Population Bomb or Bomb the Population?

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution”.
– Aldous Huxley, The Ultimate Revolution
Ending Militarism. Militarism in all its forms, from the prison-industrial complex to wars of occupation, is one of the most powerful obstacles to the achievement of reproductive, environmental and climate justice. Ending militarism is a point where our struggles can and should converge, where there are multiple overlaps. The list is long: Military toxins damage the environment and harm reproductive health. Militarism increases violence against women, racism and anti-immigration activities. Militarism robs resources from other social and environmental needs. War destroys ecosystems, livelihoods, and health and sanitation infrastructure. It is the biggest threatof all to sustainable social reproduction.
– Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Román, The Population Bomb is Back with a Global Warming Twist
Eugenics was an American specialty. It inspired Hitler, and it was much studied and admired in the UK as well with support from H.G. Wells, GB Shaw, and Churchill. White supremacism is what drove colonial logic and practice and its still with us in the capitalist societies of the West, and things like mass incarceration are evidence of that. But it has also bled into other areas of study, and into the culture at large really. And one of the most pronounced expressions of the new eugenics (that claims not to be) are in the so called Population Bombers (named after Paul Erlich’s book).
But before getting to the *new* scientific racism of the Population Bombers, lets take a stroll down memory lane and visit the old scientific racism.
Since this is going to be a very truncated version of a complex and sadly extensive history, a good place to start might be Charles Benedict Davenport, the head of the American Breeders Association (ABA) which was started in Boston in 1903. And originally concerned with sweet peas, and not people. But they expanded to include a eugenics division in 1906 to, as Davenport put it…“emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood.” Membership was very prestigious. Alexander Graham Bell, and dozen presidents of major Universities, as well as scientists like Frederick Adams Woods, and Roswell H. Johnson. The legacy of Puritanism looms large here. As it does it most histories of the U.S.
Eugenics was immensely popular straight away. And while many literary types and faddists glommed onto the idea, the primary force behind Eugenics were outright racists like Woods, Davenport and Johnson. And the almost immediate trend for this discipline was toward birth control, and in particular sterilization. Now, the history of eugenics is fascinating and terrifying and I suggest reading Allan Chase’s seminal book The Legacy of Malthus, The Social Cost of New Scientific Racism. But I can only skim over some of this to lay the foundation for looking at the current Population Bombers. One item stuck me, and that was the very perfunctory training of young ladies from wealthy backgrounds who became ‘field workers’ for the new eugenics programs. In other words these young ladies after a few weeks study at Cold Spring Harbor, and Vineland, New Jersey, Training School for Feeble-minded Girls and Boys, venture forth into the cities and towns of America looking to identify signs of “criminalism, fecklessness, and those of bad blood. I mean what could go wrong, right?
There are so many trenchant details in this story, but before too long wiser scientific voices began to challenge Eugenics, and this pseudo science waned…a bit anyway. But lets just jump cut here to the Nazi death camps. That Hitler modeled his sterilization programs on those of California and that Nazi doctors were ruthlessly experimenting on children to determine their suitability or not for entry into the Reich, was enough to finally shut down talk of Eugenics, at least publically (Churchill never stopped enthusiastically defending it and he was likely far from alone in private gentlemen’s clubs, or at dinner parties.)
“The New Scientific Racism was soon to rise, like the Phoenix, from the flames which consumed the Old Scientific Racism that had lasted from Malthus to Hitler. Ironically, it was not by some new magic touchstone that the new scientific racism found the secret of eternal life, but in the basic myth that had formed the trunk on which Gobineau and Galton, Retzius and Spencer, Davenport, and Yerkes and East had added deadly new limbs after 1798. The mechanism of regeneration was, of course, the original Malthus myth, the pseudonatural “Law” that man’s ability to produce babies would always and forever be greater than his “finite” capacity to grow food. Therefore, unless the exploding human birth rates were slashed, our species faced famine and extinction. This “Law of Population” was purely a figment of Malthus’ imagination. Some seven decades before Malthus was born in 1766, the European Agricultural Revolution, “the greatest move forward in agriculture since neolithic times,” had proven—and continues to prove, abundantly, in our own times—that Malthus’ famous “Law” was a totally false description of the realities of food production and human reproduction on this planet. “
– Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus
The new scientific racism added pollution to the narrative. And indeed pollution was already a serious health issue. But the new population narrative simplified everything down to *People Pollute*. Period.
