The Garrett Hardin Society

Updated 9 June, 2003

Garrett Hardin Oral History Project

Tape 7

RUSSELL: This is tape number seven in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date: the 8th of June, 1983. The time: 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence.

All right, Professor Hardin, I thought maybe today we'd be able to start with the concept of a "Return to the Commons." And before discussing its evolution and how the article came about, I thought it might be instructive for us if you were to go back to that article in your own mind and maybe review it. Is there anything that you would do differently, or do you think that we have benefitted from it as a society? Or have we not heeded the warnings that you prophesied?

HARDIN: Well, I feel fairly gratified by the reception of the article because I think the reception's been as rapid as one could expect. I have just returned from a trip to Washington, a two-day conference by a group of something like forty environmental and conservation organizations under an umbrella called the Global Tomorrow Coalition. It was very flattering to me to hear the Commons specifically referred to repeatedly throughout the two days--sometimes with my name attached to it and sometimes not--but it was very much alive among this group. Now I did not always approve of the way they used it. It's like the old story about Karl Marx, who at one point indignantly said, "Je ne suis pas marxiste." He was angry at all the things that were attributed to him. Sometimes I thought people had gotten it backwards. But, at any rate, at least it is effective, at this level. Just today, I got a long article from a Los Angeles daily law paper, referring to some of the problems of the law, that made use of the idea of a "Tragedy of the Commons." So it is being very widely received. It is, in general, a new idea. A new idea takes a generation to have its effect. Well, fifteen years have passed. That's not quite a generation, so I'm satisfied.

RUSSELL: Are there any areas that people have misconstrued, as you were saying? Or points that you would like to put on the record?

HARDIN: Yes, yes. On some of these, over and over again I try to correct people, because it's like everything--every subtle idea--it acts sort of as a Rorschach test and people see in it what they want to. If I had written more carefully, maybe I could have avoided that, but maybe not. If I were doing it over again, I would summarize the idea more carefully, along somewhat the following lines: that in a crowded world, an unmanaged commons cannot possibly work. In the original, I did not refer to a "crowded world," but that's an essential part of it. Also the term, "unmanaged," I didn't put that in initially. That was the implication, but I didn't put it in. The omissions have caused people to misunderstand the meaning. We have people on the right sometimes thinking I'm giving a defense of the left position; people on the left think I'm defending the right position. I try to tell them I'm not defending either position.

In 1979, I finally prepared a one-page summary, together with a sort of a box in the middle where I summarized things, and then some words to go along with it, in which I tried to get down exactly what I thought it meant. I pointed out in that if the world is not crowded, a commons may in fact be the best method of distribution. For example, when the pioneers spread out across the United States, the most efficient way was to just treat all the game in the wild as a commons, an unmanaged commons--just fire away--because, for a long time, they couldn't do any damage, really. Whereas, if they'd tried to set up some sort of a management scheme, they would have had the cost of managing. So, in an uncrowded world a commons is fine. But, as soon as it starts getting crowded, then it doesn't work because each person, seeking his own self-interest, will, even though he sees that the result is bad for all of them, is trapped into mistreating the commons, if it's unmanaged, if the rule is "help yourself." So then you have to have some other rule.

There are two possibilities: either you set up a community manager--that's what you do under socialism; this is a managed commons--it's still a commons, but now it's managed, or you divide up the territory and assign it to individuals, making each owner also the manager--uniquely the manager of his own property. That can work, too. Now I said that both those systems--private property, "privatism," and socialism--may work. They may not, but they may. There's a chance. Whereas the unmanaged commons hasn't a chance of working once the world is crowded. Everything I've said now is really implicit in the original article, but I didn't make it as clear as I should.

RUSSELL: So you'd say that maybe that one-page synopsis would cover it?

HARDIN: That's right. And of course, this is the nature of all important discoveries. Someone once challenged Einstein with this idea, which they'd gotten from someone else--I've forgotten who--but somebody before Einstein had said that every important idea can be summarized on two pages. And they said, "Can you summarize your theory of relativity?" His eyebrows went up and he thought and said, "Yes, I think I can." He sat down, and on two pages, he summarized it.

RUSSELL: I'll be darned.

