Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fatal Misconception - The Struggle to Control World Population

Fatal Misconception - The Struggle to Control World Population
Matthew Connelly
Harvard University Press 2008

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

I begin with this often-misquoted phrase from George Santayana because the story of birth-control as national and transnational policy seems to be that of recurring bouts of "collective amnesia", as Connolly puts it. For example, Connelly cites a screening of the pro-life film The Great Population Hoax at IPPF headquarters which caused activists to complain about arguments using distortions of the truth; manager Julian Heddy had to admit that these were actual claims made by earlier population-control advocates.

In order to test the prevalence of population control in recent times, after the prejudices, avoidable tragedies and wilful negligence, I leafed through today's Daily Telegraph. I found a story about how Pakistan is to receive a $9 billion (£5.6 billion) loan from the IMF, but would not like a full-blown IMF program because "it would likely come with painful conditions to cut government spending that could affect programs for the poor".

Wondering what these might be, I looked through some IMF papers for other countries, and found a Senegal Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper from 2006 which contained a statement on page 38 that one of the priority objectives of this was population control.

I've already blogged about how social Darwinism evolved into eugenics. I knew that Darwin himself was horrified by the former phenomenon, but it surprised me to learn that he complained to Annie Besant during her phase as a eugenicist (before she became a mystic philosopher) that eugenics interfered with natural selection. I considered myself quite informed on these matters, but this was only one of countless revelations in Matthew Connelly's intensely-researched tome on how population control was all about controlling other folks' populations. Shortly into my first session with Fatal Misconception, I realised I was reading one of the most important books of my life.

One of the key dogmas of eugenics was maintaining the purity of one's people. When Margaret Sanger realised that those concerned about this were coalescing into a discrete movement, two of the names she thought of calling it were "neo-Malthusianism" and "race control", before she decided on "birth control". An American, her British counterpart, Marie Stopes, stated that she wanted to recruit from "healthy, well-conditioned individuals only", and that "Constructive Birth Control will fill the comfortable cradles and empty the gutters".

The Birth Control Movement was ostensibly an internationalist movement seeking a world government in order to eliminate war. But what they were about was the future of the white race (whatever that is), and at the time eliminating the "yellow peril" (although at the International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York in 1925, Indian nationalist Taraknath Das complained about the "white peril).

India was a target for Sanger and her followers from the start, and during Connelly's exposition of the whole sordid affair as a case-study I had to remind myself several times that I wasn't reading a horror story but modern history.

A measure of the morality of the Birth Control movement can be gleaned from his description of Margaret Sanger "criss-crossing" India dispensing spermicidal foam, almost totally unarmed with information as to its safety. It seems not to have bothered her that a similar foam, distributed to African Americans by "notorious racist" Lydia DeVilbiss, was causing side-effects, but finally sent her foam away for analysis upon learning that DeVilbiss' concoction had caused adverse effects when tested upon dogs.

Following the 1951 census, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru "called for free sterilisation and contraception when recommended on medical grounds, and suggested that where feasible it should be given for social and economic reasons as well". India would never be the same. (It should be noted that Hellen Keller, the deaf-blind pioneer, wrote to Sanger breathlessly congratulating her for founding the Planned Parenthood foundation in India in 1952. I find this rather strange, as Sanger referred to the blind, deaf and mute as "this dead weight of human waste" in her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization - and Marie Stopes wrote her son Harry out of her will because he married a woman - daughter of "bouncing bomb" inventor Barnes Wallis - with hereditary short-sightedness.)

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) had maintained a presence in India for two decades before Nehru gave them the go-ahead, and responded to their mission with a Neitzschean optimism: "India is the cauldron in which mankind will be tested". Farce ensued immediately - during their 5-year study in the Punjab husbands and wives would answer intrusive questions about their sex-lives differently, and by the time their trial on birth-control ended, the birth-rate was greater than when it began. (They weren't the only ones falling over their own feet; a Swedish trial in nearby Ceylon - now Sri Lanka - couldn't prove the effectiveness of contraceptives after two years.)

