Cancelling Malthus

The Antiques Roadshow being forbidden to film normally because of the lockdown madness, the BEEB showed one of last year’s editions on Sunday, filmed at an historic Scottish Castle.

During the programme, presenter Fiona Bruce was shown the court books of the castle, including the case of a man whose horse was seized by the laird for debt in the 1620s, and who stole it back. He was sentenced to a huge £40 fine, all his goods were confiscated (apart from his house), and he was made to stand in the pillory. Bruce expressed the customary liberal remarks about not wanting to live back in such bad old days with their harsh justice.

I, however, had heard that very day about the case of journalist Laura Loomer, who on Twitter criticised the Democrat socialist Congressperson Ilhan Omar back in 2018 with what, eventually, turned out to be entirely truthful accusations, which are now being openly discussed in mainstream media.

Loomer, however, was immediately banned by Twitter for hate speech, but subsequently also by Facebook, Instagram, Paypal (limiting her ability to gain income) and Chase Bank (limiting every other financial channel), as well as Medium, GoFundMe, Venmo, MGM Resorts (no holidays), Lyft, Uber (no travel) and Uber Eats (no eating out). She would certainly have lost her job too had she not, it seems, been freelance at the time. She did not, it is true, have to stand in the pillory, but had a more drawn out humiliation by dint of fountain-of-truth Wikipedia’s carrying the usual “far-right conspiracy theorist” hatchet-job on her entry. Make her a Knight Commander of the Order of the Cancelled of St Martin, somebody.

That is our enlightened cancel culture, and it seems that the differences from what happened in the Scottish Courtroom are only that she was punished without any due legal process for the offence of telling the truth, rather than debt or theft, and that her sentence was blazoned across the world, rather than restricted within Highland clan boundaries. We’ve come a long way since 1623!

In that context, I want to look at the irrationality of such depersoning, as if it weren’t clear to any fool with their eyes open, and I want to look at it via the the question of Malthusian population phobia.

It’s easy to find sources (I’ve covered some here) to show that the best science demonstrates that the world is not headed for population armageddon. The growth rate was never exponential, but the rapid linear increase of the mid-twentieth century began to slow, I believe, in the 1970s, and has continued to decelerate as global prosperity has risen, and as family size has become smaller.

The governing principle seems to be that for starving people, big families are an insurance policy – when most children will die, to have one or two surviving to increase family income and, perhaps, care for you as you age is essential. Once those pressures decrease, however, children become a financial burden – especially as prosperity requires they be educated and entertained as well as fed. In prosperous countries like ours, where small children get to choose half a dozen packaged foods to open and reject during a single meal, households revolve around them, and limitation of family size becomes the priority.

The United Nations’ own projections are that the population will level off at around 11 billion, and even begin to fall naturally a little, by the end of the century, and that the world has plenty of resources to feed and house them.

That, however, is news to most of the public, because there is still, for whatever reason, a strong over-representation in the media of the belief that overpopulation will do for the planet, according to the failed predictions of Paul Ehrlich back in 1968 (when the tide was already, in reality, on the turn).

A surprising number of movers and shakers, with massive influence and power, hangs on to this Malthusian account. One notable example is Bill Gates, whose combined enthusiasm for both vaccination and contraception explains the deep suspicion in developing countries that the west is trying to sterilize them under the cover of vaccination. That suspicion has now spread to the West after COVID since Gates supports both vaccination and ID2020. What suspicious minds the world has for the guy who gave us sold us Windows (and put all his competitors out of business)!

David Attenborough has repeatedly tut-tutted about overpopulation in public, including in his documentaries – and of course, he has the cachet of being one of the key public spokesmen for Science™. Prince Harry and Meghan include it as part of their Woke agenda, and there is a host of others. In particular, a good many scientists and environmentalists seem to espouse the cause of Malthus, the more well known including, in Britain, naturalist Christ Packham and, worldwide, the chimp lady Jane Goodall.

Given the subject of my my last post, I will note in passing Hermann Muller’s historical espousal of eugenics, though it was based more on quality than quantity. His Nobel Prize biography says:

Included in the studies were calculations concerned with both the «spontaneous» and the radiation-induced mutation frequencies, and of the consequences of selection. Estimates were made of the effects of changes in mutation frequency, on the one hand, and of selection pressure, on the other hand, on the load. It was shown that eugenic policies are needed to avoid genetic degeneration in man as well as to bring about the genetic enhancement called for by his advances in technology and in other aspects of his culture.

It’s odd that none of these worthies got the U.N. memo, but there it is. Consensus science (from those actually in the relevant disciplines) says that there is not a big population problem, whereas individuals like these preach the need to reduce the population lest we perish, often by quite drastic amounts. Usually it is the sweating masses of poor and uneducated folk in Africa and Asia who are most in need of limiting, the West already having to import cheap labour from there because of its own population decline.

But if it is so dangerous to suggest that hydroxychloroquine might be of benefit in COVID-19 infections that doctors who advocate it need to be deplatformed not only from social media, but even from their website providers (so even the Hump is not safe from censorship, it seems), how much more dangerous is the Malthusian Populationism that threatens billions! In the first part of the last century, many scientists and intellectuals espoused the cause of eugenics, which not only led rapidly to enforced sterilization in democratic countries like America, but soon became the stuff of nightmare in the Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Population control already has, in other words, a long track record of fascism and racism, if we want to invoke the sins usually considered worthy of deplatforming.

Indeed, it’s almost impossible to conceive of ways of reducing the world populatiion significantly that are not, at best, coercive and more likely genocidal. In the piece linked earlier I showed how China’s one-child policy, and even major famines, had barely dented the rise in population. To reduce it by, say, two billion absolutely requires mass killing.

