Jared Diamond's "Collapse", part 3
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Part three of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" is titled "Modern Societies" and might just as well be titled "Less babies, more trees." Over the years I have become accustomed to being described as a "neo-Malthusian" in debates over the Internet. This term was also applied to my late and great co-thinker Mark Jones since both of us were rather insistent that many valuable resources are finite and should not be wasted.
But when you run into the real thing as in Jared Diamond's discussion of Rwanda and other third world countries in Part Three of "Collapse," it really makes your hair stand on end. It really drives home how much of the mainstream environmentalist movement embodies certain racist assumptions about people and resources. If only "they" would stop having so many children, they would not be so poor.
Part three is devoted to an examination of
Chapter ten in Part Three is titled "Malthus in
Turning his attention to Malthus,
Diamond refers to the argument that "human population growth would tend to
outrun the growth of food production." While recognizing that some
While accepting the role of Belgian colonialism in creating
artificial divisions between Hutu and Tutsi, and the role of the IMF and other
lending institutions in creating a desperate economic climate, the main problem
appears to be overpopulation. He calls attention to the fact that "
Diamond openly acknowledges that
So perhaps the only conclusion that one can draw from all
this is that the Hutus and the Tutsis were at fault for not sending their navy
If one looks at population density in third world countries
that share technological backwardness, low capital accumulation rates and a low
productivity, one finds exception to the pattern of brutal civil wars or
genocide. For example,
Furthermore, having a high population density in the third
world is by no means a death sentence. Kerala's
population density is two and one half times as great as
"Kerala is three times more densely populated than the average for all of India, yet commonly used indicators of hunger and poverty - infant mortality, life expectancy, and death rate - are all considerably better in Kerala than in most low-income countries as well as in India as a whole. Its infant mortality is less than one-third the national average.
"Other indicators also reveal the relatively better position of the poor in Kerala. Eleven thousand government-run 'Fair Price' shops keep the cost of rice and other essentials like kerosene within their reach - a subsidy that accounts for as much as one-half of the total income of Kerala's poorer families. Land reform, social security payments, pension and unemployment benefits transfer resources to the poorest groups. Expenditures on public health in Kerala, critical to any effort to reduce fertility, have historically been high. Health facilities are spread evenly throughout the state, not concentrated in the capital as in most third world countries.
"Why is Kerala so different? From the 1950s onward, political organization among the poor led to their greater self-confidence. The poor came to see health care, access to land, decent wages, and old-age pensions as their right, not a gift bestowed upon them. And centrally important to our thesis, women's status and power in Kerala are greatly enhanced compared to other Indian states. The female literacy rate in Kerala is two-and-a-half times the all-India average."
Of course, Kerala has also
benefited from Communist-led governments for the better part of 50 years. In
light of this, one might turn to Karl Marx rather than Thomas Malthus as a solution to the problems of countries like
In the next chapter Diamond offers a side-by-side comparison
In comparison to poor benighted
So why did these two countries, almost like twins separated at birth, turn out so differently?
"Not surprisingly, French Hispaniola's
former slaves, who renamed their country Haiti (the original Taino Indian name for the island), killed many of Haiti's
whites, destroyed the plantations and their infrastructure in order to make it
impossible to rebuild the plantation slave system, and divided the plantations
into small family farms. While that was what the former
slaves wanted for themselves as individuals, it proved in the long run
While the rest of the 19th century world was sensibly embarking
on an early version of globalization, the Haitian elites were unaccountably
maintaining a kind of aloofness from foreign trade that almost seems like a
bargain basement version of the Japanese Shogunate.
Diamond's account of
Leftists like Alex Dupuy and Paul Farmer, who have a completely different take on the relationship between 19th century Haitian elites and global capital, are apparently of no interest to Diamond. In "The Use of Haiti," Farmer writes:
"The new pariah republic, desperately seeking trading
partners, became the source of advantageous trade deals, particularly for the
British. Shortly after the October 1806 assassination of Dessalines,
his successor published, in
The British had simply joined in the plundering that had
already been started by France, who had extracted punitive reparations for
plantations seized during the revolution. When Aristide had the temerity to
In other words,
For Diamond, the
"Balaguer recognized the country's urgent need for maintaining forested watersheds in order to meet the Republic's energy requirements through hydroelectric power, and to ensure a supply of water sufficient for industrial and domestic needs. Soon after becoming president, he took drastic action by banning all commercial logging in the country, and by closing all of the country's sawmills. That action provoked strong resistance by rich powerful families, who responded by pulling back their logging operations out of public view into more remote areas of forests, and by operating their sawmills at night. Balaguer reacted with the even more drastic step of taking responsibility for enforcing forest protection away from the Department of Agriculture, turning it over to the armed forces, and declaring illegal logging to be a crime against state security."
If Balaguer had only show half the interest in people that he had in trees, perhaps Diamond's enthusiasm would be a bit more tempered. During Balaguer's presidency (dictatorship actually), half the country lived in poverty. When leftists organized labor unions or social movements to improve the conditions of working people, they were met with death squads.
Diamond does not mention how Balaguer
became the president of the
If Diamond had been as concerned with people as he was with
natural resources, perhaps he would have found Cuba worth considering in Part
Three of "Collapse". As it turns out, Cubans live 12 years longer, on
average, than Dominicans. Infant mortality is four times higher in
One imagines that Jared Diamond would blanch at the suggestion that Fidel Castro has more to say about the topics of interest to him than Joaquin Balaguer, it would be hard to imagine a public official more attuned to the problems addressed (but not truly understood) in "Collapse" than the Cuban Communist leader who is on record as stating:
"Only 30 years ago humanity was not in the least aware of this great tragedy. At that time people believed that the only danger of extinction lay in the colossal number of nuclear weapons waiting to be fired at a moment’s notice. Although threats of that nature have by no means disappeared, an additional terrifying, Dantesque danger is lying in wait for us. I do not hesitate to use this strong, seemingly melodramatic language. The real drama lies in the ignorance of those risks we have lived with for so long.
"Twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War nobody capable of thought and able to read and write had ever heard a single word about humanity’s blind, inexorable and accelerated march towards the destruction of the natural bases of its own life. Not one of the thousands of generations that preceded this one knew about such a dire threat nor did such an enormous responsibility fall upon any of them.
"These are facts: the fruit of humankind’s little-known history, a result of the evolution of human society over five or six thousand years when that society did not have, nor could have, any clear idea of where it came from nor where it was going. This amazing and distressing fact is now the deeply held conviction of an educated and concerned, growing and forceful minority of humanity.
"Today we know what is happening. Everyone here has access to the horrifying data and the irrefutable arguments serenely presented and analyzed in the conferences that preceded this one.
"From my point of view there is no more urgent task than that of building a universal awareness, of taking the problem to the billions of men and women of all ages, including children, who inhabit this planet. The objective conditions and the sufferings of the overwhelming majority of them create the subjective conditions for this awareness-raising task.
"Everything is connected. Illiteracy, unemployment, poverty, hunger, disease; lack of drinking water, of housing, of electricity; desertification, climatic variations, deforestation, floods, droughts, soil erosion, biodegradation, pests and other well known tragedies are inseparable."
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