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(35,872 posts)
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 09:31 AM Aug 2020

The Tragedy of the 'Tragedy of the Commons' (Scientific American)

The man who wrote one of environmentalism’s most-cited essays was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamaphobe—plus his argument was wrong

By Matto Mildenberger on April 23, 2019

Fifty years ago, University of California professor Garrett Hardin penned an influential essay in the journal Science. Hardin saw all humans as selfish herders: we worry that our neighbors’ cattle will graze the best grass. So, we send more of our cows out to consume that grass first. We take it first, before someone else steals our share. This creates a vicious cycle of environmental degradation that Hardin described as the “tragedy of the commons.”

It's hard to overstate Hardin’s impact on modern environmentalism. His views are taught across ecology, economics, political science and environmental studies. His essay remains an academic blockbuster, with almost 40,000 citations. It still gets republished in prominent environmental anthologies.

But here are some inconvenient truths: Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today.

And he promoted an idea he called “lifeboat ethics”: since global resources are finite, Hardin believed the rich should throw poor people overboard to keep their boat above water.
more (worth the read): https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-tragedy-of-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/

This, and/or similar rebuttals, have, I'm sure, been posted on DU before. But it's always worth another read.
The Tragedy of the 'Tragedy of the Commons' (Scientific American) (Original Post) eppur_se_muova Aug 2020 OP
"Hardin practically calls for a fascist state to snuff out unwanted gene pools" dalton99a Aug 2020 #1
A woman I knew a long time ago-- Igel Aug 2020 #2
'...--plus his argument was wrong.' I felt that was the more important part, but ... eppur_se_muova Aug 2020 #3
Robert Hughes had some interesting things to say about "bad" people producing "good" art. PETRUS Aug 2020 #4
Dates, background & info. for those of us who don't know appalachiablue Aug 2020 #5


(79,143 posts)
1. "Hardin practically calls for a fascist state to snuff out unwanted gene pools"
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 10:23 AM
Aug 2020
People who revisit Hardin’s original essay are in for a surprise. Its six pages are filled with fear-mongering. Subheadings proclaim that “freedom to breed is intolerable.” It opines at length about the benefits if “children of improvident parents starve to death.” A few paragraphs later Hardin writes: “If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And on and on. Hardin practically calls for a fascist state to snuff out unwanted gene pools.

Or build a wall to keep immigrants out. Hardin was a virulent nativist whose ideas inspired some of today’s ugliest anti-immigrant sentiment. He believed that only racially homogenous societies could survive. He was also involved with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a hate group that now cheers President Trump’s racist policies. Today, American neo-Nazis cite Hardin’s theories to justify racial violence.

These were not mere words on paper. Hardin lobbied Congress against sending food aid to poor nations, because he believed their populations were threatening Earth’s “carrying capacity.”


(34,646 posts)
2. A woman I knew a long time ago--
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 01:25 PM
Aug 2020

she's been dead these past 20 years or more--loved Tchaikovsky's music.

Then one day somebody said he was gay.

She immediately found that his music was vile and reprehensible. Refused to listen to it. When somebody else played something he wrote at her church, she pitched a fit and complained to the pastor and then, when the pastor refused to ban Tchaikovsky, started to badmouth the pastor.

One aspect of Tchaikovsky's life, I argued with her, did not invalidate everything else he did. His music wasn't obviously more "homosexual" than Cui's or Brahm's or Beethoven's. Listening to it didn't make her suddenly start wanting to sleep with the choir director's wife or cause her son to want to sleep with the choir director. It was as it always had been. Harmonically rich, sometimes flashy or deep, and often with nice melodies that one remembered but didn't always associate with Tchaikovsky.

But in her universe, everything was either perfectly good or perfectly evil. And since she put homosexuality in the "evil" camp, it meant that she had to deny that she'd ever actually liked his or perhaps it had some redeeming worth.

Similarly there's the gut-wrenching news story I read years ago. A very well done set of anatomical drawings were done in the '40s by a German. Some--not all--of the cadavers he used were Jewish, dead from the camps. A doctor had a tricky bit of surgery and needed some very accurate, very detailed drawings in order to save a patient's life. And was torn--use the tainted drawings as a guide to planning the surgery, or go in less prepared to do some very finicky reconstruction that might be botched. Finally the doctor--I think it was a "she"--appealed for cosmic permission from the ethics board for a dispensation to use the drawings. She got it. She was just slightly better than the homophobic woman I referenced, in that the doctor at least allowed for the racist German's drawings to actually be accurate. I consider this story to be gut-wrenching not because of the source of the drawing, but the very idea that a doctor might be willing to risk a patient's to protect her moral purity and avoid the "moral hazard" of using a drawing (anonymously) made using a heinous source, because the fact of using the drawings might, just might, encourage somebody else later to use a morally impure source to produce something that might save lives. She was afraid of moral taint.

Note that the drawings used were not rare or especially hard to come by. They were high quality, expensive, and issued in limited press runs, but they weren't just found in a handful of rare book collections around the world. They'd been published for decades after the war, until pressure over their source caused the publisher to cease producing copies.


(35,872 posts)
3. '...--plus his argument was wrong.' I felt that was the more important part, but ...
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 02:56 PM
Aug 2020

the context did make it more understandable why he should have come to such errant conclusions. A great pity that they have had such influence, but if you google for rebuttals, you'll find there have been many, including the one I posted.


(3,678 posts)
4. Robert Hughes had some interesting things to say about "bad" people producing "good" art.
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 03:17 PM
Aug 2020

Anatomical drawings aren't a direct parallel to what he was talking about, but some of the same thoughts and observations apply.

It sound as though Garrett Hardin was an awful man (by my standards), but the real problem with his "Tragedy of the Commons" essay it that it's wrong. So in this case, it's a double whammy - incorrect ideas from a hateful person.


(40,181 posts)
5. Dates, background & info. for those of us who don't know
Tue Aug 18, 2020, 05:30 PM
Aug 2020

this disgusting person. Sounds like he spent too much time around cattle, corn and the ranch in Texas...California sterilized more people than any other state during the U.S. eugenics era, and Stanford, Harvard and UVa were leaders in eugenics ideology pseudoscience.

There were a lot of his kind, 20th c. old white men who achieved some 'notoriety. Him with white nationalists, fascists, eugenicists, racists, ethnonationalists. I'm glad I had the opportunity to see John Kenneth Gailbraith, Buckminster Fuller and others like them lecture at a local college when I was in HS.

- Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist who warned of the dangers of human overpopulation. He is most famous for his exposition of the tragedy of the commons, in a 1968 paper of the same title in Science,[1] which called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment".[2]

He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Human Ecology: "We can never do merely one thing. Any intrusion into nature has numerous effects, many of which are unpredictable."[3]:112 He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist, whose publications were "frank in their racism and quasi-fascist ethnonationalism".[4]

...Purported association with white nationalism
Hardin caused controversy for his support of anti-immigrant causes during his lifetime and possible connections to the white nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that Hardin served on the board of the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Social Contract Press and co-founded the anti-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization and The Environmental Fund, which according to the SPLC "served to lobby Congress for nativist and isolationist policies".[4]

In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence",[22] an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which declared the consensus of the signing scholars on issues related to race and intelligence following the publication of the book The Bell Curve.[4]

Hardin's last book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999), a warning about the threat of overpopulation to the Earth's sustainable economic future, called for coercive constraints on "unqualified reproductive rights" and argued that affirmative action is a form of racism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_Hardin

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