Updated 9 June, 2003
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
RUSSELL: Although we have spent the better part of a tape on the Environmental Fund, I think there are still a number of items that should be mentioned. The first item would be The Other Side.
HARDIN: Well, The Other Side was originated by Justin Blackwelder, and it showed clearly the imprint of his mind, particularly, you know, say, the first five years, because he simply ran it. Now he got some help. He had some young women in the office who wrote some of these, and so on, but he rewrote them and the thing really was his. It was, I'm not sure whether initially he made any commitment about how often he'd bring it out, but I think there was sort of the feeling in the office it ought to be quarterly. But sometimes six or nine months would go by without one of them being brought out. This was part of his whole personality, that he was a perfectionist, as I said, he was an absolute marvel at composing a twenty-word sentence that was devastating to the opposition.
But he would work like a gemologist on that, polishing, cutting, and so forth and so on. Work for days on a single sentence, and, of course, that's no way to meet a deadline. And it got to be rather bad after awhile because the members of the board would say, "When are we going to see another of The Other Side?" "Another T.O.S.," as we called it, because a lot of time would go by without anything at all. But, I think it was certainly amusing to the board and the people that we sent it to.
After Justin was deposed, we felt we wanted to continue with it, but we wanted it to be brought out regularly. And we had some problems there, as one always does. The young woman who had been working with him and who continued on with me was, well, in a way, almost as bad as he was. She couldn't make a deadline either, and this was a constant source of trouble. I didn't fire her during the time I was there, but I let her know, in no uncertain terms, that this just wouldn't do. She'd have to make the deadlines or else. And so when my successor came on board, she recognized the handwriting on the wall, and I think she was not fired, she resigned.
RUSSELL: She took the other way out.
HARDIN: Yes. That's right. But, it was much appreciated by the friends of the Fund, because it was a witty thing, and it was material you didn't see elsewhere, and so on. Nicely presented.
RUSSELL: One of the points that I guess saw light of day first within The Other Side, and that was the "Declaration on Population and Food," which apparently appeared in The Wall Street Journal, I think, and various other newspapers.
HARDIN: That's right.
RUSSELL: Could you go into the background of...?
HARDIN: Yes. This is a reaction to a group known as Bread for the
World. This was an ad-hoc group. If you looked over the roster,
you saw many familiar names. You know, these people move around
from one organization.... By the way, this was formed just for one
purpose--to put pressure on Congress to make gifts of grain to other
parts of the world. It was really a by-product, I think, of U.S.
Aid, as almost everything in this field was if you traced it down--and
we went to the trouble sometimes of tracing it down. It was a detective
thing, trying to follow this thread, but if there was big money
there--if you followed it--pretty soon it came back to the door
of U.S. Aid, through various hidden doors. I suspect this was a
U.S. Aid thing. See, all government agencies are forbidden to lobby
Congress. But U.S. Aid was a master at setting up phony organizations,
you know, and sneaking the money out and, in a sense, they're lobbying
Congress to do their work.
HARDIN: Undercover. Oh, it was something. Justin Blackwelder was very good at this. For one thing, he is by nature a bit paranoid, and that's what you need, you know, for a detective or anybody like that. He'd been around Washington for a long time. He knew a lot of the ropes, knew a lot of the people, and he could smell corruption at ten miles, you know. And particularly, he had an excellent thing about U.S. Aid. They were his personal enemy. I'm sure they regarded him as a principal thorn in their side. Because, you see, all these foreign aid bills of various sorts coming before Congress.... I saw a remark someplace--maybe I mentioned this before--somebody said that the trouble is that foreign aid has no constituency. And this is absolutely false because it has the entire U.S. Aid establishment, as well as a tremendous philanthropic establishment that wants to do good around the world.
RUSSELL: United States agriculture, too.
