To the Editor:
At one time, and actually not too long ago, demography was a reasonable and responsible discipline, protected from outsiders by the slight but seemingly forbidding technical mastery one had to pay to enter. Now it has been invaded by a tribe for whom Burckhardt might have coined the term “the terrible simplifiers.” How low it has sunk is indicated by the fact that Samuel McCracken [“The Population Controllers,” May], whose competence is in literature and the humanities, writes with better sense than one can find in most of the best-sellers he discusses. What I offer is less criticism of his article than emendations to his argument.
Probably by intent, Mr. McCracken has concentrated his attack on a noisy but slight group. By skimming the scum from a very mixed pot, he has neglected the solid nutrients still to be found there. He cites the collection of claptrap edited by Daniel Callahan, for example, but does not mention the excellent pieces by Ansley Coale, Judith Blake, and Frank Notestein that somehow found their way into that miscellany. The public has too often taken the Mark Rudds as representative of students, the Black Panthers as representative of blacks; it would be unfortunate if Ehrlich and the Paddocks were interpreted as more than they are.
Having begun with extremist programs, Mr. McCracken has fallen into the trap of replying in kind. His anecdote about John and Mary Unenlightened, though intended as irony, I found indeed to be unenlightening. One cannot wish away the dilemma posed by a family-population policy with the specter either of imminent world starvation or of a totalitarian society imposed to avoid that disaster. More is required than dramatic flourishes.
Parents have the right, correctly in my opinion, to decide on the number of their children. But the sum of those decisions constitutes the major element in population growth, which is a significant component of national welfare. Society, then, has the right to set conditions that affect parents’ decisions on whether or not to have another child. One tries to solve the problem of delineating those conditions in terms of three unknowns (and the word is to be taken literally): the optimum size and rate of growth of the population, according to any criteria one sets; the future trend of the population independent of any intervention by the state; and the overall effect on fertility of any policy that is adopted. Given the wide range and full depth of our ignorance, it becomes a democrat to move with delicate care into that sanctum of personal freedom, the family, and the relation between man and wife, parents and children.
In a country like the United States, where the situation—to put it no stronger—is not desperate and where the trend seems to be in the desired direction, the appropriate stance would seem to be abstention. Neither prohibit abortions and voluntary sterilizations nor set up state contraceptive and abortion clinics. Neither give husbands a draft exemption nor subsidize the marriage of students with publicly-financed, especially expensive, married-students’ dormitories. Neither inhibit married women from working outside the home nor help them to evade deciding between two career lines by furnishing them with child-care centers to be paid out of tax funds. In sum, neither restrict the freedom of potential parents’ choice nor reduce the personal responsibility which that choice properly entails. Such an abstention from policy would hardly face up to the problem that a country like India faces. And whether in the longer run it would suffice in the United States no one knows, least of all the authors whom Mr. McCracken discusses.
According to two of the contributors to the symposium edited by Dr. Callahan, “most of our tensions and our failures [in the United States] are directly due to an unrestrained, spiraling population growth”; and the United States is the world’s “most seriously overpopulated nation . . . by a substantial margin.” In taking asseverations like these seriously, Mr. McCracken cannot help but move toward this level of polemics. One should ask rather why it should be that in an affluent and thinly settled country, during a sharp and unanticipated decline in fertility, such palpable nonsense should have gained some currency. The important point about the 1960′s was the movement not of the birth rate but of academic politics. In every learned society, on every major campus, a minority of yahoos was given a rostrum from which to attack any and every characteristic of American society. What better, more comprehensive denunciation could they find than to equate industrial growth with pollution, the family with degradation, the workings of the whole system with spoliation? No pollution has been more harmful than that of rational discourse, and the eco-freaks, among others, should be called to account.
Robert Lazarus Professor of Social Demography
Ohio State University
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken says many things that badly needed saying. . . There has been much that was frightening about the more zealous proponents of population control and the doctrinaire “remedies” they prescribed for ills which, at the very least, were poorly defined. It seems particularly ironic that the kinds of totalitarian measures Mr. McCracken discusses were being promoted as matters of the direst urgency at precisely the same time that, entirely through voluntary means, the nation’s fertility level was being reduced to a point where the number of children born to each family was barely sufficient to replace the parents. Thanks to articles like Mr. McCracken’s, perhaps we may not have to undergo the drastic “cures” of the population controllers—one of whose more extreme representatives told me that the ideal size of the world population would be 100,000 persons and suggested that “any means necessary” should be taken to achieve this end within our lifetime.
Why the public was not made aware of the downward fertility trend much earlier is a question which troubles me—particularly since fertility has been declining quite consistently, with only minor fluctuations, from 1958 to the present. It may be that even some influential demographers had been indoctrinated (or intimidated?) by the population-control movement to the point where they believed that it was dangerous for the public to know the truth. The Baby Bust, the report of the Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies, which Mr. McCracken cites, elicited an emotional response from population scientists that is hard to explain on other grounds. They reacted as if we had attacked them. And it is difficult, particularly in view of the latest available statistics, to understand why some of them refuse even now to acknowledge the possibility that the national fertility pattern may have undergone a long-term change comparable to that which had previously occurred in a number of other “developed” nations.
