Updated 9 June, 2003
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
RUSSELL: This is tape number six in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date: the 25th of May, 1983. The time: 4:00 p.m. The interview is being recorded at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence. Why don't we start off with that, Professor Hardin? You know, the idea of TV teaching on campus.
HARDIN: Well, I'd like to say a few words about an untold chapter in UCSB history, and this is TV teaching. I can do this because I was in on the very beginning of it and stayed with it during the early stages, and then, after that, stood aside as a bystander and watched what happened. So, let me begin with the beginning: the reason for it. I was teaching the big general biology course. When I first started teaching it, I guess up on the hill, I suppose the first year, I probably had about thirty students in it. And it grew and it grew and it grew, until finally, I was teaching nine-hundred students in Campbell Hall, which is a drag, shall we say. When it grew, more we broke it up into sections: one professor would take one lecture section, while another would take another. We debated what to do next: whether to have multiple, duplicate lectures, and divide up the lecturing into stints; or to divide it up into sections and each professor would have his own. At that point--I don't know how I happened to get on to this--but it seemed to me that maybe we should try TV teaching. I'd heard some rumors that the University was going to give us a small grant--I think about fifty thousand dollars, which is small, when it comes to TV--to do some experimenting. I got in touch with Gary Hess, who was in the Speech Department at that time. (He was then a regular faculty member; he later changed and became non-ladder personnel.) Hess was anxious to do take up TV because he saw it as a chance for himself. This was a niche he could fill with his expertise. He's a drama person--performance, and so forth. So he was extremely cooperative.
I then got in touch with two other people in the Biology Department--two
younger members. I felt that I'd have better success with younger
members, who were not well-established and that they would see this
as an opportunity, too. These were Adrian Winter and Ed Orias, and
they thought it was a good idea. So we said the three of us would
do it. At the outset, I told them that, although it wouldn't seem
exactly fair, they should be prepared for me to get the lion's share
of the credit, because I would also get a lion's share of the blame.
And I said I could afford it. I was full professor. They were assistant
professors. I said, "Anything goes wrong, I'm to blame, so
just leave it that way." And they saw the justice of this.
So the three of us went ahead with this. The first year, we taught
it without any recording equipment. There was none. This meant that
everything was a live performance, and when you got all through,
if you wanted to do it again, you had to do it again. So, we ended
up the first year with a bunch of scripts and that was all. And
then the second year, we had to work with the scripts, assemble
all the stage props and things all over again, do it all over, which
is really a hassle. But, after two years as I recall, the University
did give us some recording equipment; then we changed to recording.
We had a battle from the beginning that I had foreseen. I'd had
enough experience with stage things to have some idea of the time
involved; people who haven't been involved with the stage don't
realize how much time is unavoidably lost. Working in stagecraft
is hurry and wait, and mostly wait. Standing around, standing around,
things aren't ready. Most people have no idea how much time is wasted
that way. But I knew it was bound to be that way, and the problem
of getting all the props, particularly, for a science course--where
we wanted to have the real McCoy. We wanted to avoid movies as much
as possible. We did use movies, but we did it in a very selective
way. We'd take two minutes from this film, and three minutes from
that. You know, sort of assemble our own program, and then, in between,
our own microscope looking at things, and so on. And that's a lot
of work. I tried to get the department to realize that they had
to give up a lot of time to the people who are going to do this,
and they said, "How much?" Well, I estimated that it would
take twenty hours to do a one-hour--that's a forty- or fifty-minute--program.
Oh, they couldn't believe that it would take that much time. Well,
I didn't argue. They thought I was just trying to, you know, create
a cushy job for me and the others--get all that credit. Twenty hours
of credit for every hour of program! So, I went ahead and I took
a different tack. I became very friendly with everybody, urging
everyone to take part in the program. You know, I'd butter them
up and say, "Why don't you do this? Why don't you show this?
This would be very interesting," and so on. And in that way,
in the first two or three years, we got the majority of the faculty
to try their hand at it. Now I knew some of them wouldn't be good,
but that didn't matter. I wanted them to be educated. (I hoped the
educational result wouldn't be too bad.) And you never know who's
going to be good, that's the other thing. One of the things that
was striking was that two or three of the people in the department
who are essentially very low key, came across very well on TV. This
is one of the great things about TV--low key people come across
well. Whereas somebody who has a reputation as a rabble-rouser,
a person who really strikes fire into a living audience of nine
hundred, often looks silly on the tube. TV is an intimate medium;
it's a sort of a face-to-face thing. So this was educational all
around. We found out who could do the TV well, and who couldn't.
