme the survival of the fittest.
However, it is Darwin who is remembered as the man who most clearly explained the principle of Natural Selection. Thus, over time, the memeplex of Wallace was subsumed and absorbed by the rival and more virulent Darwinian evolution memeplex. In fact, when Wallace published his book on evolutionary theory - thirty years after Darwin's The Origin Of Species - it was called Darwinism (1889)- surely an open admission of the stronger influence of the Darwinian memeplex.
Darwin had once read Paley's Natural Theology, and had initially been impressed. However, upon reading Malthus, Darwin's regard for Paley's Natural Theology declined and his regard for Malthus grew. On a personal level, the Creationist virus in Darwin's brain was gradually defeated in a contest with his own meme Natural Selection. Here Darwin reflects on the survival of the fittest struggle of competing memes, and makes passing comment on the contemporary 19th century misunderstanding of the Malthusian memeplex:
Darwin to A.R. Wallace, 5th July 1866 (Letter 191):
"The term Natural Selection has now been so largely used abroad and at home, that I doubt whether it could be given up, and with all its faults I should be sorry to see the attempt made. Whether it will be rejected must now depend "on the survival of the fittest." As in time the term must grow intelligible the objections to its use will grow weaker and weaker. I doubt whether the use of any term would have made the subject intelligible to some minds, clear as it is to others; for do we not see even to the present day Malthus on Population absurdly misunderstood? This reflection about Malthus has often comforted me when I have been vexed at the misstatement of my views."
Despite having published several eloquent works supporting his
memeplex the 'viral infection rate' of Darwin's memes failed to increase from an epidemic into a pandemic.
Yet over time, this particular viral
infection of the mind became known as Darwinism. Those infected stand a good
chance of having their Creationist views eroded completely and painlessly away.
After all, as
After all, asRussian Orthodox Christian and American Theodosius Dobzhansky stated in 1970 - Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except In the Light of Evolution. This was an argument against the Creationist views of Saudi Arabian Islamist scholar Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Baz. Dobzhansky has reconciled his religious views with evolutionary theory.
Darwin has long been acknowledged as one of the world's greatest and most influential scientists. For example, he is ranked number 4 in The 100 Most Influential Scientists (Simmons, 1996, 1997) and is also listed in Quantum Leaps: 100 Scientists Who Changed The World (Balchin, 2004). Darwin is also listed as one of the world's 100 essential philosophers (Stokes, 2002). Darwin has even been rated as the 14th most influential person (from any field) of all time (Hart, 1978,1992). But Darwin was a Malthusian at heart. See Darwin - An Exponentialist View, and Darwin on Malthus for more.
For further influences of Malthus on evolutionary theory see Reverend Malthus and Evolution for more.
Lamarckism, Mendelism, Neo-Darwinism and the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis
Lamarckism is a failed memeplex of evolutionary theory named after French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited from one generation to the next depending the use or disuse of those characteristics. Despite Darwin and Wallace's joint contribution of Natural Selection there were vestiges of Lamarckism in Darwin's later failed meme of Pangenesis as Darwin struggled to identify the mechanism of heredity.
As a monk, Austro-Hungarian Gregor Mendel spent a great deal of time studying generations of peas. Mendel had read Darwin's Origin of Species, though Darwin had never heard of Mendel (Ayden, 2010). Mendel had discovered the basic principles of heredity, but went to his grave before the significance of his own very powerful meme became established in other human minds. For a while, Mendel was forgotten. On rediscovering Mendelism (as it became known), the world at first saw a meme that competed with Darwinism. Instead, thanks to the efforts of many evolutionists over the years, it transpired that heredity and genetics reinforced Darwinism.
The Neo-Darwinism meme was born in 1895 when George Romanes used the term in relation to the memeplex of evolutionary theory that was Darwinism without Lamarckism as advocated by English evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace and German evolutionist August Weismann. After the rediscovery of Mendel's memes in 1900 English geneticist William Bateson helped the Mendelism meme spread and also coined the term genetics. It was then Sir Julian Huxley who coined the term modern synthesis as applied to evolution, with the publication of Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (Huxley, 1942). Working with many other scientists from across Europe and the USA, and updating and replacing the neo-Darwinism meme, the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis had been born.
Now, the infection of evolutionary theory would spread more virulently than ever. It might be a theory in name, but many evolutionists now regarded it as fact (proven beyond all reasonable doubt) - it's a scientific theory. However, despite Darwin's obvious high regard for the Malthusian memeplex as a key foundation of his own theory, not all evolutionists shared that view. For example, Ronald Fisher, John Maynard Smith and Elliot Sober have all marginalised the (unintended) Malthusian contribution to modern evolutionary theory. Yet as recently as 2001 some, like Ernst Mayr, continued to insist that population thinking was the key to the modern evolutionary memeplex and generously credited Malthus with major contributions (whilst at the same time incorrectly crediting Darwin - not Malthus - with introducing population thinking to the evolutionary memeplex). - See my article Malthus On Evolution for more.
The Austrian Empire existed from 1804 to 1867, when it became Austria-Hungary. After World War One, Austria-Hungary itself ceased to exist as an empire (though Austria and Hungary exist as modern nations today). This slice of European history illustrates that contemporary memes of nationality can evolve and infect human minds in ways similar to memes relating to evolutionary theory itself (though clearly for different reasons).
Neo-Malthusians and Anti-Malthusians
Malthusian memes became Neo-Malthusian memes in the hands of pro-contraception lobbyists such as Francis Place (Proofs on the Principle of Population, 1822). This would have irked Malthus, as he was opposed to contraception and he personally promoted the humane (though unpopular) meme of moral restraint (late marriage and sexual abstinence). This doesn't stop opponents of family planning for regularly blaming Malthus for the prevalence of such practices. Similarly, Malthus is routinely demonised for having promoted population control practices, but Malthus did not promote any such practices though Neo-Malthusians such as Paul R. Ehrlich did. However, this is proof that memes both mutate and evolve, and perversely take on a life of their own (unintended by their creator).
Malthus is also a key ongoing influence on the promotion of the concept of the Demographic Transition (Sachs, 20081and 20082) to raise the education and standard of living of the poor, promote the empowerment and emancipation of women (particularly in terms of reproductive rights), in order to humanely and voluntarily reduce population growth rates and see an End of Poverty (Sachs, 2005).
In an essay entitled Crowded World Neo-Malthusian and evolutionist Sir Julian Huxley notes where the battlelines are drawn between the rational Neo-Malthusians and the ideological anti-Malthusian Catholics and Communists (Huxley, 1964, p.241):
"The Neo-Malthusians, supported by progressive opinion in the Western World and by leading figures in most Asian countries, produces volumes of alarming statistics about the world population explosion and the urgent need for birth control, while the anti-Malthusians, supported by the two ideological blocs of Catholicism and Communism, produce equal volumes of hopeful statistics, or perhaps one should say of wishful estimates, purporting to show how the problem can be solved by science, by the exploitation of the Amazon or the Arctic, by better distribution, or even by shipping our surplus population to other planets."
I add Cornucopians (which includes some techno-optimists) to Huxley's list. For Cornucopians, science and technology, it is claimed, can always be relied upon to save the day (Trefil, 1997, p.121):
"Techno-optimists (of which I am one) argue that advances in technology will continually increase the resources available so that any ecosystem can support its human population even as it grows."
My own techno-optimist tendencies are for the moment tempered by Malthusian realities.
Eugenics, Transhumanism, Technological Singularity, Reprogenetics and a Brave New World
Sir Julian Huxley is an interesting character as he was also a eugenicist, helped found the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (for the protection of nature), UNESCO (for the promotion of education, science and peace) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (which represents secular Humanists world wide). In regards to his involvement with eugenics, it is important to note that Huxley was explicitly opposed to racism as attested by his work on the Eugenics Manifesto (1939) and UNESCO's statements against racism such as The Race Question (1950). He referred to Nazi racism as "the reductio ad horrendum" meaning he thought it was an horrendous fallacy (Huxley, 1964, p.252) that was given "pseudo-scientific backing by non-biological theoreticians" including French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau and British-born Germanophile Houston Stewart Chamberlain to justify the Nazis "horrible campaign" against the Jews (Huxley, 1964, p.256). Reprehensibly, like most British eugenicists in those days, Huxley's views were partially based on social class. He maintained that there was an "urgent need of further improvement" of the human species through 1) "negative eugenics" - the reduction of genetic defects but principally 2) "positive eugenics" - improving I.Q (Huxley, 1964, p.252) via the selective breeding of "exceptional individuals "(Huxley, 1964, p.256).
Huxley is also considered one of the founders of the modern Transhumanism movement which has its root in the eugenics movement. Huxley invented the term Transhumanism which he described as (Huxley,1957):
"...man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature."
Transhumanism is also associated with the concept of a Technological Singularity predicted and advocated by American Ray Kurzweil and many others around the world. Kurzweil argues that The Singularity Is Near - in the year 2045 in fact! This involves the relatively sudden transformation of human capabilities (and human nature itself) through a mixture of artificial intelligence, mind uploading, self-replicating molecular nanotechnology, genetic engineering and so on which may lead to a posthuman world of superintelligences. Kurzweil at least recognises that Malthusian limits to growth do exist, but claims that (Kurzweil, 2005) "a virtually unlimited limit" exists in the realm of advanced information technology as we "...deploy a significant fraction of the matter and energy on the Earth and in the solar system and then spread out from there" and concludes "So yes, there are limits, but they're not very limiting."
If Kurzweil's futuristic vision is right, then he would appear to have answered Malthusian fears of population outstripping resources directly (Malthus, 1798):
existed ever since we have
any histories of mankind,
and will for ever continue to exist, unless some decided change
in the physical
constitution of our nature."
I guess we'll find out soon. If it happens, then instead of being made of atoms we might also be made of computer bits. We would become digital, rather than just physical.
Another (less futuristic) meme related to eugenics is reprogenetics, a term coined by American professor Lee M. Silver (Silver, 1998). Reprogenetics is a fusion of genetic engineering (including designer babies and genetic enhancement), human cloning and reproductive technologies (e.g. IVF [including embryo selection], donor insemination, artificial wombs, male pregnancy, surrogate mothers, and human chimeras). In Remaking Eden Silver explores the ethical implications and current attitudes - particularly the negativity of the Catholic Church - to such technologies. Silver takes care to explain that that he does not advocate any coercive uses of such technologies. Rather, he believes - as with IVF - early objections will be forgotten as individuals voluntarily seek out such technologies to meet their personal needs. Like IVF he believes a slow hesitant start will turn into a flood over the next one or two centuries. If true, this will fuel population growth rates in line with Cornucopian (and especially techno-optimist) hopes. Given the religiously inspired violence that sometimes affects abortion clinics, and the religious response to assisted reproductive technology in general, the clash of memes between religion (especially the Catholic religion) and Cornucopians involving reprogenetics and Transhumanism looks set to increase in the Brave New World ahead.
