An Argument Against Population Control

An Argument Against Population Control

A recent article from Robert Zubrin argues that population controls to be dangerously anti-humanistic.

As of Halloween (October 31st) of last year, the world passed the 7 billion mark in terms of population. Much of that population growth took place in asia, in China, India, and the South Pacific. However, the demands of increasing populations are being felt everywhere, and that is placing a strain on economies, governments, and our global environment. The question then becomes, do nations implement population control interventions to help to mitigate these strains, and if so, what will those programs look like?

China, which is one of the most widely recognized countries to have adopted population control measures, is a regulatory and hierarchical culture by nature. It’s population controls, which may be viewed as Draconian by some, have nonetheless allowed it to monitor and direct population growth, and to implement interventions where needed. For instance, with so many people there is an enormous demand for organ transplants, yet only about a hundredth of the viable organs needed for those transplants each year. As a stop-gap they have harvested healthy organs from executed prisoners; a practice they plan to stop within the next several years. Likewise, there are a number of government-subsidized incentives and disincentives for people to have boys rather than girls, and adoption of Chinese girls out-of-country is significantly easier than adoption of boys for that very reason.

As population grows, so to do demands for energy, products and services, and a greater strain upon land and development for everything from real estate and roads to natural resources like water and metals. Even in the U.S., where population growth is significantly more flat than in countries like China, economic competition and export pressures require greater output, greater efficiency, and stronger growth. More Chinese consumers want American goods, are graduating higher numbers of skilled professionals, and are fueling a much larger workforce. Due to these secondary and tertiary population growth challenges, international organizations like the UN are even looking at possible population control interventions that may be applied, or suggested to, constituent nations. Countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Mexio, and Peru have already implemented their own.

Despite the perceived necessity for population control measures such as those taken by China, there are a number of people that take a moralistic and ethical stand against such programs.

Robert Zubrin, published here in The New Atlantis, calls population control a “Holocaust” and an “antihumanist” ideology. He states his argument this way:

If the idea is accepted that the world’s resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation.

In other words, everything on the planet becomes transactional, with every person or collection of people vying for the greatest resource-security. Society must be regulated to operate efficiently, and people’s worth will be considered by their relative impact within that economy. This presents a very bleak and, as Zubrin phrases it, “antihumanistic” perspective for humanity’s future. Population controls, which are an outgrowth of this transactional, competitive approach to human worth, also have some very fundamental drawbacks which can be observed in every population control program ever implemented. They are inherently coercive and dishonest, attempting to promote something that run counter to basic human intuition as a positive and even profitable endeavor. Population controls are also often used in a way that is discriminatory and damaging to basic human dignity; usually targeting ethnic minorities or the impoverished and creating a moral imperative that disenfranchises those groups.

How then do growing modern societies reconcile the strains of an expanding global population with the basic humanistic tenets of life, liberty, and dignity? Zubrin’s argument seems to point to the very humanistic qualities of innovation, cooperation, and self-sacrifice. In every ecosystem there are cycles of feast and famine, what Thomas Malthus would characterize as “human reproduction outpacing available resources”. However, humanity has been removing itself from natural systems law for millennia, and our future does not have to be mutually exclusive with the sustainability of our planet’s resources.  It’s those very qualities within our human psychology; our ability to use innovation to solve problems, and to cooperate and make sacrifices toward a common cause, that will also secure our future. The challenge will be in forsaking all of our disparate ideologies in favor of one broadly accepted one; that all people have a right to life, liberty, and dignity. As Zubrin writes, “we must reject antihumanism and embrace instead an ethic based on faith in the human capacity for creativity and invention.”