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Ecology or Ideology? The Social Contract on Population

Brian Schultz • Feb 02, 2012

Earlier this week, the white nationalist quarterly journal The Social Contract released its first issue of 2012. Established in 1990 by John Tanton, architect of the contemporary anti-immigrant movement, The Social Contract has long served as an outlet for the more extreme figures in this camp.

This issue being no exception, the winter edition featured several writers from the organization Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), a group committed to stanching all immigration to the US—both undocumented and “legal.”

A number of writers who have had past involvement with CAPS, including Brenda Walker, Fred Elbel, and Rick Oltman, made typical arguments conflating immigration with population growth and proclaiming an urgent need to halt both. Other CAPS personnel had a more specific axe to grind; Leon Kolankiewicz, a writer for the organization, and Stuart Hurlbert, CAPS’s secretary, both wrote separate articles maligning the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Apparently, CAPS was denied a table at a recent AAAS meeting after the latter unearthed the “concerted political agenda” of the former. This resulted in CAPS throwing a public tantrum, lamenting the fact that, without a voice propagating population control, the world would face environmental and economic catastrophe.

All of this serves to elucidate the curious link between conservatism and conservationism that The Social Contract and CAPS share, primarily through the arguments of Thomas Malthus. Renowned (and controversial) for his views on population, the 18th century economist is largely credited with generating the peculiar politics of the anti-immigrant movement.

An early influence on the field of political economy, Malthus’s central tenet lies in the relationship between population and scarcity, leading him to a commonsensical dictum: more people mean fewer available resources. But though this principle seems correct a priori, the Malthus’s prescriptions to halt population growth remain some of the most contentious and debated precepts in the social sciences. Since the 19th century, political economists have contended that Malthus’s formula (overpopulation=misery) provides only an oblique caricature of an actual problem—that overpopulation is actually endemic to current productive forces and that Malthus’s arguments only serve to legitimate said forces.

And amid the din of population hysteria, many arguments get smuggled in that hardly resemble an environmental or economic guise—arguments that are often racially motivated and xenophobic. CAPS writer Joe Guzzardi recently noted that he’d like to see Haiti’s fertility rate resemble something more “European,” a common notion among his ilk; the overlap between the anti-immigrant and population control camps isn’t ever really about numbers, but about European-Americans panicking over feeling outnumbered.

Thus, it’s contempt for the third world rather than concern for the environment that fuels CAPS and The Social Contract. In addition to whining over the AAAS decision, writers in the most recent issue shed some light on the rarely seen underside of the Malthusian argument. Brenda Walker, lamenting so-called “boat people,” claim that these immigrant merely leave “their backward homelands for more cushy lifestyles,” then suggesting that they’re lazy for not “bother[ing] with the hard slog of reforming retro nations.”

Donald A. Collins, longtime anti-immigrant author, wrote a glowing reflection on birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger and her role in population reduction; he didn’t mention, however, his own role in this field. As founder of International Services Assistance Fund, Collins has been instrumental in the fight to legalize the controversial sterilization drug, Quinacrine, which according to its promoters is “essential to population-growth control.” Quinacrine is generally tested in the developing world under, at best, opaque circumstances, and has been intended for use on immigrant communities.

Wearing the guise of scientific legitimacy, the population control crowd at The Social Contract and CAPS will complain of intentional blacklisting by a cadre of “politically correct” opponents, but it’s not difficult reveal what they’re actually after. Hiding their intent under the writings of a repeatedly condemned theorist, it becomes easily seen that a harshly restrictive ideology, and not ecology, informs their project.

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