“As in the 1920’s, when the nation’s decent people were betrayed by their own education into accepting, as a scientific truth, the crude eugenic myth—”proven” by the civilian and Army IQ test scores—of “the decline in American intelligence,” and therefore decided to throw their support behind the anti-Italian, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic immigration restriction demands of the old scientific racists, the contemporary effects were tragic. Some of the best-educated and best-intentioned people in our society began to wear People Pollute buttons on their lapels, and to become true believers and vigorous fellow travelers in the pseudo-environmental crusades of the new scientific racism.”
– Allan Chase (ibid)
After WW2, the re-ascension of eugenics might be seen to start with Hugh Moore…the Dixie Cup tycoon of the early 20th century. He was to become the patron and supporter of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. And with Guy Irving Burch and Elmer Pendell, authors of a very influential Human Breeding and Survival.
The shift was from earlier Eugenics rhetoric about purity of native stock was changing to one in which sterilization was a tool of enduring peace and freedom.
America has never not felt affinity with pseudo scientific justifications for racism. But lets quickly trace the various iterations of the overpopulation theme. And another watershed in the new scientific racism was William Vogt’s The Road to Survival. Vogt was openly disdainful of non-white races and enthusiastically suggested policies of mass sterilization and that any aid given to developing countries should be contingent upon forced contraception. In fact he, like Mencken, advocated paying the poor and those with prison records to be sterilized. One of Vogt’s most admiring readers was Paul Ehrlich, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania. The new drive for sterilization, for population control, was funded in large measure by Hugh Moore. He also, outside of an organizational framework, ran ads in major papers advocating for reduced population. As Chase writes…
“Under such organizational banners as the Hugh Moore Fund and the Campaign to Check the Population Explosion, the Moore crusade for some years took one- and two-page advertisements in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Star, Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, Saturday Review, and Time. { } A true disciple of Vogt’s, Moore looked to sexual sterilization as the ultimate solution to population problems that could not be resolved by less traumatic methods. When Moore took over the presidency of the nation’s leading sterilization society in 1964, Lader writes, the salesman-showman of population control insisted that it change its name from the prissy Human Betterment Association (née Birthright, Inc.) to the more meaningful Association for Voluntary Sterilization, Inc. Things began to happen in a big way. Moore “raised money to move the office to a midtown New York suite just off Fifth Avenue, and employed an experienced executive director and staff.”
Moore blamed new babies, unchecked copulation, for the rise in pollution from the automobile, then undergoing a giant spike in use and ownership. He carefully chose not to blame policies that nixed mass transit for urban centers, or plans for any alternative to gasoline driven travel. The popularity of Moore’s campaigns made its way to the inner circle of the Kennedy presidency, and later that of Johnson. And most significantly this neo-Malthusian sensibility (by way of Burch and Vogt) made its way to University campuses. And Paul Ehrlich, then a professor at Stanford, wrote The Population Bomb (1968). And it seemed just scientific enough, but still accessible, and it boiled down very complicated and dense political analysis into one phrase, borrowed from the Pogo comic strip…We have met the enemy and he is us. And it became the catch phrase for a movement. The enemy is us, the people. Not corporations or class exploitation, or industry or war. No, just people.
Nixon even joined in, participating in Earth Day 1970, a mere few days before the invasion of Cambodia (and during his continued brutal bombing campaign of that same country). Nixon, who called anti war protesters “bums”, and this all only weeks before the murder of four students at Kent State by the National Guard. The new Malthusian environmentalists (along with the World Health Organization) were embracing a simple construct that argued *people pollute, nothing else*. Just people, nothing more and nothing less. They were careful in their marketing to avoid the taint of the older eugenics connections, however.
“Underlying the close working relationship between America and Germany was the extensive financial support of American foundations for the establishment of eugenic research in Germany. The main support was the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. It financed the research of German racial hygienist Agnes Bluhm on heredity and alcoholism as early as 1920. Following a European tour by a Rockefeller official in December 1926, the Foundation began supporting other German eugenicists, including Herman Poll, Alfred Gorjahn, and Hans Nachtsheim. The Rockefeller Foundation played the central role in establishing and sponsoring major eugenic institutes in Germany, including the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, eugenics, and Human Heredity.”
– Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection
“Like the original Law of Population of Malthus, the Gobineau Cult of the Nordic, and the eugenic myth of the Decline of American Intelligence, the simplistic dogmas of the new People Pollute movement addressed themselves to chimeras rather than realities. They also helped hide the real causes and biosocial effects of environmental degradation from many educated but scientifically naïve Americans. Finally, in the classic traditions of scientific racism, the snappy slogans of Zero Population Growth and other wings of the People Pollute movement succeeded in pinning the blame for environmental degradation on the backs of its primary victims-—the poor…”
– Allan Chase (ibid)
From the beginning of this post Ehrlich iteration (the one that has surfaced somewhere in the 90s) of environmentalism by way of Malthus, the imagery and focus tended toward the pastoral. The lakes and rivers, the songbirds and national parks, and not on improving the conditions of the poor crammed into those urban slums that were growing across the country. The poor were blamed, essentially, for threatening the holiday locations of the affluent classes. The poor were blamed for being, well, poor (and dirty and eating badly).
It is worth tracing the evolution that arrived at Ehrlich and the post Ehrlich thinkers. The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin, a prof at UCSB, became a sort of companion piece to The Population Bomb. And this California professor was clear that the human population question required a retro fit of our morality. He advocated zero population growth. Following on this came a slew of new neo Malthusian visionaries, Robert Ardrey and Dr. Shelden Reed among others. The new population control advocates all firmly placed the blame on the poor and their excessive sexuality. America has alway been Puritan and there is no way to over-emphasize that fact. Paul and William Paddock were also staunch Malthusians whose desire, as they stated, was “to make America great”. Hmmmm. All of these voices are white voices. Every single one. The discourse for depopulating the third world reads a lot like Mandingo by way of Mein Kampf.
The eugenics movement biggest success, and one that had far reaching implications, came in the person of Margaret Sanger. The infamous founder of Planned Parenthood, would serve as one of the key leaders of group of new “scientific” racists that operated under institutional cover, and under cover of altruistic motive. So to back track just a moment…
“Thus, even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy of controlled human breeding will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for UNESCO to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much is unthinkable may at least become thinkable.”
– Sir Julian Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy. 1948
Think Soylent Green.
“The most serious charge that can be brought against modern benevolence is that it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents. These are the most dangerous
elements in the world community, the most devastating curse on human progress and expression. Philanthropy is a gesture characteristic of modern business lavishing upon the unfit the profits extorted from the community at large. Looked at impartially, this compensatory generosity is in its final effect probably more dangerous, more dysgenic, more blighting than the initial practice of profiteering.”
– Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization, 1922
Like Vogt, like Hugh Moore, her patron, like Ehrlich and like Reed, Sanger was a voice for the normalising of white supremacist values and beliefs. All of these population bombers have one thing in common (besides being white) and that is a contempt, openly stated, for the poor and especially those with darker skin. Erlich was a staple on TV at the time (kind of the John Bolton of his day) and as his fame grew so his pronouncements became ever more openly racist.
Allan Chase wrote of Ehrlich….
As a moral philosopher, and as an open and blunt advocate of genocidal political policies such as the triage ploy developed by the Paddocks, Dr. Ehrlich has neither the intellectual and professional right, nor the moral authority, to speak for biology in particular and for the scientific community in general. Genocide remains genocide, whether advocated in a Munich beer hall in 1920 or in a Texas college auditorium in 1967—and neither the brown shirts of its earlier German advocates nor the graduate degrees and academic posts of its latter-day American proponents make it any less a political rather than a scholarly proposal.
So when today one hears certain dog whistle phrases….*carrying capacity*…that is pure Ehrlich. Dropping sterilization drugs into reservoirs for drinking water, or other such monstrous strategies and tactics were commonplace in the 70s. The pop bombers are mirror images of the anti communist neo cons in the Pentagon and State department. And both have most of the same goals.
And as Murray Bookchin pointed out (The Population Myth, 2010) …
The importance of viewing demography in social terms becomes even more apparent when we ask: would the grow-or-die economy called capitalism really cease to plunder the planet even if the world’s population were reduced to a tenth of its present numbers? Would lumber companies, mining concerns, oil cartels, and agribusiness render redwood and Douglas fir forests safer for grizzly bears if — given capitalism’s need to accumulate and produce for their own sake — California’s population were reduced to one million people?
The answer to these questions is a categorical no. Vast bison herds were exerminated on the westem plains long before the plains were settled by farmers or used extensively by ranchers — indeed, when the American population barely exceeded some sixty million people. These great herds were not crowded out by human settlements, least of all by excessive population. We have yet to answer what constitutes the “carrying capacity” of the planet, just as we lack any certainty, given the present predatory economy, of what constitutes a strictly numerical balance between reduced human numbers and a given ecological area.
