Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, July 30, 2009

eugenics in context: reading ecoscience, part 1

In a recent post I wrote about the allegations blogger "Zombietime" has made against the new Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Holdren.

Zombietime makes ten allegations, based on quotes from Ecoscience a book Holdren co-authored with Paul and Anne Ehrlich. You can see the quoted passages, along with full page scans of the pages on which they appear, at Zombietime.

According to Zombietime, Holdren advocates a world in which:

  1. Compulsory abortions would be legal

  2. Single mothers should have their babies taken away by the government; or they could be forced to have abortions

  3. Mass sterilization of humans though drugs in the water supply is OK as long as it doesn't harm livestock

  4. The government could control women's reproduction by either sterilizing them or implanting mandatory long-term birth control

  5. The kind of people who cause "social deterioration" can be compelled to not have children

  6. Nothing is wrong or illegal about the government dictating family size

  7. A "Planetary Regime" should control the global economy and dictate by force the number of children allowed to be born

  8. We will need to surrender national sovereignty to an armed international police force

  9. Pro-family and pro-birth attitudes are caused by ethnic chauvinism

  10. As of 1977, we are facing a global overpopulation catastrophe that must be resolved at all costs by the year 2000

Through my employer I have obtained a copy of Ecoscience. I have looked at each of the passages in question; of the ten, at most three have any substance behind them.

I'm going to provide some context for all ten quotes, and show why most of them are not positions favored by Holdren and the Ehrlichs. In some cases, the mitigating factors appear in the material quoted by Zombietime, but Zombietime fails to see it.

I'll be going through these in a different order than Zombietime, and I'll be referring to them according to the numbers in my list above. If you want to see the original passages quoted by Zombietime, you'll have to go there.

I'm going to start with #10, because that is the easiest to verify. As Zombietime notes, this is the closing sentence of the book. It is clear that the Ehrlichs and Holdren believed that a crisis was looming, and that policies must be changed immediately. This "sky is falling" mentality can be seen in numerous places throughout the book. More than 30 years later, we can see how wrong they were.

This leads us to the context of #2, #3, and #4. These quotes are all taken from a section entitled "Population Control: Direct Measures", which begins on page 783 and ends on page 789. Zombietime has scanned images of pages 786, 787, 788, and 789.

On page 783 the authors introduce the subject of population control as policy. In the second paragraph of that section, they say:

People should long ago have begun exploring, developing, and discussing all means of population control. But they did not, and the time has nearly run out. Policies that may seem totally unacceptable today to the majority of people at large or to their national leaders may be seen as very much the lesser of two evils only a few years from now. The decade of 1965-1975 witnessed a virtual revolution in attitudes toward curbing population growth among LDC leaders, if not necessarily among their people. Even family planning, easily justified on health and welfare grounds alone and economically feasible for even the poorest of countries, was widely considered totally unacceptable as a government policy as recently as 1960.

(LDC is the authors' abbreviation for "less developed countries")

Here again, we can see the "sky is falling" mentality — "the time has nearly run out." The authors point out how quickly attitudes can change. They mention this latter fact again on the following page:

Moral acceptability is very likely to change as social and economic conditions change in most societies, as demonstrated by the reversal of abortion policies in many countries between 1967 and 1975.

The struggle for economic development in the LDCs is producing considerable social upheaval, which will particularly affect such basic elements of society as family structure. Radical changes in family structure and relationships are inevitable, whether population control is instituted or not. Inaction, attended by a steady deterioration in living conditions for the poor majority, will bring changes everywhere that no one could consider beneficial. Thus, it is beside the point to object to population-control measures simply on the grounds that they might change the social structure or family relationships.

Among proposed general approaches to population control are family planning, the use of socioeconomic pressures, and compulsory fertility control. Maximum freedom of choice is provided by traditional family planning; but family planning alone should not be regarded as "population control" when it includes no consideration of optimum population size for the society and makes no attempt to influence parental goals.

At Holdren's confirmation hearing, he was questioned whether he still believes that the government should be in the business of determining "optimum population size". He said he does not believe that is a proper role for the government. But you can see from this passage why the question might arise.

