The Buck Stops Here

I have no children; and given that I’m a happily childless pensioner now, that’s not likely to change. My childlessness was not especially through conscious choice (initially at least), illness, tragedy or anything else. It just worked out like that. Many people – especially women – instantly show some sort of sadness when they learn this fact, as though just discovering I have some horrible disability. But I don’t feel in the least unfortunate. Indeed, I not only consider myself lucky to have accidently achieved this outcome, I feel, with every passing day, a slowly growing sense of victory: I beat the system.

In her most excellent book, “Democracy in Chains”, Nancy MacLean gives part of the explanation for this feeling. In her concluding chapter, “Get Ready”, she writes,

As [economic inequality] has swelled in the United States to a degree not seen in any comparable nation, intergenerational mobility – the ability of young people to move up the economic ladder to achieve a social and financial status better than that of their parents, which was once the source of America’s greatest promise and pride – has plummeted below that of all peer nations, with the possible exception of the United Kingdom.1

When I was a teenager, back in the sixties, my generation felt like we had the world at our feet. Finding work when you left school was as easy as falling off a log. You could start one job, walk out the same day if you wanted to and start a different one the following day, no problem. People didn’t have great riches, but they had enough to meet their essential costs quite easily, with some left over to enjoy themselves. Life was good. Old people would frequently shake their heads at our cocksure arrogance and remark that we didn’t know we were born, and smile wistfully at the amazing opportunities we had at our fingertips.

Today, I don’t know a single old person who feels anything but pity for the young. In just one generation the great and trusted leaders who manage and control every aspect of our lives have combined and contrived to turn a world of real hope and promise for the young into one of fear and insecurity. In just one generation, all of the marvellous new technologies, that were going to make everyone happy and free, have been used to achieve the exact opposite.

At the heart of this is the vile economic model, widely known as capitalism, much beloved by our great and trusted leaders because it makes them obscenely wealthy. And at the heart of capitalism is a ridiculous, stupid, concept — a dogma of permanent growth. The capitalists either believe that infinite growth out of finite resources is somehow achievable, or they simply don’t care that it isn’t achievable. The only thing that matters to these people is quick and maximum profit, no matter the consequences in human and animal lives, and environmental catastrophe. That can all be someone else’s problem.

Our great and trusted leaders actively and viciously peddle and promote this catastrophic dogma with all the wide-eyed zeal and foamy-mouthed fanaticism of religious fundamentalists. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with or oppose the holy faith of capitalism.

If endless growth is the malignant tumour at the heart of capitalism, the worst manifestation of endless growth, by far, is the endless growth of the human population. A casual glance at the human population clock is instructive. This number, increasing at roughly two per second, is not the rate of human births, as some might assume; it’s the rate at which human births are exceeding human deaths.

Compare this with the fact that, according to the World Wildlife Fund, for example, other living species are being wiped out at a rate somewhere between 200 and 10,000 species every year. The stats are vague for the simple reason that the total number of species in the world is not exactly known; but many species have been accurately counted and measured over time, and many are known to be sharply declining, so much so that it’s now widely accepted that we are living through the sixth mass extinction of species, the most calamitous environmental event since dinosaurs disappeared. 90% of big predators have recently disappeared from the seas – thanks to overfishing, plastics and other garbage polluting the seas, and now nuclear poisoning pouring daily into the Pacific from Fukushima. Manmade wars obviously kill tens of thousands of people every year and spread misery and desperation to millions of others, but there’s also the environmental destruction to consider – from the eradication of Vietnam’s rain forests to hundreds of square miles of earth poisoned for billions of years with depleted uranium. Human beings are behaving like a parasitic plague all around the world, and most other living things are suffering to the point of extinction because of the insatiable greed of our great trusted leaders.

Helping to fuel this greed, indeed, providing the most efficient and effective fuel, is human overpopulation. Continual growth of human beings means a continually growing supply of capitalism’s two most important drivers: slave labour and consumers.

