Many Millions of Malthusian Miracles
by Hugh M. Lewis
Real numbers too large to count, millions or billions, are really beyond our ability to realistically conceptualize or even imagine in terms of powers of ten or as so many zeros following one. They are numbers far too great to even remotely comprehend or clearly conceptualize in any but the most abstract way. Now, if we multiply these numbers by the kind of complexity that even a single human life time presents us with, then we have some vague sense of the enormity of the anthropological problem in trying to embrace a realistic notion of a pan human reality in the world. We can only handle such a problem by gross over simplifications or mass generalizations in terms of national character stereotypes or in terms of a standardized inventory of cultural traits in a large, cross cultural sample or survey. Though it is rarely acknowledged as such, it is the shear enormity and vastness of this human reality which renders cross cultural studies and pan human theories in Anthropological research most difficult and problematic.
The necessary reductions, simplifications, reifications, which are inherent in any such task usually go unmentioned and unquestioned in anthropological literature, because if this problematic issues of scale were opened up, it would most likely make anthropology seem like so much singing in the wind—interesting perhaps, but too narrow and limited in scope to necessarily reflect human reality in any but the most hypothetical way. Statistical surveys involving a few hundred, or a few thousand subject, are of enormous logistical and methodological difficulty—much less hundreds of thousands, millions or billions. No one really has a good idea of the whole picture of human reality as it is unfolding before us, or as it has unfolded during the past. We can only risk our credibility on gross estimates based upon theoretical conclusions, intuitive insights, a great deal of ignorance, a few leaps of faith and some wild inferences and wonderful guesswork.
The Renaissance Genius was supposed to live in a world which was comprehensive in its intellectual totality. The world then was supposedly much smaller, simpler and perhaps less sophisticated that it is presumed now to be. Now, it is held, the contemporary conceptual world is too specialized, too complex, too compartmentalized, to be comprehended by any single mind or even any group of intellectuals. Today, it is held that there can be no more Renaissance Genius who knew of everything.
We live in a world which no one has a bottom line in, in which no one has a complete picture of the whole, or even understands most of the it. Today, the most we can hope for is partial, fragmentary, and rough comprehension of the world—seen in outline form only from a great, estranging distance.
We must learn to swallow what it has been that we’ve been doing with our anthropology of the world with a great grain of salt. For every world that becomes recorded ethnographically, there are many more that have vanished forever from human memory. For every reality that becomes enlightened ethnologically, there are multiple alternative realities that have remained undiscovered. We must learn to accept with some disillusionment that we have not actually been doing quite what it was that we believed we were doing, and then seek to better understand what was we have actually done in relation to the world. The world, and its realities, remains larger than life, intransigent to our investigations and probes, and aloof from our approximations.
What we have been doing is more on the order of careful speculation based upon a limited amount of information, rendering generalizations from quite fragmentary evidence which push us toward a sense of universal awareness. The success of such approach depends upon careful, painstaking attention to minor detail and careful analysis before then leaping to conclusions. We have been more like detectives on a case, sorting out and piercing together a few clues to try to figure out what actually happened at the scene of the crime. We frequently depend upon witnesses whose credibility and reliability and actual experience may be no greater than our own, and frequently much less. From an accumulating number of such studies, we range over the literature of previous and current work being done, and add our two cents worth, and try to pull out from it a more complete comprehension than before.
We have been reconstructing a patchwork anthropological version of the real world—more of a collage or mosaic of roughly interconnected accounts and momentary pictures—particular instantiations frozen forever for scientific exhibition. And in a sense, this piecework of collage of Anthropology is more important to active anthropologists than is the real world upon which it is hypothetically, presumably based. The real world of people is only a source, a background, a reservoir, the field which one gets one’s information. Once having obtained the interesting or important or significant data, a sort of extraction process resembling strip mining or panning for gold, then the anthropologists is free to discard the informants, disregard the rest of the world, return to his/her office in the Ivory Tower, and begin weaving a new part of the tapestry. The real world becomes rapidly left behind after the first few phases of research, the researcher achieving enough authority on his/her area of study to no longer be dependent upon the ultimate source of their information, being able to put the real world upon a shelf, to collect dust until further need arises.
What seems most missing and lost in this process of ethnographic extraction of anthropological information, is the preliminary question of the real world relevance of subsequent work, of what happens to this knowledge and information once it leaves the field for the office, the distantiaton of surplus value as the substitutes for reality sit upon the bookshelves of the library collecting dust until some fresh new naïve researcher rediscovers it again. It is readily apparent that the products of anthropological research and work, which stand as symbolic substitutes and representations for the portions of reality which they authoritatively subsume, become in the process of annealing the real world material into ever longer and thinner and more tenuous connections, more anthropologically significant and relevant than the actual real world itself. After all, these are the things which will make or break an anthropologists professional career, and the real world be damned.
More often than any anthropologists would like to admit, real world relevance becomes subsumed away under the guise of subsequent academic authority, lost between the pages of the mountain of literate understanding. The specialist observer becomes the official spokesperson for her/his special people in the world, no matter whether that voice or understanding may really know these peoples personal names or actually witness even a small portion of their actual, lived experiences in the real world. The naïve, simplistic sense of realism in its thin veil of written words is really all that anthropology can depend upon for its credibility and relevance in the world, and this is too often a poor substitute for the actual experiential realities which it disguises and displaces in the imagination of its readership. It is indeed only a thin line separating this anthropological imagination about reality and the uncharted ocean of anonymous ignorance upon which it floats.
