Malthus: Ideology Matters Part II

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, November 11, 2014 0 comments

by Bill Seng

 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:20-23)

Sociology is a very interesting course… okay, I enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to argue with my professors and classmates with whom I disagreed with just about everything. Anyway, in my first semester of sociology class we progressively arrived at the issue of overpopulation. Historically, there were two main voices that tried to resolve what should be done with the population crisis. One of them a more of a blood-and-guts, “get rid of the riff raff” type of guy. The other was very methodical. No, we should not just send out the kill squads to eliminate those who were not fit to survive, but we certainly should not enable them to survive.

His method was brilliantly devious. There were his more subtle means of population control that merely involved the notion that people should not be married until later in life so that they may have fewer children. To cite this method as his primary contribution to the field of population control would be horribly misleading. This devious man, of course, is none other than Thomas Robert Malthus. Check out my blog post last week for a little more on him.

Before I go much further, my fascination with Malthus is in its infancy stage. I have only been made aware of how persistent his ideology has been for the past three or four years of my life and have had little time to do as much research on him as I would like. But the more I learn about him, the more clear it becomes that he very well may have been the father of the progressive movement.

“Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate [condemn strongly] specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders.” (Malthus 1878, 412)

Such a quote is not a rare finding inside of Malthus’ writings. This was a man who cared little about the commoner. In fact, he saw the common human as being little more than a scourge upon the earth, a waste of space that sucked mother earth’s resources dry before the truly important people could use them for something better.

In his writings it is clear that he believed that certain people were unfit to survive. When I say this, I am most specifically referring to infants. “The [illegitimate] infant is comparatively speaking, of little value to society, as others will immediately supply its place... All children beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this [desired] level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons.” (Malthus 1878, 411, 430-1) Reading this reminds me of the assurances of the pro-choice movement that insist some children would be better off not being born. It also reminds me of China’s strict one child per family laws that have grave consequences upon their infringement.

The other group that comes to mind is the poor. Even though I do agree with him that “poor laws” are not always to the benefit of those living in poverty, I would also say that I disagree with his remedy. As stated in his earlier quote, he would encourage the spread of disease among the economically unfit. The spread of disease would alleviate the burden from the ruling class to deal with the impoverished and instead lay them at nature’s wrath. Without knowing any better the poor would wipe themselves out by propagating disease and the fit would be free to reign however they may please.

Oddly enough, most of the people in my classroom agreed with the idea of population control whether it was from Malthus’ school of thought or the other guy’s. I must admit that it was most troubling to see how many were siding with the ideology that advocated for brutal social cleansing. Regardless, a dilemma that they had not considered was, “On what side of population control would you be legally bound, given such circumstances?” We all want to think that we are superior to the rest of the human population but people like Malthus believe that over 90% and some even say upwards of 98% are a waste of space and resources. That is a lot of people and I would dare to suggest that unless you went to an Ivy League school you would not make the cut. Somewhere between 2-10% of the population would be spared if people like Malthus had their way.

From the little I know about Malthus’ teachings I have been most preoccupied with what policies they have led to today. Let us make that the topic of our next discussion.