Silver is aware of the dystopian future described in Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (brother of Sir Julian Huxley), and dispels fears that reprogenetics will lead to the creation of a Frankenstein monster. His own vision, judging from the short illustrative science-fictional sections of his book, is neither Utopian or Dystopian, and no monsters were created. Furthermore, he believes as a species that we've already begun down the path with technologies such as IVF, and effectively already taken control of our evolution (Silver, 1998)...as advocated by the likes of Sir Julian Huxley (Huxley, 1964).
In his follow-up book - Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality At The New Frontiers of Life (2006) - Silver continues his exploration of the clash of memes between science and religion.
False Prophet of Doom?
The controversy over whether or not Malthusian Principle of Population memes are right or wrong continues to rage (for proof Google Is Malthus Right, and then Google Is Malthus Wrong). Influential economist Jeffrey D. Sachs notes that whilst training as an economist (Sachs, 20082):
"...Malthusian reasoning was a target of mockery, held up by professors as an example of a naive forecast gone wrong."
Sachs points out a flaw in Malthus' argument (as noted earlier) that food production is also geometric (actually, it grows "exponentially") and can thus keep up with "exponential" population increase Sachs (20082):
"The argument is that food production can indeed grow geometrically because production depends not only on land but also on knowhow."
However, Sachs (20082) reasons that "...the Malthusian spectre is not truly banished..." as the increase in human productivity does not actually produce "income" but instead runs down the natural capital. Sachs concludes by pleading ignorance as to whether or not we've actually beaten Malthus (Sachs, 20082):
"Have we beaten Malthus? After two centuries, we still do not really know."
Yet Malthus understood the peculiar power of mankind over nature (Malthus, 1798):
"The main peculiarity which distinguishes man from other animals, is the means of his support, is the power which he possesses of very greatly increasing these means."
Malthus' conclusion was nonetheless that humanity is subject to the same laws of nature as other living creatures (Malthus, 1798):
"Elevated as man is above all other animals by his intellectual faculties, it is not to be supposed that the physical laws to which he is subjected should be essentially different from those which are observed to prevail in other parts of animated nature..."
Mankind cannot escape Nature's laws, Malthusian or not. Hence, Malthus cannot be "beaten". Food does indeed increase "exponentially", and is thus capable of increasing to match "exponential" population increase. But it is not guaranteed to do so even in the short term whereas in the long term sustained "exponential growth" on a finite planet is guaranteed to be impossible. This statement applies equally to any population of any species, including human populations (both locally and globally).
But for many Cornucopians Malthus has long been regarded as a false prophet of doom (Maddox, 1972):
"Malthus began by ignoring the evidence even then available that human populations can regulate their fertility without the help of external catastrophe, with the result that he became a prophet - a false prophet as it turned out - of doom. He finished on firmer ground, but with an argument of much less awesome significance. Who needs to be alarmed if disaster can be avoided by fertility restraint of a kind even then widespread?"
However, Malthus did not simply prophesise future disaster, or doom. Rather, Malthus claimed that (Malthus, 1798):
"...this constantly subsisting cause of periodical misery has existed ever since we have had any histories of mankind, does exist at present, and will for ever continue to exist, unless some decided change takes place in the physical constitution of our nature."
Thus the meme of a Malthusian Catastrophe on Wikipedia is a flawed representation of what Malthus actually said. Malthus did not predict disaster - Malthus argued that war, pestilence and above all famine have always been, are now, and always will be periodic positive checks on human population. Furthermore, Malthus in fact argued for moral restraint to avoid periodic famine. It was Malthus' "alarmist" argument that so influenced Neo-Malthusian Francis Place and thus led (albeit, unintentionally) to modern family planning and contraception. This Neo-Malthusian "alarmist" message was reinforced by the likes of Paul R. Ehrlich at a time of explosive human population growth. So widespread fertility restraint was only widespread thanks to Neo-Malthusians. Even then, Maddox is naive to think "disaster can be avoided" as the Neo-Malthusian message is consistently opposed by powerful rival memes such as Catholicism, Communism and Cornucopianism.
However the biggest problems faced by Cornucopians is the delusion of human perfectibility and Utopian societies, and their failure to demonstrate how populations can continue to grow on a finite world. For example, editor John Carey notes in a chapter on the Menace of Population (Carey, 1995):
"By applying scientific thought to the question of population, which no one had done before, he contrived to show that it was impossible - despite the dreams of Utopian philosophers - for the whole of mankind to live in happiness and plenty."
As philosopher of science Karl Popper explains, one should always be highly skeptical of Utopian claims (Popper, 1963, p.486):
"The Utopianist attitude, therefore, is opposed to the attitude of reasonableness. Utopianism, even though it may often appear in a rationalist disguise, cannot be more than a pseudo-rationalism."
Carey concludes that despite the flaws in Malthus' theory he was right about the effects of unchecked population growth (Carey, 1995):
"In 1956 Professor W.A. Lewis calculated that if the world population were to double every 25 years (a rate of increase currently observable in some parts of Africa and Asia), it would reach 173,500 thousand million by the year 2330, 'at which time there would be standing room only, since this is the number of square yards on the land surface of the earth.'"
See Paul R. Ehrlich and the Prophets of Doom - An Exponentialist View, and Human Global Ecophagy for more.
Retired physics professor, Albert A. Bartlett, is one of today's strongest proponents of the Neo-Malthusian memeplex. He has lectured more than 1,500 times on Arithmetic, Population, and Energy, infecting minds everywhere.
Bartlett states that (Bartlett, 19981):
"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."
I (sort of) agree. However, his argument is founded on the assumption that populations grow exponentially (effectively, fixed rate compound interest). They don't, and so his opponents (like Cornucopian Julian Simon) can easily dismiss Bartlett's concerns (just as they do with Paul R. Ehrlich).
Unfortunately for everyone, Bartlett (like Malthus) is basically correct but not in the way Professor Bartlett assumes. Populations do not grow exponentially (at a constant rate), but via variable rate compound interest - they grow "exponentially". Variable rate compound interest is fully comparable in its power to fixed rate compound interest. So much so, in fact, that we may need to redefine what exponential growth really means (Preston, Heaveline & Guillot, 2001, p.11):
"In this sense the term 'exponential growth' is a redundancy; all growth is exponential by our measure of growth as a proportionate rate of change in population size. When people use the term 'exponential growth' they are often (but not invariably) referring to a sequence produced by a constant positive growth rate within some interval."
Nonetheless Bartlett's warnings, like Malthus', are fundamentally correct. When it comes to population growth, the Earth cannot sustain positive rates of fixed rate compound interest (though this never occurs) but neither can the Earth sustain positive rates of variable rate compound interest (which frequently occur, but always mixed with negative rates).
Bartlett provides a powerful rebuttal of the naive, confused and dangerous thinking of Cornucopians like Julian Simon, who claimed that humans are the ultimate resource, that there are no limits to growth and that we can support continued population growth on Earth for the next 7 million years. Bartlett pointed out that a population of 6 billion people growing at 1% per annum would outweigh the entire universe in just 17,000 years (Bartlett, 19981)! Cornucopian Julian Simon - one of the founders of the free market environmentalist movement - may have won his famous bet with Neo-Malthusian Paul R. Ehrlich on commodity prices but he should be better known and routinely ridiculed for being wrong by a factor of almost 412 (7 million years to 17,000 years) in his assertions on limits to growth and continued population growth.
Another population paper that popularises Parson "Pop's" memes is Bartlett's THE MASSIVE MOVEMENT TO MARGINALIZE THE MODERN MALTHUSIAN MESSAGE. The modern Malthusian message is of course more the Neo-Malthusian message, not exactly the Malthusian message nor the Exponentialist version of that message. Note the way Bartlett has SHOUTED his message. In 2012 text messaging etiquette is opposed to SHOUTING - there are even shout emoticons for it. I know he's not texting here, but this still might put younger readers off. I'm taking a similar gamble with my bolding of significant memes throughout this article. However, on the plus side, he has used alliteration [just I did at the start of this paragraph - ;-) ]. This was a very popular technique to help "sell" memes such as poems, though poems are out of fashion today. Still, you will find alliteration examples in tongue twisters, song lyrics and newspaper headlines, so there's still something to be said for alliteration.
So whose massive movement is it and what set of Malthusian memes are being marginalised, and how is it being done? Bartlett mentions (Bartlett, 19982) "literary people in the nineteenth century" who consider themselves humanitarians (though clearly Bartlett disagrees), socialists and "radical reformers" and agrees with Keynes that Malthus' "voice of objective reason" stands against the religious and evolutionary impulses to procreate. I'm paraphrasing here, but here's Bartlett's summary of typical attitudes and tactics used (Bartlett, 19982):
Non-Believers (e.g. the innumerate, non-scientists... "Wishing will make it so.")
Other Causes (don't worry about the numbers, let's focus on...some other humanitarian cause)
Sustainers (don't worry, "sustainable development" will solve it)
Them: Not Us (let's look at population growth in country X, not the USA)
The crux of Bartlett's own argument is that sustainable development is an oxymoron ((Bartlett, 19982, my bolding):
"The term 'sustainable' has to mean 'for a very long time.'
The arithmetic shows that steady growth (a fixed percent per year) which Malthus used in his analysis of populations, results in enormous numbers in modest periods of time. ( Many authors, including Bartlett 1978) These two facts lead to the first two Laws of Sustainability: (Bartlett 1994, 1998)
As mentioned already, Bartlett is trying to sell the common derivation of the Malthusian message (the Neo-Malthusian message), based on classic exponential growth at a constant rate (the equivalent of fixed rate compound interest), in relation to human populations. This has never happened, is not happening now, and will never happen. In fact. there is no evidence of any population of any species ever sustaining exponential growth at a constant rate. Oh wait, Bartlett himself says it's impossible too. Why worry if The First Law of Sustainability says it can't happen anyway? Hmm - it's going to be a hard sell, don't you think? However, if Bartlett stated that variable growth ("exponential" growth but with variable rates of compound interest) are the truth behind Malthusian arithmetic then he can point to any example of documented population growth for any species and show every time that this is how populations for all species grow (including humans). Malthus in fact provides many such examples of variable growth (with variable growth rates) in the 2nd to 6th editions of his essay on population. See my Scales of 70 for a rough idea how it variable rate compound interest (with positive and negative rates) works, or see my Scales of e for a more precise version.
See Bartlett - An Exponentialist View for more.
Despite the fact that it is indisputable that Malthusian limits to growth do apply on a finite Earth, Cornucopians still exist who argue against this supposedly "quasi religious concept" (Zubrin, 2012):
"In what sense can a resource be regarded as finite if you not only never run out, but never experience any shortage? Our ability to turn the matter of the planet into useful items is increasing daily. Someday it may all be useful." my bolding
Yet Zubrin goes on to define Earth in finite terms - he states that Earth has a mass of 6 trillion trillion (6 x 1024) kilograms! Zubrin suggests that if we take a population of 6 billion (our global population in 1999) then even with a 1,000 fold increase we'd each have a trillion kilograms of mass each (Zubrin, 2012). Using the Rule of 70 a population growing at 1% per annum would double every 70 years and would thus increase by a factor of 1,024 (210) in just 700 years, and at 2% it would take only 350 years! So a thousand fold human population increase really would not take very long.
