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Article posted Nov 29 2008, 1:24 AM Category: Commentary Source: The First Post Print

Malthusian snobs pray for cure to overpopulation

By Brendan O'Neill, The First Post

In the middle of all the hoo-hah over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's childish phone calls on a late-night radio show, you may have missed a far more scandalous utterance that was made on BBC radio.

On 5 November, the upmarket Nightwaves on BBC Radio 3 aired a discussion about overpopulation between Dr Susan Blackmore (a neuroscientist) and Professor John Gray (of the London School of Economics).

Dr Blackmore said the "fundamental problem" facing the planet today is that "there are too many people". Professor Gray agreed. Then Dr Blackmore declared: "For the planet's sake, I hope we have bird flu or some other thing that will reduce the population, because otherwise we're doomed."

So, it's official: at the Beeb it is unacceptable to make crude jokes about having sex with someone's granddaughter, but it is perfectly OK to wish death upon large swathes of mankind.

Make a rude call to Andrew Sachs' answerphone and you will be accused of dragging the BBC's good name through the dirt. Spout misanthropic nonsense about the need for a speedily contagious disease to come and wipe out mankind and nobody will bat an eyelid.

The disparity between the public reaction to Brandgate (wild) and the public reaction to what I think we should call 'Birdflugate' (non-existent) reveals a great deal about the warped morality of the cultural elite.

The reason why Dr Blackmore's remark received no coverage or complaints is because the herbal tea-drinking literati that listens to Radio 3 discussion programmes will secretly share her prejudices about overpopulation.

Malthusianism, the one-eyed belief that all of the Earth's problems are caused by over-breeding, is making a comeback in polite circles.

Following the discrediting of eugenics during the Second World War, Malthusians had been rather shamefaced about their beliefs. They continually invented new PC terms with which they might dress up their angst about "too many people".

In Africa in particular, measures to tackle overpopulation were promoted in the deceitful language of "choice" and "autonomy", by charities keen to avoid being accused of pursuing that far uglier-sounding goal: population control.

More recently, however, Malthusians have become more strident. The poisonous notion that the speedily breeding masses are pushing the planet to breaking point has become a casual dinner-party prejudice.

Earlier this year Prince Phillip gave a TV interview in which he offered a pat explanation for the food price crisis: "Too many people." On the other side of the political spectrum, a republican columnist for the Independent fretted about the "swelling billions" (that's people in the Third World ) who are pushing our planet to extinction.

Professor Gray has referred to humanity as a "plague". The novelist Lionel Shriver recognises that this is a "racially, religiously and ethnically sticky" issue but says "the threat of overpopulation is back and here to stay".

Dr Blackmore was taking these increasingly common prejudices to their logical conclusion when she wished that bird flu would come and kill some of us off (the "swelling billions", preferably, rather than Radio 3 aficionados).

She follows in the tradition of Earth First!, the eco-group which in the early 1990s said that "just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism, Aids has the potential to end industrialism".

More recently, the Optimum Population Trust, which counts Prince Charles's eco-adviser Jonathon Porritt among its directors, said that if we don't find a way to reduce human numbers then "it will be one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse that bumps us off".

Enough. If Ross and Brand's outburst showed that comedians have trouble censoring their inner adolescents, then these middle-class fantasies about human annihilation suggest the cultural elite cannot keep its misanthropy in check.

The neo-Malthusians are as wrong as every population alarmist in history has ever been. Like Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and his followers, today's bird flu dreamers make the schoolboy error of treating population growth as the only variant, and everything else food production, progress, human ingenuity as fixed entities.

They are motivated by severe pessimism about humanity's ability to come up with solutions to its problems, and by the base idea that disease is the only thing that can sort us out.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8 Add Comment Page 1 of 1

Posted: Nov 29 2008, 6:55 AM

As usual in the Windsorland club they state life backwards, just as they study life and apply what they learn backwards in order to control life. Nature takes care of population, facing high infant mortality births massively accelerate, faced with no survival pressures parenting becomes an option.

We can as it stands supply water, food, electriciy, shelter and the Internet to every man woman and child on earth. We can do this well, we can do this without any money or exchange of worth and we can do this without breaking a sweat. We all have so much to offer, that is the least we can do.

As survival pressure places mankind in survival mode it helps to get to the causes of such problems. Allowing the world to be controlled by the few for the few seems to me to be a recipe for disaster, potentially for everyone. A few can look after the few, that can be community but allowing rule establishes a divide which diverges in a one way transfer of power.