While nobody knows what the future course of the fertility curve will be, the fact that it has reached its present low level through voluntary means is hopeful in itself—and the fact that there remain authors like Mr. McCracken and journals like COMMENTARY may present the best hope of all that man will somehow survive all those of his race who keep trying to do him good whether it kills him or not.
Vice President, Program Development
Washington Center for Metropolitan Studies
To the Editor:
Since Samuel McCracken raises the specter of Nazism against the “Population Controllers,” as he calls us, I don’t think I have to apologize for pointing out that he himself uses the Big Lie technique, one of Hitler’s favorite devices, to smear us by quoting from obscure extremists. To read his article, and Norman Podhoretz’s “Beyond ZPG” in the same issue, one would think that Martha K. Willing and some others of similar “ethos,” to use their word, were leading lights in the movement. As president of NON (the National Organization for Non-Parents), I either know personally, or know of, the leaders of the various organizations who are concerned about overpopulation, and I have never heard of most of those Messrs. McCracken and Podhoretz cite as typical of the movement.
The one recognized leader Mr. McCracken does quote from, Paul Ehrlich, has already answered all his arguments in his book, The Population Bomb. But though Mr. McCracken quotes from this book, and takes pot shots at it, it is obvious that he has not read it. . . . For example, he admits that perhaps there might be a population problem in Bangladesh, but hardly one in the United States. But Ehrlich points out that not only are people starving in the United States, but that our industrial society pollutes and consumes forty times more, per capita, than does Bangladesh or India. (And we’re also far ahead of the more densely settled northern European countries Mr. McCracken mentions.). . . .
I just want to emphasize that neither NON nor ZPG (Zero Population Growth, Inc.) nor any other leading group or authority concerned with population advocates anything but voluntary birth control. NON believes that parents should have children because they want them, and not because they are coerced into it by society. (The divorce explosion and the child-abuse explosion are both traceable directly to heedless propagation.) We are not against children, but we believe that the world might be a better place for the children who are born if more couples choose to remain child-free.
Mr. McCracken also repeats the popular misconception that our fertility rate is slowly reaching the 2.1 level, and that this means zero population growth. What he overlooks, and Ehrlich points this out in his book, is that even this “replacement” level of births would mean that the U.S. population would continue to grow for the next thirty to fifty years, from our present 209 million to 310 million people. The United States cannot accommodate another 100 million people. Our air, water, and other life-support systems will not stand the pressure. And neither will the human nervous system. Overcrowding might easily lead to horrors we have not even begun to imagine—have you heard what happens to laboratory animals or to people crowded into the slums of large cities? The Nazi-like nightmares Mr. McCracken alludes to are just as nightmarish to us. It is the worst sort of irresponsibility to attribute the problem to the very people who are trying, through voluntary means, to solve the problem.
William A. Peck
President, National Organization for Non-Parents
Palo Alto, California
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken abhors the idea of a few people setting themselves up as an elite who have the right to tell the rest of us what to do—at least he abhors the idea when these people are (in his mind) Paul Ehrlich and his “colleagues,” who are, after all, “uncritical amateurs.” Mr. McCracken would rather leave the problem to the “experts.” But who are the experts? What if the “experts” decide, when they do get around to deciding (which may be a long, long time), that the population problem is a “state of emergency”? What if they decide that the only solution is complete government control? “Experts” have decided in favor of totalitarian governmental control before, as Mr. McCracken knows. . . .
On the matter of abortion, too, Mr. McCracken seems confused about the role and opinions of population activists. He himself has reached the “agonized” conclusion that abortion should be a private and legal act, since all other alternatives “contribute to the traffic in illegal abortion and have the effect not so much of preventing abortions as of making them unsafe or expensive or both.” A more fair summary of the views of most people I know—including both ZPG members and others—could not be made. And for most it was just as “agonized” a decision as it was for Mr. McCracken. . . .
Mr. McCracken thinks it too bad that a “citizen should be forced to pay for that which outrages him morally,” and there should be such controversial taxation only for “the most compelling of general-welfare” considerations. Agreed! It happens that the war in Southeast Asia—all war—outrages me morally. But I pay for it. More to the present point, it outrages me morally to pay for someone else’s eight kids, which I do even if the parents are financially solvent, because I pay taxes for schools, for police protection for them, and for other public services which they use. It outrages me morally to pay for people to have children whom they will mistreat, but who will nevertheless continue to have children, because it is their “right”—and also because it is a social imperative. It outrages me morally to realize that even if I, like Mr. McCracken, bear only two children, they will grow up in a world with only half the wide-open spaces and half the privacy that my world has. It outrages me morally to know that if I got pregnant, I could have the baby for free, stay home, and raise it for free (free for me, but obviously not for you), as many acquaintances of mine have done and are doing. But, if I choose not to be a mother, I must, in most parts of this country, pay for my own contraceptives—or for my own abortion. . . .
The definition of the boundary between individual freedom and infringement on the rights of others is continually changing; it is not absolute. And as I have suggested in this letter, family size and population size are not purely matters of individual freedom—the rights of others are involved in each personal decision.
