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Giving Ethical Murder Its Due

General Ideas

Trying to sell scenarios based on degrowth or frugal living is like trying to sell your Elvis collection of 8-track tapes.

In The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond ticks off all the great things about modern society — things like vaccines, ambulances, labor-saving kitchen appliances, electric light, air conditioning and refrigeration that most of us take for granted now. Most teens would find it hard to do without WiFi or Wikipedia. Diamond says few of us would care to go back to an era before any of that.
When something happens to revert a society to suddenly far more primitive, such as currently being experienced in Puerto Rico or Dominica following Hurricane Maria, we can barely conceive how it is possible to live like that. And actually, given present population density and generalized lack of survival skills, it may not be.
For those toiling at the fringe trying to design a future that would be even conceivably sustainable in the face of climate change and peak everything, the prospect of trying to sell scenarios based on degrowth or frugal living is like trying to sell your Elvis collection of 8-track tapes.
It is even more risqué when we begin to talk about the benefits of infanticide, genital mutilation and wife strangling.
Diamond told NPR:

“[There’s] an island near Bougainville called New Britain, where among the Kaulong people it was customary that if a man died, his widow was strangled, and not against her will. She expected it.

“She would call out to her brothers to strangle her. If the brothers were not around, she would call out to her son to strangle her, because she had seen this happen to other women, and now she expected it for herself.

“To us it sounds horrible, and I have to say I don’t see any benefit to it. It again underscores the point that there are wonderful things we can learn from traditional societies, and there are also things where we can say, thank God we’re past that.”

Diamond says he sees no benefit from wife strangling. We do. Moreover, human civilization may not be past the need to have it.
Thomas Malthus did the math in 1798. While he is often derided because he could not possibly foresee the Green Revolution or nuclear power, his theory remains essentially correct.
The Green Revolution and nuclear power turned out to be hooey.
In An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus decreed that population is necessarily limited by means of subsistence. Because population invariably increases, the means of subsistence must keep pace. Unless prevented by some very powerful and obvious checks (abortion, infanticide, prostitution, war, gay marriage, gender switching, plague, famine, and disease, for instance), humans will be on a treadmill to produce more food, fuel and humans, whether by expansion into neighboring lands, enslavement and starvation of other humans, or other means. Artificial foods, artificial livelihoods, artificial energy supplies (hydrogen, fusion, fracking) and other long-sought salvations are just what the name suggests: artifice. The requirement, meanwhile, is absolute.
Malthus said that the worst that could befall us would be what we generally think of as the best case scenario: all people everywhere provided with sufficient subsistence, all checks on growth removed — war, water supply, food supply, land degradation, political or social oppression and the rest — banished to the history books. Witness: the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Prescription filled, the relief would be very short lived.
In those conditions, the increase of marriages and birth would soon produce human population far in excess of food supply. The ability of the Earth to absorb pollution and many other natural boundaries would be traversed. The inevitable result would be a population crash with — given the degree of systemic erosion — a strong likelihood for human extinction.
Our great powers of fecundity were a survival strategy. We’re not that different from rabbits or house flies. We didn’t need hundreds of offspring, a few would do, but if each female were to be repeatedly fertilized, allowed to bear, and the offspring nurtured until it could fend for itself, our upright naked ape population would soon outgrow its hunting range.
Sure, we could get knocked back by conflict, famine, natural disaster, or epidemics of disease, but we would always rebound because in any given generation, grandparents would live to see their seed quadruple and possibly even multiply 20-fold or 40-fold.
The arithmetic is inexorable. Albert Bartlett said the greatest failing of the human species was its inability to understand this exponential function. Wars and plagues barely make a dent. A few years pass and the growth curve is as shiny as new, picking right up where it left off.
Unlike Diamond, we see the clear benefit of wife-strangling. We imagine Bartlett does too, even though he denies it. Hunter-gatherer societies are acutely aware of the importance of placing limits on their fecundity. They know that they can work one area of a forest for game only so long, and then either the game will catch on and go away, or they will deplete the easy catches and wild plants and get trapped by EROI — burning more calories to gather their food than the food they can gather provides.
Well before that happens they move to a new camp, but what if their population was larger? The effort and frequency of those moves increases. The rate at which hunting grounds deplete accelerates. The need for more hunting areas over greater distances rises. Sooner or later there is a point of diminishing returns.
One way to cope with this is to adhere to the underlying biological drive to reproduce by adopting agriculture, and all that entails. The other way would be to go against genetic predisposition and self-limit your population.