HARDIN: Yes. But that comes later. First you have to battle through it with all the ifs, ands, and buts, and the subsidiary clauses, and so forth, trying to plug all the holes. But finally, you can do it very briefly. And this has happened over and
over again, for instance, with mathematics. The first proof of a new theorem often runs two pages, and in a generation, it's summarized in maybe one page.

RUSSELL: They have it down pat. I was watching a program this last weekend where they were interviewing a whole host of Nobel Prize winners, and at the end of the conversation, they asked them what they felt the greatest problem the world was facing at the time. They all said population.


RUSSELL: And Ambassador Sperry--they asked him what he thought the solution should be. I thought I would pose this to you. His solution was that he didn't feel that we were going to ever tackle it, until we could bring some type of moral imperative, that population would be as evil as mortal sin was to the religious today. But he couldn't offer any solution to that. How would you accept his conclusion?

HARDIN: Well, he sees the problem. In wrestling with this myself, I've come to somewhat the same conclusion. I don't like it, because this business of moral imperative--this is just one of my points in my essay--is that you can't count on that working. So, looking around at where, say, a moral imperative does work--and this, by the way, is another modification I didn't put in, I'm sorry. Occasionally, a commons does work under crowded conditions. But those occasions, so far as I know anything about history, always turn out to be the same sort. First of all, the community that lives by the rule of the unmanaged commons is a small community. Secondly, it is a religious community. Now, you might say, well, that satisfies Sperry's remark about moral imperative. And I suppose it does, although I tend to see this from the sociological, anthropological point of view. The point is, if it's a religious community, it means that they share one common belief system and it is so strongly shared that any deviation from it will not be tolerated. This immediately raises a question for those of us who have been raised in a democratic tradition. One of the great traditions is tolerance. But if this is to work, there must be intolerance of intolerance. A paradox!

Those who can't agree to the rules can defect from the community. I cite the Hutterites in North America. This is a religious group in northwestern America and Canada. There are, I believe, something like fifty- or seventy-five thousand of them. But they don't live all in one group. Instead, they live in small communities that never get over a hundred to a hundred and fifty. When the community gets big, it splits into two. Because the Hutterites have found by experience they cannot make the system work with communities more than a hundred, or a hundred and fifty. And they do have the same religion, a single language, and so on.

Now, why won't it work, say, at two hundred? They live according to the Marxian principle, "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs." But as the community grows to around a hundred, they find that more and more people are goofing off--goldbricking, whatever you want to call it. "I've got to go to town to get a part for the tractor," a guy says, and then he just sort of disappears for the rest of the day. They just can't get everybody to pull his share of the load if the community gets too big. So they make no attempt to make it work. They just divide into another community. So, what does this mean? Well, I think it means that they are controlled, they are coerced, by shame. You know, you're ashamed if you're not doing your share of the work. But the shame won't work if the group is too large.

The rest of what I have to say is just speculation. Maybe shame is ineffective in a large group because you don't feel close enough to the others, or maybe those who are acting in a shameful manner back each other up--I don't know what it is. But shame will not work above a hundred to a hundred and fifty. I see no exception to this in anything that I've ever heard of in the history of a group larger than a hundred and fifty living by the rule of the unmanaged commons, or living without a completely shared religious and ethical system.

RUSSELL: What I'd like to do, as far as a review of the article, is not to have a review of it, but to talk about the genesis of the idea--how you pulled these various concepts together. I was doing some reading on other movements, particularly the Muckrakers at the turn of the century. Teddy Roosevelt dubbing them as "muckrakers" because he said there are certain groups within our midst that--by constantly bombarding people with this threat of doom, doom, doom, doom--that they will in essence engender in them this feeling that, "Oh, what the heck," similar to what Pavlov, I guess, did in Russia. The psyche can only be shocked so much, then it becomes indifferent to the beauty. Do you see this as a danger?

HARDIN: Well, now what's your proposition?

RUSSELL: The proposition is the idea that, if we continually get the doom--you know, the idea that things are going to eventually grind down and we'll have starvation, etc., without solutions, without some type of program--that it's detrimental.

