Sunday 21 July 2013

Should there be 'population control'?


Population control implies planning the size and composition of the human population (as a whole, or in particular areas) - with the stated goal of matching population to resources (potential and or available - over some kind of probabilistic and debatable timescale).


People talk about this, a lot - as if it was a common sense aspiration; but I don't know a situation where it has actually been done honestly.

The reason is obvious enough - population control could only be imposed honestly and justly by an extremely powerful but also honest and just government. However, since such governments are... ahem... very rare, then whatever policies are in practice justified by population control rhetoric are in practice dishonest, unjust, ineffective - in sum, counter-productive.

So population control is not common sense.


What is also not common sense is the idea (or, more likely excuse) that 'responsible' parents will have few children - or no children at all - because they are trying to prevent over-population.

This makes as much sense as starving oneself to death in order to prevent a famine.


But because population planning it treated in public discourse as if it was simple common sense, and because overpopulation is a reality in global and regional terms - and therefore large scale starvation, disease and violence are apparently inevitable - people very frequently argue that it is right and correct and moral for modern Western Man to suppress fertility, to have fewer and fewer children.

As I say, I think this is the mainstream opinion - that population both can and should be planned, that this implies responsible parents should have few to zero children, and that to do this is a sign of superior prudence.


Leaving this aside as a typical example of the kind of psychotic and dishonest refusal to think which is imposed upon people by modernity; the question still remains of if not this, then what?

How should we regard this question of 'population'?

Should we ignore prudence and have as many children as come along and trust to God or luck or government to raise them?

No. That is just another, and exceptionally vicious, modern deformation of thought - that it is just and proper and indeed necessary for the governments of developed nations to feed, shelter, clothe, and educate every child born anywhere in the world by an open-ended process of coercively extracting resources from its population and using these to create endlessly expanding child-raising bureaucracies.

This is a vile parody of charity, totalitarian tyranny masquerading as compassion.


So not that either - then what?

The answer seems to be simple enough - the 'system' is and should be that parents are and ought to be responsible for their own children.

In other words population 'planning' starts and ends at home.

We ought to 'plan' our own families and we ought to be responsible for them.


Now, of course, many many things can and do go wrong with such planning. Parents get sick and die, parents lose jobs and cannot find work, there may be economic collapse and natural disasters, children vary and may be handicapped, sick, unlucky... What then?

What then is essentially that families need and ask for charity, for help from others who ought to help them as and when possible (they have a duty to be charitable), and the givers of charity are given credit for their free gift and the receivers of charity ought to be thankful for such help.

Charity represents the labour - ultimately the time and effort - of other people.

Charity is a duty for Christians - although most of us utterly fail in fulfilling it - but resources coercively extracted by the government do not represent compliance with the duty of charity.


But the bottom line is that when parents have children which (for whatever reason) they cannot raise, and if charity is insufficient - then these children will die.


Population planning and control are therefore, essentially, euphemisms for population limitation

And at the bottom line, there are two options for population limitation: increased mortality or reduced fertility.

Increased mortality was the near universal mechanism is antiquity.

But it seems obvious and sensible and compassionate to modern secular people that reduced fertility is vastly preferable to increased mortality.

Well, how's that working out? Is it viable long term?


The secular developed world has reduced and reduced fertility among its rulers, and its productive population, under a wide range of excuses and false rationalizations...

But this is grossly unnatural and unChristian behaviour - so unnatural and unChristian that it is taboo even to discuss the subject in the public arena - so ashamed and angry and confused are we about this matter.

The dishonest denial of common sense always comes back to bite us; and when it does, matters are made worse by the fact that dishonest people who have inverted common sense cannot recognize what is happening to them.

Thus the punishment is doubled.


The West is deep into mandatory denial and evasion in terms of population as well as many other matters.

The consequences are extreme and deadly - but these consequences are also subject to mandatory denial and evasion.

So we see that sin is compounded by the consequences of sin - madness and ignorance lead to more of the same; unless or until repentance and rebirth.