It is in reaction to this irreconcilable difficulty of doing anthropology that makes the anthropologist want to believe that they are extracting not only the essence from the experiential material of the real world, sorting out the critically important from the chaotic trivia, the relevant, more meaningful information, from the static nonsensical noise, selecting out the key elements from the hodgepodge admixture of many different shapes and colors. It is not enough for the anthropologist to be a Sherlock Holmes, adducing whole worlds from grains of sand, but the anthropologist must also be a physical scientist—a chemist who in a natural laboratory is figuring out the principles of material relations and reactions in the world—fine tuning the extraction process on the basis of empirically demonstrable, cross culturally and statistically verifiable, principles and laws of social interaction and human belief and behavior. But it is not quite certain whether the alleged chemistry of the anthropological investigator, as scientist in a white lab coat, is not always by some sleight of hand performing a feat of alchemical magic and trickery. A performer before an audience creating fostering an illusion of the transmutation of real worlds into the paper bound reality of anthropology.
In spite of this fundamental limitation of the horizon of anthropological awareness, and in spite of the criticisms against the reality of its enterprise, anthropology, has achieved remarkable success in representing the world in a realistic and naturalistic manner, which remains literally interesting and scientifically intriguing. It may be mostly illusion, but it remains perhaps a necessary world of illusion—an antidote to what could otherwise prove to be a very monochromatic and monotonous world. Given the limited range of our own senses and sensibilities, it is perhaps the best we can do in representing the world realistically and naturalistically, and it has thereby enlarged our world by its presence and participation within it. Our worlds are not the less for it.
In our valuation of its scientificity, anthropology claims to be neutral in its relation with the world. It is neither philanthropic nor misanthropic as an enterprise. If it takes from the world in one way which might seem to diminish or desecrate the private lives of the people it studies and whose lives it reifies on paper, then it also gives back to the world in other ways which can make peoples public lives more complete and fulfilled. As an enterprise, its directional development has been relatively harmless in the world when compared to other kinds of developmental activities. If its products are sometimes misused by other people beyond the capacity of anthropologists to control, this is perhaps true of any kind of information about reality which is subject to manipulation and distortion by people who have deliberate purposes in deception, distortion, and manipulation in other forms of directive development in the world. If it sometimes misrepresents the real world, then it mostly does so unintentionally and by accident, and this act of misrepresentation in the world is also a part of its own developmental history.
Perhaps being the best we can do in the world, and lacking any better means for going about it, we can learn to make the most of its limits, to live and work and perhaps even prosper within them.
There is a sense that we too are natural living species of the world, and that even our culture, its artificiality and development itself, is a product and function of the larger natural world from which it originated and within which it works. In this sense, the ecocide of development becomes our own ecocide as well—as we work to destroy nature in the world around s we are also acting to destroy the world of nature that exists within ourselves as well. In this sense, we must reconsider the possible ecocidal consequences of our own anthropological developments in the world—the ways in which our own predominant directions of human development might possibly be affecting our own adaptation in the world and hurting our own special ecology in the world.
When we refer to the history of development, we are also implying the natural and cultural histories of human development—of the ways we have become changed, biologically, psychologically, and socially as a consequence of our development in the world.
We must seek to understand the ways that anthropology, in its own development, have contributed deliberately or unwittingly to these human developments in the world, whether enfunctionally or dysfunctionally, whether philanthropically or misanthropically. To the extent that anthropological development has been rooted in a tradition of enlightenment which implies a notion of progress towards some perfect state, and some form of directive change over past, imperfect states then anthropology must share some of the responsibility in the creation of modern utopias and dystopias in the world.
The history of human development in the world has been a history of distinctively mixed results. It has been carved out with a double edged sword which has in the process of distributing its fine sense of justice to the world, also created in its wake gross inequalities and violent injustices in the world. By and large, human development has so far benefited mostly a few in the world, just as anthropological attention has so far mostly focused on only a few in the world, and it has by far done nothing for, or perhaps even detracted from the development of any more in the world whose faces have since passed by unnoticed, whose unwritten names have been forgotten, lives unrecorded passed away, and whose voices have been lost in the background silences of the libraries and reading rooms of the interior, intensive worlds of anthropology. We cannot recover so much that has been lost in the process of constructing and reconstructing our own histories from the past, but we can remind ourselves of our own hubris of our anthropological intellectuality and the great need for human humility and humbleness in our development.
Hung up by its own problems of its authority, and authoritativeness, in the world, anthropology has suffered from a perennial crises of its professional identity. This crises has been particularly acute during the last decade and is becoming more extreme in its divisive consequences upon the world of anthropology. It has long been a crises of ego-identity—of ego reality testing, ego rationalization, ego definition, ego defense mechanisms designed to protect its sense of consistency, coherence and continuity in a rapidly changing world, to give some overarching sense of symbolic unity to the diversity and frequently disruptive and discordant experiences of reality. It is, more importantly, designed to protect and promote the efficacy and illusion of its own nonbeing in the world—its fundamental symbolic vicariousness that allows its own somewhat oversimplified and abstruse representations to stand for so much else actually in the world. It has sought to substitute its fundamental nonbeing in the world for the experiential realities of beingness in the world—beingness that works to continually undermine its own collective representations and to historically relativize its knowledge and understandings of the world, however implicit or explicit in form or function.
