The Garrett Hardin Society

Updated 9 June, 2003

Garrett Hardin Oral History Project

Tape 5 - From the Lab to the Field of Ecology

RUSSELL: This is tape number five in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date is the 18th of May, 1983. The time is 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Hardin's residence. Well, Professor Hardin, I thought today, we could maybe title this one, "From the lab to the field of ecology." And I thought as a question, as a starter--as I was reading your book, I thought, as a scientist, you devoted most of your career, I guess, to the study of population problems and the rapid rate of its increase. I wonder if you could, briefly, as we start this off, more or less see how you think we're going today? Are we continuing on to the road of disaster, or do you see some type of hope? And then I thought maybe we could go back and begin your career, as far as ecology is really concerned.

HARDIN: Well, I wonder if I could tell about how I got into the subject of birth control.

RUSSELL: Okay. That's great.

HARDIN: Because this is another example of something I said earlier, that everything in my life that has been important has been unplanned. This is certainly an example. I was teaching the big general course for the general student in biology, which, by that time had about nine hundred students in it. Population was a major part. And this, of course, brought in birth control. About 1961 or '62, I happened to run across a reference to a book published, I believe, in 1959, Abortion in the United States, I think was the title. It was the report of a meeting, financed by the Planned Parenthood organization of America, in which they had a number of people speak about the problem of abortion, including one doctor who confessed that he had been a professional abortionist. Now, this was unusual in those days. He told his colleagues about his experiences. I think he had performed something like five thousand abortions, with the loss of only one life, which he felt was just a normal result of other things--not of his botching it. He'd had no legal trouble until the end of the series. Then, as the condition for probation, he had to swear off doing any more abortions.

This was a very illuminating book, because it showed the tremendous resistance to considering this subject rationally at that time. Most of his referrals came directly from doctors, but when he was on trial for abortion, not one of them would take the stand and say anything in his favor--these people whom he had serviced, so to speak--these doctors whose problems he had taken care of.

Well, the more I read the book and thought about it, the more it seemed to me that abortion should be regarded as a normal form of birth control.

Early in 1963, one of the campus living groups asked me to appear at an evening free-for-all discussion. I thought, well, this is a good time to try out the abortion idea, because it won't be officially sanctioned by the University. I can just try it out and see how it goes. I prepared very carefully and I got a lot of reaction. On the basis of that experience I decided that abortion was ready for a full-scale presentation. Then toward the end of the academic year I was asked by a campus-wide lecture committee to give a lecture in the fall of '63. I accepted, but I didn't tell them the subject of the lecture. I waited until about July before I wrote a second note and I said, "Oh, by the way, the subject of my lecture will be abortion, and arguments for the legalization of abortion." I was quite explicit. Then I waited for a reaction. Well, I didn't hear any, but I did hear, much later--because I made a point of trying to find out whether there was a reaction--I did hear much later that there had been much shaking of heads among the committee members. Should they back out and dis-invite me? They did not. Furthermore, not a word of criticism or suggestion came to me from the committee or from the administration. This, I thought, is the sign of a good university. Because they could--by just letting it be known that they had doubts--put pressure on me; but they didn't. No pressure at all.

I gave the lecture in the fall of '63, in October, I think. I have a theory that much of the trouble that people run into in universities, when dealing with controversial subjects, is because--perhaps unconsciously--they deliberately court trouble. I decided I was not looking for trouble, and the test of whether I was doing things right would be if I had no trouble at all. From animal behavior studies we know that it is very important in approaching wild animals that you make no sudden movements. Never take a wild animal by surprise. If you follow that procedure it is surprising how close you can get to wild animals. And the same thing is true for human beings.

I figured if I just gave this talk without anybody in the University officially knowing ahead of time what was going to be in it, the University would probably figure the safest thing to do would be to pretend nothing had ever happened. I didn't want that. So, though I habitually lectured without a prepared script (beyond a few scribbled notes), this time I decided I had to have a very carefully prepared script. Furthermore, I decided that I would not depart one iota from the prepared script; I would read every comma and semi-colon. What I was afraid of--and this comes back to my dramatic training--I was afraid of my essential nature: I'm a pretty fast reactor in public situations. If something happens that isn't expected, I almost instantly have a reaction to it--usually humorous. And I sometimes regret it later, because it hasn't been duly censored and polished. But I have an instant reaction.

I didn't want any such reaction, so I decided everything had to be cut and dried and dull as dishwater. So I read the lecture; every line and every word. It was the first time I'd ever done that. Moreover, I gave a copy of the script to the Public Relations Office a month and a half in advance, because I didn't want to surprise them. I wanted them to have plenty of time, so whatever reaction they made was considered--carefully considered. George Obern was head of the office then, and I will say this: "his office did a good job." I don't know what all they did, but they must have made the proper connections with the local press, because the News-Press printed more than a third of my lecture, which was quite unusual. They printed it without editorial comment of any sort.

