November 10, 2009
Great Pacific Garbage Patch Keeps Getting Bigger

We are letting far too much plastic end up in the oceans.

ABOARD THE ALGUITA, 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.

In 1804, a little over 200 years ago, the planet had a human population of 1 billion people. Back then the oceans seemed immense and beyond the capacity of humans to change. Yet by 1850 whale hunting peaked due to over harvesting and we've since drastically drawn down the stocks of other ocean-going creatures such as cod and salmon.

Now Earth has 6.8 billion people and some demographers predict 9 billion by 2040. At the same time, China and India are industrializing along with the nations of southeast Asia. The capacity to make trash is soaring. Our oceans will suffer much worse from this. Just one of the ocean's big garbage patches is doubling in size every decade.

Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas.

I fear Peak Oil will do more to cut back on ocean plastic pollution than anything the governments of the world decide to do to cut plastics pollution. Currently human population growth, industrialization, and rising consumption count for more than efforts to clean up the environment.

Most of the plastic is broken up below the surface.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" or "trash vortex", believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr Moore founded, said yesterday: "The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States."

In some parts of the ocean there's more plastic than plankton.

Mr Moore found bottle caps, plastic bags and polystyrene floating with tiny plastic chips. Worn down by sunlight and waves, discarded plastic disintegrates into smaller pieces. Suspended under the surface, these tiny fragments are invisible to ships and satellites trying to map the plastic continent, but in subsequent trawls Mr Moore discovered that the chips outnumbered plankton by six to one.

Birds eat plastic scraps and it ends up killing them.

We need fewer people and people need to wake up to the scale of human interventions in the environment.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 November 10 10:44 PM  Pollution Trends


Comments
Steve said at November 11, 2009 3:28 AM:

Go here to see what our sea of trash actually does to birds.
It's horrifying:
http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php?id=11

Steve said at November 11, 2009 3:29 AM:

Go here to see what this actually means to birds:
http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php?id=11
It's horrifying.

Paul said at November 11, 2009 4:40 AM:

The vortex also seems like a vast culture medium for the evolution of plastic-eating microorganisms. Anyone who read the SF novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters knows how that might turn out.

Jim said at November 11, 2009 8:26 AM:

Sounds like an opportunity for some enterprising person to make a lot of money gathering this free loot and converting it to sellable energy.
Just grab some underemployed trawlers, and one of the many plastic/trash to energy converters on the market and it's easy money. :)

Douglas said at November 11, 2009 2:24 PM:

Fewer People?

How about more efficient waste management?

Steve said at November 11, 2009 2:26 PM:

The best way to ensure fewer people is to ensure that nations get richer via capitalism and free societies. Birth rates will drop and GDP per capita goes up, allowing us to deal with some of these issues.

BobWang said at November 11, 2009 2:29 PM:

Anyone who says "We need fewer people," should volunteer.

JG said at November 11, 2009 2:32 PM:

"We need fewer people" I really hope that was a typo. If not, care to enlighten us on how you think that should be accomplished?

Ben said at November 11, 2009 2:33 PM:

Hello environmentalists? Why not take a break from lawsuits and tree hugging and political activism and oppressing everyone and use your vast wealth to fund a cleanup project?

Do you really care about the environment, or do you just want power to enrich yourselves at the expense of the little people?

Bob said at November 11, 2009 2:38 PM:

Exactly who and what is the 'independent' group that sponsored this 'article'? Note the vague statements with no basis in fact at all, and one picture of garbage that's about ten feet across. A guy holding a bottle proves what? Nothing. And some guy 'believes' this supposed patch has a hundred million pieces of garbage in it. The whole story smells like a lot of garbage to me.

CosmicConservative said at November 11, 2009 2:44 PM:

So, if 1/10th or even 1/100th of the money currently chasing the mostly manufactured AGW bogeyman were to be invested in cleaning up this mess, we'd have it taken care of in a decade.

This is just one example of a myriad of ACTUAL environmental EMERGENCIES that are being totally ignored while Al Gore continues to suck in all the available "make me feel good" dollars to promote his schemes to make even more money. Here's a short list of environmental emergencies that make Global Warming look like a boon.

-Topsoil erosion.
-Overfishing the oceans
-The trash vortex
-Deforestation in Africa and South America
-Crop vulnerabilities due to lack of diversity in worldwide crop cultivation
-Malaria, Dengue fever and other forms of virulent disease that kill millions every year

Etc. Instead of addressing those truly critical environmental issues, we have the governments of the world threatening to put people in jail for daring to question the wisdom of sacrificing the world's economic health in pursuit of an unachievable goal of reducing CO2 emissions.