This anthropological nonbeing in the world comprises its own ideological false consciousness, the primary purpose of which is the denial of its own natural history, and an evasion of the fundamental existential dilemma of death in the world. Its worlds are dying before its lens, if not eyes, and it becomes history faster than it can be recorded, researched and reconstructed as reality. Failure to confront the natural processes of the dying world of which it is a part, of people, culture, civilizations, and histories inexorably changing and passing away without any ethnographic epitaph, and to come to terms with its own historicity and relational contextuality in the world, leaves the anthropological enterprise, and the anthropological ego-identity which is part of this enterprise, and the anthropological ego-identity which is part of this enterprise, in a permanent, fixed state of loss and disorientation, which it must then somehow recover and repair.
Humpty Dumpty has fallen from its fence, and all the king’s men and all the king’s horses can’t put him back together again.
There is an important connection, though, between this acute crises of professional identity which anthropology is suffering from, both personally as an individual ethos of belief and behavior, and paradigmatically as a collective nomos and as a corporate enterprise with its own directions of development and its own sense of social solidarity and its own connectedness to the world. This connection is that the crises inflicting anthropology internally is as much a reflection and representation of a larger external crises in the world as it is an intrinsic problem to the world of anthropology. The ecocidal changes in the real world, the acceleration of its historical movements and irreversibility of many of its linear transitions, has been causing major symbolic and experiential reverberations in the interior domains of anthropology. The crises of identity infecting the average anthropologist is part of a larger world wide crises of identity affecting most of humanity as it struggles and seeks to define itself in a rapidly changing world. Old labels, definitions, references, interpretations, no longer fit new situations, people, environments.
If the world had remained relative static and its changing relatively steady and stable, then the anthropology would most likely have reflected this steady state of the world in its own relative harmony and paradigmatic stability. History would still be happening to both, but not in quite as unsettling and discordant ways. What now is a crises, would then perhaps have seemed more like a minor stare of tension in regard to difference in the world—more of a soothing, background noise than a loud, disrupting explosion.
It is no wander that the last decade in which such tensions have become increasingly acute, that anthropologists have become increasingly reflexive about their own status and relation in reality—increasingly aware of the fact that as the world changes all around anthropology, anthropology is also changed by the world. As the certainty and stability of their own sense of situation, of their own positions and stances in relation to the world becomes increasingly relativized by the rapidity and unpredictability of so much transition in the real world, anthropologist become increasingly introverted and introspective through their own lens, question the very ground and whole raison-d’être, sense of purpose, objectivity and intentionality and historicity in relation to the wider, truer world.
It is not just that empire has returned home and that Humpty Dumpty is unreconstructively shattered, but the rise of reflexiveness with anthropology represents as well in very real terms anthropology’s return of the repressed—the sense of difference which in a younger, fresher world it could project outwardly upon the other in the world with immunity and relative impunity if the consequences, were in fact differences waiting to be discovered within ourselves which we had conveniently, perhaps necessarily, repressed in order to be sense of symbolic unity of anthropological world view. Anthropology’s own past, its own relationship with the world, are coming back as ghosts to haunt it in the present, and anthropologists must conduct their own intra-departmental witch hunts to discover the sources and causes of its own differences. In catching up with the changing world, the changing world has caught up with anthropology.
The reason of the repressed and its own introspective reflexivity points up an intrinsic contradiction in the world and praxis of anthropology. In its ritual praxis, and academic embedding, anthropology has always actually been more intensively oriented towards its own academic interiors, caught up in the pathways of paradigmatic power, than it has been really extensively oriented towards the exterior world. In this sense, going to the field has been more of an anti-structural rite of passage in the professionalization of the Academia bound anthropologist—and the realities of its empiricalness and ostensible extensiveness of orientation has been more of a veil of Maya than the actual structural determinants of successful adaptation within academic anthropology. What remained repressed was the public recognition of this intensiveness and interiority if anthropological realities as the basis of its authorial authority in the world.
What anthropology has long failed to face is the illusion and intensiveness of its own source of power in the world—of the dependence of its power upon academic insulation and separation from the real world as so many symbolic fictions and collective representations of reality, and also the actual marginality and relative powerlessness in its extensive orientation in the world. Its extensiveness in the world is as the professional stranger and the marginal observer whose real world orientation is defined betwixt an between different worlds in a world of difference. But what mattered was the intensive orientation of the insider’s position within the academic status role hierarchy—the list of publications behind the professor’s title, the number of citations in the literature, the relative position within insider’s networks which opened or closed doors and provided windows upon the external realities of the world, the number and amount of research grants earned, the number of graduate students lined up outside the door waiting to be let in, and the degree to which one becomes a mentor in a father/mother role model.
