Tate 1 Alan Tate W350 Diane Russell 30 October 2006 Unlike the Poorest of Problems: A rhetorical analysis of “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor” If a single bacterium was randomly selected from the surface of this paper and its decedents permitted to reproduce in an environment with unlimited space and resources, the population would increase in both size and number. Within one month‟s time the bacterial colony would weigh more than the observable universe and yet still grow or expand outward at the speed of light. However, this intrinsic rate of a population‟s growth is suppressed in nature for virtually any extended period of time for reasons that our environment is unable to supply. Similarly, the limited capacity, or carrying capacity, that the earth has bestowed on the human reproduction rate, because of its restricted resources that are readily available for humans, can attenuate the potential survivorship of our populations and so abate the exponential rate of growth as conceptualized with the bacteria on a limited basis. In spite of this, the preceding statements do not imply that these rates cannot change over time or vary from one population to the other, but only that all populations exhibit the reproductive capacity to exceed the resources that would be needed in order to sustain them for their complete appeasement. Empirical evidence of such a phenomenon in the human population can be witnessed by its size and relative exponential growth within the past several hundred Tate 2 years. In 1750 there were approximately 790 million people on earth, which eventually rose to 2.56 billion by 1950, and has presently (2006) grown to 6.65 billion. This increase in the earth‟s carrying capacity for humans was brought about by a revolution in technology, allowing the human population to grow vigorously. Nevertheless, such growth was or could be detrimental to the potential survivorship of other species and/or the forthcoming human population due to the intensified burden we have placed on earth itself. As an ecologist, microbiologist, and professor of human ecology for the University of California, Garrett Hardin perceived this succession of the human population, and in response, wrote an essay entitled “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor,” which first appeared in the September 1974 issue of Psychology Today. Even though some physiologists and psychiatrists may read this particular magazine, it is written for a mass audience of non-psychologists. Some readers have distinguished the author‟s petition as being that we should not help the poor. Although this previous statement implies that the poor can be helped and that the problem(s) of world hunger, that is if one considers them a problem, can be deduced to the notion as being in our realm of control to either restore or ignore. In other words, we might be inept of abilities to truly help the poor. Thus, an alterative interpretation of Hardin‟s essay is that the poor cannot be helped. This inevitability that the poor will always exist is seen throughout the history of humans, in which there has never been a population where every individual has had an equal quality or quantity of resources. Hardin challenges his audience in a modern approach by informing them about the dangers of using the metaphor of a “spaceship” in describing earth and instead attempts to replace it with the analogy of a lifeboat and how Tate 3 it likened to the observation that the earth has finite space and resources that are readily available to a given population, which in turn determines the growth of that population without external help. Within his parallel, the rich are those in the lifeboat and the poor are those swimming alongside wishing to gain passage so they will not sink under the exhaustion of treading water or perish due to the toll of an inclement environment. According to Hardin, because the lifeboat has a limited capacity, as the environment has its carrying capacity for organisms, populations will inevitably be "crudely [divided] into rich nations and poor nations." If a rich nation, or those in the lifeboat, attempted to save all the poor nations, or those in the water, without a change in trends of their reproduction rates, the lifeboat's floatation attributes that correlate with our enhanced standard of living will be unattainable by the current environment of earth. In our charitable attempts to help, we will all sink. The word our is used to refer to the United States, which Hardin imparts as being the wealthiest1 of all. Even though we have a substantial amount of wealth, he claims in spite of everything that we should avoid being trapped by “the tragedy of the commons,2” which would swamp our boat or country by allowing all immigrants to enter who have the desire. In doing so, and because the immigrants would possibly reproduce at the same increased rates compared to the United Sates as before, which would subsequently lead to overpopulation, 1 Having the most influence over the assessable pool of resources or capital of any other country. 