Ended up with some very good performers--I think they should be
The minute the set-up became known, wives started showing up. They would show up in one of these rooms to see how "hubby" was doing (to use a very old-fashioned phrase--not from our day at all). Then they would say,"That tie! You shouldn't have worn that tie." Or they'd say,"That joke, that was terrible." They'd really bawl their husbands out. So, for the first time in their career, these husbands were subject to their wives' serious criticism of their teaching. It was great.
RUSSELL: Would there be a T.A. assigned to each of the rooms?
HARDIN: Now this is an interesting example of serendipity. In the planning, we planned for fifty-minute performances, the standard academic hour. Some place along the line, and I have no recollection of how this happened, or who thought of it, we decided no, we'd better have only forty minutes and let's have a T.A. in each class to answer questions and maybe to hand out materials. And so we said okay, forty minutes is going to be it. Well, this, I think, made the difference between success and failure. I think if we'd had fifty minutes and no T.A. in the room, I think the course would have been depersonalized and distant. But the T.A. in the room represented authority, the management, so to speak. He was the living person that stood as deputy for those others who were seen only on TV. He was instructed to be always prepared with questions, and at the end of the forty minutes, he would say, "Are there any questions?" And he'd wait a few moments, a decent time, and if they didn't come up with anything, then he came up with one of his. But he got something going for those ten minutes. I think that made all the difference in the world. Without the T.A.'s, I think it would have been a terrible course.
This experience illustrates, I think, an important principle of TV teaching. It's a great mistake to think you can substitute TV for people. That isn't it. You integrate television with human beings, and the question is, how do you integrate them? It's still a human endeavor. You'd better see to it that it is. If you do it right, you can--in the long run--save time. But, believe me, that's in the long run. In the short run, you use much more time. Twenty hours to produce a forty-minute program was no over-estimate. That means it's going to be quite a while before you get your investment back.
RUSSELL: Did you start with the concept that there would be certain labs and certain experiments that would be overtime--that would take too long to show on the forty-minute--did you do like a time-lapse...?
HARDIN: Oh, well, I should point out that, at that time, we still had regular lab sessions, in addition. See, this was a substitute for the lecture. We still had one lab a week, a three-hour lab. Everybody signed up for a three-hour lab. We had T.A.'s there, too. But this substituted for the lecture. Instead of lecturing to nine- hundred, you lectured to these little groups through TV with the T.A. there.
RUSSELL: Eventually, when you got the recording equipment, did you move to more sophisticated programming, where you could make tapes that could be stored...?
HARDIN: Oh, yes. Once we got the recording equipment, that gave
real motivation for working hard to try to get things right. You
know, go to a great deal of trouble--probably putting in more than
twenty hours. We had no definite standards for how frequently we'd
replace the tapes. My estimate is that we were--up to the time I
left the course, which was four or five years--we were replacing
about twenty percent of the tapes per year. After ten years of that,
not many of the early tapes would be left.
RUSSELL: They're still using it now, I guess, in the biology...?
HARDIN: I don't know. I don't know because, see, I've had sort of a policy all along of not sticking with anything indefinitely. After about eight years of TV, I said I'm going to get out completely: I think it's time for other people to take over. There was complaining, of course, because nobody else wanted to take over the load. By this time, we had eased other people into it, and several people--particularly Jim Walters--were doing this, and so I got out without any trouble. And it continued for several more years.
Periodically in the academic community, there's a revolution. The department is dissatisfied; "Let's do it a different way." Our TV got sort of undercut, in terms of support. Then, I think, it disappeared. I'm not sure. One of the troubles is, you know, the "NIH" syndrome? "Not invented here." By the time TV had passed on to about the second generation of people--people who had inherited it--it was no longer their program. They hadn't been in on the planning, so all they could do was see what's wrong with it. This negative attitude rubs off very easily on teaching assistants. They pick this up and if they undercut it, you're dead. You see, because they have the contact with the students, and their attitude becomes the attitude of the students. I think that's what happened to biology-TV at UCSB.
RUSSELL: Being that it's a fantastic tool, I think it's--from my experience in history, it's been misused in history. Do you have any examples that you could speak to the problems of doing this, where people don't use it properly?