Now anthropology is facing a world which is simultaneously exploding in its extensiveness and imploding in its intensiveness. The academic boundaries and borders have been invaded and cracked wide open, and the larger than life, really real realities have come rushing into its quiet, dimly lit interior world. The barbarians are at the gate, and are demanding to be let in with their battering ram.
It really should be no surprise that anthropology is in a state of crises, which is growing worse each year. It should come as no surprise, and with little sadness and regret, if anthropology will never, ever again be able to look out upon the world with innocent, rose colored glasses. The mirror of Humankind is more than cracked. It has shattered like the Humpty Dumpty it long reflected. Anthropology will be left with just the pieces with which to reconstruct its worlds. In its maddening celebration of Dionysian difference, Apollonian reunification and order will never be again be restored.
All this is a prerequisite pretext by which to frame the anthropological problem of global over population and its consequences for the future of human development in the world.
It is as if each of us were wearing our own watch or time pieces which we could not take off. It is as if in each of us there are a separate and different biological clock which is ticking away minute by minute. We attempt to synchronize our watches and clocks with as many people in the world as possible, such that our schedules can run smoothly and on time in as coordinated a manner as possible. But there are just too many people with too many different senses and sets of time, that the possibility of their coordination and synchronization in the world is lost to the chaos of different schedules, conflicting routines, alternate rates of change.
It becomes even more problematic that for each of us, our clocks were wired up to an internal device—a time bomb or a mechanism set to trigger into activity at any possible moment, possibly leading to self destruction after some lapse of time.
We continue walking, interacting and living in a world with many other people, always aware of or reminded of our own time which ties us into the larger scheme of organization, but never sure of when or how the devices within us will trigger, or of what may then happen. Within such an anthropological world of humankind, we are always being controlled, never sure of our control, and never knowing when and if we may suddenly lose control altogether. As we become preoccupied more obsessively and compulsively with control in the world, the changes in the world are getting more and more out of control.
In order to cope with the scope and extraordinary dimensionality of the global problem of population, anthropology must adopt an orientation of greater extensiveness than it has ever had in its past. This is not an easy feat for anthropologists, as it would entail reorienting their praxis and ‘betweenness’ in a world of difference. It must learn to cope with not so much relativity in the world itself, but its own relativity of anthropological praxis within the world.
We cannot be of the center, or be created in relation to the center, and adopt a genuinely de-centered framework which is outside of the center. Anthropology cannot expect itself to maintain a central intensive orientation about its own very restricted base of power in the world, and expect to achieve an orientation of extensiveness which would be diametrically opposed to such an intensive centeredness of orientation. We are defined by the context which situates us and our perspective and praxis in relation to the world cannot but be expected to reflect our basic positionality and orientation in the world.
In becoming more extensively oriented, anthropology must begin taking greater account of its own historicity and of the general problematics posed by coming to terms with human historical patternings. As such, it must adopt a genuinely diachronic approach that embraces its own synchronic analysis of reality in terms of the synchronicity of events in the world, and the independent co-occurrence of similar events. As such, it must give up a search for essential structures and fundamental structural homogeneity underlying the spatial patterning of relations in human reality, and its synchronic perspective of diachronic events as multiple overlapping time frames, as causal or correlational, sequentially arranged events in time. Shifting from an intensive and space like orientation, to a more inclusive, extensive and time like orientation, requires that anthropology give up certain of its time honored practices and associations with physical sciences, that it disinvest itself with the search for first and ultimate causes and laws underlying the behavior of human developmental history.
Though basic extensiveness and history of beingness are core elements of its ethnographic praxis, anthropology does not know really how to deal with these aspects of its reality in an unbounded, unframed, non-intensive way, in a way that can preserve the historiographic and ethnographic context of its realistic and representational work, and yet spare the larger world some of its more general verbiage about unifying structures, underlying principles, etc.
The virtue of anthropology is its empirical ground in a world of difference, in difference to the world. For an extensive orientation, difference is enough in itself. It explains itself in its experiential definition of reality, of what it means to become and remain uniquely and distinctively human in an increasingly human world.
The anthropological problem with global population begins with counting people. No one knows exactly how many people there are in the world now, or have been in the world in the past. The rate is increasing so fast now that the current global estimate of five billion is likely to double within the next four generations, or just over one hundred years. The carrying capacity of the earth has been estimated to be just around 7.5 billion, that will be reached within two or three generations. If we start trying to directly count every person alive, and to keep track of all births and deaths, by the time we are finished we would still have to start all over again, or we might be unlikely to finish our counting as the population would be increasing at a rate faster than we could keep up with. Besides, people have the intransigent habits of slipping through the cracks in the system uncounted, or of moving here and there and so missing the census altogether or else of being counted more than once.
Complicating this simple task of directly counting people, are the problems presented by the differential rates of population increase in different areas of the world, as well as the corresponding birth and death rates. Some nations have populations which are increasing very rapidly, while other nations have maintained near zero or even negative population increase. Hence, the problem of population is more acute in certain regions, especially undeveloped third world regions, than in others, notably the most developed first world countries. It also is a problem if gross inequality in the world between the wealthy and the poor.
