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<TITLE>E.6 What is the population myth?</TITLE>
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<p>

<H1>E.6 What is the population myth?</h1>
<p>
The idea that population growth is the <B>key</B> cause of ecological problems
is extremely commonplace. Even radical green groups like <B>Earth First!</B>
promoted it. It is, however, a gross distortion of the truth. 
<B>Capitalism</B> is the main cause of both overpopulation <B>and</B> the ecological
crisis. 
<p>
Firstly, we should point out that all the "doomsday" prophets of the
"population bomb" have been proved wrong time and time again. The dire
predictions of Thomas Malthus, the originator of the population myth, have
not come true, yet neo-Malthusians continue to mouth his reactionary
ideas. In fact Malthus invented his <I>"law of population"</I> in 
response to the anarchist William Godwin, as an attempt to "prove" that social
stratification, and so the status quo, was a <I>"law of nature"</I> and that
poverty was the fault of the poor themselves, not the fault of an unjust
and authoritarian socio-economic system (in contrast, and in direct
contradiction to his population "theory," as an economist Malthus was
worried about the danger of <b>over-production</b> within a capitalist economy.
No mention of "excess" population then, which indicates well the ideological
nature of his over-population theory). The utility of the population
myth as a justification for the inhuman miseries inflicted upon the
British people by "its" ruling class of aristocrats and industrialists
was the only reason why it was given the time of day. Similarly today,
its utility to the ruling class ensures that it keeps surfacing every so
often, until forced to disappear again once the actual facts of the
case are raised. That the population myth, like "genetic" justifications
for race-, class- and gender-based oppression, keeps appearing over and
over again, even after extensive evidence has disproved it, indicates its
usefulness to the ideological guardians of the establishment.
<p>
Neo-Malthusianism basically blames the victims of capitalism for their
victimisation, criticising ordinary people for "breeding" or living too
long, thus ignoring (at best) or justifying (usually) <B>privilege</B> -- the 
social root of hunger. To put it simply, the hungry are hungry because
they are excluded from the land or cannot earn enough to survive. In Latin
America, for example, 11% of the population was landless in 1961, by 1975
it was 40%. Approximately 80% of all Third World agricultural land is
owned by 3% of landowners. 
<p>
Increased population is not the cause of landlessness, it is the result of
it. If a traditional culture, its values, and its sense of identity are
destroyed, population growth rates increase dramatically. As in 17th-
and 18th-century Britain, peasants in the Third World are kicked off their
land by the local ruling elite, who then use the land to produce cash
crops for export while their fellow country people starve. Like Ireland
during the Potato Famine, the Third World nations most affected by famine
have also been exporters of food to the advanced nations. Malthusianism
is handy for the wealthy, giving them a "scientific" excuse for the misery
they cause so they can enjoy their blood-money without remorse.
<p>
In a country that is being introduced to the joys of capitalism by state
intervention (the usual means by which traditional cultures and habits are
destroyed to create a <I>"natural system of liberty"</I>), population soon
explodes as a result of the poor social and economic conditions in which
people find themselves. In the inner-city ghettos of the First World,
social and economic conditions similar to those of the Third World
give rise to similarly elevated birth rates. When ghetto populations are
composed mostly of minorities, as in countries like the US, higher birth
rates among the minority poor provides a convenient extra excuse for
racism, "proving" that the affected minorities are <I>"inferior"</I> 
because they <I>"lack self-control,"</I> are <I>"mere animals obsessed 
with procreation,"</I> etc.
(an argument which ignores the fact that slum dwellers in e.g. Britain
during the Industrial Revolution virtually all white but still had high
birth rates). 
<p>
Population growth, far from being the cause of poverty, is in fact a
result of it. There is an inverse relationship between per capita income
and the fertility rate -- as poverty decreases, so do the population
rates. When people are ground into the dirt by poverty, education falls,
women's rights decrease, and contraception is less available. Having
children then becomes virtually the only creative outlet, with people
resting their hopes for a better future in their offspring. Therefore
social conditions have a major impact on population growth. In countries 
with higher economic and cultural levels, population growth soon starts 
to fall off. Today, for example, much of Europe has seen birth rates fall
beyond the national replacement rate. This is the case even in Catholic
countries, which one would imagine would have religious factors
encouraging large families.
