How Fast is Too Fast? A Modern Reverie!

Yesterday: Ten (12?) Greatest War Stories  Tomorrow: Populousness of Ancient Nations

Twitter: @GreatBooksDude

Website: (specializing in online Great Books programs!)

I think, as yesterday’s post made something of a splash, I will be posting top-ten lists roughly once a week.  We are now two and a half weeks in and I had 48 visitors yesterday; between Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress no less than 100 people are subscribed to follow this blog.  Even a site offering Russian models over the internet is following me, as everyone can see quite clearly that I am a PLAYYYYAA!  My goal was initially to have 30 clicks per day by August, but now I’m more ambitious than that.  And of course everyone who looks ought to click on the page about my fall classes on the classic essays, and help me to get to my goal of 100 students AND MORE.  You can see my reading list and recognize why I am so much different from the ordinary.  Please help me to make this world a much better place.

Now those classes are designed for students of all ages, but most people out of school think (wrongly) that they know everything they need to know.  This is the classic Greek tragedical vice of hubris, juxtaposed onto the 21st Century.  So I’m stuck with the younger folks, which is fine enough by me, but our kids are somewhat spoiled and asking them to read a work of 100 pages in a week is just too much for them.  Which ought to be shameful, and embarrassing, but instead is justified by their parents, who are no better educated in many cases than they are.  Which basically means that this fine essay, the Parson Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population, has to wait for some summer course I run, when I do “book-length” works, even though it is not really that long and its intelligible English makes it not really that difficult, either.  We will have to settle for essays of 8-40 pages, and there are plenty of those, too.

In this essay Malthus hypothesizes that population will outstrip the ability of men working the earth to feed it.  He notes that while crops can only be raised with arithmetical increase, population expands geometrically.  For those of you who aren’t mathematical wizards (I’ll tutor you for that, too!), this needs to be put into more intelligible language.  Every two people can and in Malthus’ day often did easily produce four new ones, or more.  Meanwhile the ground only produces one plant for every specific spot on a field per planting/harvest, and the amount of land available for planting doesn’t rapidly expand, either.

Malthus then speculates that if population cannot or will not control itself in the bedroom, and in legislative chambers, it will be controlled by one of four checks: a) famine; b) pestilence/plague; 3) aggression/war; or 4) vice, which to this fine religious figure means birth control.  The last of these is by far the weakest; the other three are the ones that truly halt population growth.

What Malthus then pushes for is a repeal or radical alteration of the so-called “Poor Laws”, a package of welfare legislation which fed the beggars and vagabonds who would then go and fuck each other and create more poor.  To Malthus it was clear that, rather than alleviating poverty, the Poor Laws in fact created more of it, which became a cause of domestic crime and other dehumanizing effects which made England less civilized, not more civilized.  Bleeding-heart liberals to him were cynical, conniving rats who created a much bigger problem than already existed by pushing policies that made them look like nice people, but instead were bankrupt and devoid of sound judgment.

Now the first part of this seems to be common sense, and most of the classics to a large degree are made up of that, but it also seems to be a bit outmoded.  In the modern West, three conditions have made this mostly a non-issue: 1) as radical religious sentiment has declined, birth control is no longer viewed as a vice; 2) population growth has ground to a halt, in many places in Western Europe even declining as birth rates per capita fall below the replacement rate of 2; and 3) significant advances in technology have increased agricultural yield to a degree beyond the intellectual horizon of an early 19th-Century Parson.  This last is a claim I rarely ever make–that these geniuses may have been unable to see something that we see, because the reality is that they were a hell of a lot smarter than we are–but so far as technological advances go, it is a claim I am comfortable with.

Do not, however, discard it because it seems outmoded to you.  Because if you think a little deeper, and I’m not saying this requires a lot deeper thinking, if becomes clear that what applies to the West doesn’t apply everywhere else.  China, which the West sees through its media as a rapidly rising nation, remains, other than its extreme upper stratum, a nation of extremely poor farmers whose lives border on serfdom.  And China’s the best case, because at least those people are farmers.  They create food.  When we look elsewhere, we see that India is rife with working poor, but also with unworking poor.  Africa is, as we all know, backwards and overpopulated.  It is also scorched and its farming capacity is minimal; and what parts of Africa do have agriculture are, like China, technologically backwards.  The Middle East, too, is not rich, many parts of it demonize birth control, and it is barren.  Ditto for many parts of Latin America.  What about many parts of Eastern Europe?  The same.

When you look at these regions, many of them are sponsored by US aid.  We claim that we are helping to solve a problem that it is all too clear exists for them.  It makes us look like the nice guy, the benevolent power whose interest in other nations’ prosperity is enlightened and supports its interest in its own prosperity as part of an interconnected world.  I’m sure you’ve heard these keywords again and again.  But all of this aid amounts to no more than modern Poor Laws on a larger scale.  It feeds these regions so they can reproduce, but it makes the poverty problem worse, not better; it does not solve the underlying issues.  And it makes the world less stable and more prone to both intraregional conflict and larger clashes of civilizations, as well as civil wars.  Moreover, as every few years we in the United States prepare ourselves for the outbreak of the next pandemic, we might stop to look at where we think these diseases will come from–every time it is supposed to come from one of these places.  Famine, war, disease–Malthus’ three strong checks live on, more brutal and more destructive in this modern age than at any time before.

I would perhaps make my point best, to some people, if I used statistics.  I don’t do that.  Good writers, as will be seen in my course, show their superiority of judgment by what kinds of facts they select.  There are dozens of categories of fact, and fact is not limited to just quotations and statistics, as our (atrocious, disgusting, disgraceful) school system is absurdly telling our students.  In fact statistics can be manipulated and sensationalized, such that one great English politician said famously that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  In any event, if you want statistics, feel free to look them up.  There is little doubt but that they support me and, by extension, Malthus.

Have an excellent day and do not hesitate to comment or contact.  I’ll be back tomorrow!


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