We must look at global population increase in terms of the patterning for human development which it entails. The age structure and social dynamics of the global population will change considerably over the next three generations—but we are not exactly sure how it will change. The population is estimated to stabilize within four generations if the current rates of growth are brought under control, but this is a big if, and it is possible that the global population will develop its own mechanisms of population control whether we are effective with family planning or not. As the age structure of the world population changes with each advancing year, the social environment of the earth will also develop in related ways proportionate to this changing age structure. It can be predicted without much uncertainty that the natural environments of the earth will only become increasingly strained and eroded under the pressure of this massive increase, but it is the issue of social circumscription that such numbers must entail which are more problematic. Each passing generation will grow up and learn to live in a world fundamentally different from the ones before, and the sense of reality predominant or apparent today may not necessarily be the same, or even similar to the realities actual or apparent tomorrow or the day after.
Any previous experience of our history will not quite prepare us for what we and our children and grand children will begin soon to encounter in ever increasing capacity. Our children and their children may even become socialized at a very basic level in environments and realities considerably different from any that has come before—their whole worldview from any that has come before. Their whole worldview, way of experiencing and sense of being in the world may be different than what it was for us now or had been for our ancestors at any time previously. Furthermore, our children and grand children will come of age in a world which offers very different challenges, opportunities, problems and complexities than we are now aware of.
With each advancing year, the growth rate of the population will creep forward and higher up the age levels of world society. Now, and for the next generation, the effects of global population increase will be mostly felt at the lower levels as most of the population will be disproportionately younger than they are older. Consequently, nurseries, day care centers, pediatricians, elementary schools worldwide should be expected to first start feeling the effects of this increase, not to mention the tired, over worked, underpaid, frustrated parents of these children. The effects will increasingly creep up the ladder of socialization to affect high schools, colleges, universities, and the job and employment structure. The kinds of demands made upon the system will be expected to change accordingly—basic necessities, jobs, money, food, even water, will become increasing in demand and shortage as the larger population grow older into adulthood and begins to have their own children.
With the arrival of our grandchildren, there will be a well developed vicious cycle of human developments occurring on earth. Most of the social Systems of the earth will be strained beyond their capacity, and ever increasing numbers will soon be on their way. We can speak safely of a progressive deterioration of services available to meet human needs. Areas which focus directly with the concern of human growth, health and development will be especially hard hit—schools, medical facilities, social service agencies. The vicious cycle of human under development will be one of generally decreasing quality of life for more and more people and lower and lower average standard of living levels world wide.
Death rates must begin increasing, after a brief period of delay, and with perhaps unanticipated patterns. Infant mortality rates must increase, as well as mother mortality rate. More people will begin dying younger and the average age of longevity for the world’s population must begin to gradually decrease. Death rates by disease, malnutrition, by Helminthic infection, by accidental trauma, by old age, by war and disaster, by violence and by suicide, must all be expected to eventually increase in time with deteriorating social environments. It may become a very real problem of how to dispose of all the corpses when few people have enough money to pay for a funeral.
With the development of such a grand, vicious cycle, we can anticipate rather explosive reverberations when the functional structure of the World System suddenly breaks down under the cumulative weight of overpopulation. Global overpopulation is a time bomb that has a delayed fuse. It is not so much that exponential increase in population growth doesn’t have its fullest impacts until the last few moments of its natural history of development, but that as the younger grow older, they will make increasingly unmet demands upon the system to fulfill even basic needs and expectations, and in the face of extreme inequality, these people can be expected to finally do something about it.
Certain patterns presuming a kind of ego-logic of environmental determinism can be expected to emerge in the near future. Birth control measures and abortion represent more cost efficient means of controlling population, than say childhood starvation or systematic elimination from the social system. There has been a greater proportion of resource investment in a mature, exploitable, adult than in a young child just starting out in life. A mother can afford to give up a young baby to prevent herself from starving—better to save the reproductive mechanism rather than its by products. She will soon likely have another new baby anyway.
As resources grow tighter and scarcer, as with scenarios of local over population, strategies of resource diversification, of hoarding, and patterns of social atomization, panic, migration, and perhaps even warfare as a population control mechanism, can be expected to occur. The problem with global over population as compared to local overpopulation is that there will be fewer and fewer places to escape to and fewer and fewer alternative resources to find in the shrinking earthbound environment.
It can be expected that unexpected and unintended patterns will happen in different directions of human development. Science may create new wonder drugs, miracle foods, and healing therapies to alleviate much of the human suffering in the near future. Science may also be relied upon to devise new mechanisms of human annihilation that effectively removes sizable portions of the human population from resource consumption and selective social competition. Models earlier in this century are already available. Perhaps many people will decide not to have any children, nor any kind of professional career. Programs of eugenics and dysgenics might become inaugurated and socially sanctioned or reinforced—programs of sterilization or forced abortion for poor people, or of selective privileged reproduction for wealthy people. The television industry will sure to boom, along with the pharmaceutical industry.
