Updated 9 June, 2003
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
RUSSELL: This is tape number thirteen in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date is the 4th of August, 1983. The time is 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence. Okay, Professor Hardin, as you pointed out, there might be something that you did want to add to the tape, that either we missed in the previous interviews, or...
HARDIN: Well, I might mention two papers that have been important in my life, besides "The Tragedy of the Commons," which is the major one. But before that there were a couple of things, intrinsically not as important at all, but they played an important role in my life. The first one was--I don't know whether I talked to you about this or not--about "The Last Canute."
HARDIN: Didn't? Okay. I forget what I've talked about. "The Last Canute" was a paper that I wrote--I think it was in 1946. This was in reaction to a dewy-eyed paper of Van _______ Bush's, seeing the world of tomorrow. And he envisaged a thing which we still don't quite have, though almost have it--but he envisaged a researcher sitting at his desk, doing his library research, where he had a table and a television screen in front of him, and a printer. And anything that he wanted to know, he would type it out, and immediately it would come back from the library, and so on. And furthermore, this would be part of his library then, whatever he brought in to there; and then he could add things to it, which is then part of it. So he would build up his own library of pieces of other libraries, with his remarks, and so forth. Well, we're still not quite there, in spite of the hard disc with twenty megabytes capability, and so on.
This is a horrendous thing that Bush envisaged. But my reaction to it was that all he was proposing to do--not all he was proposing, but a major thing he was proposing to do--was to reduce the size of the records, the size of the books. But this still didn't alter the Malthusian character of the growth of libraries. It would delay it, but still, ultimately, you'd finally get absolutely jam-packed, no matter how small the thing. So, I wrote "The Last Canute," a sort of a satire on the whole problem. It's a fictional thing. I got it published in The Scientific Monthly, which was an organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science then. It existed for about fifty years, then passed out of existence, and it would take some odd-ball things like this. Well, this did a number of things for me. One thing, it made me friends in quarters where otherwise I wouldn't have been known--in library quarters. Many librarians just loved it because of my analysis of their problem. They were feeling badgered by the academic departments, saying, "We've got to have this book; we have to have this book; have to have that book," and so on.
See, because what I proposed in this was that we really need a method of death, as well as a method of birth--a method of getting books out of libraries. And until we had that, we were headed for trouble. And some librarians sort of liked that. Actually, shortly after that was published, Don Davidson came to the campus as it's first professional librarian, and he was looking forward with some trepidation to meeting me, because he knew I was here on this campus. And he thought, "Boy, that guy's going to cause me trouble." And then he got here and he discovered I was on the Library Committee.
But he found that I'm like many idealists--I talk one way and act another. I was a great supporter of his plans to enlarge the library, and Lord knows it needed support. Davidson found when he got here, to his horror, that Kitty Ball--Katherine Ball, but she was called Kitty and she had a bookplate that showed a kitty playing with a ball of yarn--that Kitty Ball, who was a legacy--she was a daughter of an early president of the old state college, and she had no training whatever--and the previous year, she had been given--the library had been allotted--five-hundred dollars for the purchase of new books. She had turned half of it back because there weren't that many new books that needed to be bought! I mean, two-hundred and fifty dollars in 1946--even at the lower price of books--that was nothing. And so Davidson was stuck with that for another year, see, because, of course, once you've cut a budget, why then they leave it cut. Well, he managed to get special allotments, and so on, and, as Chairman of the Library Committee, I helped him on that.
But, as I say, that made me a lot of friends among librarians,
in spite of the fact that some of them didn't like it. But they
knew about it. And it was just reprinted just last year; it's been
reprinted several times. It also was influential in getting me the
first offer to write a book. W. H. Freeman and Company had just
started up--well, it started about 1948, I guess--and the three
editors for the biology series were George Beadle, Whitacre at Stanford--Beadle
was at that time, I guess, at Cal Tech, and Ralph Emerson at Berkeley.
Emerson didn't know me, but the other two did know me, and when
Freeman said, "We want an elementary biology book as part of
our series," they both recommended me highly. When Freeman
came through town, he had just a short time and I met him down at
the railroad station. We sat on a bench there and talked about this.
He was between trains. At that time, we had enough trains so that
you could be between them, which we don't now, unless you want to
sleep out all night under the Moreton Bay fig, as some people do.
But he was between trains, and he said he valued the advice of his
editors, but he wondered, had I ever done any writing, other than
purely professional writing? Well, I said I'd send him something
that was a little bit to one side. So I sent him "The Last
Canute," and he liked that very much, because it was written
in an entirely different way from the professional thing, and that
sort of capped the thing, and I got the contract, wrote the book,
and so on. So that played a part....
HARDIN: Yes, because it gave him an idea that I could handle words in a situation where you had a chance to, which in the ordinary professional biology paper, you don't have much of a chance. Well, that was one. Another paper, written--dear me, I can't remember exactly when, but it was about the same time, maybe a couple of years later--two or three years later, also published in Scientific Monthly, was called "The Meaninglessness of Protoplasm." I said earlier that I was very much influenced by some of the general semanticists and by--oh, this fellow, I can't remember his name now--I'll think of it after a while--a fellow who actually worked for an insurance company. He wrote some very insightful things into the meaning of languages, and this influenced me so much that I decided that somebody should say something about protoplasm.