That was a real watershed in my life, because my new life opened up, so to speak, the moment I finished the lecture. People were coming up to the platform--principally women, to make some remark about their own abortions. At the very first lecture one of the women said: "You know, you didn't touch on the most important reason for legalizing abortion, and that is, so that every child that is born will know in his bones that he's a wanted child." She went on to say, "I knew that I was a wanted child from the time I was very young, and it has given me immense psychological strength to meet the trials that came later in life. Many people don't know that, and they may have good reason to suspect they weren't wanted. This really erodes their confidence."

Such was the pattern of my education from that time on. Women told me the things I didn't know, and then that influenced the next lecture. Women wrote my lectures for me.

RUSSELL: Was this...the audience was University...?

HARDIN: It was in Campbell Hall. The nine-hundred seats were filled, and I was told there were another three hundred trying to get in. A lecturer can't ask for anything more.

RUSSELL: Did they know beforehand that this was going to be the topic?

HARDIN: Yes. Yes, it was duly publicized by posters all over the campus. It was an official part of a lecture series, I think.

RUSSELL: That must have taken you back when you walked in there and there's...

HARDIN: No, no. I'm egotistic, so that wouldn't take me back. What would take me back would be only having two people there. No, as I say, I gave this dull, read-the-manuscript lecture, which is not the way I like to do at all. But, I was glad I did, because I did not make a single wisecrack to be explained away later. I didn't affront anybody. Everything was carefully considered.

The next morning I got the first phone call of a long series: "Where can I get an abortion?" Well, I'd never been into the business of giving advice to people, helping them. A lot of sociologists start out as advice-givers. Not I. In reply to the woman, I said, "Well, I don't know, but let me see if I can find out," because I knew a lot of Planned Parenthood people. I took her phone number, and presently I found out a place I could recommend in Mexico, which I relayed to her.

Well, from then on, my life was changed. I'd be walking downtown and a woman I'd never seen before in my life would stop me and tell me about her abortion. These were "nice women," you understand; their respectability was part of the new picture. These communicating women were pillars of the community. No woman had ever communicated with me this way before because, presumably, I was one of the enemy. Now I was a friend, so they'd talk to me. They furnished me material and insights. Even my family was brought into the experience. Very commonly, when we would sit down to supper, the phone would ring and the kids would say, "Oh-oh! Somebody wants an abortion." Our children then ranged from about 14 to 21 years of age. For a long time, the inquiries amounted to one or two a day. Some women would come to my office on campus.

Before long I was plugged in to something comparable to the Underground Railway of pre-Civil War days: sort of an informal network of up-to-date information. Though I was almost certain of the names of some local doctors who performed abortions in their offices, I refused to make local referrals. I was sure that if I did, sooner or later, I would find myself talking to a police "plant" who would work through me to get an American doctor in trouble. And me, too. So I only recommended doctors in Mexico. Actually, the operation was illegal in Mexico, too, but the point is, there is nothing in the laws of any country that says that you cannot go to another country and perform an act that's illegal in your own. For example, an American could go to an Arab country and have four wives. Abortion seemed to me to fall into the same legal basket.

Foreign referrals raised another problem: how can you know if the foreign doctor is reliable and clean? The Los Angeles end of the abortion network included a wonderful Viennese woman who "vetted" the doctors on their own home ground. That didn't end the problems, because the Mexican doctors so certified would escalate their fees, and would sometimes be closed down by the Mexican police. So the network of advisors was kept busy. As part of the network, I would call up and say, "Where are we sending them now?" And they'd tell me where.

I think you can understand when I say that the friendships made in that network lasted from then on. People who are united under fire of battle are friends forever.

RUSSELL: Before moving on, could we just momentarily move back a step or two, and could you explain in a brief fashion--not repeat your whole lecture--but how you attacked the problem that evening?

HARDIN: In two ways. One way, from the point of view of, you might say, women's rights--that we have a vastly unfair system in which the man never becomes pregnant, and never faces this problem. The woman does. The men make the laws and the women suffer the consequences of the laws. So, I said, fairness demands that those who suffer the consequences are the ones we should hear from most. Then, I brought forward evidence that the women themselves were willing to have abortions if they could be safe. I also brought forth evidence which, at that time, you know, you had to argue about--was that an abortion was safe. This was one of the things that came out of the statistics presented in that 1959 publication. The evidence indicated that an early abortion was three times safer than a normal childbirth. Since 1959, the safety factor has risen to about fourteen to one.

Then I went on to argue that it was not in the interests of society to encourage the birth of unwanted children. If the woman doesn't want the baby, whether she's right or wrong (and she may be "wrong" in some sense), this woman is going to be a poor mother if she's bearing an unwanted child. Society cannot afford more unwanted children. If we were really hard up for population, one might argue that it is women's duty to raise the population to a higher level, even if that includes giving birth to unwanted children. But, said I, "Lord knows we're not hard up for population!"

