April 4, 2010

Frederick Errington
Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus
300 Summit Street
Hartford, CT 06106
(860) 297-2358

Dear Professor Errington:
I have read with interest your chapter “Excusing the Haves and Blaming the Have Nots,” in Questioning Collapse, a book that responds to Diamonds Collapse. You say that challenging taken-for-granted ideas can be liberating but daunting.  I might have said profoundly troubling, terrifying, isolating and professionally disastrous, but I think we are in broad agreement.

But I feel sufficiently invited to hold up a couple of taken-for-granteds.

  1. Mixing up the gene pool is a good thing because it results in hybrid vigor and increased fertility.
  2. There are too many babies in the world.

Obviously both cannot be true.  In fact neither is true.  Mixing up the gene pool, or as I would say living in social groups and gene pools of greater than a few hundred, seems to be disastrous for fertility.  And there may be far too many babies, but that is a half truth; in the developed world there are far too few.  And given the enormous world population we are going to need the developed world for some time to come.  Traditional farming I am told can support only about two billion and we are already over seven. 

So if you want to undertake the daunting task of thinking about this, the easiest access to the best data is located at nobabies.net under the March 25, 2010, posting which I presented at a genetics meeting last month. 

You mention Yali, whom we take to be a New Guinea cargo cultist, or any of a number of other people, might have asked, “Why do you have so much cargo and we so little?”  But a better question might have been, “Why has our society survived so long while yours is so new?  It looks like you are a flash in the pan.”  If he asked that one, we are not told.  But as my data will show, it is very rare of a “civilized” society to endure for more than about 300 years.

You suggest that the people of New Guinea did not particularly want cargo but wanted to be treated as equals, wanted justice.  No doubt so, but all this counts for little if there are not enough babies, and traditional societies have survived because they have had them.  Modern civilization has really not been around long enough to have met the test, but is already in decline. 

Simply understanding the relationship between gene pool size and fertility does not accomplish much.  First people must be persuaded to take the long view.  That is not something I see much of.  But if we could, I suspect it would go far toward alleviating other problems, some of which you describe.

Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD

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