Primitivism and Demography

Demography is one of the most controversial sciences. All of its primary subjects — immigration, reproductive issues, race, sexuality, overpopulation, eugenics and dysgenics — are probably the most difficult political subjects to broach. But precisely because they are so controversial, primitivist insights into the political implications of the science offer a strong set of reasons to reject the project of civilization. More to the point, in almost all these areas the political options are either more artificial management or more natural management. The problems are complex, and will undoubtedly involve a little bit of both. But the degree to which the individual opposes artificial solutions signifies the degree to which he opposes civilization.

Immigration

Immigration is the most clear-cut example: one either lets people roam or manipulates the movement of populations through borders and technical means. The natural human tendency is to move, and sedentary societies have long had to institute measures to put a stop to the impulse. It becomes a uniquely difficult question in our current era, though, simply because of the large numbers of people being displaced at once by political, economic, and ecological turmoil.

Overpopulation

Or consider the overpopulation problem. If we accept that our technological systems cannot support current population levels without unwanted ecological effects, then the indisputable conclusion is that we need to decrease the population level. To what extent? is one question. But the political controversy usually revolves around another question: By what methods? The only viable option under the mainstream political framework is artificial management: policy, sterilization, and contraception. Unfortunately the softer methods of population control seem to be doing little in the way of resolving the problem, prompting some to call for more drastic methods of population management. The problem, of course, is that these harsher methods intensify the very problem of civilization: it takes autonomy from individuals and small groups and places them in the hands of technicians and large organizations. And in this case, the thing we want autonomy over is an extremely personal element of our humanity, i.e., our reproductive behavior.

Under our current system, artificial solutions are absolutely necessary. Should the project of civilization make it, it will have to find a way to manage such large numbers of people. Of course, the actual percentage decrease required will probably be much less than that claimed by the most extreme greens, because technological systems do, in fact, have the capacity to manage large populations efficiently (although only if they are crowded into dense, energy efficient population centers). Still, the basic facts of reproductive autonomy will have to shift drastically. The only way to avoid this loss of autonomy is to rely on more natural methods of population control: if technological systems don’t do it, natural processes must. This, too, is a difficult proposition. The natural methods of population control, like high infant mortality and disease, are not very comfortable. Those most enthralled by the idea of progress are unlikely to find the solution attractive. Nevertheless, by pointing out that the policy choice is between natural and artificial methods of management, primitivists clarify the issue and force people to begin taking sides. What trade-off would you like to see: a more autonomous society with a return of certain tragic aspects of the human condition, or an annihilation of those tragic aspects in exchange for significantly less autonomy (and, in the end, just another set of tragic conditions)?

Eugenics

The issue becomes even more pressing in regards to our genetic constitution. It is pretty much established that the overall effect of civilized life seems to be dysgenic. Obesity, degenerative diseases, cancers, mental disorders, and other health problems have all been linked to urban, sedentary life. One article in The American Journal of Medicine explains, “There is increasing evidence that the…mismatch [between our hunter/gatherer biology and civilized conditions] fosters ‘diseases of civilization’ that together cause 75 percent of all deaths in Western nations, but that are rare among persons whose lifeways reflect those of our preagricultural ancestors.” In addition, those who put thought into the prospects of our civilization are worried that as humans become biologically adapted to highly technological, civilized conditions, they will simultaneously become unsuited for the wild natural environment, which is, save spacefaring, the only alternative for us should the project of civilization on Earth fail. Finally, civilized conditions may encourage the propagation of genes that are harmful even for civilized life.

The biological substrate to human behavior is not often recognized in mainstream politics, but the global elites tend to pay attention to it. And they have not shied away from the implications: if we are to keep civilization, and if civilization is, in fact, dysgenic, then the only way to preserve civilization is to practice artificial methods of eugenics. For example, Julian Huxley in his UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, writes:

There are instances of biological inequality which are so gross that they cannot be reconciled at all with the principle of equal opportunity. Thus low-grade mental defectives cannot be offered equality of educational opportunity, nor are the insane equal with the sane before the law or in respect of most freedoms. However, the full implications of the fact of human inequality have not often been drawn and certainly need to be brought out here, as they are very relevant to Unesco’s task…

There remains the second type of inequality. This has quite other implications; for, whereas variety is in itself desirable, the existence of weaklings, fools, and moral deficients cannot but be bad. It is also much harder to reconcile politically with the current democratic doctrine of equality. In face of it, indeed, the principle of equality of opportunity must be amended to read “equality of opportunity within the limits of aptitude”…