RUSSELL: In reading your book, I was noticing in there that the subculture that you talked about within the human society--in the African tribe that you briefly alluded to--they're selling contraception in the market, etc., etc. I was wondering as I was reading that--as you were looking and doing your research, which, obviously, the research is very carefully done--would you like to cite any women that you were able to find that were maybe pioneers in trying to bring this to the forefront?

HARDIN: Oh, yes, there were a number. There was Alice Jenkins in England, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on a trip to Europe to look into abortion. Quite an old lady, and just as sweet as could be. She fought like a tiger for abortion when the very word was pornographic. She fought the way Margaret Sanger had, without effect in her own lifetime--most of her lifetime. She was so glad now to see something happen. What courage she must have had! She was fighting during the thirties and the forties, and being ostracized by "nice" people.

RUSSELL: How did she react to meeting you? Here's a man coming to her now, and here she'd been fighting all this time...

HARDIN: Oh, she was delighted, you know. I mean, now we're making some progress. She was very nice. Obviously, what I was doing required maybe one percent of the courage she had had. She wanted to see the thing advance, so she was pleased.

RUSSELL: How would you account for man's negligence in this area?

HARDIN: I think the key thing is the matter of the two sexual subcultures. It took me some time to see this. This insight makes the whole picture beautifully simple. And true, in my considered opinion.

I had read an account of the Rifs of North Africa, which midway in my crusade I dredged up from my subconscious.

Let me say that there is a woman, who still lives here in Santa Barbara--I'll not mention her by name--who went with her husband and their one child to Spain for the year, where they lived in Guernica. (By the way, Jane and I later visited Guernica, and got a feel for the situation.) While this couple was living in Guernica, the woman suddenly found that she was pregnant. Well, she was horrified, because she and her husband couldn't possibly afford another child. They very much loved the one they had, but they didn't want another. (Incidentally, this child has gone on to get a Ph.D. at Harvard and has married well.)

At this point, the pregnant woman thought: "Here I am in what everybody says is the most Catholic country in Europe. How can I possibly get an abortion?" She'd come from New York originally--she knew about abortion. But she thought, "Spain? I can't get an abortion here!" Nevertheless, she told her problem to her Guernican sister-in-law. The latter promptly replied: "Oh, don't fret--I'll give you a list tomorrow." And next morning, though Guernica is only a little town, the informant came up with a list of local abortionists that occupied a whole page.

Well, my friend said, "Let's find out something about them." So she went down the list, "Who's this? Who's this? And who is this?" When she found the one who performed abortions for the wife of the chief of police, she said "That's my man." So she had the abortion. That was all there was to it.

At this point in the story I asked: "Well, what did your husband think of it all?" To which she replied: "You don't think I told my husband, do you? He's much too immature."

At that point, a comic-strip light bulb suddenly lights up over my head: There are two subcultures in our culture. This woman is doing what she regards as proper and she isn't even talking to her husband about it. Not even talking. Later, I ran across a similar case in Italy--very much the same story, and the same sort of reaction. Again, the woman would not tell her husband about it. Again, I recalled the Rif business and thought, "Boy, that's it."

If we try to interpret society's reaction to abortion in the usual fashion, in terms of the great principles of Western morality, we end up with great untruth. These moral principles that are supposedly "great" are merely principles of the male subculture, made up out of the whole cloth by individuals who never get pregnant. Women, who can get pregnant, have been getting abortions since Hector was a pup, whether the men knew it or not.

RUSSELL: And the men thought they were in control.

HARDIN: They thought they were in control. All they controlled was the writing of books. Women had the abortions. Two sexes, two occupations, two different sets of biases. And almost never did the twain meet except in bed.... Until the past few decades.

RUSSELL: Playing the devil's advocate, here, because I agree with your position a hundred percent, but in there--and we don't want to go through the whole book--but there's one aspect that I thought was interesting: the Jesuit priest that you quote in there about how, if she was raped, then she could contest a little bit about that. If we could present, or you could more or less relate to the opposition's point of view--you know, like people that would be talking on a moralistic point--and maybe some of the incidents that you had to incur there. If you'd want to respond to that.

HARDIN: Well, this is all a good way back, and my memory is not very reliable. I tend to forget unpleasant things. But, I do have, curiously, sort of a warm memory of one event. This took place in Minnesota. I'm trying to think...this might have taken place at St. Catherine's College. Anyway, it was not far from Minneapolis. The town was identified ahead of time for me as a hotbed of Catholicism and Lutheranism. My informant said to me, "We don't know how your message is going to go down." I said, "Well, that should be interesting."