<...all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary. - Emma Goldman>

<We know now certainly what the people of three centuries ago never suspected, that the human brain released from hunger, fear and the other primary stresses is very easily amenable not only to creative and directive desire but also to kindly and helpful impulses. - HG Wells>

Posted: Dec 06 2008, 12:30 AM

202180 We can do a lot to accomodate, sustainably, a lot more people. But if our population continues to expand in response to prosperity then we will one-day reach ultimate limits with respect to what our planet can withstand.

From here we have 2 choices: Active or Passive population control.

If it's passive then we will be fighting each other over the scarce resources, in a common state of stress, and a significant (and permanent) proportion of us will be dying from starvation and wars - likewise, our death rate will then eventually marry our birth rate i.e. passive population control.

I think that's quite ugly myself. I would rather we create active population control where, if necessary, we enforce caps on the number of children people can have (at least 2 or periodically more...depending on the general demand), and therefore ensure a theoretically permanent "golden age" without the constant competitive struggle for life.

Note: When life expands in response to a resource surplus I call it a "golden age", which is what the human animal is going through right now. Unfortunately it's always [technically] temporary - struggle for life is the common natural order of things, for all species, as new resources are always saturated in time (again, assuming no active population control), no matter how initially abundent.

For the fist time in history we have the power to efficiently and humanely undermine the game. We should think about that. Though, also, we should think about the eugenic issue as well. Natural selection gets rid of the "errors", at least to a degree that the genetic health of a species is not threatened. My point is that if we are going to play God then we might have to do it all the way, and consider a degree of active genetic selection to replace the evolutionary "game" that active population control would have otherwise undermined.

And no I am not a Hitler (please don't dumb the debate down). I am just rational.

Posted: Oct 27 2011, 11:35 PM

173164 Some of you people live in a strange world of bogus ideas. Today the News Hour gave a report highlighting demographers expectation that population will be in decline (and so rapid decline) after 2090. Only a suicidal idiot would want to live in such a world. Your one grandchild will be looking to find ways to kill off all 4 of you because you are a burden on the ecology and their pocket book.

Wake up and read some real demographic studies rather than the media crap that you have been ingesting.

Posted: Sep 24 2012, 3:37 PM

93104 We still life in the oil driven population explosion, when oil is gone - food is gone. First our leaders will encounter all word into World War 3 and then all the alliances will collapse and every country due to the collapse of the oil thirsty industrial agriculture of each country. Doesn't matter who gets hit by nukes at this point. All countries will suffer the same mix of famine and civil war like in the German Empire 1915 -22
or France in 1789 and following years.
The overpopulation collapse is inevitable. It is calculable!
Experts say the status quo breaks up in about 15 - 20 years from now (2012). Transition was already too late in 1972 when the book "Limits To Growth" was published. GO! GO! And listen to the growth-worshippers In New York, Washington or Brussels. They are still talking about economic growth ...

Posted: Nov 07 2012, 10:22 PM

153107 i dont like you

Posted: Nov 07 2012, 10:22 PM

153107 i didnt mean that

Posted: Nov 07 2012, 10:26 PM

153107 I truly didn't mean that comment, you see, I want you to know how sorry I am for the misunderstanding over who was going to pay for Jane's birthday lunch. I assumed we would each pay an equal share, but I must have given you the impression that the lunch was my treat. I am really embarrassed about the breakdown in communication. I will be sure in the future that I make the arrangements clear ahead of time. Anyway, I am happy we could get together; we don't see each other often enough. I am glad our friendship can survive misunderstandings like these.

Posted: Nov 03 2013, 11:24 AM

93104 global population is rising exponentially - it needs an even higher exponentially rising oil production to sustain - oil is finite and is now declining (global peak oil 2005 -2008, peak of all hydrocarbons 2015 including coal) - we will witness the collapse! - it is inevitable and real data show that it will collapse within 5 - 20 years and will be history in 2040. how it will collapse?
oil production will surpass a certain level which will trigger the fragile global oil driven agriculture to stop into a grinding hold.
scarcity, famine, pogroms, war are inevitable (nuclear exchange is pissible but unnessessary).
nobody will starve to death voluntarily. 7 of 9 billion will die in less than 5 years.
95% of all food is provided by the use of oil. the other 5% by the use of coal, natural gas and domestic animals.
our politicians simply want to win year after year of the status quo. which means growth. there will be one bad year when the status quo doesn't hold any longer and it will be soon.
WE WORSHIP GROWTH!!! but growth leads into collapse.
Thomas Malthus published his population growth mathematics in 1798.
back then at 950 million an applied continuity would have had the collapse avoided. now (2013) at 7.2 billion there is no way to avoid it.
in 1968 at 3.6 billion, when the overpopulation issue was public and lead to many books and even movies like Soylent Green, back then was a tiny chance to curb it by political will. but the letites choose to force the cannabis prohibition and brandishing these young intellectuals as drug addicted punks ....
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