To the Editor:
. . . Samuel McCracken is led to formulate the issue of population control as a “simple choice” between a voluntary program of population control and a compulsory program in which even execution is permissible. He doesn’t entertain the possibility of an in-between position. Why does Mr. McCracken think that compulsory methods short of execution must fail? He never addresses himself to this question, but is content to point out that some population controllers are not capable of making a distinction between abortion and infanticide nor between contraception and sterilization. . . . Mr. McCracken never makes clear why he objects to each and every step government might take to control population: whether it is because of intrinsic defects or because he holds to a “snowball” theory according to which we are so unintelligent that once we get started on population control we will never know where to let off. . . .
In the first section of his article, Mr. McCracken denies that there is an overpopulation problem. He pokes fun at James Simon Kunen’s claim that “the very air in the United States stinks, our rivers are fouled with poison, we are buried in garbage. . . .” He calls this reaction “hysterical.” As proof that it is hysterical, Mr. McCracken mentions the names of a few places where the air is quite clean. Is this an argument? Is it a matter of showing that for every place one person can cite as polluted someone else can cite another as clean? Kunen’s passage is a literary device intended to call attention to a growing problem. The falsity of his claim is not the falsity of deceit but of exaggeration, and to cite it as hysterical is to react hysterically to it.
Mr. McCracken completely ignores the fact that overpopulation is not a matter of absolute numbers. It is a matter of the population’s being disproportionate to its resources. What may be overpopulation at one moment of time may not be at another. Nor is overpopulation the same thing as crowding. Mr. McCracken says that people have made the mistake of equating the two, but it is he who makes the mistake since, to prove that the United States is not overpopulated, he mentions that one can go for long bicycle rides in Portland and get that “19th-century feeling.” But with the exception of Vatican City, and possibly a few other countries, one can do the same anywhere. Does that show that almost no country is overpopulated? . . .
Most of those who insist on the importance of ZPG realize that it is not a panacea for the problems of overpopulation. But until such time as we learn to preserve our natural resources and/or make related technological breakthroughs enabling us to make do with less of those resources, ZPG is a necessary holding action. For what could be a breakthrough in a world with three billion persons might only be a finger-in-the-dam expediency in a world with ten billion persons. Mr. McCracken is right in saying that we are not going to emigrate to other stars. Hence the technology of the United States does not make it immune to the problems faced by India. It is one world, and the people in it may drift to a common doom if they fail to see they have a problem in common.
To the Editor:
. . . Since I am a member of Zero Population Growth, Inc., am active in the local chapter, and have done a good deal of reading on population problems, I can speak with some assurance on the subject of population control. ZPG as an organization stresses voluntary limitation of births, and we believe that education, not regulation, is the way to convince people that limiting their families to two natural-born children is the most responsible thing they can do to insure a decent future for their children. If we do not achieve ZPG voluntarily, it is certain that at some future time, probably not too distant, the government will have to enforce population control with laws to prevent the collapse of civilization through overpopulation. It is this gruesome prospect that we are working to prevent.
The finite earth cannot support infinite people. The sooner people realize this, the less regulation will be necessary.
North Aurora, Illinois
To the Editor:
. . . Zero Population Growth, Inc. doesn’t aim to control, it aims to educate people about population and sex and birth control, to enable people to control their fertility, and to make childbearing one choice for women. We want to achieve population stabilization, but only by voluntary means. . . .
I’m glad that Mr. McCracken thinks population must be stabilized and that he has two children; that he supports freely available contraceptives and population and sex education; and that he believes abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor. So far he is with us. The divergence lies in his fear of a few radical members of ZPG . . . but they do not run or guide the organization, although they are accepted because we are not a totalitarian group. . . .
Ann Arbor Chapter ZPG, Inc.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
To the Editor:
How naive can a couple of smart guys like Samuel McCracken and Norman Podhoretz be? In attacking the advocates of population control, they act as though we have a choice between coercion (which they abhor) and no coercion (which they much prefer, bless their sensitive souls). Don’t they realize that there is no such choice? That the only choice we have is between a little voluntary and intelligent coercion now and the involuntary and brutal coercions that will inevitably be imposed on us all if we do not bring the human population under control immediately?
The child in us always resents any regulation of his behavior. The reasonable and responsible man knows that we must have restrictions on our behavior to protect our limited freedoms from the tyranny of anarchy. Individual freedom can only exist in a society of laws, and laws are necessarily restrictive and coercive.
The advocates of population control are trying to preserve our personal freedom, even though this means imposing new restrictions on our personal freedom. It is paradoxical, of course, but ’twas ever thus. . . .
C. H. Luther
To the Editor:
. . . While Samuel McCracken admits that “poor countries—like Bangladesh—areas which cannot feed their populations are by definition overpopulated,” he dismisses as “extravagant hysteria” the suggestion that the United States, too, is overpopulated. . . . The old comparison is trotted out again, between the high density of the Netherlands and the acceptable, even agreeable, density of Manhattan. . . . But let us not forget that the Netherlands government has for at least two decades encouraged Netherlanders to emigrate. And let us not forget, too, that the people of the Netherlands live, survive, and work by virtue of their almost total dependence on imports of foodstuffs and raw resources from foreign soils, mines, farmlands. In this respect, the Netherlands is not different from Japan and from the megalopolis of New York City.