HARDIN: Well, I'll tell you. I have no experience with history, or the arts--the artists have used it some, too. I just saw it from the point of view of biology. And from my point of view, in biology it is a terrific teaching tool. But that's because we are blessed with all these wonderful visuals. And the thing that makes me think that it's particularly good is this, and this is a funny sort of a praise to give it, but, if you compare--see, we'd have a microscope--we'd have something on the microscope, a little animal swimming around, and so forth, and the TV camera looking down, and so on--if you compare what you see under those circumstances with what the best student can see--one that really knows how to use a microscope--the TV is not as good as what the best student can see. But, in the elementary course, where the student has only one lab a week, and he's under the direction of a T.A. who has thirty to thirty-five in the room, the average student doesn't see anything near as good a "picture" as the TV presents. The TV picture is much better than the average student can manage for himself. TV elevates the average level, even though the best students could do better by themselves. If you look at it in those terms, TV is great. Also, suppose there are experiments that are difficult to do. Suppose expensive animals must be sacrificed: if you don't get it right the first time, you do the second. Once you have recording equipment, you record the one that works, and that's the one you show. So it's absolutely great for biology. But, I think we're blessed in that way. I don't know the problems in history.
RUSSELL: Well, in history, they substitute it for the lecture. They'll have someone there that's lecturing and it's ridiculous because...
HARDIN: Yes. This is ridiculous, I think.
RUSSELL: A waste of time.
HARDIN: No, they should do something like Kenneth Clarke's Civilization series. That takes time, and it also takes money. Without much money, you could still do it, but with a lot of somebody's time.
RUSSELL: Quite a bit of expertise. Since we're on this vein, is there anything else in the instructional media that--or, as far as instruction goes--that you would like to comment on? In your career--any likes or dislikes?
HARDIN: I don't know that I mentioned this to you earlier or not--but
I did one time teach the course I wanted to teach, for one quarter
only--or one semester, I guess it was, in those days. Only once.
This goes back to my experience with van Niel--this fantastic teacher
who remained as a model for me. I realized that I could never do
what he did, but maybe I could try the mixed Socratic and experimental
method that he used. And one year, I made a chance, about the second
or third year that I was here, when I was teaching the elementary
biology, which had expanded to eight sections. Most of the sections
had thirty students, but this one I held to twenty, the one I'm
going to talk about. I decided by gosh, I'm going to teach one of
these sections the way I think it should be. The rest of them, they'll
all go to lecture, and then they'll go to a section of lab. By the
way, I was handling the whole thing. Boy, the teaching load we had
in those days! Maybe not quite all the labs--but certainly the lecture,
and many of the labs. In addition, I had this special lab which
was called Section 8.
I taught this bunch by the Socratic method, and it was just the finest teaching experience I ever had. I sold every one of them on science, there's no question about it, because I taught biology as a science, not as a body of dogma, which is, unfortunately, the way science is usually taught. It was a marvelous class, and wonderfully rewarding for me. The result of all this success was that by the next semester, I had too many students. There was no chance of my doing it again. So only once in my academic career did I teach the course I wanted to teach; success put an end to the possibility of repeating it.
RUSSELL: It would be ideal for a graduate school or course.
HARDIN: Sure, but the point is, this method of teaching is at least as well suited to the undergraduate as it is to the graduate. It's just that usually you feel you can't squander such resources on undergraduates, so usually only graduates get this experience, but the undergraduates are, intellectually, just as ready for it as the graduates.
RUSSELL: Maybe even more prone to accept experimentation.
HARDIN: Yes. Well, that's a lovely class to have, one where the people all have their backs up and, you know, say, "Show me, I don't believe it." It's just what we want in science.
RUSSELL: Were there any bright lights in that experiment that you can remember, that maybe did go on and remain in biology, or decide to take it up as a course of study?
HARDIN: Well, there was Dick Look, who went on and became a psychologist. He's a consulting psychologist in town now; has a practice. There's Al Main, who I don't know what's happened to him now. He had local family here. All the children were bright. He later was on the faculty at St. John's in the east; then I lost track of him. Those, at least, I know, and I remember several others, very bright ones in the class, and I don't know what happened to them.
RUSSELL: So it was a tremendous experiment...
HARDIN: Yes, it really was because of that method of selection; selecting for good students, you see. I can't claim credit for making them good, they were good to begin with.
RUSSELL: Well, that's fantastic. There was nothing else that you'd want to actually speak to, as far as...
HARDIN: No, I think that about takes care of the teaching thing, and sort of the sad part of this, in a way, at least it is to me, is the difficulty of doing really excellent or inspired teaching in an institution that emphasizes research. Actually, I wasn't interfered with, but the fact that there's so much teaching that had to be done and my role in the department was handling a lot of students, you know, which is quite all right, so that the others could have more time for their research. But, in the end, it left very little time and, in a sense, not too much psychological support for such a teacher. You know teaching is considered second-rate work. This didn't bother me particularly, but, on the other hand, I'm sure I would have done far better if, say, there had been two or three of us doing this, stimulating each other. But there wasn't. I was just sort of alone in viewing the elementary, non-major student as worthy of a great deal of attention. The rest of them were perfectly willing to regard the major student as worthy of a lot of attention, but not the non-major.
