Monday, February 16, 2009

Robins, Real Estate, and Jared Diamond's Collapse

Here lately in the park it's been kind of like Hitchcock's The Birds only with just robins. They're all angling for nesting real estate, I guess. Last year a robin nested in a Crepe Myrtle here next to the rear fire escape, so you could look down into it from the upper floor. That was kind of fun, but then a hellacious hailstorm blew in and smashed the eggs and toppled the nest. That was a real downer - we'd all grown emotionally attached to that little family. I hope Mrs. Robin finds a safer home this year.

I've been reading about real estate in a roundabout way in Collapse. It's about how civilizations rise and fall, and how some of them have risen and sustained themselves. I'm not finished with the book, but so far it looks to me like civilizations which lasted a long time in a relatively stable fashion practiced abortion and/or infanticide. Jared Diamon cites the New Guinea Highlands and Tikopia, cultures which hadn't developed effective birth control methods, and thus had to come up with more brutal methods of population control to keep from depleting resources on the islands where they lived. Oh, that's fucking awful, I thought at first. But then I thought, how is abortion/infanticide really any different from warfare? All of the soldiers killed in battle on both sides are somebody's babies, though they no longer have the cute and cuddly factor working for them. And warfare is the inevitable result of populations outstripping the resources that support them.
Either the overgrown population has to go conquer somebody else's civilization for the raw materials to sustain itself, or it has a civil war/ethnic cleansing episode to thin itself out. (Daimond cites Rwanda as a good example of that.) Both of these things have long-term effects on the quality of life within a society, and it seems like there should be more skillful ways to manage population.

When you look at human history from such a broad perspective and see what an issue birth control has been for almost the entire time, it makes you wonder why religion tends to preach against it. Even though we've got hundreds if not thousands of years of evidence that abstinence doesn't work, we still get pissed off about birth control being discussed as part of sex education. And the Catholic Church is still against the most effective forms of birth control. I think that means they don't care about the bloodshed and cannibalism that can come about as a result of overpopulation; as long as those left standing are practicing Catholics, they've won. That, in my mind, is promoting a natural selection process that favors bloodthirsty assholes.

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