Fighter pilots often have a maxim like this one. The idea is that while engaging in a dogfight with an enemy plane is dangerous, it’s when an enemy plane you didn’t know was there gets behind you and starts shooting that you are really in trouble.
Similarly, when dealing with a society as a whole, it’s the threats we don’t see – or more accurately, the threats that we do not allow ourselves to see – that will bring us down.
I have long argued that the main problem facing humanity today is the policy of the rich to deliberately create a population explosion, which is making a few people even richer and impoverishing the rest of us. It might seem that I am a bit of a one-note singer here: how can so many of the problems in the world be due to this one thing? Isn’t the world complicated, and don’t we face many problems? Why focus on just this one thing?
Yes the world is complicated, but right now there is one big thing that overshadows all else, and that’s forced population growth. We might get all of a dozen other problems addressed, but if we ignore this one thing, it will cancel all else out. Why?
1. Exponential population growth can and will and always has cancelled out all other factors. This is beyond mere economics: we are talking physics here.
2. There is an almost complete ban on mentioning the fact that exponential population growth causes poverty for the many, and an even more total ban on mentioning that this population growth is in very large part being deliberately created by the rich. Forced population growth is the thing we can’t allow ourselves to see, and that’s always what brings you down.
There are many ways that people can die. They can be shot or stabbed or get cancer or starve or drown or fall from a great height or burn to death in a fire etc.etc. All of these possibilities are potentially 100% fatal: in that sense they are all equally powerful. But it’s the one that you are actually facing right now that is important. Getting all the others right but drown, and you are still 100% dead.
Suppose that the population of the world had been allowed to stabilize at a billion or two, and population growth was not an issue. Suppose also that there was a total ban on mentioning the bad health effects of lead exposure, and cars all used leaded gasoline, and our water and food were heavily contaminated with lead, and people were getting sick en masse from lead poisoning. In that case I, being a true iconoclast, would be railing about the dangers of lead and I would not be talking about population growth. In that case it would be lead that would be at risk of taking civilization down.
But that’s not what happened. A few rich people did benefit from putting lead into gasoline, and they did try to suppress the information about its harmful effects, but most rich people didn’t have a stake in leaded products, and a public debate was possible. It took a while, but the harmful effects of lead were defined, and lead was slowly removed from gasoline and paint and water pipes etc. Lead exposure is still a public health risk, of course, but it has been reduced to a relatively minor one. Today lead exposure is simply not a major cause of human misery. Because we could talk about it, and because we could talk about it, we could take action.
And this is true of so many things. The HIV/AIDS virus was an especially nasty disease, at one time a virtual sentence of slow and painful death and spreading rapidly through the population. It remains a serious problem, it has hardly been solved, but at least in the United States great progress has been made, and I would say that HIV/AIDS is not currently amongst the great challenges that we as a society face.
The list goes on. In the 19th century train and other industrial accidents routinely caused disasters that killed and maimed many people. There were some vested interests that didn’t want to spend the money investing in safer systems, but nevertheless there were public outcries, and safety standards slowly brought into being… and today the intrinsic safety of commercial air and rail transport are at levels so high that they seem almost superhuman to me.
But forced population growth is different. That tends to benefit all the rich, as a class. And so public discussion of this has been effectively banned. My current favorite example is Syria. The government criminalized birth control (not just abortion, but condoms and birth control pills), and propagandized that everyone had to breed like a rabbit for the greater glory of Syria. The population doubled every 18 years, and it hit the current limits, and the place collapsed. And yet, while Syria has been in the news almost every day for many years now, there is a total ban on any mention of the Syrian government’s policy of maximizing population growth. I have never seen a single mainstream corporate press mention of this fact. Oh the data are there if you know the right keywords, and in specialist sociological texts, but it is banned from the public space. And so nothing is done, not just in Syria, but everywhere. And it is too-rapid population growth, variously caused or encouraged or at least allowed to occur without discussion, that will slowly crush the bulk of us into poverty and turn the world back into a stagnant and corrupt dark age.
Because it’s the problem that you cannot allow yourself to see that kills you.