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Ghostly Conversations near the Grove Park Inn, Part 3: On an optimum human population
Saturday, 11 October 2014 16:00
Special to the Daily Planet

It was a windy and cloudy night at the Inn, and the Ghost of John D. Rockefeller, monopolist, union buster, eugenicist, racist, and arguably the richest man in history had in the afterlife apparently acquired a fair amount of humility.

“Mr. Alex Haley, sir, regarding your assaults on my moral stature I’ve now had considerable leisure time to watch the unfolding of history, and to reflect on what I did in life, and I do indeed have several deep regrets. It is now of course clear to all of us that Adolph Hitler and the Nazis were a disastrous evil. For my part I am sorry Standard Oil cooperated with them in any way. But, the Nazis did (inadvertently) show the world that policies of racism and eugenics are not compatible with civilization. . .” He paused but his fellow Ghosts were silent. Apparently even for the dead in 2014 owning that cooperating with the Nazis was a bad idea is not considered a moral achievement worth commenting on.

Rockefeller continued, “Mr. Thomas Wolfe, you spoke earlier about natural law and survival. I agree with you that the living are out of harmony with natural law.  Scientist tell us, that relative to the history of life humanity has only very recently arisen on this earth. Perhaps in our short history humanity has never fully been alive. Because if you are not in harmony with the law of survival death is your partner to an extinct that is unnecessary.”

“Hogwash! Balderdash!,” said Jennings Bryan, “How is it that the living cannot be alive? He looked at the other ghosts, “Don’t you agree that Rockefeller here is speaking nonsense?” 

“Actually Mr. Jennings,” said Wolfe, “much as I may respect you I agree with Rockefeller here. Life is not just something individuals possess, rather it is a process that moves from one’s ancestors, through oneself, and on to one’s descendants. And in order for the process to work with higher biota here on Earth many organism are continuously involved, mating with one another in the past, present, and future. Indeed the very definition of life indicates that the degree that life viably IS life depends on creatively attending to survival. Consider the definition: Life is, any individuated metabolic process that has become organized around creatively avoiding its own dissolution. . . If humanity wants to function in an enlightened fashion in the physical reality then, to a significant extent, the rational scientific definition of life must also be the existential Meaning of Life.”

“Quite so!” said Rockefeller. “Now I may have been very wrong about eugenics, but the fact remains that the living do not adequately attend to the natural law of survival. As a central case in point, consider that when I was born the human population of this planet was less than one billion. Now, less than 150 years later it is seven billion. Madness! The population of this Buncombe County is now almost 250,000. If these people were conscious about the process of survival would they want a population another seven times larger (1.75 million) by 2150? Or, then, 12 million by 2300? They don’t seem to really care; virtually none of the living seriously plans for posterity. What humanity needs is to understand that on a finite planet there is no way that the population can, or should, continue to expand, particularly exponentially, in such an unconscious, half alive fashion. There is, logically, humanly, and reverently an optimum population that is NOT based on the number of people you can cram on this globe, and barely feed, with the latest technology! An optimum, should be based rather on what is physically and spiritually most conducive to survival and happiness.”

“Who do you think you are?” said Bryan. Who are you to force your opinion on what the ‘proper’ population number should be?”

“I am, or was, a citizen!” wheezed Rockefeller “Thinking about how life (survival) extended beyond just me, and my self-centered desires. Who are you to have such a selfish, childish lack of concern for the future of the life process that moved through you? There should be a discussion among the living, and people should vote on an optimum sustainable world human population. I would vote for one billion.”

“I think Mr. Jennings Bryan has a point,” said Zelda Fitzgerald (as it began to rain), “How would you maintain such a population Mr. Rockefeller, without becoming a totalitarian? And what of the fact that, as you say, there are currently seven billion people?” 

“I can answer that,” said Wolfe. “First, since being part of the ongoing process of life (survival) is the fundamental core of natural law the fight to reproduce should also be fundamental. But if the population is at, or greater than, the optimum then no one should reproduce more than themselves; that is to say no more than two children per couple. To do more would be like voting more than once, more than your share, for the future.”

“But even if the living could ever agree to such a rigid policy you couldn’t enforce it,” said Fitzgerald, “because if you penalized parents who have more than two children, then their children, who are innocent of reproductive decisions, would suffer.”

“Rockefeller, I think you and Wolfe are correct,” said Haley. “If humanity learns to take the long view, and democratically agrees to an optimum population, and that children are innocent of their parents reproductive decisions, then moral sanction in the arts and general culture, plus progressive taxation if needed, would (I think) be sufficient to fairly and with equal rights maintain a stable population.”

William Jennings Bryan remained agitated, and began to speak, but lightning and a clap of thunder drowned him out. A moment later lightning flashed again, but fractious ghosts were gone. 

Ben Yoke, a philosopher and writer, lives with his wife and two sons in Weaverville.

The Daily Planet's Opinion: October 2014
Saturday, 11 October 2014 15:55

Downtown buskers? A treasure

We are pleased that Asheville’s Public Safety Committee recognizes local buskers “as an irreplaceable public good.”

The aforementioned assessment was voiced during a presentation to the committee in late September after city staff researched possible new options for buskers. The examination was prompted by complaints from business-owners, visitors and residents.

The presentation detailed what some other cities are doing, such as New York City, Savannah, Ga., Charleston, S.C. and Portland, Ore. After all was said and done, the committee told city staff not to explore new options for regulating buskers. 

Interestingly, the busking rules drew the most attention at the meeting, even though they were only part of a larger city staff discussion about sharing public space downtown. 

While praising the contribution of the buskers to downtown, city staff noted negatives, including ambiguity of the noise ordinance, concerns about blocking sidewalks and business entrances, conflicts between performers, amplified sound and merchandise sales disguised as donations.

To us, the street musicians and other buskers are one of the things that make our much-heralded “quirkiest town” in the United States so charming.

While we are sympathetic with the sentiment expressed at the meeting that Asheville needs to look at busker-friendly rules to strengthen the city’s reputation as a destination for street musicians, we also want to be extra-careful not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg with overregulation.


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