Among the San speakers of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and Botswana, 60–80% of the diet came from non-meat sources, especially nuts and roots. Since women provided most of the vegetable foods, they were responsible for the majority of the calories that were consumed. Men mostly provided the most desirable food, which was meat. The San way of life was remarkably efficient. While they had few days that were free of subsistence activities, the ratio of labor expenditure to production was low. The ethnographer Richard Lee discovered that adult San spent only about 2½ days of 6 hours each week hunting and gathering. Young people did not fully join the workforce until around 20 years old. The 60% of the society that were healthy adults provided the food for everyone by working only 15 hours a week. Foragers have rightly been referred to by Richard Lee as the most leisured people. In the United States today, less than 1% of the population produces all of the food for the entire society. Given this remarkable efficiency, it is worth asking why the rest of us work 40–50 hours a week, often with considerable psychological stress.

— Dennis O’Neil, Foraging 
The lifestyles of foraging societies should not be quickly dismissed in our quest for creature comforts.
Diamond says: 

For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn’t emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, “Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?”

While farmers concentrate on high-carbohydrate crops like rice and potatoes, the mix of wild plants and animals in the diets of surviving hunter-gatherers provides more protein and a better balance of other nutrients. In one study, the Bushmen’s average daily food intake (during a month when food was plentiful) was 2,140 calories and 93 grams of protein, considerably greater than the recommended daily allowance for people of their size. It’s almost inconceivable that Bushmen, who eat 75 or so wild plants, could die of starvation the way hundreds of thousands of Irish farmers and their families did during the potato famine of the 1840s.


One straightforward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5′ 9’’ for men, 5′ 5’’ for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5′ 3’’ for men, 5′ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. Hunter-gatherers have little or no stored food, and no concentrated food sources, like an orchard or a herd of cows: they live off the wild plants and animals they obtain each day. Therefore, there can be no kings, no class of social parasites who grow fat on food seized from others. Only in a farming population could a healthy, non-producing elite set itself above the disease-ridden masses. Skeletons from Greek tombs at Mycenae c. 1500 B. C. suggest that royals enjoyed a better diet than commoners, since the royal skeletons were two or three inches taller and had better teeth (on the average, one instead of six cavities or missing teeth). Among Chilean mummies from c. A. D. 1000, the elite were distinguished not only by ornaments and gold hair clips but also by a fourfold lower rate of bone lesions caused by disease.

We have explored here previously how humanity could restore the carbon balance of atmosphere and oceans by developing a new form of silvoculture and silvopasture we call climate ecoforesty, but how best should we limit our population size to sustain a shift of that type? Clearly we are going to hit a wall at 9 billion that will be every bit as catastrophic as the wall that comes down at 2 degrees. The wall we hit at 7 billion and 1 degree is already catastrophic.
Why do we recoil at the traditional ways for addressing this? In parts of eighteenth-century Japan, couples raised only two or three children. Those who killed their babies saw themselves as responsible parents.
Until brought under the sway of modern laws, the Inuit practiced infanticide as well as the killing of elders. The males within the tribes also had a higher mortality rate because of occupational hazards as hunters and ice fishers. Female-biased infanticide kept equilibrium by balancing sex ratios, keeping daughters when the local sex-ratio is male biased and killing them when girls were overabundant.
These traditional practices did not say that Inuit have less compassion for their children, nor less respect for human life; it says they had come to grips with a hard truth — that murder is sometimes needed to ensure that the whole tribe, and now the species, does not become extinct.
Of course, it is less anguishing just to get vasectomies. Then you can kick back and listen to 8-tracks and not have to feel guilty.

Albert Bates is an Emergency Planetary Technician, founder of Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology (, and Chief Permaculture Officer for eCO2, a COOL DESIGN services company focusing on climate recovery strategies with high returns on investment.
The Great Change by Albert Bates  

21 Comments on "Giving Ethical Murder Its Due"

  1. Davy on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 5:37 pm 

    Real solutions are beyond human abilities in the macro sense. Cooperation is not possible with so many and so many differing ideologies. This is further complicated by catch 22 predicaments that have no solutions with or without human cooperation. Draconian approaches are needed but such approaches are a danger in themselves. It may be that the draconian changes are worse than simple species negligence. We have come that far and are now on the precipice of disaster.

    The basic narrative of human meaning needs to be rewritten. A paradigm shift of wisdom from growth to stoicism. Our wisdom needs to center on being able to say no and to accept less. Liberty, freedom, and personal choice no longer fit into a survival based strategy in relation to global overshoot. Triage strategies are needed across the board. A deep understanding of the consequences of what is needed and what will result from the required changes should be debated by a council of wise men. Today this council of wise men is digital and permeates the web.

    The changes needed likely would result in the collapse of the status quo with a likely significant loss of life. This is something we currently are not capable of dealing with. It would not be fair and empathy and compassion would have to be shelved. On the energy side we need demand management and a forced powerdown. We need consumerism to end and a significant amount of the population pushed back onto the land. This will result in loss of life because we are not capable of these kind of changes at the speed it is needed.

