Modern Myths is a new series of articles that will deconstruct popular myths that are informed by modernity. This series will first present the myth, analyze and dismantle it from a lens of tradition, and ultimately, offer alternatives in viewing or ameliorating the legitimate challenges associated with the myth. We hope the “Modern Myths” series will enable you to not only question your understanding of these topics, but also how you arrived at your previous understanding of these myths.
Overpopulation is a prominent Western modern myth that remains largely unchallenged. Liberals, environmentalists, and xenophobes alike assert that the human population is out-growing the “carrying capacity” of the Earth . Such individuals attribute global warming, mass pollution, deterioration of ecosystems, emission of fossil fuels, etc. to the growth of the global human population . However, such claims are emblematic of the racist, capitalist, and elitist attitudes nurtured by Western society.
Over-consumption not Overpopulation
The targets of Overpopulation rhetoric are people from “developing nations,” where, due to government and corporate corruption, and the lingering effects of colonialism, many suffer from abject poverty . Overpopulation discourse rarely centers Western (US, Canada, Israel, Australia and Europe) and Westernized (like Japan and South Korea) nations as being part of the problem, instead it zeroes in on how birth rates in Asian and African countries are leading mankind down a road of imminent disaster  . For many Westerners, a poor family of nine in Niger will contribute to the demise of the Earth more than ONE American, whose energy consumption on average is equivalent to the consumption of over hundreds of people in some countries. Yet, today 1% of the world’s population controls over half of the world’s wealth; the next 9% occupy 40% of the world’s wealth. This top 10% of the world, who are overwhelmingly based in Western and Westernized nations, make up 90% of the global economy . Such monopolization of wealth, by proxy, yields the monopolization of access, distribution, and hoarding of the world’s resources.
It is irrational that the blame for why some are forced to eat food made from literal garbage is attributed to their having big families and not to today’s historically unprecedented wealth and resource inequality . When Americans waste over 50% of food produce, it’s hard to believe that immense poverty in low-income countries is a result of overpopulation and not due to Western over-consumption and resource hoarding . Instead of accepting responsibility for the wastefulness that modernist hedonism produces and for the maintenance of transnational corporatism as the primary economic system by which the global economy operates, culpability is shifted to the ones who suffer the most because of our indiscretions.
Why it’s Racist
The correlation between poverty and race is also significant. It is no coincidence that claims of overpopulation in African and Asian countries are coupled with concern for the diminishing replacement rates of Western/Westernized nations. As people elsewhere are told to breed less, people domestically are told to breed more to preserve national identities and maintain an adequate population size . These blatant hypocrisies reveal how morally misguided overpopulation sentiments are and how they have a clear progression that leads to state-employed population control. China’s one child policy, which yielded a massive gender gap, should serve as a reminder of why such rhetoric must be abandoned . The possibility of marginalized populations being subject to genocide, eugenics, and sterilization to “curb overpopulation” isn’t far-fetched, when the US, Israel, and Canada, already engage in forced sterilization . In fact, such population control is happening right now in Burma with the fear of overpopulation being used to justify such genocidal policies .
How it Values Wealth over Motherhood
The overpopulation myth emboldens asinine assertions, like the statement made by French President Emmanuel Macron in which he transferred culpability the French and their fellow colonizing allies have for the state of Africa onto African women having too many children. Such arguments yield presumptuous declarations about women and reproduction rights, namely that women would rather be wealthy than have a large family. Modernity’s eradication of the spiritual makes it difficult for some to fathom why anyone would choose having a large family over money. The spiritual and emotional satisfaction of a family is overlooked, as it is not something material that can be measured. Whereas, spiritual sustenance is treated as if it is a placebo with no intrinsic value of its own. The modernist presumes that if the choice is between guaranteed material wealth, or an immaterial spiritual fulfillment, why would anyone choose the immaterial over the material? However, it’d be a low view of humanity to assume that anyone would accept a proposition wherein they were offered millions in exchange for a child of theirs to never have existed. Yet, this is essentially the rationalization that liberals and environmentalists utilize on this issue.
Unfortunately, this chauvinistic belief is also common amongst those who oppose the term overpopulation, arguing, “If we frame it in terms of women’s reproductive rights instead of focusing on population growth, we avoid all moral and ethical concerns that come with overpopulation” . To them, it’s the solution to the problem is to promote activists and government programs that provide increased access to birth control for women. However, as articulated in this exchange between a Nigerian activist and a BBC anchor, Western manipulation promotes birth control in many of these developing nations, when there often isn’t a local demand for it, while ignoring the stated needs of the people in question .
Overpopulation rhetoric makes those who have had the least impact on the deteriorating condition of the Earth most culpable. In the quest to preserve the excessive consumerism of the West (as justified by the modernist notion of “seeking pleasure so long as it harms no one”), we are actively putting the world at risk and absolving ourselves of any responsibility. Such is the primordial state of the “modern” human. World leaders waste billions on paintings, military expansionism, and taller skyscrapers, while children in Haiti eat mud cakes as a delicacy. It is nonsensical to presume that having fewer children is the solution to abject poverty. Our self-indulgence has a price, and that price will be paid when God asks us about what we did with the comfort and wealth He blessed us with. We won’t be able to escape responsibility then.
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About the author: Hossam is a founding member of IMJ (Islamic Movement for Justice), an organization that is dedicated to reviving political Islam within the Muslim American consciousness.