We live in Bizarro world, most folks are just too ignorant to realize it.

Synova said at November 11, 2009 2:45 PM:

The Pacific is helpfully concentrating this stuff (for some value of "concentrate") in a single (very large) area. I'd think we could do our part and invent an ocean Roomba fleet, aquatic Wall-E clean up crew. Use clean nuclear power (it would be sort of pointless to make pollution spewing clean up ships) and encapsulate the collected flotsam with something that would permanently fix it in large blocks and sink it. Or... skip the nuclear power and burn the plastic... but that's messy.

Anonymous said at November 11, 2009 2:49 PM:

LOL @ "peak oil" theory.

Engineer-Poet said at November 11, 2009 2:49 PM:

Is that the best you can do?  Demand that environmentalists clean up a problem created by other people?  That's about as stupid as expecting schools to fix the problems created by bad parenting, which I notice that most soi-disant conservatives do NOT expect schools to do.

If there was a way to harvest the "plastic soup" with a net gain of energy, that would be great.  But just because it would be great doesn't mean it could be made profitable, let alone possible.

How about prohibiting international traffic in plastics which do not break down in saltwater?  End of problem.

Globallycool said at November 11, 2009 2:51 PM:

How to ruin a reasoned report: "WE NEED FEWER PEOPLE"

Why do all environmentalists prefer genocide to inovation and problem solving?

Joseph Somsel said at November 11, 2009 2:51 PM:

The next question is what is the half-life of this stuff? Any individual piece won't last forever. It will eventually either disintegrate or sink to the bottom. that means that if ocean dumping is stopped, it will gradually go away.

Conversely, a certainly rate of dumping would stablize it, assume similar material composition of inputs.

The Apologist said at November 11, 2009 2:55 PM:

"We need fewer people and people need to wake up to the scale of human interventions in the environment."

This is really disappointing to see at this blog. We don't need fewer people. And if the scale of human interventions in the environment is enormous it is as much to the good as it is to the bad. Human ability to engineer things that cause unintended or unforeseen problems can equally be applied to fix those problems. Making a big impact can be good or bad, but if it's human at least it can be directed. And sound government policy that creates incentives to provide solutions is the answer. Not regulation, but reward. Things like eliminating taxes on products made with recycled material. Or eliminating labor regulations on those same companies (swapping one social good for another). Elimination of import or export duties on said products. There are tons of ways to make cleanup pay for itself. Only a fascist thinks we need fewer people. They are an incredible resource and only a fool doesn't see that.

matt said at November 11, 2009 2:55 PM:

why not send a few dozen of the bulk carriers tied up around the Pacific riding at anchor coupled with some of the factory fishing fleet and set out nets? As plastic it does have some energy value.

Easycure said at November 11, 2009 2:58 PM:

If governments would just recycle like they are paid to do (or if it's not cost effective, stop it.) http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=38060

deek said at November 11, 2009 2:59 PM:

More garbage than plankton?

What pap.

It's why I'm an EX-environmentalist. Lies.

Charles Darwin said at November 11, 2009 3:00 PM:

But we DO need fewer people. I call upon all environmentalists/green advocates/earth-gaia mothers/PETA members and any other guilty-feeling group to come to the aid of the planet and do their part to lower the burden on our planet, in heroic and unselfish fashion.

Just offer yourselves up to the starving polar bears! Two problems solved in one!

sbcomments said at November 11, 2009 3:02 PM:

When the kids dirty up the living room, most parents don't automatically jump to the conclusion they need to get rid of a kid. They start with something less drastic, like insituting stricter clean-up rules.

Ben said at November 11, 2009 3:07 PM:

Note what's happened here:

I suggested enviros try to actually clean something up, but they'd rather complain, or force others to do things against their will, or prohibit things, or just otherwise control the way people live.

Actually cleaning something up is "stupid". I guess it misses the point of being an environmentalist: to control other people.

Cato the Elder said at November 11, 2009 3:23 PM:

Soylent green is stupid people!

Philip Screwdriver said at November 11, 2009 3:23 PM:

Fewer people?

Sure thing.

You go first.

Frank said at November 11, 2009 3:30 PM:

"In some places there is more plastic than plankton." In other places there is more sh*t than shineola.

