Every so often, I find myself in conversations with people who, while they usually mean well, are completely forgetting the bubble they live in. I have posted before about the privilege of dumping on GMOs, and of how neurotypical people who can simply take a stroll through nature when they’re feeling blue have no right to poo-poo the modern medicine that others need to function.
This time, I want to talk about another conversation I recently had, in which the person thought they were simply being pragmatic in their views of overpopulation.
We were discussing foreign aid to developing countries, and how certain countries are experiencing a spike in population after developed countries have given them aid such as food and medicine. The result is a population even larger than the one that they could sustain to begin with, and the projections only show a worsening of the problem. The solution? Stop all foreign aid, in the form of food and modern medicine. It may sound cruel, but it’s simply pragmatic. The globe is overpopulated anyway, amirite? Better to not worsen the problem by allowing for our modern way of life to lead to an even sharper increase in population size, eventually resulting in a severe global crisis.
To which I responded, again, check your privilege.
So basically, I responded, you think that we should resolve the overpopulation problem by killing off all of the people who did not have the good fortune of being born in the particular geographical area that you were born in? Or perhaps, only citizens of the countries that invented a certain kind of medicine should be allowed to take it? That’s the great thing about being born into privilege, we take access to food, clean water, electricity and medicine for granted.
Now, do you want to make the argument that, given the problem of overpopulation, we should get rid of modern medicine and research into medicine altogether? OK. I will disagree with you, and I will engage in a discussion of what other, less drastic measures I think should be attempted before we come to such a radical conclusion, but at least it is an intellectually honest argument to make. But somehow, the people who hold the opinion of “let the poor brown people die off” never seem to make it. Basically, if you make this argument, you are saying that you are more deserving of lifesaving medicine than someone else, not because of your own contribution to society, but because you happened to come out of a vagina that happened to be located in a convenient country at the time. Yeah, not good enough.
Now I will concede that there are certain kinds of foreign aid that are more effective than others. Aid in the form of helping to develop infrastructure, and agriculture, and education, is often far more effective in the long run. I remember a very interesting article published by the WHO (which I cannot find at the moment), which talked about how simply shipping free food from the US to West Africa was killing local farms who cannot compete with free, resulting in barns full of rotting food, and a population ever more dependent on welfare. There are different ways of helping others, and it should definitely be something closely monitored and discussed to be sure that our good intentions don’t lead us straight to hell. It is complicated, and it is messy. However, complicated and messy does not mean give up. Complicated and messy does not mean that the lives of fellow human beings suddenly don’t matter. It simply means that, no matter where you happened to be born, you should be entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else.
If you want to discuss what those basic rights should be, and which make the most sense, and what methods should be employed to reach that goal, then I’m all ears. But saying that you are entitled to lifesaving food and medical treatment because you were born in this place, unlike that person who was born in some other place? That’s your privilege talking, and it’s bullshit.