RUSSELL: That's probably one of the major flaws in our system, is that there's this dichotomy of good teaching versus research. You probably have given quite a bit of thought to that. If you could use a magic wand to try to perfect somewhat of a perfect system, how would you reform this approach, so that those that would want to do teaching would not be shunned and left aside?
HARDIN: Well, I've given a lot of thought to it and, believe me,
I've never come up with an answer, because the problem is, well,
I've seen this sort of thing, for example at the University of Chicago,
where I went as an undergraduate and where I was invited back on
a couple of occasions--wanted to know if I didn't want to join them
there, and I decided I didn't--because they tried to solve this
by creating what was called the "college." Now there's
an extra peculiarity that the college there meant the first two
years of university training. During a more radical phase of Chicago's
history, "the college" meant four years beginning junior
and senior high school, plus freshman and sophomore of university.
You see, they tried to reform the whole educational system.
That's why I say I don't have the answer. Those people who really have gifts for teaching have got to control it while they make their reputation doing research, and then gradually get into more teaching, if they want to. Tragically, by that time, they may not want to.
RUSSELL: Do you think there's a certain degree of exaggeration as far as the doctoral level student is concerned--everybody at the university more or less has to have a doctorate these days, where, maybe for most people who aren't willing to be good researchers anyway, that they should stop at the Masters level and maybe...
HARDIN: Yes, I'm sure this is true, but this has to do with sort of fundamental human mechanisms that one can't stop. For example, the Masters level you spoke of. The Masters degree has virtually disappeared in the sciences. Well, I never took a Masters degree. I know very few people who ever did take one.
RUSSELL: Go right on for the doctorate?
HARDIN: Go right on for the doctorate. And yet, the fact is that there are a good many who get doctorates who could take good terminal Masters degrees. In the old days--I don't know to what extent it's true now--but in the old days, it used to be that a good many of the people who got Masters or Doctorate--after a while, they had to have a Doctorate--could then go out, in California, into the state college system and could do well there, because the state colleges emphasize teaching, rather than research. And although, again, they were in a dead end--they couldn't get back into the University of California or it's likes--but still, there were so many state colleges that they could move from one to another. You see, the point is there has to be more than one post available to them. Otherwise the person feels victimized, sort of a slave, trapped. He's owned by one master. He wants to be able to sell himself elsewhere. I think probably some of the old opportunity has disappeared because, unfortunately, the evolution of the state colleges is such that they always tend to move in the direction of the University. And, of course, they change their name, from state colleges to state universities, and more and more imitating the other thing, and then losing the very real virtues that they had. I think they were far better teaching institutions thirty years ago than they are now because of that. Now they're sort of a pale imitation of the big universities.
RUSSELL: And still trying.
HARDIN: And still trying, I guess, yes. Human things are very complex, I must say! I don't know where it will end.
RUSSELL: No, I don't either. It seems to be going around and around, back to the basics...
HARDIN: And in the meantime, of course, in many fields the university
is disappearing on the grounds that it is superfluous. For example,
when you think of what's happened in the whole business of computer
science--people are going into computer science with little or no
university training. You get certain things and you go zoom, and
the first thing you know, this guy that dropped out as a sophomore
is a millionaire at the age of twenty-eight. And he doesn't feel
RUSSELL: The work ethic is going to have to come around one of these days. Well, if there's nothing else on that, I read another one of your books this week, which I found quite illuminating, Population, Evolution of Birth Control. I thought maybe we could spend some time talking about that--some ideas that I had coming from that. First of all, give me some idea about the genesis of that, because there is a lot of controversial thought there...
HARDIN: Well, like so many other books, this came directly out of the classroom experience. Whatever course I taught, I devoted quite a bit of the time to population. And, in the process of doing that, I tried to assemble reading material and realized that they didn't have to read, say, all of Malthus--just a few select pages would give them the gist of it--and similarly for the others. So this is an old, old story. It's done over and over again. And this is the reading material I assembled.
I felt that whenever what needed to be said about population wasn't available in one of the classical reprints, then I'd write it myself. Sometimes I would write it as a paper for one of the journals, get it published, and then later include that in my anthology. So that's how it got assembled. The first edition had a modest sale. Then I told the publisher that I had a lot of good new stuff; "Let me put out a second edition." So they said fine. So I put out a second edition, which did very well indeed. I mean, the first year, the second edition sold as much as the first edition did in five years. It's still being used, because there's no other collection quite like it.
RUSSELL: If I could just go through some of them. I primarily tried to go through the majority of things that you wrote. I didn't go through Malthus. And one individual that intrigued me was your discussion of Joseph Townsend and his idea of the plight of the poor. Hope and fear. He was a forerunner of yourself in many regards.