It is of bittersweet interest to note that Mr. McCracken’s own sparsely populated and environmentally clean state of Oregon enjoys these qualities by courtesy of the following slogan which greets visitors and would-be immigrants: “Oregon for Oregonians! You’re welcome to visit us, but don’t move here.” . . . A random collection of New York Times articles demonstrates that more and more areas (Florida, San Francisco, Long Island, New York, some Colorado towns, and now the state of Massachusetts) are presently scrutinizing the effects of their population growth and seeking to set limits on further population increases. . . .
As many readers know, however, overpopulation is not just a matter of crowding, density, and lack of adequate food resources within national boundaries. Many concerned scientists feel the U.S. is overpopulated, because it . . . makes extraordinary demands upon the biosphere’s basic, nonrenewable resources. Thus, to satisfy American appetites, high standards of living, and industrial needs, U.S. dollars can in fact afford to buy from South American countries fish to be processed into fertilizers to fatten our cattle and poultry, soja-cakes from India, as well as minerals and metals from so-called “underdeveloped” (read hungry) nations who cannot afford to keep their products for their own growing populations. The time may come, however, when such poor countries, with justifiably rising expectations, may have to interrupt their exports of basic materials to the great consumers who presently depend on them. Thus, a consideration of our huge impact upon the resources of other nations may leave open to question the . . . comfortably self-righteous feeling that the United States does not have a population problem. . . .
To the Editor:
Many of the measures proposed by some population enthusiasts and described by Samuel McCracken are certainly coercive and unacceptable in a society which values freedom. But Mr. McCracken fails to suggest alternative measures beyond voluntary family planning.
The women’s-liberation movement is attempting to change attitudes toward childbearing which may solve much of the problem without coercive measures. The traditional sex roles in society—men determined to “prove their virility” by fathering many children, and the idea that motherhood is the only “true fulfillment” and career for women—are being challenged. . . .
There are many visible obstacles in the paths of women aspiring to careers. Discrimination in admission to graduate and professional schools and in the awarding of fellowships, discrimination in hiring and promotion, salary differentials, lack of maternity leave, discriminatory social-security and tax laws are all well-documented and must be changed to make equal-employment opportunity a reality. When these have been changed, career-oriented women will no longer be discouraged. However, there are also many invisible barriers. . . .
When the psychological barriers, as well as the educational and vocational ones, are removed from female achievement, when “woman’s place” is no longer considered at home, and when women are encouraged to seek careers equally with men, children will cease to be their only mode of fulfillment, and their desired family size will be reduced. It has already been demonstrated that women whose self-image is more active and independent and less stereotypically “feminine” tend to have smaller families than women who have incorporated the stereotype more completely into their self-image. . . .
When given a truly free choice, many women will choose to have smaller families. Such a solution involves an increase in individual freedoms rather than an infringement on them.
Judith S. Weis
Newark, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I am glad to see someone take a swipe at Paul Ehrlich and his fellow neo-Malthusians, but I think the criticism can be carried much further. Ehrlich and other ecologists who attribute all or most of the problems of the world to overpopulation are not merely elitist but wrong—in the sense that their claims, despite superficial plausibility, can bear little scholarly scrutiny. Their simplistic theories in fact obscure real understanding of complicated economic and political problems, and hinder intelligent solutions.
Let me put forward the following propositions for which the economic literature on “underdeveloped” countries offers ample documentation.
The misery and overcrowding widely visible in the “underdeveloped” countries (and to a lesser extent in the slums of the “developed” countries) result not from too many people for too few resources but from extreme inequalities of wealth and opportunity, maintained by unjust political systems.
Even countries like India and China, with very large populations, have vast unexploited resources, while the resources of the Americas have barely been touched. Obviously resources have limits, but no convincing evidence shows those limits have been approached. . . . On the contrary, the same unjust political systems which create the illusion of overpopulation by condemning a large part of the people to severe privation simultaneously hamper or prevent economic development. In particular, the agricultural systems typical of underdeveloped countries permit a relatively small number of landlords and moneylenders to impose exorbitant rents and interest charges on the peasant majority who own little or no land. The law supports the system, often—as in Latin America, Pakistan, or Southeast Asia—by force of arms. . . .
Many “underdeveloped” countries do have a genuine population problem in the sense of too rapid population growth—although some demographers consider the harm exaggerated. Increased health and freedom for the parents also make birth control desirable, and of course the world must reach ZPG eventually.
But population problems, to the extent they exist, cannot be solved without prior political reform. The rulers of underdeveloped countries frequently regard themselves as benefiting from “excess” population which insures them a cheap, half-starved labor supply; at least they will not often give population control high priority. But if they do, population control inevitably assumes the unsavory aspect of an effort to keep discontent within bounds by suppressing undesirables at the bottom of the income scale. Hence the fury which talk of population control inspires in Third-World radicals.
People spontaneously limit their children as soon as they reach a certain moderate standard of living. On the other hand, as the population alarmists recognize, only brutal coercion can reduce birth rates among desperately poor people. Whether reductions due to increased prosperity will produce ZPG is unknown but not improbable. For example, the U.S. birth rate recently dipped near the ZPG rate despite the fact that access to means of birth control remains limited and low-income persons continue to have large numbers of children. Voluntary birth control due to improved living standards at least deserves a chance. In any case, the Chinese did not adopt their stringent birth-control measures until after the revolution had equalized opportunity and given the population a spartan but tolerable living standard—and then not on the theory that China is overpopulated but that rapid population increase obstructed orderly economic development and the provision of education and health care.
