Our intuition informs many of us that the single greatest problem on earth, along with — and inextricably linked to — climate change is overpopulation. The earth is beginning to seem as overrun by humans as a neglected granary is by mice.

But, in American politics, the issue is, to use a term bordering on over-used these days, a “third rail.” (In other words, to those unfamiliar with subways and commuter rail lines, no one wants to touch it.) First, it antagonizes conservative Christians, who view the edict “go forth and multiply” as a virtual amendment to the Ten Commandments. Second, many whites interpret advisory warnings to keep family size down as an open invitation to American Latinos to surpass them in numbers The third concern comes from the left, some of whom think that attempts to control population are the work of those who believe in modern-day eugenics (the dark side of genetic engineering).

Unadorned, the voice of eugenics today is no more evident than in the manifesto cum ultimatum that the Discovery Channel hostage taker James J. Lee issued. According to an AP article, Lee, who obviously watches too much TV, had previously “demanded an end to Discovery Communications LLC’s shows such as TLC’s ‘Kate [Gosselin] Plus 8’ and ’19 Kids and Counting.'” He wrote [“sics” where called for]:

The Discovery Channel and it’s affiliate channels MUST [focus] on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the

Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. . . . All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs’ places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed.

Admit it, don’t you kind of wish Lee had fleshed out the game show idea? Exactly how would that work? Also, referring to giving birth as “false heroics” is pure genius to those of us who believe that it may be more heroic for a married couple to choose not to reproduce and add to the overpopulation problem.

Okay, snap out of it. Whether or not events in his life helped drive him to his moment of infamy, Lee was obviously in the grips of advanced mental illness. His phrase “parasitic human infants” invokes how the Nazis killed “useless eaters” (the disabled). Also, thinking that media corporations would respond to his call for TV programs promoting sterilization is further evidence of how deluded he was.

Lee also invoked influential nineteenth century British scholar Thomas Malthus, who wrote:

The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

Lee and his ilk vastly simplify Malthus. Still, the term Malthusian has come to mean that population increases more rapidly than the food supply unless slowed by disease and war. This concept, rightly or wrongly, instills fear in those who believe that the ruling class and the corporate rich seek ways to “cull the herd.” (More in a future post about how that helps oligarchs and their associates.)

In 1994 Webster Tarpley, who describes himself as an activist historian (though whose hyperbole, as seen in the excerpt quoted below, sometimes results in him being categorized as a conspiracy theorist ) wrote:

During their preparations for the United Nations’ so-called International Conference on Population and Development, scheduled to be held in Cairo in September of this year, the genocidal bureaucrats of the U.N. are seeking to condition governments and public opinion worldwide to accept the notion of a “carrying capacity” for our planet. In other words, the U.N. butchers would like to establish scientific credibility for the idea that there is an absolute theoretical maximum number of persons the earth can support. Some preliminary documents for the Cairo conference set a world population level of 7.27 billion to be imposed for the year 2050, using compulsory abortion, sterilization, euthanasia and other grisly means. It is clear that the U.N. and its oligarchical supporters seek to exterminate population groups in excess of the limit.

Whether or not overpopulation has the potential to be turned to its own uses by the ruling and corporate classes doesn’t make it any less pressing an issue. Nor does it absolve us of the responsibility to devise and implement solutions. (Culling the herd aside, that is.)

Get more news like this, directly in your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter.