The illustration above, of the Virgin Mary, would be a good poster for promoting small families and women's rights to education. Detail from The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen by Master of Flémalle, (b. ca. 1375, Valenciennes, d. 1444, Tournai)
The Virgin Mary had a small family
This article looks at some statements and assumptions made by Daily Mail (UK) journo, Melanie Phillips, in what I would call a reactionary article, "Why do Green zealots think they can dictate how many children we are allowed to have?" (03rd February 2009)
The caption under a stock photo of a slim, attractive woman playing with a baby in a clean bedroom on a double bed, in "Why do Green zealots think they can dictate how many children we are allowed to have?" reads,
"The Government's 'green' advisor Jonathon Porritt said couples who have more than two children are 'irresponsible'".
Did he? Implicit in his remark, I think, was consideration of human impact on climate change and other environmental problems which threaten human survival.
Melanie seems to be taking this all down to the personal, when it is clear that Porritt is looking at a big picture.
"So the deepest green of them all turns out to be not so much a friend of the earth as an enemy of the human race."
Seems pretty amazing that she can accuse Porritt of being an enemy of the human race without being sued for defamation. She is equating him to a Hitler. Where is the evidence?
"Apparently this is all because people have to accept responsibility 'for their total environmental footprint'. That's what having children amounts to, apparently, in his mind. The blessings of a large family and the contribution this makes to prosperity and progress don't figure at all," she continues.
Prosperity and progress
Some of us don't believe in this idea of prosperity and progress which is supposed to accompany increasing populations and large families. To some of us it looks like we are all getting land-poor and that the rich excuse their high consumption (and large families of consumers) by pretending that it's all going to be shared... one day ... with everyone. Not much evidence that this is happening.
Instead, children are to be measured solely by their burdensome impact on the planet.
Is Jonathon Porritt really reducing children to this alone? Or is he making a valid argument about population policy needing to adapt to a fragile environment?
"What kind of sinister and dehumanised mindset is this? It is no coincidence that the country which comes nearest to Jonathon's ideal society is Communist China, which imposed a murderously cruel policy of restricting families to one child apiece. For the desire to reduce the number of children that parents produce is innately totalitarian."
It isn't innately totalitarian. It was normal in all societies to limit family sizes to within what their environment could comfortably support. Then the English speaking countries, from the 13th century, came to be known as the nation of orphans, because they dispossessed all but the first child, and contributed to a stock of landless labour, without the vote and without the right to refuse to labour for the landed. This socio-economic aberration was then exported throughout the British colonial world. This is what progress and big families in the same sentence really mean.
"Reproduction is humanity's strongest instinct", Phillips asserts.
I'd like to see her defend that indefensible statement. How about food, water and shelter? In every generation, large numbers of people have never reproduced. Why does she utter these baseless generalities? Oh yes, she is a mainstream journalist. That is her job.
"To seek to curb it is to interfere with one of our most fundamental freedoms and desires," she rants.
Hunger, thirst and land-poverty curb all our fundamental freedoms and desires, including procreation. Porritt is offering us a choice. Melanie Phillips sounds like she is defending ignorance and lack of choice. A dictatorship of unknown options.
Then Phillips starts to hurl mud hysterically at a man who simply urges us to choose a safe route through danger.
"To do so on the basis that Jonathon Porritt possesses unique insight into the needs of our world which is denied to the lesser mortals who inhabit it is not just monumental arrogance - it is also the delusion of totalitarian tyrants from Stalin to Hitler to Mao."
But Hitler gave out prizes to women who had the biggest families and Mao said that "Every child that is born has two hands to feed himself." Mao caused overpopulation in China. Hitler wanted space for Germany's population to grow. Is Phillips a professional ignoramus?
"But then the green movement is essentially totalitarian in outlook. It sees people as a nuisance which has to be controlled. Accordingly, green interference in our lives now stretches from turning the ordinary lightbulb into an endangered species, telling hospitals to stop serving meat on patients' menus, and sending round the garbage police if someone commits the crime of putting a tin can or plastic bottle into the receptacle designated for paper."
If we had not so massively increased our populations then perhaps people would not be so worried about consumption nor go round policing garbage.
This 'green movement' Phillips talks about must be some creation of the mainstream press. I'm an environmental sociologist and I find that the problem is that governments and big business force countries of the first world to have bigger populations, by breaking down their land-use planning laws, and their local democracies. Such alliances also mislead naive men and women into having children in the absence of security, by giving out small sums of money and fostering cornucopianism. Thus the demand is maintained for the endless suburbs that cover the nature that protects us from our own pollution. And denying other creatures even the right to exist, let alone have big families.
"Now," she writes, "by pointing out what he says is the population 'ghost at the table', Porritt has blown environmentalism's cover. For he is not some maverick sounding off. These views are mainstream within the green movement, and they are growing.
Actually, Melanie, the population of Britain and the English speaking countries is growing, and candobetter.org has blown its cover. Melanie Phillips sounds like a propagandist for growth and she is working for the corporate press, so she probably is. Have a look at http://candobetter.org/PropagandaWatch Melanie; it's a mirror.