17 June 2008

Overpopulation Doomsday vs. Cornucopian Singularity? Has Malthus Been Oversold by Doomers?

Doomseekers--many of them journalists, authors, and celebrities--wallow in "peak oil", "global warming catastrophe", and other harrowing visions of worldwide doom. Ray Kurzweil and singularitarians, on the other hand, say the world is on the verge of widespread prosperity and abundance such as never before seen.

NYT blogger John Tierney weighs the question and decides that doomsday has been wildly oversold. Tierney points to this recent NYT article about Malthus vs. reality and decides that Kurzweil's cornucopian singularity--while not guaranteed--is more likely than the Malthusian vision of widespread famine and poverty.

Who is right--doomers or Kurzweil? It depends upon where you live. If you live in a nation or region with a very low average population IQ, you are apt to see many examples of the activity pictured in the photo above--subsisting on castoff and detritus. Generations of philanthropists, NGOs, religious charities, government aid and assistance, etc. have been lavished upon countries such as Haiti only to see them sink into violence and deprivation time and again. Below a certain point, average IQ determines what a society's destiny will be.

Nations of high IQ, such as Japan, South Korea, China, and European countries, have the potential of creating cornucopian worlds in the near future, if the political classes are sufficiently constrained. North Korea, Mao's China, the late USSR, etc. are examples of high IQ societies that allowed despotic governments to lead them into widespread misery and shortages of food and comforts.

When one looks at the margins--where reasonably high IQ societies are being swamped by lower IQ immigration--one finds that a good future is not assured. In a high IQ democracy, the deluge of low IQ voters can distort government policies away from the enlightenment Anglospheric traditions, toward more tribalistic policies that lead to societal fragmentation. When that happens, the more mobile and educated among the young will think about emigrating to greener pastures. Such emigration has the effect of speeding the transition from first world to third world, from high IQ society to low IQ society.

Tierney is right that for high IQ societies with moderate governments and controlled immigration, the cornucopia of Kurzweil is more likely than the mass starvation and overpopulation of Malthus and his modern-day disciples. But where in the world today can one find moderate governments of high IQ societies with strictly controlled immigration? The leading candidates for US President in the November elections are both seen as soft on illegal immigration from the third world.

A cornucopian first world would provide benefits to a Malthusian third world. Yet the lower the average IQ in the third world nation or region, the more difficult it will be to prevent widespread poverty, hunger, and disease within that region or country. Of course, if IQ remains the "one whose name you must not say aloud," not even think it!, then Malthus will have plenty of opportunity to laugh from his grave.

The world can support 30 billion persons of high IQ, who will behave responsibly and intelligently within the complex ecology. But just a few million low IQ persons can create a veritable hell on earth in the many urban jungles of mindless violence that the planet currently sports.

Intelligent and educated people breed significantly less than unintelligent and uneducated people. (see graphics world IQ map here and world fertility map here) But IQ is up to 80% heritable. Executive function--even more important to future success than IQ--may be even more heritable than IQ. The Flynn effect cannot change that. Advanced childhood education programs to enhance executive function and short-term memory cannot change that.

It is one thing to point out that Earth has abundant resources if humans will only act responsibly and use their innate ingenuity to do so. It is quite another thing to go on and face the problem fully, in all its dysphoric complexity. In the context of working toward a cornucopian future, widespread stupidity is a dysfunctional trait that not only individuals can possess, but also populations. That sad but critical fact must be addressed.

Fortunately, dysgenic trends can be addressed without taking unthinkably nightmarish and draconian measures. But without taking the first step of facing the issue, Malthus' chances for being right remain in play --for large parts of the world. That is what the term "a fractured singularity" means. Mere islands of post-humanity growing unevenly out of the developed world.

Anyone able to prevent large scale warfare during that sensitive transitional stage will deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, for once.

Update: This NYT article about a revolution in rice-growing appears to point at least in the general direction of cornucopia. Add to that all the other agricultural, biomedical, energy, and manufacturing revolutions, and the doomer point of view is definitely coming under siege.

[edited and updated since first published]

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Blogger kurt9 said...

If you're of a certain age, you will remember all of the same doomsday crap being peddled by the same suspects during the 1970's. The stuff that is being peddled today is simply recycled from the 1970's, by the same suspects as well. It is no more valid today than it was then. I would not pay any more attention than I would to the stuff in the 1970's.

At least we are not be subjected to a resurgence of platform shoes and polyester clothes.

Tuesday, 17 June, 2008  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Computer Scientist John McCarthy has a website presenting the real limits to growth on planet Earth. Have a look at:


The current crowing about limits is political agenda driven and has no relationship, whatsoever, with the real limits to growth.

Tuesday, 17 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

I agree, McCarthy's site is great.

You need to go back to Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson, and the Club of Rome, to understand the emotional intensity of the "all is doom" crowd. You might think when those prophecies of doom from 40 years ago didn't work out, they would have come up with some new ones.

The apocalyptic fervour is the same for these pseudo-environmentalists as it is for religious freaks. There really isn't any difference--both apocalypses are based upon delusional arguments.

Tuesday, 17 June, 2008  
Blogger Pastorius said...

I must be "of a certain age."

Tuesday, 17 June, 2008  
Blogger Audacious Epigone said...

"But where in the world today can one find moderate governments of high IQ societies with strictly controlled immigration?"

Japan. But its population is shrinking. It doesn't just have a TFR below replacement, the total population is actually declining in absolute, not to mention relative, terms as we speak.

Wednesday, 18 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Good point, AE. Japan is also a center of research in robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and biotech.

In other words, Japan is an excellent candidate for the abundant society, and gateway to the singularity.

The problem is, as you say, the shrinking population that will be unable to defend the home islands before too many more generations. Will AI supervised defense robots be able to take up the slack?

Multicultural political correctness is fatal to developed societies when they adopt liberal third world immigration policies. Japan has avoided that trap so far.

Wednesday, 18 June, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A topic rarely discussed is about the fact that rich, smart, intelligent people with high standard of living will make the environment more difficult to live for poor, dumb and stupid people.

In a society where 1.000 $ is the minimum to survive a month, people able to earn only 100 $ will be unable to survive and reproduce without the active help of the "smart" ones.

In a world where the indians and the chinese are increasingly rich and richer, the poors africans and arabs will be competed out.

The rich consume more and pay more, rising the cost of living. And the poor are unable to compete for the resources.

The westerns could be bleeding hearts for another few years, but the chinese and the new rich of east asia and south america have not the same bleeding heart.

Wednesday, 18 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

extro: If Africans can learn to tap into the biological potential of the dark continent, they will survive fine.

Arabs will have problems, however, unless they are willing to learn from the Israelis how to make the deserts bloom.

The current oil boom will not last. We will never run out of oil, but we will learn to substitute cleaner and cheaper fuels and energies in place of overpriced petroleum. Arabs who have not learned to live outside the oil bubble will have problems.

Low income people living in high income societies often live ten or more to a small apartment, eating low cost foods which can often be healthier than higher priced alternatives. They use public transport or other alternatives to high priced private vehicles. The smart ones save their money, start their own successful businesses, and become high income people--in an opportunity society.

Thursday, 19 June, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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