Sunday, September 16, 2007

Thomas Malthus

From time to time I'm accused of being a combination of Mao, Polpot and Hitler lusting after a malthusian die off. Well this culture is doing a better job than I or anyelse ever could to kill off the planet and the people living on it and frankly it doesnt need my help. The fact I spend all my time working towards ensuring the survival of as many people as possible though alternative agriculture is often ignored when overconsumption is mentioned. So it was a relief when I came across this article here which rebuts the arguments put forward by Malthus specifically that individual control of land will stop it from being destroyed. The article argues that communitys dependant on a certain place to survive will not willingly destroy their land base and it is instead the capitalist system which results in the greates destruction of land.

This however is an argument for community control not state run socialist control of land. I hold as much contempt for socialist governments attempting to wrest control of land and resources from the communitys living on them as I hold for capitalist companys and governments that try to steal land from those living upon it.

A brief extract from the article

What I'm trying to say here is that the vulgar error made by modern Malthusians is to assume that the human story hasn't in fact been about dealing with this problem of the carrying capacity, if you want to put it that way, of particular patches of land. There's a word for it. It's called stinting. Commoners have "use-rights" - say, to pasture animals, to take fodder, to gather firewood, to harvest fruits and berries and nuts - but only if you live there, and only certain amounts, depending on the ecological, historical knowledge of the local community about what would stretch it too far. Action informed by local knowledge, typically, is not going to cause ecocide. I'm not saying ecological destruction hasn't occurred in the human past - the deforestation of the coastal areas around the Mediterranean sea is a classic case, caused by centuries of Imperial Roman overfarming - but it tends to be by non-locals and elites. Let's call it the state. The major culprit in modern times is capitalist farming in private hands.

Despite this reality, the blame is laid at the door of the world's commoners. Take for example Garrett Hardin's famous 1968 essay, "The tragedy of the commons", published in the journal Science. This was an enormously influential text by a Texan zoologist, based on no sociological research whatsoever, and in profound ignorance of the actual history of commoning. Hardin asserted that all common resources (such as pasture, a favorite example) will inevitably end in ruin because of over-exploitation by selfish individuals. Hardin's fable was taken up by the gathering forces of neo-liberal reaction in the 1970s, and his essay became the "scientific" foundation of World Bank and IMF policies, viz. enclosure of commons and privatization of public property. The plausibility of Hardin's Malthusian claims doesn’t survive a moment's scrutiny. Ask yourself - was the disaster of the Dust Bowl a tragedy of the commons or of capitalist agriculture under private ownership?

But the historical facts are irrelevant. The case is an ideological one, and Hardin was holding up a mirror to modern homo economicus. The message is clear: we must never treat the earth as a "common treasury". We must be ruthless and greedy or else we will perish.

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