Chipster56 said at November 11, 2009 3:31 PM:

The real real question is: So what? Or, compared to what? (hat tip to Les McCann)

One hundred million tons of tiny pieces of polymer waste spread over an area two times the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific is, in fact, insignificant.

The Chinese mine (and burn) nearly Two Billion tons of coal every year. I'm guessing that they remove at least double or triple that amount of waste material to extract the coal. Anyone for a nice big plate of Kyoto baloney? How about a pitcher of Copenhagen koolaid to wash it down?

bagoh20 said at November 11, 2009 3:34 PM:

Yes, we do need fewer people. Not by killing anyone or restricting people's rights. We just need to reduce birth rates through education, birth control and prosperity. We obviously need less people at some point unless you believe there is never any number that would be too great. Humans cannot escape the laws of population curves. Overpopulation leads eventually to mass starvation, genocide, disease and a severe die-off. That's not even considering pollution effects.

Starting to reduce birth rates now can prevent disaster far worse than anything eugenicists or Hitler ever envisioned. There is always only one outcome to overpopulation: self correction. Sooner or later - nice or ugly.

AST said at November 11, 2009 3:35 PM:

"How about prohibiting international traffic in plastics which do not break down in saltwater? End of problem."

Sounds like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. If this trash vortex is as bad as they say, somebody's going to have to do more than just stop adding to it. It can't be done by the local Boy Scout troop. The U.S. could do something if we weren't going broke from entitlement programs.

And who's going to enforce this ban? The U.N.? LOL

Sigivald said at November 11, 2009 3:36 PM:

How about prohibiting international traffic in plastics which do not break down in saltwater? End of problem.

Yeah, and I'd like a unicorn that farts rainbows to go with it. That'll happen sooner, too.

(Who wants plastics that DO break down in seawater? Not anyone who lives anywhere near the coast or anywhere there's any salt. In other words, nobody wants all their plastics to degrade in salty water.

Now, if someone's serious about "cleaning up" the Pacific, assuming all the ill-sourced scaremongering is accurate, the thing to do is to build machines that can clean it up autonomously. Or bioengineer a solution. Because those solutions could actually work in a way that just demanding a ban on trade in plastics (which is what the suggestion amounts to, in practice) won't - because nobody's going to give up plastics to stop that.

And even if such a ban was somehow politically possible and not ignored... domestic production would still create more.)

Bruce said at November 11, 2009 3:39 PM:

5 - 10 pieces of rice size plastic per cubic meter (at the worst sites).

http://www.algalita.org/07_08_plastic_count_density.html

FishinFrank said at November 11, 2009 3:40 PM:

I wonder how the fishing is. In the Gulf Stream a drifting wad of plastic is the best place to catch dolphin. The little fishes love the stuff and the big dolphin love the little fishes. Catching and eating dolphin is just about the best day on the water you can have.

Carl Pham said at November 11, 2009 3:43 PM:

Fewer people? You first, fool.

In the meantime, how about you try to define precisely what the problem is here? It's not like polymerized hydrocarbons are per se deadly poison or something. You don't, I take it, object to the millions of tons of polymerized hydrocarbons -- i.e. wood -- that lie on the floor of tropic forests? So what is the problem with polymerized ethylene or styrene in the ocean? Sooner or later, it will progress through the vast geological carbon cycle, and either oxidize (become CO2 and water) or reduced (back to oil and natural gas, from which it came).

Is it just the esthetics? You don't mind plastic buried in the ground in a landfill, but you don't want to see it bobbing in the ocean? Then don't go there. It's not like this patch is easy to find. It's out in the middle of nowhere, and hard to see anyway. You have to put fine nets in the ocean and drag the water carefully to even know it's there.

Personally, I think you're just in the grips of a religious dogma robotic (non)thinking algorithm. Discarded plastic = trash = environmental disaster, whoop whoop whoop Danger Wil Robinson!

rjschwarz said at November 11, 2009 3:55 PM:

Since Hawaii is at the center of all of the Pacific currents you'd think it'd be a mess with garbage washing up on the shores all the time. Its not, because this is an environmentalist created scare story. You'd think a patch twice the size of Texas would make for some spectacular photos but instead the only ones I've ever seen show small patches (shamefully dumped off a ship) or on the shore. This whole thing stinks.

crosspatch said at November 11, 2009 3:55 PM:

1. Make plastic that doesn't float.
2. Eventually something will evolve that eats that stuff. There is a lot of energy in that plastic (burn some and see). Sooner or later bacteria will evolve that uses that as fuel. It will probably a relative of bacteria that eat hydrocarbons.
3. The story of birds being killed by the plastic is urban legend created from the misquoting of a study several years ago that has taken on a life independent of the reality. There have been studies that have found small numbers of birds, as in 2 or 3, that have been killed from getting caught in abandoned nets or other fishing line. The notion that plastic bags, water bottles, caps, and other plastic debris is killing birds is not backed up by the data.

There isn't anything we are going to be able to do about this problem over the next few decades but first we need to quantify exactly how much of a problem it is. Abandoned fishing nets appear to be the most hazardous. The other stuff is ugly but probably harmless. Just because plastic chips outnumber plankton is not by itself harmful. There have already been microbes "developed" that can eat plastic and as much energy as that stuff has, it won't be long before something naturally evolves to eat it. It is just too large of a potential food source to go uneaten for very long by something.

Koblog said at November 11, 2009 3:55 PM:

If you want fewer people, we should close all hospitals, all medical colleges and all insurance programs.

And especially we need to stop the government from providing "free" healthcare and any kind of epidemic control.

rjschwarz said at November 11, 2009 3:58 PM:

Skeptoid did a number on the garbage patch.

non nym said at November 11, 2009 3:58 PM:

Yes. The world is dying and there are 2 many people. Please take pity on the world and take yourself out now if you believe this drivel.

Geowalsh said at November 11, 2009 4:20 PM:

The solution to this problem is rather straightforward. Pay enough money for collected garbage to make it worth while to convert enough fishing trawlers, which does some small part to relieve over harvesting of fish, to garbage collectors to ensure a permanent presence and get down to the business of pulling the stuff out of the water. Ten million tons per annul should be reasonable. All the government has to do is pay for the final tally, leave everything else to the private sector to figure out.

But then again, do we really want a solution? Isn't it really better to let the problem fester so we have something to beat up the "bad guys" with?

Chad said at November 11, 2009 4:38 PM:

Futurepundit advocates genocide...or perhaps just simple democide. Which, of course, is the the poor-man's retreat instead of learning the science behind the problem or the engineering behind the solution. Simplest solution is to trawl and incinerate the garbage in situ...quick, easy, harmless. But since most environmentalists merely want to use the environment for control - and not to solve anything - no one will actually go out there and do anything.

As for dealing with the generation of that trash, perhaps we should talk to our Asian friends...the people up-current from that gyre. And maybe China, Japan, and the rest might explain how so much plastic is getting into the ocean? The US, down-current from that part of the ocean, isn't part of the problem. Unless the debris can flow against ocean currents.

cthulhu said at November 11, 2009 5:19 PM:

Think of all the hydrocarbons you could gain by scooping that stuff up and cracking it...

Eric Scheie said at November 11, 2009 5:20 PM:

Sorry, but I didn't see where Futurepundit advocated genocide.

Randall Parker said at November 11, 2009 6:03 PM:

Joseph Somsel,

The half life of plastics: Bacteria can't break it down. Wave motion breaks it into smaller particles. It only disappears from site by getting buried in sediment.

There's an excellent discussion of the plastics half life and plastics pollution in The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. His book made me appreciate the scale of our pollution and environmental damage.

Chad,

I do not advocate genocide. People die every day. We just need to make fewer babies.

Our Asian friends: Don't want to look in the mirror, eh?

CosmicConservative,

I share your desire to shift some of the effort put into global warming over into improving the environment for immediate benefits. We should cut back on pollution (e.g. build more nukes to replace dirty coal electric plants), stop cutting down the rain forests, save habitats for orangutans, big cats, and other threatened species, and stop all the plastics pollution.

cthulhu,

The energy costs of removing the plastics from the ocean would be enormous. We need to stop putting the stuff in the ocean. There's no remotely cost effective way to remove it.

Ben displays his ignorance proudly:

Actually cleaning something up is "stupid". I guess it misses the point of being an environmentalist: to control other people.

No doubt some people who like to control are attracted to the idea of pollution restriction. But do we need laws against pollution or not? Do you want to repeal all laws against water pollution, air pollution, and soil pollution?

We can see what would be the result: Air in China that makes people ill. Or we can look at historical pictures of Pittsburgh before pollution controls. Or some are old enough to remember how much worse LA's air was than it is now (and it is not great now).