However, Zubrin carefully avoids meeting the challenge he set himself - to demolish the concept of Earth's finitude, the very foundation stone of Malthusian thinking - by suggesting we would master space travel long beforehand. This is a mere ruse, as we would still have Zubrin's 6 trillion people living on Earth and this population should - according to Zubrin - be capable of limitless growth on Earth! In fact, at modest growth rates between 1 and 2 percent per annum, humanity would consume the entire Earth and everything on it in just 1,600 to 3,200 years! Of course, life on Earth would become intolerable long before then. See Human Global Ecophagy for more. Hmm, is that what Zubrin means when he says "Someday it may all be useful"?
Zubrin's unoriginal attack on Malthus is nothing more than a shoddy re-hash of earlier works like the scientifically bankrupt The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of The Scientific Racism by Allan Chase which is described by one Malthus expert as "trash" (Petersen, 1979, 1999). In his examination of the various suggestions that Malthusian theory somehow relates to Social Darwinism or the eugenics movement Petersen asks the question (Petersen, 1979, 1999) "What ...has all this to do with Malthus?" and the answer is "Very little, in fact; but in persistent myth, quite a bit.".
Zubrin is perhaps best known for his space advocacy and such books as The Case For Mars and Entering Space. However, Zubrin's dreams have been ruined. Zubrin blames Neo-Malthusian John Holdren, science advisor to President Obama, who caused NASA funding for a manned mission to Mars to be cut - See Zubrin's Obama Wrecks the Space Program. Well just like Neo-Malthusian Carl Sagan, I am a fan of Zubrin's space advocacy - but Zubrin should have stuck with what he knows. He is wrong about limits to growth, as proven. He is also wrong about Malthus as I will prove.
Also, Zubrin's overt American Exceptionalism is really quite nauseating. Don't get me wrong, I like America, American culture and Americans. I value the Special Relationship between the USA and the UK, and the similar relationship between the USA and Australia. The USA truly was the Arsenal of Democracy in World War Two, and the Marshall Plan may have been partially motivated to prevent the spread of Communism after the war but it was nonetheless a very generous American program to help rebuild shattered European nations. I'm glad America and her allies won the Cold War.
But in Merchants of Despair Zubrin is supposedly spreading a universal warning against some imagined world-wide antihumanist environmental movement, and puts a Statue of Liberty on the cover of his book. Sure, that'll sell in India, China, Africa, South America, Russia or the Middle East! He then opens Merchants of Despair by waxing lyrical about the legacy of Renaissance humanists (who were mostly Western European Christians), the Judeo-Christian God and claims that from this basis (Zubrin, 2012):
"...our greatest thinkers developed a concept of civilization dedicated to human betterment and 'unalienable rights' among which are 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness', proudly asserting that 'to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.'" [my bolding]
Or try this opening line from Chapter 16 (Zubrin, 2012):
"Men are born free and equal, naturally endowed not only with life, but liberty, and the right to pursue happiness."
Zubrin doesn't even bother stating that he is quoting (see bolding) or paraphrasing from The United States of America Declaration of Independence ...perhaps it's because "We hold these truths to be self-evident"? Again, this is more likely to appeal to Americans. And it is sheer arrogance to assume that American (or even Christian) values are the pinnacle of achievement and the result of our greatest thinkers...unless your audience is purely Americans (especially Christian Right Americans). Some of Zubrin's other works - for example Energy Victory - Winning the War on Terror (with an American flag on the cover), clearly demonstrate that what Zubrin cares about is Americans, not humanity.
The American Declaration Of Independence was published in 1776 (it was influenced by the English Magna Carta of 1215). Malthus, living in England, would have a boy about 10 years old. It is interesting to note that it contains the following Injury amongst the many such Injuries said to have been perpetrated by King George III of Britain against the people of his thirteen American colonies (National Archives, 1776):
"HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
It's worth reflecting on what "American" Benjamin Franklin had said in his 1751 essay "Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, peopling of Countries, etc.," in which Franklin noted that the population doubling rate in the English colonies in America was 25 years. Assuming the current population there to be 1 million, Franklin observes (Franklin, 1751):
"This Million doubling, suppose but once in 25 Years, will, in another Century, be more than the People of England, and the greatest Number of Englishmen will be on this Side the Water."
Of course after the War of Independence (1775-1783) it would be reasonable to re-word Franklin's assertion that Americans in the USA would outnumber Englishmen in England by 1851. According to the USA Census in 1850 there were almost 23.2 million Americans (mostly immigrant Europeans, but also African-American slaves). According to 1851 Census in the UK there were almost 16.8 million English people in England (and around 28 million in the UK overall). In evolutionary terms, this is an example of the differential reproduction of discrete human populations - see Differential Reproduction for more.
There are now over 314 million people in the USA. In the USA Census of 2000 (with a population of 281,421,906) the Race and Ethnicity of the USA revealed that the top ten ethnicities of Americans were German (42.8 million), Irish (30.5 million), African-American (24.9 million), English (24.5 million), American (20.2 million), Mexican (18.4 million), Italian (15.6), Polish (9.0 million), French (8.3 million) and American-Indian (7.9 million). This is a revealing statistic on the difference between the nationality meme (all Americans are Americans) and the ethnicity meme (not all Americans consider themselves ethnically American).
As to the effects of the expanding immigrant European population on the native American population, Malthus himself commented in the Preface to the 2nd edition of his essay (Malthus, 1826):
"If the United States of America continue increasing, which they certainly will do, though not with the same rapidity as formerly, the Indians will be driven further and further back into the country, till the whole race is ultimately exterminated, and the territory is incapable of further extension."
As the history of native Americans in the USA shows, Malthus was pretty close in his prediction of this holocaust - not mentioned by Zubrin in his latest book - in the history of the USA. Clearly, dispossessed Native Americans in the USA were not born free and equal...and so on. It was the same with the Spanish Empire (and the demise of the Aztecs and Incas, for example) and the Portuguese Empire which included Brazil. Such an experience was in fact common wherever European settlers dispossessed and decimated the native population, as with aboriginal peoples in Canada and Australian aboriginal peoples. It was little different with Russian Colonialism across their vast empire, including the Russian colonisation of the Americas.
Unfortunately for American Exceptionalists such as Zubrin, as this list of US Territorial Acquisitions demonstrates, American imperialism and "appropriation of lands" for the purpose of the "Population of these States" after the War of Independence (1775-1783) was in fact little different to British imperialism (or anyone else's imperialism throughout world history)...except in rhetoric on paper. The USA even funded imperialism with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 (the money went to Napoleon and French Imperialism), and the Alaska Purchase in 1867 (the money went to the Tsar and Russian Imperialism). American imperialism included the American Indian Wars, the indecisive War of 1812 against the British Empire in modern day Canada, the annexation of Texas in 1845, the subsequent Mexican-American War and the Mexican Cession in 1846, the acquisition of what became the states of Oregon and Washington from the British Empire as a result of the Oregon Treaty in 1846, the acquisition of Guam, Wake Island, Puerto Rico and Philippines as colonies as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the acquisition of Hawaii (1898 to 1959) and so on. Sure, as a democratic republican union of federated states, today the USA might not feel like an empire to those that live in it. But the history of the USA is a history of an empire (albeit one with noble ideals).
To provide some further historical balance to the context of Zubrin's accusations of British imperialist antihumanism, the British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 banned slavery through the British Empire (Malthus and Darwin were both anti-slavery) whereas in the USA it took until the end of American Civil War in 1865 to pass and implement the Thirteenth Amendment to the American Constitution and legally abolish slavery (and even then it could still be used to punish crime). Capital punishment still exists in the USA, but capital punishment in Britain ended decades ago. Gun violence in the USA is far more prevalent (per capita) than in Britain, due to the historical legacy of the American right to bear arms which is even codified in law in the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the USA. None of this means that the British are better, or Americans are better, but it does show that British values and American values and their concepts of antihumanism might be different. Live and let live...
The arrogant Zubrin truly does think American ingenuity is exceptional (Zubrin, 2012, p.39):
"American advances - from telegraphs, electric lighting, telephones, and airplanes to electronics, nuclear power, satellite communications, personal computers, and agricultural biotechnology - have enormously benefitted the entire world - China included. Indeed, America has suffered greatly because the rest of world has not been so inventive, thus depriving us of a huge number of comparable inventions that we might have received in return."
Even when a good meme comes along sometimes the Americans are reluctant to use it if they didn't think of it - a classic example is the metric system and SI Units created by the French (and adopted by the British). Apart from in the sciences, Americans prefer their version of antiquated British imperial units which they call United States customary units.
