The Left has long been infected by a dangerous desire to tell you how many children you’re allowed to have. Today, that urge takes shape in the tendency of progressives to blame “extra children” for all of our woes.
They particularly like to pin the supposedly devastating effects of climate change on families that dare to have more than a “reasonable” number of offspring. This charming argument cropped up again early yesterday morning in a tweet from progressive commentator Jill Filipovic: “Having children is one of the worst things you can do for the planet. Have one less and conserve resources,” she wrote in response to a Guardian article on the topic.
Never mind that Filipovic just published a book arguing women can only be fulfilled if societal structures protect their ability to do whatever will bring them the most pleasure at any given moment. Apparently, that fundamental freedom to order your life exactly as you please — aided by extensive government programs, of course — only applies if you stick to the Left’s proscribed number of children.
This latest example of Filipovic insisting that she knows how to live your life better than you do was prompted by a new study finding that the “best” way to reduce one’s carbon emissions is to have at least one fewer child. Such daft suggestions prompt the inevitable question: which child?
Who among us has the right to decide when a child is “extra” and how many is too many? We might as well get down to business right away and begin by eliminating all of the “extra” people currently milling about the globe, taxing the Earth’s precious resources with their costly carbon-dioxide emissions. Any volunteers?
If the Left’s view becomes widely accepted as a desirable course of action, there is no limiting principle to prevent it from becoming a government-enforced mandate against over-reproduction. And if enough people become convinced that over-population is quickly killing the Earth — which, by the way, it’s not — a regime of legally limited reproduction may even be considered a routine part of the government’s duty to protect its citizens.
America’s history of over-population panic hardly began with Filipovic’s tweet this morning. In the 1920s, many medical experts, lawmakers, and supposed reformers advocated forced sterilization as a method of reducing unwanted populations and thus limiting growth. For example, Margaret Sanger — the founder of what is today Planned Parenthood — began her group with the goal of providing contraceptives directly to minority communities, and her writings show that she did so largely to limit the continued growth the continued growth of unwanted populations.
This grotesque mindset contributed to the widespread use of government-sanctioned, forced sterilizations to rid the country of “unfit” populations. In 32 states over the course of the last century, federally funded programs targeted the disabled, the mentally ill, immigrants, minority women, and poor people for sterilization, often without their knowledge, and always without their consent. From the 1920s to the 1970s, 65,000 Americans with mental illnesses or development disabilities alone were forcibly sterilized.
In 1927, the Supreme Court held in Buck v. Bell that forced sterilizations carried out on the feebleminded or otherwise unfit populations were constitutional. In the majority opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of the defendant, who had been sterilized at birth, that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” That appalling decision still stands.
In the late 1960s, though, reformers and activists turned from eliminating “unfit” populations to lamenting the consistent growth of the overall population. Fueled largely by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich’s manifesto “The Population Bomb,” large swathes of society began to believe fervently that the world’s implosion was imminent and could be staved off only by limiting human reproduction.
“Sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come . . . an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity,” Ehrlich said at the time.
“There’s too many people. And we’d like to see people have fewer children and better ones,” said Ehrlich’s student Stewart Brand said in 1969. “It’s about pain in the world. Maybe anybody who’s thinking of having a third child ought to go hungry a week.”
Like Brand, most adherents to Ehrlich’s group Zero Population Growth — which numbered about 600 chapters with 60,000 members across the country — ascribed to the biologist’s extreme beliefs, including that childbearing ought to be forbidden. Ehrlich even argued that compulsion would be acceptable if citizens didn’t cooperate.
Ehrlich wanted to create a blacklist of people and organizations that impeded population control, award “responsibility prizes” to couples with childless marriages, and impose a tax on children and a luxury tax on supplies such as diapers and cribs. As these ideas caught on around the world, India enacted a mass-sterilization program, sometimes using food aid and housing as coercion; the country conducted 8 million sterilizations during that period.
Needless to say, Ehrlich’s dramatic predictions never came close to being realized, and not because we stopped reproducing. “I was recently criticized because I had said many years ago that I would bet that England wouldn’t exist in the year 2000,” he said in a 2014 interview. “Well, England did exist in the year 2000, but that was only 14 years ago.”
Ehrlich and Brand’s rhetoric sounds more than vaguely familiar. Today’s Left might not openly espouse such psychotic theories, but the insistence upon tying the end of the world to overpopulation is very much with us. Blatant forms of racism and eugenics have faded into the background, but the underlying principles that motivated reformers in the 20th century still resonate.
At this week’s G-20 summit, for example, French president Emmanuel Macron suggested that Africa’s high population rate is a primary cause of the continent’s lack of growth. “When countries still have seven to eight children per woman, you can decide to spend billions of euros, but you will not stabilize anything,” he said.
This mindset helps explain why global non-profits have a laser-like focus on distributing copious amounts of contraception in Africa, under the guise of human rights. And it’s not just overseas. In the U.S., nearly 80 percent of all Planned Parenthood clinics are located within walking distance of black and Hispanic neighborhoods. In New York City, more black babies are aborted than born alive.
Planned Parenthood supporters will be the first to tell you that these clinics provide contraception and abortion on demand to give minority women equal access to opportunity. But in reality, strains of Sanger’s original mission echo, just as the refrain of Ehrlich’s forbidden reproduction echoes in the comments of Filipovic and Macron.
If progressives plan to continue indulging this latest disturbing strain of population-control rhetoric, they ought to be forced to confront the question: Who among us is less worthy of being alive?