Well, this paper, it was a very peculiar thing, in this sense: it was, I think, a good paper and, in a sense, needed--though just barely needed--because what had happened was this. The word "protoplasm" was coined in the nineteenth century and it meant, "the living stuff of a cell." As time went on, since it was a noun, it came to carry too many connotations, as though there were something there. In fact, people wrote about analyzing the chemical composition of protoplasm, and it was apparent, after the work of Hopkins came to the fore, beginning about 1908, 1910, and so on, if somebody had read that, he'd see, well, this doesn't really fit in with the concept of protoplasm at all. In fact, Hopkins himself made some snide remarks about protoplasm as a term. When the magazine, the journal Protoplasm, was first published in Germany, I think, in the twenties, there was some joking around Hopkins laboratory at Cambridge, would the boss even allow this in the building? But he did.
Well, so among the people who were close to the forefront of biochemical research, it was recognized "protoplasm" was a bad term, but they just ignored it for the most part. Unfortunately, it went into the biology textbooks and it became one of the most dogmatic sort of things. It was so beautifully suited to multiple choice examinations. The intellectual content was almost nil, but you could sure ask questions about it. And there was an American named Heilbin who wrote a book called Protoplasm and trained a whole generation of scientists to look into protoplasm. I think it was a devastating influence for his students. I don't think any of them ever amounted to anything. One or two escaped from his influence, but most of them just came to naught.
So I felt this was really a very dangerous term, so I wrote this essay of mine on the meaninglessness of this term. And it had sort of a mixed reception. The people who were really in the forefront of research said, "Sure, everybody knows that." "But," I said, "why didn't anybody say it?" "Oh, we're too busy." You know. So that was their reaction. Sure, I was right, but they wouldn't have even bothered to say it. On the other hand, those who weren't in the forefront of research were often quite indignant at my iconoclastic activities. This was a terrible thing to do. I mean, it was a lovely term--so beautifully suited to examinations--and I attack it. Well, I think that was published in 1948. At any rate, this was just about toward the end of the reign of protoplasm, because once molecular biology really started blooming--1952 or '53, with the work of Watson and Crick--then, quite obviously, there was no place in all this, no place you could point and say, "There's protoplasm." It just was really meaningless, and I think it's disappeared even from the elementary textbooks now.
So I was sort of gratuitously giving the coup de grace to this term, for which I never got any particular thanks, except that, again, like the library article, it made me a lot of friends here and there around the world. People I respected were so glad that I had written it. For instance, Katherine Esau, who came with Cheadle when he came to the campus, she used this in her classes. And she has one of the most subtle minds in microscopic biology. She thought that's absolutely right, you know, so that was good. I had a great respect for Miss Esau. So those are just two of my ideas. As I say, they're minor things--not as important as the other--but it's curious. You write all these papers and most of them just sort of disappear without a trace. It's the nature of the world, you know. And then a few people remember.
RUSSELL: Is there a novel in you someplace?
HARDIN: I don't think so. I'll tell you what. Actually, I enjoyed
writing fictional chapters of Exploring New Ethics for Survival,
but that's really a coward's novel, that is, in the sense that writing
science fiction--you know, science fiction is not good novel work.
It's something easy. The character development is not good, and
so on. No, I don't think I could write a novel because I think to
be a good novelist you really have to have such a respect for your
material that you want to present it in all of it's ambiguity. You
don't want to rough off these edges and make the character crystal-clear.
You want to show this ambiguity. And I don't like to do that. I'm
always looking for a way to simplify, a way to get the essential
meaning, and then throw the rest to one side.Well, you know, there's
a name for that--what do you call it? You know, black and white
sort of a novel. I can't think of it. At any rate, you know, that's
not good novel writing. And so I don't think I could do it.
HARDIN: It's not good. But I have immense respect for people who
can, though I don't have much experience there, because I don't
read many novels. Mostly the ones I read are ones that have been
accepted as good novels for a long time; and I'm just unwilling
to read all the novels that come out, or even a tenth or a hundredth
of the novels that come out, because most of them, I know I'll be
dissatisfied with. The thing that I see in most novels, I'm sorry
to say, my reaction to them is, "Now, why did he say that?
What's he trying to prove? What is eating him? What is eating the
author?" You see, because I'm always keenly aware of his trying
to solve his psychological problems with this novel. Very seldom
do I find some writing that I think, "No, he's talking about
the people and not himself." Actually, one of the novelists
I enjoy most is Dorothy L. Sayers. I think she's a real novelist.
She happens to have used what we call mystery stories, but a thing
like The Nine Tailors, that's a wonderful development of character.
RUSSELL: Yes, she's quite good. Well, I did prepare some questions. I thought maybe a series of questions off the last quarterly meeting, as far as Environmental Fund is concerned. And not to get involved in anything that would be controversial, but how did they accept the findings of the study?