HARDIN: And the United States agriculture in the case of food, you see. Oh, yes. So then you have the farming thing. So there's a tremendous constituency for using the taxpayers' money to spend abroad. We were about the only constituency on the other side, and time after time, there would be somebody from the Environmental Fund who'd show up at a hearing to make testimony and practically the only one doing any testimony. And during Blackwelder's time there, he really had, eventually, an effect on government things, far out of proportion to his or to our numbers, simply because he kept after these things, and finally, I think it had an influence on Congress. It's hard to tell, but certainly the budget for foreign aid, that is, the philanthropic part of foreign aid as distinguished from military--that's something else--in real dollar terms went down continuously, which, as polls showed, that's what the public wanted. But we were the only people who were active as a constituency in Congress to call for this. So I think we had an effect, and much of it is due to Blackwelder.
RUSSELL: Were you involved in the writing of the Declaration?
HARDIN: Yes, the whole board was. This was one of those round-robin things, went around and around and around and around. By the time it got through, it would be impossible to say who was responsible for which sentence. So it represented a consensus of about eight of us, at that time, on the board, I guess.
RUSSELL: That really made a splash, though, I mean as far as the public was concerned.
HARDIN: It got us quite a bit of support. We certainly got a lot of favorable letters, many of them from quite eminent people. So it made us think we were on the right track.
RUSSELL: Okay. We can go from there.... I noticed in reading the literature that one of the, can I say, strong dissenters from your lifeboat article that came out was Mark Hatfield, in reference to congressional comments were concerned. Do you want to throw a barb his way, as far as...?
HARDIN: No. You know, I find my mind has sort of erased that, and I don't remember any of the details or anything. You know as much as I do now about that.
RUSSELL: Well, he just took a strong
stand against the concept, and took a moralist's point of view.
HARDIN: No, it's a large educational matter, because there are so many people--I mean, many people understand this, but they don't particularly want to say anything about it, because all they'll do is pull down publicly on themselves and won't convince anybody. And people just shy away from it. But actually, in everyday life, most people see this and they act as if they're seeing it. It's just that their rhetoric doesn't fit their actions.
RUSSELL: Well, moving along. We talked briefly about the concept of foreign aid and how that was a very, very big stumbling block, the father of most of the problems, as far as the Environmental Fund was concerned. How would you today--if you were to look at our foreign aid program today, our foreign policy--how would you make it, or rework it, so to speak, as to where it would comply with the, let's say, the by-laws of the Environmental Fund, which would make it at least substantial? Should we give any foreign aid at all, or should this be something that we should more or less erase from our vocabulary?
HARDIN: Well, I think the basic point to make here is that every unit that claims sovereignty has to accept responsibility. In other words, if the unit says we want to run our own affairs, then say: that's fine, then you have to be responsible if they go wrong. And if your people are starving to death, it's because the unit that's claimed sovereignty is at fault, and you've got to find some way--because, no matter how poor the country, at the right level of population, the people there can live high on the hog. You know, for instance, India has seven hundred million people now. For centuries, they had one-hundred million people. If they had one-hundred million people now, they would be very prosperous indeed. You see. So that's really the problem.
So our position would be that national sovereignty implies national responsibility. Now, if you want to go beyond that, then you have to say, well, in the real world, we sometimes have to trim our sails and there might be times when we want to intervene. Notice I didn't say "help," but "intervene," from the outside in the hope that we could help. But the first thing to do is to keep our language clean and always say intervene, and never help. Because "help" remains to be proved. Intervention is provable. So we intervene. We hope we can help.
History shows that most interventions don't help. I mean, most well-meant interventions don't help, and that should make us very chary of doing very much. Only in exceptional circumstances should we intervene. Now possibly, one of those times--though I think it's debatable, but, for the sake of argument--was in India in 1965 and '66, when they had serious crop failures both years. And we did send ten million metric tons of grain to India each year, thus, in effect, keeping alive fifty million Indians who otherwise would have died. I think that's a fair historical summary. But, when President Johnson, at the end of '66, privately gave notice to the rulers of India there would be no similar gift in 1967, I think he was behaving quite properly. In other words, this can't go on year after year.
You've got to pull yourselves up by your boot straps. and I think that was the right thing to do. In other words, when we do intervene in what's called a crisis, insist that a genuine crisis only last a short time. Otherwise, it becomes chronic, and we're not in the business of chronic help, because that creates perpetual beggary. So, a certain amount of trimming of the sails, perhaps, should be done, but not much and always do so very reluctantly and in the full knowledge that you may be doing more harm than good.