By contrast with Zubrin's claims for American Exceptionalism he argues that the Malthusian inspired Darwinian view (implying the British view) is based on selfishness and hate. There is no acknowledgement of British contributions to world civilization, just omission or condemnation. Zubrin is a bigoted, ignorant fool. Take a look through these lists (and similar lists exist for countries all around the world):
The British Agricultural Revolution contributed enormously to the world-wide agricultural revolution, boosting population numbers world-wide. The Industrial Revolution (which Zubrin mentions approvingly as it encouraged population growth, but he fails to credit Britain) started in Great Britain and not the USA. This included inventing the modern steam engine, modern rail transport, and the SS Great Britain (the first propeller driven ocean going vessel in the world...and the largest ship ever built at that time - in 1853). Britain also invented the world's first aircraft carrier in1914 - HMS Ark Royal. It was in Britain - not the USA - that the small-pox vaccine was discovered by Englishman Edward Jenner in 1796 (which Malthus noted approvingly) and then used throughout the British Empire including India thus dramatically boosting population increase world wide. Englishman 1st Baron Lister pioneered antiseptic surgery in the 19th century. Almroth Wright invented the typhoid vaccine first used extensively in World War One. It was in Great Britain (Alexander Fleming) and Australia (Howard Florey) - not the USA - that the antibiotic uses of penicillin was discovered, saving countless lives the world over and thus increasing population growth rates. It was a Scotsman (James Clerk Maxwell), not an American, who discovered the laws of electromagneticism. American scientist and Neo-Malthusian Carl Sagan has argued (Sagan, 19971) "Maxwell may be fairly said to have ushered in the age of modern physics." Modern photography owes a great deal to photography pioneer Englishman Fox Talbot (and several other Englishmen). Kinemacolor - the first successful colour motion picture process - was invented by Englishman George Albert Smith. The Great Exhibition in London in 1851 was the first World Trade Fair. As previously noted, it was Englishman William Bateson that started modern genetics, followed by other Englishmen such as Ronald Fisher and J.B.S Haldane (a Marxist). Thus Britain has led the way to the very technologies that Zubrin approves of, such as Genetically Modified crops and bioengineering. Britain invented the first tank in World War One (followed soon after by the French). Englishman Sir Christopher Cockerell invented the first modern hovercraft. It was the British and French that gave us the Modern Olympics. Then there's the British Commonwealth Games. The British also gave the world Football (soccer), Rugby, Cricket, Squash, Badminton, Tennis, Hockey, Snooker, Golf and many more popular international sports. It was in Britain - not the USA - that the world's first electronic computer - Colossus - was invented, and it was used to help defeat Nazism (and even helped the Soviet Union) by helping to break German Enigma Code messages. The "inventor of radar" is Scotsman Robert Watson-Watt - radar was used so effectively against the Nazis in the Battle of Britain. It was a British computer scientist - Sir Tim Berners-Lee - who invented the World Wide Web. Modern day satellite communications based on the concept of geostationary orbit owes much to English science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. The electric light bulb was invented by British inventor Joseph Swann before Edison. The invention of the telephone owes much to Scottish-born Canadian Graham Alexander Bell, who also had the first patent. The invention of television owes much to Scottish engineer Logie Baird. The "father of modern chemistry" is Englishman John Dalton (though similar reasonable claims have been made for Anglo-Irishman Robert Boyle and Frenchman Antoine Lavosier). The "father of nuclear physics" is New Zealander Ernest Rutherford. It was Scottish-born Canadian Sandford Fleming that invented world wide standard time zones. With the birth of Louise Brown in 1978 it was the British that invented in vitro fertilisation, giving hope to infertile couples, and again providing another small increase to population growth rates. As American Lee M. Silver put it (Silver, 1998): "From a single birth in a British clinic, the use of IVF as a method of reproduction has exploded." Silver notes that by 1993 there were 267 IVF clinics in the USA alone. It was the British that gave us Dolly the sheep - "unquestionably a giant leap forward in reproductive technology" (Silver, 1998) - which may well result in human cloning and yet another boost to human population growth rates in the future. I could go on, but I think my point is made... ok, one more...Sir Isaac Newton (Aydon, 2010):
"In the history of science, the seventeenth century is Newton's century. He is the Sun that blots out every other star in the heavens."
British Empire contributions to the arts, business, trade, economics, politics and any field of human endeavour are just as rich. Given Zubrin's anti-Malthusian and anti-British Marxist views, I now find it both ironic and entertaining that I was able to use mathematician Malthus' understanding of the exponential method (from more than 200 years ago) to correct the US Census Bureau's own faulty understanding - see my article US Census Bureau - Incorrect Use of The Exponential Method.
I do not claim that the British Empire is guilt free. Far from it, like any empire. But on balance - despite Neo-Malthusian efforts - when it comes to increasing population numbers much of the criticism (if you're a Neo-Malthusian) or praise (if you're an anti-Malthusian) rests squarely with the British Empire. Check the demographic history of nations under British rule - on balance their populations all increased. Yes, I acknowledge that indigenous populations suffered (under all empires), but Zubrin wants more people and that's what the British Empire made happen the world over. On balance - throughout the British Empire and since - British Empire contributions to human civilization helped increase population numbers world-wide...and some of the greatest minds and best inventions in world history were not American...a great many were from the British Empire or today's British Commonwealth nations.
Rather than observing the Principle of Charity expected of a reasonable and rational person setting forth a balanced view, in his latest book Merchants of Despair Zubrin calls Malthus "the most dismal scientist" and "the founding prophet of modern antihumanism" (Zubrin, 2012) and rages against British imperialism, claiming a (very tenuous) link between the work of Malthus and Darwin with Social Darwinism, eugenics, Nazi Fascism, anti-Semitism, and various holocausts against humanity. The only truth in Zubrin's elaborate story is the clear link between Malthusian theory and Darwinian theory. OK, it was Darwin's cousin Francis Galton who founded the pseudo-scientific eugenics movement which was popular across Europe and in the USA (Grant, 2011). But that does not make either Malthus or Darwin guilty by association. And consider that religiously inspired racism, for example, the Preadamite movement, existed long before Darwin who was in fact anti-slavery (Grant, 2011). Malthus also was no racist and was vehemently anti-slavery (Petersen, 1970, 1999). In fact it was American eugenicist Madison Grant and his racist book The Passing of the Great Race that so inspired Hitler (who called this book his 'Bible') to delusions of racial superiority (Grant, 2011). Eugenics in the USA (but not in Britain) - including compulsory sterilisation programs - actually preceded any such programs in Nazi Germany. American Lee M. Silver notes that today (Silver, 1998) "...the practice of donor insemination in America has produced a eugenic outcome..." the equivalent of the selective first proposed by Galton. Does Zubrin oppose donor insemination? Zubrin does not even mention his fellow American's concept of reprogenetics. Herbert Spencer, the founder of the pseudo-scientific Social Darwinism, believed in Lamarckism (a failed rival meme of Darwin's own evolutionary theory) and was not a Darwinian (Grant, 2011; Petersen, 1970, 1999). It was only in the USA that such a perversion of Darwinian theory (and poisonous misappropriation of Darwin's name) took root, not in Great Britain (Grant, 2011). According to Zubrin's fantasy, all of this lead to Nazi anti-Semitism and the Jewish Holocaust. This grossly oversimplifies the long history of anti-Semitism that led to the Jewish Holocaust. In fact, as noted by American historian Lucy Dawidowicz, the War Against the Jews and Hitler's anti-Semitism (see Hitler's Religious Views) was inspired by Catholic Church attitudes of the past 1500 years, together with more recent German Protestant works such as Martin Luther's On the Jews and Their Lies. The British Fascist party and Mosley's New Party died out in the early 1930s, and the British Union of Fascists was proscribed in 1940 - the British oppose Fascism. Himmler, in charge of Nazi science, opposed Darwinism as it offended his feelings of racial superiority as Darwinism includes the egalitarian concept of common descent (for all humans) from a hominid common ancestor (Grant, 2011). Religion and pseudo-science (science perverted by political and religious ideology) were behind Nazi Anti-Semitism, not science. Religion and pseudo-science are also commonly anti-Malthusian and anti-Darwinian.
Nor is Zubrin above distorting facts or misquoting his enemies to make them appear worse than they are. Darwin's reputation suffers a similar fate in Zubrin's unethical hands - but here we are concerned with Malthus. For example, in relation to the Irish Potato Famine (which occurred after Malthus' death), Zubrin quotes the following excerpt from a letter from Malthus to his friend and rival economist David Ricardo (Zubrin, quoting Malthus, 2012):
"The land in Ireland is infinitely more peopled than in England; and to give full extent to the natural resources of the country, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil."
This makes Malthus sound like some sort of cold hearted mass murderer, or at least the man whose ideas encouraged such acts! However this is a propaganda misquote in order to appeal to Catholics and anti-British sentiment everywhere. Of course he fails to mention that the preceding massive Irish population boom (see Demographic History of the Republic of Ireland) was fuelled by the British introduction of the potato. In the corrected version of the quote Malthus is in fact discussing the higher distribution of the Catholic Irish population on agricultural land, rather than in industry, compared to England (Valone, Bradbury, quoting Malthus, 2008):
"The Land in Ireland is infinitely more peopled than in England; and to give full extent to the natural resources of the country, a great part of the population should be swept from the soil into large manufacturing and commercial Towns." my bolding
In fact far from being cold hearted Malthus a was deeply compassionate man and was even sympathetic to Irish Catholic nationalism (Peterson, quoting Malthus, 1979, 1999):
"This fruitful island...should be cherished by us as our richest mine of wealth as well as our strongest pillar of defence. And yet this is the country the loss of which is risked daily by...the bigotry and littleness of one part of the administration and by the tergiversation [equivocation] and inconsistency of the other...Let the Irish Catholics have all they have demanded; for they have asked nothing but what strict justice and good policy should concede to them." [my addition]
As Peterson notes (Peterson,1979, 1999):
"Perhaps nothing one could cite from Malthus' work denies more forcefully the prevalent view of his theory."
Thus, the truth about Malthus is the opposite to Zubrin's false claim.
In his "Focus Section": The Data That Proves Malthus Wrong", Zubrin opens with a false straw man version of Malthus' argument, that we can eliminate undesirable peoples and (Zubrin, 2012) "...we'll all be better off." Malthus said no such thing. Zubrin then actually quotes a Nazi character from the holocaust film The Boy in Striped Pyjamas that whilst harsh such measures are necessary to "...make the world a better place" but you wouldn't know unless you actually bothered to check the end notes. Again, Malthus said no such thing.
Zubrin then produces a bunch of statistics showing an increase in world GDP that have nothing to do with Malthus, with no references to Malthus' work provided here by Zubrin, claiming that (Zubrin, 2012):
"According to Malthus, the sixfold increase in population after his lifetime should have resulted in a disastrous drop in human living standards."
As already discussed, it is true that Malthus was wrong in his projections on human global population increase but he was not wrong on world GDP as he didn't actually discuss it. This error on population increase is no surprise when one considers that he incorrectly pinned his argument on the assertion that food supply grew linearly and thus could not keep up with exponential population increase (and hence human population increase would be limited by lack of food).
Zubrin then extends his fictional example into the past, to the year 1500, claiming that (Zubrin, 2012):
"Malthus was not just wrong about predicting the future, he was wrong about predicting the past, and not just by a small variance, but by a factor of three."
Well, just like the foolish Cornucopian Julian Simon (whom Zubrin greatly admires...naturally), when it comes to the finitude of the Earth Zubrin is infinitely wrong if he truly believes we can never run out of resources! Zubrin seems to think that Malthus was unaware of human ingenuity, yet we've already seen Malthus understood the "main peculiarity" - our ability to increase the means of production - that separated man from the animals. Zubrin is undeniably wrong as clearly the Earth is finite - even by his own admission - and Malthusian limits to growth do apply.
Zubrin's rhetoric and denial of basic scientific facts sounds for all the world like a former old school Marxist Communist, yet he lives in the capitalist and democratic United States of America. He praises Marxist Communists like Engels, and includes a whole chapter (chapter 10) on The Betrayal of the Left in the USA when leftist Americans apparently abandoned their Marxist views of Malthusianism - through which Zubrin claims (Zubrin, 2012)"...they correctly understood as a racist doctrine conceived for the purpose of denying the just aspirations of working people" - in favour of Paul R. Ehrlich and the Neo-Malthusians. Hasn't Zubrin heard of anti-Communist American McCarthyism, which had nothing to do with Malthusian views and everything to do with the Cold War? If he has he doesn't mention it.
In fact, doubts on the Marxist denial of Malthusian theory existed long beforehand. English philosopher Antony Flew notes even as early as 1881 Engels admitted (Flew, quoting Engels, 1970):
"There is, of course, the abstract possibility that the number of people will become so great that limits will have to be set on their increase."
Hmm, does this make Marxist Engels a racist or antihumanist? Has he "betrayed the left"?
