Blogs > Cliopatria > The Darkness of Undisciplined Bodies

May 15, 2011

The Darkness of Undisciplined Bodies

A Los Angeles Times editorial warns today that the uneducated and ignorant populations of the world are still having lots of babies, causing a crisis of overpopulation that the world needs to solve. Before you click on the link, try to guess what photographic image they used to illustrate the problem.

But after all, the photograph just supports the message of the text:

"The highest rates of growth will be concentrated in poverty-stricken countries with low education levels, especially those in Africa, where the population is expected to more than triple to 3.5 billion." This is a problem for several reasons, the Times explains, but among those reasons is the burden it will put on us: "It will also create far more demand for foreign aid from the developed world."

All these ignorant Africans -- who's gonna feed these people?

Once again, I find myself reading the newspaper and thinking about Matthew Connelly's book Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, a magnificent history of twentieth century aid programs that sought to limit population growth in precisely the "poverty-stricken countries with low education levels" that the Los Angeles Times is still worried about. The hostile reader reviews at Amazon make Connelly's case for him:

"His moralising about 'imperialism,' further ignores the fact that all modes of decision making are not equal. Is an illiterate peasant who sees fathering as many sons as possible for the sake of machismo and/or religious duty really as well placed to make decisions about population control as a scientists or politician with access to quality information and educated to consider longterm consequences of human actions?"

This from a reviewer who goes by the modest screen name "Wisdom of Athena." 

The certainty that "all modes of decision making are not equal," that "illiterate peasants" ought to be properly controlled by people with "access to quality information" -- this is the heart of a long project, organized on the still-present logic of the Carlisle School.

Why study the nineteenth century? Because it's not over.  

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