Population hysteria has a long history in this country, from the Social Darwinists of the last century to naturalist William Vogt with his sensational Road to Survival in 1948, a work which Ehrlich’s Population Bomb essentially rehashes. But the realities of today’s world make the population gospel . . . particularly unfortunate. As long as we point an accusing finger at overpopulation (the fault, after all, of those poor wretches who don’t know any better), we avoid facing some rather nasty questions about the kind of regimes we support in Brazil, Pakistan, or South Vietnam—or the nature of our interest in these benighted countries. Can it be a coincidence that the most prominent and long-standing advocates of world population control have been people like John D. Rockefeller III whose foreign investments have given them a strong stake in the political stability of underdeveloped countries? Surely they, like Ehrlich and friends, have the best of intentions; but equally surely they see the problems of these countries through the eyes of their friends and business contacts among the local ruling elites.
To abandon the population red herring means to recognize that Mao and Castro, whatever their democratic failings, had good reason to throw out the corrupt and exploitive regimes of Chiang and Batista. It means to recognize that the North Vietnamese and Vietcong offer the peasantry more than just the exchange of one remote oppressive landlord for another. Finally, it means to recognize the more than superficial similarity of our stifling ghettos to the reeking favelas of Brazil and the human sewers of Calcutta.
California Action Incorporated
San Francisco, California
To the Editor:
I am so glad that Samuel McCracken has routed the population sloganeers, albeit he was unable to resist creating one himself.
ZPG slogans like “Smaller Families or Bigger Headaches?” and “Make Love Not Babies” are grizzly enough, but the one that concerns me most is “Stop at Two.” What if our parents had “stopped at two”? A little research only confirms my suspicions. We would still have had Richard and Pat Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Spiro Agnew. We’d have had Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller, John and Martha Mitchell, William Rogers, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and Strom Thurmond, just to scrape the surface. . . . Has anyone ever noticed how political life crawls with only or elder children? Much as I hate slogans, this almost seems to warrant a new one: “Start at Three.”
Maybe this is why Shirley Temple, a number three, never made it to Congress. On the other hand, Bernadette Devlin, also a third child, did make it to the House of Commons. But women need not worry. Betty Friedan and Kate Millett would still be around. So, indeed, would Hugh Hefner. Phyllis Diller would still be with us, though not Twiggy; Billy Graham, though we would never have known Pope John XXIII; George Plimpton, though not Joe Namath. The Smothers Brothers would have been born, but not the Berrigans; Chico and Harpo, but not Groucho; Gore Vidal but not William Buckley—or James, for that matter; Elizabeth Taylor, but not Richard Burton. . . .
But think of all the enjoyment our children and their world would miss out on if we left it to those first two kids. Incidentally, I may be biased. If my parents had “stopped at two,” instead of soldiering on to seven, I wouldn’t be around to write this letter.
Henry Pelham Burn
New York City
To the Editor:
I take issue with Norman Podhoretz in “Beyond ZPG.” Mr. Podhoretz is guilty of confusing two entirely separate issues: zero population growth and euthanasia. He asserts that the majority of the proponents of ZPG favor or might favor euthanasia as a justifiable means of population control, but I’m afraid he is wrong. I have long been associated with groups whose goal is achieving population stability, and I can state unequivocally that euthanasia has absolutely no bearing on the issue of population control, for the simple reason that population growth would not be significantly affected one way or another by the deaths of a few individuals under euthanasia.
Now, I think that Mr. Podhoretz will find, if he talks to the supporters of ZPG, that they, too, condemn euthanasia as morally wrong. But they will object, as I have, to his mixing the issues of population control and euthanasia.
Michael D. Flyte
To the Editor:
I work for population stabilization, but I do not favor infanticide, nor do I believe in any “eugenic dream.” As a professional nurse, I feel that the general public does not have the information necessary to practice birth control effectively. I believe that everyone should have the right to limit the size of his family, if he wishes to. But many, if not most, do not have the birth-control know-how to do this. . . .
(Mrs.) J. Emmons
To the Editor:
While reading Norman Podhoretz’s “Beyond ZPG” it occurred to me that in our eagerness for “progress” in the form of abortion and infanticide we are almost to the point of agreeing with the ancient Spartans’ policy of destroying any defective infant. The Spartans were possibly whole in body, but they were distinctly lacking in intelligence or sensitivity. Are we progressing to a similar state?
(Mrs.) J. C. Van Selus
Samuel McCracken writes:
It is of course reassuring to have support from George Grier and William Petersen: as a non-demographer, I am diffident about entering lists for which I have had no formal training, and would be happy to leave the questions of fact in the hands of those who have, if only Ehrlich and the rest would do the same. But I am not the first dilettante to enter the population debate, and amateurs who advocate population control must expect to be read and criticized both by professionals and by other amateurs. (To Mr. Petersen’s belief that I take my objects too seriously I can only say that while I should expect an Ehrlich or a Willing to be laughed out of the professional journals, if not downright ignored, they are being taken seriously elsewhere, and I see nothing for it but to point out why they should not be.)