RUSSELL: How about within the United
States, if you could prescribe some method of forcing us to live
within our own means, like the excess as far as agriculture is concerned?
So this, then, becomes a matter of farm economics, a problem we have never solved. And each president comes in thinking he's going to solve it and, if anything, he does worse than his predecessor. And that's true of the present president. The whole P.I.K. program is contrary to every principle he stated during the time that he was running for president, but he got pushed into a corner and there he is, doing exactly the same sort of thing his predecessors did. But nobody knows the answer, you might say, within the American economic system because you cannot let the farmers go down the drain. They go down the drain and we all starve to death. And nobody knows the answer to that.
RUSSELL: I just thought I'd bring that up because I thought that was a concept that was causing quite a bit of problems. If we could move into a series of things, now I'd like to give you an opportunity to talk about. It seems like they were all coalescing around 1973-'74 time period. The first one would be the Bucharest meeting. We've talked briefly about that.Is there anything additional you'd want to say in reference to it's impinging upon the Environmental Fund at this time?
HARDIN: No, I can't think of anything.
RUSSELL: The next one would be--we've
already established the fact that better population data figures
and how that would be a great help and what work you did in that
area--the next one would be the World Food Conference in Rome.
RUSSELL: In reference to expansion, and this would be expansion of the Environmental Fund, I'll mention a couple of names that were in the minutes that you brought up. Two individuals you thought might be very good, would be Phillip Handler; that's one individual, if you wanted to mention about him, and then the other one is Jerry Mander. I think you already went over something about him.
HARDIN: I don't remember. Well, Phillip Handler would certainly have been a great person to have on our board, both because of his knowledge, and also his prestige and his position. However, that's moot now since he died a couple of years ago. And whether he would have--if we'd approached him--whether he would have accepted, I doubt it, because of his very official position in the science establishment, that I think he wouldn't do this. Possibly after he had retired, had he retired, we might have gotten him. But I think that's why we didn't approach him, realized this. You cannot approach a person in a very official position like this. You know, you can't go up to the President of the United States, "How about being on our board?"
RUSSELL: He might.
HARDIN: Well, his judgment is poor enough.
RUSSELL: Jerry Mander. We would have to have a larger, more tolerant board than ours to take him on, because he's a real oddball. He's a real good idea man; he'd be good to have for that reason. But, you know, sort of a boomerang. You don't know where's he going to land. He's certainly got a lot of ideas. He'd have kept the meetings going.
HARDIN: Oh, yes.
RUSSELL: One thing that appeared at this
time, I guess, is a whole concept... I'm going to get into your
appearance before Congress, too, during this time period. But, the
development of hybrid grains. The showing of Taiwan as being somewhat
of a model that we could have these large populations, et cetera,
et cetera. Was that fact or fiction? Did our agricultural expertise
You see, the industrial thing--if you want a steel mill, you just have to spend an awful lot of money to get it. Whereas, if you want to improve a crop, you have to spend time, but not much money. So, you have to be patient. You can't push it too fast. And the rule of thumb that agriculturalists use is that the time from the point where you're pretty sure that you could improve a certain crop spectacularly to the time when this is fully operational, meaning the farmers are using that system, is roughly twenty years. And there's almost no way to shorten it. All the testing that has to be done, the various stages of multiplication, and so forth and so on. The building up of the infra-structure.
Now, during that time, you're not spending much money--not by industrial
standards--but you are spending a lot of time. But, see, agriculture--one
of the great things here was the foundation of the agricultural
experiment stations back in the middle of the last century. Those
have just.... Those are the most valuable thing the United States
government ever did. It's really American agriculture that has done
this more than any other forum, but it just took time to do it.
And it's many men, being paid small salaries, having small budgets,
but being left alone--left to work for twenty years on something,
and finally, you know, the chickens start coming home. And they're
still coming home. It's absolutely great.