HARDIN: Yes, that's right. And, you see, the common thread that runs through the work of people like Townsend, Malthus, myself, is that rewards determine behavior. In other words, if you reward people for having many children, they'll have many children. On the other hand, if you don't reward them, or give them negative rewards, then they'll have fewer children. Of course, that's what Townsend was saying. This is an unpopular point of view because, understandably, the ones who suffer most in a negative reward system here are the children. And that's a really tough one to crack. You see, Townsend was being tough-minded about this, and that was easier to do in the eighteenth century than now. You know, just saying, in effect, well if they bear children they can't feed, why, let them die. People in the eighteenth century could do that. They can't do it now. Children are the blackmail weapon that parents have over society, if society decides it wants to control population. The problem is still unsolved. How do you bring the very good ideals of the welfare state, as concerns children, together with population control?
RUSSELL: I was thinking, when I was reading that, of East Germany and the Eastern Block countries, in which, because of economics, people are deciding not to have children. And then they're having the tremendous problem of age, as far as society is concerned. How would you respond to that particular problem?
HARDIN: Well, take the second part of that first. Any society that
has in the past reproduced at too high a rate for two or three generations
after it decides to control it's population, is going to have a
problem and there simply is no way to avoid it. And if you say,
"Well, they don't want to face this problem of an aging population,"
then you're just saying they will never control their population;
they'll all have to starve instead. So you simply have to face it.
I don't think this is an insoluble thing at all. Put it in terms
of the American experience. Suppose we did really bring our population
down to ZPG conditions, that is, to replacement-level fertility,
and did not allow in any immigrants. At the present time, we allow
in a lot of immigrants, which upsets the apple cart. But, if we
didn't allow in any immigrants, we're already down to replacement
fertility, that would mean that about fifty, sixty years down the
line, we would have an unusually large number of aged people in
the population. This is not insoluble, because obviously, one thing
to do--and we're already showing signs of doing this--is to delay
the date of retirement. And it happens that this is what most people
want. Most people who are retired at, say, sixty-five, do not want
to retire at sixty-five. So you're not fighting against them--you're
going with them, saying we'll keep you on longer. Delay retirement
into later years--and you only have to do it for a few years to
make up statistically for this aging of the population. Another
thing that can be done--this requires more ingenuity--is to find
ways to have these older people work less than a full day, less
than forty hours a week. Quite often, they want to continue working,
but not at the full-scale thing, forty hours a week. They'd rather
work twenty hours a week. Well, that means you have to make organizational
adjustments. Also--and this is a real tough one--from the point
of view of the young people coming along, it's highly desirable
to get the old people out of the way; otherwise, the young have
trouble getting advanced. How would you like to be assistant professor
until age fifty-five? You see? And, of course, where it's really
striking is where you have a business executive, because, unfortunately,
there's nowhere to move from being the head of the firm. This is
why when a man retires from a firm, the best thing for him to do
is for him, and his wife to take a trip
RUSSELL: Send them on a sabbatical.
HARDIN: Send them on sabbatical, that's right. Well, I think the answer here--and in a way, we've sort of worked this out already; we see this here in Santa Barbara--there are a lot of people in Hope Ranch who have retired at age fifty or fifty-five. Now, some of them do nothing the rest of their life except play golf, but there are a good many of them who lead very active lives. I know one man here who's an antique car buff; he has six or eight cars that he works on. Well, believe me, you can keep busy all day long fixing up six or eight antique cars and showing them at shows. He takes one to England and races in the London to Brighton race.
There's also community service. There are a lot of people who retired to Santa Barbara young--you know, fifty or fifty-five--and then got very active at community service, in non-paying jobs that require people who have ability and time. One of the reasons I think Santa Barbara is such a good community is that we've had such a large roster of people of just that sort, who have been active in the community.
RUSSELL: I'm playing the devil's advocate here for a second. If we could place our welfare state, so to speak, that we have today, on the scale or under the microscope and examine it, it seems to me that what we have here is a society where population control is working with the right people--the intelligent, the productive ones--and we seem to be reinforcing the opposite with the poor. The welfare state seems to reward those, if they have more money. How do we get around that problem?