2 This is where all resources are shared equally in a mutual ownership under those in a system. Furthermore, no one person has more influence or recognition of control than any other person within the same system. Tate 4 Hardin‟s defines this “complete justice” as eventually channeling our whole country to “complete catastrophe.” Fortunately, we have not witnessed such misfortune and our population can still be represented as a continuum, where wealth has been distributed differently among those in our nation. For simplicity, each nation, country or population can be described as a distribution, where the independent variable (x-axis) or predictor is the standard of living and the dependent variable (y-axis) is the percent of the population. Within our nation, the United States, we would presume the distribution to be skewed (negative) to the left. That is that most of the population is contained on the right side of the graph with an overall higher standard of living. Conversely, third world countries or developing countries tend to maintain populations which are skewed (positively) to the right, and so frequently have lower standards of living. With this being the case, an allocation of a population, which is greater in a distribution that is positively skewed, expires under the inability to maintain a sustainable capability within their environment. Although some might state a destitution that leads to death as merely part of a consequence that corresponds to the laws of natural cause, others cannot help but “feel sorry” for such a population who must cope with such misfortune. Attending in attribution to thoughts such as these, the author of the essay, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor,” addresses the worldviews of Marxism and Christianity, which ideals he states, rests is the notions of “to each according to his needs” and being “our brother‟s keeper,” respectively. However, because of the tragedy of the commons, Hardin claims that supporters of either one of these worldviews in their intention of goodwill to create a world food bank would destine our population to the bleak problems Tate 5 of those who we attempted to secure. As the author continues his sequential logic of utilitarian humanistic views that sets up a claim or asks a question to the reader regarding a “problem,” he subsequently supplies evidence in support of his initial remarks and then asks another question is response to make sure the reader is “on the same page” and not just ignorant to his logic. In doing so for his case of why poor countries should “learn to budget for infrequent but certain emergencies” such as “periodical crop failures,” Hardin backs his remark with an example of Joseph. Contemplating back on his previous denunciation of Christianity or what he thought was a biblical standard of being “our brother‟s keeper”; one would venture to presume that he would refrain from a biblical account in order to affirm his argument. However, as can be seen in the following elucidation, this rational is contradicting. A wise and competent government saves out of the production of the food years in anticipation of bad years to come. Joseph taught this policy to pharaoh in Egypt more than two thousand years ago. Yet the great majority of the governments in the word today do not follow such a policy. They lack either the wisdom or the competence, or both. Should those nations that do manage to put something aside be forced to come to the rescue each time and emergency occurs among the poor nations? Garrett Hardin, in my view, is an erudite professor and scholar. Nonetheless, there appears to be disparity between the biblical examples he provides as evidence to his claim and so a potential incongruity within his argument. Because of Hardin‟s intellect and his foresight that this particular essay not only could but would create controversy, I assume that he was aware of this potential discrepancy within his reasoning, and it was not due to absentmindedness. With that being the case, he implies that Christianity, which should be holistic in perspective because it is a worldview or claims to be one, is in itself incompetent of holding true when being hard-pressed with troubles unlike those Tate 6 with the poorest of problems. His logic is simple; if we are Christians, then we need to be our “brother‟s keep,” but if we allow for this “complete justice,” it will lead to our “complete catastrophe.” Therefore, we cannot live biblically because in the occasion we decide to do so will undoubtedly emaciate our wellbeing; or put another way, if we are Christians then we need to be our “brother‟s keeper,” but because we are unable to help the poor, the biblical view is irrelevant and extraneous for this particular issue. However, he, like most would likely concede that some “stories” such as the one about Joseph can be constructive, except, this is not the only biblical account or story that he mentioned in his essay. The other is also reported in a book named Genesis, where a description can be found about two brothers named Cain and Abel. Because Jesus had not yet paid for the forgiveness of man‟s sins with his death in atonement, people were required to offer scarifies to the Lord in petition. One day, the two brothers both offered their scarifies to the Lord, and according to Genesis, Abel offered the best that he had, while Cain gave an offering of only nominal merit. The results of such behavior can be seen in the following account from the book of Genesis. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. Tate 7 After reading the preceding account of Cain and his actions, Hardin‟s assertion of those “tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being „our brother‟s keeper‟” as being related to “complete justice” almost appears irrelevant, especially because this is only place it is almost found in the Bible. Hardin thought he was quoting the Bible or a Christian Ideal, but in actuality, the words, our brother’s keeper, are only a misquoted idiom that is taken out of context from a man named Cain who was both a murderer and one who did not respect the Lord, and as a result was later cursed by Him. Whether he believed in this account or story as being true is beside the point. Nonetheless, the allegation of using “our brother‟s keeper” as the presupposition of the Christian ideal in affirmation to its worldview is an erroneous conclusion in having correlation as being “complete justice” that will eventually facilitate “complete catastrophe.” With this implication reveled, Hardin‟s grounds of saving “our brothers” from the water, and pulling them into the boat as being the Christian ideal, are broken due to its faulty foundation that was found. On the other hand, the story about Joseph that was drawn from Hardin‟s evidence can also be examined. In Hardin‟s