Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Connection between Anti-Zionism and Malthusianism

An article in Harper's a few years ago (seen via a commenter on Greg Easterbrook's profile of Norman Borlaug) indicated the connection:

Plato wrote of his country's farmlands:
What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick man. . . . Formerly, many of the mountains were arable. The plains that were full of rich soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with forests and produced abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once the land was enriched by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are now, by flowing from the bare land into the sea. The soil was deep, it absorbed and kept the water in loamy soil, and the water that soaked into the hills fed springs and running streams everywhere. Now the abandoned shrines at spots where formerly there were springs attest that our description of the land is true.
Plato's lament is rooted in wheat agriculture, which depleted his country's soil and subsequently caused the series of declines that pushed centers of civilization to Rome, Turkey, and western Europe. By the fifth century, though, wheat's strategy of depleting and moving on ran up against the Atlantic Ocean.
There is an obvious counterexample to the claim that agriculture caused the decline of Mediterranean civilization: Israel. The example of Israel shows that if people come back for other reasons, it's possible for former deserts to bloom again.

The renewal of Israel should not surprise us. Topsoil is a renewable resource, as anybody with a compost heap knows. You just need people to maintain the compost heaps. Speculation: Was bubonic plague the turning point in the Mediterranean? The ecology was almost completely artificial in some areas and had to be maintained by humans. After the farmers had been depopulated…

Since the Other Side will now claim that Israel was made possible by a supposedly-unsustainable fossil-fuel technology, I'll have to mention that they're also ignoring the counterexample to the claim that agribusiness requires fossil fuel: nuclear energy.


Blogger Akatsukami said...

If I recall the dates correctly, it was nearly two centuries earlier that Athens (largely, but not entirely, under the rule of Peisistratos) had shifted from grain-growing subsistence agriculture to producing olive oil, wine, and pottery for export.

Possibly Plato was lamenting generations-old changes that nobody had found it worthwhile to reverse. More probably, knowing his general line of thought from his writing, he was crying in his retsina that the plethos wouldn't stay down on the farm feeding him.

6:23 AM  

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