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The Intangible Issues of Overpopulation

A de-objectification of concerns about too many humans.

Last year filmmaker Michael Moore enraged a large portion of his regular audience with a film about climate change that concluded that the problem is insoluble so long as there are so many human beings who rely upon advanced technology and the resources needed to create, distribute and fuel them. Moore’s critics and fans both responded with outrage and called in their own cherry-picked experts to challenge the claims made in his film — Planet of the Humans. He was accused of inadvertently creating propaganda which the greatest corporate environmental abusers, like petroleum and livestock, could use to divert public attention and blame from themselves back to the public itself.

Moore’s liberal audience began entertaining arguments often made by conservatives back when liberals used the population control narrative to justify birth control, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Working from the reductionist, materialist arguments they had once rejected, the center/left mainstream liberals accused the tone of the film of being callous and inhumane.

While I agree with Moore that our current excess is a path to destruction, I also find his reductionist, materialist arguments to be spurious and tone deaf. However he is not alone in making this mistake. On either side of the argument you will find the same basis of reasoning — objectivism. Pretty much everyone is on Ayn Rand’s side on this one.

As usual the intangible and subjective are not even factored into the equation, which is unfortunate, since that perspective might provide some of the most insightful support for population reduction. But before I get to those insights I want to make two things very clear about my guiding principles. First of all, I will not use the term ‘population control’ — because as a decentralist I do not accept or support the power structures that would enforce control measures. Humans must voluntarily reduce reproduction, and accept many things which the longevity-driven medical community try to deny through their own excess and hubris. Secondly, I place quality before quantity, in most all regards. It is not the number of humans or the years they accumulate which should be most valued and sought, but the quality of each day in the life of those who are alive. In this equation quantity can actually decrease quality, which is the position from which my arguments will be made.

Overpopulation denial rhetoric basically boils down to the possibility of streamlining the efficiency of resource usage and distribution. That argument is akin to claiming that your house is big enough to support as many people as can fit into it. Now imagine the maximum number of people you could efficiently fit into your home. Would living under those conditions day in and day out affect your mental, physical and emotional health over time? Would that be a fair concern, or are you just being callous and greedy? What defines a good home for you — the quantity of people it can support as a resource, or the quality of life it can provide for you and your loved ones?

It seems obvious that most everyone, given this choice, would choose to live in the home that was not efficiently filled with as many people as possible. Yet how many people apply this same logic to the world itself?

And it is not just a matter of physical space. Imagine that you only doubled the number of people in your household, leaving a majority of the cubic feet in it unoccupied at any given time. However among the residents there are chronic whistlers, the impossibly gassy and morbidly obese nudists. How long before the constant attack on your senses places you in a perpetual state of anxiety and despair? And does the madness in today’s world, which expresses itself in selfishness, intolerance and wanton violence, not even look a bit to you like humans reacting to an anxiety and despair that is inexplicably intangible?

Instead of a house, lets imagine a high school gymnasium that is large enough to comfortably fit 1,000 people. Now consider we place ten people inside that gym, but only one of them is a maverick who contributes original ideas, which is a necessity of problem-solving and progress for the group. That maverick would easily be heard by the rest of the group, and though other individuals in the group may often disagree, the lone maverick would still influence the whole in positive, constructive ways.

Now what if we turn the noise of the gym up a bit — one hundred people and ten mavericks. Can those ten be heard above the other ninety in the din of crowd noise among them? What about at 1,000 people and 100 mavericks? Are the latter getting through, or are the former so overstimulated that they become virtually unreachable? Or, even if reachable, so unbalanced by the energy of the crowd that their ability to listen authentically and consider difficult ideas is compromised?

Mavericks are an irreplaceable requirement of human civilization. Without them we stagnate, devolve and destroy. The Dark Ages effectively silenced mavericks by calling them heretics and burning them at the stake. Though is it not possible we might silence them, not through malevolent intent, but through creating a world so full of noise they can no longer be heard?

It appears to me that our current population, as well as the internet, are leading to just that. There is a toxic polarization that has reduced every issue into a false dichotomy. Politically, culturally and ideologically we have become almost entirely binary in our thinking and identities — which is what you would expect of a humanity no longer in tune with its mavericks and their outsider ideas.

Our last enlightenment period was almost four hundred years ago, and it gave birth to modernism, whose ideas and beliefs continue to dominate our way of thinking. At the time it was a great improvement, but now it grows stale and restrictive. German Philosophical Idealism, Marxism and Postmodernism have all been attempts at disrupting modernist norms and paving the way for a new era of enlightenment, but none of them have broken through the crowd noise, and are more often used as rhetorical monsters-in-the-closet than regarded seriously. I suspect this at least partially due to the cacophony created by so many humans, and the fatigue of it causing us to reject any new stimulation instinctively to protect our overexcited senses.

This is to say, it is not that I am concerned overpopulation will lead to intractable problems, but that it already has. That the division and animosity in the world right now are harbingers; early symptoms of an illness already attacking the body of humanity. And that disease is the bloated excess of humanity itself.

Overpopulation deniers must absolutely consider the intangible issues if they truly care for the well being of individuals and humanity as a whole. To ignore that perspective is illustrative of a lack of consideration and compassion that cannot be escaped through the stubborn nihilism of only acknowledging the quantifiable. No amount of performative I-care-more-than-you-do-because-I-have-charts-and-graphs-to-back-me-up can overcome the treacherous lack of concern for how our quality of life is impacted by an overabundance of quantity.

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