Monday, October 18, 2010

The Irresistible Force of mathematics meets the Unmoveable Object of freedom to reproduce

< Image of Silver Surfer - thanks to whoever did it

We have called ourselves Homo Sapiens - humans with knowledge. Our analytical ability is astounding.  We understand matter right down to the level of quarks and mesons. We understand life right down to the function of individual genes o our DNA. We are very smart and clever.

We understand mathematics (or at least, some mathematicians do, fully).  A GCSE student can understand that a doubling series tends towards infinity, and that the world is finite.So we should be able to understand that the human population of this planet cannot continue to increase exponentially.

But if you dare to mention this fact in a discussion, especially on the web, you will be called a fascist, and eco-fascist even, because there is an assumption that there is a human right to have precisely as many children as any given human wishes to have.

Oddly, the conservative right whingers who are most critical of the lumpenproletariat who sit at home watching daytime TV and adding a new child to their family every 9 months are among those most likely to shout "eco-fascist"  at anyone who dares to mention the incompatibility of exponential growth rates and a finite planet.

I simply do not care. For humans to avoid global catastrophe it is necessary for us to apply our reasoning function to our own behaviour. Human population growth will inevitably stop at some time in the future, through one of three causes:
  1. Disaster, as our numbers outstrip the ability of the planet to sustain us, and we begin fighting over food.
  2. Compulsion, with baby licences and forced sterilisations.
  3. Education, whereby every human on the planet is informed of the facts, and persuaded to limit their family to two (and even that is too much, but less is impractical).
Option 3 is the rational, Green option. But in discussing it, we will be misrepresented as advocating Option 2. It is the prerogative of mainstream media to lie about Green policies.

I have developed these ideas here in a linked series of posts.


Frugal Life UK said...

Well! I'm for eugenics! we are the only species of mammals who breed from the bottom, humans get weaker, increasingly prone to disease, unable to cope with life and generally pathetic and unable to survive! I had two children, remarried and as much as we wanted to have a family of our own, common sense told us it was irresponsible and we didn't!we can not financially cope and we certainly do not have the resources. We should tax people who have kids, not give them tax rebates! They cost and we shouldn't fund other people to have them. If they can't afford them, then boo hoo! they can't have them! I teach kids in families of 10+ offspring, not to mention their mothers must have 'bits' like dropped pies, but they have too many to look after adequately! I'm right with you!

Anonymous said...


we all know it's a good idea to have fewer people on the planet and option 3 is therefore a no-brainer but in the absence of option 3 being taken seriously by anyone, what do you propose is done to 'save the planet'?

Anonymous said...

It’s a taboo subject however Frugel Life makes a good point (as did Marie Stopes in her day) the more intelligent members of the population are putting off having children and have a disincentive to reproduce; where as the chaotic families have an incentive to reproduce, in terms of social housing provision and benefits. I back your idea Doc of giving child benefit and other benefits to the first two children as of right, but then means testing for the third and subsequent child and replacing cash benefits with food vouchers (not exchangeable for alcohol or tobacco). That way children do not suffer, but parents think about the consequences of their actions.

DocRichard said...

Hi Frugal

I'm gonna have to tone it down a bit here. Eugenics is a bad word, associated with inhuman things done by the Fascists in Germany and, surprisingly, Sweden, in the 1930s. This is where the balance between human rights and biology comes in. We are treading a path between the Scylla of fascism (which leads in the end to conflict and war) and the Charybdis of ecological disaster.

There is no future in taxing extra children, because they have no money to be taxed. I have sketched out in the links below (I hope) the way in which >2 children could have child benefit withdrawn without hurting the childrne. Specifically, religious groups like Catholics and Muslims who have expansionary policies should be required to fund the extra children. That is perfectly just.

The response lies in education and persuasion. Some libertarians will claim that even persuasion is coercion.
Which brings us to Anonymous' point. There is precious little education going on right now, but we live in hope, and the hope is that Government, which is very slow, will eventually pick up on the need to educate.

The key thing is to work out the positive solutions and communicate them. At its most basic level, the important idea to hold is "something can be done". If we believe "nothing can be done", nothing will be done - at least, nothing that we have helped with.

It's not a matter of saving the planet. The planet will continue until the Sun explodes in 5 billion years time. It is a matter of saving humanity - from our own thoughtlessness. Just by thinking and communicating, we are helping in this process.


DocRichard said...

Anonymous, I tend to agree.
I'm just sitting waiting for an outpouring of wrath from the cornucopians...

Anonymous said...

Today eugenics conjures up associations with forced sterilization, immigration restriction, marriage laws, and the atrocities of National Socialist medicine. Hitler emulated Eugenic legislation for the sterilization of criminals and 'defectives', as well as segregation laws that had been practiced in the United States of America, as cover for his percussion. Eugenics was quite respectable in the early decades of the 20th century; It is now impossible to have informed debate about the ethical issues raised by advances in reproductive technology.
When Francis Galton coined the term ‘eugenics’ in 1883, he envisioned a voluntary secular religion in which humanity could control its own evolution through selective breeding. It my come as a shock, but the following were all eugenicists: William Berveridge, John Maynard Keynes, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Emile Zola Marie Stopes, Linus Carl Pauling, Sir Julian Huxley and Margaret Sanger (founder of the American Birth Control Association) were all eugenicists. Take a look at the Galton Institute

DocRichard said...

Sorry, anon, I just do not do eugenics. It diverts from the preeminent problem of curbing exponential growth of human population.

Kester said...

There's a rabbi in New York who survived the Concentration Camps who's set up a charity doing completely voluntary and confidential 'genetic counselling' where children in Jewish schools are offered a free genetic test for a hereditary blood disease more common in their community, and when they get to the age that they're considering marrying someone, they can check their results and go in and talk to a genetic counsellor about the balance of risks and probabilities if they go ahead and have children. The rabbi who founded it calls it eugenics, but in the sense of completely voluntary, confidential and non-coercive information and counselling. 'Eugenics' has acquired associations with forced sterilisation and murder, but it doesn't necessarily have to mean that at all. Anyway...

@DocRichard -what would you propose to deal with the problem the previous few commenters raised that the more intelligent or at least more educated part of society tends to respond more to education aimed at reducing fertility rates, while the poorest and least educated and -perhaps, to some extent- less genetically adaptive part tends to continue reproducing fast. I think it's a valid concern, but I don't know what could possibly be done about it within the range of non-coercive fair and kind methods. What do you think?

Richard Lawson said...

Hi Kester.
Years later, I have just seen your comment. 1000 apologies for not reading my own blog. I must have been on holiday.