HARDIN: Well, I suppose I'll give a weak answer: education. You know, this is a weak answer because it means all the work is ahead of us. Yes. It's a real problem because any proposal to cut off benefits to the poor will be regarded as heartless and unacceptable, and politically, just unworkable at the present time, which is too bad because, as is well known.... Well, take this sort of situation. A young girl becomes pregnant at age fourteen or fifteen. If she can have an abortion, then that solves that problem for the moment and maybe she'll get straightened out. But, if she can't have an abortion--if she doesn't want to, or her mother doesn't want her to, or the President of the United States doesn't want her to--then once she's had one child, she has burned her bridges behind her. Now she's got to be a mother; that's where her future lies. She will get Aid to Dependent Children for that child, and she'll be better off if she has another one--economically better off. And she can't go out and get a job with this child, and so she has another child; and another child; and so on. It's a real vicious circle. When I say education is the problem, we have to educate society in general to the point where we do not have people, for what they view as moral or religious reasons, opposing the ultimate backstop to the birth control system, which is abortion. Because they are causing the very trouble that they then complain about. The same group complains bitterly about Aid to Dependent Children, and yet they make abortion impossible.
RUSSELL: And yet they would be the first to lobby against any type of legislation that would finance abortion.
HARDIN: Oh, yes, that's right.
RUSSELL: It was interesting, too, in reading about Townsend. Here we're talking about an individual that, his day and age was Adam Smith's, and the other individuals that he lived with. How did you find him fitting into this society?
HARDIN: Well, I think Townsend was very much a part of his time. I'd say he and Adam Smith were part of the same school of thought, the difference being that Townsend bit into this bitter apple and described things the way he saw them. Adam Smith skirted around the edges of them--I'm changing the metaphor now--but he didn't really, you know, he just nibbled around the corners--didn't really bite into it. I don't think there's anything in Adam Smith that would be contrary to Townsend's idea, it's just that he didn't tackle it. He felt that he had more important things to do, perhaps. And, well, his experience was such, he was impressed with these other things more, as being important--what we call now economic problems. Whereas Townsend, partly as a result of his extensive travels in Spain and elsewhere, and seeing the tremendous poverty elsewhere, he was more in tune with this problem than Smith.
RUSSELL: The other section--and I went through most of them--was the one, what if the world could be an island and we had no dogs?
HARDIN: Well, this, I think, is a very deep insight which all biologists understand perfectly. Other people will say a word or two along this line, then they run away from it. It's a problem of seeing a very simple thing as being utterly profound, and that is, that there is no way--it looks like almost no way, at any rate, short of being thoroughly human in the best sense--there's no way that an animal can get rid of all it's predators and avoid committing suicide as a species. And all that's kept all the species going has been the existence of predators, of enemies. We see this in many partial ways, in that whenever we have a pyramid--a food pyramid, as we call it--where the carnivores fed on the herbivores, and then the carnivores fed on the secondary carnivores, and so on. Finally we get to the top and find, say, a lion. Well, if you look at the populations of animals in such a pyramid--the mice down at the bottom, and maybe something a little bigger above that, and then the lions at the top--you hardly ever see a starving mouse. The mice are sleek and fat at all times. But you often see starving lions. They have no enemies; the mice do. And the rule in all predation is that the predators are great economizers--this on the basis of theory and observations. It's been observed that they really are great economizers. They want to get their food with the least effort. They look around and see which animal looks like it's lagging behind, either because it's sick or it isn't getting enough food or something: that's the one that the predator chooses. He goes after the easy meat. Predators constantly cull the prey-animals that are borderline cases. Predators are a blessing to the species they prey on. They keep the prey from becoming overpopulated.
RUSSELL: Again, I agree with you, but to play the devil's advocate. How do you justify that with Christianity?
HARDIN: I'd say that's Christianity's problem, not mine. Well, I think Christianity, to a biologist--I'm neglecting all the many fine things about it--insofar as Christianity impinges on biological facts, it's a disaster. I mean, it simply makes no allowance for this sort of thing. Now, I think the Old Testament is far better. When you read Ecclesiastes, you're reading the words of a biologist. You know, "There's a time to be born, a time to die; a time to cure, a time to kill." You don't find that in Christianity, but this is a very important thing. Sometimes it's better to kill than to cure. That's in Ecclesiastes. What comes out of the New Testament--at least, what people have interpreted as coming out of it--is disastrous, if taken seriously.
RUSSELL: The reason I brought that up is, if it ever is to be cured, this problem--or at least shall we say managed--in the biological sense, those are the individuals that we're going to have to reform.
HARDIN: Yes. Well now, this is interesting because it may be that
it will sort of take care of itself. The question is, how many Christians
are there now? I can report this, and this is partly with some sadness,
that when I first started teaching, I could get a lot of interest
and a good argument going in class by bringing up some Biblical
subject, a Biblical reference. By the time I finished teaching,
I discovered that in my class, if I referred to anything more esoteric
than Noah, they didn't know what I was talking about. It's gotten
to the point where none of them have read the Bible. They don't
know what's in it.
