As a populationist looking at the state of our country, I decided it was time to put down, to codify, a set of ideas about population that has solidified into a philosophy over decades.
The first premise is that almost all the problems of the human race are a function of population. At the extreme end, if there were only five people in the world, and they pissed right in the lake they drank out of, they’d be just fine. At the other end, even in my town of semi-well-regulated development, we’re straining to keep E. coli out of the water supply because of all the new houses that have hooked their septic systems up over the past half century.
I’m not trying to say, with a smaller population, the human race would be angelic. At the time of Ancient Greece, there may have been only 50 million people in the entire world, in contrast to today’s 7.6 billion and counting. And they found plenty of reasons to fight over resources that weren’t one-hundredth as scarce as they are now. But, essentially, more people equals more problems or greater intensity of problems. Illustrative would be the decline in all species of saltwater fish worldwide, the growing carbon imbalance in our air and water, and things as commonplace as traffic jams.
Once you conclude that population is the problem, then immediately you turn to how the population might be reduced and come smack up against the traditional method: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Yes, we humans can reduce our population quickly with a combination of war and famine. Conquest is really just lopsided war, and death as such is a rather general category. Perhaps a stand-in for death would be disease: Ebola, smallpox, or bubonic plague could shave a few billion people off the roster in no time at all.
But let’s say that enlightened humans find it hard to face the idea that the only way out of this mess is to kill off a mass of (hopefully other) people. If you want to reduce population without resorting to draconian measures, then it has to be done by attrition. That is, let people die off naturally and just make sure you’re not over-replacing them so that the population can slowly dial back.
The thing is, all the policies that promote this peaceful reduction would be labeled radically liberal in the political spectrum of today’s United States. For example, easy access to birth control and abortion. Gay rights. Legal assisted suicide. But the bedrock, the most foundational notion is that women must be able to control their own bodies. And all the children who actually do get born need to be taken care of so that they can contribute positively to the next generation. By that precept, adoption by non-traditional families should also be encouraged.
So, without feeling particularly radical, I find myself in agreement with policies labeled flamingly radical by certain people. Understand, that in America today even our left is pretty far to the right. It’s all a matter of perspective.
What have I done about my beliefs? Not much. But a few things. My largest charitable contributions for the past decade or so have been to Planned Parenthood.
And I provide escort service to Planned Parenthood patients once a month. This service involves standing on a city street for two hours in the morning and helping arriving patients get through the gauntlet of protesters. Weekdays, it’s pretty quiet. Protesters are always there. They know when abortions are being performed. It’s on the Website. And they cover the sidewalk outside the clinic at every single moment abortion services are offered. Every. Single. One. And a few more, just for good luck. In my state, Massachusetts, many of the protesters are Catholic, and usually they just pray and hand out rosaries. But sometimes they shout after the patients things like, “Look at the ultrasound!”, “We can help!”, and “Save the baby!”
We’ve been trained, the rotating squad of escorts, and we don’t engage the protesters. My trick is that I imagine them as a flock of exotic flamingos, standing on one foot, squawking in a language I can’t understand. I hear them making sounds, but they could be mating calls, they could be predator warnings. I wouldn’t know. My job is to pick the patients out of the crowd, maybe catch their eye, pry them away from the protesters, who often pose as helpers and confuse them, and get them in the door as quickly as possible, all while running a patter designed to plaster over some of the more hurtful things the protesters say.
I started doing this in 2014 after the Roberts not-so-Supreme Court decided unanimously to strike down a Massachusetts state law that banned protesters from coming within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. The law was originally passed in response to the fatal shooting of two staff members at an abortion clinic in Brookline in 1994. I happened to be working down the street at the time.
Anti-abortion groups celebrated the decision because it would allow them to offer counsel to patients heading into (and out of) the clinic. If any of you have had experience with abortion clinic patients, you’ll know that by the time they screw up the courage to go to the clinic, they are not just ambling in casually, stopping to chat with helpful people on the sidewalk along the way from that open Uber door on the street, over that impossibly wide stretch of concrete sidewalk, to that heavy steel door behind which are metal detectors and good guys with guns. The patients want to get inside, and that’s it.
So, this is where the matter stands. People like me have to waste our time because these protesters can’t find anything better to do with theirs. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the non-Four-Horsemen options are thinning out. Humanity is approaching the eye of a needle, and, to survive, each and every one of us will have to pass through. It won’t be easy, but it would help if most of us were pulling in the same direction. Otherwise, enter the Horsemen.