The Ethics of Population Control

Population Control Today

After reading an ethics article regarding contraceptives as a viable use for population control, I got to thinking more deeply into this idea of overpopulation and what can be said to be an ethical means of reduction or stagnation. Although the BBC article primarily focuses on the contraceptives as a form of population control, there are many other proposed solutions (some good, some bad) that require their own ethical analyses. An easy, yet morally questionable method would be some sort of extinction event that eliminates significant portions of the human populace such as a nuclear attack, asteroid hitting the earth, etc.

Scientists are currently assessing the potential threat of a 6th extinction event that is believed to be primarily caused by mankind’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystem and environment. Over-exploitation of food and resources for an ever-growing population has the very real potential to tip the ecosystem out of balance. The claim is that mankind is leading to a disruption and extinction of larger animals which in turn will lead to ‘blooms’ or surges in prey species or pests that will further damage the environment.

As far back as the 70’s, the United States began discussions on the implications of population growth in the United States, beginning on December 10, 1974 the first official document entitled the National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM-200), also more commonly known as the Kissinger Document, that followed population concerns of the United States and the international population during a conference attended by both the CIA and USAID in Bucharest.

The document was declassified in 1990 and available to the public and is currently held in the national archives. In article by Brian Clowes, Ph.D, he discusses the Kissnger Document, or NSSM-200 as the foundational documentation of the United States first emerging interest in population issues. There have since been hundreds of discussions and briefings both locally and internationally as this becomes a growing concern.

What is in the NSSM-200?

In the documents, the discussion of addressing the United States population issues are handled by delineating international policies and contingency plans meant for improving trade arrangements and resource acquisitions for the growing demand in the U.S. This includes policies such as maintaining access to mineral resources in underdeveloped nations, giving the U.S. incentive to withhold aid for these countries and exploiting them for their own needs and gains.

According to Clowes, “In order to protect U.S. commercial interests, NSSM-200 cited a number of factors… including a large population of anti-imperialist youth, whose numbers must be limited by population control” in order to preserve the exploitation of mineral resources in underdeveloped countries. Think Baby Boomer mentalities vs. Generation X and Millenial mentalities and the massive political shift we are experiencing in Washington D.C. as ever since the Obama administration, more and more grassroots student and younger generation voters have begun having a voice in dramatically changing the campaign process and whether our system will continue to run as a faux democracy or a true one.

The NSSM-200 also suggests these following methods to stem the population growth:

  • the legalization of abortion;
  • financial incentives for countries to increase their abortion, sterilization and contraception-use rates;
  • indoctrination of children; and
  • mandatory population control and coercion of other forms, such as withholding disaster and food aid unless an LDC implements population control programs.

Pay particular attention when you read declassified documents that call for the need of ‘indoctrination of children,’ with the NSSM-200 also calling for the United States to cover up any public exposure to its involvement in population control policy.

Apart from the political and modern concerns regarding population control, other, more extreme methods have been argued in philosophical ethics debates, and have been seen in pop culture and cinema. Ranging from ‘Soylent Green’, a film based on the novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ by Harry Harrison, the growing food demands of an excess population called for recycling human remains of the impoverished to feed to the people as a ration controlled substance called soylent green to other extreme examples such as the plot of Ozymandias in The Watchmen to simulate international nuclear warfare to decimate the worlds population and reunite them under a true globalist agenda.

Population Disruption in ‘The Watchmen’

For anyone who has seen or read The Watchmen, you know that Ozymandias’ plan involved uniting the world against a common enemy, but in order to do so, he had to eliminate half the world’s population via mass murder and manipulation of Dr. Manhattan. Although the intention was not for population control, Ozymandias’ plan sheds light on the growing conflict and competition that arises in an overpopulated world. Many densely populated countries like China and India have extremely large populations of impoverished people. This cycle of poverty will only continue to get worse as more of the population exhausts the Earth’s finite resources.

The Utilitarian Lens

When viewed through a Utilitarian lens, population control, whether coerced or voluntary, establishes that it is ethical. As population grows, demand for resources increases and as that demand begins to increase and is failed to be met, poverty and deficiencies begin in the population and continue to worsen as the population continues growing exponentially, while demand is based on the need for finite and dwindling resources internationally. At some point on the continuum, vast numbers of the population begin to lose utility as food becomes scarce, available housing either becomes scarce or increased at the further expense of finite resources. It is this concern that intrigued a philosopher and economist by the name Thomas Malthus who began discussing the population crisis in the lat 18th century. In his book ‘An Essay On the Principle of Population,’ he discusses a grim future where population would continue to double at the current growth rate every 25 years. Although his math was a little off for making future predictions of population levels (i.e. the world consumed by a population 256 billion people by the 20th century), the results are still startling; population has grown at an exponential rate, particularly since the industrial revolution at a much more accelerated rate than Malthus predicted. A popular graphical representation of Malthus’ theory is shown below:

The ‘grim’ future Malthus discussed involves the point in time when population has surpassed the amount of available resources. Some ideas Malthus had for population control were seen as abhorrent and were rejected by the philosophical and political climate of his time. Malthus is most famous for introducing the idea of ‘moral restraint,’ or “a deliberate decision by men to refrain ‘from pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one woman’, i.e. to marry later in life than had been usual and only at a stage when fully capable of supporting a family.” This policy, rejected in the 18th century, continues to be a topic of marriage and birth control that have been practiced in Countries like China, but in the developed world still are swept under the rug as unacceptable violations of rights and liberties in the Western world.

At what point do we decide when population control policy is necessary? Do we work hard to overcome the hurdles and red tape barring discussions to early or preemptive population control policies, or do we wait until its too late and extremist nations or aggressive actions such as warfare resurface as an inevitable battle for finite resources ensues?

As usual, let me know what you think in the comments, do you think there is an easy or approachable way to handle out of control population growth?

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