Now, the thing that has made so much difference around the world has been, particularly, wheat and, to a lesser extent, corn. And the wheat, you see, is essentially a temperate zone thing. At any rate, it's not a humid zone crop. And so wheat can be grown in many places that are hot and dry, even if they're in the tropics. But the important thing is it has to be hot and dry, but with water at the right time. But not too much water. So, you have wheat grown with great success in the Punjab in India, a very hot place, but it's no hotter than Kansas, for heaven's sakes. But, the point is, it's dry in the Punjab and they have water they can bring up when they want it. So that works fine. But, when we try to grow things, say, for use in Brazil, all our experience counts for nothing because the problems are different. The insects are worse; the fungi are worse; everything is different. And that work remains to be done yet.
RUSSELL: How would you feel toward the exporting of that technological know-how?
HARDIN: Well, I belong to the true church, here. The true church of science, which is absolutely open borders on ideas.For many reasons. Item one: you can't close the borders; the information would get through no matter what you do. Item two: if you're open about it, you get cooperation from the other people. And you'll give them some information; they will sooner or later improve on it and pass you back the improved version, so you gain. And so, instead of being a zero sum gain, it's a plus sum gain. You both gain. So this is, you might say, just orthodox religion of science, and I believe in it. I think that's right. So, since you can't keep it secret, you might as well make the most of being open and get all the good will you can out of it. Now, at the same time, just as a friendly gesture, I would certainly caution them to do something else. In other words, if they're just going to grow more food and not do anything else, they'll ruin their country because they'll keep a larger population living, and then they'll trample it to death, so to speak. But I'll give them that as another piece of information--hope they'll use it. If they don't, I'll feel rather bad about it, but I think it's futile to say, "I won't let you have this improved kind of wheat because you'll have too many children." I'll say, "Look, let me throw in a few condoms with the wheat."
RUSSELL: Or place it in the fertilizer or something. Okay. Maybe we could move on now to your testimony before Congress. Now, I was very interested. Here you are, a scientist, and obviously, this is a hostile group that you're going before--how would you rate our government structure, as far as someone coming before them with ideas? I mean, here we have scientific principles. And is it laying pearls before swine, or do you think that there is a possibility of educating these people?
HARDIN: Oh, there certainly is a possibility. What impresses me, and everybody else, is the immense complexity of it. It's like a saying that came up recently, in quite a different context. You know, it's like teaching an elephant to tap dance. It can be done, but it's difficult. It's just so big. Because when you appear before one of these committees of Congress, you get there, the typical thing is, you've looked at the roster and there are twelve people on this subcommittee.
You get there, and there are only five people up in front of you at the desk. And one of them, understandably, is the chairman. He's there, by gosh. The others who are there, you can't predict. And as you're testifying, they come and they go. Well, an aide will come and whisper in somebody's ear, and then he goes out. And then maybe somebody else comes in--you don't know who this is, or maybe somebody else tells you. And then a buzzer sounds and a light goes on, they say "Sorry, role call. We'll reconvene at one-thirty." Because they're on call if there has to be a vote on the floor.
The thing that has impressed me about every one of the hearings I've been at has been the intelligence of the men on the other side. Really a very intelligent bunch, operating, it seems to me, under major difficulties. You know, being pulled so many different ways; so many demands on them. All these aides coming and whispering in their ear, other things, and so on; then they have to go out. Somehow they have to get this together, and it's a wonder to me they do as well as they do. But they are intelligent, and some of them ask very good questions.
RUSSELL: You found them to be up to the...?
HARDIN: They're intellectually up to the problem. It's the problem of how do you govern two hundred and thirty million people. You have to do it through this sort of a cascade thing, and what takes place at one level in the cascade still has to go through several other levels, at which point it can be diluted, diverted, who knows what? It's quite clear that many of the congressmen regard this as their own seminar system--that they can educate themselves this way. The better ones do, and they do it very consciously. And they become quite good in these fields, quite expert, as a result of picking people's brains. And, of course, you see, the spade work is done for them by their own staffs; and they have a lot of bright young people on their staffs who are ambitious and who want to do a good job. They want the boss to do a good job.They will try to find people who will run a good seminar.
RUSSELL: Now you've witnessed it from two sides: one, as an outsider coming into Washington, D.C., and having to give testimony; and the second being the president, or chairman of the board, for the Environmental Fund, and being there for a whole year. Did you see a difference, from the standpoint of...?
