The Seed, the Root, and the Poisonous Fruit of the Overpopulation Myth
by Nancy E. Head
I walked through the local mall one day in 1979. I was large enough with my third child for her presence to be obvious. I wore my favorite maternity shirt, red and stating in bold letters: "Yes sir, that's my baby!" with an arrow pointing down toward the child in utero.
I pushed a grocery cart carrying three other children, my two already born and my nephew, a few months older and larger than my son but with hair the color of my daughter's. She was the tallest of the three.
It was conceivable for observers to assume the three children in the cart were all mine born in quick succession. The eyes of many observers told me they assumed exactly that.
And such an assumption was not a positive one.
I could almost hear them thinking: "She has too many children."
Nineteen seventy-nine, you may recall, came eleven years after Paul (and Ann) Ehrlich published The Population Bomb assuring us that we would soon be starving because the earth would not be capable of feeding so many. Most ominously, according to the Ehrlichs, it was already too late.
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s and 1980’s (sic) hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
By 1979 people had so embraced apocalyptic premonitions that they perceived me as immoral for seeming to have produced four children in short order.
Thomas Robert Malthus planted the seed of the fear of overpopulation in 1798. He calculated that the population would grow more quickly than food supplies. The world didn't check his math, and didn't seem to notice the failure of his prediction that "there would be standing room only on this earth by the Year of Our Lord, 1890." Perhaps more than any other philosophy, Malthus's assertions that too many babies cause disaster became assumed "truth".
Preventing overpopulation and certain starvation became a moral imperative.
It proved to be a convenient imperative for governments wanting to blame births rather than natural disasters or government decisions for food shortages.
China was one country whose government bought into the Ehrlichs' theories, completely, officially, and expediently. In the aftermath of a deadly famine, the government looked to shift the blame from unwise policies that caused the deaths of as many as 45 million.
The One-Child Policy China adopted in 1980 required couples to get permission to give birth. With rare exception, the government would grant permission only once.
That's when the law of unintended consequences kicked in.
Because of the cultural preference for sons, sex-selection abortion became pervasive, and a population imbalance ensued.
“The gender gap only started to soar in 1982, when . . . [China] started to strictly implement the birth control policy that allowed families to have only one child. The preference for boys over girls – boys could perform hard labour and were favoured in inheritance of land in rural areas – encouraged selective abortions that pushed the ratio of boys from 108.47 in 1982 to above 115 since 1994. It peaked nationally in 2004 with 121.2 boys born to every 100 girls, and some provinces even recorded ratios of 130. Demographers estimate that between 20 to 34 million more boys than girls were born in the past three decades.”
The population imbalance in China ignited the exploitation of North Korean women by the tens of thousands. "Women", by the way, includes girls as young as 12 who have endured forced marriages or a form of conscription into the prostitution or porn industries.
It would take less than 40 years for China to realize its population policy mistake. By 2015, people would be not only allowed but encouraged to have two children, and now, three.
Today, countries like Finland, Estonia, Italy, Japan, and Australia are paying couples to have children. China is considering following suit. But despite the incentives, people are choosing to have fewer children.
Throughout history, children were a blessing although, aside from Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures, parents often rejected baby girls and the handicapped.
In mostly rural America until the late nineteenth century, children were helpers who would eventually inherit the land and work it with their own children.
During industrialization, much of America's population transitioned from the countryside to the city.
Instead of families inhabiting tracts of land where having many children was beneficial, they occupied overcrowded tenements.
Abortion shifted from a rare device of desperate single women who'd been abandoned to a common tool of married women.
Society also responded with laws prohibiting abortion. That effort happened becausefeminists and physicians lobbied for laws to protect women and children from the exploitation of abortion. By 1900, every state in the US had outlawed abortion.
A century earlier, Malthus proposed a different solution:
"Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate [i.e., reject] specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and restrain those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. 2"
Malthus saw people as an affliction on the world the way Hitler described some as "useless eaters."
A root of the fear of overpopulation assumes people don't produce; they only consume.
"You don’t need to be an economist to see it is a myth that man is a net consumer of material wealth. History proves the opposite. The world is brimming with physical and intellectual improvements made by successive generations of human inhabitants. Its so-called carrying capacity has been determined not by the width of its continents, but by the wit of man."
We need young people to come up with ideas of how to produce more food more efficiently, how to develop medicines, and how to solve environmental challenges. We need what has happened since the 1970s regarding the development of food production, medicines, and environmental solutions to continue into the next generations.
The poisonous fruit of the fear of overpopulation is the abortion movement, a monster with a voracious and never-satisfied appetite for death.
In the US many states have few or no regulations on the procedure, allowing it until birth.
Legislators were planning to consider a bill in the Maryland House of Representatives that would completely dehumanize the unborn child leaving abortion survivors without protection from death by neglect and/or experimentation.
Under the original, vaguely written bill, not only abortion survivors, but also "peri-natal" children would have no protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines the peri-natal period as lasting through "the 28th day after birth" (emphasis mine).
In the wake of push-back for his proposal to legalize infanticide, the bill's sponsor canceled a committee hearing so he could rewrite the proposal removing references to peri-natal children.
It's reasonable to assume that all unborn children and abortion survivors will still be subject to a death sentence under whatever is next proposed.
Most of us don't live on farms today. Most people limit the size of their families. Dangers reside in believing that having a certain number of children is good, and exceeding that number is bad. And that any means to prevent those children from competing for our resources is acceptable.
Fear of overpopulation causes us to excuse the inexcusable as people reject the inconvenient child, the surprise, the one less than perfect.
When modernity made it possible to control our family size, we took that control, and we didn't look back.
It's time to look back to where we came from. To look up to the God who creates and controls. To ask forgiveness for our blatant disregard for human life. To show love in restoring a culture of life around us.
About the Author
Author Nancy E. Head was a single mother with five children under the age of 14 when many in the Church came to her aid. Her story illustrates common problems in our society such as the fracturing of families and communities, reflecting a splintering Church.
Alienated families and a riven Church cannot minister as effectively to their own members or others until they find accord. Nancy is the author of Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ's Love Through the Church in One Accord. She leads a small group ministering to the needy in her community.
You can read Nancy’s HEADlines column on the 4th Saturday each month here at Mustard Seed Sentinel.