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Chapter 6. Growth of Human Population. Print

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Chapter 6. Growth of Population.

 

1. Total numbers.

2. Bernard Cambell.

3. What happens at the margin?

4. Our basic value.

5. From St. Augustine to Bernard Campbell.

6. Is any life worth living?

 

1. Total numbers.

 

The ”World Spirit”, I concluded in Part I, acted as if it tried to maximize the human population on a restricted resource base, our earth.

 

The World Spirit has truly continued to do so. But now it does so by trying to minimize the number of independent social units, as we will show in next chapter.

 

Which are the empirical facts as to the total number of human individuals over the latest ten millennia?

 

With the help of some of the leading population experts in the world, it is possible to make a

 

Table VI:1. Historical estimate of world population:

 

Year

Summary of

Estimates

Year

Summary of

Estimates

 

Lower

Higher

 

Lower

Higher

- 10000

1

10

1250

400

416

- 5000

5

20

1340

443

 

- 4000

7

 

1400

350

374

- 3000

14

 

1500

425

540

- 2000

27

 

1700

600

679

- 1000

50

 

1800

813

1,125

- 500

100

 

1900

1,550

1,762

- 400

162

 

1910

1,750

 

- 200

150

231

1920

1,860

 

1

170

400

1930

2,070

 

200

190

256

1940

2,300

 

500

190

206

1950

2,400

 

1000

254

345

2005

6,500

 

 

This table can be commented upon for a full chapter, or, if you so wish, for many a book. Here only a few basic notes.

 

Our knowledge of the population figures before Christ are, of course, very vague. Two researchers have been brave enough to create an “Atlas of World Population History”[1] from which the single numbers for the first years are taken, as none of the other authors have dared to enter the field.

 

In the middle years, from 200 BC until 1900 AD, statistics have become better but are, as the figures show, open to discussion. After that, the United Nations have had a team to estimate figures which should be rather accurate.

 

What is spectacular is the tremendous growth at the very end of the period, something to which we will come back.

 

2. Bernard Campbell.

 

Let me remind you with a short summary of what was shown in earlier chapters.

 

Man separated biologically from the chimpanzees some six million years ago. When he started agriculture some ten thousand years ago, his number was less than ten million. Meaning that as an average during his first six million years only one single individual extra per year was given the chance to get happy.

 

This was the human condition striving for balance, homeostasis, with the rest of nature. In a once widely spread textbook on evolution estimates are given[2] showing that as hunters and gatherers, who require large territories to find food, there would not have been space for more than that number, some ten million human beings.

 

In other words, at the beginning of the period that we are now starting to study, the latest 0.2 percent of mankind’s existence, or some ten or twelve millennia, we had come close to or, in some parts of the world, reached the limit of how many children could survive, if we had continued to live as hunters and gatherers.

 

Today, most people never give a thought to this situation. We tend to take life as something completely self-evident. The growth we have had in population is simply a result of sexual activity and technological progress, isn’t it?

 

No, it isn’t! Sex has been one of the few constants of life from the beginning of our existence. Had that been the main factor, we would have reached ten million people a handful of million years ago.

 

Technological “progress” does matter. But it is nothing that comes by itself. It must be explained.

The simple fact is that Bernard Campbell’s estimate, if more or less correct as I will assume it is, does tell us that since around ten thousand years mankind has all the time lived at the Malthusian margin that I described, with step after step, in section ####. That has been our reality, also during the latest 0.2 of our existence.

 

3. What happens at the margin?

 

Now, what normally happens when a group of primitive savages come to this Malthusian margin, as Campbell suggested we did some ten millennia ago?

 

When the sex-cum-food needs grow in such a way that they cannot be satisfied with available resources there are essentially two choices.

 

The first one is to enlarge your territory. As all the world now was inhabited, that could only be done by taking it from your neighbours, to steal from them or to make war on them. That is, to continue the animal territorial struggle, but now against other men instead of against other animals.

 

This is the classical, animal way of doing it, of expansion out over Africa and the rest of the globe, lately called human imperialism and colonialism. It is surely based in some kind of “imperialistic genes”.

 

The second choice is to get more food out of the same piece of land, that is, to develop ever better tools for improving the productivity of agriculture and other cultural activities that, in the end, lead to more food for more children.

 

While animals have only the first choice, man has also the second. ((Is this correct? Note Jerison and Boserup ??? ####))But there is always a competition between these two choices, as history amply demonstrates.

 

If my hypothesis about man’s master tool, intelligence, is true, that should come through also in this context.

 

((Let us see what happened between the different parts of mankind by looking at figures for the population development in the various parts of the world. ####))

 

 

 

 

4. Our basic value: redundancy struggle or life boat ethics?

 

It is impossible to organize a big material as well as to make judgements of it unless you have a good and clear basis in an explicit value system.