    Population and consumption are our terminal issues. They are today combined in a vicious self-reinforcing destructive force of growth that cannot be ended without catastrophic results. So we continue onward to a rendezvous with a dark destiny. For many here this may not be our rendezvous. The worst may be decades away. The timing is uncertain but the destiny is clear to those who honestly embrace science and who honestly admit to the lack of solutions. It seems clear that nature will force the issue because we can’t. This will likely be a process of events and or one big event. The big event is possible at any time it is just most care not think about it.

    What should we do if we are honest about the science and see nature as the only arbiter of our destiny? Do we continue to dwell on what we can’t do anything about? Wisdom calls on us to do risk management. Wisdom calls on us to create new principals of action and inaction in the face of predicaments. Even if we can’t do anything about our existential predicament we can be rational and accepting of the prescriptions. The prescriptions are beyond the scope of the general. These prescriptions involve localization and associated idiosyncrasies. Unlike solutions prescriptions are for adaptation and mitigation of pain and suffering from predicaments. Society needs draconian measures but the individual need only yield and adapt to a failing society. An individual cannot expect draconian solutions for personal security. It is not possible. A failing society will see all fail alike eventually. This then becomes the case of a society unable to change and destine for a phase change and the individual riding this entropic gradient. The solution them becomes a matter of the individual.

  2. makati1 on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 5:55 pm 

    Walls? Only humans build walls. Not Mother Nature. She is fluid and provides many possible paths. Some humans say that nine billion is max. Others say 10. Maybe things will work out that there will be 12? There is no way of knowing at this point. Changes in available energy will push us onto another path. Going form a meat based diet to a most veggie diet will allow more humans to exist. THe death of a billion cattle across the world would provide the food resources for another billion humans. Proclamations of population limits may be very wrong. We shall see.

    BTW: Hoe do we ACTUALLY know how many people there are today? Answer: We don’t. It is all averages and probabilities. The stats post nice round numbers but could be off by millions either way. Tell me how many there are in say, Uganda, today.

    41,487,965 in 2016,- WIKI
    As of 1 January 2017, the population of Uganda was estimated to be 40,953,469 – Oops! We lost a half million already and it is a small country!

    Take the 200 or so countries in the world and you can have a total population figure that is off by 100 million or more.

    Reality, not statistics will determine our future. All we can do is wait and see.

  3. onlooker on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 5:58 pm 

    Morality and Ethics should be always a consideration for us humans. Sadly, the recent crop of humans ie. us, were not keen on considering future human populations and their prospects in our mad haste to progress, grow and conquer. That to be is Unethical and immoral. But too late now, natural processes will now cull our huge population

  4. Davy on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 6:17 pm 

    mad kat is always trying to explain away population issues I guess this is because he lives in a megaregion of 20MIL on one of the most densely populated islands in the world.

  5. makati1 on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 6:49 pm 

    The US is helping to bring down the population: “Prof. John McMurtry says that the U.S. government is a gigantic mass-murdering machine which earns profit through waging wars, and is never held accountable over its unspeakable war crimes and crimes against humanity. He also believes that the U.S. has become a police state, which treats its citizens in the most derogatory manner.

    “I have travelled alone with only backpack possession through the world, and have found no state in which police forces are more habituated to violent bullying, more likely to draw a gun, more discriminatory against the dispossessed, and more arbitrarily vicious in normal behavior,” said McMurtry. “The US now leads the globe in an underlying civil war of the rich against the poor.”

    The US is NUMBER ONE!

  6. Davy on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 6:52 pm 

    “Globalresearch is an “anti-Western” website that can’t distinguish between serious analysis and discreditable junk — and so publishes both. It’s basically the moonbat equivalent to Infowars or WND While some of GlobalResearch’s articles discuss legitimate humanitarian concerns, its view of science, economics, and geopolitics is conspiracist — if something goes wrong, the Jews West didit! The site has long been a crank magnet: If you disagree with “Western” sources on 9/11, or HAARP, or vaccines, or H1N1, or climate change, or anything published by the “mainstream” media, then GlobalResearch is guaranteed to have a page you will love. The website (under the domain names,,, and sister site is run by the Montreal-based non-profit The Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG) founded by Michel Chossudovsky,[2][3] a former professor of economics at the University of Ottawa, Canada.[4] Whenever someone makes a remarkable claim and cites GlobalResearch, they are almost certainly wrong.”

  7. Duncan Idaho on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 7:37 pm 

    I would bet we reach a population of 500 million before 9 billion.
    It will be a close race.

  8. JJHMAN on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 8:21 pm 

    Weird article. the author seemed to be really fascinated by the widow murder but never gave a reason why it was done other than a vague reference to fertility. That isn’t very relevant to a 50 year old woman in a primitive society.

    Widow murder was also common in India at one time.