I am less surprised than Mr. Grier at the ferocity of the reaction to his research: the population-control establishment is as near as a group of intellectuals ever comes to seeing its discipline substantially embodied in the statute book, and it is not unexpected that it should wince at evidence suggesting that it may have had no more than a Pisgah-sight of power. Even for non-social scientists, population control is the ideal cause; it requires no constructive action other than the usual agit-prop (Mrs. Willing, who is the mother of four, is able to have her cake and ration it for others) and the principal dogma is that everyone ought to behave more or less like the middle class. No wonder, then, the fashionableness of the cause, no wonder, too, that its supporters are especially outraged by the existence of inconvenient heretics.
A number of my correspondents think I have been unfair to Zero Population Growth, Incorporated. If they will take the trouble to read my article, they will see that I mentioned their organization but once, and in a neutral context. I have, as a matter of fact, resisted the temptation to use the initials ZPG as an easy code-name for the population-control movement. However much its members may regret the missed publicity, “The Population Controllers” is not about ZPG, Inc. What it is about is the views of certain authors discussed in the text. Does anyone disagree with Mrs. Willing or Dr. Chasteen? Very well, then: I do not include such a person in my strictures on these two figures. Discourse on social policy would be marvelously improved if people could get out of this nasty habit of thinking of themselves as members of political parties.
But I make no apology for dealing with Mrs. Willing and Dr. Chasteen. They exist, they publish, they form an unpleasant bit of the intellectual climate. They most certainly exhibit the excesses deriving from the axioms of population control which people are being led into, and as such they are important: mass movements have a knack of ending up in the control of their most extreme members. And if Ehrlich seems a less totalitarian figure than they, that is because he is politically a good deal more naive. Since he is willing to suppress the freedom of the press and of speech, and endorses the current draft of Rexford G. Tug-well’s authoritarian proposals for a new constitution, I conclude that either he doesn’t think much about freedom, or that he has thought about it and found it unimportant. Had I limited myself to the published work of Ehrlich, I would have been no less disturbed by the movement: when an Ehrlich comes, the Willings and Chasteens will not be far behind.
It seems that William A. Peck’s odd notion is that they who comment upon a movement must limit themselves to figures least open to criticism: no sportsmanlike critic, so it appears, finding in his sights so plump and gently quivering a pigeon as Mrs. Willing, would open fire. She is not, after all, like Mr. Peck, an Officially-Certified Spokesperson. One can imagine this to be a critical theory Dr. Norman Vincent Peale would endorse, but few others outside the target area would be likely to subscribe to it.
Certified Ehrlich may be, but he does not answer my arguments in The Population Bomb, or anywhere else, unless one is to assume that Sacred Writ is always the answer to the impious arguments of the infidel Higher Critics. (I will refrain from pointing out that he has not answered them in the most convenient of forums, i.e., these very columns.) Perhaps Mr. Peck’s suggestion that I have not read The Population Bomb is a feeble—almost pathetic—attempt at irony. As it happens, an earlier draft of my piece had a great deal more to say about this book, all of it, Mr. Peck may be shocked to learn, pointedly unfavorable. Ehrlich is, if anything, scarier than might appear from my article. He believes (says, at least) that high population density leads to authoritarian government; this explains, doubtless, why the United States is more densely populated than the Soviet Union, Denmark than China, the member states of NATO than those of the Warsaw Pact.
The single example given by Mr. Peck of how Ehrlich “answers” me is a paradigm of the guru’s gift for terrible simplification and the disciple’s acceptance of the result as beyond examination. Ehrlich, like many another, does indeed point out that Americans consume more than other people. But what is the point of the statistic? The implied comment is that they consume more than their share. What is their share? Not, it would seem, as much as they can pay for: if their share is simply per capita, obviously they consume much more than they should. They have, for example, too many universities, and within them, too many biologists. Shall Stanford be the first to be shipped off to the undeveloped world, Ehrlich the first to declare himself redundant and take the veil? The moral dimension in the question is great, but surely one who believes that the resources of the earth belong to its people in equal and entailed shares has only one responsible course: to calculate his share and eschew the surplus. Of such a calculation, or of any recognition of such complexities as the contribution a society makes to the world, Ehrlich & Company are quite innocent.
Mr. Peck notwithstanding, nowhere do I assert that the fertility rate is slowly reaching 2.1. What I do is cite Mr. Grier’s evidence that it may have already gotten there, in fact that it may be heading still downward. I also suggest that such evidence must be weighed along with other evidence to the contrary. Mr. Peck, it seems, although he claims to have read my essay, seems not even to have noticed such evidence, let alone considered its value. I presume his figure of 310 million Americans by 2000 derives from Projection C of the Bureau of the Census, now widely under challenge as unrealistically high, as it extrapolates the fertility rate of 1966, below which we have now dropped. Projection D, in closer accord with the present rate, would yield about 275 million by the end of the century. Mr. Peck’s easy reliance on the figures he chooses is a neat example of the fallacy of regarding extrapolation as the history of the future, an error about which Mr. Grier is extremely informative. I recommend his pamphlet to Mr. Peck. Mr. Peck’s final remark really does leave me wondering whether he has read my article in which I pointed out that anyone who argues that increasing our population by half again will lead to horrors unimagined must face the inconvenient evidence of such countries as Denmark and the Netherlands, where the density is already between five and fifteen times that of the United States. Unless Mr. Peck’s researches into rats have vouchsafed him (as-yet-unreported) evidence that the American central nervous system resembles the rodentine more than the Dutch or Danish, his evocation of these horrors remains so much hysterical blather. Why cannot he (and others) look around them as a first step in testing their theories? Not that medieval theologians ever really did debate the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but if they had, they would have been downright empirical compared with Mr. Peck: whatever their knowledge of angel size, one would presume they knew something about pins. Wearily—very wearily—I acknowledge that Mr. Peck probably runneth over with good intentions, none of which has the slightest bearing upon his understanding of the world around him, or his plans for its future.
