Certain seagulls, who lay single eggs on cliff faces, prefer larger eggs to smaller. This can be observed by providing gulls with false eggs to nurture. They will reject their own egg in favour of one so large that the bird looks ridiculous trying to cover it.
There wasn’t any need to programme an upper limit into this genetically controlled behaviour. There were other limits on the size of egg likely to be laid, and no other birds of that size used this precarious habitat.
Humans are social creatures. Alone, we are poorly equipped for survival compared to other animals. Small family groups are also vulnerable, due to the long periods of child care required. In general, the larger the group, the better. Genetically controlled behaviour leads humans to feel more comfortable as part of a large group; other limiting factors controlled group size.
Most isolated humans would feel impelled to join a group, the larger the better. Advertisers, religions and political parties exploit this impulse to the hilt. Join our label, be part of our congregation, follow our leader!
Such unfeasibly large groups must sever their relationship with the land which supports them, such that other instincts like resource conflict seem irrelevant. These instincts do not go away, however, but simmer deep in the subconscious, informing behaviours which seem incomprehensible on the surface.
Competition for territory comes mainly from members of your own species, who require exactly the same resources as you. An expanding tribe would eventually encounter the borders of another group. Conflict might ensue, each group against the ‘other’.
In modern times, this was played out in destructive wars between nations. Now that it is far too dangerous to fully indulge this, different ways of identifying the ‘other’ are employed by primitive instincts trying to surface. In the absence of clear group markers, this leads to confused behaviours.
These instincts, around the potential of resource scarcity and the need to defend a ‘territory’ which cannot be defined, need to be brought into the open and dealt with honestly. We have indeed exceeded the carrying capacity of the entire planet, by a good long way, and urgently need to manage ourselves down from that while we can still prop up the process with non-renewable resources.
There’s no point looking at Science for answers. Science put the solution on the table back in the Sixties – efficient, cheap family planning. If we’d prioritised resilience over economic growth in the Seventies, Britain would be in far less trouble now. We may even have achieved the Age of Leisure as depicted in old science fiction novels, instead of having to work harder than medieval peasants.
However, it’s better to cry over split milk than to try and put it back in the bottle. Although it’s past time for an easy answer, there is a way forward. Start at ground level, resist the allure of labels, and consider what you couldn’t do without. Food, water and electricity are a good start.
Grow a resilient, sustainable civilisation underneath the worn out ways; the old will fall away like a broken eggshell as the new emerges.
I’ve done my bit by writing ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’….now you need to read it!