The near future of our earth may not be all doom and gloom. People may really decide after all that on lifeboat Earth there is always room for a few more, and learn how to adjust and tolerate the ever deteriorating social conditions. Maybe, amidst all the suffering and death, more people will learn to appreciate and respect the essential dignity and potentiality of human life on earth, and act in a more concerted and determined fashion to foster equality and equivalence on earth. Maybe we will eventually give up our bombs and our guns, and instead devote our lives to helping those most in need of help rather than to continue hurting them any further. Perhaps we will wake up soon and realize what human development is all about anyway, and that none of us are that different in the world after all.
The problem of over population in the world will become expressed as ever increasing numbers of people having their basic needs for survival being met less and less within the World System. This will become especially apparent in the need for nutrition. The world will see an increasing incidence of widespread protein calorie malnutrition, childhood nutritional diseases of Marasmus and Kwashiorkor, greater amounts of utter starvation from lack of anything to eat. Food prices are guaranteed to rise above the ability of increasing numbers of people to afford quality or adequate amounts to eat. Protein calorie malnutrition is a relative form of deprivation of essential amino acids, which are irreplaceable in the body, and of ‘balanced proteins’ which provide the full complement of protein in the body for its maintenance. The body can adjust itself to lowered levels of protein intake, and of caloric intake as well, but not without cost to the orgasmic functioning of the body, its deterioration, and increased susceptibility to diseases and illness, and the lowered level of efficiency and energy. The availability of certain important vitamins and minerals, especially calcium and potassium may become strained or scarce in certain regions of the world, even though these are relatively easy to replace artificially in the diet.
Given widespread malnutrition, multinational institutions like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken are likely to become curious and especially profane, tokens of a bygone era of fast convenience foods. In the long run, feeding of lower levels of the tropic chain of life will become more and more necessary in the world of greater and greater need—cereal, grains, cabbage, chicken and eggs will become more efficient means of feeding the population than cows, milk, sugar and potato chips.
Fresh drinking water can also be expected to become in ever greater demand and ever decreasing supply. Contamination and pollution, desertification and desiccation, wastage of ground water and the concrete watersheds of the core regions, will insure that more water will have to be treated, filtered, processed and bottled to be assured of being portable, and that fewer and fewer people will be able to consistently afford to buy such necessary but luxurious commodities. More and more people will end up having to rely upon water not fit for human consumption, and thus will become more and more susceptible to bacterial infection, mineral poisoning, etc. as a consequence.
Draught will affect not only human habits of water consumption, but the availability of fresh foods, patterns of preserving and storing foods, and the amount of arable land available for cultivation. Cleanliness may become not so much a virtue as a sumptuary privilege of those who can afford to fill the bathtub with fresh water.
Energy resources will become increasingly in demand, decreasingly in short supply, and more and more expensive and unaffordable for more and more people. People will not be able to afford the cost of boiling water to make it safe to drink, or of cooking foods or meats to free them from parasites. Energy costs in packing, procuring and distributing food, water, etc. will cause the costs of food, water and energy to increase even more.
While these problems will increasingly have traumatizing affects upon the poor, and will tend to make more and more people poorer and poorer, the rich people will remain relatively unaffected by these changes. They may have to restrict their budgets a little bit, but the percentage which the increasing costs of basic necessities affect the overall income will be well within their means, and have less overall impact upon their lives. But even they too, will eventually have to adjust. They will be able to eat steak and lobster only once a week instead of every night, and they may end up having to lay off their cooks, housekeepers, and servants.
It can be expected that local economies and food getting patterns will emerge in response to local needs and demands for good, cheap and clean sources of food, water and energy. A good example of this is the kind of hawker economy prevalent throughout Southeast Asia in which a single cook, at a single charcoal burning stove, can feed fifty or a hundred people or more in a day, and in which it is cheaper to eat at such stalls than to go to the markets, buy the charcoal and cook oneself. Development oriented governments will try to restrict and limit such activities as part of an underground economy by health regulations, licensing and taxation, or by safety and building regulations, but the only alternative will become homeless missions, soup kitchens and Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey dinners.
People must eat and drink if they are to survive, and it requires energy to enable people to eat and drink. Hungry people are generally not very happy people, nor very productive people. This will be the bottom line in the World System attempting to cope under the strain of global over population. People who are slowly starving to death have absolutely nothing to lose in the world by seeing the system changed.
Bureaucracy has been a great social innovation of human civilization. It is the Grand Achievement of the system designed to keep people in their appropriate places within the hierarchy of social relations, and to internally reinforce the structural functioning of the system as a corporate enterprise.
Bureaucracy of the Big Brother variety can only be expected to grow and proliferate in direct proportion to the increase of global population and increasing hunger in the world. There will be increasing numbers of regulations to violate, forms to fill out, faces to interface, doors to close and lock, and lines to wait in. The person behind the window, or on the other side of the counter, will not be too much better off than those standing in line—the only difference will be they do not have to stand in line for their food. The question of conformity to the power of the system will become more and more naked—"Do you want to eat?" The price people will have to pay for such naked conformity will be their own humanism and the freedom of their own souls, chained as they are behind desks, windows and counters.
Bureaucracy itself tends to grow, following Parkinson’s Law, in both size, top heaviness and increasing inefficiency, or in bureaucratic self sufficiency without necessary external stimuli. Once bureaucracy becomes officially institutionalized, it becomes more difficult to remove or control. The chains of authority grow longer and longer, more interconnected and more impersonal. Responsibility becomes more diffuse and negative. Bureaucracy creates designs which shunt excessive people into loops and maze-ways and reservoirs in endless waiting—always with the deceitful promise that their file, form or case is being processed in some pile upon some other bureaucrats desk.
