Critique of TSW Part 25f The Social Microcosm

Blog 20150204

Bill learns about social movements and the relation between the global demographic transition and the Industrial Revolution.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked “TSW: “are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

The Social Microcosm (Part 6 of 7)

TSW:  "The advent of cheap oceanic travel for the masses presented people with a choice: socialize or leave. As a consequence, social movements in Europe were devastated."

BW: It's hard to tell whether you're talking about civility, population, or political "social movements". I have no idea what "devastation" you're talking about, but the various wars were hardly a consequence of over-population (the subsequent population grown didn't produce wars or any notable "devastation").

[GB: The failed revolution of 1848 was an attempt to overthrow the aristocracy in Germany. Democratic government had to wait until World War I for that to happen. The Paris Commune of 1871 was another instance in which a densely packed civilization (the large cities) attempted to overthrow the government in favor of radical republican policies. If you had been a member of any of these social movements, you certainly would have felt some “devastation”—probably death.] 

TSW:  "As mechanization developed ... it became more and more obvious that there was no turning back."

BW: Why would people turn back from the obvious benefits of industrial development? For that matter, why would they EVER willing reverse any intellectual, artistic, or trade achievements that produced prosperity? Of course there's a "direction of history", for as long as people have sought comfort and convenience. When was that ever NOT the case?

"The fear of 'overpopulation' is the logical conclusion of the free-will argument taken on the grand scale."

I agree that Malthusian fears were simple hysteria, but it was the individual "free will" of scientists and the political liberty to pursue market innovations (particularly in agriculture) that provided the solutions to those problems.

I suppose you could imagine that the "free will" to fornicate and reproduce without limits is a problem, but the fact is that the more advanced and industrialized the country, the more likely it is that people will freely choose NOT to have large families. There are many reasons, but the primary one is that infant mortality drops enormously and it isn't necessary to birth a dozen children in the hopes that two will survive to adulthood.

You're arbitrarily taking pot-shots at "free will" without discussing (philosophically or biologically) what free will entails or why it produces effects distinct from those of non-sapient animals who act purely on instinct.

[GB: Sorry, but the free will hypothesis is yours, not mine. Your surmise about “non-sapient animals who act purely on instinct” is essentially my point in all this population stuff. Population growth and stabilization is simply a univironmental interaction in which the growth of the microcosm (Homo sapiens in this case) is dependent on the interaction between microcosm and macrocosm. As resources become increasingly hard to obtain, the rate of growth declines until it reaches equilibrium with those resources. Free will has nothing to do with it, since free will does not exist in any case. That is why Catholics in urban areas disregard the Pope’s obsolete commands to procreate. As you mentioned, they don’t need no more kids to replace the dead ones (or to milk the cows).

In this regard, I sometimes get folks in the audience who look at the current global population curve I show (Fig. 12-3) and suggest that folks might use their free will to suddenly start to reproduce at greater than the 2.11/woman sustainable rate. Some even think that folks might use their free will to suddenly reproduce at a rate less than that, causing our species to disappear. The current carrying capacity of 10 billion no doubt will change over time. For instance, the next glaciation will cover the northern latitudes, including major northern cities with up to a mile of ice, like it did the last time about 22,000 years ago.]

TSW:  "As each country entered the early stages of industrialization, the rate of population growth increased; in the later stages the rate decreased."

BW: You're trying to fabricate boogeymen. Review the evidence above, indicating that population in Europe and the US had little if anything to do with industrialization, or the rise and fall of "civilizations". I don't know what you consider early or later stages, but population growth rates have been consistent for centuries.