Human overpopulation in the poorest countries provides a continual source of desperate people who have no choice but to sell their labour for whatever pittance they can obtain. In India, Pakistan, the Far East and Africa, for example, millions of people suffer the most unimaginable hardships just to find enough to eat, and safe shelter to survive one more night. This is the vast, bottomless pool of exploitable labour from which the most despicable and unscrupulous human beings amass vast fortunes and wallow in obscene splendour.

In the so-called “first world”, human overpopulation takes a different form. Whilst there are always self-righteous howls of indignation at any suggestion of overpopulation, citing stable or even negative birth-rates here, there’s no escaping the fact that the relatively small number of first world humans consume far more of the planet’s resources than all the rest of the planet put together. According to the Worldwatch Institute:

The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.

Other variations of the same point show that if everyone on Earth consumed resources like an average US citizen, for example, 4.1 Earth-sized planets would be needed to supply their needs. And the US isn’t even the worst consumer!

Factors of Overproduction

The belief that we must reproduce ourselves is, of course, a natural instinct, as it is for all living things. But as far as humans are concerned, it’s also the product of conditioning – brainwashing even. Indeed, for us the desire to reproduce is probably more a product of brainwashing than it is natural instinct. After all, it’s now an easy matter to enjoy the pleasures of sex without having to consider the implications of parenthood, so having children today is therefore more a matter of conscious choice than accidental chance. So what factors influence that conscious choice?

Probably the most powerful factor of all is peer pressure, the influence of immediate family and close friends. Many young adults are routinely subjected to the desires of their families and friends for them firstly to form a close bond with a mate, and then to start producing babies. Although there’s not much peer pressure to produce lots of babies, there’s seldom much encouragement not to. And there’s also sometimes a sort of desirable inference that someone who has a lot of children is particularly virile – in the case of men – or fertile in the case of women, an implication which helps to encourage creating large families.

Yet another factor that encourages some young people to produce babies – especially those who live in the lowest income areas and who often struggle to find useful and rewarding work – is the economic incentive to produce children.

When I lived in Africa I remember having a conversation with an African who, when talking about his children, proudly informed me that he had seven daughters and no sons. In parts of Africa having daughters is seen as particularly advantageous, because when they get married husbands’ families must pay the wives’ fathers, usually in cattle, in exchange for their daughters. The chap I was talking with was looking forward to the wealth that seven daughters would generate, without him having to spend anything on sons. No matter that he didn’t have enough land to support all the cattle; what did matter was the number of animals he had, rather than their condition.

But here in the supposedly advanced first world too, children have long been seen by poorer families as income-generators. From the days when factory and mine owners, for example, preferred employing children because they were cheaper to use than adults, to today where mothers with few good employment options will be paid by the state just enough income to encourage them to keep producing babies, children have been used as income providers for parents who would otherwise struggle to survive. I know a young woman who hasn’t done paid work for many years, but has produced a new baby every eighteen months or so for the last fifteen or sixteen years. As long as she keeps producing children, the state will keep paying her.

Yet another factor to take into account is the powerful influence of religion. Roman Catholics are possibly the most well-indoctrinated as far as encouraging large families is concerned. Once again this is especially relevant in some of the poorer parts of the world where the influence of Catholicism is especially significant – Latin America, for example. Contraception has always been officially forbidden in Catholic countries, and abortion is treated as a cardinal sin. But the Catholics are not entirely alone in this attitude, as procreation is strongly encouraged to various levels of fanaticism by all religions; and the anti-abortion movement relies very heavily on religion for providing the ethical justification for their frequently vicious campaigns. No matter that religion, all religion, has absolutely no empirical evidence to support their spiritual claims, and therefore no grounds to claim any rights to ethical guidance in the matter.