Behind bureaucracy is a whole threat of persecution, punishment and violent force—a legal justice system, a police force, a military organization, ready at a moments notice to step in and reinforce coercively the dictates of the bureaucratic system—this is called mobilization. Once such mobilization is set in motion, the great inertia of bureaucracy creates a tremendous momentum which makes it hard to manage or stop again. It tends to create its own historical trajectory.
A world which becomes increasingly burdened by bureaucratic inertia will become increasingly unable to meet the needs of the masses, and will become increasingly inflexible to change and maladaptive. People will become increasingly anonymous and alienated within the System, and the System will increasingly malfunction and make more and more ‘mistakes’ which will victimize more people but will not be the responsibility of bureaucracy to correct.
The bureaucratic system will become increasingly susceptible to corruption and amoralism, and will come to hide greater and greater circles of deceit which go on behind closed doors to advantage people within the dystem and increasingly disadvantage those without.
Bureaucracy will more and more erect more effective screens of obfuscation and delusion that are designed to trick and fool the masses that something is being done to help them, if only they continue to cooperate and wait their turns in line.
Bureaucracy represents the ultimate form of reification of the human being—of alienating humans from their own natures, from their own needs, from their own rights. Bureaucracy, more than any other social institution, besides war, turns people into things that can then be destroyed or conformed for exploitation.
We can measure the complexity and development of our civilization by the sophistication and scale of its bureaucracy.
It seems to be Parkinson’s paradox that the only way to serve and guarantee the protection of peoples basic needs and rights is through socialization of the government institutions designed for these purposes, and that therefore inevitably entails the growth of bureaucracy, which in turn results in the corruption or denial of peoples rights and needs. Another way of looking at these is to see that government organization is always challenged by serving two contraposed sets of needs—the private interests of special groups and the public interests of people. While organizations may be set up ostensibly for service to the community, its functioning is often undermined by increasing sets of demands from private, special interest groups. To fail to meet the second set of interests may result in conflict or resistance to public policies and in interference with the proper functioning of the organization in service to the people. Either way, it is usually the needs and rights of the people whom the bureaucracy is designed, at least ostensibly, to serve, which become compromised, and tend to become secondary in the systems sets of interests.
We must anticipate with the growth of population, the growth of bureaucracy to manage the problem of this population, and with this growth, its continued compartmentalization and specialization in dealing with certain precise aspects of the problem of the people. Those specialized compartments will be staffed by professional need experts who carry the knowledge and authority for manage the needs associated with their particular domains of authority. It an be expected that increasing human needs will become increasingly appropriated, defined in context to the system, and the power to meet these needs increasingly usurped or co-optated by the system.
In relation to the system, the problem of population may affect it simultaneously and differentially at several levels of socialization. Increasing failure or problems with primary socialization associated with the rise of poverty and its social problems will tend to undermine the ability for the system to achieve effectively secondary socialization. Also, increasing differentiation and specialization of the system creates greater internal contradictions and discrepant possibilities for such secondary socialization to occur, tending to render it incomplete and problematic. The effects of such general failure of socialization to occur is that people’s basic identity will conform less and less, and become increasingly intractable to the established constraints of the system, whether these constraints are direct and explicit or indirect, contextual and mostly implicit. Given such a downgrading or deterioration of its overall effectiveness, the system itself must become increasingly inefficient and ineffective in its function of its own corporate reiteration and in its transmission and reconstitution of its structural nomos and ethos and pathos in succeeding generations of humankind.
The system may be expected to respond in several different but interrelated ways. First it must adopt techniques leading to the intensification and enhancement of its socialization and resocialization processes. When before it demanded commitment and dedication, now it involves sycophancy, mindless devotion, fanaticism, and personality conversion. Where before it was a nine to five routine, now it becomes a round the clock ritual process. One strategy will be the creation of a Brave New World Utopia in which social engineers and technocratic psychologists create Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, categories into which people become slotted from birth, in which consistency stressing environments indirectly reinforce behavior modification such that there is a basic sense of complacency, expectation and satisfaction with ones lot and position within the system, and in which enough compensatory mechanisms provide the continuous levels of gratification which keep people existentially benumbed and subdued. In such an order, ethno national groupings will become the targets of such rank order hierarchical classifications which define one’s class caste positionality in relation to the whole—defining one’s values, the level of one’s access to resources, to rights, one’s status role identity and occupational profile, and whom one can and cannot marry and reproduce with.
Another strategy,, not mutually exclusive with the first, but perhaps quite complimentary with it, and applied more effectively to the lower echelons of the system, is more of a Big Brother dystopia based upon a minimizing kind of military social structure in maximizing control and conformity. Uniformity, lack of individuality, denial of subjectivity, of humanity, and sexuality, among the Proles rather than elaborative and techniques of behavior modification and brain washing will favor more negative reinforcement and punishment and the threat of violent force than the kind of ‘kinder, gentler, world order’ for the higher echelons. The people of these echelons will be socialized for supervision, for obedience, and for destruction.