The degree to which the Indian population control program contributed to the Emergency and its conclusion will, I think, be a subject for debate until Kingdom Come. But abuses in order to increase "acceptors" were a part of the program from the beginning. Intrauterine Devices (IUD's), which had been found to be a cause of heavy bleeding and ectopic pregnancy in programs in Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Pakistan and other countries, were being used widely, and the UN promised follow-ups in India to catch complications early, despite there being one health visitor per 40,000 people in India. Men who refused sterilization were denied pay-rises and promotions, and by the late '6o's payments were being made both to be vasectomised and to recruit others.

Mass sterilisation was praised in 1960 by Time, and when the Emergency was declared in 1975 Indira Ghandi's son Sanjay commented that it was an "appropriate atmosphere" for tackling what DN Pai, director of family planning in Maharashtra, called "people pollution". What was effectively coercive for poor people became mandatory. Connelly explains:
Sterilization became a condition not just for land allotments, but for irrigation, water, electricity, ration cards, rickshaw licenses, medical care, pay raises, and promotions. Everyone, from senior government officials to train conductors to policemen, was given a sterilization quota."
One of Sanjay's circle, Ruksana Sultana, demanded that Muslims who were begging her to have the demolition of their houses stopped - the idea being that sterilization certificates be produced to get alternative accomodation - produce 300 people for sterilization in return, and had to be rescued from the resulting riot by police who eventually gained control by firing live ammunition into the crowd.

However, Gandhi had two qualities that just about all senior population controllers at the time lacked: she was a woman and a mother. She became depressed over the suffering of her people and called an election - and was robustly defeated.

Another tragedy of India is that the population control could have been different. On December 3, 1935, Margaret Sanger had an audience with Mahatma Gandhi concerning population control, and told Time, "He just didn't know much about the subject." In reality, Gandhi was a proponent of natural family planning, which he thought strengthened self-control. Connelly speculates that she didn't publicize Gandhi's views on natural family planning because "it was endorsed by a growing number of Catholics".

Sanger was, in fact, deeply anti-Catholic, and indeed when she left the American Birth Control League "when she found she could no longer control it" she called its house journal, Birth Control Review, "no different from 'all the little Catholic papers'". Connolly continues:
Whatever their differences, Sanger insisted that all these [birth control] groups shared "one common enemy, one group of opposition objecting to everything we do or say - the Catholic Church".
This attitude still thrives: in September of this year John Smeaton highlighted tactics which were contrived to be offensive to Christians in general, but to Catholics in particular, and the British HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) still excludes pro-lifers, which in some circles is taken to be a synonym for Catholic. There are, however, two things to be thankful for: firstly, Roman Catholics still swell the ranks of pro-lifers, and secondly, they have been joined by people of other religions and none - there are pro-life Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, atheists, pagans - the list goes on and on and on...

Despite the abuses of the Indian birth control campaign, in 1983 Indira Gandhi, returned to power, shared the first United Nations Population Award - with Xinzhong Qian, Soviet-trained former soldier who was one of the masterminds of the Chinese population control campaign.

Birth control being what it says on the tin, ie control, it's surprising that it wasn't embraced wholeheartedly by a Communist country before China started considering it in the late seventies.

The IPPF's program in China, states Connelly, was "no secret". Stephen Mosher, later President of the Population Research Institute, brought back reports such as that from a Guangdong village:
Eighteen women who were at least five months pregnant, "red-eyed from lack of sleep and crying", were told they would have to undergo abortions, in two cases by Caeserian section. Through such means, China registered 7.9 million abortions, 13.5 million IUD insertions, and almost 7 million sterilizations in 1979...
Yet, though the riots in India had barely died down, it was as though they had never happened - despite the repercussions of the Indian fiasco reaching not just Pakistan, but also countries as diverse as Iran, Indonesia and the Philippines and contributing to the overthrow of more than one government. Yet, says Connolly, "senior IPPF staff had their eyes wide open" regarding the China campaign, whose aims, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were not just to reduce "overpopulation" but to "raise the quality of population from the point of view of eugenics, education and ethics". With people who could remember newsreels detailing the horrors of Belsen, Auschwitz etc at the time of their liberation still in employment, eugenics was back.