Jonathan C said...

I hadn't thought about these issues much, but what you say makes so much sense.

A question about the Christian duty of charity. How does one find opportunities for real charity? The state has its welfare tentacles in so many places, it's hard to identify any genuine needs. It's easy to find people asking for money who are already getting all their needs met, but it seems like I'd have to do months of painful research to find someone who genuinely needs charity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JC - I am a failure at being charitable - but I know what I ought to do: tithe fully to my church and give generously of my time and efforts to evangelical (and missionary) activities organized by my church (which are many and various, local and international).

Evangelism is not done by the state, and indeed is operating against the efforts of the state (both locally and internationally).

This kind of charity is effective (I know it is effective because I know and trust the people doing it and can see for myself or get creditable first hand witnesses).

Part of evangelism is indeed 'healing' (this is explicit in the Bible, in Jesus's instructions to the disciples) - so it is often done alongside providing health care, and other kinds of assistance - but evangelism is always the primary aim.

Wm Jas said...

I'm not sure why letting children die is any more "Christian" than choosing not to have so many! Obviously, neither alternative is a good one.

In Taiwan, where I live, the poor are supported by family members and religious charities, not by the government -- and child mortality is just as low as in any Western welfare state. As the country becomes more and more overpopulated, families are beginning to choose lower fertility -- not because of externally imposed "population control," but because individual couples look at the situation -- rising real estate costs, increasingly competitive (and therefore increasingly expensive) education, etc. -- and choose not to have more children than they think they will be able to support. It's hard to think what else they should or could do.

Perhaps their calculations are not entirely honest -- perhaps most couples could support more children but choose not to for selfish reasons. Taiwan, as overpopulated as it is, probably could support twice or three times its current population -- but with what quality of life? In fact, the quality of life has already suffered greatly due to overpopulation. The island would be much better off with perhaps a quarter of its current population -- but, barring some unforeseen disaster, only voluntary lower fertility is ever going to bring that about. As long as modern technology exists, making it possible to keep so many people alive in such a small area, mortality just isn't going to do the job.

The underlying problem is not government welfare but modern medicine, modern agriculture, etc. But to undo those advances -- that is, to deliberately cause famine and disease -- seems just as evil as every other option.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Your framework of discussion here is the standard mainstream one.

The purpose of this posting was to show the deep, lethal, problems with this framework of analysis - how it inevitably leads to unacceptable, indeed horrific, alternatives.

Wm Jas said...

Yes, I guess my point is that your alternative framework -- based on charity -- doesn't really address the problem. I don't believe there is any morally acceptable way to address the problem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - Well, we agree that the current ideas are not morally acceptable - and probably agree that the idea of a ruler deciding who gets to have how many children is also morally unacceptable. Maybe we would even agree that families are the correct unit for this decision. But that incentives ought not decisively to undermine this, as at present.

At the bottom line is either to allow child mortality when charity fails; or else (as at present) to have a rights-based open-ended coercive bureaucratic commitment that no child anywhere and at any time should be ever allowed to die so long as any resources anywhere remain unconfiscated (and without regard to consequences or sustainability) - as at present.

Maybe it is all a matter of the virtue of Prudence...

Adam G. said...

if you find a decent Church congregation, or if you have an extended family, opportunities for real charity will abound.

JP said...

When I hear the "people don't want to have more children because their quality of life would be intolerably reduced" argument, I always think about my great-grandfather, who lived with four kids in a one-room apartment. If there were any complaints about low quality of life, my grandma never mentioned them.

I also think about how the typical house in the USA during the baby boom years had about half the square footage as today, with one bathroom for everyone to share rather than one bathroom apiece. The families had more than twice as many kids as today. Did they complain about low quality of life? No! Far from it, they thought their quality of life was high.

Thus, the claim that "the quality of life has already suffered greatly due to overpopulation. The island would be much better off with perhaps a quarter of its current population" is, in my opinion, based on unsupportable assumptions about what constitutes a "high quality of life" and being "better off". I feel sure that if you transported a Taiwanese from 50 or 100 years ago to Taipei today, that person would think everyone enjoyed a MUCH higher quality of life today than in the past, and had no excuse for not having more children.

