I was caught between a matinee and a dinner date, milling around the backstreets of London. My desultory early evening meandered like my walk until sharply interrupted by the crack of thunder and the most severe of rain showers. With no umbrella to protect me, necessity blindly led me to the nearest doorway arch. In my hurry for cover, I must have inadvertently leaned against the entranceway. Much to my surprise, the brightly painted door fell open, and I found myself stumbling inside, looking down a gloomy corridor. Recomposing myself, I only then noticed the hand-written poster attached to the door’s outside,
“Misanthropes of the World, Unite!”
given by Claire Z. Perkins.
Light refreshments will be served during the break.
From the gloom, someone beseeched, “come on, she’s started already.” Not desirous to suffer any more of the downpour, and with a good hour to spare before that night’s rendezvous, I took up the implicit offer and made my way in.
“Don’t forget to close the door,” implored the seemingly disembodied voice.
“Oh, sorry,” I replied, and shut it behind me, though the latch was still up to permit entry for any other wandering wastrels. With the door closed, turning to progress inside, there was nary a glimmer of light to guide my way. I momentarily hesitated. Should I reach out my arms, and feel my way along the walls to compensate for the effective loss of vision? Then, the far end of the corridor was revealed, as a small bent-over figure opened the door to a brightly-lit room ahead. The figure turned briefly and was proven to be my previously unseen yet earnest encourager, by reiterating in a hoarse whisper: “come on, come on, we’re missing the lecture!”
By the time I reached the end of the corridor, my hunched hallway host was no longer in view, and glancing around, I could not fathom where he or she had gone. Indeed, I had not been able to determine his or her gender, but the assembled audience in the hall appeared to be an even mix of men and women, races and socio-economic classifications. The huddled entreater had exaggerated; the lecture had not yet begun. Instead, a shabbily dressed fellow with a goatee beard was giving an extended introduction of the speaker, the Claire Z. Perkins promised by the poster. My first instinct was to sit on one of the chairs in the back row, in case I needed to depart for the restaurant before the lecture’s end. Finding the back row to be completely full, I was forced to sit alone on the other row, the front row. As the introduction droned on, I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake and would soon be making an awkward exit. The room was quite small, but the ceiling was extraordinarily high. I wondered if it had perhaps been the chimney for a forge of some description. The speakers stood on a modest platform raised a mere foot higher than the floor. The back row audience was maybe a dozen strong. In such circumstances, there was no prospect of leaving inconspicuously. Looking around over my shoulder, I then noticed that there was a tiny gallery above us, and a further gallery above that. Upon entering, the opened door must have hidden the stairway up. Making eye contact, an elderly lady gave me a thumbs up from the top gallery, and I surmised she had been the one to urge my entry.
The introduction over, Claire Perkins strode to the front of the stage, and was greeted with polite applause. She was an impressive woman in her mid-thirties, smartly dressed in business attire, wearing a pink jacket with three-quarter length sleeves and standing almost six foot in height with the benefit of the heels on her boots. Without the need for amplification or notes, she confidently began:
“Misanthropes of North London, persons to which I have no familial connection, whether literal or metaphorical – although it is accurate if rather pedantic to assert that we all have a common ancestor if we go far enough back in time – thank you for coming to my lecture today. I shall keep it brief, and dispense with further pleasantries, as time is short, and I know you’d rather be at home with a good book instead of rubbing shoulders with each other today. We are not comrades, nor shall we ever be, but we do have something in common. As members of the species homo sapiens, we are all blighted by a common enemy. When talking of humankind’s common enemy, I am of course referring to every other extant member of the species homo sapiens. As the saying goes, we our own worst enemies, by which I mean not that the individual cannot be friend to themself, but that we are each our sole friend, as all others are engaged in ruthless competition for finite resources. That this is true should be evident enough to anyone who has ever seen the throngs amass for the New Year’s sales, or to those of you who came here today by means of the London Underground.