HARDIN: Well, it was interesting. I think it was worth doing, what I asked to have done. You see, I essentially pushed this, and pushed it off on to the executive director after consulting Ambassador Schmidt--who is sort of the stand-in for the donor--and getting his reluctant consent, because he had in mind getting some high-powered concern in New York. He had been trying to get us to do this for some time, and I felt this was not what we wanted. I mean these were people who are advisors to the biggest industry in the country--you know, public relations. And I thought, they can't deal with our little problem; they won't understand it. And I'd been fighting that off for years. So now I come to him and say, "I found somebody I think can do it." So that was difficult, but I did it.
At any rate, this meant the expenditure of about eight-thousand dollars of our money, but I think it was well spent, because he turned in a good report--Bob Basin--and it had a good effect on the board. Cordy May, the principal donor, complained that there was a lot of fluff in it; she'd seen this all before. And, of course, it's true. I mean the language of all these fund-raisers--there is a common dialect, and so on. It's a common wisdom that they have, but at least it did what I wanted. It got them to agree to two things: one, that we need more board members; two, that we need a fund-director. And so, just a day or two ago, I believe, in the eastern papers, an ad appeared soliciting a director of fund-raising for our concern. And we're getting out a publication that we intend to use as we approach people about being a director for the organization. Now the general feeling was that.... Well, Basin's recommendation was that we should have a total of fifteen directors right away, and work toward thirty. Well, the board felt they wanted to look to nine. But, that will be an improvement. If we get nine, then some of those may insist we need some more. We'll see. So I think that was good. So we'll just have to see.
RUSSELL: What about your contributions to the Fund? What role do you think you'll be playing in the years to come?
HARDIN: Probably less, for various reasons. And I'll be frank with you here. For one thing--and I believe I mentioned this before--I regard the name of the organization as unfortunate: the Environmental Fund. It should have "population" in it. I tried to get the name changed and I failed. My feeling is that this is a terrible handicap. It's like asking somebody to go into the prize fight ring with one hand tied behind his back. It's just a waste of fifty per cent of our resources. You have to start off by apologizing and explaining, and that's a bad way to start when you're trying to get support--apologizing and explaining. So, I just don't see myself giving a lot of effort to it for that reason.
Then, there's another reason that's more basic and very hard to explain, but I think the problem that we're dealing with is far more difficult than most of the rest of the board members realize. I mean, it may be that it's impossible at this stage. Maybe we're trying to do something absurd, that simply can't be done: to get the country to accept the idea of population limitation. It isn't merely that all the current propaganda in the newspapers works the other way--you know, more is better, et cetera, et cetera--but that there's a good reason for this, and that is that the whole ethos of our society is built so firmly on individualism, following John Locke. This is so deeply ingrained in everything we do, whereas, in my opinion, population problems cannot be solved on this highly individualistic basis.
So, what we're really dependent upon is a genuine revolution--a revolution as great as the one Locke's brought about, only in a different direction. I see much more hope for countries not saddled with Locke's ideas: China, Singapore, and so on. I think they may indeed get control of their population problem. And we don't. We may be worse off than China in fifty years. And maybe the only thing that can move us is the vision of what's happened elsewhere, and the realization that maybe we do have to pay the price, giving up some of the individual freedoms, much of what goes under the heading of "rights," which does not exist in China, and so forth and so on. So, this is so basic that it may be that we just can't do what it is that we want to do.
Confidentially, one of the reasons I would like to see more board members on: as soon as there are a few more, I'm going to resign. I don't want to resign and leave the board, in any sense, deficient. That may sound egotistic, but I don't think it is. I think I do have somewhat more to contribute to our sort of almost day-to-day operations now than most of them. And there are only five of us to begin with, and one of them is sort of the silent partner; that leaves only four. No, there just aren't many. And when they get a few more, I think I'll resign, partly to free my own mind of the unconscious censor that creeps in when you have friends with whom you're trying to work, but with whom you realize you have very basic differences. You see, these are really deep basic differences, and I think my mind will be freer if I'm not tied to this organization, which has near-term goals that I think are not achievable near-term.
RUSSELL: If you were to take the Fund and write an epitaph for it, or--let's hope it doesn't die and it's able to continue on--from your perspective now, what would you say it's hallmarks have been, as an organization?
HARDIN: The principal residue that it has left has been that it has stopped some nonsensical things. I think it has been quite influential in diminishing the stature of the PL-480 program in the eyes of lawmakers, sending food to foreign countries. I think it had a real influence. This has never been cut out, this sort of aid, and U.S. Aid, and so on, but in real dollars, it has diminished steadily over the last ten years. In other words, the lawmakers are just sort of letting it die on the vine. It's very hard to stop any agency. The simplest thing to do is just keep cutting it's appropriations, and that's what's happening.
RUSSELL: Let it wither on the vine...
HARDIN: Yes, that's right. And I think the Fund has been as responsible as any other organization in doing this.
RUSSELL: Do you see--if they did turn around--that they could play a more active role if they were to change their name? And possibly--that would be the last question--if you could write an agenda for them, beyond the fact of changing the name and expand the board, is there any particular policy that they should advocate?