Since such conclusions stem from even the most basic understanding of science, you would think that if any opinion needs censorship because of the risk of inciting harm to innocent people, Populationism is it. The reasons why it is not outlawed, and if anything it is the more optimistic projections that are quietly kept out of the public gaze, merit consideration. It’s all about the larger narratives behind the new proscriptive ideology of our times, in which any solution that is not radically revolutionary is by that token evil. But I don’t want to consider that here. Instead I want to argue why the rational principle of free speech precludes their being outlawed, even though they are prone to abuse and, in some cases, abusive in themselves.

The way certain environmentalists speak about the “masses” in the developing world is frankly anti-human. But to ban all talk of population reduction presupposes that the more benign predictions about the future, whilst backed by data, are infallibly correct, and that not only is overpopulation unlikely, but impossible. But no prognostications about the future, even under the umbrella of “science,” are infallible. Very few are even right.

Now, it’s true that this principle is not recognised in other areas. After the retraction of at least two major studies (for fraud) the jury is not yet in about the role of hydroxychloroquine in COVID, though that has not stopped the retributions against its proponents being extreme. And the climate prediction models, which have consistently overestimated the rise in temperature to the present day, are still relied on to the extent of silencing all dissent in the press and even the scientific journals. We are fully committed to running the world as if it were too hot, even if the predictions prove wrong.

Aside: as of yesterday I gather that Michael Shellenberger ‘s new counter to climate alarmism, Apocalypse Never, currently number 665 in the Amazon bestseller list, and number 1 in Climatology, in Environmental Policy, and in Technology, has been taken off the New York Times best-seller list. Book burning is another return to the good old seventeenth century, and it’s here now, folks.

But back to the point in question, if we were to find, in half a century, that a second wave of population growth had already begun to outstrip the planet’s resources (for example if some stupid bugger trashed the world’s economy by shutting it down because of an epidemic) then the full and free discussion of the most humane and least draconian ways to limit population would have been invaluable. Those ideas might prevent panic leading to major wars, out of control starvation, and all manner of other evils.

So I’ll take the evil eugenic implications along with the probably genuinely benign motives of some Malthusians, whilst railing against the wickedness of the first part, and challenging the reality of the second. If I’m later proven wrong, I’d rather those alternative ideas were still on the table, or at least on the bookshelves.

Now, about the insanity of lockdown…

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics and sociology, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cancelling Malthus

  1. Ben says:

    I don’t think you’re being fair to Bill Gates. The biggest bee in his bonnet is malaria, which is the biggest killer in Africa, so arguably a great way of keeping populations down. But as you say, the best way to really slow population growth is to make people richer, and bring down child mortality. I think that’s what he’s about. And he was friends with Hans Rosling, I believe.

    What I find ironic is that people have been going on about ‘overpopulation’ for decades, yet anyone who questions the need to keep importing new people into Europe is shouted down as racist. The whole world is overpopulated, it seems, but not the West.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Ben

      Maybe unfair to Gates. On the other hand Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (Virgil – “I do not trust the Greeks, even when bearing gifts.”)

      The ID2020, being sold as a human rights issue of everyone being entitled to a digital identity seems oblivious to the actual use of digital information in China, in western Intelligence Communities, and in commercial organisations to manipulate identity, or if deemed necessary remove it altogether.

      The PC attitude to immigration seems to defy logic on a host of levels. For example, the environmentalists’ concern to re-wild, go organic, and get rid of technology and return to an idyllic natural life rather goes against increasing urban populations by immigration.

      • Ben says:

        I realised, when looking at Germany’s attitude to homeschooling, that human rights are problematic in and of themselves, as they implicitly confer the power to enforce them on governments. (children’s right to an ‘education’ (as defined by the state) superseding parents’ right to educate their own children).

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Yes – one doesn’t think about the subtleties of political theory until threats arise to ones basic way of life.

          I’ve been attending with interest to discussions on the US constitution, the social contract, etc. In particular the concept that a limited set of our God-given rights are ceded to the state in return for particular, limited, “goods”.

          Without that idea, you do inevitably end up, as you’ve indicated, with the only rights being those that are ceded to us by the state (or by supra-state entities like the EU or the UN). These may be suspended at any time when the state (rather than the people) decide it is in whatever interests they champion to do so.

          Here that’s ostensibly human life (making the government the final arbiter of human life), though in practice it’s mixed up with all kinds of things from the interests of, say, epidemiologists whose remit doesn’t include lives lost to economic damage, to the interests of government itself in retaining power and reputation.

          But the state’s priority can easily be, as in China, the Party, or some ideological concept like intersectionality that government might have embraced. Then even ones thoughts become subject to state control.

          When institutions like the academy and journalism share that ideology, repression of natural rights becomes virtually guaranteed. Which is where we are right now.

  2. Robert Byers says:

    Who are we governed by? Do these companies govern our speech /actions/work? NO. We have not consented to be governed by the and so they must obey our existing rights and liberities. Hate speechology is simply another infringement of people in power to govern others. we only need insist and demand that we the people make our laws. not anyone else . do we have freedom of speech? YES! So they must obey us. these new internet etc things are new. They must be brought under the existing laws. they are not to punish us or interfere with us in our lives in our country. WE are the masters and not to be mastered except by our forms of government.
    In a free nation a man must be a lawyer. our peoples have no excuse for sneaky tyranny.
    In canada we have to wear masks even though its over really. the idea is they are letting ore people gather and so mask up. its all a humbug and always was. A great error and misunderstanding of disease.

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