Biological inequality is, of course, the bedrock fact on which all of eugenics is predicated. But it is not usually realised that the two types of inequality have quite different and indeed contrary eugenic implications. The inequality of mere difference is desirable, and the preservation of human variety should be one of the two primary aims of eugenics. But the inequality of level or standard is undesirable, and the other primary aim of eugenics should be the raising of the mean level of all desirable qualities. While there may be dispute over certain qualities, there can be none over a number of the most important, such as a healthy constitution, a high innate general intelligence, or a special aptitude such as that for mathematics or music…

At the moment, it is probable that the indirect effect of civilisation is dysgenic instead of eugenic; and in any case it seems likely that the dead weight of genetic stupidity, physical weakness, mental instability, and disease-proneness, which already exist in the human species, will prove too great a burden for real progress to be achieved. Thus even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for Unesco to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that now is unthinkable may at least become thinkable…

To adjust the principle of democratic equality to the fact of biological inequality is a major task for the world, and one which will grow increasingly more urgent as we make progress towards realising equality of opportunity. To promote this adjustment, a great deal of education of the general public will be needed as well as much new research; and in both these tasks Unesco can and should co-operate.

Once again, Huxley is fundamentally correct. A healthy genetic constitution is necessary for a healthy human being, culture, and species. In natural conditions this was carried out in the background, through the process of natural selection. But as we enter into more artificial environments, the methods will have to shift to artificial selection, which returns us to our problem: do we want to sacrifice control of our genetic constitution to technicians and their technical systems for the sake of civilized life?

Race

Race, the most controversial demographic topics, ties into all these discussions. The science of racial differences, highly politicized, is nevertheless clear from an evolutionary standpoint: there are biologically relevant differences between human populations. Recorded physiological differences include skin pigmentation, susceptibility to disease, lung capacity, gut microbiomes, facial structure, bone structure, etc.

These alone are enough to justify evolutionarily distinct categories. Even among non-human animals simple differences in appearance have been enough to categorize organisms as separate species or subspecies. For example, Yellow-rumped Warblers, with yellow throats, and Myrtle Warblers, with white throats, were once considered distinct species because of differences in appearance. However, when it was discovered that the two “species” mated, they instead became considered two subspecies. Of course, biologists won’t often be forthright about this aspect of biological classification, because in the popular mind making a solid distinction between human populations erroneously comes with the connotation of “superiority” and “inferiority.” But in a strictly scientific sense, the categories exist only to communicate relevant information about difference, even if only in physiological appearance. And indeed racial distinctions between humans convey highly relevant information for fields like medicine or forensic anthropology, although sometimes they are masked in terms of geography.

The issue becomes more controversial when scientists apply evolutionary insights to the human mind. But there is no reason to think that the different conditions for human populations, in addition to selecting for different physiologies, also selected for different minds. The differences are unlikely to be very drastic simply because of how short a period human populations have been isolated from each other. But the point is that, under the evolutionary framework, discussions about such things are entirely legitimate areas of inquiry.

Why, then, is the topic so controversial? Because it suggests that genetic manipulation will be necessary to fulfill the vision of a united world society. Already political manipulation is necessary. It is well established that humans are inclined to form in-groups and favor members of that group. This behavior can be initiated by differences as arbitrary as a group identity decided by a coin flip, and clearly applies to differences as obvious and intractable as racial ones. But if racial differences are, beyond a mere organizing principle, strongly genetic, then the required level of management starts to involve genetic manipulation. And in any case, racial differences clearly have implications for more general eugenics and population control policies.

Women

Like race, women’s rights issues tie into all discussions of demography. Women are uniquely affected by their society’s social structure and practices because, as bearers of children, they are the most impacted by social regulations around reproduction. Of course, some level of regulation over reproductive practices is necessary in any human society. Marvin Harris calls these regulations, and reproductive behavior overall, a society’s “mode of reproduction,” and it is a fundamental determinant for the form political and economic institutions take. The question today is what kinds of regulations will be necessary to sustain a global society.

Technical elites have two discernible paths. The first is to, eventually, introduce population control policies. Should human beings remain biological creatures, this will be absolutely necessary, since the current push for abortion and contraception does not adequately address the problem. The second is to free humans from reproductive constraints entirely by converting the reproductive process into a technological one. 

The latter seems to be the favored trend at the moment, indicated by confusion around the concepts of gender and sex, a push for individualist concepts of autonomy, development of artificial means of reproduction, and explorations into digital sex technologies. Sexuality is largely disappearing into the realm of the abstract, becoming unlinked from material biological constraints. The idea has long occurred in the feminist literature. At its most extreme, Donna Haraway suggested in A Cyborg Manifesto that digital technologies have a unique capacity to make women more autonomous. But this kind of thinking understands “autonomy” in a very different way from the primitivist: it is not autonomy over the body so much as autonomy from the body. And in the very process of freeing the individual mind from the burden of controlling her own body, control is in fact handed over to technical systems themselves, as well as the technical elites that manage those systems.

