Updated 26 August, 2003
Childhood Influences on Garrett Hardin's Worldview
by Craig Straub
Garrett James Hardin was born 1915 in Dallas, Texas. Afflicted with polio at age 4, he was labeled as a cripple by other children. Despite being ridiculed, he got along well with others, was a great marble player, and was almost always first in his class academically. Because of his physical limitation, he knew at an early age that academics would be important to his success.
Garrett tagged along with his older brother in order to be involved with a neighborhood club. This group of kids built a clubhouse and would instigate light mischief. The leader of the club would coin new names for the members and common objects. Garrett was fascinated by the alteration of the English language by an ordinary person and the extent of its quick acceptance. This early experience influenced Hardin's inclination to invent names for new concepts.
Hardin was a talkative child with a deep voice in grade school and could not seem to whisper properly. His 4th grade teacher had a system of discipline, placing names and scores on the blackboard for those misbehaving. Although the tally was intended to last for the week, Garrett managed to accumulate enough marks in one day. The punishment was to learn a poem each day, the length proportional to the number of marks. The student was not allowed to go home until the selected poem was memorized. Since Garrett usually had his assignment by noon he would go home for lunch and work with his mother to memorize the poem during lunch so he could return home on time after school. His teacher eventually ran out of poems and had to obtain more books from the library, resulting in longer poems to memorize. Since Garrett loved poetry this certainly was not punishment. This early learning of inspirational poetry provided Garrett with the ability to readily cite poetry and philosophical quotes.
Garrett's father was a freight sales representative with Illinois Central Railroad, and the family had to move frequently. The Hardin family farm was located near Butler, Missouri and was the center of stability during Garrett's childhood. He spent every summer on the farm from age 10 to 18. At the age of 11, he was responsible for feeding 500 chickens and killing one each day for lunch. This experience had a profound impact by revealing to him the concept that killing is a necessary part of life.
Garrett's fundamental lessons about population and carrying capacity were also learned on the farm. Quite often, people from the city would drop off unwanted cats at the farm. Some of these cats were able to escape from the farm dogs and survive. As the cat population reached a high level, cat fever would sweep through to extinguish nearly the entire cat population. Since it was important to have some cats on the farm, his uncle would kill the superfluous cats. Garrett realized as a boy from his experience on the farm that there is not enough room for all the life that can be generated. He understood as a boy that those who refuse to decrease excess population are being cruel, not kind.