population resource imbalances

Tue, 4 Oct 1994 17:25:00 PDT

Loker writes:

" I wonder if data from Netsilik and !Kung San are the best models for
understanding the relationships between people and resources? [....] we must
conclude that some kind of population regulating mechanisms have been at
work. They may be periodic famine and diseases as have been discussed on
this list .... but again I am skeptical due to the sustained increase in
population over the long run. The alternative is some sort of cultural
control(s) ... either conscious (or unconscious) like infanticide,
abortion, sexual taboos, dietary restrictions, etc."

Loker seems to accept uncritically the syllogism:
populations have not grown at their potential rate; there are cultural
practises such as infanticide, abortion, sexual taboos, dietary restrictions,
etc. These practises have the effect of reducing number of offspring
conceive, or surviing. Therefore these are cultural controls of population

Implicit is the assumption that "cultures" somehow take a pan-societal view
and determine that unchecked population growth is harmful and then, in an
unexplained manner, produce cultural practises to prevent that harm. (Or if
put into a pseudo-Darwinian framework, those cultures with such cultural
practieses are selected for and survive while cultures without those
practises die out).

At a MINIMUM, missing in this kind of argument is DEMONSTRATION of how the
purported practise actually serves to regulate population size. As I
commented in a previous post: female infanticide by Netsilik eskikmos was NOT
a "population regulating mechanism"; the view expressed by !Kung women that
they would like to have as many children as possible, so long as they have
the resources to ensure that the well being of their family IS a population
regualting mechanism. With the advent of cities, cities became (I argue) a
population controlling mechanism by providing the conditions for epidemics
and periodic devastation of populations (until the last hundred years or so
when we have "interferred" with this feedback mechanism via control of
disease, increased sanitation, etc.--but consider what is now happening in
India with reoccurence of the plague).

Human populations have increased in size over time, but at a rate FAR below
their potential for growth. Consequently, all populations everywhere have
ben involved (volitionally or otherwise) in conditions that limit population
growth. That on a world wide basis and over time Homo sapiens has increased
in size is likely due to nothing more than changes in resource procurement
methods that have increased the resource base available for sustaining human
populations. What is intriguing is not so much that for the most part
populations have grown slowly or not at all, but why some populations have in
fact instituted methods that increase the resource base and others have not.

D. Read

This is pseudo science at its worstd via couching an argument in technical
terms to give the illusion that something profound is being said. the
failure to actually DEMONSTRATE (as opposed to suggest) that such cultural
practises in fact serve to stabilize population size