Brave New World Revisited

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In the Brave New World of my fable, the problem of human numbers in their relation to natural resources had been effectively solved. An optimum figure for world population had been calculated and numbers were maintained at this figure (a little under two bil­lions, if I remember rightly) generation after genera­tion. In the real contemporary world, the population problem has not been solved. On the contrary it is becoming graver and more formidable with every pass­ing year. It is against this grim biological background that all the political, economic, cultural and psychologi­cal dramas of our time are being played out. As the twentieth century wears on, as the new billions are added to the existing billions (there will be more than five and a half billions of us by the time my grand­daughter is fifty), this biological background will ad­vance, ever more insistently, ever more menacingly, toward the front and center of the historical stage. The problem of rapidly increasing numbers in relation to natural resources, to social stability and to the well-being of individuals — this is now the central problem of mankind; and it will remain the central problem certainly for another century, and perhaps for several centuries thereafter. A new age is supposed to have begun on October 4, 1957. But actually, in the present context, all our exuberant post-Sputnik talk is irrele­vant and even nonsensical. So far as the masses of mankind are concerned, the coming time will not be the Space Age; it will be the Age of Over-population. We can parody the words of the old song and ask,
Will the space that you're so rich in
Light a fire in the kitchen,
Or the little god of space turn the spit, spit, spit?
The answer, it is obvious, is in the negative. A settle­ment on the moon may be of some military advantage to the nation that does the settling. But it will do noth­ing whatever to make life more tolerable, during the fifty years that it will take our present population to double, for the earth's undernourished and proliferat­ing billions. And even if, at some future date, emigra­tion to Mars should become feasible, even if any con­siderable number of men and women were desperate enough to choose a new life under conditions compara­ble to those prevailing on a mountain twice as high as Mount Everest, what difference would that make? In the course of the last four centuries quite a number of people sailed from the Old World to the New. But neither their departure nor the returning flow of food and raw materials could solve the problems of the Old World. Similarly the shipping of a few surplus hu­mans to Mars (at a cost, for transportation and de­velopment, of several million dollars a head) will do nothing to solve the problem of mounting population pressures on our own planet. Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse still, it will create conditions in which individual free­dom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable. Not all dictatorships arise in the same way. There are many roads to Brave New World ; but perhaps the straightest and the broadest of them is the road we are travel­ing today, the road that leads through gigantic num­bers and accelerating increases. Let us briefly review the reasons for this close correlation between too many people, too rapidly multiplying, and the formulation of authoritarian philosophies, the rise of totalitarian sys­tems of government.
As large and increasing numbers press more heavily upon available resources, the economic position of the society undergoing this ordeal becomes ever more precarious. This is especially true of those underdeveloped regions, where a sudden lowering of the death rate by means of DDT, penicillin and clean water has not been accompanied by a corresponding fall in the birth rate. In parts of Asia and in most of Central and South America populations are increasing so fast that they will double themselves in little more than twenty years. If the production of food and manufactured arti­cles, of houses, schools and teachers, could be in­creased at a greater rate than human numbers, it would be possible to improve the wretched lot of those who live in these underdeveloped and over-populated countries. But unfortunately these countries lack not merely agricultural machinery and an industrial plant capable of turning out this machinery, but also the capital required to create such a plant. Capital is what is left over after the primary needs of a population have been satisfied. But the primary needs of most of the people in underdeveloped countries are never fully satisfied. At the end of each year almost nothing is left over, and there is therefore almost no capital avail­able for creating the industrial and agricultural plant, by means of which the people's needs might be satisfied. Moreover, there is, in all these underdevel­oped countries, a serious shortage of the trained man­power without which a modern industrial and agricul­tural plant cannot be operated. The present educa­tional facilities are inadequate; so are the resources, financial and cultural, for improving the existing facili­ties as fast as the situation demands. Meanwhile the population of some of these underdeveloped countries is increasing at the rate of 3 per cent per annum.
Their tragic situation is discussed in an important book, published in 1957 — The Next Hundred Years , by Professors Harrison Brown, James Bonner and John Weir of the California Institute of Technology. How is mankind coping with the problem of rapidly increasing numbers? Not very successfully. "The evidence suggests rather strongly that in most underdeveloped countries the lot of the average individual has wor­sened appreciably in the last half century. People have become more poorly fed. There are fewer available goods per person. And practically every attempt to improve the situation has been nullified by the relent­less pressure of continued population growth."