To judge from Jillian Stanley’s letter, she too has not read much of my article. I cite some dozen sources besides Willing and Ehrlich, and yes, Miss Stanley, I have read rather more than I have cited. I would not leave the problem to the experts, i.e., let them decide upon policy. But I am interested in their views on the facts of the situation, which is presumably the only reason for there being any experts to begin with. The making of social policy I quaintly believe to be the province of the people and their elected deputies.
It would be reassuring to believe that all those who conclude that abortion ought to be a private issue have done so after an agony of decision; I cannot believe that this has been the case for those who glibly proclaim that a woman should do with her body as she pleases, leaving the moral complexity at that. Nor do I find Miss Stanley’s catalogue of outrages very convincing. Like her, I find the Vietnam war immoral, and am likewise outraged by having to pay for it. But I am not outraged by having to pay for schools, regarding such institutions as not au fond immoral. Nor, unlike Miss Stanley, do I believe that the simple existence of any eight humans is immoral; her ethics here seem to derive from Poujade or Vivian Kellems rather than from any other of the moral philosophers. Presumably, Miss Stanley and I agree that the war ought to be terminated forthwith: does she feel the same way about those children? Her confusion of irritation and moral outrage is hardly unique in our time, but it suggests that a little moral outrage will go a long way. Her statement that personal freedom is always relative is disturbing because of the absence of so much as a whisper of the doctrine that some rights, say that to life, may be inalienable, not to be abrogated because some comfortable person finds the property-tax burden getting worse. The more such people protest their disapproval of the Willings, the more one wonders.
Let me assist Sidney Gendin in his comprehension of the coercion problem: each level of Malthusian repression short of compulsory sterilization will succeed in coercing a certain proportion of the people not coerced by the previous level; inevitably, though, it will fail to coerce others, presumably a declining proportion, as the coercion escalates. Unless the state is willing to allow those who stick it out to get away with more than two children, a policy bound to encourage more defiance once it gets known, it will have to proceed, in the awful words of the torture warrant, per gradus per ima. While I find executing the polyparous more noxious than merely taxing them, both actions, indeed all steps in the process, involve the recognition that the state can control reproduction. Until someone can convince me that it ought to, I shall find each step, in Mr. Gendin’s word, defective.
The trouble with James Kunen’s claim about America is that it is false. Indeed, a claim that everything is X cannot stand in the face that something is not X. The more things not X, the greater the falsity of the claim. I did not attempt an exhaustive catalogue of the locales in this country which do not agree with Mr. Kunen’s description, but if Mr. Gendin will send me a list of U.S. cities and towns, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, I will tick off a few thousand. To his ridiculous sophistry in making a distinction between the deceit of falsity and the deceit of exaggeration, it is impossible to have any response save contempt. Hitler, I suppose, did no more than to exaggerate the need for Lebensraum. (Kunen, it should be said in passing, is an author in whom there is much to admire, and that one usually so clear-sighted can talk this way is a sign of the times.)
My bicycling activities, at any rate, I did not cite as proof that the country is not overpopulated, but rather that it is not as filthy as Kunen appears to believe. Mr. Gendin is probably correct in saying that one can bicycle in any country save Vatican City. My literary conscience being less barefoot than Mr. Gendin would like it to be, it led me to describe the territory where I do in fact cycle; I could have named some thousands of others with no more than artistic license.
While it is reassuring to hear from Alice Lee and Miriam Wolf that ZPG is a hotbed of voluntarism, it should be noted that the former says that the organization stresses voluntary control. Such a position is worlds away from a rejection of compulsory control. Who would not prefer the former to the latter? A recent press release from the organization itself, reacting to the current film ZPG (which an even and informed judge tells me is the worst film ever made), says that it emphasizes voluntary programs. Again, what we do not hear is a renunciation of force.
C. H. Luther is a good deal more candid. I stand in goggling admiration (I can do no other) at his novel concept of voluntary coercion. Unless his metaphysics has outrun mine by a greater distance than I think likely, it must be voluntary for the coercers, coercive for the coerced. So what else is new? Yes, yes, we must have restrictions upon our behavior to protect our freedoms from the tyranny of anarchy. Does Mr. Luther think this a valid argument in favor of any and all coercions? If not, then he will concede that some coercions are unacceptable because they limit, rather than preserve, freedom. That we disagree on whether compulsory population control is one of these is owing to our disagreement on the nature of the population problem, as well as on the nature of what he suavely calls a little intelligent and voluntary coercion. I will match my naiveté against that of the author of such a phrase, any time.
