Before I proceed, in the interests of full disclosure I have a confession to make: I used to be properly obsessed with mountain gorillas. I became political, via mountain-gorilla related activism. This is not a drill. For a few years, I devoted a great deal of time and energy to learning, agitating and fundraising – apparently in pursuit of the sole aim of wanting more mountain gorillas, plz. In fairness, I was about eight years old at that point and, mercifully, soon caught on to the fact that people > animals. Nonetheless, it’s worth the confession for both a personal angle which might humanise me and somehow dilute the caustic bile I am attempting to hock up as you read this bit, and because of our WW’s shared affection for the beringei beringei. So – shh, so the gorillas don’t hear – we present this week’s no-longer-Wispering Whanker, David Attenborough.
The problem seems mainly to be that Attenborough’s love of “natural wonders” does not extend to the very natural and almost entirely wondrous human bean. In his most recent comments, the father-of–two and quasi-millenarianist said population control was “a huge area of concern” and that the world was “heading for disaster unless we do something”. He went on:
[W]hen you talk about world population, the areas we’re talking about are Africa and Asia, you know.
[But] to have a European telling Africans that they shan’t have children is not the way to go around things.
…And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.
And just last week, he said:
If you were able to persuade people that it is irresponsible to have large families in this day and age, and if material wealth and material conditions are such that people value their materialistic life and don’t suffer as a consequence, then that’s all to the good. But I’m not particularly optimistic about the future. I think we’re lucky to be living when we are, because things are going to get worse.
…I think that in another 100 years people will look back at a world that was less crowded, full of natural wonders, and healthier.
Fact 1: Natural history is not a wanker
Fact 2: David Attenborough is a powerful individual.
Fact 3: “Overpopulation” is an ideological trope, not a descriptive term. See also: “scarcity”.
Put it all together and:
David Attenborough is knowingly using his position in the public eye to promote a reactionary political agenda directed against people less powerful than him.
And Attenborough’s is, of course, not a novel agenda. Thomas Malthus was going on about exponential population growth and limited resources in the 18th Century. Rival economists Marx, Ricardo and Bowie were soon calling bullshit, however, saying – well, something along the lines of “naw Malthus – just dinnae”. Of the three, I am of course most familiar with the latter’s works [in which I may have previously identified an also-dubious ideological content but, to paraphrase Alan Partridge, that was for the purposes of a different argument] whose anti-Malthusianism sing-a-long ‘We Are Hungry Men’ goes thusly:
‘Let me explain my project, dear
Show you how I’ll save the world
Or let it die within the year
Why do you look that way at me, your messiah.’
Unfortunately the debate didn’t end in 1967 either, but none of the fundamental structures of our existence has changed. Yet earlier this year, Attenborough described humans as “a plague on earth”. We aren’t. If Attenborough were to point the blame at the ruling class for sharting over everyone in the pursuit of profit and leaving the rest of the world to clean it up, that’d be dandy. But he dunt. He attributes problems of power to population. That Attenborough would elect to argue both that overpopulation is “a thing” and that it is a basis on which to cast Other people, most notably the developing world/newly industrialising countries, as The Problem, is very fucking worrying. Not least in that with his most recent comments he is sailing dangerously close to the “lifeboat ethics” of eco-fascist and father-of-four Garrett Hardin.
And, while we’re on the subject, although Attenborough’s other cause célèbre may conjure up benign images of panda sponsorship certificates or those glorious months in the playground spent trying to recruit people into your aptly-named-but-criminally-overlooked grassroots organisation “The Gorilla Club”, the “conservationism” Attenborough advocates is nothing more than a neocolonial, neoliberal form of “accumulation by dispossession” designed to displace indigenous peoples from their land and exploit natural resources.
Obviously with all of this I’m not going to argue that DAVID ATTENBOROUGH IS A FASCIST. But it’s important to investigate the eugenicists – er, I mean genesis – of any set of ideas. Although if there is a bit of an overlap between what you believe and ideas which are a bit fascistic, it’s no biggie, right? And when did a bit of fascism ever do anyone any real harm, anyway? I mean, everyone “goes a bit Avon” now and again, right?
Besides, as Tory Councillor Phil Taylor said – Attenborough is just a ‘silly old fart’.
Except – that’s all bollocks. David Attenborough is powerful. He is a highly intelligent, widely respected and very wealthy white man with a huge doting audience. He knows exactly what he’s doing, evidenced partly by the fact that he is a high-profile backer of the odious population reduction think tank Population Matters (formerly the “Optimum Population Trust”) whose thinking doesn’t appear to go much beyond the idea that environmental sustainability requires Other people to stop having babies. By advocating zero net migration and, er, birth control in developing countries to offset carbon-intensive lifestyles in rich countries – “we give you the option of offsetting your carbon footprint by funding family planning” – it appears they fundamentally think it best to blame the poor rather than the powerful over climate change (we shouldn’t). [And obviously we can't buy a way out of climate change by "offsetting" anyway but let's leave the political economy of carbon markets for another Wanker.]
The perniciousness of this neo-Malthusian “overpopulation” narrative is impossible to convey here and – assuming its adherents don’t just die off naturally as you’d assume from a people so committed to their cause – obviously still needs to be dealt with; and if the comments of ostensibly progressive peeps are anything to go by, not least “in the movement”. It remains a problem for Greens in particular, with members on the right invariably rolling out arguments which are more misanthropic than Marxist. But it’s a subject we need to be louder about, as Attenborough’s comments have served to reignite what is essentially a non-debate about resources – but one that unfortunately provides the pretext for an attendant wealth of neocolonial, classist, racist, misogynist, and anti-immigration reaction.
To conclude, David Attenborough is not the Messiah, he’s a very haughty cunt*. And to his ideological fellow travellers: fuck up. As the song above suggested, ‘We are not your friends. We don’t give a damn for what you’re saying.’
*Surprising dearth of nouns that rhyme with “boy”.
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AThousandFlowers
Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal