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Limits in Hardin’s Lifeboat Ethics

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Damian Richardson                                                                                     Richardson 1
Derek Lowe
English 101
October 24, 2016
                                                    Limits in Hardin’s “Lifeboat Ethics”

        Garrett Hardin’s, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor”, he attempts to persuade conservative, middle class Christians in America, as indicated by the nudges at liberals within the text, to go against their ethics and cease helping poor people in society. Hardin uses scripts such as Karl Marx’s, “Tragedy of the Commons”, which theorize that people don’t respect resources that are a public service and will deplete them for their own needs; and he also reference the Biblical story of “Joseph and Phoaroh.” Hardin, in addition, also uses a lifeboat metaphor in order to carry out his argumentative attempts to change our ethical beliefs.  Why would Hardin try to contest the audience beliefs even though their faith tells them to help out one another? If the reader direct their attention to the lifeboat metaphor, and the insertion he made about the spaceship, the reader can conclude Hardin simply believes that there isn’t just enough resources to go around to help the poor, and the audience believes that there is enough resources to go around. The population of the poor is just too great and resources are just so limited. Hardin in the Lifeboat Ethics attempts to change the moral, Christian conservative audience to quickly change their moral standpoint, so that they can survive with their resources, and not have them depleted by helping the poor.
               Hardin's metaphor describes a lifeboat bearing 50 people, with room for ten more. The lifeboat is in an ocean surrounded by a hundred swimmers. The lifeboat is clearly limited in how many people you could bring on-board. Within the text, Hardin references the Tragedy of the Commons as a prime example to support his argumentative claim, which theorized that people will use up the commons, that are for everyone, to depletion even if there is a handful of individuals using the resources for all the right reasons. The text goes on to state; “The fundamental error of spaceship ethics, and the sharing it requires, is that it leads to what I call "the tragedy of the commons." Under a system of private property, the men who own property recognize their responsibility to care for it, for if they don't they will eventually suffer. A farmer, for instance, will allow no more cattle in a pasture than its carrying capacity justifies. If he overloads it, erosion sets in, weeds take over, and he loses the use of the pasture. “  Hardin then again adds to his
argument that poor people do not respect space or limits on resources for that matter, which would lead to the ineveitable death of anyone on the lifeboat due to the “sink and swim” quote he deploys out into the text. Also, he compares the poor people as a weed that would take over, and would eventually lose use of the pasture
                Spaceship ethics is also very clear in the text by Hardin. During the time Hardin had published the text, “star trek” was very popular and the spaceship featured in it, the enterprise, was traveling from galaxy to galaxy saving people who needed help. Hardin says this cannot be the case and route the audience should follow if they wish “swim”. Simply put, Hardin argues that we do not have the techonology to do so what the enterprise does, and claims we need to snap back into reality and act now before it’s too late and the audience meets their doom.
          “On the average poor countries undergo a 2.5 percent increase in population each year; rich countries, about 0.8 percent. Only rich countries have anything in the way of food reserves set aside, and even they do not have as much as they should.{…} Every human born constitutes
                                                                                                      Richardson 3

a draft on all aspects of the environment: food, air, water, forests, beaches, wildlife, scenery and solitude. Food can, perhaps, be significantly increased to meet a growing demand. But what about clean beaches, unspoiled forests, and solitude? If we satisfy a growing population's need for food, we necessarily decrease its per capita supply of the other resources needed by men” Hardin also uses statistical numbers to support and prove his claim of overpopulation in the world. This can ultimately tie back in with the lifeboat and starship metaphor Hardin deploys at the beginning of the story. Unlike the lifeboat, the starship Hardin mentions would be large enough to sustain a population, and it’s resources would be much more plentiful, as opposed to
the lifeboat hardin is placing his audience on. This statistical claim can support his overall argument of trying to get his audience to go against their morals and stop helping poor people, simply because the resources are too limited in the lifeboat that they’re in.
              Hardin ultimately attempts to pursade his audience to go against their ethics of helping out the poor that needs the help. He states that we do not have the time to wait for the technology to do so, and need to act now with what we have with us. The limits on resources are far to strict to help out the people in need. If an individual were to help out the needy, they would take over and overload it, using all of the resources and there would be no common left for the people who managed the resources, leading to the overpopulation and death of the people on the metaphorical lifeboat.



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