A Modest Proposal
nobody at vox.xs4all.nl
Fri Sep 30 18:48:28 EST 1994
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I was interested in the recent exchanges in bionet.population-bio on whether
there is or is not a population crisis. I quote some representative
> And exactly who benefits by scaring
> the populace with threats of a nuclear winter, or global warming? It is more
> obvious who benefits (at least in the short term) by downplaying such risks.
> Global resources are limiting. Look at the colapse of fisheries and the
> decrease in top soil. Even with equitable distribution, these limits would
> come to bear. With the curent inequitable distribution people can pretend
> is a distribution problem.
> It's a very complex issue that goes far beyond finding sufficient
> food, though even that basic problem is doubtful of solution in anything
> like adequate terms. Bear in mind that 90% of the expected new 5.5 billion
> people will most likely be at home in the world's most poverty-stricken
> countries. What potential does that have for the rise of fundamentalism
> and terrorism against the developed countries?
> The heart of the
> problem is the non-random and non-coincident distributions of high
> growth rates and the ability to implement high tech fixes to
> over-population. The crashes (multiple and non-randomly distributed)
> will come.
It seems that the majority of readers of this group support my view that there
is no hope of natural regulation of world population, and that technology has
a role to play. In view of the reader who said:
> Nobody is entirely disqualified to offer his/her views on population.
I feel it is incumbent on me to discuss a couple of issues.
1) The hope that continued technological development will continue to make
ever bigger populations possible, and that economic development will reduce
fertility to sustainable levels.
Economic development is a growth-based model. It is true that science and
technology bear some of the responsibility for this by opening up new resource
bases in the last several hundred years. Not only do science and technology
enable the current population expansion, they are to some extent dependent on
it, because they are near the top of the economic feeding chain which starts
at the bottom with the mass labor and raw natural resources of the
But within fundamental limits that are increasingly apparent, the human
species is at the end of the log-growth phase. So continued unlimited growth
cannot succeed. Indeed current trends in distribution of resources are in the
direction of ever greater differences between the haves and the have-nots.
Inequality is increasing both on a global scale and on a local scale: the
globalization of trade necessarily results in importation of poverty along
with wealth, since any disequilibrium between social stratification accross
national or regional borders will tend to reach equilibrium, if the borders
are truly porous to capital and labor flows. The poor are worse off today than
ever, and are getting both more numerous and even worse off every year.
Widespread economic development is a mirage. This mirage is caused by the fact
that technological development is done for their own profit by a small elite
of people for whom it appears to make things better. They and their colleagues
are also the ones who author the political and economic agendas that propose
development as the solution. The long-term effects of every technological
development are however to make things ever worse for an ever larger number of
2) The hope that education will reduce fertility.
To give the kind of education that middle-class citizens of the developed
countries to the world is quite impossible, even merely on a resource basis.
The programs that go under the heading of mass education in the third world
are little more than efforts to prepare the people there to accept to play a
role as low-status production/consumption units in a world dominated by a
culture which is not their own. The same could be said for proposals heard
from Cairo that education of women is the key; in many cultures which we
regard as repressive to women, the women themselves do not see it this way,
and regard our attempts to "educate" them as yet another form of cultural
brainwashing, to get them to see it _our_ way. It is not surprising that these
programs have and will have low rates of acceptance and effectiveness.
In particular, it is often stated (and was restated at the Cairo conference)
that education in fertility planning has been effective in reducing population
growth. This is true for a few hand-picked cases. But the easy cases have been
done, and there are many second tier programs that are exhibiting much less
effectiveness due to all sorts of local cultural and economic factors.
Even if mass education of the people of the world education could have an
effect, and if it could be financed and staffed, it would take many decades by
which time the availability of resources would be so diminished that the fact
that people were educated would be already an irrelevancy.
My earlier "Modest proposal" (to create artificial strains of endemic human
viruses that would drastically reduce fertility by stimulating auto-
immunological attack on the human host reproductive system) seems to be the
only one on the table that offers any real hope.
In the past, great epidemics that significantly reduced the population in a
region have not infrequently resulted in lengthy periods of economic benefits
to regional populations. I would cite just two examples: 1) the late mediaeval
plague in Europe arguably was one of the factors that opened up the way for
what we know as the Renaissance; and 2) the decimation of Amerindian
populations by introduced diseases of the old world, which led to the period
of colonial expansion. Both of these events hapened at an enormous cost in
morbidity and in social upheaval. Further, as a result of modern medical and
hygeinic technology, nothing like them is likely to occur in the near future.
Even in a world as drastically overpopulated as ours will be in a few decades,
only regional population reductions can be expected to occur by natural
epedemic causes, and these would be of little significance for overall world
population (though they mwould probably cause international political
disturbances as nations rushed to secure their borders and to justify various
radical measures of quarantine and triage).
My proposal avoids the morbidity by using endemic viruses rather than epidemic
ones. It also avoids much of the potential for social upheaval. Part of the
design would involve coordinated simultaneous multi-point release (as was
suggested by one of my correspondents in the newsgroup - thank you!). This
would make international borders irrelevant. It could also be engineered to be
non-discriminatory, by means which have also been previously discussed.
Incidentally, I cross-posted the original proposal to bionet.population-
biology, bionet.virology and bionet.immunology. The virologists have seemed to
be particularly receptive to the idea, offering several creative suggestions.
Keep up the good work!
It is time that technology be addressed to solve some of the problems which it
originally created. That is what I propose.
Please post via the newsgroups, or for more secure private communications,
post PGP encrypted messages to alt.anonymous.messages, with subject header
containing "proposal". My public key is appended.
To the person who proposed to use anon.penet.fi, I must respond that this is
not a satisfactory channel for sensitive communications. For one thing, the
internet itself is not secure; it is very easy to automatically intercept and
read "interesting" non-encrypted mail. Furthermore, penet is not a very secure
way to protect one's identity; there are several known attack that allow
someone to discover the real identity of someone using penet. So, even though
it takes some work, the only way to have a real exchange without compromising
safety is by encryption through the remail services.
By the way, thank you for your suport:
an134188 at anon.penet.fi writes:
> Dear modest person,
> Well, I think it's a great idea (especially as I had it also).
> I know more about biology than computers, so I don't know how to (and
> may not be able to) use PGP to reply to you directly, so could you
> reply to me via this service please? I have some ideas that I have been
> considering for some years, and look forward to sharing discussion on this
> matter, and maybe even setting something in train, when we think that
> our plans are mature enough.
> Your comrade,
More information about the Virology