"We lived six to a room without the internet or television, and with a bathroom down the hall for four families to share, why can't you even manage to have two kids?"

ajb said...


"I feel sure that if you transported a Taiwanese from 50 or 100 years ago to Taipei today, that person would think everyone enjoyed a MUCH higher quality of life today than in the past"

Good point.

One interesting thing about where I live (Canada) is that the rural population hasn't grown much in the past 100 years compared to the whole population - a few million, but spread over a huge land area. 4/5ths of the total population growth in that time period has come from urban areas (of course, the urban areas have grown in size).

So, if one wanted to, one could live in a rural setting where things aren't much more crowded than 100 years ago. However, most people decide to live in urban settings, where the feeling that things are getting much more crowded is generated (and is true - urban environments tend to be bigger and more densely populated than 100 years ago in Canada).

Crosbie said...

Dr. Charlton

This is slightly off-topic, but you have wondered before what the trigger is that stops us having children. Is it death? If low birth rate is the result of an endless postponement of adulthood, is death the signal we are missing? Until 1900, death was all around us, reminding us everywhere that time was running out.

Today a man or woman can live out their childbearing years without the death of a close relative, if they are lucky.

ajb said...

"that it is right and correct and moral for modern Western Man to suppress fertility"

I think Bruce is right that the relevant question for an individual (wherever they live) is about their own family, not global population trends.

AFAIK, however, elites have been working pretty hard to get everyone to reduce birth rates, not just Westerners.

I don't know if they have been largely effectual or not (that is, whether it would have happened anyways), but birth rates in most countries have plummeted over the last 30-50 years.

Consider the Philippines, where the Catholic Church has significant political power. It's estimated birth rate has reduced from 7.1 in 1960 to 3.1 in 2011.

Or consider a Muslim country - Iran. 6.5 in 1980 to 1.65 in 2011.

Or Mexico, from 6.7 in 1970 to 2.3.

These examples reflect the broader trend.

Samson J. said...

So, if one wanted to, one could live in a rural setting where things aren't much more crowded than 100 years ago.

Yep, it's a great time to be a person who enjoys the country life. As a matter of fact I remember being surprised, while on the train in England, at how much countryside there still was over there too, although I only saw a small part of old Albion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - Fine, but we must acknowledge the price to pay for letting families decide is that children will die.

The modern population problem is that Westernization reaches everywhere, and its first effect (as it was in the West itself) is to reduce child mortality, and destabilize the balance of population and production.

(To simplify) Africa used to be a place of low population density and plenty to eat (African had more to eat than Europeans) and it was not until the 1960s (Biafra) that African became known as a place of starvation. It was a place of high death rates from disease, and plenty to eat for those who did not die.

The population growth in the third world is therefore a consequence of interaction with the West. For a while the problem can be and was covered up by massive transfers of wealth from the West - but these exacerbate the underlying imbalance.

Then the situation resulting it taken as a justification for totalitarianism and a program of semi-deliberate mass demoralization by the government.

Since fertility self suppression is a consequence of gross psychopathology, governments gravitate towards inducing and maintaining gross psychopathology in their populations and indeed populations everywhere - so people will 'voluntarily' stop having babies ('voluntarily' in a similar sense that people with chronic schizophrenia 'voluntarily' eschew fertility).

People are made so confused, miserable and hedonically short-termist that they self-suppress the very basic and immensely powerful need for family. This is a significant factor behind the strategic chaos induced by the sexual revolution - anything is permissible, indeed encouraged - so long as it leads to voluntary sterility.

Yet, because the process is covert and dishonest (and people are not utterly corrupted, and probably never could be) there is the residual compassion for actually-existing children which is indulged monomaniacally and without moral prudence and in such a way that the problems because numbingly large and a kind of dazed, unreactive catatonia is the outcome.