One of the problems today, when one tries to argue with the advocates of the Green New Deal, or with other population bombers (Chris Hedges is one, David Attenbourgh is one, and so is Bono) is that for Western whites, especially for citizens of the U.S., there is an almost uncanny pull in these draconian race purity proposals- and maybe that is the Puritan legacy, or maybe Manifest Destiny. But the U.S. has been waging war against the third world for sixty years or eighty, depending on how you count. Libya, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire, and on and on and on. Of course there were at least two white nations destroyed, the former Yugoslavia, and more recently Ukraine. But the drive is both anti communist AND racist. It is colonial and in part its useful to see how Israel is the perfect reflection of American values, only without as much pretense. Most US politicians would love to be able to say what Israeli politicians do. Admiration for fascism, suggestions for genocide and ethnic cleansing. Israel is the American ruling class with the mask torn off.
“Viewed from a distance of two decades later, the predictions made by many neo-Malthusians seem almost insanely ridiculous. We were warned, often in the mass media, that by the 1980s, for example, artificial islands in the oceans would be needed to accommodate the growing population densities on the continents. Our oil supplies, we were told with supreme certainty, would be completely depleted by the end of the century. Wars between starving peoples would ravage the planet, each nation seeking to plunder the hidden food stores of the others. By the late seventies, this “debate” took a welcome breather — but it has returned again in full bloom in the biological verbiage of ecology. Given the hysteria and the exaggerated “predictions” of earlier such “debates,” the tone today is a little calmer. But in some respects it is even more sinister.{ } But the most sinister feature about neo-Malthusianism is the extent to which it actively deflects us from dealing with the social origins of our ecological problems — indeed, the extent to which it places the blame for them on the victims of hunger rather than those who victimize them.”
– Murray Bookchin, The Population Myth, 2010
Even back in the early years of the Ehrlich cult, some saw the warning signs.
“We “are going to have to adopt some very tough foreign policy positions,” Ehrlich explains, and limiting our own families will let us do that “from a psychologically strong position … We must use our political power to push other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control.” Exactly what kind of power, or whether we would use it globally, or simply in countries which food shipments and “green revolutions” might save from starvation, is unclear. But he hints at a time when we might put temporary sterilants in food and water, while some of his more adventurous colleagues, no doubt impressed by pinpoint bombing in Southeast Asia, would spray whole populations from the air. If we’re so willing to napalm peasants to protect them from Communists, we could quite easily use a little sterilant spray to protect them from themselves.”
– Steven Weissman, Ramparts, 1970
Ian Angus, the sanest voice on this topic I think….wrote several years back (Return of the Population Bombers, Climate & Capitalism, July 2012)…
“Populationist ideas are gaining traction in the environmental movement. A growing number of sincere activists are once again buying into the idea that overpopulation is destroying the earth, and that what’s needed is a radical reduction in birth rates.
Most populationists say they want voluntary birth control programs, but a growing number are calling for compulsory measures. In his best-selling book The World Without Us, liberal journalist Alan Weisman says the only way to save the Earth is to “Limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.”
Another prominent liberal writer, Chris Hedges, writes, “All efforts to staunch the effects of climate change are not going to work if we do not practice vigorous population control.”
In the recent book Deep Green Resistance, Derrick Jensen and his co-writers argue for direct action by small groups, aimed at destroying industry and agriculture and reducing the world’s human population by 90% or more.
And the famous British naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s tells us that “All environmental problems become harder, and ultimately impossible, to solve with ever more people.”
Attenborough is a patron of Optimum Population Trust, also known as Population Matters, an influential British group that uses environmental arguments to lobby for stopping immigration.”
This reasoning is so simplistic, so duplicitous and inane that one is hard pressed to know how to answer it. I mean population is not this thing, like water filling a tub. Thats first off. Second, fertility is dropping drastically and sperm counts for men, in the advanced nations of the West, is in free fall. Bookchin noted, perceptively, that there has been a shift in tone from the traditional Ehrlich era neo-Malthusians, to a new age Voodoo ecology in which the writing is acutely metaphorical…man as a cancer on the planet…or, *Gaia* etc. And this is a perceptive observation. My experience with trying to debate the subject of *overpopulation* {sic} is that I am met with a nearly religious or quasi mystical tone, one that Bookchin labled *eco theism*. And this is worth pondering. One of the reasons Zombie films (and all post apocalyptic narratives, really) are so popular and durable is that the audience WANTS the destruction of EVERYTHING. They harbor fantasy stories of starting over. Reconstruction dramas set in a sci fi style code — though tellingly none of them seem to ever seriously deal with sanitation. And clean water seems amazingly easy to find in these films and novels.
