Malthusian snobs pray for cure for overpopulation

A misanthropic dinner party elite wants to see the human race decimated by disease – just so long as it doesn't affect them

BY Brendan O'Neill LAST UPDATED AT 00:00 ON Fri 14 Nov 2008

In the middle of all the hoo-hah over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's childish phone calls on a late-night radio show, you may have missed a far more scandalous utterance that was made on BBC radio.

On 5 November, the upmarket Nightwaves on BBC Radio 3 aired a discussion about overpopulation between Dr Susan Blackmore (a neuroscientist) and Professor John Gray (of the London School of Economics).

Dr Blackmore said the "fundamental problem" facing the planet today is that "there are too many people". Professor Gray agreed. Then Dr Blackmore declared: "For the planet's sake, I hope we have bird flu or some other thing that will reduce the population, because otherwise we're doomed."

So, it's official: at the Beeb it is unacceptable to make crude jokes about having sex with someone's granddaughter, but it is perfectly OK to wish death upon large swathes of mankind.

Make a rude call to Andrew Sachs' answerphone and you will be accused of dragging the BBC's good name through the dirt. Spout misanthropic nonsense about the need for a speedily contagious disease to come and wipe out mankind and nobody will bat an eyelid.

At the Beeb it is perfectly OK to wish death upon large swathes of mankind

The disparity between the public reaction to Brandgate (wild) and the public reaction to what I think we should call 'Birdflugate' (non-existent) reveals a great deal about the warped morality of the cultural elite.

The reason why Dr Blackmore's remark received no coverage or complaints is because the herbal tea-drinking literati that listens to Radio 3 discussion programmes will secretly share her prejudices about overpopulation.

Malthusianism, the one-eyed belief that all of the Earth's problems are caused by over-breeding, is making a comeback in polite circles.

Following the discrediting of eugenics during the Second World War, Malthusians had been rather shamefaced about their beliefs. They continually invented new PC terms with which they might dress up their angst about "too many people".

In Africa in particular, measures to tackle overpopulation were promoted in the deceitful language of "choice" and "autonomy", by charities keen to avoid being accused of pursuing that far uglier-sounding goal: population control.

More recently, however, Malthusians have become more strident. The poisonous notion that the speedily breeding masses are pushing the planet to breaking point has become a casual dinner-party prejudice.

Earlier this year Prince Phillip gave a TV interview in which he offered a pat explanation for the food price crisis: "Too many people." On the other side of the political spectrum, a republican columnist for the Independent fretted about the "swelling billions" (that's people in the Third World ) who are pushing our planet to extinction.  

Professor Gray has referred to humanity as a "plague". The novelist Lionel Shriver recognises that this is a "racially, religiously and ethnically sticky" issue but says "the threat of overpopulation is back and here to stay".

Dr Blackmore was taking these increasingly common prejudices to their logical conclusion when she wished that bird flu would come and kill some of us off (the "swelling billions", preferably, rather than Radio 3 aficionados).  

She follows in the tradition of Earth First!, the eco-group which in the early 1990s said that "just as the Plague contributed to the demise of feudalism, Aids has the potential to end industrialism".

More recently, the Optimum Population Trust, which counts Prince Charles's eco-adviser Jonathon Porritt among its directors, said that if we don't find a way to reduce human numbers then "it will be one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse that bumps us off".  

Enough. If Ross and Brand's outburst showed that comedians have trouble censoring their inner adolescents, then these middle-class fantasies about human annihilation suggest the cultural elite cannot keep its misanthropy in check.

The neo-Malthusians are as wrong as every population alarmist in history has ever been. Like Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and his followers, today's bird flu dreamers make the schoolboy error of treating population growth as the only variant, and everything else – food production, progress, human ingenuity – as fixed entities.

They are motivated by severe pessimism about humanity's ability to come up with solutions to its problems, and by the base idea that disease is the only thing that can sort us out. · 

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