Confusion stems from the fact that, at the moment, harsh regulations around population are untenable, and digital technologies are not yet sophisticated to take over the processes of reproduction. Thus the only way to introduce population control measures is through the veneer of autonomy. For example, population control organizations almost exclusively advocate legalizing abortion and popularizing contraception as a means of population management. The feminist movement has adopted these as parts of its cause, extolling them as a means of giving the individual control over her own reproductive practices.

The individualism of this feminist framework should make us suspicious. Reproductive practices have never been regulated exclusively by individuals; they are a highly social matter, and, as such, the domain of social norms and regulation. But it at least appears as though abortion and contraception are giving individuals autonomy over reproduction. How, then, is our society regulating its reproductive practices? The issue is that in technological society behavioral regulation is more sophisticated and subtle, based less on the use of force or direct legislation, and more on the manipulation of public opinion through the media or social networks. Consider Ellul’s insights, communicated by Daniel Bois:

One of the ironies of propaganda to work is that its population must be educated. …So the more educated you become, the less aware you are that you are a victim of propaganda and the more you are ready to spread your ideology to others who will in turn reinforce you and be reinforced by you in a horizontal process. Leaders aren’t telling you what to think (directly), you are being told by your peers what to think and you pass along this information to others to inform them what to think. Then when this ideology has reached a substantial portion of the population, you demand the leaders to comply and they reluctantly do so (which was their intention 30 to 40 years previously, but they won’t tell you this). This is the essence of what Ellul says…

In fact there is a direct historical link between elite efforts at population control and the current acceptance of abortion and contraception. Most of the foremost family planning institutions, for example, were established during the Progressive Era and have close ties with eugenic sentiments. This is why many Planned Parenthood offices are near racial populations with high fertility rates. And, once again, abortion and contraception are repeatedly the main policy recommendations of global institutions on the issue of population, while in the background the members of these organizations suggest an eventual turn to more direct policies.

The individualism of the popular feminist framework should be suspicious for another reason: historically, atomization at the level of the individual signified a major shift in the economic and political institutions of society. By removing the individual’s loyalties to the former mode of organization, he becomes more suitable as a member of the new institutions. The psychology of it should be clear: an individual human seeks autonomy from a delegitimized social group but, an inherently social animal, suffers profoundly as a mere individual and is forced to cleave to the institutions left. Ellul (again) offers insights here, writing about the French Revolution:

…a systematic campaign was waged against all natural groups, under the guise of a defense of the rights of the individual; for example, the guilds, the communes, and federalism were attacked, this last by the Girondists. …There was to be no liberty of groups, only that of the individual. There was likewise a struggle to undermine the family. …Revolutionary laws governing divorce, inheritance, and paternal authority were disastrous for the family unit, to the benefit of the individual. And these effects were permanent, in spite of temporary setbacks. Society was already atomized and would be atomized more and more. The individual remained the sole sociological unit, but, far from assuring him freedom, this fact provoked the worst kind of slavery.

The atomization we have been discussing conferred on society the greatest possible plasticity — a decisive condition for technique. The breakup of social groups engendered the enormous displacement of people at the beginning of the nineteenth century and resulted in the concentration of population demanded by modern technique. To uproot men from their surroundings, from the rural districts and from family and friends, in order to crowd them into cities still too small for them; to squeeze thousands into unfit lodgings and unhealthy places of work; to create a whole new environment within the framework of a new human condition (it is too often overlooked that the proletariat is the creation of the industrial machine) — all this was possible only when the individual was completely isolated. It was conceivable only when he literally had no environment, no family, and was not part of a group able to resist economic pressure; when he had almost no way of life left.

Such is the influence of social plasticity. Without it, no technical evolution is possible. For the individual in an atomized society, only the state was left: the state was the highest authority and it became omnipotent as well.

In a similar way, as control is shifting from the state to global institutions and technical systems, an increased emphasis on individualism is preparing the way.

Conclusions

By now it should be clear that primitivism helps draw a clear dividing line on issues of demography: more or less technical control? Because these are among the most pressing and most controversial issues in global politics, they are likely to function as powerful wedge issues. On the whole, of course, primitivists should campaign for significantly less technical control: less borders, opposition to population control techniques, opposition to genetic technologies, opposition to cultural and racial disintegration, and autonomy over rather than from our bodies.