HARDIN: Oh, yes, sure. This is a persistent danger, and I don't know what the answer to it is. It's partly a matter of temperamental differences, no doubt built on education, that some people, defensively, simply don't want to hear unpleasant news, even if it's true news. Of course, I'm one of the people sometimes called a doomsayer, so you might ask, what's my defense? Well, I find my conclusions not gratifying, but somehow pleasing. Somehow acceptable and profound; with the attraction of the idea of tragedy. This appreciation is largely missing from our society, partly because of the immense progress of science and technology and the dominance of the idea of progress. If anything goes wrong, there must be a solution to it. So we think.

We're a rather exceptional civilization in this way. The Greeks had a very keen idea of tragedy. There are many things that just can't go right. In all the stories of tragedy, the hero is told in advance what is going to happen, and then he tries to avoid his fate, switching to left and switching to right. But, no matter what he does: tragedy eventually hits him anyway.

This occurs among the Greeks; it occurs in folk tales in Europe, and so on. It's only in the last two-hundred years that the taste for that sort of story seems to have disappeared. I think that we may be passing through a transition now when a new appreciation of tragedy may come back again. I'm afraid this appreciation will come back to us only after considerable pain and suffering. I would like to see it come back without so much suffering. In other words, through just sheer intellectual understanding.

I agree with Whitehead that the idea of tragedy played an essential part in the development of science. Tragedy brings a feeling of the inevitable, a feeling that something is inescapable; and that is the idea of a scientific law. You may not like the thought of people dying because they happen to fall off the third story of a building, and they don't always die when they fall off the third story, but most of the time they do. And if not the third, the fifth. And there are some exceptional occasions--there's one occasion of a guy falling out of an airplane at two thousand feet and living. But still, behind the confusing facts there is the inescapable law of gravity. So that's it. And Whitehead said that this idea of inescapability, which is almost a religious idea, is essential to science.

Science has two faces. One face says there are inescapable laws and it's our problem to discover and precisely define them. The other face of science is what most people see: science and technology. The best summary of this face is what is said to be told to students in engineering schools: "The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer."

That's the engineer's attitude. And it's a very good attitude for him to have. But the scientist steps forward and says: "I'm sorry, you cannot develop any machine that will violate the second law of thermodynamics." Not tomorrow, not a thousand years from now. There are some immutable things. The scientist says that even though in the past, science has occasionally been wrong. But on the really big things, it's been wrong almost not at all. And there are only a few of the really big laws--like the second law of thermodynamics. But they are, as Whittaker, a theoretical physicist called them, "impotence principles." I see the role of the scientist in the purest sense as one of discovering the impotence laws and then working out the implications of them.

We may make some mistakes. But we try to get people to see why we have to live with impotence principles. We cannot escape them. This, I think, is one of the reasons we have so much conflict right now. People have gratefully accepted the idea that it takes a little longer to do the impossible; but they haven't accepted the idea that some things are really impossible.

RUSSELL: To get away from the idea of doom, do you see any models that we have in the world today that might serve as an example, beyond the Indians that would divide after a hundred, that we might be able to plug into our society?

HARDIN: Well, I don't particularly like to think about it, but I suspect that, if we do arrive at some sort of a fairly stable situation, it will be in a society that's organized by significantly different principles from ours. I don't like that because, for example, I this society will have much less in the way of freedom and tolerance than ours does. I hate to think of that, but I'm afraid it's so. But I think that individualism--what I tend to call radical individualism--as developed in the last two-hundred years in the Western world, has been a marvelous influence for freeing the creative spirit of man. Just perfectly marvelous for musicians, for artists, for scientists, and so on. But I think that we may have to give that up, which means that the creativity of society would be much less.

Let's hope that what we create to last and bind ourselves to will be a pleasant world to live in, rather than an unpleasant one, but I just cannot see it having as much creativity. Let me take a particular example. There's a physicist at Princeton, O'Neill I believe is his name, who has described space colonies. And these have excited many young people. Many young technicians and scientists, engineering-type scientists, have thought, boy, won't this be marvelous. We'll get in one of these space colonies, go out to the balance point of gravity between the earth and moon, and we'll set it up just the way we want it. Won't that be marvelous!

