Check Your Privilege Part III: You Can’t Have It Both Ways

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.


  1. says

    “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.”

    Not to mention the fact that first world prosperity is linked historically to the subjugation/exploitation of the so-called developing world.

    A parallel argument I’ve come across to stopping aid to the less fortunate can be summed up as fuck giving money, smash capitalism. Or, put more diplomatically “The irony of Effective Altruism is that it implores individuals to use their money to procure necessities for those who desperately need them, but says nothing about the system that determines how those necessities are produced and distributed in the first place.” (

    The author delineating this line of thinking concludes: “Rather than asking how individual consumers can guarantee the basic sustenance of millions of people, we should be questioning an economic system that only halts misery and starvation if it is profitable,” as if the two are mutually exclusive. Right, until we address those messy economic questions, fuck the poor. I wonder what the author is doing, aside from writing articles online and going to school for philosophy to enact his socialist utopia. He should hurry up IMO, people are hungry. Anyways, to this broad idea, your line is a good general response: “That’s your privilege talking, and it’s bullshit.”

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I’m not sure how this would work out, but at first blush I like the idea of conditioning the provision of such aid on the absolute requirement that it include the full range of reproductive health services – including all forms of voluntary contraception and confidential counseling on their use.

    An immediate backlash from the usual reactionaries and their pseudoprogressive useful idiots would immediately arise, but in at least some nations this might stimulate a strong feminist response that could prevail and lead to further social improvements.

    Aah, who am I kidding? The asshole tide is rising everywhere; let them eat Trumpsteaks®!

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      Actually, open access to reproductive rights, birth control, abortion and the lot, as well as an aggressive challenging of religious doctrines which push couples to make as many children as possible, is always the first suggestion I have in regards to the overpopulation crisis. It is my opinion that that is something that needs to be achieved first, before we start talking about one child policies, rationing of food, or scaling back modern medicine. I argue that I think it is no coincidence that countries which have those cultures see a stagnation and often a decrease in birth rate vs. mortality rate, compared to countries which do not. Trumpsteak eaters aside, we’re on the same wavelength!

  3. says

    Another question that is never asked is “how many resources are those “overpopulated countries” using compared to the western world. Before we fight “overpopulation” we should ask first if that’s the actual issue.
    And of course reproductive health. Very few women are actually looking forward to a dozen pregnancies.

  4. cubist says

    My preferred route to reducing the human population is to raise everyone’s standard of living, and let the demographic transition sort it out. Other routes (the ones you rightly decry, on account of their depending on mass quantities of death amongst the üntermenschen)… not so much.

  5. DonZilla says

    How about this: give women true equal social power in EVERY area of society, so that having and controlling kids isn’t the only power they have; the only significant difference they can make.

    A lot of people have children because they believe it’s the most powerful and unselfish thing they can do with their life. Even in the USA in 2017, people who choose not to have kids are questioned. And perpetuating one’s gene pool into the future through children is hardly unselfish.

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