HARDIN: I'm afraid I really can't answer that at the present time. I need to do more thinking about it.See, I haven't worked at it in that way because, feeling there was no chance of this taking place, I haven't.... See, if I start thinking about something, it takes hold of me and I think about it, literally, day and night. I wake up in the night with ideas, and so on. And I don't want to do that with this, see, since I don't regard it as offering much promise of action.I'd rather just have other things occupy my mind.
RUSSELL: That'll go off in the letter of resignation.
HARDIN: Well, if and when the letter of resignation comes--which
may be in a couple of years--this will be a purely formal, rather
meaningless document, you know. I certainly don't want to stir up
a fuss, because there's no reason for it. There's no scandal. There's
no malfeasance, or anything of that sort. It's just sort of, I hope,
a friendly parting of the ways. I have other things that I feel
I'd better devote the remaining years of my life to, you see.
HARDIN: Well, you know, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions did try to write a new constitution once. Of course, nobody was paying any attention to them. No, there's no use writing a constitution unless people are going to pay attention. I never read it. It may have been a very good document. I've no idea. I never looked at it. Okay. If I were given, you might say, the license--they weren't given a license--if I were given a license to do that, there are a number of people that I would want to assemble to deal with this.
And the one above all others would be a person who's known to very few people in this country, or indeed, in the world--William Ophuls--whose mother, by the way, lives in Santa Barbara. He is a very unusual person--a real late bloomer. He got his Ph.D. in political science, I think, at age thirty-nine, just when there were no jobs for anybody. What a time to be getting out. He sent me a copy of his thesis. Ordinarily, I don't read theses for fun. He was at Yale. You know, a big, fat thesis. And I thought, "This is really terrific." And I think I was influential in helping him get this published, you know, properly. It resulted in a book, which was published by Freeman and Company. And there have been a number of statements I've seen--I mean, people recognize that he does have a remarkable mind.
But, well, how'd he happen to be such a late bloomer? After getting through his bachelor's degree--I don't know in any detail the story--but he entered the Marines. He was in the Marines, I guess, out in the South Pacific, and presently ended up on R__________'s staff in Japan, and was with him for several years, during which time he married a Japanese. And he became convinced that the environmental situation was absolutely central to our problems.
RUSSELL: I'll be darned.
HARDIN: Most unusual. And I got acquainted with him as a result of this thesis that he wrote. He visited here a time or two. We had him give a seminar. He did get one academic appointment, filling in somebody else's sabbatical--I think it was the University of Illinois; I'm not sure--and decided that was all. He couldn't stand the academic life. Just terrible. And so, to the best of my knowledge, he's now traveling around the world with his wife. They do have children. I don't know. I take it that he has some independent means. His mother, I know, married two wealthy husbands in succession, so between one or the other.... Maybe she was wealthy to begin with. I don't know. But I think he does have independent means; and he has an independent mind; and he's a late bloomer; and he can't get the job to which his talents entitle him. See, he shouldn't be taken in as an assistant professor. He should be given a full professor, but, he doesn't have enough of a reputation to get that, you see.
So, here's a guy with no.... but everything I read of his, it just seems to me, extremely profound. And he has influenced me on this point about the importance of this individualism and the role it plays in our life, and how this is a major impediment to progress of our part of the world. It may be a roadblock we can't get around. The pictures that he paints of the world are not rosy, believe me, but they convinced me, at any rate. If I had any say--which I do not--on the MacArthur Fellowships, I would sure like to see him be given a MacArthur Fellowship. It seems to me he's just exactly the kind that should be given it--a genuinely independent scholar. And he may not need the money, but the recognition would help.
RUSSELL: Anything else that comes to mind?
HARDIN: Well, Herman Daly, economist at Louisiana State--he'd be
another one. He's a very kind, gentle, essentially religiously oriented
person. Very few people have the keen mind, like Ophuls, but Daly's
good. That's all I can think of offhand, but I think if I were given
the license, I think I could assemble six people that could do a
good job. And I'm afraid that most of them would--I'm sure that
most of them--would not be people with great reputations, but I
think people who have very keen insights, big minds.
HARDIN: Well, the change that I think almost any biologist would like to see would be in--I guess this is the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I cannot think of a falser statement that can be made. No biologist can agree to that. I'd reword it: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that no two persons are created equal." And then go on from there.
Now, one can easily justify this, as many have, and say, "Well,
it doesn't mean that they're biologically equal; it means they're
equal in the eyes of the law." Well, if that's what you mean,
say it. Say not that they are equal, but that we are going to hold
them equal in the eyes of the law. And that I can go along with,
and justification can be made for it. But you do nothing but cause
trouble when you use a statement that is, on the face of it, false
and then constantly say, "Well, I didn't really mean that."
I mean, that's like saying, "Well, our name is the Environmental
Fund, but we don't really mean it." Don't start out that way.
Start out on the right foot, not the wrong foot.
HARDIN: Yes, but, once you start out with the fact that all people are unequal, but that there are certain operational advantages to treating them as if they were equal, then that acknowledges that treating them in a way that conflicts with reality is going to create problems. But now that you have acknowledged this, you're alert to the problems, and you'll try to solve the problems. Whereas if you don't acknowledge it, you'll just sweep everything under the rug, so to speak. I just think that's a terrible way to begin.
