Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Of Mice And Men

Since we don’t know the outcome in Ukraine, or when Merrick Garland will get around to prosecuting our criminal ex-“president” (who just called Putin’s invasion “genius”), let’s talk about something possibly even more impactful.

Lately, people are raising alarms about negative population growth. In the US, it’s only slowing, so far; but in dozens of countries there’s actually a net decline. Japan, for one. It bodes ill, say the ill-boders. In fact, it’s a glimmer of hope for humanity. Admittedly, though, it’s a threat to capitalism; which explains the concern.

Before certain readers poke their pre-programmed “COMMIE” buttons and hit “send,” I like capitalism. I believe for-profit competition is good. I spent my career in just such an institution. Capitalism fuels innovation. In college, traveling the Soviet Union on a Russian language study program, even as a politically-na├»ve biology major I saw the failings of its opposite.

Shoddy products, disinterested and disincentivized workers, antiquated, crumbling factories, drab, cramped housing in huge, gray apartment buildings; block after block of them. Even to me, and well before Saint Ronnie demanded Mr. Gorbachev “tear down this wall,” inevitable collapse was obvious. Nonstop, ubiquitous propaganda about the American enemy seemed designed to distract from their dictatorial leadership’s inadequacies. (A Foxian parallel for Trumpists.)

Except for a few evanescent, wishful enclaves, pure communism has never existed. Where it has, it failed, because human nature isn’t as altruistic as the system requires. Nor does unregulated capitalism, like that in the age of the robber barons, work for long, for similar failings of human nature: greed; exploitation of the powerless; disregard for collateral damage to the planet.

But even properly-regulated capitalism has an inherent and ominous flaw: dependence on consumption, requiring an ever-expanding consumer base. Which, in a closed-system – Earth, for example – is unsustainable. Sooner or later, substrate runs out. Which, it’s apparent, is happening very much closer to the sooner side. Some say it’s the real reason for Putin’s aggression: Water. If so, it won’t be the last war over it. 

Businesses exist by and for making stuff. When people have most of the stuff they need, businesses find ways to convince them they need more, or they fail. We’ve been taught to value stuff over substance, so we consume. And reproduce. More and more. We pollute, we poison, we gas the wind, while producers, fearing an end to profit, and politicians, fearing an end to cashflow therefrom, convince us to deny.

As oceans warm, coral reefs die, icecaps melt and the sea rises; as species go extinct, daily, because they can’t adjust; as floods and droughts, wildfires, hurricanes and heatwaves break record after record, counter-reality warnings are heard from those who see population decrease as a threat. Go forth and multiply. Add to the population. Subtract from available resources. Divide the country with lies about the peril we face. Weapons of math destruction.

Forests, the lungs of the planet, disappear, to be replaced with housing. Roads, once at least occasionally passable, are becoming increasingly gridlocked. Ours are among the worst in the US. It can’t continue like this. Clearly, there’s a breaking point. In the long run, how can having more humans be a good thing for the planet? Or, in fact, for humans?

In medical school I read of an experiment done with mice. Placed in increasingly close quarters with a limited amount of food, reproduction stopped and they began eating each other. We haven’t yet taken up cannibalism – not, at least, to the extent that the Qanon-convinced would have us believe about Hillary Clinton and liberals. But data are showing we’re heading down the other road.

Which proves, participants in a particularly propagandized political party excepted, we’re at least as smart as mice. Republicans not only deny climate change and push pollution, they’ll create more and desperate people. Intentionally forcing unwanted and unaffordable births, some members are angling to end access to contraceptives. That’s ideological, self-destructive – if typical -- madness. The last thing we need is increasing population. 

If we’re not yet eating each other, we sure are murdering. States with newly-enacted “stand your ground” laws have seen an eleven-percent increase in killings. A maddened believer in Foxotrumpian lies about Antifa and BLM just assassinated an unarmed woman and shot five others directing traffic in a peaceful protest in Portland. Examples abound. Is overpopulation part of the reason for the growing violence we’re seeing? Do we sense the walls closing in?

In addition to their always-reliable culture wars, Republicans are campaigning on “preventing socialism.” But if we can’t find a way for capitalism to function without ceaseless population growth, what’s already happening won’t end well. 

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