Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, August 20, 2009

coercion in context: reading ecoscience, part 2

In a trio of previous posts, I've looked at some of the controversial passages of the 1977 book Ecoscience by Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and John Holdren. The controversy was stirred anew last month when a blogger using the name Zombietime made ten allegations about the book's content. If the Ehrlichs and Holdren had their way, according to Zombietime:

  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

I've obtained a copy of the book and am writing in response to Zombietime's allegations. So far, I've looked at claims #2, 3, 4, and 10. Today, I'll focus on claims #1, 5, and 6. (Unfortunately, this is likely to be my last post on the subject, as I must return the book to the library today.)

These three claims all appear on pages 837 and 838 of the book, and all describe coercive measures to control population size. (Zombietime has helpfully supplied full page scans of these pages: 837 838 839). These are all horrid ideas, and would be hard to justify even if the sky really were falling, as Holdren and the Ehrlichs believed in the late 1970s. But once again, Zombietime has quotemined the book in an attempt to tie Holdren and the Ehrlichs to ideas they argued against.

You can see, at the end of Zombietime's scan of page 839, where the authors of Ecoscience have proposed specific legal reforms. Note the words, "we recommended," which are completely absent from the suggestions about forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and compelling the wrong kind of people not to have children.

Had Zombietime scanned page 840, you'd be able to see the conclusion of the section, where once again the Ehrlichs and Holdren reiterate their belief that non-coercive changes are necessary immediately to prevent the advocates of coercive change from winning the day later.

First I'm going to summarize the five legal reforms proposed by Holdren and the Ehrlichs:

  1. Prohibit restrictions on access to birth control

  2. Subsidize voluntary contraception

  3. Tax incentives for late marriage and small families

  4. Mandatory sex education in schools

  5. Federal support for finding more effective forms of birth control drugs

None of these are coercive. And, in fact, the authors applaud the progress that had been made in some of these areas since the publication of their first book. They saw this as a hopeful sign that population growth could be stopped before the disaster which they feared was imminent.

The authors conclude the section with this paragraph on page 840:

There has been considerable talk in some quarters at times of forcibly suppressing reproduction among welfare recipients (perhaps by requiring the use of contraceptives or even by involuntary sterilization). This may sadly foreshadow what our society might do if the human predicament gets out of hand. We hope that population growth can be controlled in the United States without resorting to such discriminatory and socially disruptive measures. That, in fact, has been one purpose of this and our previous books—to stimulate population control by the least coercive means before it is too late.

Once again, the context makes it clear that John Holdren and Paul and Anne Ehrlich were not bent on controlling population by coercive measures as Zombietime alleges. But I'd say they were a little too paranoid, a little too willing to trust in their darkest nightmares, and perhaps not willing enough to listen to other perspectives that might have tempered their fears. It seems to me that Zombietime, in his critique of Ecoscience, suffers from the same weakness.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home