And, depending on what your position is, you know that some of them, you're just dead.What you want to see happen is just dead, if it goes before this subcommittee.But if you can get it before another, you may get it through. And see, if you can get it to the floor of the House, you're far ahead. There's some of them that it'll just be buried, and you'll never get it through. So that, of course, is what the Washingtonian knows, and when you're trying to get a bill through, there's a great deal of soul-searching at this early stage--which subcommittee should we try to get this before?
RUSSELL: Now, the subcommittee you were dealing with, primarily, was.... Was it Dingley?
HARDIN: Dingell. And I've forgotten, there was a subcommittee of fisheries or something. Yes.
RUSSELL: Right. Strange logic.
HARDIN: Oh, sometimes there are very strange things before whom you appear, but that's the way the game is played.
RUSSELL: Where do you think it belongs?
HARDIN: Oh, dear. Well, I would say someplace that amounts to resources. Of course, fisheries is a resource, but it's just one small resource. You know, the organization of Congress doesn't take place according to what you'd call scientific lines. And I think resources and population should be, say, some large group, and then that should be divided into subsections, and so on. But there's no use considering resources without considering population, and vice versa.So I'd say that would be the ideal name for a committee, if there were one--but there isn't.
RUSSELL: And a proper chairman for it.
HARDIN: Yes, find a chairman. That's right.
HARDIN: Okay, triage. There's no question but what the first time
I came across the term was in a book by the Paddocks, Famine 1975.
I asked Bill Paddock how did he happen to pick up the term. He said,
"Oh, I picked it up at a cocktail party." He said he was
talking about his ideas--that's his and Zeke's, his brother--ideas
about this, and one of the people there--I think he was in the Medical
Corps with the Army, or something--said, "Oh, you're talking
about triage." And Bill said, "What's that?" And
so the medical corpsman proceeded to give him a lecture on triage
as it was developed in the Medical Corps. And Bill realized that's
exactly what he was talking about, and what he wanted. And that's
how it entered.
HARDIN: Yes, well, they're just two ways of looking at the same thing. They're both taking account of the fact that you have limited resources. And then, the second question is, if you have limited resources, how should you dispose of them? And all agriculturalists have known since long before reading and writing was invented that the only rational way to dispose of them is to invest in the winners and throw the losers out the door. And this is what you do. Your good livestock you save; your poor livestock you have for supper. And the same way with the seed, and so on. See, you only have a limited number of acres to grow anything on. You only have a limited amount of time to gather the grain. And you're silly if you grow poor grain. You're silly if you grow poor livestock. So this is really thousands of years old, and wasn't even put into words or into a philosophy. One just knows it naturally.
Then, in the late eighteenth century, I guess it was, this term triage was introduced. I believe it was introduced into the sorting of coffee beans. I believe that was the first place this occurred. You see, now this is a commercial enterprise, you see, because these are commercial people who are sorting the coffee beans. And they spoke of dividing the things into three groups: the oversize, the right size, the undersize, and so on, you see. I think that's the way the word "triage" got in, and then it went from there into medicine. Under battle conditions, one of the surgeons under Napoleon introduced this system. I don't remember, I think he introduced the word "triage," too--if he didn't, somebody else did soon after. But he gave an explicit definition of this, and his point was that we have limited resources: we cannot save all the men--which ones shall we save? So he said, divide them into three groups. And so that was Napoleon's time. And then it just went directly into all of military medicine, and nobody questioned it. Nobody.
The interesting thing is, though, that in a survey of the military medical literature--I can't give a citation right now, but I can find it--I read this survey, and the interesting thing is that a number of people--and these were all, I think, Englishmen in this case--an English military man would say, "Oh, we never practice triage--that's terrible." And then he'd proceed to describe what they did, and it turns out what they did was exactly triage. But he was not going to use the word. So the word, from a very early day, has had unfortunate connotations. People just don't like it, even if they practice it. So many people are very dishonest.