RUSSELL: As far as organizing the body politic in the area that would facilitate change, would you rid the influence of, let's say, an industry from decision-making?
HARDIN: No. You're always going to have power groups. I don't see any final decision here. By the time you've removed power from one group, you find that it slithers off and ends up in somebody else's pocket, and so on. No, I would rather work with whatever existing power groups there are, and by education in the ordinary sense--propaganda and so forth and so on--seek to tame them, to restrain their greed, and so forth and so on. And, I think, as a matter of fact, we've done a very good job of that in this country.
When you think of the amount of good things that big industries
support--think of the support they give to public television, and
so on--they cannot prove that they get back goodwill equal in dollar
value to the amount they put in. But, they're willing to do it,
and it's more all the time. And the very existence of philanthropy
is, you know, almost an American peculiarity. No other country in
the world has philanthropy on such a level. What, 1982? The amount
of money that went into philanthropy was sixty-billion dollars.
If this were an industry, it would be the fifth largest industry
in the country. This is incredible. No place else in the world.
And that was an increase of eleven percent over the year before,
here in times that are hard times. Everything is supposed to be
going downhill, and the philanthropy increases eleven per cent.
Faster than the rate of inflation. This is an incredible thing.
HARDIN: Well, yes, that's right. In other words, seek to influence the channeling of this, and that isn't easy either. You have to work at it all the time. Now a lot of that goes for projects that I think are terrible, but that's the meaning of freedom. You have to be free to make mistakes. Even philanthropists have to be free to make mistakes, and boy, they do. The thing you do is criticize them, get in, and try to persuade them to do something else.
RUSSELL: Looking at enlargements: we talked about big bodies and the example that we used, I think, was a hundred and fifty, would be the optimum size. What role do you think, let's say, within this optimum size of a hundred and fifty--any organization; we're talking about a social organization here--should the family play? And how do you view the role of the family, in that it's deteriorating so much in our society?
HARDIN: Whooee, that is a real tough one, because, as so many anthropologists have pointed out, the family in every society is an important economic unit. And they've raised the question, once the economic basis of the family disappears, can the family survive? And this is the thing that we're, in a sense, embarked on a great experiment in this country, because we're removing the economic basis. For one thing, we have laws against nepotism; so you can't get a job for your cousin in the concern. Not only laws, but our sentiment is against nepotism. For another, all of the things that enable a child in getting an education to transcend the economic limitations of his parents mean that he is not so dependent on them. He gets rich scholarships, and so forth, and if he has ability, and so on. All of these things. And all of the welfare things--so many different welfare functions, and so on, have taken over the functions of the family. The education is certainly almost completely out of the family now, and so on.
All of these things are leaving the family in a very tenuous basis, and coupled with that, and I think equally dangerous, is the mobility of the population. I think if a family stayed in one place, one house, for all of it's life, even with all these other influences, I think it would be a stronger thing. But part of the strength of a family, I think, is tied to physical artifacts: to a house, a chair, a view from the window, and so forth and so on. All this, it's home, and it's a very important part. And, for most people, this disappears and also, the grandparents.
Our children were extremely fortunate in that they knew all four of their grandparents and had frequent contact with them. This is rare in these days. Two of them lived here in town, and two lived two- hundred miles away, and they visited the ones- two or three-hundred miles away three or four times a year. So these were real presences in their lives. And as far as our house in concerned, we've lived in this house for over thirty years, so it was the only house that they knew during most of their life. We did move once before that they remembered--but only once. And I think this is important--to stay in one place.
I notice that, in recent years, the amount of moving around that's a matter of record in business concerns is much less because many.... Well, two things. One is that many of the men are now refusing to take the bait, "If you'll go to Dubuque, we have an office there we want you to head up; this will be an advance." Then he goes to Dubuque, and two years later they say, " We want you in Des Moines." Two years later, they'll say, "We want you in Louisville." So he just travels from one place to another to get advanced. Many of the men are refusing to rise to that bait now, saying, "I won't do it; I'll keep my lower salary and lower prospects." Then the other thing that's tending to do this, too, is the woman working, too, because now you have to find jobs for both of them. So there's less moving around from city to city. So this is a slight trend in the other way.
Put another way, I think this may continue, partly.... Well, at the moment, things don't look very bad this way, but if and when energy becomes much more expensive, the energy to move, transportation, becomes more expensive and so that increases the cost of moving someplace else. So that'll tend to, I think, make people stop in one place. And, as you know, in China, nobody can move to another city without the approval of the central government, which means nobody can move. You know, we have a hard time believing that. I mean, not only can't they visit, they can't move any place else. Very difficult. See, but that's what you have to do in a poor society, because a move is an expensive thing.
RUSSELL: As this bubble--the baby boom from World War II--moves on through, and society, for that brief period, is older, with a larger elderly population, what effect do you think this is going to have on politics and also on maybe a partial solution for population control? Do you see it as an asset?
HARDIN: For the present, I would say, on the whole, I think probably an asset for a while, until it becomes too extreme. This is hard to foresee, because, of course, in general, it is true that older people are more conservative--almost no matter what your definition--more conservative than the young. But I think at the present time, we could take a little of that. I think we've been a little too.... Because we have been an unusually young society for quite a while now, and I think maybe excessively so. So for a while, I think it would be an improvement. Ultimately, of course, I can see that it could be very bad.