 

The one to which I adhere is the Christian-humanist one that every single human individual in the world has a value that must be protected as much as is possible.

This is what I call man’s “redundancy struggle”.

 

Against that we have what many today name “the life boat ethics”.

 

This is today a fundamental problem in our global policy: should we continue to struggle against nature’s cruel redundancy principle or are we pressed to realize that a “population explosion” is forcing us to choose the cruel life boat ethics.

 

Existentially, it is easy to make a declaration. But given man’s struggle against man, and the Darwinian tendency to select some and kill others in the Mendelian material, also among humans, this is in no way a simple, but an exceedingly difficult question.

 

Especially if we are not even sure that the process isn’t simply another blind development in which man’s conscious planning has very little capacity to affect the outcome.

 

5. From St. Augustine to Bernard Campbell.

 

On of the wise observation of Saint Augustine is the following: “...there is no man that desires not to be, as there is none desires not to be happy: for how can he have happiness, and have no being?”

 

Nobody can be happy without life! That is a truly scientific statement, easy to falsify. It is also the basis for much academic thinking and political justifications under the heading of “utilitarianism”.

 

It goes back to Francis Hutcheson, 1694-1746, and Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832, who both said that we should try to create a society that promoted life, the first Augustinian condition for “the greatest happiness to the greatest number”.

 

To exist is surely the precondition for happiness, at least in this existence. Let us thus, in  this chapter disregard the amount of happiness and concentrate on the “greatest number” in this utilitarian philosophy.

 

With agri-culture and all other forms of serious culture, however, mankind has expanded much above the Campbellian limit. First rather slowly, to some 600 million in the year 1700 A.D. Then it went faster, with two billion in 1927, four in 1974 and six billion in 1999.[3] In 2005, UN experts estimated, mankind passed the 6,500 million mark.

 

In the lifetime of the present author, some 70 years, man’s capacity to create food on a limited planet has thus increased by double as much as it did during six million years before his birth. We are now 650 times as many - potentially happy - individuals than could have existed, had we continued to live as hunters and gatherers.

 

This is what I have called “the third miracle of life”, or the miracle of culture.[4] This wonder has, indeed, created the Augustine precondition, life, for the happiness of a very great Hutchinson-Bentham number.

 

Our societies may not be as bad as the mini-nuke scenario suggests.

 

But problematic it still is!

 

6. Is any life worth living?

 

No, said Socrates, the unexamined life is not worth living. That idea has been taken up by communistoid thinkers since Amos, who justify their claims for revolution by saying that life in poverty is not worth living.

 

And, yet, at the beginning of the third millennium after Christ, with the biggest gaps history has ever seen between rich and poor, Nigeria, according to one study, had the happiest population of all!

 

With all respect for Socrates, the idea that some forms of life are not worth living is a very dangerous one. Because if we become too many human beings on a limited earth, objectively or subjectively, those who consider their own lives worth living, but not those of some others, can start to kill off these others, to get some more space.

 

That was the warning of Thomas Robert Malthus already in 1798. He, a father of eleven girls, said that a growing population on a limited space is the problem behind all other problems. A first edition of is famous book, with the long title  An Essay on the Principle of Population; or, A view of its past and present effects on Human Happiness; with an inquiry into our prospects respecting the future removal or mitigation of the evils which it occasions[5], was in 2003 sold for over a million Swedish kronor.

 

The essential message of that book is that all living organisms multiply to the limits of  available resources. At that limit a struggle for life is unavoidable, normally in the form of violence and wars. Except for intelligent man, who might substitute culture for warfare.

 

War or culture, that is our choice, the problem behind all other problems.

 

Malthus is remembered by few today. But his idea is known by all. Charles Darwin read it in his youth, picked it up and made it, in 1859, into the essence of his theory of evolution: the “natural selection” at the limit. In 1871 he said that theory was valid also for man.

 

Now, the third miracle of life is being threatened. Some, who discuss what they call “life boat ethics”, think the population has gone too far. Some, a couple of generations ago, thought that Germany needed more “Boden” for its “Blut”, more land for its race.

 

Today a similar struggle for “turf” is going on in the Middle East, which can become the fuse for some new and even more horrible, global Holocausts.

 

If we do not insist that any and every human life is worth living.

 

This is one of the truly important value questions of the present mankind!

 

 



[1] Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Penguin 1978.

[2]  Bernard G. Campbell, Human Evolution. An introduction to man’s adaptations.  2nd edition, Aldine, New York 1974, p. 393.

[3]  Joel E. Cohen, “Human Population: The Next Half Century.” Science, 14 Nov. 2003, p. 1172

[4]  GA-K, Meditations on Western Wisdom, The Capri Institute, 2000, p. 18.

[5] The fifth edition,  London, John Murray, 1817.


 

 
 


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