The authors continue:

The use of abortion and voluntary sterilization to supplement other forms of birth control can quite properly be included as part of family planning and made available at costs everyone can afford. This, of course, has been done in a few countries with considerable success (Table 13-4). Moreover, there is still a good deal of room for expansion of family planning services in LDCs, where they are not yet available to more than a fraction of most populations. Family planning programs not only provide the means of contraception, but, through their activities and educational campaigns, they spread the idea of birth control among the people. These programs should be expanded and supported throughout the world as rapidly and as fully as possible, but other measures should be instituted immediately as well. Given the family size aspirations of people everywhere, additional measures beyond family planning will unquestionably be required in order to halt the population explosion—quite possibly in many DCs as well as LDCs.

The italics are in the original. The italicized sentence contains an important verb—should—attached to family planning. That verb is a strong indication the authors are endorsing this idea. This verb appears twice in the quotes mined by Zombietime, and I'll take a close look at both.

But first, I'll note that the authors of Ecoscience say that family planning is not enough to save us from the falling sky. But they are not . On pages 784-785, after having noted that U.S. tax laws provide tax incentives for marriage and childbearing, they list some alternatives:

In countries that are affluent enough for the majority of citizens to pay taxes, tax laws could be adjusted to favor (instead of penalize) single people, working wives, and small families. Other tax measures might also include high marriage fees, taxes on luxury baby goods and toys, and removal of family allowances where they exist.

Other possibilities include the limitation of maternal or educational benefits to two children per family. These proposals, however, have the potential disadvantage of heavily penalizing children (and in the long run society as well). The same criticism may be made of some other tax plans, unless they can be carefully adjusted to avoid denying at least minimum care for poor families, regardless of the number of children they may have.

The authors are clearly aware of the limitations of using punitive tax measures as a means of coercive population control. Next, they look at new tax incentives:

A somewhat different approach might be to provide incentives for late marriage and childlessness, such as paying bonuses to first-time brides who are over 25, to couples after five childless years, or to men who accept vasectomies after their wives have had a given number of children.

These measures would be much less coercive, and would allow people to choose whether to voluntarily limit their contribution to population growth, without imposing a penalty on those who don't.

The authors also take a positive view of adoption:

Adoption to supplement small families for couples who especially enjoy children can be encouraged through subsidies and simplified procedures. It can also be a way to satisfy couples who have a definite desire for a son or a daughter;

I'll get to the rest of this sentence in a moment. But first I want to point out how radically this differs from the totalitarian picture painted by Zombietime, who has made a concerted effort to see only one side of the picture. Ecoscience contains many positive ideas for controlling population growth while still preserving, or even enhancing, individual liberties.

But not all is rosy:

…further research on sex determination should be pursued for the same reason.

Though Zombietime does not draw attention to this one, in my opinion this is one of the worst suggestions in the book. The authors apparently are advocating improving ultrasound technology (which at the time had been in widespread use for only a few years) to determine the sex of a child so the parents can make a decision to abort. And the word "should" makes it clear that this is no mere description of possibilities. For the record, though, this policy puts the decision in the hands of the parents, not the government, and that's the issue at hand.

The authors also look at expanding opportunities for women, noting that:

With some exceptions, women have traditionally been allowed to fulfill only the roles of wife and mother. Although this has changed in most DCs in recent decades, it is still the prevailing situation in most LDCs, particularly among the poor and uneducated. Anything that can be done to diminish the emphasis upon these traditional roles and provide women with equal opportunities in education, employment, and other areas is likely to reduce the birth rate. Measures that postpone marriage and then delay the first child's birth also help to encourage a reduction in birth rates. The later that marriage and the first child occur, the more time the woman will have to develop other interests. One of the most important potential measures for delaying marriage, and directly influencing childbearing goals as well, is educating and providing employment for women.

Women can be encouraged to develop interests outside the family other than employment, and social life could be centered around these outside interests or the couple's work, rather than exclusively within the neighborhood and family. Adequate care for pre-school children should be provided at low cost (which, moreover, could provide an important new source of employment). Provision of child care seems more likely to encourage employment outside the home, with concomitant low reproduction, than to encourage reproduction. Women represent a large, relatively untapped pool of intellectual and technical talent; tapping that pool effectively could help reduce population growth and also would provide many other direct benefits to any society.

Once again, this is the diametrical opposite of the totalitarian state alleged by Zombietime.

The authors continue:

Social pressures on both men and women to marry and have children must be removed.

They don't go into any of the details on how this might be achieved, other than to suggest that this is likely to happen naturally as women have more opportunties. This is on page 786, and you can follow the links above to see the rest of this discussion.

I will only note the word "must" in that sentence, which contrasts sharply with the "might" in the next paragraph:

Although free and easy association of the sexes might be tolerated in such a society, responsible parenthood ought to be encouraged and illegitimate childbearing could be strongly discouraged. One way to carry out this disapproval might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it.

Here is where Zombietime starts quotemining this section. Up to this point, Holdren and the Ehrlichs have focused mostly on positive steps toward controlling population growth, but from this point they look at more coercive measures.

However, the authors end this section by clearly stating their preference:

Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying. As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control. A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences, while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time. If effective action is taken promptly against population growth, perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries.

This quote is taken from the bottom of page 788 and the top of page 789. You can see it in Zombietime's scanned pages. The authors have clearly stated their preference for non-coercive measures, and their fear that others might put the stricter measures in place.

In their discussion on pages 787-788, the authors name people who had already by 1977 proposed schemes to implement coercive measures, and had noted that China and India had already tried to write such measures into law. So the phrase "most countries" above is an acknowledgement that it was already too late in some places.

I've tried to provide enough context for these passages to demonstrate that Zombietime completely misunderstood the intent of Holdren and the Ehrlichs, and misrepresented their words to portray a much harsher worldview than the one the authors of Ecoscience truly endorsed.

I've still got six passages to look at from Zombietime's list. I'll get to them in future posts.

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At 8/01/2009 8:19 AM, Blogger John said...

I'm looking at the passages that you and Zombietime have copied, and I don't see how these can be seen as anything other than normative. For example, on pp.787-788, Holdren talks about placing sterilants in drinking water. And he writes: "To be acceptable, such a substance...." And he lists various qualities.

"To be acceptable"? This would indicate that Holdren finds this tactic acceptable.

Let us say that I wrote the following statement:

To solve the Jewish problem, it has been suggested that sterilants be placed in the drinking water of Jewish communities. To be acceptable, this such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have not effects on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock.

It I wrote such a thing, wouldn't it reflect poorly on me? Would you suspect that I was anti-Semitic? Or is it okay because I'm not explicitly advocating this particular course of action?

If I wrote a book on various ways to solve the "Jewish problem", which included deportation to Madagascar, forced conversion, and at the extreme end, systematic extermination, wouldn't it be morally abhorrent? Even if I said that I preferred (as Holdren did) less extreme measures? Even if I said "You know, I'm not saying that we should kill all the Jews. I'm just saying that if we did, this would be a way of going about it. Hypothetically, of course"?

At best, what Holdren did was to put his totalitarian solutions on the table, acceptable for discussion and consideration, in response to a non-existent problem.

At 9/30/2009 6:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the most important potential measures for delaying marriage, and directly influencing childbearing goals as well, is educating and providing employment for women. Women can be encouraged to develop interests outside the family other than employment, and social life could be centered around these outside interests or the couple's work, rather than exclusively within the neighborhood and family.

- its EUGENICS the elite left and right wing ALWAYS get back to eugenics, hitler did it, stalin did it, mao did it and now our government is doing it in its own special way, breeding the type of people they want, its the domestication of man- if your name isnt Carnagie, DuPont Rockefeller, Wedgewood then GUESS WHAT you can crank out as many babies as you and your cousin can because you're rich


no more of this garbage, if people were not forced off their farms and stuffed in cities by corporations like DuPont Monsanto and could fish clean water that wasnt polluted by oilmen like Rockefeller who FUNDED THE UNITED NATIONS INTO EXISTENCE then possibly men's sperm counts would not be plumeting
The Disappearing male

so if fellas wonder why there are so many commercials to help you "grow larger" its because they know you should be shrinking and the UN/WHO keeps dropping the standards so people dont ask questions

It might be the plastics and birth control pills with synthetic female hormones so its possible holdrens friends have been busy



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