It's a pity that Winston Churchill and later Franklin D. Roosevelt were obliged to ally with dear old "Uncle Joe" in order to defeat Fascism, for Joseph Stalin was at least as evil as Adolf Hitler. Yet Zubrin fails to mention Stalin's Great Purge (which resulted in 681,692 people being shot, according to declassified documents), Soviet forced labour camps (Gulags), the vile Soviet Communist partnership with Nazi Germany in the Invasion of Poland, the Soviet massacre of over 21,000 Polish officers at Katyn, the Soviet Winter War against Finland in 1939, the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States in 1940, Stalin's cynical role in allowing the Nazi crushing of the Jewish Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the subsequent Soviet annexation of Poland and other Eastern European countries, Stalin's racist and repressive Russification policy, the Soviet Berlin Blockade of 1948 (only defeated by the Berlin Airlift). After Stalin's death his legacy lived on for decades with the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the Cuban Missile Crisis...the list goes on, but Zubrin mentions none of it because it doesn't match the Marxist story he's trying to spin.
Or consider the Maoist inspired genocide under Pol Pot in Cambodia which resulted in the deaths of millions of his own country's people. Marxist Zubrin doesn't mention this holocaust. Karl Popper puts it well (Popper, 1963, p.494):
"The absurdity of the communist faith is manifest. Appealing to the belief in human freedom, it has produced a system of oppression without parallel in human history."
Even Zubrin's excessive use of the emotively charged word holocaust throughout Merchants of Despair is derivative of earlier Marxist works. For example this term was used by anti-Malthusian Marxist scholar Mike Davis in his 2001 work Late Victorian Holocausts in exactly the same context (the handling of famines in the British Empire). Nobody denies that these tragic events were influenced by seemingly hard-hearted Malthus' ideas but, as British historian Christopher A. Bayly explains (Bayly, 2004, p.272):
"During the famines in Scotland, Ireland, and India during the officials of the British Empire were in fierce dispute about the extent to which the government should intervene to provide food or relief works to the starving. Some believed, in a parody of the ideas of Thomas Malthus, that famine was God's way of checking the growth of population and should not be interfered with." my bolding
Or perhaps Zubrin would prefer the views of his favourite Marxist, Friedrich Engels (Engels, 1844):
"The Malthusian theory is but the economic expression of the religious dogma of the contradiction of spirit and nature and the resulting corruption of both. As regards religion, and together with religion, this contradiction was resolved long ago, and I hope that in the sphere of economics I have likewise demonstrated the utter emptiness of this contradiction." my bolding
It is the religious corruption of Malthusian ideas that took Malthus' humane advocacy of moral restraint (sexual abstinence / late marriage) and turned it into a parody of Malthusian thought. However, I will qualify that statement by pointing out that (only in the 2nd edition of the essay, which went through 6 editions) did Malthus include a short passage that became known as the Feast of Malthus (Hardin, 1998) in which Malthus provides a hypothetical example whereby a host must allow some of her guests to go hungry because too many guests appear. However, to avoid situations where the number of people exceed the available food supply, Malthus advocated moral restraint and not famine. Note that Garrett Hardin was a Neo-Malthusian, author of books such as The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999).
I agree with Zubrin and others that British Empire authorities had much to answer for (Fergusson, 2003):
"When famine struck (in Ireland in the 1840s, in India in the 1870s) their response was negligent, in some measure positively culpable."
Yet don't forget that the Indian population actually increased by hundreds of millions under British rule (1770-1947) - see my article Differential Reproduction for more. Furthermore, although famines in India may have been worse under the British (unable to feed the booming population, as Malthusian population theory attempts to explain), it has been argued that the British Empire actually brought endemic famine in India under control (Petersen, 1979, 1999):
"On the contrary, the British brought the endemic famines under control partly by improving irrigation systems, mainly by building a rail net that provided the means of transporting food to areas where shortages exist."
Although it is not fashionable these days to acknowledge the fact, it is also worth noting that the small Indian National Army of roughly 43,000 that fought for Imperial Japan against the British Raj was dwarfed by the 2.5 million Indians who volunteered to fight with the British against German and Italian Fascism and against Imperial Japan - See Indian Army in World War Two. It is their efforts that should be celebrated, not those of the Indian National Army. Let's not forget Imperial Japanese antihumanist atrocities such as The Rape of Nanking in 1937 (in which 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians were brutally slaughtered by the Japanese) or the Manila Massacre in1945 (in which Japanese troops killed over 100,000 Philippine civilians). Is that what the Indian National Army was fighting for? Imperial Japanese antihumanist atrocities don't even rate a mention from Zubrin.
Of course there is lingering resentment against the British Raj since Indian Partition in 1947, and this is why Zubrin mentions the Great Famine in India (1876 to 1878) in an attempt to inflame anti-British sentiment and so strengthen his anti-Malthusian argument. But World War Two could easily have been lost without the courage of those millions of Indians that fought voluntarily for the British.
In the true spirit of Orwellian historical revisionism Zubrin provides a lengthy quote from Malthus (actually, different quotes cunningly fused together) which purports to prove Malthus' antihumanism as he claims (Zubrin, 2012):
"Malthus proscribed specific policies to keep population down by increasing the death rate..."
Malthus did no such thing. Malthus was warning what might happen if population were not kept in check by humane means. As would be obvious to anyone who actually read Malthus' essay (especially the 2nd edition to 6th edition), Malthus in fact proscribed humane (but unpopular) moral restraint (late marriage / sexual abstinence). In his own defence at similar unjust charges laid against him, Malthus stated in the appendix to the 6th addition of his essay (Malthus, 1806):
"It is an utter misconception of my argument to infer that I am an enemy to population. I am only an enemy to vice and misery, and consequently to that unfavourable proportion between population and food which produces these evils."
So Zubrin clearly does not understand Malthus, or even his motives, at all. Malthus later continues with a pro-population sentiment worthy of Zubrin himself (Malthus, 1806):
"In the desirableness of a great and efficient population, I do not differ from the warmest advocates of increase. I am perfectly ready to acknowledge with the writers of old, that it is not the extent of territory but extent of population that measures the power of states."
And here Malthus proves that he understood the power of human ingenuity to increase the means of subsistence (Malthus, 1806):
"The power of the earth to produce subsistence is certainly not unlimited, but it is strictly speaking indefinite; that is, its limits are not defined, and the time will probably never arrive when we will be able to say, that no further labour or ingenuity of man could make no further additions to it."
Indeed, I'd argue Malthus is perhaps too optimistic because the sustained exponential growth of our global human population would turn the Earth to human flesh surprisingly quickly as already noted. As Neo-Malthusian Carl Sagan said (Sagan, 19972, p.19), "Never underestimate an exponential." The same applies to variable rate compound interest. See Carl Sagan - The Secrets of the Universe for more.
Zubrin is a curious cross-breed of "betrayed" Marxist Communist, American Exceptionalist, Cornucopian, anti-Darwinist, frustrated pro-space lobbyist, climate change approver (global warming is good for trees according to Zubrin), and religious capitalist. As noted by the editor to the Norton Critical Edition of Malthus' first edition of his essay (with excerpts from later editions), attacks on Malthus produce some curious bed fellows (Appleman, 1976):
"It is ironic that in the continuing attacks on 'Malthusianism,' the far left of Marxists and other radicals have joined hands with the far right of conservative economists and the conservative hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church."
It is ironic because the Catholic Church and far right are both Anti-Communist, Communism is often atheistic and thus opposed to the Catholic Church, and of course Communists are ideological polar opposites to the far right. Although he is clearly more of a Cornucopian and Marxist Communist, by being so extremely anti-Malthusian Zubrin's hastily rehashed memes will appeal to all three at once (even the far right).
Zubrin's entire poisonous argument is based on a false dichotomy - that we must choose between the Hellish cult of antihumanism and a world of finite resources or the Heaven of unrestrained human population growth on Earth and (Zubrin, 2012) "...an ethic based on faith in the human capacity for creativity and invention."
In sharp contrast to Zubrin space advocate, scientist and Neo-Malthusian Carl Sagan - an American - expressed concern that something like 95% of Americans were "scientifically illiterate" and argued extensively against a reliance on faith (Sagan, 19971). Sagan instead argued in favour of a scientific education for our children (Sagan, 19971, p.10):
"I don't know to what extent ignorance of science and mathematics contributed to the decline of ancient Athens, but I know that the consequence of scientific illiteracy are far more dangerous in our time than in any that has come before. It's perilous and foolhardy for the average citizen to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, air pollution, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain, topsoil erosion, tropical deforestation, exponential population growth."
In terms of memes, blind faith is the opposite of reason (Dawkins, 1976):
"The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry."
In fact our choices are the opposite of what Zubrin proposes. One option is to choose an ethic based on reason and the physical reality of a finite Earth, that human beings are made of atoms not ideas, and that we must use science and technology responsibly to create a human Heaven on Earth within limits to growth that includes not just human life but allows room for all life on Earth. This does not preclude a recognition of human inventiveness, and the embracing of scientific and technological progress. This does not mean that (Zubrin, 2012) "...each new life is unwelcome". Maintaining the human species for as long as possible on Earth will require human beings to be born, otherwise we would go extinct. Nor does this option preclude the possibility of the human colonisation of space, but again we will face limits to growth with every moon, every planet and every asteroid we settle. Or we can choose to base our beliefs on blind faith and hubristic rhetoric, ignoring the damage done to life on Earth as we create a Hell on Earth in pursuit of endless human population growth. Barring a Technological Singularity that would change human nature beyond recognition, these are the choices that humanity faces, and it is this struggle that we must win.
Marxism and History
Marxism is a socialist political ideology with pretensions to scientific respectability with regards to history and the ability to predict social change or the "coming social revolution". As rationalist philosopher of science Karl Popper demonstrated using the principle of falsificationism (which is now at the heart of the scientific method) whatever its noble social aims Marxism is not a science but a pseudo-science. Marxists resort to either making vague predictions more akin to soothsaying or, whenever their predictions fail the test, they are prone to historical revisionism (Popper, 1963, p.49).
An odd recent twist on this wannabe scientific approach to history is Russian Anatoly Fomenko and The New Chronology in which pretty much the whole history of Western Europe is 'disproved'...and it turns out we're all Russians. Right....moving on.
A more entertaining version comes from science-fiction author and Neo-Malthusian Isaac Asimov and his psychohistory from the Foundation series. A more serious scientific attempt towards history comes from scientist and pro Malthusian Peter Turchin (see section First Principle of Population Dynamics) and the concept of Cliodynamics though I believe the jury is still out on that one.
In terms of attitudes to science over the nation's history, and the current global trend of pseudoscience, Carl Sagan calls Russia "an instructive case" (Sagan, 19971):
"Under the Tsars, religious superstition was encouraged, but scientific and sceptical thinking - except for a few tame scientists - was ruthlessly expunged. Under Communism, both religion and pseudoscience were systematically suppressed - except for the religion of the state ideological religion. It was advertised as scientific, but fell far short of this ideal as the most unself-critical mystery cult. Critical thinking - except by scientists in hermetically sealed compartments of knowledge - was recognised as dangerous, was not taught in the schools, and was punished when expressed. As a result, post Communism, many Russians view science with suspicion."