Now, coming down to the present, I was appalled when I discovered in reading for the lectures I was giving at the University of Washington, Seattle, which eventually ended up in the book Promethean Ethics, I discovered a little paper in a philosophical journal in which the individual was explicitly coming out against triage on philosophical grounds because it isn't fair. So people should be chosen fairly, regardless of the consequences. So, I really should have written a short paper to send in to the journal so it wouldn't be lost, but I didn't. I just wrote it up in the book, and pointed out I worked out the mathematics of this and showed how, under all plausible situations, this lead to fewer people living than if you used triage.
So I said that's a curious defense that you consciously use the
system that sacrifices the most life. I wouldn't have believed that
anybody would have explicitly come out for that, but this philosopher--he
was up in Stanford at the time; I've forgotten his name--but I found
this incredible, that a person could have such a high regard for
what he calls fairness that he's willing to sacrifice lives so that
everybody has the same chance.
HARDIN: I certainly wouldn't want him as my physician.
RUSSELL: One other one I'll throw in here and maybe see what your response would be for this. That would be Public Law 480, which I guess was a major, major struggle...at that time.
HARDIN: Well, Public Law 480 was one that specified that the surplus grain could be used for preventing starvation around the world. This, when it was first proposed, looked as though it'd have a hard time getting through Congress. I don't know the history in detail, but probably, very early on, somebody recognized who the constituency was and they simply lined up the farm block, and then the shipping block, and it went right through, because, of course, they all benefit. Because they're not giving the grain, and the shippers are not giving the free transportation--they're being paid for this. And the more Public Law 480, the richer they get, the better they are. So this huge constituency. It really was never questioned in Congress--well, until the Environmental Fund came along and questioned it--but mostly not, because so many people were in favor of it. Of course, the American taxpayer paid for it, and, putting it in my terms, this is a matter of "commonizing" the cost. And, of course, this is a way to get all sorts of bad measures through--"commonize" the cost. It doesn't cost any one individual much, not enough for him to stop his work and go to Washington and pound on the table. But a few businesses, a few concerns, make huge profits, so they can afford to go to Washington and pound on the table, and do.
RUSSELL: The Cook Brothers.
HARDIN: The Cook Brothers in grains, yes, that's right. Sure. It's the whole establishment.
RUSSELL: The next thing would be the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization and their efforts to, I guess along these same lines, sponsoring programs... This definitely, I guess, established the Food Bank that they tried to...
HARDIN: Yes, that's right. This never got established. I don't know in detail about the F.A.O. I suspect that it's a multi-headed thing and probably some of the work that it does is very worthwhile. Certainly, it is the leading international statistics-gathering organization on this, and there's nobody else. Their statistics have limited accuracy, because they accept the figures that are given to them by national governments. But I don't know what else one can do. So some of their work has value. It's just it's also useful as a propaganda tool.
RUSSELL: Okay. I ran across an individual--and
I guess he was at the same time that everybody else was publishing
what you could call the right type of material--but R. Al Sassome
and the Handbook on Population.
RUSSELL: Sassome. Sassome? Handbook on Population.
HARDIN: Oh, boy. I draw a blank.
RUSSELL: Well, he was the one who apparently was against this concept of curbing population growth.
HARDIN: Oh, dear. Another one of those, huh?
RUSSELL: Yes. His idea was, you know, show me a reason why we should even curb population for the next century.
HARDIN: I see. Well, we got Julian Simon now blowing the same horn. No, I've forgotten about Sassome. There's some in every generation. Every decade has one of those.
RUSSELL: Okay. Again, as I say, I'm just throwing these things out. Dr. Watts and the Titanic effect?
HARDIN: Yes. Well, he's up at Davis. He's an extremely bright, capable person, the sort of one that is kind of on the fringe in the sense that some of his ideas are so.... Well, some of his ideas are so crazy they're good; but others are just plain crazy. But he's sure full of ideas and he's very good with figures, with mathematical analysis, and so on. But he veers widely from one enthusiasm to another and after a while you become a little bit leery of him. You're not real sure where he stands on all this. One of the things I think he doesn't understand--and this certainly comes out of the connections I had with him; there's some tendency, something going on, and he takes alarm, says, "This, if continued, will result in absolute disaster."