Our ravenous animalkind presently number nearly seven billion. Indeed, estimates suggest our ranks shall have grown by thirty even during the time it takes to give this talk. They say that every person is connected by no more than six degrees of separation, and we misanthropes understand that means there’s an awful lot of people we’d rather be separated from by another twenty or thirty degrees, if not also by a stout wall and preferably a moat too. Not since the great plague has there been any significant diminution in our species. All the shells fired and bombs dropped during the great world wars of the last century merely slowed the human explosion, which today goes on unabated. Advances in the technology of mass murder between nations have been more than offset by progress in medical science and general prosperity, creating an unsustainable quotient of fecundity. Whilst dreamers may imagine a future where we find living space amongst the stars – and I know there are some amongst us who would gladly live alone on their own planet, to the extent that they do so in their mind, if not reality – it took the combined industrial efforts of millions to send a paltry few of our kind to our nearest celestial cousin, the Moon. There will be no lifeboats capable of taking enough of us to the solar system before our Earth has sunk. In just two hundred thousand years, less than a blink of an eye to our Mother Nature, our race has come out of Africa and settled in near enough every habitable nook and cranny of our world, and indeed in many that would be uninhabitable were it not for central heating, irrigation, desalinated water or air conditioning. But even with such advances, we’ve yet to perfect a more artful way of quieting the floor-shaking bass of the people who live upstairs than by banging the ceiling with a broomhandle. If present circumstances are allowed to continue, our world will be completely overrun in less than two hundred years, never mind another two hundred thousand. When this happens, we will all, quite literally, be forced to listen to the racket made by our noisy neighbours until late at night except for that small interregnum when they turned it down because the Police came round.
What then, are we to do? Some have already seen the light. The communist tyrants of China have mercifully quelled the reproductive instincts of their countrymen. Repressing a fifth of humanity is a good start, but nowhere near enough if we’re to be spared ever longer queues at the supermarket when doing our weekly shop. Whatever good the Chinese communists have achieved is likely to be undone by the outdated teachings of the Catholic Church and other institutions that profess a love for the quantity of life over the quality of life. Jesus may love a sinner, but he doesn’t have to sweep up the mess when the estate kids spend the night drinking cider by the children’s play area. State doctors are selfishly stamping out the remaining self-selecting methods of pleasurable extermination, like smoking, a form of recreation that should be avidly encouraged for everyone of the age of twelve years and up. Those paid to enforce Health and Safety pay scant regard to the consequences of reducing the risk of fatal injury when accidents might otherwise play a useful and Darwinian role in weeding out the reckless oafs that litter our gene pool. The potential beneficial effects of sports like snowboarding and cycling are muted by an excessive obsession with helmets and other safety clothing, rendering them significantly less dangerous than a football match with Leeds United circa 1974. On many fronts, the battle to end the expansion of human life is being lost. We must get into the habit of inhibiting our population growth. If we don’t, our lack of inhibition will leave everywhere inhabited, and with everywhere inhabited we’ll all feel very inhibited.
In our Western society, we have followed a reasonably effective approach to calming the birth rate. Decimating the extended family unit whilst educating women and giving them jobs in the workplace has done wonders for discouraging and delaying the intelligent girl’s desire to have babies. This is a helpful trend, but a palliative instead of a cure. In the final reckoning the desire to reproduce is just too strong to be overcome this way. Our animal impulses, when combined with a few pints of strong lager or a bottle of chardonnay, tends to get the better of us. Combine this instinct with the zesty pleasure of sexual relations and too few can be expected to resist inevitable temptation.”
At the mention of ‘sexual relations’ Claire Perkins stared at me directly, as if with knowledge of my hopes for later that night, and with a most accusatory gaze. I felt uncomfortable, and crossed my legs.
“I am not going to suggest we engage in large-scale cullings. I am not barbarous, though I fear the human race will make life cheap if too plentiful. Perhaps in some grim future, when our numbers are simply too many, humanity will turn to such extreme methods as cannibalism, or, dare I say, recurring mercenary visits from Jehovah’s Witnesses to drive their neighhours away and hence obtain some peace and quiet. This will be because our leaders lack the foresight of all you who have chosen to join me here today. It is our burden to devise and implement the humane methods that can address the problems of population growth, before the world descends into chaos, and every street becomes an endless traffic jam of modified Ford Fiestas blaring out hardcore techno at well in excess of one hundred beats per minute whilst the cars crawl forward at something less than one mile per hour. For those of who would prefer to live a quiet life some thousand miles from our nearest neighbour, there are only so many lighthouse-keeping jobs. We’re looking for alternatives to an otherwise inevitable maelstrom of gangland warfare and hand-to-hand combat with anarcho-nihilists who have set up a squat next door. Regrettably, the weapons of mass destruction are too crude to be effectively used in the husbandry of the human race. We must look for a middle way between the scenarios where our kind is all, or nothing. Eugenics is prone to corruption. Given the condition of our leaders, selective breeding is more likely to propagate a race of morons with the Hapsburg Jaw than any sort of master race. Tony Blair’s choice of a mating partner was proof enough of that, and a surprising number of fertile woman seem to find Boris Johnson irresistible. Voluntary abstinence is ineffective too. Who would abstain except people like you and I? And if we don’t teach our children the dangers of population growth, then who will? I myself have six children, and all are well schooled in the dangers of overpopulation. In order to best balance the scales, it is we, the misanthropes, who must breed most prodigiously, despite the inevitable and uncomfortable toll it takes on the woman’s body. Indeed, we women misanthropes must remain especially strong, so as not to be cowed into the dominion of the irresponsibly multiplying hordes. If my figure appears firm and proud,”
At this, Claire Perkins seemed to stand even straighter, an impression hard to fully convey when her posture had hitherto been almost military in its erectness. As if instructed to do so, I looked her up and down. Her forearms looked very much firm and toned, and her bosom was undeniably proud. Perhaps I stared too obviously at her bosom for someone sitting a mere yard away, because she looked me hard in the eye, as before. I responded by smiling with the most intellectually-engaged, least erotically-interested smile I could muster. She continued,
“it is only because of the strict regimen of diet and exercise I have adopted after every birth. Such is the toll that new life demands of the old.”
