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Matto Mildenberger
Something I've been meaning to say about The Tragedy of the Commons. Bear with me for a small thread on why our embrace of Hardin is a stain on environmentalism. tldr: we’ve let a flawed metaphor by a racist ecologist define environmental thinking for a half century. 1/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Hardin’s article, published in Science, turned 50 this past December. Since then, tens of millions of students have been taught its core message. Every individual seeks to exploit the commons. In doing so they unsustainably overuse our shared resources to the ruin of all. 2/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Google Scholar gives me a current citation count of 38730 (!). Most articles on environmental politics use the phrase at some point or another. It has permeated our lexicon like few other concepts. Here is the original Science essay, btw: 3/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
(Side note: Hardin’s piece actually drew on a much earlier 1833 pamphlet by William Forster Lloyd about the dangers of overgrazing the English countryside. Worth a read for those so inclined: ) 4/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
That this metaphor offers some essential insight is taken for granted. A generation of scholarship builds on its back, including in political science and economics. But does it? That's much less clear. 5/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
As Susan Cox points out, British commons were exclusive to a defined set of individuals + this use itself was regulated. Commons as an institution worked but were undermined by other factors, including the efforts by the rich to accumulate more land 6/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
So the metaphor is not actually grounded in an empirically accurate representation of the commons. Other scholars have more strongly contested the logic of Hardin's argument. These range from friendly amendments (Ostrom) to wholesale critiques. 7/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
This would all be an academic argument if not for the intellectual roots of Hardin's metaphor and thinking - roots that too few environmentalists acknowledge. 8/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Hardin wasn't a social scientist or on an expert on social organization. Instead, he was a Human Ecology prof at UC Santa Barbara (my home institution) where he taught until his 1978 retirement. (Morbid side note: he and his wife killed themselves in a 2003 suicide pact.) 9/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Have you read Hardin's Science essay lately? It's a mind-numbingly racist piece. And not in a subtle way that demands 2019 woke analysis. Spend the 20 minutes and do it. It’s an ethical mess from beginning to end. 10/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
There are headings like “Freedom to Breed is Intolerable”, under which Hardin imagines the benefits that might accrue if “children of improvident parents starve to death”, an outcome stymied (a bad thing to him), by the welfare state. 11/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
For these reasons, he campaigned against such programs as Food for Peace. A few paragraphs later: “If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” I think you get the idea. 12/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
And this is par for the course for Hardin, who was also a passionate eugenicist. Oh hey! Look who is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist: 13/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Lets quote the SPLC: 14/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
SPLC has painful quotes from his later work. “Diversity is the opposite of unity, and unity is a prime requirement for national survival” (1991). “My position is that this idea of a multiethnic society is a disaster…we should restrict immigration for that reason.” (1996) 15/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
And here is another one, again as an image because, no thanks do I want my twitter history to pop up when people search these things. 16/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
And here is Hardin making an appearance in the infamous racist “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” op-ed. I could go on (and the SPLC does), but you get the idea. 17/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Fast forward. Probably you’ve read articles on the intellectual network behind Trump’s nativist, racist demagoguery. Many mention the very influential anti-immigration activist John Tanton, and his Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR): 18/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
And who was on FAIR’s board, and a close friend of Tanton? Yep, Hardin. 19/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
In my mind, it’s not that Hardin WOULD HAVE been a Trumper. It's that he WAS a Trumper before Trump was a Trumper. He helped build the entire intellectual movement Trump has since exploited. 20/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Now, lots of awful people have left noble ideas that outlive them. But in Hardin’s case, the intellectual legacy is largely built on top of his racist, flawed Science that we still treat as gospel and uncritically assign in undergraduate courses year after year. 21/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
It is not a legacy based on empirical scholarship, but on a metaphor that doesn't quite hold water. Not that you would know any of this from the anodyne retrospectives that have sprouted up in the last several months celebrating his article's 50th anniversary. 22/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Fifty years later, the environment community needs to stop ignoring this dark intellectual heritage. A movement that seeks to define a just, vibrant climate future needs to tear away the veneer, and choose what of Hardin to keep and what to discard. 23/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
We must ask: on what empirical basis do we accept his metaphor? How do we teach his metaphor? Do we contextualize its racist roots? Is it productive to the social transformation necessary to save the world from the climate crisis? 24/
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Matto Mildenberger Mar 4
Replying to @mmildenberger
Not undertaking this honest examination will perpetuate its own (common) tragedy and make our intellectual heritage a form of unwitting support for some of the ugliest social forces at play in the world today. 25/25
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