Now, in many cases, he's right. In other words, continue to extrapolate this curve, whatever it is, and it'll be a disaster. What he doesn't understand--maybe he does by now, but he didn't originally--was that, in public affairs, where so many people are involved and so many cross-currents are involved, it's very hard even for bad tendencies to continue. Of course, we all know it's hard for good tendencies to continue, but even bad tendencies have difficulty of continuing because something diverts them. And one time about two years ago, I heard him say in person--I also had letters from him--that in a very short time, a matter of a few months, he was going to pull up stakes, he and his family, and go to Australia. He regarded this part of the world as just utterly lost. There wasn't a chance. Well, he's still up at Davis. That's typical of him.
You know, I wouldn't be surprised what he even sold his house and
then bought it back again. Because he carries out one of these mathematical
analyses and carries the curve and says, "Well, that's it,
let's leave." So, you know, it raises a problem of, what about
Noah? You know, that's a difficult position to be in. Suppose you
read the tea leaves and you decide it's going to rain for forty
days and forty nights, but nobody else believes it. It takes an
awful lot of guts to build that ship, to withstand this. And he's
kind of a Noah, you see. Or, to put it another way, it may be that
for every one Noah who is proved right by history, there may be
a hundred who are made monkeys of by history that simply won't go
in straight lines. He's one of the Noahs that is, I think, often
wrong. But two or three years later after one of these enthusiasms,
and not a word from him--he doesn't say anything--I've never had
the nerve to challenge him with that, say "Hey, what happened
HARDIN: You'd have to ask my students. I don't know. Well, there's
the obvious thing, that since I was stirring things up a little,
the students always like somebody who's stirring things up. And,
of course, they follow a lot of false leaders for that reason, if
somebody stirs things up and it happens he's wrong. So they like
this, you know. They like the excitement of stirring things up.
Bearing in mind that beginning about 1968 I started taking more
and more time off from my teaching. Some place there, I don't know
just which year, about '68 or '69, I rewrote my contract, two quarters
a year, and then often took off another quarter. So I was only on
campus, between '68 and the time I retired in '78, it averaged out
that I was only on campus half of the time--one and a half quarters
a year--when you averaged it out, which means that whatever I did
with the students was a short-term thing. I tried to do a good job,
but it had to end when the term ended, so to speak, because I wasn't
going to be here now for six months, or nine months, sometimes a
year. This meant also--and this I regretted, this was a minus--was
that I had to give up the possibility of having graduate students.
I started out with.... See, first of all, I came into the University
when there were no graduate students. Then we started having graduate
students, and by the time our department could have graduate students,
I didn't want to have any because I was off in this field of ecology,
human ecology, and I said, "If I have graduate students, I'll
train them for a job that doesn't exist. I can't do that. That isn't
right." You see, because I'm making a living at it, so to speak,
but there isn't a regular niche yet. So I refused to accept Ph.D.
candidates during that period. Then, just about the time I would
have been willing to--say, about 1970, '72, when it's apparent there
was going to be a career like this--then I was no longer available.
You can't have graduate students if you're off the campus most of
the time. So that was a very definite minus of the whole thing.
I lost that really enjoyable opportunity. I don't know what the
students lost, but I know I lost something. But that was the price
I had to pay for being away from campus so much.
HARDIN: Well, I stopped teaching the general biology course, oh,
about 1965, or something of that sort, because I'd felt that after
about fifteen years of it, somebody else ought to do it. I liked
to teach it, but it was also a grind because, you know, over a thousand
students, and there were organizational problems. So, after that,
I was really teaching only one course and one seminar. And the course
was called Human Ecology, which I defined as any controversial human
problem that has a biological component. That permitted almost anything.
