November 26, 2010


Our brave new world of Malthusian madmen: Much of the wacky authoritarianism of twentieth-century dystopian literature is now coming to life, from the promotion of homosexuality as a check on population growth to the celebration of childfree women as superior to ‘breeders’. (Brendan O’Neill, 11/25/10, Spiked Review of Books)

Reading an op-ed in an American newspaper last month, which argued that gay marriage should be legalised because it will help reduce overpopulation (homosexuals don’t breed, you see), I knew I had heard a similar sentiment somewhere before.

‘Given the social hardships of our era, the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable’, the op-ed said. ‘Even America, though its population pales in comparison to that of other nations, is considered overpopulated because the amount of energy each of its citizens expends in a lifetime is enormous. Obviously homosexuals cannot, within the confines of a monogamous relationship, conceive offspring.’ So, legalising gay marriage would ‘indirectly limit population growth’.

Gays celebrated because they don’t have children… homosexual relationships culturally affirmed on the basis that their childlessness could help solve a planetary crisis… gay monogamy bigged up because it doesn’t involve conceiving offspring. Where had I heard such ideas before? Why did this promotion of homosexual relationships as a possible solution to the alleged problem of fertile, fecund heteros cramming the world with too many ankle-nippers sound familiar?

Then it struck me. It’s the storyline of Anthony Burgess’s Malthusian comedy-cum-nightmare, The Wanting Seed. In that 1962 dystopian novel, which I devoured during a Burgess phase in my teens, Burgess imagines a future England in which overpopulation is rife. There’s a Ministry of Infertility that tries desperately to keep a check on the gibbering masses squeezed into skyscraper after skyscraper, and it does so by demonising heterosexuality - it’s too fertile, too full of ‘childbearing lust’ - and actively promoting homosexuality.

It’s a world where straights are discriminated against because there’s nothing more disgusting and destructive than potential fertility, than a ‘full womanly figure’ or a man with ‘paternity lust’; straights are passed over for jobs and promotion in favour of homos, giving rise to a situation where some straights go so far as to pretend they are gay, adopting the ‘public skin of dandified epicene’, as Burgess describes it, in a desperate bid to make it in the world. There’s even a Homosex Institute, which runs night classes that turn people gay, all with the aim of reducing the ‘aura of fertility’ that hangs about society like a rank smell, as one official says. ‘It’s Sapiens to be Homo’ is the slogan of Burgess’s imagined world.

Now, nearly 50 years after Burgess’s novel outraged literary critics (one said it was ‘too offensive to finish’) as well as campaigners for the decriminalisation of homosexual sex (who were disgusted that Burgess could write of a homosexual tyranny while it was still illegal in Britain for one man to have sex with another), some of the sentiments of that weird invented world, of that fertility-demonising futuristic nightmare, are leaking into mainstream public debate - to the extent that a writer can claim, without igniting controversy, that ‘the benefits of homosexual marriage could be immeasurable’ in terms of dealing with the ‘social hardships’ of overpopulation. No, heteros are not discriminated against in favour of gays; there’s no Homosex Institute. But there is a creeping cultural validation of homosexuality in Malthusian terms, where the gay lifestyle is held up by some thinkers and activists as morally superior because it is less likely to produce offspring than the heterosexual lifestyle, in which every sexual encounter involves recklessly pointing a loaded gun of sperm at a willing and waiting target.

And this is not an isolated incident; Burgess is not the only imaginer of mad Malthusian worlds whose ideas have come to some kind of fruition. Such is the Malthusian tenor of our times, so deep-seated is the New Malthusian prejudice against fertility (the f-word of our era), and so widespread is the eco-view of human beings as little more than the hooverers-up of scarce resources, that bit by bit, unwittingly and unnoticed, some of the wackier authoritarian ideas of twentieth-century Malthus-infused literature are finding expression in our real world today.

I was reading an old British mystery lately, Hare Sitting Up, by Michel Innes, which contains this passage:

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2010 1:44 PM
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