Alec Rawls said at November 12, 2009 1:54 AM:

Wow, what a credulous post, and what a perverse prescription! To the extent that ocean dumping is a problem, the solution is less ocean dumping. People, on the other hand, are The Ultimate Resource (Julian Simon, who hit the nail exactly on the head). The only qualification to add is that the ultimate ultimate resource is wealthy people, who contribute by far the most to technological progress.

In other words, the neo-Malthusians have it exactly backwards, with their prescription for fewer resource-hungry Westerners, a lunacy that has now mated to the hoax of man-made global warming in the "carbon footprint" jihad. If Future Pundit buys into these Luddite propaganda ploys, he will soon be Passe Pundit.

Bob Badour said at November 12, 2009 6:20 AM:

Alec,

Randall didn't prescribe fewer "resource-hungry Westerners". He prescribed fewer people. Resource-hungry Westerners are already a declining population and as such represent less of a threat.

JG said at November 12, 2009 6:30 AM:

'I do not advocate genocide. People die every day. We just need to make fewer babies.'

The problem is statements such as 'We need fewer people' are a slippery slope. Most people would find the argument to increase prosperity as a means to reduce birth rates voluntarily as a good thing. Others will take it a step further, say, a govt incentive to have fewer children. But, incentives would appeal to certain demographics and not others and so social engineering begins. Then of course there are many more steps on the slope (less elderly medical care dollars anyone?), all increasingly more invasive, until you hit the bottom of the slope with outright genocide which you disavow. At what point along that slope does inacting your goal (fewer people) become something evil? Everyone is likely to have their own point along the slope.

As a blogger who I had felt to be a technologist I am a little surprised at the view you have taken. People are the greatest force for change that exists. Yes sometimes that force produces bad outcomes (pollution) but personally, I would prefer a soltuion to teach all those unwanted humans to be engineers vs. avoiding their births altogether.

An advancing technological society will solve many problems, and doubtlessly create others in the process. But our only path is forward, not backwards. C'mon Futurepundit polish up that crystal ball!

Engineer-Poet said at November 12, 2009 7:44 AM:

I cannot believe the people posting in this thread.

Why not get ENVIRONMENTALISTS to clean up all the plastic in the Pacific Gyre?

Why not get ENVIRONMENTALISTS to clean up the mercury coming from coal-fired powerplants and getting into fish?

Why not get ENVIRONMENTALISTS to clean up Dow's dioxin in the Tittabawassee River?

Why not get ENVIRONMENTALISTS to clean up LA's air, Lake Erie's water, the coal emissions creating the choking London "fogs", and all that other stuff instead of JUST DEMANDING PEOPLE STOP CREATING THE PROBLEM?

Morons.  That includes you, Carl Pham.  I thought you had a brain.  I hope you were just having a really "off" day.

Lono said at November 12, 2009 9:14 AM:

You all seem to be missing the point.

This isn't a difficult engineering problem - it's purely a political problem.

It is time for us to think about limiting who can serve in Government - if they are not in the upper 10%-20% of intelligence, and do not have a significantly (measurable) alturistic phenotype - then they are just there to take social advantage over you.

Fix the political problem (at least in the U.S.) and much of the environmental problem will disapear shortly thereafter.

Keep supporting the two obviously compromised, criminal, political parties and you will continue to get the worst of all possible worlds.

If only many of your primitive minds could grasp the bigger picture - it'd be a no brainer.

Until then - contiue to squable amongst yourselves - and magically believe hippies and liberals are controlling the World Wide Military Industrial Complex.

Bruce said at November 12, 2009 1:13 PM:

"It is time for us to think about limiting who can serve in Government - if they are not in the upper 10%-20% of intelligence, and do not have a significantly (measurable) alturistic phenotype - then they are just there to take social advantage over you."

Sounds like Obama. Not too bright and a product of the corrupt Chicago political machine.

Bob Badour said at November 12, 2009 3:49 PM:

Lono,

The last person I want running government is a smart altruist. I want someone who is just smart enough to realize he's too stupid to do anything beyond the bare essentials without royally fucking things up.

Randall Parker said at November 12, 2009 7:56 PM:

JG,

Do not romanticize humans.

As a blogger who I had felt to be a technologist I am a little surprised at the view you have taken. People are the greatest force for change that exists. Yes sometimes that force produces bad outcomes (pollution) but personally, I would prefer a soltuion to teach all those unwanted humans to be engineers vs. avoiding their births altogether.

