From a nice suburban garden ....
I am sorry to interfere with world affairs, which have no repercussion outside the English speaking community (or maybe just a little disturbance for the few Italians who have been alerted, count them on the fingers of ONE hand !)
I am referring to the interview of Sir David Attenborough by the witty Camilla Long, which appeared on the News review of the Culture International of the Sunday Times (19/4 /2009). It has been a big surprise for me to hear the complete unabridged views of our great naturalist , which have delighted my spirits with his nature documentaries.
When Sir David Attenborough was promoted Patron of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), we all have a reason to rejoice.
He has been quoted as saying:
“there are three times as many people in the world as when I started making television programmes 56 years ago. It is frightening. . We are seeing the consequences in terms of ecology, atmospheric pollution and in terms of space and food production.”
He may say obvious things that nobody in his right mind can deny, - yet oddly, increasingly, most dare not speak - but then, it’s ok, because it comes from the mouth of one of the most respected and famous personalities worldwide, and that counts, for sure.
To have Sir David Attenborough as a spokesperson for the “thorny” (his own words) problem of overpopulation is a great idea, because he is a decent, intelligent, not extremist, all virtues that make him and his views non-threatening, acceptable and almost mainstream. Maybe a bit too much…
Attenborough comes from educated, middle class, English traditional background. He may be labelled as DWM (Dead White Male), but for the fact that he is still, well, alive. He sees life through a retrospective mirror, stuck bang in his childhood: “…idyllic, a time in the Thirties when you could just get on your bicycle and be out in the country in half an hour…”
Today, he implies, the artificial world in which our children are immersed is so far removed from that love-affair with the natural world, and the real tragedy lies in the fact that society as a whole is not aware of the abnormality of the situation, to which we have been adapting so fast and so well. It is the parable of the boiled frog. It has changed the way we live, the way we think, we dream, we make love. The way we see nature, which has become the “environment”, has become profane and banal.
Now, I do not think that nature, in the good old days, was not raped, plundered, ignored but for the things she could provide. The good old days are obviously frozen by a sort of foggy and misericordious memory, which gives us the illusion that there was a Golden Age, and that we have actually belonged to it. For some lucky individuals, like an English curious boy born into a privileged environment, of course, it was. But around him, if he tried to look up from the wildlife and see the human life, the occasions for relaxing and seeing nature were of necessity nil.
Anyway, in later life, Attenborough had more than a chance to see slums and poverty, and, though used to look with complete moral indifference, required by the scientific approach, at the brutal fight for survival of the non-human species, he couldn’t stand the scene of that equivalent horror that is human life. It was life that in a deep sense belonged to him. If he now finds culture to be more determining than evolution, he finds human behaviour morally intolerable although he is well aware that for nature it is quite normal.
Finally the refusal of procreation is an act of charity, a teleological mission, to stop the horror of the futility of millions of wretched existences.
I understand this feeling, I, too, am a white woman, the type of personality described with some humour by another white man, a certain Brendan O’Neill (see www.spiked-online.com, Wednesday 1 April 2009, Brendan O’Neill Mixing with Malthusians):
“spiked editor Brendan O’Neill ventured into a pit of population-controllers, and found himself holding his nose. Looking around the lecture hall of the Royal Statistical Society (A fitting venue for a conference that reduced everything to statistics), I was struck by the make-up of the audience: white-haired demographers; ladies-who-normally-lunch-but-who-today-were-discussing-the-coming apocalypse; comparatively young but equally posh Soil Association supporters.”
I am not resentful of irony, it is healthy to look at oneself from somebody else’s perspective, but O’Neill misses the point. As I found out with some dismay, Sir David doesn’t agree to the credo of the OPT. The OPT propaganda hasn’t told the real story, as revealed in toto by the Sunday Time interview. At one moment, the interviewer asks more pertinent (or shall we say “impertinent”) questions. She wants to know, for example, what is the ideal figure for the human inhabitant’s of earth? Sir David is not sure, as I am not sure either, and I would like to challenge anybody to swear that he/she knows for sure. So far, so reasonable.
After a while Sir David stumbles on a rather big and unavoidable obstacle- or shall we say, he falls into an equally big hole ?
But let’s hear it from the lips of the Great Old White Man.
Distracted by the vision of a blue butterfly he slips unaided into a declaration on immigration:
“We have to keep our borders open it’s a worldwide problem… you want a free movement of people round the world because it’ the only way to stop wars …”
I won’t go on, out of embarrassment, but you are familiar with the refrain.
It is clear that the same ethically correct reasons that drove him to deny, in the name of an enlightened Western culture of which he is a brilliant example, the destructive life and death carousel, drives him to extend the liberty. that he himself enjoys to far away strangers.
Though these are noble views, they are dangerous in more than one way and smell of complacency and wishful thinking, They ignore the consequences which will be felt for generations to come, and ruin forever that earthly childhood Paradise which he nostalgically endorses while enabling its destruction.