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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 390)...

    By the time we "discovered" America the continent was fully inhabited by Native Americans. Their population growth is much slower than ours, but it grows too. They still had enough of room to grow slowly without being a real danger for this world. But what if they have had another hundred thousand years? Their growth is slowed down by the way they live, but there's no proof that it is really limited. Or is there a proof? Finally, my best argument is: they DO have a population control that works until now, which is more than we can assert. And it would be better to have a control that presumably works than to have NO control at all. But would it work if they would have our technology? If we don't have to give up technology, and if the Leavers have the only known mechanism to control population, what would happen if you combine these components?

    ...and the response:

    One of the reasons tribalism WORKED for three million years is that it provided a SYSTEMIC control on population growth. That is, it didn't depend on individuals earnestly swearing off procreation (which I term atomistic control---control provided by the atoms rather than control provided by the system). If we look at some of the tribal peoples of North America as an example, it worked this way: If the Navajo suddenly began producing children beyond the resources of their territory, they couldn't go to their neighbors the Hopi and say, "Say, can we send you a couple thousand of our people to live in your territory?" because the Hopi were already living at the limits of THEIR resources, so they certainly weren't going to take in a thousand Navajo. Similarly, the Navajo couldn't go to the Hopi and say, "Say, could you sell us some of your food, because we've let our population get out of hand over here?" for the same reason, because the Hopi were already living at the limits of THEIR resources and weren't going to share those resources with the Navajo. The SYSTEM was that the Navajo lived within their resources and the Hopi lived within their resources, and if either began to let their population get out of hand, that was just too bad for THEM. They couldn't do what we do, which is just to ship the excess off to some other part of the world. You'll see this discussed in greater depth in the two-videocassette program FOOD PRODUCTION AND POPULATION GROWTH produced by me and Alan D. Thornhill (biologist and, incidentally, webmaster of this website). Check availability at

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