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Up Against the Wall Mothers

June was a hot time for the media this year.  They attended ail the graduations and reported all the helmets, gas masks, fists, fingers, and naughty speeches. Oddly enough the strongest and most widely reported gesture Was that of a pretty senior at a high-rent girls' college who said she wasn't going to have any children. Mostly that's all they reported: she's pretty, she says she's not going to have children, what's this world coming to, nihilism? Quotes from the actual speech were sparse.

"Traditionally, commencement exercises are the occasion for fatuous comments on the future of the graduates present. This future is generally painted in glowing terms, characterized as long and happy. My depressing comment on that rosy future, that infinite future, is that it is a hoax.  Our days as a race on this planet are, at this moment, numbered, and the reason for our finite, unrosy future is that we are breeding ourselves out of existence. Within the next ten years, we will witness widespread famines, and possible global plagues raging through famine-weakened populations. Soon we may have to ask ourselves grisly questions like, "Will I be willing to shoot my neighbor if he tries to steal my last loaf of bread? Will I be forced to become a cannibal?"

"The hideous fact that we are reproducing so rapidly that it is conceivable that our means of sustenance will be grossly inadequate within ten years was foreseen nearly two centuries ago.  In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus, in his "Essay on the Principle of Population," said, "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio." We have had nearly two hundred years to think over the consequences of that projection, yet at the turn of the century, people were arrested in New York for distributing birth control information, and only last year, Pope Paul the Sixth issued an encyclical which forbade the members of his flock to use contraceptives. At this point in our history as a race, Dr. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford has observed, "Anyone ...who stands in the way of measures to bring down the birth rate is automatically working for a rise in the death rate."

"So we have had at least a two hundred year's warning, yet in nineteen sixty-nine, still, virtually nothing is being done by anyone with enough power to substantially affect the situation. Mind you, I said affect, not eliminate. One of the more depressing aspects of the problem is that we cannot escape unscathed. Dr. Ehrlich and others say that immediate action must be taken simply to minimize the consequences. And if this action is take, which it probably won't be, the psychological damage that we will all suffer is great. One of the suggestions for reducing the range of the disaster is the involuntary sterilization of any person who has produced more than two children. This may sound grossly inhumane, and perhaps it is to an extent, since our identities as men and women are so conditioned by our reproductive functions.  I am terribly saddened by the fact that the most humane thing for me to do is to have no children at all.  But the piper is finally demanding payment.

"As an ex-potential parent, I have asked myself what kind of world my children would grow up in. And the answer was, "Not very pretty, not very clean. Sad, in fact."  Because, you see, if the population continues to grow, the facilities to accommodate that population must grow, too. Thus we have more highways and fewer trees, more electricity and fewer undammed rivers, more cities and less clean air. Mankind has spread across the face of the earth like a great unthinking, unfeeling cancer. We have horribly disfigured this planet, ungrateful and shortsighted animals that we are.  Our frontier spirit involves no reverence for any forms of life other than our own, and now we are even threatening ourselves with the ultimate disrespect of suicide. Perhaps we are unconsciously expiating our guilt, but it is just this quality - unconsciousness - that we must fight in ourselves. Rather than blindly walking into the abyss, we must take warning and try to extricate   ourselves from it before it is really too late.

"Too often, members of the so-called real world, that's the non-academic world, by some people's definition, are willing to dismiss the warnings and insights of the unreal, academic world. This often made distinction and subsequent dismissal is a result of practicing a peculiar brand of pragmatism.  It is the kind of pragmatism which says, "Let's be realistic, it just isn't profitable to develop an electric automobile." This kind of pragmatism is false, nearsighted, and a very shallow form of self-delusion. One of the advantages of a college education is escaping this kind of pragmatism for four years, being free of the small reality of earning a living.  From this freedom comes a long-range perspective, which is a desperate necessity - not a luxury.

Colleges are hot-beds of this kind of necessity.  For four years I have been spared the reality of car payments and refrigerators, and in these four years, I have had more and more to come to grips with the awesome reality of human survival on this planet. Coping with this reality has not been a privilege, and certainly not a luxury. It is a very disheartening responsibility.

"One of the reasons that it is so disheartening is the knowledge that it would be easier for me to leave this ivory tower to earn a living as a cocktail waitress than to earn a living as a crusader, of sorts, for human survival.  If I had enough time, I'd try to get rich, become a philanthropist, and endow a foundation. But I have less than ten years, and so for that matter, do you. This business of impending extinction is something that the so-called real and unreal worlds share. I can't eat a dollar bill, and Howard Hughes can't eat my diploma. The real and unreal worlds both have to become pragmatic on a grand scale, or there won't be any worlds left. We must come together to face this overwhelming human reality, and to do so, we probably must circumvent the so-called political realities which limit our ability to move quickly to lessen the gravity of this disaster. Political realities are, after all, only constructs for dealing with situations, and as mental constructs, they assume a note of unreality - especially when they obscure reality. Political realities are clouding this issue of human survival every day.  On the primary level, there is the political reality that we simply can't go into a country and force it at gunpoint to adopt population-control measures. Still, we go into countries and increase their death rates at gunpoint. On a secondary level, there is the political reality that this situation is far less interesting to our government than the space program, anti-ballistic missiles, or even the size of print on cigarette packages. This conspicuous lack of interest may be due to the fact that pushing to save the human race will turn no one an instant profit. There is no material or political gain in the issue as of this moment.

"And, as of this moment, the problem seems vaguely unreal. Some of us have never gone hungry a day in our lives. Starvation is a remote concept. The shelves of grocery stores are still crammed with things to eat, Why should I believe that anything will happen to change that? You and I should believe that the famine can and will happen if for no other reason than that we still may be able to do something. And doing something to save the human race has always been a fond dream of idealists both over and under thirty."