What these imaginative young people, who are enthusiastic over O'Neal's dream, don't see is that the very freedom that they're demanding to produce that space colony will be intolerable on the space colony once it's achieved. Once they get on that, one of them can't say, "Say, I think we've done the wrong thing; let's do it a different way." It's going to be such a delicately balanced "organism" that no deviation whatsoever in the plans will be acceptable. And so the curious thing is that those who fall in love with this dream most strongly are the ones who'd be most unsuitable to live on it. They can plan it and put other people on it, but they themselves could never survive on it and would not be tolerated in such a colony. It is the very limitedness of the colony that makes it intolerant of all deviations.

On earth, as we get more and more crowded (although the earth is immensely bigger than a space colony), the mere crowdedness will eventually create the same situation. We'll have to say," I'm sorry, the day of tolerance is over. We have our religion: its beliefs are rigid. You've got to live by them."

I don't like this. I don't want to live in such a world. But if I had to bet money and if I were going to be around long enough to collect on the bet or to lose it, I would put my money there.

RUSSELL: Being that we live in a world...and I think you're right in this assumption that we will stay as nation-states. They probably will not be broken down. Do you feel the fact that we might have economic, shall we say, blackmail, that where, let's say, an African nation, which maybe would be violating the principles of overpopulating, but, at the same time would hold the natural resources that we would need to survive, could maybe push us to the point where we would be forced to...

HARDIN: If we were so forced, it would be our own fault, because... Take the United States. There is nothing that we need so desperately that we couldn't live without it, particularly with all our ingenuity, and so forth and so on. Take the business of chromium, which is needed for so many different high quality steels. If we had no chromium at all, we could make do. We couldn't run drilling bits at as high a speed--it would take longer to do the work--but we could do it. In the case of the United States, we have so many resources that we could get along. Now if you took a very small place, say, like the island of Grenada, I don't know.

But on the other hand, no matter what the place, the people could live at some level in freedom, by themselves. The Galápagos, for example, are really a very poor piece of real estate, but there are about, I believe, five-thousand people living there. Though it's true that most of them depend on money that flows in from tourists. But suppose they reduce their numbers down to five-hundred, who could probably live there indefinitely. It would be a simple life. They wouldn't have any automobiles or anything like that, but they could live. If people cut down their population and their aspirations to the level permitted by the resources, every country could live indefinitely without undue suffering. That's the way to escape the blackmail, the way to be independent of the outside.

RUSSELL: How would Japan fit into that, say?

HARDIN: Japan? Oh, Japan would have to do what they're doing now. There are a lot of Japanese in Brazil, for example, and you see the homeland is constantly sending out inocula. The Japanese in Brazil are going to live as Brazilians from now on. So also with the ones in the United States. Once they've stopped living on the rest of the world, the smaller remaining population in Japan will have to adjust to each other.

RUSSELL: They would have to adjust to each other.

HARDIN: Yes. They are going to have to adjust, too, some day. Because they're living by virtue of this world system of trade and commerce, and that means they're very vulnerable. They are the most vulnerable advanced country in the world.

RUSSELL: Endangered?

HARDIN: Endangered, yes. They depend on the rest of the world living by their plans. It won't happen that way forever. The Japanese will have to make major readjustments.

RUSSELL: And one of the major violators of the commons, as far as other aspects of... Tearing down forests and polluting the environment, in that respect.

HARDIN: Yes. They are one of the ones that are the most recalcitrant about not overexploiting the oceanic commons. You can see why. They've got to get it from somewhere, and they're very good at working deals, getting our lumber, and so forth. It gets to the point where we say, sorry, we can't spare it--the remaining lumber--and they've got to do without. They don't have much there.

RUSSELL: I thought maybe now--we've gone over quite a few things--if we could turn to the "commons" from the standpoint of not reviewing your literature, because most everybody has read it, but to climb back into the genesis of this idea, and how it emerged over time. How you decided to use this analogy, the influences that came to bear on you...

HARDIN: Well, since much of it occurred at the unconscious level, the answer is I don't know. But I know when it surfaced. It was a very definite time, there's no question about that.