The public meeting was jammed. There was a young man--maybe thirty years old--sitting next to a priest. Now, I was informed--later I found out more about him--that this young man was not a Catholic himself, but a Lutheran. He and the priest were close buddies, particularly on this issue. And the priest was, so to speak, the brain trust of the firm; he would feed suggestions to the young man. The Lutheran was the mouthpiece, and he had a magnificent voice. Oh, gosh! I mean, the place just reverberated with that great voice of his. He was a natural born orator. I was fascinated as I listened to him. Oh, he gave me a hard time! He was just wonderful! I thought, "My gosh. I am seeing the Hitler of tomorrow." Under the "right" circumstances this man could lead throngs. I made a note of his name at the time--I've lost it since--because, I thought, you know, if he really rises to power, I want to be able to say "I knew him when."

There's much that is accidental in history. You know, things have to happen right. But I swear that he could have moved crowds as Hitler moved them.He was just magnificent. I cherished the experience. It was just great. What a challenge to a speaker: he was a worthy opponent.

And the priest was good, too. But, I finally got under the priest's skin when he talked too much. He would say something like, "Well, when this girl...." I said, "You mean this woman?" And then he'd say, "Well, now, when the girl...." I said, "You mean the woman?" After I had pulled this rhetorical trick about five times, I could feel the audience coming over to my side. They were getting the message, but the priest wasn't. He insisted on calling the subject a girl who got pregnant, a girl who had an abortion. And I insisted it was a woman who got pregnant and wanted an abortion.

The logical content of our argument didn't matter much. In public forums, you win on details like this, not on logic.

RUSSELL: Buckley. Have you heard Buckley's argument?

HARDIN: I don't remember what it is, no.

RUSSELL: His argument--and, I was trying to dredge up some of the things to discuss this issue, and I've heard him propose this several times. It is the argument that he views those people--the pro-lifers--as individuals that would be akin to the abolitionists at the time of slavery. You know, the sanctity of life, life actually existing. How would you respond to his arguments if he was here?

HARDIN: Well, does he also say that they're a bunch of kooks, the way the abolitionists were, or not? I'm curious.

RUSSELL: He forgets that part.

HARDIN: Actually, that wouldn't weaken his case at all, you know. He could say, well, these people are not ones you'd want to invite to dinner, but they're doing a useful thing. That was true of many of the abolitionists. John Brown was not a person you'd invite to dinner.

RUSSELL: No, no. Those eyes!

HARDIN: But you could say he served a useful purpose. Well, I'm not sure what Buckley would say about that. But the point here really hinges around a biological insight. This is a subtle point as far as the public is concerned, but to me, it's a very obvious point. The fact that so few people get it indicates how poor a job biologists have done in educating the public about the facts of life.

I have appeared several times before legislative committees that were considering abortion. Every time one of the legislators would ask: "When does life begin?" And I have said over and over, without any effect at all, "Life never begins." It never begins. Biologists think it began once about two-and-a-half-billion years ago, but it's never begun since then. (Biochemistry furnishes us a mass of evidence that shows how difficult a second beginning would be.) Life is merely handed down from one cell to another, that's all. So, don't ask when life begins. It never begins. What you want to ask is, "When do we want to call it a human life?" And all matters of definition are arbitrary. There is no way that you can get an expert to draw a sharp scientific line between human and non-human. You just have to decide what line to accept. We write one set of laws that applies to human lives and another set of laws that applies to a life you're not yet ready to call human. The decision is necessarily arbitrary.

This does not mean that all arbitrary decisions are equally good. In the present instance, the decision is justified by things that have nothing to do with biology. I've said something of this sort and never, in my recollection, has the argument had the slightest effect on my opponents. They appear to be deaf. Yet still we have doctors appearing before committees and solemnly discussing the question, "When does life begin?" It's utter nonsense. It never begins.

RUSSELL: Looking at it from the psychological standpoint...the effect, let's say, a third trimester would have on a nurse or a doctor, actually performing that.... Do you think something should be said as to maybe the laws being stricter as to maybe the first or second trimester...?

HARDIN: I think actually the decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 is a very good one. In effect, the Court said that what happens in the first trimester is no concern of the community whatsoever. For the second trimester--they said--perhaps states might like to write restrictive laws. The third trimester they sort of left in a legal limbo. The question we should ask about late abortions is this: "if late abortions are permitted, will a destructive runaway process be created?" Because, if it creates a runaway process, then our attitude should be an utterly different attitude from what it would be if we are dealing with a self-quenching process.

In the case of speed limits on automobiles, if you allow the speed to be seventy miles an hour, you can just count on people driving eighty. If you allow eighty, they'll drive ninety. If you allow ninety, they'll drive a hundred. This is a runaway process. That's why we have to draw an absolute line, and then really sock the offender if he passes that line. But in the case of abortion, such a destructive process isn't involved, because every woman who wants an abortion wants it early, and the earlier the better. The only thing that makes an abortion late is opposition. Most abortions now take place before the tenth week. Ninety-five, ninety-eight percent of them. That's when women want them. So, what about requests for abortions at week eighteen or twenty-two? These are all special cases; acceding to the requests does not create a runaway process.

