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A SECOND SERMON ON THE MOUNT GARRETT HARDIN* Blessed are the meek,for they shall inherit the earth. Shall? They have. Look around you. How many heroes do you number among your neighbors? Or your colleagues? Few, you say; and are not surprised. How could it be otherwise, considering the way heroes are rewarded? Legend has it that the Spartan mother told her son: "Return with your shield or on it." Could there be a clearerprescriptionfor genetic suicide? A hero throws both himselfand his genes into the fray. Jealous, we all can spare the hero. But can we do without his genes? Where are the heroes ofyesteryear? Where is Sparta now? Blessed are they that speak in beatitudes,for they shall be heard dumbly. What is a beatitude anyway? "Blessed are. . . ." What does that mean? Is it a statement offact? A wish? A warning? A command? A prediction? Beatitudes, always ambiguous, are no proper part of scholarly writing. Good, you say. But note: that which a beatitude means may also be missing in our formal discourses. Loving rigor, we may throw out the baby with the bath. Ambiguous representations serve a purpose. They are a shield behind which the subconscious can carry on its work. Thejoke, the dream, the parable, the beatitude—all these defenses will be needed so long as there are problems we fear to face. Blessed are statistical tables,for they delay the day ofour thinking. Run your eye down the rows ofbooks on population published in the last ten years. Lose yourself in the thickets of tables ofnumbers. Is all this necessary? Is the population problem really so subtle? Are we unable to get along without this dissimulation ofreality and the fatigue ofprolixity that puts an end to genuine inquiry? Canwe quench thehumanpopulation explosion with a still greater explosion ofbooks on population? * Department ofBiological Sciences, University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara, California. 366 Garrett Hardin · Second Sermon on the Mount Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Spring 1963 Wittgenstein once said: "A person caught in a philosophical confusion is like a man in a room who wants to get out but doesn't know how. He tries the window but it is too high. He tries the chimney but it is too narrow. And ifhe would only turn around, he would see that the door has been open all the time!" Where is that door? Blessed are they that reproduce exorbitantly,for only they shall be. One is sometimes astounded at the stupidity ofthe ancients. Herodotus, certainly no fool, wrote: "The lioness, which is the mightiest and boldest of beasts, beareth one offspring once in her life; for as she beareth him, she casteth out her womb with her offspring. And the cause thereofis this, that when the whelp beginneth to stir himselfin his mother's belly, then he teareth the womb with his claws, which are sharper than any other beast's; andashe growethhepierceth it moreandmore withhis scrabbling, until when the birth is near, no part remaineth sound." It is incredible that the great historian did not perceive the instability of a reproductive system in which numbers are halved each generation. Yet there the quotation is with no hint ofirony in it. A reproductive systelm in which two produced exactly two in each generation would also lead to extinction, for there are always accidents. Only organisms that tend to increase each generation can survive. In a sense, it does not matter how little the increase is, so long as it is positive. In a sense, all potential growth curves are the same—it isjust a matter of adjusting the scale. Every population growth curve points to infinity. This is the justification of the word "exorbitantly," which means "off the track." Bacteria, doubling in numbers every twenty minutes, reproduce exorbitantly; so do men, though their doubling takes a quarter ofa century or more. Potentially exorbitant reproduction is a necessary quality of life, so no one is asking us for our approval. There being no other possibility, reproduction is beyond good and evil. The problem is: how to stay on the track? Blessed are they that have enemies,for they shall endure. Consider the first "living" entity on earth, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 366-371
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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