Updated 26 September, 2003
Tribute to Garrett Hardin
Making space in the lifeboat
by Ed Maschke
On September 14, 2003 two people decided to make a little more room on spaceship earth and made their own quiet, dignified exit. Garrett and Jane Hardin lived life on their own terms and finished it the same way.
Once in a while, if we are very lucky and can pay attention; we get to be around someone who inspires, motivates, and helps us understand or at least ask the questions that help clarify this dance of life. The questions don't necessarily lead to bold new answers, but we begin to look at the world in a way that is clearer. Garrett Hardin as a teacher and friend did that for me.
In 1970 I was fresh out of the military and educating myself about the newly minted "environmental movement". The movement really wasn't new, but simply another incarnation for those of us who had been unaware of the body of progressive work from prior generations. Writers and activists had viewed with distaste the wasteful resource consumption, we as a species, present to the future of this small blue-green water planet. They had given us many examples but we were searching for our compass and I think Garrett helped provide the environmental movement with the equivalent of magnetic North.
This he did in the essay entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons". I read the piece in Junior College and was struck, by it's encapsulation of so much of what all of us were trying to sort as the root of the environmental problem and the limits to our own abilities to ask the correct questions. I decided that UCSB would be the place to continue my studies and that I would like to hear more from Garrett Hardin. He was part of the reason I came to study in Santa Barbara.
I couldn't get into any of Garrett's courses the first semester but I did attend many of his lectures. I introduced myself at the end of a one lecture and asked how he preferred to be addressed. He said my students usually call me Dr. Hardin and my friends call me Garrett. "I shall then call you Garrett, and I look forward to taking your classes, I said". He smiled and nodded
Over the next couple of years I got to spend a lot time with Garrett in his large classes, in individual and small group seminars. I took 6 classes from Garret.
I was not the best of students, and too much the activist to be harnessed in a classroom. But I paid attention to Garrett Hardin, and for some strange reason he liked me. Perhaps it was environmental pursuits I was engaged with, but we got along well. We remained friends and I came to know Jane as a community activist from the Goleta Water Wars and planning process.
Garrett was maligned by many of my friends on the left, for what was perceived as racist or elitist theory. He did believe in eugenics and we differed on a number of occasions in this area. His own reaction to those critiques were, I believe, the most appropriate to remember 'fine he would say, label me what you choose but please don't stop trying to understand the facts as presented... and if the facts are persuasive then perhaps history will treat me a litter kinder... if the facts are in error please show me where.'
Garrett Hardin engaged your mind. If you didn't want someone to question your conclusions don't make conclusions based on false reasoning (bad data) no matter how valid you thought they were or how popular they made you. He was not as concerned with being right as he was with asking the right questions.
Garrett used humor and sometimes shock to force much of the progressive community into debates about critical issues. He forced us to examine our assumptions. His ability to peer into the future and project consequences to our action or inaction seems simple, but like the flow of water onto rock, it wore grooves, which under close examination displayed cracks in moral, social, political, and ecological practices.
His questions and essays led to debates about how and when to deal with global questions of population, food, water, reproductive rights, carrying capacity or the limits to technology to name a few. In none of these areas have we been successful in our search for answers, but perhaps he helped us ask some of the correct questions.
As we jump into war and back, fight policies and politicians that seem so utterly destructive of the future of our collective home I thought of Garrett. A few months ago I had a short phone discussion about coming by, and he said I should call ahead that we could schedule lunch. I had hoped to discuss his view about what questions we should be asking. That will not now occur. I hope I can remember some of the tools he provided to examine problems. I hope I can remember to ask the right questions.