<p>
To be clear, we are <B>not</B> saying that overpopulation is not a very serious
problem. Obviously, population growth <B>cannot</B> be ignored or solutions
put off until capitalism is eliminated. We need to immediately provide
better education and access to contraceptives across the planet as well as
raising cultural levels and increasing women's rights in order to combat
overpopulation, which only benefits the elite by keeping the cost of
labour low <b>in addition to</b> fighting for land reform, union organising 
and so on. However, the <I>"population explosion"</I> is not a neutral theory,
and its invention and continual use is due to its utility to vested
interests. We should not be fooled by them into thinking that
overpopulation is the main cause of the ecological crisis, as this is a
strategy for distracting people from the root-cause of both ecological
destruction and population growth: namely, the capitalist economy and
hierarchical social relationships it requires.
<p>
Some Greens argue that it is impossible for <B>everyone</B> to have a high
standard of living, as this would deplete resources. However, their use
of statistics hides a sleight of hand which invalidates their argument. 
Firstly, the argument assumes that society and technology are static and
that the circumstances that produced historic growth and consumption rates
will remain unchanged. This is obviously false, since humanity is not
static. In addition, for all their concern about "average" consumption in
the West, they fail to ask how many tanks and fighter aircraft the
"average" person "consumes" in a year or how many Rolls Royces or 
mansions they have.
<p>
The advocates of the <I>"population myth,"</I> as well as getting the problem
wrong, also (usually) suggest very authoritarian "solutions" -- for
example, urging an increase in state power, with a <I>"Bureau of Population
Control"</I> to "police" society and ensure that the state enters the bedroom
and our most personal relationships. Luckily for humanity and individual
freedom, since they misconceive the problem, such "Big Brother" solutions
are not required.
<p>
It is probably true that a "Western" living standard is not possible for
the population of the world at its present level. A recent study posited that
for the rest of the world to enjoy the standard of living the First World does, 
it would require the resources of <B>two</B> additional Earths! This <I>"standard of
living"</I> is a product of an alienated society in which consumption for the
sake of consumption is the new god. In a grow-or-die economy, production
and consumption must keep increasing to prevent economic collapse. This
need for growth leads to massive advertising campaigns to indoctrinate
people with the capitalist theology that more and more must be consumed to 
find "happiness" (salvation), producing consumerist attitudes that feed into
an already-present tendency to consume in order to compensate for doing 
boring, pointless work in a hierarchical workplace. Unless a transformation 
of values occurs that recognises the importance of <B>living</B> as opposed to
<B>consuming,</B> the ecological crisis <B>will</B> get worse. It's impossible to
imagine such a radical transformation occurring under capitalism, whose
lifeblood is consumption for the sake of consumption.
<p>
It is often claimed that <I>"industrialism"</I> rather than <I>"capitalism"</I> is the
real cause of overpopulation -- as if there could be a capitalism that
does not lead to industrialism or depend on a large industrial base. Of
course it cannot be denied that developments like better health care,
nutrition, and longer life spans contribute to overpopulation and are made
possible by "industry." But to see such developments as primary causes
of population growth is to ignore the central role played by poverty, the
disruption of cultural patterns, and the need for cheap labour due to
capitalism. There are always elevated birth rates associated with
poverty, whether or not medical science improves significantly, e.g.
during the early days of capitalism. <I>"Industrialism"</I> is in fact a term
often used by liberal Greens who don't want to admit that the ecological
crisis cannot be solved without the complete overthrow of capitalism, 
pretending instead that the system can become "green" through various
band-aid reforms. (As shown in <a HREF=secD4.html>D.4</a> and in the <a HREF=secE7.html>next section</a>, this is not
possible.) <I>"Controlling population growth"</I> is always a key item on such
liberals' agendas, taking the place of <I><B>"eliminating capitalism,"</B></I> which 
should be the centrepiece. 
<p>
As Murray Bookchin argues, <I>"If we live in a 'grow-or-die' capitalistic
society in which accumulation is literally a law of economic survival and
competition is the motor of 'progress,' anything we have to say about
population causing the ecological crisis is basically meaningless. Under
such a society the biosphere will eventually be destroyed whether five
billion or fifty million people live on the planet"</I> [<I>"The Population Myth"</I>
in <B>Which Way for the Ecology Movement?</B>, p. 34]. A sane society would
not be driven by growth for the sake of growth and would aim to reduce
production by reducing the average working week to ensure both an
acceptable standard of living <B>plus</B> time to enjoy it. 
<p>
By focusing attention away from the root causes of ecological and
social disruption -- i.e. capitalism and hierarchy -- and onto the victims,
the advocates of the <I>"population myth"</I> do a great favour to the system
that creates mindless growth. Hence the population myth will obviously
find favour with ruling elites, and this -- as opposed to any basis for
the myth in scientific fact -- will ensure its continual re-appearance in
the media and education.

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