And it's back this time without necessarily being imposed from above - witness sex-selective abortions in India and China facilitated by ultrasound machines. In the light of modern preoccupations with all things genetic, Connolly refers to people "faithfully reciting a eugenic catechism without the faintest idea of where it came from or where it can lead". For example, while in Australia a child has been born after surviving an ectopic pregnancy, in Britain doctors have been given permission to screen embryos for cosmetic defects, with a view to destroying the ones that don't match expectations, the defects including squints and even hair colour.

One thing gynaecologists and obstetricians have always agreed upon is that there is no difference between a baby before birth and one after. This is why in 2006 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists proposed infanticide for the sickest babies on the grounds, among other things, of the costs of looking after them - and Connelly notes that the population control agenda gathered steam during the financial crises of the 1930's. In the US, Senator Barack Obama is reckoned to have voted against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would protect babies who have survived abortion from being murdered. (In the UK, whose population is around a fifth of that of the US, fifty babies a year are estimated to survive abortion.)

What we're looking at here is an attempt to formally renunciate the broad medical concensus that once a baby has taken its first breath it is a human being. I'm reminded of Philip K Dick's 1973 short story The Pre-Persons, in which a child can be "aborted" up to the age of 12 , and even then is only safe if he/she can prove a certain degree of mathematical ability. I wish I could say it's still in the realms of sci-fi, but earlier this year Australian doctor and bioethicist Fr Joseph Tham estimated that infanticide would be "normalised" in 50 years. An online friend has alerted me to the philosophy of Dr Peter Singer, an animal liberationist who believes that animals are people but that babies can be killed up to 28 days post-birth. (Connelly refers to a pressure group called Zero Population Growth, which in 1969 wanted to exterminate humanity but give other primates an antidote so they would survive.)

What will happen? Will the "collective amnesia" of policymakers draw us to catastrophe once more, so that in the reaction we can once more cry "Never again"?

But population planners have an enemy that they cannot forever subjugate. Connelly describes how the Emergency ended - "Something more powerful, even more implacable, had finally defeated the ideology of population control: People voting, one by one."


  1. In 2000, after giving birth to my second, my Catholic OB-Gyn pressed me, strongly, to accept "the shot" (Depo-Provera). I demurred, asking to read the literature, as I wasn't feeling very combative. Halfway through the thing, sure enough, there it was, very plainly spelled out: the back-up method of "the shot" is to make the lining of the womb inhospitable to the newly-formed embryo. I walked out and never came back.

    My current OB-Gyn is a native Chinese woman, apparently not a Christian, who strongly supports NFP (natural family planning). Even when I found myself (through carelessness) pregnant at 47, she was supportive, though I could tell she had strong misgivings. I finally miscarried, but she never scolded me, as so many other doctors have done when I refused birth control. I am grateful to her.

    Finally, here is a link to my friend Linda's blog, which is on a related subject:

  2. Thanks for the link, I've added it to blogs I follow. The description of escorts dressing up as zombies was disgusting and scary; but having been a nurse, that of staff leaving their charges inside when the alarm went off, no matter what they're there for, made me furious.

    Something that also makes my blood boil is your description of having been scolded by doctors for not using birth control. Somewhat gives the lie to the philosophy that "a woman's body is her own", doesn't it?

    I think you were very wise to refuse the Depo-Provera - obviously, from the pro-life stance. But also, when I was working with drug-users in Scotland some time ago, a lot of health workers were noticing that girls who had been using DP for over 3 years seemed to be acquiring a "masculinised" distribution of body fat; we expressed our concerns, but as far as I'm aware they were brushed under the carpet. (Connelly notes that Gregory Pincus noticed by chznce that some steroids stopped rabbits from ovulating, and the Pill was trialled in Puerto Rico using doses so high awful side-effects occurred. He first came to population controllers' attention some time earlier with a request for information; one manager's comment to another was, "how did he ever get the idea that I have no other amusements in life except making bibliographies for lazy Jews?")

    Anyway, hope you're ok; thanks for the the comment - I enjoy them!


Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.