The thing that worries me is that the association of older people, which are now becoming more powerful--the support of Claude Pepper and others, and so on; now he's a real power in Congress because he represents these people, and there are going to be more like him--well, this then becomes a vested interest like so many others, which will be a bad one. For example, I've forgotten now exactly what, but I had something that I'd written for some other purpose, and I sent a copy of it to the editor of Modern Maturity, which is the Journal of the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP. I said, "This is not in the form of an article, but would you be interested in my working it up into one?" They sent it back; they weren't interested. This was pointing out--actually, what I'd done was point out some of the dangers of just the sort we're talking about. I thought this is a thing that ought to be part of their literature--think about this before it's too late, but, no, all they're doing, they're acting about like an organ for a union.
They're beating their drum: give us more, give us more. I don't
like that. I'd like to see the older people represent something
in the way of experience and wisdom and objectivity, saying, "Yes,
sure, we have certain things we want," but trying to balance
one thing against another. And, as I say, I didn't make a real attempt,
but I thought I'd see if I struck a sympathetic note in the editor.
But it didn't, so I didn't pursue it. Maybe some day I'll come back
to it. I haven't thrown it out; I've kept it.
HARDIN: Oh, the Oedipus complex is not very important in America. You know, this is largely a central European thing. It turns out, the psychiatrists say, that what Freud thought was a great central human characteristic was really Vienna in 1880.
RUSSELL: I thought maybe we could move on here a little bit. Rereading your Prometheus Ethics last night, I know we basically talked about competition and triage--I think we covered those quite well. But I was wondering if you'd have anything to say in reference to death, which was one of the three in that lecture--series of lectures, I guess it would be?
HARDIN: Well, I am very much encouraged by the advance that many elements in society have made in the last fifteen years in the attitude toward death. There are quite a few organizations dealing with this now, and they're discovering that people can talk about it without getting uptight. Not all people, but many people. And many more people are signing living wills, and so on. And I think eventually, we'll see some modification of the laws. At the present time, the living will is not so much a legal document as a legal hope. You hope people pay attention to it, but they're not required to. But I think eventually there will be a real legal basis for it. No, I feel very encouraged by the attitude toward that, as far as that end of life is concerned. I'm very discouraged at the other end. This business of spending a hundred, a hundred and fifty thousand, two hundred thousand dollars to miraculously save this two pound, two ounce, premature baby--this, I think, is an abomination.
RUSSELL: It's going to have brain damage, and the parents are saddled with...
HARDIN: Oh, gosh. And the parents are saddled with this. It's just terrible. And yet, nobody wants to say in public: for one thing, you think, oh, here the parent who is the parent of that particular child, it'll hurt their feelings if I say it. And I'm afraid anybody gets into this is going to have to be willing to be thought an absolute S.O.B. by the few people in that particular situation. And you can't blame them. You shouldn't feel resentful if they feel that way about you, because, of course, having gone that route, then their whole ego is involved in it and they cannot admit that they made a mistake in being a party to the continuation of this life. But I think from a social point of view, I think they have. And it would never happen if they had to pay the bill themselves. This is another example of a grave danger of the commons. They can dip into the commons and pay the bill, so, of course, they do it.
RUSSELL: They continue it?
HARDIN: Yes. There'd be very few families in the country, if told, "Now we can save this child; it'll cost two hundred and fifty thousand dollars--or, we can wash it up, and you can set about getting pregnant again." There are very few who'd say--you know, even ones who have a million or two-million dollars wouldn't do it, and the others it would be impossible. "I don't have two hundred and fifty thousand dollars!" You know, I'd say, "Well, let's take our losses and go on."
RUSSELL: It's so plain the way you spell it out there--and, you know, as I've said before, I agree with it--but the idea of bio-ethics and ethics, that to me, there doesn't seem to be any--there should not be any difference between the two. And yet, there is this...
HARDIN: Well, it's sort of a code name. But the moment you say,
"bio-ethics," I mean, if a person says, "I'm a specialist
in bio-ethics," he means he's willing to allow biological facts
to influence his judgment. Whereas the guy who resents that says,
"Oh, ethics is sort of an eternal discipline; it's far older
than biology; it's principles are preeminent and come first; and
biology must adapt," and so forth and so on. And so it is useful
as a code name, to indicate where you stand on these.
HARDIN: Yes, I think so. In other words, let's deal with this rationally; not on the basis of sacred documents. But let's look at it with an open mind.
RUSSELL: Yes. It seems to me very hard that they can't see, as you point out here, the number of eggs that are actually, in essence, killed. The selective morality of okaying the rhythm system, but not... I mean, even if they want to go to a higher one, they know what the person is thinking of. Nothing you want to say about that, or is it...?
HARDIN: Well, the trouble is, it's like all things. You have people with vested interests who get into it, and, so--just as in other areas of life--it's sort of the political side becomes quite important. And there are a lot of people who have majored in philosophy--taking virtually no other courses--have a certain way of approaching these. And they don't want to change, and they don't want their licenses taken away from them, and they don't want unlicensed people, like biologists, entering this field and upsetting things.