So although science suffered under the Tsars, it also suffered due to the perversion of science under Communist dogma. Sagan goes on to describe the consequent Russian decline into pseudoscience resulting in poor medical standards, increased disease, increased infant mortality, reduced life expectancy and so on. Sagan argues that a similar situation occurred in post-Mao Communist China, which promoted the following admission from the Chinese Communist Party towards the end of 1994 and a call for better scientific education (Sagan, 19971):
"Public education in science has been withering in recent years. At the same time, activities of superstition and ignorance have been growing, and anti-science and pseudoscience cases have become frequent."
As an ideology Communism in general has failed and some even saw the collapse of Communism coming, at least as far as the Soviet-style Marxism-Leninism version is concerned (Brzezinski, 1990). China may still have a single party Communist government but with its Socialist Market Economy can no longer be regarded as a Marxist or even a Maoist state. I wonder how much the failure of Marxist-inspired Communism had to do with their rejection of Malthus.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels detested Malthus and his ideas. The Communist concept of the Reserve Army of Labour was created in direct opposition to Malthusian memes. Marx believed that if Malthusian population theory was true then socialism was unattainable (Petersen, 1979, 1999).
Communists everywhere condemned Malthus and his theory, largely due his alleged coldness of heart to the suffering of poor. For example another early and distinguished convert was British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, who was so influenced by Malthusian memes that his government produced the much hated (at least by socialists) Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. Malthus was in fact opposed to dependent institutionalised poverty, which he felt the ancient original English Poor Laws encouraged. The English Poor Laws date back to Elizabeth I and predate Communism by centuries.
Communists, blinded by their ideology just like Cornucopians, routinely asserted that Communism could both care for the poor and support any amount of population growth. For example, the Soviet delegate to the 1947 United Nations Population Commission claimed communism could meet the challenge of feeding any population increase (Peterson, 1979, 1999, p.201):
"With an adequate social organisation it is possible to face any increase in population."
Soviet ideological publications of the 1950s referred to birth control as "the man-hating ideology of imperialists" and "a bestial imperialist policy of aggressive wars and extermination of peoples" (Peterson, 1979, 1999, p.201). The Soviet spokesperson at an international population conference in Rome in 1954 claimed (Flew, 1970): "...in a socialist society...the problem of excessive population no longer arises...the Malthusian theory is completely wrong...". Perhaps that's why abortion in Russia was favoured by Soviet Communists (except under Stalin), and abortion in China is also quite common.
The inadequacy and hypocrisy of the Communist stance is further revealed by Communist state-sponsored famines such as Stalin's Holodomor famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s, and Mao's Great Leap Forward which resulted in the tragedy of Mao's Great Chinese Famine when tens of millions died in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mao fell from favour. This was followed by Mao's desperate attempt to regain influence and power through violence and repression with the (ultimately futile) Cultural Revolution starting in 1966, and the purge of more enlightened leaders such as Deng Xaioping (later famous for the phrase "one country, two systems").
Communist ideology made no difference, as the natural law explained by Malthus applied equally well to atheists, capitalists, Catholics, Fascists, Communists, or Creationists. In the end, even the dogmatic Communists had to admit they were wrong, and prudent family planning was introduced plus sometimes brutal population control measures such as China's One-Child Policy (Macfarlane, 2000):
"Despite the invective and a few debating points, Marx's counter dismissal is not convincing, and Malthus still stands. De facto this has been recognized in China where, having for years declared that there is no population problem under socialism, in the 1970s the rulers were suddenly faced with soaring population, and recognized that there was indeed a problem. The Chinese were then forced into measures of law and repression which Malthus had predicted would be necessary if the balances of capitalism were not present; there ensued that suppression of childbearing through mass sanctions, laws and inducements which Malthus would have considered grossly immoral, not to say dictatorial."
Thus, Marx, Engels and the failed Communist regimes that followed in their wake were proven wrong in their opposition to the powerful Malthusian Principle of Population meme.
Curiously, the irony for Communists was that on the one hand Marxists had embraced Darwinism whilst on the other hand they rejected Malthusian thinking. It was an irony because Darwinism - and population thinking in particular (Mayr, 2001) - were founded on Malthusian thinking. No wonder then that Trofim Lysenko came up with the seriously scientifically flawed Lysenkoism, and no wonder that the Soviet regime supported and spread this rival memeplex and suppressed, imprisoned or killed those Soviet scientists that supported the genetics of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis. Under the heading of The Blight of Bad Science, English science writer Cyril Aydon calls Lysenko (Aydon, 2010) "...the kind of scientist whose vanity and lust for power obliterate any lingering regard they might have for evidence or experimental proof." He explains (Aydon, 2010):
"Lysenko came to Stalin's notice during the Second World War, when the need to increase agricultural production was desperate. His basic proposition was that inheritance did not reside solely in the gene, and it was possible to change the genetic character of plants such as food cereals by subjecting them to a changed environment. This implied that one could significantly increase crop yields between one generation and the next. He even suggested that it might be possible to grow wheat from rye grains. This was music to Stalin's ears, and in 1940 he made him director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Science, a post he held for the next 25 years."
Today, the meme Lysenkoism survives not in its original form, but as a sad and pathetic metaphor for a meme or memeplex that is favoured for ideological reasons despite its failure to survive scrutiny through the scientific method.
No wonder George Orwell based his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four with its thoughtcrimes and NewSpeak on Stalin's Soviet State of 1948.
Monotheist Faiths, Antihumanism and Totalitarianism
Antihumanism and Totalitarianism derive in large part from the three main monotheistic religions, memeplexes that evolved from the Old Testament, according to American writer Gore Vidal (Vidal, 1992):
"The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal--God is the Omnipotent Father--hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is not just in place for one tribe, but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god's purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers his authority and those of his delegates on earth. One God, one King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in the family at home."
As far as the God of the Old Testament is concerned, British evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins sums it up neatly (Dawkins, 2006):
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, meglomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."
Secular Humanist John L. Perkins, is his criticism of People Like Us: How Arrogance is Dividing Islam and the West by Islamist Waleed Aly, poses the rhetorical question of whether religions in general are inherently arrogant (Perkins, 2012):
"Religious believers think that own belief is the one true religion. Why else would they believe it? Believers may be kindly and well-meaning, but belief gives them an underlying sense of righteousness, of being chosen, of cultural superiority. Yet there is no objective justification. Is this arrogance?"
As this List of Religions shows there have been many, many choices of "deities" and supernatural beings to choose from over time. Then there's this List of Mythologies. It's a bewildering array of memes and memeplexes. As Perkins suggests, surely it must be arrogance to assume that one particular set of religious beliefs is the one true religion? As this List of Dungeon & Dragons Deities, this list of shared fictional universes and this List of Superhuman Superpowers all demonstrate, we humans are certainly an imaginative bunch. Mythopoeia comes naturally to us. We are story tellers. It began with Oral History, before the invention of writing. The invention of the printing press, the invention of the internet and digital technologies have accelerated meme replication. Meme replication leads to memetic evolution. Memetic evolution leads to the extinction of memes and memeplexes, and the fusion of new combinations in the meme pool and new memeplexes. Perhaps there will even be a memetic singularity to coincide with the technological singularity (if it comes)?
Of course, there is money in religion, largely thanks to antiquated Charity Acts around the world that allow prayer itself to be deemed charitable (and hence tax exempt), despite objective evidence to the contrary that prayer is ineffective - see Efficacy of Prayer. This is why even Scientology, a deliberately made-up religion by American science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, is able to gain charitable status. As one critic of these "supernatural charities" - and the "Purple Economy" of the Catholic Church in particular - puts it (Wallace, 2007):
"The religious believe they can avoid death...they know they can avoid tax."
Prayer has not ended poverty, malnutrition or even periodic famine for the Bottom One Billion, as British economist Paul Collier describes them. Yet the Catholic Church (Manhattan, 2012) "...is the richest of the rich, the wealthiest institution on earth." Why not give the money to the poor?
Another significant contributing factor to the wealth of the Catholic Church is that Usury (the charging of compound interest on loans) was long ago conveniently dropped as a sin in Christian faiths...and Catholicism has been around a long time and has thus accumulated the most interest on its investments. In fact, it is the same form of "exponential" growth that applies to populations. The Jewish faith allows the charging of interest for Gentiles (non-Jews), and was thus a contributing factor in Catholic anti-Jewish sentiment (see Loans and Interest in Judaism). Islamic Sharia Law still forbids usury, resulting in unique Islamic Banking.
Malthus, a protestant Anglican parson, is routinely condemned by Catholics. Given the dogmatic inflexibility of the concept of Papal Infallibility and the extensive history of Catholic intolerance to other religions, or intolerance to any beliefs that oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church ("heresy"), this is not surprising. See Relations Between Catholicism with Judaism and the Wars of Religion (yes, the Crusades, but also major conflicts such as the Thirty Years War and the wars of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter Reformation) against Protestants, Muslims and Pagans. Then there's the Inquisition, European Witchcraft, the List of Prohibited Authors and Books, the List of Papal Bulls, Catholic Church and Abortion, and Catholic Church opposition to homosexuality. It's probably fair to say that Catholic Church views on evolution have...evolved.
Regarding the troubled relationship between religion and science in general Carl Sagan notes that although "There is no necessary conflict between religion and science" the key challenge for all religions is that "...tenets at the heart of religion can be tested scientifically " (Sagan, 19971). Hence fundamentalist religious sects are more challenged by science than other religions.
It is also worth noting that most of the nationalist dictators of modern nations in Europe have come from nations with a long history of Catholicism and large Catholic denominations - Napoleon (France), Fascist Franco (Spain), Fascist Mussolini (Italy), and Fascist Hitler (Germany). Of these, Franco was the most devoutly Catholic. Napoleon and Hitler are on balance best described as deists whereas Mussolini was an atheist. At the time of their respective dictatorships all these nations were almost totally Christian, with only German religion (marginally) dominated by a protestant faith (Lutheran) - see Religion in Nazi Germany. A similar pattern occurs in largely Catholic South America - see List of Modern Dictators. It was to South America that many Catholic Nazis escaped after World War Two - see Nazis in South America.
Stalin, who had trained as a priest in Tbilisi, soon became an atheist due to the Communist ideological hatred of religion (see Religion in the Soviet Union) but the Eastern Orthodox Church had dominated Eastern Europe since the schism with the Papacy in 1054 up to October Revolution 1917 and has resurged since the collapse of Communism in 1989. Whereas Catholicism is strongly anti-Communist (because Communism is ideologically atheistic) it not strongly anti-Fascist (because Fascism is not ideologically atheistic).