“The road to survival, therefore, does not lie in the neo-Malthusian prescriptions to eliminate surplus people, nor in birth control, but in the effort to make everybody on the face of the earth productive. Hunger and misery are not caused by the presence of too many people in the world, but rather by having few to produce and many to feed. The neo-Malthusian doctrine of a dehumanized economy, which preaches that the weak and the sick should be left to die, which would help the starving to die more quickly, and which even goes to the extreme of suggesting that medical and sanitary resources should not be made available to the more miserable populations – such policies merely reflect the mean and egotistical sentiments of people living well, terrified by the disquieting presence of those who are living badly.”
– Josue de Castro, The Geography of Hunger
There is also, alongside the racism, a decidedly misogynist element in population bombers of the current incarnation. One of the curious aspects of the arguments I have had on this topic is the oddly faux mystical defeatism of the bombers. They are awfully sanguine about their coming extinction. I have heard in every debate something along the lines of ‘well, capitalism isn’t going away any time soon’ or ‘we can’t wait around for your revolution’. Not only is this curiously passive and accepting of doom, but it’s also dishonest. People are lying to themselves on some level, though honestly its often hard to know the parameters of this dishonesty.But however that works, the new Population Bombers are providing a humanitarian justification for, what Weissman called, the old game of empire.
“Not only is the individual woman responsible for her own children’s emissions, but for her genetic offspring’s emissions far into the future! Missing from the equation is any notion that people are capable of effecting positive social and environmental change, and that the next generation could make the transition out of fossil fuels. It also places the onus on the individual, obscuring the role of capitalist systems of production, distribution and consumption in causing global warming.”
– Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Román, The Population Bomb is Back With a Global Warming Twist
Social reproduction is crucial to understanding who gets to be healthy, who sick, who has access to water and who doesn’t. Numbers tell one none of that. But remember, the murder of activist and conservationist Berta Caceres, in Honduras, can be laid directly at the feet of loyal Democratic Party icon Hillary Clinton. And this is the same Democratic party that is trying to sell the New Green Deal.
Now, back in 1952 John D. Rockefeller organized a meeting of leading academics, public health experts, Planned Parenthood leaders, social scientists and demographers. At the end of three days or so there emerged a new organization dedicated to population issues (and sterilization!) — but the entire story is very much worth reading..here.
It is important because to really understand the role of western Capital in the developing world, you have to dig into what the World Bank is doing, and where the Rockefeller’s put their money and focus. And where the western based NGOs choose to focus their energy.
Let me quote Weissman…
“With support in the White House and agreement among their friends (the trustworthy American managers in the international agencies), everything seems to favor the new interventionism of the big business internationalists. Everything, that is, except a new-found popular preference for non-intervention, or even isolation. But if overpopulation per se becomes the new scapegoat for the world’s ills, the current hesitations about intervention will fall away. Soon everyone, from the revolting taxpayer who wants to sterilize the Panther-ridden ghettos to the foreign aid addict, will line up behind the World Bank and the UN and join the great international crusade to control the world’s population. Let empire save the earth.”
Betsy Hartman and Elizabeth Barajas-Román (ibid) noted that ” Overconsumption by the rich has far more to do with global warming than the population growth of the poor. The few countries in the world where population growth rates remain high, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, have among the lowest carbon emissions per capita on the planet.”
And there are many other serious scientists that have called into question the Population Bombers logic…Fred Pearce is one here and a shorter overview of militarism and the environment.
And this interview with Betsy Hartman is very important.

There is an unfortunate attraction in the reductive neo Malthusianism of Ehrlich and his progeny. Even people I would never have suspected of being drawn into the new scientific racism of the population bombers seem unable or unwilling to examine the bigger picture, the role of Western capital, not just in terms of militarism, but also in the rather obvious strategies to depopulate certain demographics and to colonize resources. As I’ve said before, impartial expert is an oxymoron. One reads all manner of extreme predictions, most drawn in almost cartoon fashion but couched in this new grammar of eco-science. Or, more usually junk science. The legacy of eugenics is vastly under-appreciated and rendered opaque. Anywhere the US financial elite are sticking their fingers is a place where one might not want to lend support. And the same for this new eco-theism, one that ridicules any objection to their findings and beliefs. The real hubris in this topic resides on the side of the bombers. Questioning the new orthodoxy is anathema. And these tendencies are directly aligned with the new (ish) growing global fascism. The environmental problems are dire, but I worry far more about having to live life in an internment camp operated altruistically by the World Bank or Pentagon.

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Author: CounterPunch.org

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