So, for that reason, even though there might be some moral concern about these late abortions, I think it's one of those things that the law had better blink at, because it's not going to be a runaway process. Leave it for the woman and her doctor and her pastor to anguish about, but don't be concerned about it with the law. That's my attitude.

RUSSELL: Now, is there anything else that you'd like to mention or cover that you think that we've left out in this genesis of coming into this book? The first lecture, or the speeches that you gave...?

HARDIN: Well, I suppose the only thing to say is that after I had given my speech here, I was scheduled to go up in the spring of '64 to Berkeley to teach a course up there, filling another professor's sabbatical. Berkeley wanted me to give a public speech there, so I said I'd give the same one.

This is one of those unpredictable things of history. I thought, if I had nine-hundred people in Santa Barbara, I should have a lot more in Berkeley. But unforeseen circumstances intervened. When I got up there--the date had been set, you see, months ahead of time--and quite independently of that, but much later, it had been found out that Robert Oppenheimer was coming back to Berkeley for the first time in many years. He was giving two lectures. I was giving mine on Wednesday. He was giving one on Tuesday and one on Thursday--bracketing mine. I thought, "Oh, my gosh--nobody's going to go to lectures three nights in a row." I said, "If I weren't giving a lecture myself, I wouldn't go to my own." So, up there I had a very modest crowd of five hundred. I should have had a lot more, you know, but.... I went to Oppenheimer's lectures because this was a great occasion. The great hero was coming back. This was after the McCarthy trials, so, of course, everybody was there.

RUSSELL: What did you think of his talk?

HARDIN: Oh, well, I already knew quite a bit about him through friends. I went to hear a great historical figure, and he looked and sounded the way I expected he would. I mean, he was a man of immense charm and, of course, by this time, a very sad man because of this tragic experience, which had broken him. You could see it. He died not too long after 1964--I don't remember when. So this was sort of one of his last appearances. One goes to see a monument. I didn't learn anything there I didn't know. I went to see the monument, and I'm glad I did. He was a man of great charm.

RUSSELL: Well, getting back to your lecture...

HARDIN: It had the usual reaction. You know, some people standing up in the aisles and shouting and so on. But, it was kept under control, orderly, or reasonably so.

RUSSELL: Did the irrationality of the argument continually must have been to the point where you were Demosthenes speaking with pebbles in your mouth almost, trying to get the idea across, at the blindness of some individuals.

HARDIN: Oh, sure, but if you get in the public arena.... This is why a person who's going to get in the public arena, I think, really should have the taste of an actor, even if he's never been trained. Because part of being an actor is that you expect to say the same thing over and over and over. Every performance is a new performance, and you react to every audience as a new one. If you don't have this spontaneous and quick reaction to the audience, you're going to say,"I gave the same speech before." But if you have the actor's temperament you never give the same speech. You don't know ahead of time how it's going to differ. So, performing never gets boring. I wondered, what will happen now? So I enjoyed myself; but abortion sure altered my life, because I'd never intended to be an activist.

RUSSELL: Was there any fear?

HARDIN: Not really. I do have in my files--I have a file here under my desk--one folder that's labeled "THREATS," curious letters from people who might conceivably try to harm me. I thought, well, I'll save these letters so that if I am killed, the police can pull this folder out to look for leads. But I recognize the fact that most people--the vast majority of people--who make threats are incapable of carrying them out. You know, it's just a threat. But there may be a small fraction that can follow through on a threat. That's why I kept the file. But, the threats didn't bother me. I just knew that nothing would happen. I was pretty sure.

RUSSELL: Now, from the lectures, we have the various lectures that were given. I'm sure there were other places that you were asked to go and give lectures. The book finally comes out, and it apparently was part of a series, a biological series...

HARDIN: Well, there are two books, actually. You probably didn't discover one of them.

RUSSELL: One's an edited version of Birth Control.

HARDIN: One of them is called Birth Control. I did the whole thing, but that's because I was asked to do one on birth control, and I jolly well put abortion into it. The other is a book called Mandatory Motherhood. Did you discover that?

RUSSELL: I missed that one.

HARDIN: Unfortunately, almost everybody else did.

RUSSELL: Was that before the Birth Control one?

HARDIN: Oh, no, it was after. That was published by the Beacon Press. I shouldn't have given it to the Beacon Press. I should have gotten a major publisher, because the Beacon Press is really the house organ of Unitarians, and they're not set up for getting publicity. So, it was inadequately publicized. I know only one bit of promotion that might have helped the book. A congresswoman from New Jersey, Millicent Fenwick, read it and liked it, as I was informed by a friend, a resident of New Jersey. Millicent Fenwick sent a copy to every member of Congress--every senator, every representative--which I thought was a very nice thing. Well, Millicent Fenwick is a great gal. I later met her and talked with her--had an hour with her in the capitol. I'm a staunch admirer of hers--she's just great.