Okay, I had one seminar, which I restricted to fourteen students,
and the title of that--also carefully chosen--was Development of
Biological Ideas. That permitted anything. So these courses were
constantly changing, but I had no need to retitle them because the
titles didn't mean anything. They were just cover titles. So I did
just what I wanted to. Also, since they weren't part of any major
line of study in the department, nobody else depended on me. I could
teach anything I wanted to. It wouldn't matter. And people who took
them were just taking as a pure elective, really. Well, that isn't
quite true--it was specified at least as an alternative in various
other departments, and so on, but I was very free to do what I wanted
HARDIN: Well, if I had stuck to my knitting, I could have developed the course in human ecology to a unique course that I think could have had influence all across the country.Well, I didn't stick to my knitting because I wasn't here enough, and so on, and also, I was doing so much writing and lecturing, and so forth. I wasn't developing that course. But I cannibalized the course: material that I developed for lectures then presently appeared in papers or in books, and so on. So I cannibalized it that way. I didn't develop the course itself. I thought I was going to all along, and I kept careful notes, and so on. I have stacks of careful notes, which probably are more undecipherable every year.
I would like to have developed a course, complete with good examination questions, and so forth and so on, but I never did it. What you have to do to have an influence of that sort is to have a course, preferably to let it get rather big, have teaching assistants that you train under you, so that you have five-hundred-thousand students. And if you teach it two or three times a year, that means you deal with from five-hundred, say, to three-thousand students a year, and also the teaching assistants.
You do that for twenty years; you turn out a textbook; you automatically have a big market on your own campus, so the publishers are glad to publish it. And then, as your graduate students go on and go elsewhere, as they teach, then they start doing--you know, statistically speaking, a certain number of them do the same thing--and that's the way a course gets established in the curriculum. And if you have that long-term goal and stick to it, you can really have a tremendous influence on education at the college level. I mean, I'm assuming that your work is of quality, and so on. I didn't do it. I was doing too many other things, so here is one of those opportunities, I think, something I could have done but I didn't because I was doing something else.
RUSSELL: Maybe this would be a subject for a whole tape in itself, because it would be the genesis of, you know, your ideas in this one particular field, but just as kind of like a thumbnail sketch, what would it entail, your course in ecology, or ecology according to Professor Hardin? What do you think would be worthwhile along these lines?
HARDIN: I'm going to pass by that question because it's too large a question, and I'm also.... I haven't thought about it for quite a while. As I say, this material is in my drawers there, the notes and so forth, and the weakness of this whole idea was that I tried too much in the way of synthesis, and then this becomes a very personal thing. I ran into this, really, in connection with my textbook on biology, which you might say was an embryo--in part--an embryo of this course, but it was a general biology course. My textbook in biology, I think any objective person looking at it would say, "that synthesizes material from far more fields than any other textbook." It isn't just biology. I have history, literature, all sorts of things. Much of it, only in the problems, you see, or in a footnote or something.
One of the things I realized early: I didn't want to scare the instructors off because the instructor isn't capable of dealing with a widely ranging synthesis. It's just too much for him. He'll look bad. So I put it mostly in the problems, which became cherished by some of the instructors, but those who didn't like them could just ignore them completely, you see. They didn't have to do it, but there's a lot of wonderful material, I think, in those problems. I only know of one person who went through all of them, and this was a student here--he was never one of my students. He was a biology student, who asked would I be willing to talk over the problems, said he was going through the book. He'd never taken the course. He was, you know, a senior student, had no reason to take the course. I said sure. So over a period of a year, he worked every problem in the book and would come talk to me about it. It was just marvelous, you know. He was a very superior student, I might say. He went on to Berkeley, got a Ph.D. and so on.
But, the point was, it was just a lot of really good material in that, which I hid away there. But the problem of a textbook is that, although the student uses it, the teacher chooses it, and that's the problem. Because you can frighten the teacher if he thinks he isn't up to it. Then he won't use it; he'll use a worse book. A more extreme example of this sort: I've known several teachers who deliberately use one of the worst books in the field because they say it develops the student's critical sense. Of course, it also allows them to show off--show all the things that's wrong with the textbook. Well, you see, how can you write the worst book in the field in order to make money. That's a little hard. So the history of my textbook is sort of meteoric when it rose fairly high early, by the second or third year, and stayed at this middling height and never climbed any higher. It was for many years--for about fifteen years--it was about the second or third in the field. But it never got to be first, never. Others would come ahead of it and then change, and I would stay second or third. And finally, it went through four editions. It did well. And then, let me see, what the dates are on this, because this is what matters... The fourth edition was 1966. Well, 1968, I published The Tragedy of the Commons, and then I was taken over so much by the...