RUSSELL: So we might have some management in the proper context eventually. The 1960s is the other one. I'm just going through the parts of the book that really hit me and that I enjoyed. Let's see, my question there was, why do you think that was the case?
HARDIN: Well, I think it's quite clear what was involved there;
and it began, you might say, in 1950, with not much of the public
noticing, because it takes a little while for it to get out of the
professional things into the public. But, this fantastic thing that
happened after the second world war, when DDT was introduced into
a number of countries, where it just caused explosive population
growth. In Sri Lanka, for example--Ceylon, as it was then. Nobody
has disputed the cause of Sri Lanka's population growth. It's as
clear as the nose on your face. So many historical things aren't,
but this is. They introduced DDT and immediately the population
went up; not because they were having more children--they weren't--but
because the death rate went zooming down. Malaria, principally,
getting rid of malaria. So, suddenly, in these countries--and many
of them very large countries, like India--the population growth
went way up. And by 1960, everybody realized it had gone up.
RUSSELL: That gets us to a topic that I've often thought of, and that's the issue of the responsibility of scientists for their own inventions, so to speak. And in this case, the scientific community actually did create that, and yet it was biologists themselves created another problem.
HARDIN: Yes. Well, I think there's agreement among scientists.
They recognize that many people feel that scientists ought to be
responsible for the trouble they cause. But scientists do not see
how they can be held responsible. One of the things involved here
is--and this is basic--is that you do not know the ultimate consequences
of what you do. Things that may look utterly innocent may turn out
to be very dangerous. Now, for instance, here we have one. How did
the population explosion come about? Because we wanted to save people
from suffering. Well now, who would have stopped the research that
was aimed at diminishing suffering? Nobody. That was well financed,
yet overpopulation is the end result. So, what looked like innocent
research, desirable research, had ultimate consequences we don't
like. On the other hand, when the Chevalier du Mere asked Pascal
to solve a gambling problem that may have looked like an undignified
problem for a man of Pascal's standing. But Pascal took the problem
seriously, writing to his friend Fermat. Back and forth they wrote
the letters that established the whole field of statistics and statistics
based on probability. And think of what the theory has done: it's
made possible all of medical statistics, absolutely essential for
medical research. It's made possible life insurance, which most
people say is a good thing. But nobody would have thought that that
would be the ultimate result of trying to help a nobleman win more
money at the gaming tables.
RUSSELL: Okay. The idea of statistics and the population--I have no reason to really go over that. The other one, of denial and the gift of history, which was a fascinating idea. Our view of working at it, our immortality.
HARDIN: Yes. Well, I think everybody, as he grows older and accumulates more experience and more observation of other people--of himself, too--is impressed with how often we try to fool ourselves. It's an inescapable human tendency. This is part of original sin, trying to fool ourselves, and always to make things look better than they are. The question is, since we're so ingenious at pulling the wool over our own eyes, what contrary measures can be taken? It seemed to me that this is one of the great apologies for teaching history: when you see other people in the past, people with whom you have no connection, making the same mistakes, then you can, I think, be more objective about yourself, and say, "Well, maybe I'm just repeating what this guy did two- or three-hundred years ago." And this, I think, is one of the great gifts of history. It gives us long arms for holding instructive examples far enough from our eyes.
RUSSELL: Can you think of anything right now that we're doing--in your research and additional thinking that you've done since you retired from the University--that we're still pulling the wool over our eyes? Are we trying to do more in this area?
HARDIN: Well, the population thing is, as far as the general public
is concerned and much of the academic world as well, is, I would
say, in a worse situation now than it was, say, in 1960. There's
less reality about it, and for a variety of reasons. This is the
sort of history where there can be a lot of arguing, you know, because
RUSSELL: It's kind of ironic, too, when you think of the world that we have, with all the mass communications and television.
HARDIN: Yes, that's right. But the question is, who gets hold of the communication? One of the dreadful things that's happened the last six or so years, some of the people in demography and Planned Parenthood International, seeking support, dreamed up a most marvelous boondoggle--the "World Fertility Survey." And they got a total of something like fifty-million dollars for this "World Fertility Survey," which consists--to put it simply--of going out all over the world and knocking on doors and asking women, "How many children would you like to have? How many do you expect to have?" And when it turns out that the number they give now is less than it was twenty years ago, they say, "Aha! See, population is falling." "Facts" vouched for by desire. And they've made so much hay out of this in the papers that it is the general belief among most newspapermen, most of the people in the media, that the population problem is solved, fertility is going down, and there's no use worrying about it anymore. That fifty-million bucks has really captured the media. Of course, it is a pleasant message that people want to hear.
RUSSELL: In this regard, what about China and their efforts?