All right. In December of 1967, we got an ad from Swan Tours of England for tours of East Africa. I had a leave of absence coming up at the beginning of January; at that time I was rather flush with money from my textbook, so I said to Jane, "Let's go." She said, "Okay, I'm willing." No long plan. I immediately sent off a check to Swan in England to reserve places for us in January. Then things went awry. At that time the English people were having money troubles; the government would let its people take out only a few pounds. They just couldn't get out with enough to take the tour, you see. So Swan washed it up.

It was a few days before Christmas, as I recall. Our mouths were watering now at the thought of seeing these wonderful animals in Africa. So I went to the local travel agency and sat down with them, and we worked it out on an independent basis. We arranged our own tour, with our own car driver. So we were in Africa for January and half of February, seeing the animals--all perfectly marvelous. Came back in February, late February.

Let's see, I think I was going to teach in the spring. On our way back, while stopping to visit Dan McKinley, a professor at SUNY at Albany, New York, I got a telegram from the secretary of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asking, "What is the subject of your talk?"

I'd forgotten about this. I was the retiring president, and as such, I had to give an address in late June or early July. So I thought about it overnight and came up with a marvelous title, "Not Peace, but Ecology." So I sent that to him the next day. Then came home to teaching and working on my address.

I worked on the address for, I'd say altogether, about six weeks. I worked very hard on it. I was having all sorts of trouble. I'd never had so much trouble before, because I'd done a lot of writing by this time and my first draft was usually pretty good. My second draft was usually the final draft. But this thing I wrote over and over, and altogether I figure I wrote it at least seven times; completely different versions. I was having a terrible time. I finally got it written. Then we bought a new car, because we wanted to drive to Logan, Utah, where I was to give the address. We were going to take our daughter and granddaughter with us as far as eastern Nevada, and the thought of crossing a desert in June and July in a car that was not air-conditioned with a two-year old child struck horror in our souls. We knew what it was like.

So we drove to eastern Nevada, where we left daughter and granddaughter with friends on a ranch. I had the speech all typed up, ready to give. Our last night at the ranch, I read the address to family and friends. Our daughter Hyla, who was 26 years old at that time, objected to my introduction of coercion. In response, I changed it to "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon."

I made several other changes and sat up late that night rewriting about a third of the paper on what I had supposed was the final draft.
As a result of reading the manuscript to family and friends, I discovered it was too long. It went for something like an hour and fifteen minutes. For a presidential address, that's terrible! But I was unwilling to cut it. So before presenting it in Utah, I warned the audience. I apologized to them, but I said at least you're warned. If you want to leave half way through, I'll understand. But they gamely stuck it out. I think the warning helped.

The applause was merely polite, I should say. I don't think anybody realized something important had been said. I was sure it was important.

I came home, prepared a newly typed copy of the revised version, and sent it to Science magazine. I didn't hear from the editor--except for an acknowledgment--for about two months. That's normal, while the manuscript is going around the referees. Then I got a letter from Abelson, the editor, which said, "Your paper is accepted. It's too long." A curious sort of acceptance!

RUSSELL: Where next?

HARDIN: By this time two months had passed. I looked again at the manuscript and agreed that it was too long. It was two papers. So I just took a pair of scissors and cut across the middle and set one part aside, which I later gave on another occasion, and then bandaged up the cut surface; new introduction, and so forth, and presented only the last part of it. That was the paper.

RUSSELL: Was it a two-part justification?

HARDIN: Yes. The first part was a long justification, a setting of the stage, and so on. Such writing is a disease with me. Time after time, I set the stage at great length, and then find I don't need most of the beginning. I need to write it, but the public doesn't need the preliminaries at all.

Why did I have so much trouble writing this paper? Well, I think it's because I didn't like my own conclusions. I found them deeply disturbing. I kept trying to escape from them, and I just couldn't.

One other thing. I remember waking up one night, after about the third or fourth version, and thinking, "Oh, Lord, Lloyd!" I had forgotten that this was an idea that I'd read years ago in a paper by Lloyd, written in 1833. And it had slipped my memory that this was his idea--the idea of the "commons." Furthermore, I realized that I had casually cited Lloyd a time or two in other writings, so I couldn't ever use the defense that I hadn't read him. Somebody would discover this and say, "You plagiarist!" I was in a cold sweat at that point because the thought of coming out with sheer plagiarism was frightening.