The Catholic Church reached an accommodation with Napoleon through the Concordat of 1801. The Catholic accommodation with Fascist regimes prior to World War Two by signing the Lateran Treaty with Fascist Italy (1929) and then the Concordat with Nazi Germany (1933) validated those regimes both domestically and internationally. Couldn't the Catholic Church have issued at least one Papal Bull condemning the persecution of Jews and others that the Fascists deemed "undesirables" before and during World War Two? The more recent appointment of a former member of the Hitler Youth as Pope (Benedict XVI) together with many Catholic child abuse cases acknowledged world wide must further call into question the morality and judgement of the Catholic Church.
Ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq in Why I am Not A Muslim notes the totalitarian nature of Islamic regimes in the Middle East. Although by no means the first act of Islamic Terrorism (for example, the Libyan Lockerbie Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988) antihumanism in radical Islam came into sharp focus for Americans with the September 11 suicides attacks in 2000 and the repeat spectacle of suicide bombers and the rising Islamofascist movement. For the British it was the 2005 London Bombings. Now we have the ideological, economic and military struggle known as The War On Terror which is a largely Christian coalition lead by the United States of America against Islamic Terrorists.
Ironically, starting in 1969 some Irish-Americans had supported terrorism against the British - through NORAID political and financial aid to the IRA - during The Troubles. As noted in the history of terrorism in Libya under Colonel Gaddafi the Islamic dictator provided Communist Soviet arms to the IRA (who sometimes even trained in Libya, perhaps thanks to American Catholic funding) and boasted that:
"...the bombs which are convulsing Britain and breaking its spirit are the bombs of Libyan people. We have sent them to the Irish revolutionaries so that the British will pay the price for their past deeds."
Hmm - Catholicism, Islam, Communism. What a toxic antihumanist mix!
In fact - fuelled by the 1570 Papal Bull Regnans In Excalsis excommunicating the protestant "heretic" Elizabeth I - Catholic terrorism in England can be dated back to Guy Fawkes and The Gunpower Plot of 1605 to blow up the British House of Lords and kill James I of England (James VI of Scotland).
The Catholic Encyclopedia is highly critical of Malthus, claiming that the whole theory was pre-empted in 1790 by "Giammaria Ortes", a Venetian friar, in a work entitled, "Reflessioni sulla populazione per rapporto all' economia nazionale." The Catholic Encyclopaedia lists those Catholic economists that reject Malthusian theory:
Aside from a section of the Socialists, the most important group of writers rejecting the Malthusian theory have been Catholic economists, such as Liberatore, Devas, Pesch, Antoine.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia argues that "...he contributed absolutely nothing of value to human knowledge or welfare." and dismisses fears of overpopulation proposing "...that the proper remedies were to be sought in better social and industrial arrangements, a better distribution of wealth, and improved moral and religious education."
Giammaria Ortes may have pre-empted elements of Malthusian theory but the level of research and consequent influence of Malthusian population theory was immeasurably more powerful than this obscure, defrocked, Venetian friar. Has his work ever even been available in English?
It is clear from the (largely unintended) influence of Malthus on evolutionary theory and the world-wide Neo-Malthusian influence on family planning and population control that not everyone shares the dismissive views of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Given the Papal Bull Humanae Vitae and the Catholic Church prohibition against even the humane practice of contraception (which can also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS), and their stated preference for Natural Family Planning, I'm inclined to agree here with the Neo-Malthusian sentiments of evolutionist Richard Dawkins (Dawkins, 1976):
"It is a simple logical truth that, short of mass emigration into space, with rockets taking off at the rate of several million per second, uncontrolled birth-rates are bound to lead to horribly increased death-rates. It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods. They express a preference for 'natural' methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation."
At the same time, I think that Lee M Silver's analysis of negative Catholic views to reprogenetics is correct and that Catholic views will be similar on Transhumanism and futuristic technologies such as molecular nanotechnology assemblers or artificial intelligence as we humans "play God" with creation - all of which will only serve to fuel our population growth rates as Catholic memes become extinct or evolve. Hence, Cornucopian dreams may be kept alive for a little longer...as we hurtle towards very real Malthusian limits to growth.
A modern day Lysenkoism is Intelligent Design from the USA (effectively a "born-again" Natural Theology). According to this scientifically corrupt theory, some things are so irreducibly complex that it cannot be conceived as to how they could evolve - ipso facto, the modern evolutionary synthesis is deeply flawed or altogether wrong. Thus, quod erat demonstrandum, (some sort of) God exists. At least, that's what ID proponents would like you to believe. The Kitzmiller Vs Dover Area School District case provides a good example of the emptiness of the Teach The Controversy argument of I.D proponents.
The Pastafarian religion (whose deity is the Flying Spaghetti Monster) is parody religion that rightly mocked the the Kansas State Board of Education for allowing I.D. equal time with evolutionary theory in science classrooms.
First Principle of Population Dynamics
The Malthusian Growth Model is widely regarded as the first principle of population dynamics (Berryman, 2003; Colyvan et al, 2003; Haemig, 2005; Turchin, 2001). This claim usually assumes that Malthus was fixated on a constant rate of exponential growth. However, as argued frequently on this Exponentialist web site, I believe Malthus recognised that growth rates vary and yet population growth was still more like exponential growth than arithmetic (or linear) growth. Refer Population Growth Models and Turchin - An Exponentialist View for more.
Logistic Growth Model - Pierre Francois Verhulst
Despite being a failed growth model, the Logistic Growth model is often considered a superior population growth model to the Malthusian Growth Model. See Logistic Growth Versus Exponential Growth for more. However, whatever your views, it is worth noting that Pierre Francois Verhulst only invented the Logistic Function after reading Malthus in 1838.
Some argue in broad terms that Malthus was the founder of the entire field of Demography (Peterson, 1979, 1999). Another specific example is Sir Julian Huxley, who traces the history of thought on "the population problem" during the enlightenment up to the time of Malthus, and concludes (Huxley, 1964, p.240):
"Malthus thus marks the beginning of the modern era of demography. From now on men look at population-growth as a process in time, with rate of increase its central feature; with the inevitable conclusion that we must work towards the control of rate of increase, so as to secure an optimum balance between population and resources."
In addition, the modern statistical Census in the UK was introduced in 1801 by John Rickman as a direct result of Malthus' 1798 Essay of the Principle of Population.
Molecular Nanotechnology and Programmable Matter
American Nanotechnologist K. Eric Drexler seems to be one of the few people today whose futuristic vision of self-replicating molecular nanotechnology assemblers naturally lead him to understand and appreciate the essential truth of Malthusian memes as deeply as Darwin, as well as Darwinian memes on evolution. Self-replication leads to evolution, and population growth is always "exponential" along the lines that Malthus proposed and exactly as proposed on my Exponentialist web site. In an acknowledgment of Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian memes, Chapter 10 of Drexler's book Engines of Creation is called Limits to Growth. Drexler is also a space advocate, meaning he advocates the human colonisation of space. Drexler is careful to explain that local limits to growth do apply for every planet, every solar system and so on. Drexler examines the subject in detail, including Malthus' contribution, and optimistically concludes (Drexler, 1990):
In a sense, opening space will burst our limits to growth, since we know of no end to the universe. Nevertheless, Malthus was essentially right."
Molecular nanotechnology is just one of the technologies that - it is hoped - will enable technogainism, a techno-optimist green movement that hopes future technologies will enable us to heal the Earth or terraform Mars. I like the sound of that!
Ironically, in Entering Space anti-Green Zubrin suggests that the absence non-organic self-replicating entities and the omnipresence of organic self-replicating entities combine as strong evidence against the possibility of "Drexler-style nanotechnology." Zubrin is betting on bioengineering and "human-improved microorganisms" instead (Zubrin, 2000, p 240). Time will tell, but it's interesting that Zubrin's blind faith in human ingenuity does not extend to Drexler's molecular nanotechnology. Logically then Zubrin must also not believe in the Technological Singularity, as it is heavily dependent on self-replicating molecular nanotechnology.
Strong proponents of self-replicating technologies include Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle. In their opus Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines they survey all available memes relating to self-replicating technologies to date, reaching the opposite conclusion to Zubrin, and logically argue that (Freitas, Merkle, 2004) "Perhaps the most obvious proof of principle that molecular-scale self-replication is possible at all is the example of biology."
See Drexler - An Exponentialist View, Exponential Assembly - An Exponentialist View, and Grey Goo - An Exponentialist View for more.
A related meme to molecular nanotechnology is programmable matter in which artificial atoms with no nucleus (similar to quantum dots, which already exist) can effectively have their chemical properties altered via human input (e.g. an electrical switch).
Evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins, who rarely mentions Malthusian population memeplex (or even the name Malthus), are just as ardent as Bartlett in their belief that populations grow exponentially (sort of) and that Earth cannot sustain continued positive rates of human population growth. This is Dawkins in classic Malthusian style on overpopulation (Dawkins, 1976, 1989):
P.110 "Mankind is having too many children. Population size depends upon four things: births, deaths, immigrations and emigrations. Taking the world population as a whole, immigrations and emigrations do not occur, and we are left with births and deaths. So long as the average number of children per couple is larger than two surviving to reproduce, the numbers of babies born will tend to increase over the years at an ever-accelerating rate. In each generation the population, instead of going up by a fixed amount, increases by something more like a fixed proportion of the size that it has already reached. Since this size is itself getting bigger, the size of the increment gets bigger. If this kind of growth was allowed to go on unchecked, a population would reach astronomical proportions surprisingly quickly."
Dawkins is famous for his arguments in favour of the gene as the unit of selection in evolution (Dawkins, 1976, 1989), but fails to grasp that differential reproduction depends upon the population growth rate (the Malthusian Parameter, also regarded as the measure of fitness of a population) and hence populations really are selected for and against in the Struggle For Existence. Whereas Dawkins would no doubt see Natural Selection leading to Differential Reproduction, he fails to note what I call Malthusian Selection also leading to Differential Reproduction. Malthusian Selection is the hypothesises that human culture and also environment can affect the Malthusian Parameter in much the same way as Natural Selection can. This is not an argument against Natural Selection, or the gene as the unit of selection for evolution, as Malthusian Selection does not affect the evolution of species but rather affects the differential reproduction of populations (which in turn affects the success or failure of species - the survival of the fittest). When it comes to species evolving, there is only Natural Selection. When it comes to differential reproduction, Malthusian Selection is a partner to Natural Selection. See Malthus On Evolution and Malthusian Selection for more.
I suspect, but cannot know for certain, that it is Dawkins' ardent atheism that has blinded him to the full significance of the Malthusian memeplex of Reverend Malthus (who was, after all, a clergyman who believed in Creation). This is a pity as I believe that Malthus deserves to be brought back in from the cold, and his scientific reputation redeemed, and Dawkins is just the man that could do it.
See Dawkins - An Exponentialist View for more.