HARDIN: Oh, China is running one of the most fascinating experiments, and it's right in the middle of it, and nobody can say how it will turn out. I've just recently been reading some reports by Chinese who lived in both countries and moved back and forth, speak the language, etc. etc. And it's quite clear that the results are up for grabs. We don't know what's going to happen. The Chinese don't know what's going to happen, but there's no question that all the people in power in China know they've got a terrible problem. The question is, can they bring off this fantastic program of theirs of one child per family, because fantastic adjustments have to be made. But, boy, they're really trying, so we've got to give them an "A" for courage and an "A" for effort.
RUSSELL: They're even moving to the point of the male contraceptive, the oral contraceptive that they're trying to come up with.
HARDIN: Oh, well, there's been research on the male contraceptive for twenty, thirty years. This should be continued, but I think it's unlikely that we'll find one that will be in any sense the magic pill we're looking for. We've already got condoms, you see, so if the male wants to control conception, he can. It looks as though, from a biological point of view, that the physiological mechanism involved in the male is going to be far harder to control than the physiological mechanism involved in the female. Certainly, there's been a lot of work, but it hasn't gotten very far. They've found some male contraceptives, but most of them make the male impotent at the same time. Well, that doesn't sell well.
RUSSELL: No, not in Peoria.
HARDIN: Some of them make the male extremely susceptible to alcohol. That isn't good either.
RUSSELL: There's all kinds of side effects.
HARDIN: Yes, that's right. The side effects are very bad, and nobody should hold his breath waiting for a miracle. If somebody finds it, fine. But don't say we cannot tackle the population problem until we get a good male contraceptive. That would be a stupid policy.
RUSSELL: Our belief in technology--that technology will eventually solve everything--let's wait and things will happen. Do you blame this for part of our not facing up to the reality of the situation?
HARDIN: Yes, yes, that's part of it, and of course, it's based really on the fantastic history of the last two-hundred years. My father never got over the excitement of technological progress, and I can't blame him. When he was a boy, the only form of transportation he knew was "mare's shank" and horse. That's all there was. He must have been eight- or ten-years old before he was aware that someplace in the distance there was a thing like an automobile. Well, he knew about the train; the trains were there. Long before he died, airplanes! In his lifetime, to go from walking to airplanes! It was a fantastic thing. So, he could believe anything. The space thing was under way before he died, and I'm sure he knew we were going to get to the moon. He died before the moon landing, but I'm sure he was completely confident that we'd get to the moon. I don't think there will ever again be anything as striking as that--any generation, eighty years, that will go through that great a change. Certainly not in the case of speed. You see, in the case of speed, that means going from roughly--well, increasing by two orders of magnitude. If you walked--walked as fast as you can--that's about six miles an hour. You can't walk faster than that--not many people can do that on a sustained basis. You go to automobiles or trains, even, and you can go to about sixty miles an hour, roughly speaking. One order of magnitude, six to sixty. Then to airplanes, you go to nearly six hundred, you see. Again, one order of magnitude. Multiply by a hundred instead of ten. But you can't go to six thousand for a very simple reason: you reach "escape velocity" first, and you go right off the earth. So if you want to go someplace on the earth, you can't go six-thousand miles an hour. Well, actually twenty-five thousand miles an hour is escape velocity, so you could go to six-thousand, conceivably, but you couldn't go to sixty-thousand. You couldn't go another two orders of magnitude. As far as earth travel is concerned, we can't go any faster. And furthermore, with respect to other characteristics, what good does it do to go around the world like that? You might want to stop off at the other side. And then, if you've got to slow down, then that's another problem. So, for speed on the earth, in the terrestrial setting, no such change will ever take place again--it can't. And I think there are a good many other things, where, although more changes are possible in the future, we're running up against a barrier.
We're not running up against a barrier in communication, handling of information. Here we have this fantastic thing, the computers. A new generation of computers comes along about every five years, and the end is still not in sight. It looks as though two or three or four more orders of magnitude is still ahead of us. That is really fantastic, and that has all sorts of implications which we'll be working out for a long time to come, in terms of using information to make decisions.
RUSSELL: With the development of the robot, excess population is even going to be more of a problem.
HARDIN: The robot is a way of using information. A robot is programmed
to do all sorts of things. It can hardly be maintained that robots
have a good effect on the human labor situation, inasmuch as we
are already complaining of unemployment. If robots have the expected
effect, the unemployment situation will get worse. From a public
policy point of view, it's stupid to pour money into robotics. Now,
if you're talking about the accuracy and precision--if you can make
a robot more accurate and more precise, and for many jobs, you can--that
may be a reason for doing it; but not to save labor. We don't need
any labor-saving devices. The rulers of some of poor countries have
seen this. The Chinese....