It can be expected that the upper echelons will be maintained in a state of perennial routine operational normality—a relaxed steady state of functioning, while the lower echelons will be maintained in a perpetual of repetitious state of crises mobilization in which reactionary regimes and regimens within the system will continuously assert and exercise their authority and power.
The system can be expected to work in several ways to reinforce its plausibility structures and where these are no longer possible, given the potential for discrepancy between the real and the make believe, the said and the done, the official and the actual, then it will resort to other means, namely brute force, by which to constrain the human masses into passive submission. Without a doubt, advertising specialists, social psychologists, and industrial and management sociologists are working right now on ways to further perfect the system’s means of inducing socialization, of persuasion conversion or delusion.
A great influence in favor of the system's self-maintenance is just its embedding and overarching contextuality of its everyday enactment by so many people caught up within its grips. People the world over proceed in their routines in relation to the system as if this were normal, expected and basically unquestionable mode of reality—as objective as the rising of the sun every morning. The fact that this system is becoming increasingly monolithic in the world order, increasingly coherent and non-contradictory, increasingly predominant in social structural, political economic sense, and increasingly culturally hegemonic in its basic value orientation and focus, confers upon the system a tremendous massiveness of its self evident credibility. It seems to work quite well, all we have to do is to look around and find the proof of its scientific efficacy in our everyday lives.
In a way, global overpopulation can be seen as a way of nature catching back up with human development of its technological civilization, through its own natural history of human development. Global overpopulation will soon be outstripping development, in the sense that the improvement and changes brought about by new development in the ideological name of progressive betterment of humankind, will soon no longer be able to stay ahead of or keep up with the growth and size of the human population. It will not bring about the kind of scientific and technological paradise for humankind which it has so long promised.
In another sense, it will be at that point that human evolution will begin again, so long slowed in suspended animation of human culture-histories progressive march towards civilization and power. With widespread, uncontrolled disease, hunger, malnutrition, violence, and with human again responding to environments in basic ways in relation to basic needs, selective pressures will become set in motion which might lead to the evolution of a new kind of human better adapted to future environment of contamination, pollution, and ecocide, but it may not be the kind of people we either want or expect to become.
It is at this point to that system fractures and breakdowns of the functioning of the system in surprising and sudden, and catastrophic ways, can be expected to occur with increasing frequency. With such breakdowns, the system can be expected to lapse into a long term cycle of degeneration of systemic functioning, a kind of self destruction of the entire order in a process of negative cybernetics. One set of detrimental effects will trigger off a chain of other detrimental effects, which will indirectly rebound back to further deteriorate what had already become detrimental.
In the process, it can also be expected that a great many people will perish before the system, or what left of the state of the earth, achieves some kind of lower order stability. Global population may actually begin decreasing substantially in such a dying off of humankind, but in the process selection pressures for human evolution may be reinaugurated in some evolutionary directive way. This kind of scenario is too reminiscent of the holocaust and of the Nazi superman ideology and its programs of systematic genocide. Perhaps there is a history of such events in the human past.
Given the irreversible structure of change in the Universe, the overarching principles of randomization and entropy, and given the histories of unintended consequences which have plagued the past of human development, there is no reason to presume or believe that our reality will become anything but increasingly different as never before, that we will ever achieve a more stable or steady state of affairs on earth, or that things will eventually get back to normal in the many ways we’ve learned to expect them to. Nor is there any reason to believe that our realities should follow our science in its progress towards greater coherence and consistency and unity of understanding in the world—relativity and diversity is in the upswing, and is here in the world to stay. There is no reason for believing that our realities will not become increasingly divisive and different, and that any previous sense of order will ever be able to comprehend such potential difference. The pattern of human history could be becoming less predictable, stable, steady and self determining than before, rather than more.
It is of deep and great importance that we learn how to see the unique realities of the individual not as expendable, but as necessary and invaluably precious, not as exploitable but as potentially possible, not as things within the system, but as people who will the system into power. It is vitally and profoundly important that we learn to look at all people, and at the whole population of humankind, not as so many mistakes of Malthusian world states, but as ephemeral miracles of nature in need of nurturance and freedom of expression. The Malthusian world may shrink infinitely, but there will always be room enough on it for a few more people.
If we begin looking around to decide who should get off the life boat earth first, then we must first look to ourselves. The world does not need greater energy power, but it does have greater people power which has so far gone untapped and wasted. This is the true wellspring of human development that cannot be counted in census or measured in statistical estimates. It is logical that the system should find passive indirection, non-participation and non-violence fundamentally threatening to its sense of order in the world and to its continuing functioning in control of the World. It would be logical if it tried to annihilate, effectively exclude and taboo and punish people for such practices, especially if they try to create effective alternative plausibility structures for such practices within, and yet separate from, the dictates of the system. The issue has always long been one of self determination in confrontation with the world, except that very few people have ever realized this enough to put it into practice, and if so doing, then it is likely they become annihilated in the process.
Many good Christians were fed to the lions in Rome long before Rome became the capital of Christianity. The greatest potential for determination remains in the non-determination of people’s possibilities.
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 03/14/05