    I suspect the reason had more to do with selfish men wanting to keep possession of their “property” than anything about resources.

  9. Darrell Cloud on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 8:27 pm 

    There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Visit your local nursing home and you will discover that longevity is not what it is cracked up to be. I have had way too much to drink to be commenting on this topic but there comes a time when we the old suck the life out of the living. There should be a mechanism for our exit.

  10. JuanP on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 9:39 pm 

    “Of course, it is less anguishing just to get vasectomies. Then you can kick back and listen to 8-tracks and not have to feel guilty.”
    I couldn’t agree more. As someone who chose to have a Vasectomy and no biological offspring I will take no responsibility whatsoever for this mess of a world you’ve created. The future of humanity doesn’t concern me in the least bit. It is your descendants that will pay the price for your mistakes not mine. I will teach them how to grow food, though, and I lead by example. Be smart, grow a pair, and get a Vasectomy while you still can. The reward is a lifetime of worry free fucking. What’s not to like?

  11. Sissyfuss on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 10:39 pm 

    Don’t worry, Darrell of the Cloud, the Soylent Green suicide parlors will be coming to a town near you soon. Complete with free opioids for the grieving children.

  12. makati1 on Sun, 15th Oct 2017 10:48 pm 

    Darrell, there is a mechanism for our exit. It is called death. It happens to all of us at sometime, usually not of our choosing.

    Just eliminate all of the road traffic signs and laws. The death rate would triple in days. Close the hospitals and drug stores. Etc. Many ways to eliminate the eaters. But, that would not be profitable and we have to have profits don’t we. lol

  13. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 2:04 am 

    Whoooaaa. Wait a minute.
    How much for the Elvis Presley
    8-Track tapes?

  14. Dylan on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 6:41 am 

    It is impossible for a population to outgrow it’s food supply. Living things are made out of food.

  15. ________ on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 7:26 am 

    Killing babies is psychopathic. There needs to be competition for females where males fight to the death or castration. Unfit have no right to breed.

  16. makati1 on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 9:35 pm 

    The American police state is alive and growing.

    ” And yet in that strange vacuum, those distant wars have been brought home in a host of ways.

    I was struck by this on a recent trip to Santa Fe during which I set off one of those airport metal detectors and promptly had my hands swabbed and tested for explosive residue. Obviously, we all now live in a strikingly more militarized and securitized world. Who in twenty-first-century America hasn’t been wanded (something unheard of in the Vietnam era)? Who hasn’t felt the riseof the national security state up close and personal in a country in which military drones are in the air, our borderlands have been turned into fortresses, military-style surveillance is a way of life, taxpayer dollars pour into the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, and sports events are a riot of militarized activities (paid for by the Pentagon)? And of course, the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, and the White House chief of staff, arguably the three most powerful figures in Washington other than the president himself, are generals from America’s losing wars. Though no one seems to notice, these truly could be considered our days of rage.”

    Pat downs, X-rays, groping security drones, cameras, recording of phone conversations, text messages, internet use, and on and on.

  17. Davy on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 1:52 am 

    We are doing fine here mad kat, we are getting by. You worry about us too much. Go sip your San Miguel by the pool and be happy your little social security check is still coming.

  18. makati1 on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 3:00 am 

    I’m enjoying my freedom. But as for the beer, nope. Not in a long time, nor do I sit by the pool. More interesting and important things to do. Keep paying your taxes and I’ll keep spending them on preps. I told you before that I know they will end soon. but I am prepared. lol

  19. Davy on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 7:11 am 

    I do things mad kat. I am productive and not a wasted breath of air. You are lucky times are good. You are screwed when times get hard at your age without healthcare.

  20. Hello on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 7:15 am 

    >>>>> The American police state is alive and growing

    Not only the american.
    Beautiful europe, where once you were able to just jump on trains and linger at train stations, no more.
    Certain train station need havey policing nowadays, some (like Milano for example) won’t even let you get close to the trains without ticket and passing thru security check points anymore.

    Thank you liberals, for importing 3rd world muslim trash. Please explain to me again, how importing 3rd world muslim trash improves my life?

  21. Davy on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 7:31 am 

    Exactly Hello, the police state is everywhere and where it isn’t life is just as dangerous for other reasons. I agree with you on importing immigrants. Yet, I see them as equals in the respect that in their own world they have value. When they come to ours and we go to theirs things get bad. This is why I am now against the homogenization of globalism. Enough is enough let’s stop the mass mixing. A little is OK but not what has been going on. I was recently at the naturalization of my Italian wife to a US citizen. She is now a duel citizen which is valuable for when she travels and works. These people impressed me with their motivation but for reasons of overshoot I don’t want any more immigrants. My wife knows my position. She agrees with me we are in a collapse process. She sees it everywhere including her Italy.

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