Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Donkey Sanctuary

Aruba has had European colonization for over five hundred years. It is an arid island, not suitable for many crops, and not suitable for many animals. One animal which did fit in was the donkey, which was adopted widely as the means of transportation and conveyance until the introduction of the automobile. A large number of the donkeys on the island were abandoned, and became wild creatures, living off the cactus and other native plants. They mostly died off from a disease in the 1970’s but since then bounced back. They wandered the roads and were often hit by cars or suffered other human abuse.

The Donkey Sanctuary was set up in 1997 to gather up these wild donkeys and care for them, which they have been doing since then. An Aruba animal control policeman will see that any wild donkey caught will be brought there. They provide routine veterinary care and special care for injured or ill animals. They have adopted care guidelines for the animals they have on site.

The first guideline is that all animals are sterilized, rendered unable to reproduce. Wild animals and most populations of animals are Malthusian, and will breed whenever they have sustenance provided or available. This is the nature of wild creatures, and is part of the essential factors that make evolution work. However, for any given budget, Malthusian creatures will breed to the limits made possible by the sustenance, assuming sustenance includes all necessities such as food, water, freedom from predators, health care, and so on. It would be simply impossible to maintain the sanctuary if sterilization were not mandatory.

There are similar animal care facilities all over the world, in large numbers but likely uncounted. Some only deal with injured animals, but those which house breedable populations are all forced by financial constraints to use the same first guideline: all animals are prevented from breeding. There are facilities for cats, dogs, birds, horses and other familiar animals, and others for exotic and unusual ones. Some are government supported, others depend on contributions, some have bequests; all must have the same guideline.

Alien civilizations have to make a transition from an evolutionary past to a post-genetic future, and how they do this may determine other characteristics of their civilization. This means they must solve the Malthusian dilemma. They start out Malthusian, as are all creatures who evolve, and somehow they must make decisions as to how to stop being Malthusian. This is civilization-wide. If half the alien population decides to stop being Malthusian and limit their population, and the other half decides to not stop Malthusian, the only change is that the population grows at a slower rate in relative numbers. In absolute numbers, it is only a generation or two before the population will be the same magnitude as if the entire population forewent changing into non-Malthusian behavior.

An alien population which is trying to maintain its grip on resources, and control their consumption rate so that the civilization can last long enough to make other sources available, has several tools at their disposal. The first is necessarily recycling, as it offers a many-fold increase in the duration of the resources, at any fixed usage rate. However, if recycling is used, and the Malthusian segment of the alien population simply uses the increased availability of resources to increase population many-fold, no real increase in the duration of the resources has been accomplished. The same holds for other solutions to resource scarcity. One which was discussed in detail here was interplanetary mining and the shipment of some key types of resources down to the home planet. Again, with a Malthusian population, this only makes a short increase in the duration of resources.

The point at which this decision on population control is made is not firmly fixed in time, but likely occurs somewhere between the time when the ability to restrict reproduction becomes technologically possible, in a mass way and with little side effects, and the time where industrial or other external gestation becomes possible. At this point, it would not be expected that the population has yet benefited from the increase in intelligence offered by the genetic grand transition. Thus, the changes that should happen, provided there is a universal intelligence upgrade, are not in place and would not affect the result.

First must come the realization that population increase cannot continue indefinitely. To understand this probably requires a certain level of intelligence, education, training in how to think, and possible a background that makes it possible to pose the question. If this realization never becomes nearly universal, the alien civilization faces a perhaps insurmountable problem. The fork in the road of societal development, where one path leads to Malthusian idiocracy and the other to asymptotic technology, is finally encountered. Perhaps a key variable that conditions the choice made, not necessarily explicitly but as an action or group of actions taken by the alien civilization, is the percentage of the population that has this level of intelligence and so forth during this interim period. If it is small, such as 10%, the adherents of the change will have little capability to convince the remaining 90% to abandon the ways of the past thousands of years and strike out into the new world of wholly depending on technology for the continued existence of their population. The 90% - 10% case is obvious as well. Things in the middle are not.

The prerequisites for the decision to go with the technological future, being intelligence, education, training, and a background that leaves the mind open to change, might be expected to be correlated with affluence. Affluence is likely to be correlated with other attributes, it the population is heterogeneous, either regionally or simply genetically. In the latter case, if idiocracy has been been increasing with time, there may be a point where the population is too far gone to make this switch and rescue themselves from sharing the fate of non-sentient Malthusian populations.

There are plenty of reasons why aliens who are not particularly intelligent may try to resist any call to voluntary population limitation. Technological benefits, to someone who does not comprehend technology, can be considered highly risky, especially if there are individual aliens or alien groups who are benefiting from the stall in acceptance. This would depend on some tricky details of how the particular alien civilization has structured itself. Recall that individual goals in not-universally-intelligent people could be quite random, depending on some particular events or themes in their upbringing as young aliens, and they could be anti-technological or they could be acquisitive or able to amass other benefits they desire by channeling the perhaps inevitable fear of technological change, especially biological change.

The best that can be said without some much deeper understanding of generic societal development is that the Milky Way may have a mixture of alien civilizations, some which have achieved asymptotic technology and gained the ability to travel from star to star if they wish, and others which have crashed and collapsed, after reaching some level of technological advance. This depends not only on how their civilization developed, but how heterogeneous it was and also what their home planet had for resources. It might be possible to delve deeper into these questions and gain a better handle on the likelihood of these two divergent outcomes, but that remains for another day.

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