Is there an alternative to natalism?

Consider how much effort is spent on producing more human beings, on building the infrastructure to feed, clothe, house, transport, educate, and entertain each new generation.

Nearly all cultures unquestioningly regard the production of human beings as the central priority of life. Questioning this way of thinking is extremely rare. In fact, English has no word for it. Perhaps we could call it natalism, from the Latin word for birth.

Most religions and political practices are staunchly natalist. They fiercely oppose any challenge to the belief that the production of human beings is the central priority of life.

The relentless pressure to create a more secure environment in which to produce human beings has driven the development of agriculture and urbanization, and more recently of industrialization and consumerism.

Most wealthy industrialized societies are proud of how they value the rights of individuals. Even educated people in those societies often consider population control to be mainly an issue for poorer, less democratic countries. However, as population grows without bounds, competition for space and resources trivializes the value and uniqueness of individuals everywhere.

Rather than endlessly filling the planet with copies of ourselves, we should consider how more people might flourish culturally and intellectually without being tacitly urged by society to reproduce.

Today only about a million of the world’s nearly seven billion people are professionally engaged in artistic, scientific, or other cultural activities. Of course, many of them also have children. By far, the majority of people spend their lives building nests in which to produce copies of themselves.

If those values were inverted, and only a million people were engaged in childrearing, while the majority procreated through their artistic, scientific, or other cultural achievements, the world’s population would eventually stabilize at a comfortable number, perhaps 20 million.

Those 20 million fortunate people would live richer, more stimulating, and more secure lives than even the wealthiest 20 million enjoy today. Even ordinary people could live in the comfortable, scenic locations that are today reserved by the wealthy.

In many ways, lifestyles in a creativity-centered society would be simpler than in an industrial one. For example, without the economic pressures that drive urbanization, many people might prefer living in smaller communities and perhaps even growing some of their own food. We could see surprising mixtures of ancient and advanced technologies.

Achieving high living standards in an economy with such a small labor force would depend on information-intensive technologies much more advanced than what we now have. Developments in engineering, rather than religious or ideological persuasiveness, is what will allow a creativity-centered society to emerge.

Michael Webb, 2001

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