Inequality and Overpopulation

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, October 20, 2018

In the 21st-century countless problems threaten our survival. Long before climate change can drown us, inequality and overpopulation will dissolve our civilization. People tend to obsess on a single issue when all our problems are interrelated. Republicans have laser-focused on reducing their taxes while denying all other threats due to their expense. Our economy is a million times more complex than a nuclear power plant, yet Republicans feel they can control it with just one knob.

Nuclear power plant control room

We won’t solve problems we refuse to see. The past tells us we need a convinced percentage of the population before we act. History also shows progress is slow, and sometimes humans never change. We live in politically terrorizing times. The frog in boiling water analogy Al Gore used for climate change works for all the problems we need to solve today. In the middle of the last century, John Calhoun’s experiments with rat and mice overpopulation probably say more about our times than we want to believe. Watch the video if you don’t believe me or this longer one, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Today, most people ignore the issue of overpopulation even though most of our social problems are directly connected to 6 billion too many humans. Deniers claim food production has always grown faster than population, so we don’t have to worry about overpopulation. However, starvation was never the sole threat of too many people.

If you regularly watch TV news, the same stories cycle over the same periods of days, weeks, months, and years. And with each new iteration, these same problems intensify. I have been pessimistic about the future for decades. I don’t know if my pessimism is the natural one of old age or there’s real evidence for worry.

Honduran migrant caravan October 2018

The new Honduran migrant caravan is much larger than the last one and Donald Trump is panicking. Trump thinks he can control the border. The past tells us that won’t work. Whenever people suffer they move to where people don’t. Just look at Venezuelans pouring into Columbia in the photo below. Don’t the two groups look similar? Haven’t we seen them before? Won’t we see groups grow ever larger and more frequent for the rest of our lives? How are they different from those fleeing hurricanes Florence and Michael? Imagine yourself in such a group. It’s almost certain you’ll either be a refugee in your lifetime, or you’ll be building walls to keep them out. What will it take to avoid both fates?

Venezuelans migrating to Columbia.

This isn’t overpopulation, but inequality. Overpopulation and inequality are related. When populations conflict over war, there is inequality of peace. When there are extremes of rich and poor, there is economic inequality. Where society deems a physical trait of the body superior to another there’s racial inequality. When society treats men differently than women, there is gender inequality. When there are more people than jobs, there is work inequality. When one species takes all the natural resources, there is inequality of lifeforms.

If you watch the Mouse Utopia Experiment film, it’s easy to forget you’re seeing mice and see us instead. As the population grows on Lifeboat Earth, the passengers will fight over the remaining rations. We can’t solve overpopulation right now. We can solve the inequality to reduce the conflicts until we reduce our numbers. If we don’t, nature will do it for us.

Republicans believe the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. They are not the ethical Vulcans from Star Trek. The only way our species can survive all the problems we’ll face in this century is by providing equality to all. That will require turning all the knobs in the control room in subtle ways until we find the correct settings. A difficult but not impossible task. And it’s not just for our country. If anywhere in the world one group is singled out and not given equal rations and opportunity, this lifeboat will sink. We have grown so large, that even a 1% minority is 70 million people, a powerful force.

We fail because we lack empathy for people unlike ourselves. I recommend two essays to prove my point. I could list thousands, but please read these two to see if they don’t change your mind. They are “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The Longest War” by Rebecca Solnit.

No matter what kind of walls you build to keep out whatever kind of refugee your fear, that wall will never be big enough. The only way not to need walls is to create equality uniformly everywhere. As long as you believe you can wall yourself in you’re doomed.

World-War-Z-photo-zombies-1

JWH

5 thoughts on “Inequality and Overpopulation”

  1. Everyone wants the other party to solve their problems. Everyone wants the other party to balance the budget when they are in power. Not so much when our party is in control—don’t hear it from Rs now, didn’t hear it from Ds during the previous administration, the second most expensive. I fully expect the next administration no matter who runs it will be more spendthrift then this one.

    In a country where everyone not mentally unstable or on drugs or fresh off the boat is fed, housed, and clothed, inequality is not the problem. What will bring us down is not inequality, it is covetousness for more stuff and our inability to select anyone capable of solving real problems. That begins with knowing what the real problem is—i.e., being able to name it correctly rather look for someone to blame—and not resisting workable ideas just because the wrong person or party might get credit and the right ideology isn’t showcased.

  2. I read them both…interesting and I’d always heard of this mice and rat experiment. Rings very true to humans today… all creatures are more alike than different.

    I do feel we are very close to a tipping point in population, environmental degradation and unsolvable divisive political agendas and religious intolerance.

    It probably follows an age old universal pattern of self destruction, not just on earth, but probably has repeated and will repeat into infinity throughout the entire universe.
    We are just at a specific point in this timeline.

  3. James, I really did have a lot I wanted to get done today. But I made the mistake of opening up this post of yours.
    I sat down, read it and the two linked essays therein and viewed the mouse and rat utopia videos. Time stopped.

    I’ve been a subscriber to The Atlantic for many years and I do not know how I missed Ta Nehisi Coates’ article. It was gripping. And haunting. We will never cleanse ourselves of this . . . this thing.

    Rebecca Solnit’s essay was equally disturbing – the data is chilling, but not surprising.

    You think a lack of empathy is the common denominator? I don’t know, maybe. There’s another common denominator – women AND blacks were subjugated only until relatively recently; both still struggle against systemic misogyny, prejudice, and predation, violent and otherwise. I’ve read that perpetrators hate their victims because of the guilt they engender.

    1. Linda, I think you might be the only reader who went and read those essays. They are very powerful. I just wish I knew how to integrated them into my life more fully. I wish more people would read them.

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