A Modest Proposal
nobody at vox.xs4all.nl
Mon Sep 19 16:27:01 EST 1994
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Fellow scientists and friends of the earth,
The biggest problem facing the world today is the population explosion.
The events at the Cairo summit prove (if any proof was needed) that
voluntary means will never suffice to reduce the population growth to a
sustainable level. Unless something radical is done, the quality of life
will be drastically reduced for everyone alive on Earth within twenty years
(it is already bad for a most people alive today).
Neither world-wide war nor any epidemic like those of the past will be able
to reduce the population sufficiently. These phenomena are likely to
happen, but they can only be viewed as symptoms of the problem, not as the
But here is a proposal. The idea is based on an article in the news about
a year ago -- that researchers at CSIRO in Australia developing a
genetically engineered virus that would be rapidly spread among rabbits,
and which would sterilize the females by stimulating an immune response in
them to male rabbit sperm. But the virus would not kill them and need not
even cause significant morbidity.
Mathematical models show that this intervention would lead to enormous
reductions in the rabbit population within a few generations, and would not
be as quickly evaded by genetic adaptation as the type of virus that kills
or disables its host.
My proposal is to apply this technology to the human species. It could be
viewed as a form of involuntary birth control. No one would be injured,
and the advantages would begin to accrue within less than a generation, as
resources were freed up that would have gone into raising children. It
would have great advantages over all other realistic scenarios for the
reduction of population.
The reason for sterilizing females obviously has nothing to do with
misogyny; sterilizing males would be ineffective, as those males who proved
resistant could easily fertilize all the females in the world. For similar
reasons, the exact technology being applied in the rabbit case should not
be used here, as it would allow wealthy populations a simple escape from
the desired effects: ova could be extracted and fertilized in vitro. The
stimulated immunological attack should be directed at some component of the
female's own reproductive system, possibly the ovum itself, or at
components involved in implantation.
Such a virus would not cause the extinction of the human species. For one
thing, a certain percentage of females would prove resistant and would
continue to breed. Second, adaptation between the host and virus would
occur within a few generations. Third, medical science would not stand by
idly, and probably would find ways to mitigate the virus. But even if the
reduction or reversal of population growth only lasted a generation or two,
it would give human culture some breathing room, after which another
solution could be found.
In order to minimize morbidity I suggest starting with some common human
respiratory virus, or perhaps even several viruses. These could be
engineered to closely resemble the human cold and to become endemic,
possibly replacing existing respiratory virus populations in some cases.
The feasibility of doing the sort of genetic engineering required is
illustrated by the large number of labs doing similar work; one example
recently came to light when the USDA approved the first category III
live-virus vaccine for use in chickens (a category III virus is one to
which has been added foreign genetic elements). Evidently it is strongly
believed that such viruses can be constructed and used safely.
The development of this technology would require the coordinated efforts of
a small number of people well equipped and trained in the relevant
disciplines. It would probably have to be carried put in secret. I
propose that we try to assemble a group of people able and willing to do
this sort of thing by establishing a trusted network via encrypted and
anonymized email and newsgroup discussions.
The first important discussion is how to organize such a group in such a
way that everyone's personal safety is maintained, but still allowing the
necessary exchange of technical results.
Please respond publicly in the newsgroups; you may want to do so
anonymously. If you need to find out how to do this, a good starting place
is to read recent postings in the newsgroup alt.privacy.anon-server.
You can respond privately to the sender by posting a PGP encrypted reply in
alt.anonymous.messages. Please put the words "Modest Proposal" in the
subject header of any such messages so I can recognize that they are meant
for me. My signed PGP public key is attached at the end of this message.
To establish and protect my identity from others who might try to appear to
be the same anonymous person as myself, I will cryptographically sign this
and subsequent messages with the same public key.
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