RUSSELL: How unfortunate that she had to get defeated this last time.

HARDIN: Yes, that's right. She has the advantage and disadvantage of being independently wealthy. She can do things like buy and distribute all those copies of my book (though she never told me this--I got it from my New Jersey friend). But because she is independent, she probably doesn't fight as hard as she should for reelection. She doesn't "go for the jugular."

What effect did her promotion of my book have? Perhaps very little effect. It's hard to say. In my own way, I tried to promote my articles and book. In one of my earliest articles, published in a reputable health journal, I introduced the term "compulsory pregnancy." My position was this: "I'm not for abortion--I'm against compulsory pregnancy." This term caught on and has entered the literature--seldom with any acknowledgment of its authorship. That's all right with me; I know I hit the nail on the head at least once, because my term has now become standard in the literature: "compulsory pregnancy." I also, on request, wrote an article for a magazine I can't even remember the name of. It's sort of a poor relation of Playboy. I can't think of it. It doesn't have near the circulation. It's not a particularly dignified publication, but I figured, if I want converts I can't be too picky.

RUSSELL: Was there a difficulty getting a legitimate publisher to...

HARDIN: Well, it's hard to say whether there was any difficulty, because in the matter of publication, I've taken the coward's way out, the lazy man's way out. I've never particularly tried to get publishers. That has been a mistake. Probably the best thing I could have done would have been to get a good agent early on. A good agent can be worth his weight in gold--the ten percent that he takes is not money lost, it's well invested. But I never happened to be introduced to a good agent, and I think a poor agent is worse than none. So I never had an agent; mostly I just waited until somebody asked me. Most of my things have been published that way, which means they haven't been published the ideal way.

RUSSELL: I was very impressed with the Birth Control book. And, in fact, it's very unusual, but walking around campus the last couple of days--because I'd be reading it in my spare time, whenever I had a chance--Birth Control! What are you doing with a birth control book? Well, I'm reading a book.

HARDIN: Well, of course, now, you know, it's just nothing.

RUSSELL: Nothing at all, but even then, the reaction, that somebody would want to sit down and read a book on birth control. I was wondering if you wanted to comment at all on the committees that you had to go before, as far as actually try to push this law through, to get Congress to at least...

HARDIN: Well, I had no connection with Congress in this. A couple of state committees. But, you know, you testify, and it all goes into the hopper, and you don't know what effect you have. You really don't. It's very difficult to know. No, I have nothing really to offer there.

RUSSELL: The last part that I really wanted to maybe get you to talk on today, if you wanted to, would be the members within the biological community that became allies of yours in this connection. Maybe some that weren't really too well known, but did a tremendous amount of work in actually furthering the cause.

HARDIN: I found out--I wasn't the least surprised--that I had the backing of ninety-five percent of them, because I was dealing with life as biologists understand it. The essential part of this is that a biologist will never speak of the immense preciousness of life, or the sanctity of life, because the biologist sees no problem in "producing life," as we say (although you don't produce it, you just pass it on). The problem is getting rid of excess life. This is a problem for every species. The problem is solved for most species by predators. Predators save a species from the necessity of evolving intrinsic methods of population control. The reason we have a human population problem is because we got rid of our macro-predators about eight-thousand years ago. As for our micro-predators, the disease germs, we've done a pretty good job of getting rid of those in the last two-hundred years. Which leaves nobody to curtail our numbers except ourselves. That's the problem.

So, you see, a biologist knows there's just more life than we can manage, so he never speaks of the sanctity of life or anything of that sort. From the beginning, biologists have been with me. A lot of them were so glad that I spoke out. Many biologists, particularly in small schools, discovering my essays, have introduced them into their classes. I think I've had quite a bit of indirect effect that way, but I can't prove it.

RUSSELL: Of course, abortion was just one part of the book, Birth Control, and the other aspects of contraception also had a real rough going in this country. Anything you wanted to say about that, as far as...?

HARDIN: Well, I think the important thing there is that the difficulty is behind us now, as far as contraception is concerned, because polls that have been taken for a full twenty years now show that there is no significant difference between Catholics and Protestants in the practice of contraception. A few percentage points. It depends on what you're inquiring into, but, if the Protestants practice this eighty-seven percent of the time, the Catholics do so for eighty-two percent, say. Well, that's not a significant difference.

RUSSELL: Another subculture.

HARDIN: Yes. I have even been told of priests who advise and recommend contraception to their parishioners. The difficulty is the Vatican. What the Vatican says is one thing; what the priest says is often quite a different one. Certainly, what the parishioners practice is completely different from the Vatican's pronouncements. Maybe we just have to let sleeping giants lie. We shouldn't arouse the hierarchy, if we can avoid it.