other examples throughout the essay, he depicts “real life” situations as evidence in contribution to likening the earth as a lifeboat, with some of these being the “Food for peace program,” growth rates and the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation with their development of the “green revolution.” Because the United States, according to Hardin, is the “wealthiest of all” the nations, it would appear as an aberration to conserve a tangible situation as an example of a competent government, or one that was not the United States for that matter. What would be the advantages in a persuasive essay to use a fictional government system as the evidence? So far, none have been noted. If in fact Hardin Tate 8 believed that the Joseph account or story actually took place, several implications can be concluded. According to Hardin, Joseph taught his policies of government to the Pharaoh, but as can be distinguished again in the book of Genesis in the Pharaohs own words, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.” In this account, Pharaoh in actuality was taught only what God imparted to Joseph, this being, the responsibility of private ownership in the available recourses with a biblical worldview. The Bible does, however, instruct on the importance of private ownership and the inability for man to reach a utopian society due to the selfish nature of people. In essence, this is what Hardin challenges his audience to accept with his argument of “the tragedy of the commons,” addressing the potential consequences of the world food bank by stating that “if everyone would restrain himself, all would be well; but it takes only one less than everyone to ruin a system of voluntary restraint.” With all this being said, however, we do reside at an unprecedented time that has a propensity to alter the earth for the potential destruction of generations to come. In our attempts to redress social problems such as those that inflict the poor, easy solutions seem to sum to only selfishness. As being human or living organisms, what do we all equally deserve? Well, that depends on what we derive from our worldview. In actuality, with all societies and people that have ever existed as evidence, the poor cannot be helped, or at least not all of them that remain on our naturally selfish planet at one unequivocal time in which all could agree. Even though not all the poor can be potentially helped, there is a possibility that some could be transformed to maintain a higher standard of living as a whole and so fluctuating the distribution as a whole slightly to the right. One process that Tate 9 Hardin forgetfully ignores, or decisively avoids that could possibly attend to the potential good of the poor, is the fact that the poor can be taught. Taught what though? This is where he wants us, the inhabitants of the earth, to contemplate. Maybe the solution is found in the education of reproduction strategies of K- versus R-selection and our attempts to mold our conscience evolution in a mosaic of possibilities. These possibilities, which are primarily destined accordingly by one‟s or a population‟s worldview, are also governed by the responsibility of a population to educate their people in reproduction strategies that are pertinent for their survival and wellbeing as a whole. By looking at a satellite photograph of the world, one can observe that some regions do not appear to contain resources that are readily available to the population, but furthermore, have some of the highest reproduction rates. All the less, the actual growth rate of the population is nominal. This is a characterization of rapid (R) selection reproducing strategists, where individuals have many offspring, but because the resources are limited, most die before being able to reproduce themselves. By overproducing, little is able to be invested in their young due to unavailable resources that cannot support a population that has surpassed its carrying capacity (K). This can be contrasted with a K-selection reproducing strategist, where individuals have a limited amount of offspring so they can ensure the fitness3 of their juveniles and ability to compete for recourses. This is not eugenics, but a concept that a family must ensure that resources will be feasible to secure in order to contribute to the welfare of those that they themselves bring into the world. God blessed the human race and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.” Although controversy may reside if we have 3 Reproducing and ensuring that one‟s offspring are also able to reproduce. Tate 10 reached our K or not, governing the earth is no diminutive task and an endeavor we cannot dismiss. In address to this latter consideration, there is a plausible possibility that Hardin‟s sincere intentions within his essay were to confront an audience who were/are either unaware or apathetic toward the impending problems we as a nation or inhabitants of earth will have to cope with and so wager with our humanity in an attempt to resolve “pressing problems of overpopulation and hunger.” In other words, and with use of some urban language for clarification, maybe he really doesn‟t think we should not or cannot help the poor, but wants us to prove him wrong by thinking through this situation ourselves. In this way, the manifestation of such effects is the only effective means that could alter our complacency, because in reality, we do not see with our own eyes the hunger or overpopulation that certain populations are experiencing. In Hardin‟s scheme to provoke such a reaction, he has placed subtle clashing views as evidence, such as the Christian ideal being “our brother‟s keeper” and Joseph as display of providing the wisdom necessary for a competent government in order to assess our proficiency to analyze his argument so we can in turn establish our own views towards the poor and how they can be assisted by the use of criticizing his thoughts with careful consideration.