I do not believe that advancing technology will create a utopia. Human behavior must change. But I have little hope that human behavior will change on the scale required. Our technology continues to advance. But what's happening to the environment on a global scale? It is deteriorating. More species are becoming endangered. The rain forests still shrink year after year. Most fisheries are still getting depleted year after year. And so on.

Teach all those unwanted humans to be engineers: Only a small fraction of the population is smart enough to be engineers. Of those who are smart enough an even smaller fraction is smart enough to do really innovative work.

Alec Rawls,

We are in a recession and yet the price of oil is near $80 per barrel. In spite of very high gold prices the extraction of gold peaked in 2000. Ore quality continues to decline. Julian Simon won his commodity price bet in one time period. If he had made his bet in the year 2000 he would have lost.

Lono said at November 13, 2009 8:36 AM:

Bruce,

Agreed! - well - I Do think Obama is probably in the top 20% of intelligence - but I doubt he has an altruistic bone in his whole body - the dude is a HARD CORE deciever - and - of course - that's why the public loves him so much!


Bob,

I think it's unrealistic to think that smart manipulators would not worm their way into public service under the system you suggest - a smart altruist is not going to create some kind of nanny state, where everyone is expected to be equal - and all resources are to be distributed equally - that's simply untennable.

A bureaucracy composed of smart altruist's would rather be very libertarian in nature with some socialistic programs (such as public education, unemployment insurance, wildlife and park reserves, and perhaps some form of opt in affordable health insurance)

Most truly altruistic people seek to cooperate with others to create collective solutions to problems.

I, however, am a narcissistic altruist who almost believes I am of Homo Superior while all who lack my phenotype are merely common Homo's - so I would probably not be eligible to serve in the Govt. I have suggested - except perhaps in the ceremonial role of Emperor for Life - with my clones taking over for me in succession until aging has been officially cured.

(Don't worry my imprudent, naive subjects - I know you far better than you know yourselves - the only triubute I ask is for your mortal gratitude)

Bob Badour said at November 13, 2009 2:43 PM:

Lono,

You don't seem a particularly adept student of human behaviour. Smart altruists want control because the sincerely convince themselves they know better. For a governor, I want a sincere, honest realist who is smart enough to realize just how much distributed knowledge he really doesn't know.

Randall Parker said at November 13, 2009 6:38 PM:

Lono,

Lots of smart people are not libertarian. Lots of smart people want forms of government intervention that are wealth destroying.

The problem is that smartness can but does not ensure a more accurate model of how the world works. Some smart people invest a lot of time and mental effort rationalizing that the world can work in ways that suit their preferences even though a world modeled by their preferences is not attainable.

Altruists tend to want to help the less fortunate at the expense of the more productive.

averros said at November 13, 2009 7:07 PM:

Ah... besides intelligence, there's obviously a question of motivation and morality.

Very smart people have been contributing to mass murder of 20th century. Very smary people built atomic bomb and have choosen it as a psychological weapon. Sending a message with hundreds thousand burned corpses, that was very effective, very clever.

> Altruists tend to want to help the less fortunate at the expense of the more productive.

No, you confused altruists with scoundrels.

Altruism is always at one's _own_ expense. Charity at the expense of other people is, well, not charity or altruism. It is simply a hypocritical method of quite selfishly gaining social standing as an "altruist" with little loss (or, often, as it happens with professional "altruists" like Al Gore or Michael Moore - with quite significant gain) to themselves.

The problem is people who do not have sufficient intelligence to see through the scoundrels' bullshit (to see that what appears to be high-minded and altruistic is, in fact, a cleverly disguised scam) *and* have no morality to hold to (so as to reject the scoundrels' schemes just on the principle).

Lono said at November 14, 2009 1:42 PM:

Everyone,

Forgive my arrogance - perhaps I said too much - I was on a lot of cold medicine that day...


Bob,

I think you are in fact mistaken and averros is correct - legitimate altruist's are not to be confused with self deluded con men and manipulators like AL Gore, Glen Beck, or Michael Moore - regardless of the fact that they are occasionally accurate and truthful despite themselves.


Randall,

I am prescribing phenotypes that are BOTH highly intelligent AND which exhibit highly altruistic psychology and behavior - and I would argue that most people who fit this description are moderate libertarians who belive in limited govt. and modest socialistic programs like I described above.

I would disagree with you that highly intelligent altruist's are unable to prescribe realistic solutions to world problems, but of course this needs to be put to the test.

Certainly sociopaths and citizens with low levels of altruism would feel that they are be uneccesarily marginalized in such a society - but they would be dealt with swiftly and appropriately.