RUSSELL: Going back to the same methodology...

HARDIN: Abortion is much the same. Catholic practice is much the same as Protestant practice.

RUSSELL: So, we'd say that, as we're getting down toward the end of this tape, that this book really--as far as your career is concerned--really put you off on a completely different emphasis.

HARDIN: Yes, the whole activity put me off on an activist tangent, which was not my intention originally. I enjoyed it, and having once started, I felt I couldn't draw back. So I spent almost fifteen years being an activist for abortion. I didn't finally
leave this activity until the Supreme Court decision, at which point I thought, well, that's really over and I'm out of it now.

Of course, it turned out that we hadn't won as much as we thought. Nevertheless, I've stayed substantially out of abortion. Abortion got me a lot of invitations to speak on college campuses. Later my essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" played much the same role.

RUSSELL: But a very important contribution...

HARDIN: Yes. I enjoyed my life. Because of my early interest in acting, I enjoyed this kind of thing. Some people just hate it, but I enjoy it.

Beginning about 1970, or maybe a bit before--I think it was a bit before--every once in a while, I would take off a quarter without pay from the University so that I could do a lecture tour. Finally, about 1970, I essentially wrote a new contract with the University and said that from now on, I want to teach only two-thirds time--two quarters a year--and get paid two-thirds of the salary (divided, however, into twelve payments, so I don't have to save money). I got a letter from the University pointing out that they would be willing to do this, but that the change was irrevocable, so think twice, bud, before you do it. I said that's fine with me.

So I was on a two-thirds contract for the last eight years of my academic life. Even then, I'd often take another quarter off and get paid only a third of the salary. I picked up the rest of the money from my writings and my lectures. I liked the arrangement very much. Finally, in 1978, I decided the time had come to cut the umbilical cord entirely. This move wasn't entirely unconscious, unlike some other things, because I had long recognized that--I don't know who it was that said it--that growing old gracefully is something you have to spend your whole life doing. You've got to start thinking about it early. Having seen so many cases of people who didn't grow old gracefully--my father, for example--I decided I wasn't going to follow that example, if I could help it. For me, retirement has been absolutely painless. I couldn't tell when I retired, the transition was so gentle.

RUSSELL: Because you're still working away.

HARDIN: Yes, that's right. I'm retired only from the University.

RUSSELL: Maybe a better part to quit on would be...I was very fascinated, I didn't even know that you had gone to India. And I guess if we could say that there was a place that needed Planned Parenthood, India would definitely be it. What was that trip like for you and your experiences there?

HARDIN: Oh, well, India is an unforgettable experience for everybody. You know, no matter how much you've read about it, when you go there, you see things that boggle the mind. Even, for example, the Taj Mahal. Everybody has seen pictures 'til they're sick of it, and you go to the Taj Mahal thinking this isn't going to be what I think, and you get there, and it turns out it's more beautiful than you thought. It is the most incredibly beautifully situated thing. It's just overwhelming--the beauty of it. Well, that's the beautiful part.

Then, the ugly parts of India are overwhelmingly ugly, too. That was a great trip--forty-five days. I was on the move most of the time because--as part of the plan, agencies were paying all my expenses in return for my going around from campus to campus to see what Indians were doing in the way of environmental education. The environmental movement was strong then.

I had several shepherds. First there were the local branches of U.S. Aid. Then there were the Planned Parenthood people. I was actually plugged in to two things: the environmental stream and the birth control/population control stream. The people in India worked me double time! They got their money's worth. I was busy--almost every day I'd talk to some group or other, and I saw a fair share of India. It was great.

RUSSELL: I know in doing some reading on India and their history, I read that they apparently were even trying to go to the extent that if they could get the male to come in and have a vasectomy, they'd give him a radio. And pretty soon that began to be a problem, because they knew who had the vasectomy because the people who had radios in the community...

HARDIN: Well, I don't think that knowledge was a limiting factor. What about the religious opposition? Well, if you ask an Indian about that, you're likely to get a blank stare. He wonders, what are you talking about? Then you have to explain western religion to him.

We have congregational religions. There is no congregation in India. You go privately to a shrine and say whatever you're going to and then leave privately; never does a congregation get together to express an opinion. So the idea of religious opposition is mostly nonsense in India. As for the sexual side, they have a very funny mixture of reticence and complete openness, but for the most part, the simplest summary is, they're completely open about sexuality. They have long recognized this as a normal part of the proper life, and they're not shocked by it. For example, I don't think it ever caused any trouble at all when, through the auspices of Planned Parenthood, they started distributing, on a large scale, condoms in India. They're made locally. The trade name is Nirad, and you see placards for Nirad on buses, and on billboards. Every place there are placards. Nirads are subsidized by the government. When I was there, I was told that the price, translated into American terms, was a third of a penny a condom. If you couldn't afford that, agencies would get them for you free. As a result, they became playthings for children. Blow them up--balloons! Nobody's shocked. They just have a completely different....

