Monday, January 29, 2007

Is mass starvation the answer?

When I first read Ishmael, it took me a lot of contemplation to make sense of what he was saying. These are ideas that conflict directly with what we hear every day, everywhere we go. I'd heard the same message since I was very young. Anything else was difficult to understand at first.

Today, I think I have gotten past the initial hump, and can at least articulate what I believe Quinn is saying. Most of what he said in Ishmael seemed pretty reasonable to me. The ideas are not complex, even if they are outside my normal arena of thought.

However, there was one bit that I got stuck on.

He talks about the relationship between food supply an population. That for any population of a given species, if you increase the food supply, the population will grow to match, and if you decrease the food supply the population will shrink to match. He says this is true for all species, and that includes humans. What our culture has done, via Tolitarian Agriculture, is to continually, and dramatically increase our food supply for 10,000 years.

He also makes a strong case that this behavior is a problem - that it's not sustainable. In fact, we have long since past the point of sustainabilty. To attempt to maintain current behavior will result in our extinction, and soon -- Quinn says 100 years if we keep going the way we're going.

When I read this, I thought it sounded like Quinn was saying we should reduce the food supply available to humanity, which would in turn reduce the human population. That is, people need to get busy starving to death .

Well, that's not something I can accept very easily, for a number of reasons:

Starving hurts. Really, it's a terrible way to go. I hate it when dinner is late; I can't imagine the agony of dying of hunger.

Who decides? Some will go hungry, while others eat enough. Who chooses? Judging by our past behaviors, it will be the elite that chooses, and they will choose themselves & their friends to eat. That is, the haves will have food, and the have-nots will not have food. The fact that I would almost certainly be in the 'haves' is no comfort to me. Anyway, this is something that no one has the right to choose. As Quinn says, "who lives and who dies" is a matter for the gods; the fact that we think we are wise enough to make that choice is the reason we ended up here in the first place.

The system would be abused. Duh. No matter how fair the system could be, someone will use their power to abuse it.

Still, perhaps we can convince ourselves that it's OK for mass starvation to happen, because:
a) today lots of people are already starving
b) the result would be "better for humanity"

But then I consider:

It's only temporary. If we could reduce the human population by 90% this way, the remaining 10% would have little motivation to stick with the program, and our numbers would grow again. We're doubling every 37 years, so it would take a bit over a century to restore the current population.

Then I consider what I think I know about Quinn. He is not trying to deliver a doomsday message, but instead a message of hope. It just doesn't seem to fit him to say that he's suggesting we starve 90% of the population. He must have a better idea in mind.

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