[GB: The centuries you are referring to were pre-industrial, when growth rates were miniscule and technological advances nearly nonexistent. The Industrial Revolution in Europe started about a century before the period we have been discussing with regard to migration. For instance, the Industrial Revolution in England occurred between 1750 and 1850 (Deane, Phyllis, 1969, The first industrial revolution: New York, Cambridge University Press, 295 p.). As capitalism spread, each country experienced the growing pains of the revolution along with its own demographic transition, which is the point at which the rate of population growth begins to slow. Among the growing pains was the mass migration of people to the cities, where they found jobs in the industrial economy. One can roughly trace the progress of the revolution simply by comparing the percentage of the population working in cities with those working on farms. Of course, none of these demographic transitions were all clear, since migrations, plagues, and famines tended to interfere and capitalist penetration also occurred at widely varying rates. That is why the 1989 inflection point for global population is so exciting and so important for our species. Migration from Earth is not possible, so the social microcosm now behaves as a closed system. BTW: Since 1984, I have been emphasizing that economic growth and population growth are correlative. That is why I was especially happy to see the publication of Piketty’s best seller (Piketty, Thomas, 2014, Capital in the twenty-first century: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 685 p.), which says essentially the same thing and has Wall Street and mainstream economists in a conniption fit. The upshot, of course, is that the slowdown in population growth rate means that there will be a corresponding slowdown in economic growth—which appears to be here already, what with the US stock market averages hardly keeping up with inflation since the year 2000.]

BW: World population growth rates only started falling after 1960, when developed countries had substantially reduced infant mortality due to advances in medical science and inventors had given women more "free will" about whether to become pregnant. Neither of those things had anything to do with "stages" of industrialization.

[GB: Sorry, but without industrialization and its associated technology, none of those advances could have occurred. Remember, “industrialization” includes all the advances in science and medicine. It is not simply assembly line work in a dirty old factory. It is all interactive. The increased productivity of the factory resulted in the increased wealth that was used to produce those advances. It costs billions to produce life-saving vaccines and technologies. They don’t just pop up out of nowhere like your free will.] 

BW: Your sigmoidal curve analysis totally misses all the relevant facts. It has nothing to do with the "carrying capacity" of Earth. ALL the people in the world could live in the land area of Texas at a density far below that of most major cities, while the rest of the world could be used for food production. The US and 90% of the rest of the world land mass has less than 50 people per square kilometer.

[GB: I have heard this silly idea before, but I guess ALL the people have not gotten the memo. The sigmoidal curve is telling us what ALL the people think of your idea. That curve has been seen in numerous species. It is telling us that we are no different and that your vaunted free will does not exist. What does occur, is the univironmental interaction between the social microcosm and its macrocosm. In a way, it is almost the perfect test of univironmental determinism. Mainstream demographers must have missed all of your so-called “relevant facts” too, because their mid-range estimates are similar to those of Fig. 12-3:

Fig. 12-3. Sigmoidal growth curve for global population assuming perfect symmetry about the 1989 Inflection Point. Sources: Historical estimates and 1950–1989 data from the U.S. Census Bureau (“The Scientific Worldview,” p. 290).]

BW: Yes, Malthus compared urban populations to arable land and predicted disaster. His calculations were mostly correct, but he had no idea that science and industrialization would multiply agricultural production by a factor of 100.

[GB: Yes, we have never been short of food. Each 1% increase in population has resulted in a 1% increase in food production. Unfortunately, there are still on the order of a billion of us without adequate food. Looks like the Green Revolution did not do so well on distribution.]
TSW:  "Where is the 'free will?' Can't we have as many children as we want? Could it be that we want as many as we have?"

BW: In many areas of the world, it isn't a question of having as many as you "want", since birth control is not readily available. Free will doesn't mean fornication is free of consequences (children), but that people are able to make wise decisions about the risks of pregnancy.

[GB: Who is arguing that people are not able to make decisions? Wise or unwise decisions are all the result of cause and effect. According to the Second Assumption of Science, causality (All effects have an infinite number of material causes), those decisions do not just pop out of thin air at the behest of some imagined free will. Each decision is the result of a long chain of events. Thus, if birth control is not available or unimaginable, it may not be part of that causal chain.]

Next: The Social Microcosm (Part 7 of 7)

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