Suppose you go to one of the shrines...I remember one that amused me in the south of India. Here is this bronze bull, oh, about that high. A beautiful thing. As you know, bronze develops a patina with age. Well, the nose of the bull is completely brassy from rubbing; so also were the testicles. Rub the nose, rub the testicles. That's it. Indians are not the least bit embarrassed about such sexual things. Here are the crowds of Indian tourists: rub the testicles, rub the nose, and then pass on.

Indians readily accept birth control, including vasectomies. Admittedly, even as in our own country, men are sometimes afraid that sterilization will somehow destroy their masculinity. That's an informational problem.

In Gujarat, the state where Gandhi was born, the government put on a vasectomy fair during the time I was in India. It lasted a month in one town. The people came streaming into town from the villages around. The vasectomized men were given a number of things--a plastic bucket, and a brass cup, and a few rupees, and I don't remember what else. The recipients would go back to their home villages and say, "Look what I got!" So other men came. Vast numbers were vasectomized; they would then go home proudly, and tell what had happened. Quarter of a million men in one month. That's not bad, you know.

But, the weakness of this effort was revealed in the results of the questionnaire. Each client was asked, "How many living children do you have?" The average was 4.3. So you see, birth control has almost nothing to do with population control. Sure, 4.3 children is better than 5, but still, you'll never control the population if people wait until they've had four children before they get sterilized. That's India's problem. They have no resistance to birth control. They just want two boys, for sure, so they are sure to have one survive. And if you have two boys for sure, that means you have four children. So four is sort of the magic number. They're not going to stop before four. That's it.

RUSSELL: Well, that's a good point. Maybe if we could just momentarily talk about Malthus, as far as you're concerned, with his....

HARDIN: Yes, well, this is an interesting thing, because it is standard in certain quarters, particularly literary and sociology quarters--to decry Malthus as if this is something that has been completely disproved and all a bunch of nonsense. This is like saying that the idea that two plus two equals four is an old-fashioned idea that we've outgrown. It just isn't true.

The population situation is actually very complicated. The point is, Malthus did make mistakes. And if you look on his work as a prediction of what was going to happen in the immediate future, then, of course, he was very wrong. Because he was saying that if there's any further population growth in England, there will be massive poverty as a result of it. And that was not true. Before he died, the population of England had increased a great deal, and there was no question but that people were wealthier than they were before. So, what happened was exactly the opposite of what Malthus would have predicted.

But that isn't really the heart of Malthus. The heart of Malthus is that there are limits to the world. Now even this assertion is under attack by certain people, such as Julian Simon, who says that there are no meaningful limits. Well, there I part company with the Simonians. I think there are meaningful limits, and we've got to live within them.

RUSSELL: How do you view the Moral Majority and their stand against abortion?

HARDIN: Well, they are a hard group to criticize because their positions have very little intellectual meat in them. You see, this is more an emotional reaction than an intellectual reaction, so it's rather pointless to criticize the intellectual stand, because it doesn't matter. On the emotional side, I think Dorothy Nelkin at Cornell University is very sound. Her specialty is science and the reaction of the public to it. She says that the essential position of people like the Moral Majority is that they are concerned about the decay of the family, the decay of morality, crime in the streets--all these things; decline of moral stature, of moral traditions, and so on. And they're just petrified by these changes. Whatever they say about any particular issue, you have to understand that it is the related moral changes that is really bothering them. And really, the business of the world having been created in 4004 B.C.--'though they stoutly maintain that as a truth--the important thing is, they're afraid if that isn't true, making the change will undermine religion, undermine the family. That's what they're concerned about. If you talk to them, you have to sympathetically recognize that that is their trouble; that means you have to speak around the intellectual subject and to one side of it.

RUSSELL: Do you see them as a threat, when they start.... They're noted as far as keeping, in this country, religion and state separate.

HARDIN: They're much less a threat now than they appeared to be two or three years ago. The evidence for that, I would say, was the trouncing that everybody that Senator Helms supported received in the last election. The thing is that most of the ones who'd be called political conservatives--'though they're delighted to have the support of these people--still don't want to be identified strongly with them. I mean, conservatives themselves regard the moral majority as something kooky; they'd hate to give up that support, but they really wish they'd sort of dry up and go away. And Senator Helms, by his behavior in the Senate, has lost a lot of support because of his filibustering. Filibustering gums up the whole machinery. Once a guy starts that, he burns his bridges behind him. Helms has done that.

RUSSELL: Well, we've just about run out of time. There's probably about a minute or so on there. Next week, we'll pick up.


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