Malthus Dreaming by David Barber

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Post April 11, 2011, 04:42:43 PM

Malthus Dreaming by David Barber

This poem was intriquing because of the subject matter: population control - pro or con. The pro side was supplied by the Rev. Thomas Malthus from the 1700s(?) and the author seemed to be on the anti-population control side.
There were such outstanding lines in this poem that I'm afraid to mention them, for fear they are quotes. Well, my fellow aphelionites will certainly steer me in the correct direction if they are well-known quotes. I liked:
"The living outwait the dead" - very true. Many times I outwaited those whom I was in conflict with or wanted to inherit from - I'm still here, with their stuff, and they are dead.
"They've already jumped - and will invent the parachute on the way down." A good idea if you're carrying a ton of silk with you, I suppose.
"The future blesses and thanks you for making way." The past, I'm afraid, often doesn't give up without a struggle. I sometimes wonder what kind of difference I will have made while alive, but really, after I'm dead I won't care - because I'll be dead.
Interesting reading indeed.
Since the house is on fire - at least let us warm ourselves.
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Post April 13, 2011, 10:12:50 AM

Re: Malthus Dreaming by David Barber

Agreed. All of it.

This isn’t just a good poem, it’s a good science fiction story, as well. Funny thing about Malthus was that he was right. Dead right all along. He gets a bad rep from philosophers & scientists & (now) poets for not foreseeing increased crop yields and modern mechanized distribution systems and such, which is the only way we’ve maintained a population growth that should have outstripped our resources decades ago.

But that isn’t fair to him. Malthus never said that humanity would die. . .just have a big bad die-off till the population was back to living within its resource base. We’ve delayed that moment, but even if it happens, humanity will keep on breeding away. . .and then comes the next plague or drought or ice age. . .more-or-less forever.

This piece works as a poem inasmuch as it portrays humanity as a single, organic being. It grows and changes and adapts and flows around obstacles it can’t surmount or just plain eat. It works as science fiction because it implies that we may have to make ourselves shorter, or able to eat grass, or sail on the world oceans (Waterworld—cool concept, lousy movie) in order to keep going as a species. Individuals are important, but they are only holding patterns for genes that might be needed later on.


Bill Wolfe
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."


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Post April 28, 2011, 11:35:42 AM

Showing vs. Telling

One thing I remember about Malthus from school: Even doing our best to increase food supply, unchecked human population growth will cause food demand to outgrow food supply; with dire consequences.

Here the poem issues its challenge:

Forget another mouth to feed,
another human being is another mind,
another pair of hands are what we need.

I take it these hands and minds provide workers and problem solvers to work towards a bright future. And then we see the fruits of their work, finding new resources, extending existing ones, creating a
golden age:

The trickle of Einstein and Shakespeare and Mozart
becomes a torrent of so many minds brilliant at once

Next the problem sovers work on the demand side of the problem:
dwarfism and the metabolic brakes,
now hibernation

Why should they do that, unless they no longer see room from improvement on the supply side? So it seems the best they could do on food supply has been just not enough. Who could have foreseen?

And where now are our artists and scientists of the golden age, where are our workers and problem solvers?
Stowed away in cold storage. Minds and hands no longer available.
This no longer is
another human being is another mind,
another pair of hands are what we need.

The mouth to feed has outweighed the hands and mind. It can no longer be ignored. This is quite the opposite of what the poem started out with.
But also, while in cold storage, people will not procreate. So decreased polulation growth is in fact part of the solution the poem has arrived at at this point.

Bill_Wolfe wrote:Funny thing about Malthus was that he was right. Dead right all along.

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