Rational Religion

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But, Malthus Was Probably Smarter


We will have to make some difficult choices, as a species, before too many more decades.


There are too many of us already.  As there grow to be more, we will rub up against each other in ways guaranteed to annoy. 


There is nothing new about this observation.  Thomas Malthus brought it to our attention 200-odd years ago.  The fact that he was perhaps too gloomy and his timetable therefore off by a few hundred years has only served to lull us into the conviction that he must have been wrong.


Until now, wars have been about greed and power and pride and religion and ethnicity.  In the future wars will be about living space. (All those other excuses will still be with us, but mainly as excuses.)


Of course, we could also - by doing what we are doing - simply so alter the planet that it can no longer support more than a few thousand of us at a time and that would take care of the problem more or less permanently.  Living space would still be dicey, but we would be so few and widely scattered that we wouldn't be likely to interact all that much.


Short of that self-initiated cataclysm, we will have to change our priorities and force some very difficult changes upon others.


Do you want a global forecast of what various societies' reproductive strategies are going to have to be?  Take a good look at Turn of the 21st Century China. 


Not particularly pretty, but probably unavoidable.  


There isn't enough food-producing real estate on the globe for more than a few thousand human beings to live as independently as the San. 


That's why they wound up living in a desert that nobody else wanted to live in.  When somebody (the Boers) did decide they wanted to live there -- or at least to own it -- the San's "rights" and "freedom" proved to be illusory.  (The Boers shot them, wholesale, just to get rid of them; much as the Westward-pressing American white settlers employed several strategies to get rid of the Indians who were in their way.)


Another instructive case is that of the Orangutan, one of the few primates that tends not to live in cooperative troops or "societies."  It is impossible to trace the evolution of the Orang's unsociability, but it is probable that -- in the natural course of primate diversity -- some ancestral apes tended to prefer not to associate closely even with members of their own family. 


Now, in order to get away with that, they had to find an environment which permitted them to make a living and protect themselves without constant cooperative behavior. 


The trees of a rather isolated tropical island jungle turn out to be an ideal place.  There is plenty of food hanging around, to be eaten without too much hard labor or difficulty, and there are few natural enemies who can climb as high or as well.   


Homo sapiens almost certainly did not follow the Orang's social formula on their evolutionary path to the Big Brain and the ultimate contemplation of "human rights."  


In order to be a successful hermit...or an entire collection of them...you have - most critically - to be left alone.  There is no record, or likelihood, that human beings have ever been able to leave each other alone.


In such a "state of nature" human rights are a recent and not universally-celebrated invention.  The definition of such rights, and the determination of their parameters, cannot be undertaken without taking into account the matrix of the society in which the subject human beings live.


Contrary to the way certain philosophers (See Rousseau, Nozick) would see it, people did not "give up" any body of rights in order to live in their society.  The society came first, and any rights any individuals might have evolved had to be teased out of their natal matrix..


The dominant cycle of history tells us that, over the centuries, more and more individuals have managed to claim stronger and stronger autonomy...within the societies which permitted such autonomy at all.


The reasons behind this slowly increasing "liberalization" of society are not at all clear, but they probably have to do with the necessarily megalomaniacal bent of the individual human intelligence; the simple survival value of each of us having to believe that she or he matters, and so should be taken into account.


From this, probably profoundly misled, conviction that each of us has that we are significant; within the society; within the species; within the Universe; in the Mind of God; springs the idea of human "rights" and freedoms.


If there ever was a critical "state of nature" it is within our own individual wetware.


There is a lot of societal evolution ahead before most of us can hope to be left as successfully alone as the San; or the Orangutan; achieved for a little historical while. 


The human ideal seems to be for all of us to be that free; to associate with others as we choose, or need to make a living; to live apart as much as we feel we need; above all, to not have our heads messed with by people who do not understand or care about us. 


There may no longer be enough room.  


It is certain that it won't happen without some better philosophers; and the general will to listen to them.