The Differential Replication of Religions in Australia
Continuing Dawkins' view of religions as mental viruses, the following table shows the differential replication of the major religious and secular affiliations in Australia over time:
At the time of Australian Federation in 1901 the Australian population numbered 3,773.8 million. By 2001 that had become 18,769.2 million. Taking percentages as approximate indicators of the differential replication of religious memeplexes, we can see the gradual decline of Christianity in Australia (with the exception of Catholicism) and the rise of both secular (atheist, agnostic, Humanist and rationalist beliefs) and non-Christian theistic beliefs.
One intriguing contributing factor is highlighted by the following statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (same reference as graph):
"In 1971 the instruction 'if no religion, write none' was introduced. This saw a seven-fold increase from the previous census year in the percentage of persons stating they had no religion."
This at last allowed the secularists the freedom to express their beliefs.
In the 2011 Census those stating "No Religion" had increased to 22.3%, non-Christian faiths was at 7.3% and the total Christian percentage had fallen to 61.1%.
One of the Most Influential People in History
Malthus is certainly one of the most famous (opponents often say infamous) people to study population, and still relevant today (Jordan, Momosh & Rowntree, 1994):
"The most famous pioneer observer of population growth was Thomas Malthus... Today, almost two centuries after Malthus penned his warnings, this basic argument is still accepted in many quarters. Geographers, accordingly, have devoted considerable attention to the spatial aspects of food availability and famine..."
For more on Malthus and his influence, the authors recommend The State of Population Theory: Forward from Malthus (1986) by editors David Coleman and Roger Schofield, and Malthus Past and Present (1983) by J. Dupaquier and A. Fauve-Chamoux. I have neither, but they do appear to be available online from Google Books.
On the 200th anniversary of the publishing of the first edition of Malthus' essay on population, Neo-Malthusian Professor of Physics Albert Bartlett summed up his thoughts on the significance and originality of Malthusian memes (Bartlett, 19982):
"Two hundred years ago Thomas Robert Malthus was instrumental in introducing the world to a revolutionary new concept: the quantitative analysis of population problems."
Even some of those passionately opposed to Malthusian theory - "...this vile, infamous theory, this hideous blasphemy against nature and mankind..." - recognise its influence and significance (Engels, 1844):
"At the same time, the Malthusian theory has certainly been a necessary point of transition which has taken us an immense step further. Thanks to this theory, as to economics as a whole, our attention has been drawn to the productive power of the earth and of mankind; and after overcoming this economic despair we have been made for ever secure against the fear of overpopulation. We derive from it the most powerful economic arguments for a social transformation. For even if Malthus were completely right, this transformation would have to be undertaken straight away; for only this transformation, only the education of the masses which it provides, makes possible that moral restraint of the propagative instinct which Malthus himself presents as the most effective and easiest remedy for overpopulation."
Well, Malthus wasn't "completely right" but is more correct than Marxist Engels thought and so yes we should start transforming society "straight away" and we should "educate the masses" to promote Malthusian moral restraint. However, I would argue that Neo-Malthusian contraception is more effective and equally humane because, despite Catholicism, it is a more popular "remedy" than moral restraint and helps protect against certain diseases.
Michael Hart, in his book The 100 - A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History (1978,1992), ranks Malthus at number 80. Hart notes that others such as Plato and Aristotle had briefly written on the issue of overpopulation, but that (Hart,1978,1992):
"It was Malthus who elaborated on the idea and wrote extensively on the subject. More important, Malthus was the first person to stress the overwhelming importance of the problem of overpopulation, and to bring the problem to the attention of the intellectual world."
Hart notes Malthus' key influence on Neo-Malthusians Francis Place in England in 1822 and Dr. Charles Knowlton in the USA in 1832 (both of whom advocated contraception), and the formation of the first Malthusian League in 1860. In terms of evolutionary theory Hart notes Malthus' influence on Darwin but fails to note his influence on Wallace. Hart notes the influence of Malthus' population theory on his friend and fellow economist David Ricardo whose "iron law of wages" (which itself influenced Karl Marx) stated (Hart, quoting Ricardo, 1976,1992):
"The natural price of labour is that price which is necessary to enable the labourers, one with another, to subsist and to perpetuate the race, without either increase or diminution."
Hart also notes that Malthus contributed several other works on economics, with the most important being Political Economy (1820) which was a significant influence on many economists including the highly influential twentieth century economist Maynard Keynes commenting here after reading through a friendly exchange of letters between Malthus and Ricardo on his views on their competing economics memes (Flew, quoting Keynes,1970):
"One cannot rise from a perusal of this correspondence without feeling that the almost total obliteration of Malthus' line of approach and the complete domination of Ricardo's for a period of a hundred years has been a disaster to the progress of economics...If only Malthus, instead of Ricardo, had been the parent steam from which nineteenth-century economics had prevailed, what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today."
I do agree with Hart that Malthus is one of the most influential people in history, but I would probably rank Malthus even higher based on his Principle of Population memeplex alone. My own study of all things exponential started with Malthus, and as scientist Carl Sagan said (Sagan,19972, p.23):
"If you understand exponentials, the key to many of the secrets of the Universe is in your hand."
Anthropologist and historian Professor Alan Macfarlane sums up his view on the influence of Malthus on his own life, which pretty much reflects my own view (Macfarlane, 2000):
"It is pretty evident to me now that I look back over my intellectual life that climbing Mount Malthus has had more influence on me than any other encounter. And while people are always wishing him away or believing he has been 'disproved', unlike many other prophets, he is still very much alive and his warnings are still relevant in the twenty-first century."
Past, Present, Future - Human Civilization
With the much larger French population in mind, writing at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Englishman Malthus argued that (Malthus, 1806):
"...that it is not the extent of territory but extent of population that measures the power of states."
This is an oversimplification born out of apprehension, as clearly other factors like politics, religion, militancy, leadership, economics, science and technology typically play key roles too. Yet in terms of population, the two superpowers are clearly China and India. Maybe population already does give them an edge. Will the 21st Century be the Chinese Century? Will the 21st Century be the Indian Century? Will we have war, or peace?
Whatever the answer is, Malthusian memes will be at the heart of life and death, and the population and food debate. They will also be at the heart of finance and economics too - they always have been. For all of these things are governed in part by the same laws of "exponential" growth within limits.
The history of human civilization is the history of rival empires, large and small, each with their own brand of empire, their own "empire memeplex" with its heady mix of political and religious memes and human rights. Sometimes empires incorporate biocentrism - animal rights and, less often I suspect, plant rights. Sometimes they incorporate aspects of biophilia - literally the love of living things...the love of Nature. Older examples might fall under the term Nature Worship. Perhaps the best known modern example is The Gaia Hypothesis from English chemist James Lovelock and developed with American microbiologist Lynn Margulis. Although not an adherent of the Gaia Hypothesis, I too want a future on Earth that does incorporate strong elements of biocentrism and biophilia combined with Human Rights...more along the lines of Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Sir Julian Huxley, Richard Dawkins, Sir David Attenborough and others. I also want a future for humanity and Earth life in space...along the lines advocated by J. D. Bernal, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Nikolai Kardashev, Werner Von Braun, Robert H. Goddard, Gerard K. O'Neil, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Freeman Dyson, K. Eric Drexler, Marshall T. Savage and many more. Despite other differences of opinion, I still think Robert Zubrin has a point regarding the human colonisation of Mars and the rest of the Solar System.
As a species, I believe that a freethinking democracy that embraces critical thinking and science is our best chance for the future. People should be taught to think for themselves, and this requires scientific literacy. We need to encourage science if we are to face the challenges ahead. I hope my Exponentialist correction of Malthusian population theory contributes to such a future, and allows us to humanely face Malthusian realities such as limits to growth as outlined earlier. I have no need for religion but I disagree with the Communist repression of religious beliefs, and favour religious tolerance (as per Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and interfaith dialogue encouraged through the study of comparative religion that will at least provide people with a basic understanding of the main religious and pagan world views on offer as well as the secular and ethical world views of atheists, rationalists, secular Humanists and so on. However, I do not agree with the privileged status of religions in society. So, for example, I favour a revision of charity laws to exclude prayer as a sufficient criterion to gain tax exempt status and I disagree with government funding for Faith Based Schools as this runs counter to the meme of separation of church and state (the state should not fund the promotion of any religion).
Empires always involve war, but sometimes they bring relative peace. The Roman Empire gave us Pax Romana. The Mongol Empire gave us Pax Mongolica. More recently, the British Empire gave us Pax Britannica and the British Century (the 19th Century). The empire in denial called the USA (Fergusson, 2003) gave us Pax Americana and the American Century (the 20th Century), won the Cold War and is now recognised as the world's only superpower. But can it last? Perhaps nostalgically, Scottish historian Niall Ferguson urges the USA to learn from the example of the British Empire (Fergusson, 2003), but other potential superpowers are emerging - China, India, the European Union, Brazil and a resurgent Russia. The United Kingdom, however, is positioned nicely (at least, to survive) as a close ally of the USA, head of the loose "confederation" known as the Commonwealth of Nations, and a member of the European Union.
Whether or not the USA will remain a superpower, and whether or not potential superpowers will join the exclusive superpower club, will I believe be determined in large part by national attitudes to critical thinking and science. This requires individual participation and government encouragement. Religious or political ideologies that suppress or pervert freethinking and science will ultimately drag down their civilizations.
Malthusian memes were so influential that it was possible for two rival memeplexes - Natural Theology and Natural Selection - to share common ground and embrace Malthusian arguments at the same time (Coutts, 2004)!
Communism rejected Malthusian memes and has now largely failed as a political and social memeplex. Catholics and Cornucopians continue to oppose Malthusian and Neo-Malthusian memes such as family planning, overpopulation, demographic transition, and Limits to Growth, but they will inevitably be proven wrong as continued population growth on a finite planet is physically impossible. Due to the power of "exponential growth", this will happen much sooner than many expect. Even Malthus optimistically underestimated the power of the exponential to overrun Earth's resource base!
Despite Malthus' deep religious convictions, Malthusian memes continue to inspire modern family planning (including contraception) which now act as an additional, humane and effective check on population increase as well as the often less humane population control.
Malthus continues to be relevant and influential today, even in futuristic fields such as nanotechnology. Barring a Technological Singularity it is clear that Malthusian limits to growth apply to human population growth here on Earth, even if we colonise space. Given a Technological Singularity, a Transhumanist future awaits...perhaps followed soon after by a post human future.
You can also read through the articles available from my Famous Exponentialists page for more on the influence of Malthusian memes. For more on actual viral replication see Viral Replication - An Exponentialist View.
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Malthusian Memes uses links to the following articles (amongst others) on Wikipedia:
Alfred Russel Wallace
End of Poverty
Essay of the Principle of Population (Malthus)
Jeffrey d. Sachs
K. Eric Drexler
Limits to Growth
Malthusian Growth Model
Modern Evolutionary Synthesis
One-Child Policy (China)
Paul R. Ehrlich
Pierre Francois Verhulst
Religious Views on Birth Control
Reserve Army of Labour
Viruses of the Mind
William Pitt the Younger
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