The British elite prefers polite Malthusianism

The American woman paying British drug addicts to stop breeding is only saying out loud what respectable people normally say in code.

Nathalie Rothschild

Topics Politics

Barbara Harris, an American mother of four children whom she adopted from a crack addict, is offering British drug users a fix with a twist: cash for sterilisation.

Harris’s North Carolina-based charity Project Prevention has already paid 3,500 Americans addicted to drugs or alcohol to have sterilisations or to get long-term birth control. Now she is bringing the initiative to Britain and has been accused of taking advantage of vulnerable people and even of acting like Hitler. She is offering to pay £200 to any drug user in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Leicester and parts of Wales who agrees to be operated on. Critics claim her brash methods may work in America, but they have no place in Britain.

In truth, Harris’s highly distasteful Malthusianism is mirrored across polite British society. There are many charities and influential spokespeople here who try to cajole people into limiting the number of children they have. The only difference is that amongst Britain’s better-educated Malthusians, the preferred method for pregnancy prevention is moral bribery rather than financial bribery. Instead of cold, hard cash, ‘Our Malthusians’ use seemingly subtle, fluffy incentives to try to control fecundity, such as telling us that having smaller families will help reduce our carbon footprints and leave a more spacious, eco-diverse planet for the next generation.

Harris’s no-BS approach may jar with British sensibilities, but in the UK many a stiff upper lip has curled at the thought of rampant procreation ruining the planet. Only the other week, for instance, John Guillebaud, an emeritus professor of reproductive health and family planning at University College London, proposed a ‘non-rigid guideline to UK couples that a two-child maximum is the greatest contribution anyone can make to a habitable planet for our grandchildren’.

Guillebaud said the world is experiencing a ‘youthquake’ and proposed that doctors encourage patients not to have more than two children. The benevolent professor admitted that enforcing a Chinese-style one-child policy or socially stigmatising unplanned pregnancies would be bad things. Still, something must be done, he said, because larger families need larger cars and houses and use up more resources.

So while Harris tells her ‘clients’ that they have a responsibility not to pass on crack addictions to their kids, the esteemed professor tells couples that they have a responsibility not to pass on their ‘addiction to stuff’ to the next generation.

Guillebaud’s proposal is far from original. Last year, the green, overpopulation-obsessed outfit the Optimum Population Trust launched a ‘Stop at Two’ online pledge to encourage couples to limit their family size. Jonathon Porritt, a patron of OPT and previously an environmental adviser to the New Labour government, said ‘every additional human being is increasing the burden on this planet which is becoming increasingly intolerable’.

Such is the deep Malthusianism of sections of the eco-lobby that some greens don’t even need a handout from an American in order to get sterilised – they are doing it voluntarily. Some British women are getting sterilised in order to protect the planet from overpopulation. One, who works at an environmental organisation, got an abortion and then a sterilisation in order, she said, to help save the planet: ‘Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of overpopulation.’

Compared to the deranged worldview of deep greens, who see every pregnant woman as harbouring an environmental-disaster-in-the-making, Project Prevention looks positively tame. The odious Barbara Harris sees only one section of humanity, the drug addicts, as giving birth to a damaged kind of life – the respectable green movement sees every birth as potentially destructive.

You might say that in targeting drug addicts, Harris is saying that some people – Them – have no right to become parents. But the overpopulation debate is also riddled with prejudice about the ‘wrong’ kind of people having too many kids, whether it’s working-class people in Britain or black and Asian families in the developing world. Harris’s organisation is only saying more explicitly what the respectable Malthusians have learned to spin in the language of saving the planet and empowering women. Here is a woman who just comes right out and says it: some people are not worthy of having children. No mollycoddling, no subtle nudging; just a couple of hundred quid, a snip, and the problem is solved.

Of course, for the mainstream Malthusian lobby, talk of sterilisation sounds too much like eugenics; campaigning for couples to have just one child sounds too much like Chinese authoritarianism; and only criticising oversized Third World families is too much like colonialism. They far prefer initiatives such as the ‘stop at two or the planet gets it’ campaign, which is seen as being completely PC and acceptable in polite society. That is, they prefer moral blackmail to financial blackmail, warning us again and again that if we don’t stop breeding, the world will become an uninhabitable place. Is such baseless fearmongering about fecundity really that much better than giving cash to junkies on a Glasgow estate? In both cases, the aim is the same: to put pressure on people to stop breeding.

Harris’s cash-for-sterilisation incentive is insensitive and cruel. But the emotional blackmail of the mainstream sustainability school of thought is even more insidious, devious and tasteless. It poses everyone who has children as selfish and irresponsible, telling us that by having kids we are creating little carbon monsters who will grow up to be as addicted to stuff as their parents were.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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