I could never be a practicing poet. I would be plagiarizing poetry constantly without knowing it. I remember the lines but don't remember they're somebody else's.

I then went back and reread Lloyd and gave him proper credit for this idea. But I developed the idea a lot farther than he did.... So, that's how Tragedy happened to be written. I think it's significant that I had so much trouble writing it. I mean, this resistance. Unless you go through that....

See, the easy thing to do is to use some graceful rhetoric to bring you around the end of the idea, so to speak, and avoid the center. But I wasn't willing to do that, and I thought coercion is absolutely necessary. And then, in response to Hyla's objections I coined this phrase, "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon." And it wasn't until several years later, when other people were still objecting to this coercion, that I realized my phrase is merely a definition of any law passed in a democracy. Every law is one by which we mutually agree to coerce each other--it's mutually agreed upon. The majority coerces the minority. You can't demand universal agreement. So you say, sorry, at this point the majority coerces everybody. So, although it shocks some people, I merely gave an operational definition of any law in a democracy. I wish I had said that at the time.

RUSSELL: You dropped this at the convention--and obviously a bombshell, something very important, as you've pointed out, and I think it's proved itself to be a very important piece of literature. What did some of the colleagues that you had, friends that you were acquainted with--did you get any correspondence with them, as far as their feedback? Or did they just leave it lie there until it came out in Science?

HARDIN: Nothing from the annual meeting. The publication came out December 13th of that year. I immediately got a lot of reaction. For the most part, favorable. And when it wasn't, it was critical in a good sense, saying, what about this and what about that? My paper was acceptable. People reading a paper can give a lot more thought to it than people hearing a speech. As a speech, my essay was pretty hard going.

RUSSELL: In dealing with the figures that we use--that you used--in this particular paper, Malthus being a mathematician--math being indisputable, as you point out here in the figures--and then dealing with the science of biology, there's no question that there are problems. But given that people like economists and politicians, which we could classify as a pseudo-social science, maybe, do you think that was maybe some of the areas where people would form objections to it? Rather than just writing it with a scientific and mathematical principle--do you think it would have lost its effect?

HARDIN: Oh, I think it wouldn't have had near as much effect if I hadn't pointed out what seemed to me the practical political consequences of it. Sure. But that wasn't something I did in addition--that's just the way I look at everything. I always try to see as many implications as I can, to bring under one umbrella, one general principle, as many different examples as possible. It's just the way I work. Actually, my relation with economists has been, on the whole, very good. And no economist--well, with one exception. There's one publication in which a minor economist sort of pooh-poohed this, but this is a very odd publication. It wasn't published in a regular journal at all. Mostly, I have good relations and we disagree on some.... I mean the economists of the economic libertarian school think that everything can be managed by the market place--private property and the market place. I question this, but I say it's all right with me if it'll work; it's just that I think the market won't do everything we want it to.

RUSSELL: What about justifying it with.... Because this is very, very important. And as democratic countries can see this probably much easier than a communist country or a socialist country. Yet the third world, many of the countries, such as China, which is in dire straits, how would they view it from their point of view?

HARDIN: Well, I have no idea about China. I don't think there would be any essential objections. Certainly what China is trying to do now fits in with these ideas that I've been describing to you. For example, China has now adopted as national policy one child and no more, and says that they jolly well intend to reach that. It won't be overnight, but they're going to do it.

On the basis of what I wrote in my essay, it looks as though that would be impossible. But, the important thing is that the operating group in China, as near as I can make out, is less than a hundred to a hundred and fifty. It's within that magic range. And the national government says one child, no more. And then they pass down their instructions to the operating group, and there they have a little sort of coffee klatch of the women, who sit down together and decide who's going to have a baby next year. They put pressure on each other. And if one's already had two children, they say no, you can't. And that's that. If one of them gets pregnant when she shouldn't, they put extreme pressure on her to have an abortion. But that's all within one small group. So you see China is acting within the principles that I have maintained are necessary to exert coercion in these matters.

RUSSELL: With ours--what is it, 435 Congressmen and a 100 and some odd--is that beyond...?