For example, the Hastings Institute on the Hudson. Dan Callihan is the head of this, and he's done a good job creating an institute, getting funds for it; it grows; they have many symposiums, and so forth and so on. But, mostly, in my view, they just spin their wheels. I was invited to appear at one of the symposia--paid my way, and a nice honorarium, and so on, done properly in those terms. When I got there, Joe Fletcher--my friend, Joe Fletcher--was there, a person I have a tremendous admiration for. He's actually listed as some sort of an advisor, or, you know, honorary position on it, but he seldom goes. He'd come down just because I was there, and he said, "This is the last one I'm going to come to." He said, "I've heard this all before; I've heard it so many times." Really not open minds at all. All the use they see of bio-ethics is, well, they sort of cherish it because it looks like it presents some new insoluble problems. They cherish insoluble problems. They cherish the wording of problems that makes them insoluble. It's an attitude of mind that prevents most of the people who take part in the Hastings Institute things from ever accomplishing anything.
Unfortunately, since this is about the only institute of it's sort in the country, it has quite a bit of prestige; and lawmakers and so on call upon it for learned counsel. And Dan Callihan is--I've known him for many years; I've known him from back in the abortion days--and I recognized then that he was a tortured soul. He's a Roman Catholic. Whether he's still a Roman Catholic, I don't know, but I think at one time he was training for the priesthood--did not go on to that. But he was wrestling with this abortion issue, and, for a Roman Catholic who'd been trained in a Jesuit institution, he did a very good job of trying to be open-minded. And he eventually arrived at a position that abortion could, under some circumstances, be permissible. But under such tortured, difficult circumstances that.... You know, he just doesn't want to enjoy it. He doesn't want to feel he's doing the right thing. He's doing this because he's forced into it, but there's something really wrong with it.
RUSSELL: He's wearing a hair shirt.
HARDIN: He's wearing a hair shirt, and he'll never get away from that. I can hardly imagine, except in the vaguest way, what it must be, to be a devout Roman Catholic from an early day. And even if you later get away from it, even if you leave the Church, you still don't get away from it. It's still....
RUSSELL: You're scarred.
HARDIN: You're scarred. And he certainly is. I like him, but he does not make for clarity.
RUSSELL: Okay. There's nothing else in that book that--I found it fascinating, you know, the idea of good versus evil, you know, life and death and all that. Cooperation versus competition. That's a struggle, too, isn't it? We compete in other things, yet we...
HARDIN: Oh, yes. And, of course, now more your generation than mine, but for a long time, as a result, basically, of operations of the teacher's college at Columbia University, competition has been so bad-mouthed and this extends all through the elementary education. The choice of all the stories and so on. They are so different from the stories in McGuffey's Reader that I have a great deal of sympathy with some of these red-neck organizations that want to get rid of all this education, put McGuffie's readers back in. Their position is not without merit. Now that's a mild thing to say, but there is some merit in it. You know, because I think we brainwash the kids so much against competition that, even though they act competitively, they're unwilling to see it or to admit it.
RUSSELL: Ashamed of it; hide from it. Well, okay. Let's move on. I came across some--going through the last section, your '80-'81 papers--and I thought you might want to say something about Barry Commoner. Whether or not you want to, I thought I'd give you a chance since he evaded you on so many occasions. Would you want to wrestle with any of his ideas here?
HARDIN: I'd be willing to wrestle with any particular idea, if you have one particular one in mind.
RUSSELL: Looking upon his concepts as far as ecology is concerned and his idea of--I guess you would view him somewhat as a technocrat, a person that would view that society would be able to pull itself up by it's own bootstraps, and technology will save us. So, therefore, all we have to do is take our garbage and recycle it, and that type of thing. Would that be your major conflict with his way of thinking?
HARDIN: Yes, but I think he arrives at that, not because he's basically a technocrat, as because he is concerned primarily with human rights, with human freedom--you know, extreme individualist. You know, this is part of the thing. So then he takes the position on the technology angle that he thinks supports that best; whereas, if he doesn't take that, then he has to admit it's possible to be overpopulated--it is possible that we're overpopulated, and, if that is so, then WHO decides who is to be allowed to have children? You see? And this is just unacceptable. So long before he gets to that question, he just says, "Well, technology will solve it all, provided we get rid of the rascals in business." You know, that's his solution, I'm afraid.
RUSSELL: He doesn't like Ma Bell, or anything large in that way.
HARDIN: I have no idea. Nothing large--yes, that's right.
RUSSELL: Seems to want to destroy it. I just thought.... You know, I was reading down through it, and I thought, well, I'd give Professor Hardin at least a chance to say something about it. The other thing is, I thought this might be, as we end this tape and then continue on over, it would give you an idea of what I'd like to do for our concluding tape. It would be a series of questions looking into the future.
HARDIN: That's an interesting idea.
RUSSELL: And I'm going to come off as, so to speak, off the wall with some of these things. You know, the concepts and ideas. And since you are a person that has dealt with books and the academic world all your life, I thought if you could mention some books in any field that you would have liked to have written.