Regina Barshak’s letter is informed by the sort of comic-strip thinking typical of the movement. I can well understand why the very existence of the Netherlands is embarrassing to Mrs. Barshak and her mentors, because while they tell us that the United States is overpopulated at a density of 60/m2, indeed cannot exist at 90/m2, there sit the United Provinces, fat and sassy at 920/m2. If practically every social ill in this country is to be attributed to overcrowding, how do the Dutch, the Danes, the Italians, the Monegasques, and the rest manage to escape Armageddon? Mrs. Barshak gives the joke away herself: when a country gets to a density of 900/m2, it encourages emigration! But she evades the question and changes the subject by coming up with the astounding news that the Netherlands imports raw material to turn into food. They who have learned this stunner normally put it that the country is not self-sufficient, but what they mean is that it is not autarkic. What country is? World trade is based precisely on the odd fact that each country has some deficiencies and some surpluses. All those foodstuffs flowing into the Netherlands are not, we must remember, sweated out of the starving peasantry of the Netherlands empire and escorted to Rotterdam by the battle cruisers of the Imperial Netherlands Navy. They are paid for. If Mrs. Barshak and Professor Ehrlich are opposed to world trade, they ought to say so, and why. She, apparently, knows better than all those underdeveloped and undereducated states what they should do with their soja-cakes, but whether she has another source for the foreign exchange they will lose when world trade is forbidden I cannot say, nor can I tell what she makes of the fact that India no longer imports rice.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at her assertion that Oregon’s ecological superiority is by courtesy of those signs the James G. Blaine Society erects at the frontier. I think she takes the society rather more seriously than we out here are wont to. Were we to follow her, some of us would be worried about the extent to which its goals come into conflict with the old-fashioned notion that anyone who can get past the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service can domicile himself where he damn pleases without getting letters of denization. The Society’s proper course would be to declare unilateral independence before setting up its customs posts. As a matter of intractable tact, Oregon is a rapidly growing state, having increased its population some 18 per cent between 1960 and 1970, if not as much as Florida or California, still twice as much as Mrs. Barshak’s Massachusetts. I am thus glad to be assured by her that environmental nirvana is so compatible with rapid growth.
Judith S. Weis is of course entirely right in saying that the women’s liberation movement is likely to lower the birthrate, may have already begun to do so. But that is a movement I should prefer to see dealt with on its own merits; unless we are willing to see the extinction of humanity, it seems that some women must bear children occasionally, but I think we must live with the consequences of our belief in human rights here as elsewhere. About the desirability of removing barriers to careers for women, I could not be in greater agreement, and will remain so even should the result be a severe depopulation.
Without agreeing with Polly Roberts at quite every turn, I believe that she has identified one more serious objection to the work of the population controllers, that they provide a neat cop-out for those who don’t want to face up to a whole complex of social ills. Believing in original sin to a degree which might astonish them should they recognize it, they propose a solution to the human problem: fewer humans. I share Miss Roberts’s anger at the extent to which comfortable people shelter from nasty realities in the reinforcing atmosphere of a media-puffed pseudo-crisis.
I confess myself not up to the statistical inquiry which would allow me to respond intelligently to Henry Pelham Burn. (I proposed “Stop at Two” less as a slogan than I presented it as my own practice to show my own disinterestedness. In the same spirit, I can point out that while stopping at two would have left me and my wife around, as well as my own parents, one would not have to get back very far to encounter an embarrassing but absolutely essential surplus ancestor.)
I am struck, at this last, by the fact that those writing in opposition have raised no single argument which I had not canvassed and rejected while forming my own opinions on the subject. This would not be so surprising had I not arraigned most of the arguments in the article in question. The suspicion dawns that too many readers read not what is before them, but what they expect to read, given their prejudices. Too bad, considering the areas of human behavior which are at stake.
Norman Podhoretz writes:
In answer to Mr. Flyte and Mrs. Emmons, who see no connection between the movement to control the size of the population and what I called “the eugenic dream” of controlling the quality of the human “stock,” let me point to Dr. Robert H. Williams, professor of medicine at the University of Washington: “Population experts are giving us vigorous warnings that steps must be instituted at an early date for restriction of the population increase . . . [which imposes] catastrophic problems with respect to food, clothing, space, social organization, and other factors. Therefore, since we must restrict the rate of population increase, we should also be giving careful consideration to the quality as well as to the quantity of people generated.” (Northwest Medicine, July 1970, emphasis in original.)
In answer to Mr. Peck, who claims that only nobodies and crackpots share in the eugenic dream, I point to Dr. Phillip Handler, neither a nobody nor a crackpot but an eminent biochemist and the president of the National Academy of Sciences. According to the November 29, 1971 issue of Modern Medicine, Dr. Handler believes “that the future of the human species could be threatened if something is not done to prevent the continued deterioration of the human gene pool” and that “it may be necessary to adopt ‘a new ethic’ which places the survival of the species before the rights of the individual.”
And of course there is also the “molecular biologist of the greatest renown” of whom I spoke in “Beyond ZPG”—the one who, I said, “believes that no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment; if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live.” I did not mention this scientist’s name because I was told about his views privately and I was not certain that he had ever made them known in public. Having now ascertained that he has (on a talk he delivered over BBC radio about two years ago, but which he has never allowed to be printed), I feel free to reveal his name. It is Sir Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, Nobel Laureate, and universally regarded by those who know as one of the greatest scientific minds of the age.