There are, though, some practical complexities.

The politics of race stands out as a particularly thorny issue. Primitivists on the left must certainly contend with the fact that on a social level, multicultural societies require significantly more behavior control; that the process of globalization is largely about uprooting and developing long-established traditional communities, many of whom are organized around ethnic and racial lines. But race politics in the industrial world takes on a rather different character than global race politics: often the very notions of “race” extolled are artificial identities, a product of the modern mind. There is, then, a deep need for nuance and treading carefully.

In another vein, population management and immigration greatly affect the non-human natural world. Massive rates of immigration and large human populations are indisputably tied to increased pollution, species extinctions, increased development, and the fragmentation of wild lands. But if the only alternative to technological environments are natural ones, conservation and restoration of the wild natural environments should be a primary concern. There is, then, a conflict. On the one hand, technical control must be opposed; on the other, it may be necessary to preserve the only alternative to it.

2 Comments

  • Griffin says:

    Overpopulation
    “The only viable option under the mainstream political framework is artificial management: policy, sterilization, and contraception.”
    I believe there are plenty of options that do not fall under these these three ways of artificially controlling population. Of course, “policy” is rather vague and could subsume sterilization and contraception or be given a definition that really subsumes any effort one comes up with. Using propaganda to facilitate the desires and aspirations of men and women of reproductive age may be the most effective way to control population. These desires may be facilitated by the mainstream news media, the various productions and franchises that come from Hollywood or Netflix, or by labeling certain attitudes and behaviors — such as a wife staying at home to take care of a couple’s children — as “harmful,” “backwards,” or not “progressive.” For example, women who identify as “liberal” have a much lower fertility rate (~1.6) than those who identify as “conservative” (~2.2) (this is from memory, I can dig up the actual numbers if you’d like. I think they were about this though); hopefully we will need no citation in saying that “liberal” women are more likely to be feminist than “conservatives;” thus, if we hope to curb population growth our various cultural institutions may want to promote feminism. Homosexuality and other forms of romantic relationships that are less likely to result in reproductive sex may also applauded by the culture industry. Additionally, the youth may be told that not having children is a “heroic sacrifice” that must be made for the future of our planet’s ecological well-being (there are already several groups that advocate this, I am particularly thinking of some groups in the UK I saw interviewed); the philosopher Daniel Benatar (author of “Better Never to have Been”) may be elevated as a cultural icon and a hero. Edit: now reading your section on “Women” again, where you address some of this. Could recommend Carl Zimmerman “Family and Civilization”
    Side note as this relates to race: particular populations have (slightly) different reproductive statistics (Rushton, 200?). Example: the twin rate of blacks is twice that of whites, which, in turn, is twice that of east asians. Length of gestation is the least for blacks, the greatest for east asians; whites, again, fall in between.
    Eugenics
    Yes, the elites have been aware of the necessity of a healthy genetic constitution going back to the 19th century. However, as it relates to intelligence and “moral behavior” (as the classical eugenicists used to say), there has only been a dysgenic trend in the Western world since about 1850 and in South America and Africa starting in about the last 30-50 years — meaning that those who are less intelligent than average and who commit more crimes have greater fertility than those who are more intelligent than average and who do not commit crimes. The only places (so far as I know) that have escaped dysgenic selections pressures are in east asia (China, Japan, South Korea), and the only place that has implemented a successful eugenics program (via incentives) in the late 20th century is Singapore. I would refer you to the work of Woodley, Figueredo, Lynn, and a couple others whose names currently escape me (H. Nyborg and M???)
    Race
    First I would like to refer you to a more recent study of Fst distances:
    New kinship and FST estimates reveal higher levels of differentiation in the global human population, Ochoa & Storey, May 2019
    Second, I think population differences in various consequential traits are much more important than you seem to think, especially if you look at future demographic projections; obviously I agree that any notion of “superiority” or “inferiority” is fallacious and unhelpful in this context — I have been more concerned with “what is the case” or “how will population differences in various traits impact the future of ‘civilization’?” I could write about this a lot more if you would like. If you want your ideology to be digestible to Americans (particularly of the left-leaning variety) you probably should not talk about this too much though. I would also like to inform you that the American view on race (‘it’s just a social construct’) is rather unusual and definitely not ‘universal.’ Here is a source: On the Concept of Race in Chinese Biological Anthropology: Alive and Well, Wang et al, 2003. There are other useful citations

    Overall nice article. Thank you.

  • Robert McGuinn says:

    Many key points here. This one deserves careful consideration. Thanks John. The quality of your writing is stunning.

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