HARDIN: I'd have to think about that for a while. I'm sure there are a lot that I would be proud to have written. It's just offhand I can't.... Oh, dear.
RUSSELL: Well, I'll ask that one again next week. The next one is just about along the same lines, and that would be books that you think have harmed--you know, the books and ideas that have harmed the balance between man and his environment.
HARDIN: Well, I have a very simple one that I've had some unfavorable things to say of a time or two. This is not a book exactly, though it's related to many books, and that is Bambi--the movie Bambi. This, I think, had a devastating effect, you see, because my view is that all the wild species are pretty well populated up to the carrying capacity of the environment, and that many of the individuals have to be killed, either by man or by predators or by disease or by starvation; and that when a man comes along and shoots one, he is by no means doing the cruelest thing that can be done. It's probably less cruel than some of the other deaths.
And yet Bambi so created the idea that all deaths are bad; wolves are bad; hunters are bad. No conception of the fact that the principal enemy of life is life itself--just too damn much of it. It keeps multiplying, and that's the principal enemy. Also, and this is another thing that comes out of biology, in areas where you can give some meaning to value--some objective meaning to value--it turns out the least valuable stages are the earliest stages. I mean, for one thing, the gamete's first, then the zygote, then the embryo, and then finally, the newborn. And if death is to come about, the earlier the better. But you see, this whole mystique of women and children first--meaning, to be rescued first--you know, you always give your greatest effort to see to it that children don't die--is actually, under tough conditions, the wrong decision entirely. And the same way for the wild species.It's better to kill the young than to kill the old, if it's a matter of getting overpopulated. But, you see, we indoctrinate children the other way around.
RUSSELL: And they are indoctrinated.
HARDIN: Yes, you see. That's Bambi. There was a book, I guess,
of that name. You know, there's a book. Then there's a movie. Yes,
this has been, I think, a very bad influence. Certainly for game
management it has, and I think it has in a deeper way for many other
things that are related to it: the value of life as a function of
the age of the individual, and so on.
HARDIN: Well, I would say a similar thing if it had--I don't know
that it's had much effect--but Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull. I think
those twenty-five publishers who rejected the book were right. The
twenty-sixth, that accepted it, made a fortune, but he was wrong.
I think it's a terrible book. I think books that encourage unrealism--these
are the ones I dislike most. You know, unrealistic view of the world.
Yet, I recognize that a certain amount of unrealism--well, it's
a support; it's a crutch for many people. And, provided they can't
influence policy, I would be perfectly willing for them to have
this crutch. The trouble is that you get a large population on crutches
and they determine the policy, and the policy is set on crutches,
HARDIN: Well, I think the Bible should be read selectively. And I must say there are parts of the Old Testament that I like far better than the New. Of course, my favorite is Ecclesiastes, particularly Chapter 3. I mean, this could have been written by the most modern of biologists. I mean, it's absolutely right, you know. But most people, when they speak of the Bible, they're thinking of the gentle Jesus, and so forth. You know, the sparrow that does not fall unnoticed, and so forth. And go out and get the lamb that has strayed, leaving the other ones to fend for themselves, because they haven't strayed, and so on. All this counter-selective care; you know, giving the most care to the ones that have the least chance of surviving, and so on. We need some of that because, of course, you have this inherent difficulty, that a family is an area in which you have to give the most care to those least capable of taking care of themselves: the small children. So this is an attitude has to permeate the family.
And in an earlier day, when people had more of a bifurcation--one attitude for the family, the rest for everybody else--I don't think this did any harm. But now that we've said, well, "the whole human family"--we use that term--then this is a terrible general policy to have, that you always invest in failure. See, this doesn't work in business. I mean, a businessman who invested in his failures would soon be broke. A businessman invests in his successes and drops the failures. And when you say, "the whole human species," all four billion of them are one great family, and we'll invest in our failures preferentially--and that's a recipe for disaster, and that's a recipe that people are getting out of the New Testament. Rightly or wrongly.
RUSSELL: As far as the university is concerned, as an element that has grown with us and consumed so much of our natural resources, do you think it's modeled people the way you would want to see them modeled?
HARDIN: Gosh, the universities are so complex. You know, most of the things that go on at universities aren't very worthwhile, but that's true of almost everything else. But what is worthwhile is so important and has been such a nursery of ability and new ideas, and so on, I guess the real question is, will that continue? And there, as a sort of an old man, I have my doubts. But, many other people do, too.
For example, in science, the thing that scientists recognize as
a sort of a standing danger now, is the fact that science is so
expensive that it can no longer be done, you might say, except by
consent. In other words, you have to write up an application for
a grant and get approved by somebody else, and so on, which means
that truly independent minds are going to have a hard time getting
the subsidy they need. But this is the nature of science. If you
need fifty-thousand dollars worth of apparatus, very few people
can manage that by themselves. Whereas, in Darwin's day, his apparatus,
I suppose his expenses per year, once he got his microscope, which
was early, I don't suppose he spent fifty dollars a year.
HARDIN: I like that pattern, yes. Well, I do what I can.
RUSSELL: And yet, when we look at what we're turning out at the university today, we are turning out specialists. Maybe biologists that don't read literature, and...