And finally we shouldn’t forget to consider big business. Big business is wholly dependent on permanent growth. “Growth” is the very watchword of capitalism, the single most important measuring-stick for the supposed health of an economy. Suggesting that growth is not a good thing, that it’s actually harmful and destroying our planet before our very eyes, is tantamount to heresy. But permanent growth can only be achieved by permanently increasing the number of consumers. Given that big business has never let long-term considerations interfere with its short-term profits, it’s unsurprising that big business does absolutely nothing to correct the obvious flaw in its central argument — that infinite growth from finite resources is obviously impossible. So human beings are strongly encouraged by all our great trusted leaders to continually multiply their numbers, so that big business may continue to grow and grow, and grow.

Ending Exceptionalism

There is a widely held belief amongst most human beings — once again the product of brainwashing — that humans are the most important species on Earth, that we’re somehow exceptional. Furthermore, that humans living in the most powerful country on the planet are even more exceptional than other humans. One of the most obvious manifestations of this view is the so-called “pro-life” movement, usually meaning pro human life in general, and pro exceptional human life in particular. (But wiping out tens of thousands of non-exceptional human lives every year through illegal wars in far-flung corners of the world doesn’t usually trouble the pro-lifers overmuch.) Women who choose to have abortions should not be seen as shameful criminals, as the pro-lifers desire, but as people who, at the very least, have every right to do what they want with their own bodies, and who should even be acclaimed for limiting the growth of the human population. One glance at the human population clock is startling proof that the voluntary removal of a human foetus is no great loss to the planet.

Human beings are not exceptional. If anything at all they should be using the unique abilities they admittedly have to help nurture and care for our fragile life-sustaining planet, instead of recklessly destroying it.

Many people say there’s no such thing as human overpopulation, and get very angry at any suggestion that humans should limit the size of their families. Although it’s very easy to show the direct correlation between human overpopulation and the destruction of our planet, as I’ve indicated above, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise, that humans are somehow beneficial to the planet. Earth managed pretty well for billions of years without human beings at all — naturally occurring catastrophes excepted — so what is the case for suggesting that humans are in any way more advantageous or beneficial than any other species? So far there is no case. What case there is, and it’s a very convincing case, argues the exact opposite.

Stopping the clock

Therefore the condition of childlessness in which I have accidently found myself is definitely not something I regret, or which troubles me one jot. It’s something that quite cheers me up whenever some new piece of stupidity, hypocrisy, wanton destruction or abominable cruelty by my fellow humans is revealed in what passes for mainstream “news”: I know that no progeny of mine will ever have to suffer the worsening condition of our planet; and I know that I have done the very best thing that can be done to save it — I’ve not produced any more human beings.

The vast majority of us, the 99 percenters, are no more than tools of the 1%, the essential providers of their obscene wealth; and we are the single most important cause of the rapidly increasing destruction of our planet, the drivers of its sixth mass extinction. Whilst our numbers keep on growing that situation will never improve. Yet at our fingertips or, to be more accurate, at deeper parts of our anatomy, we have the solution. We don’t need MPs or congressmen, generals, popes, presidents or any other kind of leader. We each have the power to stop the craziness, to reverse our planet’s desperate struggle for survival. All we need to do is stop having children or, at the very least, to ensure we have no more than two.

The Chinese knew this decades ago, and produced their one-child policy. It was poorly managed and condemned all around the world. But they were basically right. Growth, in terms of more material production, the cornerstone of capitalism, must end.

The global situation is now so desperately serious that China’s one-child policy should be universally encouraged. The human overpopulation clock must be brought to a stop, and then reversed. The numbers of human beings must be brought down, steadily reducing them until such time as species extinction because of human overpopulation ends, and we no longer need four Earth-sized planets to sustain us. At that time, and only at that time, could humans safely raise the one-child policy to a two-child policy – something which would keep the numbers of human beings in harmony with the rest of life on Earth.

This does not need the intervention of governments. There must be no laws demanding birth control. It simply needs education. We have direct control of our own bodies. The buck truly stops with each and every one of us. We each have the power to control the future of our planet, simply by controlling the number of children we have.

  1. Democracy in Chains, Nancy MacLean, p. 226. []
John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non Fiction books by John are: The School of Kindness; The People’s Constitution; and his fiction novel: The Road to Emily Bay. Read other articles by John.