By the end of this last sentence, Claire Perkins was again looking at me. I supposed that the gentlemanly thing to do was to somehow convey that she did not look in the least bit old. This I attempted by retaining the basic shape of my intellectually-engaged not erotically-interested smile, but with the modification of slightly curling one corner of my mouth. With the benefit of hindsight, I doubt it worked.
“No, the misanthropes cannot win this war with an exiguous army. We must win by tilting the scales in our favour. This brings me to the modest proposal that I wish to share with you all today. We need a scheme that dampens the reproductive rate of our people, whilst offering no barrier to the pleasures of free sex and hence freely-transmitted diseases. Authoritarian methods of population management like licensing, permits, financial inducements and penalties could be an option, but they would all be problematic to enforce and difficult to police in a free society. Instead, we should turn the free society in our favour, by freely giving the gift of birth control. All of us, I am quite sure, has heard of fluoridation of water. Across the world, one in fifteen people benefits from the supply of fluoridated tap water. The benefits are clearly measured in reduced tooth decay. I ask you today, if we can alter tap water to protect our teeth, why not do so to protect our very quality of lives, and return this world to a sustainable balance between people and nature? Medical science knows of several compounds that, if added to drinking water, would temporarily, but reversibly, inhibit fertility. Should a couple still wish to procreate, the choice would be clear: imbibe only bottled water. Those with the discipline and resources to go to the shops and purchase a weekly twelve-pack of Tesco’s Value Highland Spring would still be able to have children, whilst the rest will peaceably start to contribute to the reigning in of our out-of-control species. Imagine the difference such a policy would have made to serial procreators like Blair and Johnson, though Blair’s sins were somewhat mitigated by all that carnage he initiated in Iraq. Tap water delivery of contraceptives would be perfectly fair. Put simply, it relies on the proven worth of apathy. Sheer sloth ensures that number of people who opt in to any choice is always lower than the number that would not opt out of the same choice. In this case, people may opt out of drinking tap water, or using it to brush their teeth, or using it to water their vegetable garden. Or, they may simply rationalize that turning on the tap is a kind of charity to their fellow man, and may console themselves with the double savings of cheaper household bills and avoiding the cost of bringing up a child. And if you don’t think the neighbours are being careful enough, be sure to invite them over for a barbeque and be sure to add lots of refreshing ice to the Pimm’s and lemonade.
We, the misanthropes, have nothing in common but our own selfish interests, and in this respect we have the same selfish interests as everyone else except we’re more sensible about them. Only we can see the way through the present tragedy of abundant fertility to the inevitable conclusion of a worse life for each and every one of us. A little rationing of the right things does more good than harm, and that is all I am asking for. It is rational to ration what we have too much of. In contrast, it is irrational, and dare I say rash, to ration the means of rationing. Instead of rationing prophylactics – too unreliable a method for a world where people are expected to pay for them, Catholics oppose their use and even a Primeminister’s wife can be too giddy to reliably use them – we should be rationing children. And the best way would be to start with everyone receiving free and plentiful contraceptives in every glass of water, and asking them to make an informed and proactive choice if they wish to opt out of universal birth control. Thank you everybody for listening. Now I understand we will be having a short break. Afterwards, I will be back on stage to explain how we can work together and lobby for this essential public health policy, and then we’ll have a brief question-and-answer session.”
Glancing down at my watch, it was nearly time for me to leave for my date. On my way out, I politely declined the offer of a cup of tea from the same elderly lady who had earlier beckoned me in. It was still raining outside. Later at the bistro, just to be on the safe side, I ordered a large bottle of Evian.