And I'm not necessarily talking about a Utopia here people - I'm proposing a sensible reform to the clearly pshychotic political system that is currently in place - that is - if you want to take the future of the Human race seriously.

There can be little doubt we are quickly approching a scientific dystopia which threatens our very existance as a civilization and possibly even as a species in the next few hundred years.

The time for positive action is now - cease this petty squabbling between enlightened minds - and let us take back the reigns of power while there is still time to act!

Only you can prevent the coming fire.

Bob Badour said at November 14, 2009 1:55 PM:
highly altruistic psychology and behavior

You are not getting it. Stop and consider the basic premises and assumptions of altruism. Altruism is inherently divisive by dividing the world into givers and givees. You say you want a leader with altruistic psychology and behaviour. Stop and consider that for a moment.

You want a leader who thinks so highly of himself that he thinks he has something to give that you are not competent to get on your own. Altruism is inherently arrogant. "For your own good" is justification for the most heinous and terrifying of tyrannies.

I want a leader who sees himself as one of the people to help and who is motivated to help himself. I want a leader who selfishly does what most benefits everyone.

Randall Parker said at November 14, 2009 6:52 PM:

Lono,

I doubt that altruism is the key element needed for good political leadership. I doubt that intelligence and altruism are sufficient. I suspect a number of cognitive traits are needed. A very mild altruism might help.

I think the key personality trait of libertarians is the desire not to be told what to do. Libertarians are independent. Most are too independent to want to try to placate the populace with policies that balance competing demands and interests.

Lono said at November 16, 2009 9:48 AM:

Bob,

I think you are confusing altruism with narcissism - I'll admit - I have both - and it does color my worldview - I honestly have little doubt that I could re-organize this planet into a more efficent and more prosperous civilization given the power to do so.

However, altruism does not - in of itself - inherrently include such arrogance - thus such intelligent, altruistic, bureaucrats would not see themselves as better than the common man - but rather specialized in their profession - just as the Postman and the Barista do not lord their specialties over their customers.

(Although they may take pride and/or feel fulfillment in them)

Haven't we had enough incompetent, moronic, leaders already?


Randall,

You are correct in pointing out that fierce independence is often highly correlated with a libertarian political philosophy, however, libertarianism is also associated with a "live and let live" philosphy as well - which is very palatable to someone with an altruistic nature.

Also - I think it is important that we distinguish between traits that are good for leadership - such as narcissism - and phenotypes that make for good, efficient, bureaucrats - such as one that incorporates intelligence, a willingness to work within heirarchies, and altruism.

I strongly feel that - at the very least - we must filter out those phenotypes that are clearly sociopathic and/or unintelligent from running for political office - if we are to move forward as a society.

The biggest obstacle to reform (including evironmental reform) is that those least likely to advocate for it are the phenotypes who tend to presently dominate the political spectrum - and to block the naturally evolving grass roots support of reform candidates - through onerous legislation and full spectrum dominance of the media.

If those who have both the intelligence and skills neccesary to overcome the current kleptocracy in America don't work collectively to do so soon - the scientific dictatorship that will form - over then next century - may close the door to any real chance of political reform short of outright violent revolution.

And that would be a real setback to our progress as a nation and as a species!

Bob Badour said at November 16, 2009 1:26 PM:

Lono,

Ignoring the core point will not make it go away.

Are you suggesting the altruistic perspective does NOT divide the world into givers and givees?

Randall Parker said at November 16, 2009 8:29 PM:

Lono,

Fiercely independent individualists who resist taking orders also tend to oppose government exercise of power even when it is necessary. I can spot these people in forum discussions. They deny problems exist that require government coercion to fix.

Then there are altruists who want to make the more productive pay for the less talented, the less responsible, the more impulsive, the more destructive. Granted, averros calls these redistributionists scoundrels, not altruists. But these people are motivated to relieve suffering regardless of the long term harm or injustice that ensues.

I'm not seeing either of these groups as good pools from which to draw effective leaders.

Again, the ideal personality profile of a good leader involves other elements. Rather than tell you what they are I would like to see you think about it.

Lono said at November 18, 2009 10:17 AM:

Bob,

I would agree that someone with an intelligent, altruistic, perspective does understand that there IS a divide in society between givers and givees - and that at the far extreme are citizens who superficially seem to serve no purpose other than to consume resources at the cost of others.

However - when one understands the importance of genetic diversity within a species - one can also understand that even amongst this "parasitic" group - amazing innovations - or important viral resistance - may be the "profit" in suporting (at least at a minimal level) the existance of such individuals at a modest cost to society as a whole.

(that's where the ability of a highly intelligent individual to see the BIGGER picture comes in)


Randall,

Obviously we will have to agree to disagree - but I suppose you think an ideal phenotype for a leader is one where their innate self interest - and societies greater needs - intersect - perhaps an opportunist like Ronald Reagan - or an intelligent strategist and globalist like George H.W. Bush.

However - I think this is wishful thinking - because these old "Alpha Archetypes" are at best an anchronism and at worst terribly unqualified to deal with the complexity of effectively managing a highly populous nation.

As populations increase - leaders who can create cooperation and common goals amongst populations - (through innovative use of both the carrot and the stick) - are needed imho to effectively move our civilization to the next level.

Your alternatively suggested solution of massive depopulation - while potentially effective in the short term - will probably be plagued with ethical/moral dillemas and longterm infeasability.

If I am way off the mark here - then please - enlighten us to your insights on the matter.

However I would also like you to respond to my original supposition - that we have reached a level of impasse on evironmental reform that is now mainly due to political opposition rather than a lack of achievable technical solutions.

Bob Badour said at November 18, 2009 5:24 PM:

Lono,

Trying to change the subject does not make the core point go away, either. We were talking about altruists not the people the altruists see as givees. Altruism requires one to see oneself as a giver and others as givees. That attitude, which is inherent to altruism, is divisive and arrogant.

Good leaders are compassionate, empathetic, rational, open-minded and intellectually honest. They also have to have some measure of charisma to become leaders.

Lono said at November 19, 2009 1:12 PM:

Bob,

I am confused about your confusion.

You could just as easily say a compassionate individual things more highly of himself because he believes himself more empathetic than others.

It is not neccesary for an altruistic phenotype to have any real philosophical perspective on their actions - they are simply compelled byu their genetic nature to sacrifice some of their time/energy/material goods to others without an expectation of direct compensation.

Do you think the groundhog who alerts the others in his area of a predator -(at the same time making him a greater target)- thinks he is superior to the other members of his community?

Again I think you are confusing a narcissist with an altruist - and while they are individuals who have both traits - exhibiting altruism in itself is not an act of arrogance.

It occurs mainly as a subconcious drive in the individual with such a phenotype.

You think I like being lawful good all the time? - Lemme tell you it ain't easy being green!

Bob Badour said at November 19, 2009 1:35 PM:

Thinking about it, I would leave off compassion. Empathy will do.

they are simply compelled byu their genetic nature to sacrifice some of their time/energy/material goods to others without an expectation of direct compensation.

Who says they have anything anyone else wants or needs?

Do you think the groundhog who alerts the others in his area of a predator -(at the same time making him a greater target)- thinks he is superior to the other members of his community?

Altruism has more than 1 definition. What it means in zoology differs from what it means for personality.

If you want to use the zoological definition, I have to ask myself: "Do I want a governor who throws himself on the grenade to save the lives of his security detail?" Such behavior would leave the nation rudderless at a time of emergency. I don't think that would make for a good leader.

I haven't said anything about narcissists, and I think you would do better to pay attention to what I actually write instead of trying to imagine I mean something else.

Laurel said at May 26, 2010 9:46 AM:

Im like what the fuck! Lets cut back on our plasitc use and lets start using stuff that we can use again. Thats how we can stop the size of the patch form getting to be bigger thatn Alaska. And I say to all the bitches who disagree with me y'all can go fuck yourselves and rot in the bottom with all the fucking bad asses who think theyre hot shit!

kelli said at May 26, 2010 9:49 AM:

fuck y'all and the garbage

School Boy said at July 8, 2012 6:01 PM:

Come on guys, seriously we have seven billion people in the world and its increasing. Im a 15 year old on a school experiment and it couldn't be more blatant that he is right and we DO nedd, "fewer people". So wake up and see the rubbish coming out of your mouths which is probably contributing to this "Garbage Patch".

School Boy said at July 8, 2012 6:02 PM:

Come on guys, seriously we have seven billion people in the world and its increasing. Im a 15 year old on a school experiment and it couldn't be more blatant that he is right and we DO nedd, "fewer people". So wake up and see the rubbish coming out of your mouths which is probably contributing to this "Garbage Patch".

Paedophile said at July 8, 2012 6:06 PM:

School Boy ay?

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