HARDIN: Oh, well, with us it will have to come by a different route or we'll have to imitate China or something of that sort. But with us, the greatest hope at the present is to utilize economic incentives and disincentives. If we actually become convinced that we should control our population, we can do it by some taxing scheme. We can give benefits to people who have only one child that we do not to those that have more. Of course, China and Singapore are doing this. The first child gets a full range of benefits--education and so on. The second gets less, and the third nothing at all. The family has to pay for the delivery of the child, and the child does not get free education, you see. They're doing the incentives bit. And we would respond to incentives, too. But it means that we have to agree to vote in those incentives in the first place. But after unforeseeable difficult circumstances, I think we'll do that. But we can't guess what the historical circumstances will be. But we can do it.

RUSSELL: How will we fend, do you think, since you've just come back from this conference, vis-a-vis, say, the rest of western Europe?

HARDIN: Fending with respect to what?

RUSSELL: Population control.

HARDIN: Oh, there's no population control in the United States at all because we don't agree that we're overpopulated. Overpopulation is always someplace else. I think Planned Parenthood a number of years ago got out a bumper sticker that very neatly tried to get people to see this. I think it was very good. The bumper sticker said, "Trouble parking? Support Planned Parenthood." And this is very good because, you see, the way in which we see the effects of overpopulation are not the classic ones of starvation. They are these other things: no parking space, you see. All these other things. And from the educational point of view, those of us who think population is important, what we have to do is to get people to see that the signs of overpopulation in the United States are quite different from what they are, say, in Africa. And you have to interpret those signs right. Don't interpret the lack of parking space as being due to the malfeasance of political leaders. Here in Santa Barbara, there have been a series of letters objecting to the fact that it's now proposed to charge for parking down at the beach. Some of the people have written in, said, "Why, I like to park there. I'm retired. I like to park there and go all day." What he doesn't see is there are only so many parking places. What are you going to do? You've got to allocate them one way or another. Now if you allocate them on a first-come, first-served, then the early risers get the parking place and the late risers don't. Maybe that's the best system. But it's got to be allocated on some system, and that's a consequence of population. If we had only half as many people in Santa Barbara, we wouldn't have to raise this issue of parking meters at the beach. But people don't see the connection.

RUSSELL: Is there any nation in the Western Hemisphere that does see this as a problem for themselves--that has addressed it? Sweden maybe?

HARDIN: No, I would say not. They've usually addressed it in a negative way, as if.... For instance, a place like Germany is worried about the fact that it's in zero population growth, the condition, and they've worried about the aging of their population. No, they worry only about the others; mostly they don't worry about this at all. No western country that I know of takes it seriously.

RUSSELL: So as the major force probably in expounding this, we in ourselves nationally are quite hypocritical in what we are doing.

HARDIN: Well, I don't know as I would call this hypocritical. It appears that way to the outside world. Maybe we could be regarded as being hypocritical. But certainly, the ways in which overpopulation impinges on us are much gentler than they are in India. They really have to control their population now, or they'll suffer terribly. Whereas, okay, we have a housing shortage now, as we call it. One of the things I did in Washington--I gave a speech on trying to substitute the word "longage" for shortage. I said we don't have a housing shortage; we have a people longage. I said every time when somebody speaks of a shortage look for the corresponding longage, and see if maybe we shouldn't emphasize that instead. It's going to take a long time, but you see, that takes education, whereas in a place like India it's so obvious. Indians themselves know there are too many people, but they say "How can we, in a democracy, control the number of people if families can have as many children as they want to? What can we do?" And, of course, there's no answer.

RUSSELL: As a conclusion, I tried the best I could--because you know I agree with your basic principles--to come up with an advocate, and I thought Buckminster Fuller might be somebody that we could talk about.

HARDIN: Oh, well. Oh, Bucky--he just lives in a dream world. He has the engineering mentality: the impossible takes a little longer. And, of course, for a man of Buckminster Fuller's age, he's eighty or maybe a bit more now. He's older than I am.

Think of what has happened in a long lifetime. My father was born in 1880, a bit before Fuller's time. When he was a boy, not only had he never seen an automobile, I don't think he even knew they existed, say, when he was six-years old. And the airplane marginally existed by the time he was twenty, but he probably didn't know that at first, either. So he lived through the time from no method of transportation (other than trains) that went much faster than walking, to the automobile, to the airplane. He lived to see satellites put up in the sky, but he didn't live to see the moon walk. He died a bit before that. People like him even lived clear to the moon walk, you see. From not even having automobiles, and
that--for a person to go through all that in his lifetime--it's perfectly natural for him to extrapolate a change of the same magnitude into the future. That is what Bucky does.

