Essential Conditions

Proponents of eugenics see the movement as an integral component of an environmentalist policy. They reason that, while we cannot predict the distant future, we can with a fair degree of confidence trace out certain conditions which will always be essential or at the very least desirable:
•  a supply of natural resources,
•  a clean, biodiverse environment,
•  a human population no larger than the planet can comfortably sustain on an indefinite basis,
•  a population which is healthy, altruistic, and intelligent.

The blessings that we are reaping from the industrial revolution are, to a significant degree, unsustainable. We are systematically depleting the planet’s riches. Debates as to how long this or that resource will hold out are essentially trivial in the greater scheme of things, for eventually we will have thoroughly sifted through the earth’s accessible subsoil. The only resources that we can count on over the long run are those which are truly renewable or inexhaustible. As for science- fiction fantasies about relocating to other planets, this “trash-the-world” vandalism is unfeasible for billions of people.

Of course, it can be argued that the inevitability of resource exhaustion makes it a non-topic. What is the difference if this process is completed sooner or later? The eugenicists’ response is a moral one. We embarked upon the industrial revolution only two centuries ago, and we have a huge transition to go through if we do not wish our offspring to return to a hunter-gatherer economy in which there will be precious little left either to hunt or to gather. We need to husband our precious, finite resources to get through this transition in as chary a fashion as possible.

Traditional societies live in harmony with nature. Modern industrial society clearly does not, and we have already overwhelmed much of Nature’s ability to heal itself. An enormous number of species have been wiped out, while still others have been transported by man to different environments where, lacking natural enemies, they have followed the example of man in replicating his devastation. Globalization is already delivering devastating blows to the planet’s biodiversity. As for pollution, while it has gone so far that it becomes too painful to even read about in the papers, much of it can still be reversed.

And there are population problems which may overwhelm the planet in a relatively short period. In traditional societies children, being the only form of social security around, represent for their parents an economic good. More is better. In economically developed societies, on the other hand, children are strictly an economic liability, and the surest way to maximize consumption (for many the ultimate purpose of life) is at the very least to reduce the number of children.

In 2003, the Total Fertility Rate in East Asia was below replacement at 1.7. The national TFR had even dropped to 1.3 in Japan and Taiwan. Europe’s TFR had fallen to 1.4. Canada’s and the United States’ TFR were 1.5 and 2, respectively. In sharp contrast, Latin America’s TFR was 2.7, while Africa’s was 5.2. The global TFR was 2.8, the planet’s population having swollen six-fold over the last 250 years. It is still growing by leaps and bounds, although more slowly than formerly. The largest growth is taking place in the poorest countries. While it is hoped that the entire world will eventually pass through the demographic transition, it is not impossible that before this happens individual countries will undergo horrendous Malthusian collapse. Bangladesh, for example, which has a population of 134 million on a land mass roughly the size of the state of Wisconsin, most of which is an alluvial flood plain frequently ravaged by hurricanes, is projected to increase its population to 255 million by the year 2050. Other countries provide even more rapid growth rates: The Palestinians during the same period are predicted to increase their numbers to form a population 3.3 times its current size, and this on land where water is already in critical shortage. India is projected to add as many people as Europe’s entire population by that time.

Demographic predictions are not made with any claim to precision. There are low, medium, and high projections. And there are questions to which no one has any answers. What is the long-term carrying capacity of the planet? How many lives will be carried off by phenomena that reduce the population not by decreasing fertility but by increasing mortality? Already there are projections of a loss of fifty million deaths from AIDS. Where will it end? What new plagues lurk around the corner? Military conflicts could easily result in the deaths of billions of people. Demographic predictions are really no better than stock market predictions. In any case, eugenicists argue that the wisest approach is to err on the side of caution. A smaller population capable of surviving by the use of current renewable resources will create less stress and make the transition to a new economy more manageable.

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