What is it about the "Global Population, Magnitude Of" thing that so vexes the world's rich people? I'm asking in light of the food crisis and the energy crisis bringing back that old "Malthusian population crisis" fear. I'm also asking in light of my kinda recent discovery that the American rights to the RU-486 abortion pill are owned by some super-secretive subsidiary of the Rockefeller-founded Population Council. (Which is, by the way, charging too much money for it.) But mainly I'm asking because I just read this NYRB piece on two new books about the population control movement in the '50s and '60s which, among other things, taught me this about the challenge Western family planners faced in getting (and sometimes coercing) Third worlders into embracing birth control:
"You just keep having children. This is how you keep a man," Sylvia, mother of twelve, told Maternowska. "If you don't give [children] to him, he doesn't give [money] to you.... And sometimes even if you do give, you lose anyhow. Life is hard." Women would do anything to keep a man. There was a brisk trade in sexy outfits and wild rumors circulated about love potions, some from voodoo healers, some home-made, including rice and beans cooked in water in which a woman had washed her underwear.
That's a passage about Haiti. Haiti, poorest country in the Western hemisphere…is there enough rice in Haiti to waste on a man who might leave? Or can a woman cook dirt cookies in her underwear water, too? Not uplifting questions, sure, but what exactly did the World Bank so fear from these people that they were willing to endorse the literal dragging of Indian women to sterilization clinics and worse, the measures that in China all too often resulted in forced third-trimester abortions? Well, eugenicists feared the introduction of the Pill into the First World would cause "the swamping of the Nordic and Anglo-Saxon races by imbeciles, blacks, Asians, and eastern and southern Europeans," and technically, that happened. By the late sixties, books like the Population Bomb had softened that message, focusing on India where the (not improbable) prophesy was that "squalid, teeming slums and mass starvation" would beget "imminent political collapse." Ahhh, political collapse, our generation knows it well! But then what?
Particularly after the Communist takeover of China in 1949, Washington policymakers began to fear the rise of an increasingly resentful-and rapidly proliferating-global population of poor people who were easily susceptible to radical ideas and militaristic leaders. But in the end such people, if they threatened anyone, were mainly a danger to themselves.
As we know from the poor countries in which we've brought about political collapse lately! Helen Epstein's whole review is worth reading — and the NYRB is worth subscribing to and makes a great gift for dads! — but here's a critical line. As anyone who has ever been in love knows, treating others humanely might come more naturally when you suspect they might have the capacity to hurt you.
The greatest threats to the global climate come from China and the West, where birthrates are extremely low. The future of the planet depends less on the number of babies born in Uganda than on the choices we in the West make, which, at the moment, are not good ones. As recently as 2004, a Japanese study found that when shopping for cars, Americans cared more about the size of the cup holder than fuel efficiency. Our habits may be shifting, but ever so slowly.
The Strange History Of Birth Control? [New York Review Of Books] Earlier: Is It About Time We Made A "Pregnancy Pact" Of Our Own? [Jezebel] Related: New Limits To Growth Revive Malthusian Fears [WSJ] RU-486: Brought To You By John D. Rockefeller [Some weird website I don't think is related to antiabortion zealots]