RUSSELL: Those are some ideas that he has. I would say he typifies the person that would be looking into the future constantly. I was just reading one of his works, and he was talking about the aspect of the world games and how the people would get together. And apparently in 1974, they focused their attention on energy and supposedly proved that if we used all the energy sources in the proper way, that we would have an unbelievably ample supply. How would you respond to that? Now obviously, we can disregard that. But how would you cogently answer to an engineer that would be sitting here and saying that there is a solution?

HARDIN: Well, nothing that Bucky does really faces the issue of distribution. He just assumes. He snaps his fingers and says, "Let it be distributed." Like Fiat lux? Well, let distribution take place. And see, what I'm concerned with in the Commons is, what is the system of distribution? That is where the problem lies. A second thing involved in Fuller--and he's merely an extreme example of a tendency in all western civilization--and this comes, as I see it, largely from the stoics, and then the Christians. Zeno said, "I am a citizen of the world." You know, this was a striking idea, because before his time, always a person was a citizen of his tribe. There wasn't even what we would call a nation now. Yet Zeno said, "I am a citizen of the world."

Well, this was picked up by the Christians as one of the great dreams. And it has been a great dream. It's been marvelous in some respects. But, if everybody is a citizen of the world, if you have a commons--you see, this is where the commons comes in--then you've got a problem of managing this commons and you may not like the system of management. And if you don't manage it, it won't work at all. Bucky does not see this at all. It's this dream of cosmopolitanism coming to us from a time when things were much simpler and the dream was a plausible one. But now we can see the end of it.

RUSSELL: His last attempt, I think--and I tried to search the literature as carefully as I could--he came up with this concept of cosmic accounting, where we would use the computer. And his feeling is that in this type of a situation, we would be able to control such things as metals--he points out we won't have to mine metals, simply because by reusing the metals, like World War I, may be used again, that we become much more capable. And using his geodesic dome as an example, he said he should be able to produce thirty homes for every one home.

HARDIN: There are two or three ideas involved there, it's true. He gets them mixed up. Well, the recycling--we're already doing that, and we'll do more of it. But you finally meet yourself coming and going, so to speak. Finally, conceivably, we might some day recycle everything and then the question is, how much does it cost to recycle? Recycling is an expensive business. If we have to get our copper out of the dump heaps, that's a low level ore. And low level ores are expensive to refine. So then, much of our energy is used just for recycling, which means we can't use it for other things. As for the geodesic dome, I have a rather low regard for that, having attended one conference in Hawaii which was held in a geodesic dome. This is a ridiculous dream. The geodesic dome is, without question, the acme of insanity when it comes to acoustics. It is acoustically the worst structure that's ever been designed. You couldn't hear anything any place in that Hawaiian dome. They had put posts all through it and put speakers on the posts so, no matter where you were, you weren't more than six or eight feet from a speaker. That was the only way you could understand what the principal lecturer was saying. Just barely. It was just absolutely terrible. The only thing a geodesic dome is suitable for is a hay barn, and they're splendid for that. You see, they maximize the volume for a given amount of surface--that's a given amount of material. So they make very economical hay barns. Good for nothing else. It's amazing the way people have fallen in love with this idiot structure.

RUSSELL: Another example for us of technology's quick fix, so to speak.

HARDIN: Yes. This has caught people's imagination. As I say, only a hay barn. There are other functions in life besides hay barns.

RUSSELL: Moving back to realities, if you could comment. Being an educator and having devoted your life to that, how do you view our educational system from the standpoint of teaching this concept? Are we getting across to the young people?

HARDIN: Oh, I think so. I can't object. Not on a large scale. It's not part of any laid down curriculum or anything, but it's certainly in this laissez faire sort of education thing that we have, in many, many textbooks and many different subjects. Now it isn't always understood as well as it should be, and so forth and so on, but the idea is getting quite widespread now. And I'm delighted...


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