May 2013

Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.  By Robert Zubrin. New Atlantis Books (1-800-786-3839). 318 pages. $25.95.

In 1971 John Holdren (recently President Obama’s science advisor) and Paul Ehrlich predicted that humanity was “doomed to quick extinction” unless controlled by “wise overlords wielding sterilants.” The past two centuries have seen many such doom­sayers serving the cause of population control. In Merchants of Despair Robert Zubrin shows how often science has veiled their anti-human agenda.

Thomas Malthus blamed the poor for their own suffering because they ignored a law as fixed as gravitation: They increased in number while resources remained fixed. His theory offered a “scientific” cover for genocide. In the Irish famine of 1846, when over a million people perished, no help was given to the starving because of a “Malthusian fear” of their multiplication. Later, when two droughts occurred in India, in 1876-1879 and 1896-1902, 20-30 million people perished. They too got no help due to their “tendency to increase more rapidly than the food.”

Influenced by Malthus, Darwin imagined that progress occurred when “superior strains” overcame the inferior in a struggle for existence amid limited resources. In 1869 Fran­cis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, established the “science” of eugenics, which was “strongly endorsed” in Dar­­win’s Descent of Man. Galton taught that evolution advances when the “inferior” have fewer children or are eliminated for “racial improvement.” The 1904-1906 campaign against the Herero people in Africa was the first genocide justified on Dar­­winist grounds. Then in 1914, when a cure was found for pellagra (a vitamin deficiency that killed 5,000 impoverished Americans annually and contributed to the deaths of 300,000 more), the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) discredited the cure for two decades by “massive statistical fraud.” Eugenicists then brought about anti-immigration laws in the 1920s, claiming that immigrants were “failures in the struggle for existence” and a threat to “wilderness areas.” They also sought laws to coerce hundreds of thousands of poor people to be sterilized in order to keep their welfare benefits.

In the 1930s Darwinism became a Nazi principle. Anti-Semitism had existed in Germany prior to the Holocaust but “with no remotely comparable outcome.” Now the memoirs of Germans in the process of Nazification show “an internal struggle” in which their moral calculus was inverted and they obeyed a voice of duty backed by scientific opinion. Only those “with very firmly held alternative belief structures — most typically devoted Roman Catholics — were able to resist, and as a result were generally viewed by the majority to be irrational retrograde religious fanatics.” Zubrin gives special praise to the student-resistance group “The White Rose.” Many Jews did not survive because the eugenics movement influenced governments “not to receive substantial numbers” of Jewish refugees. In 1939, when Senator Robert Wagner introduced a bill to let in 20,000 Jewish children ready to be adopted, the ERO defeated it by arguing that these children would eventually multiply to half a million.

In the late 1940s eugenics was renamed “population control,” with Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet (1948) serving as its manifesto. Osborn established the Conservation Foundation, which sponsored the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, documentaries promoting Mal­thusian environmentalism, and studies designed to justify global population reduction. This movement soon captured the support of leading Democrats. When John F. Kennedy rejected the proposal that the U.S. fund global population control, he was denounced by Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey for “trying to impose his Catholic religious values on a pluralistic society.” In the mid-1960s Lyndon Johnson told the UN, “Five dollars invested in population control is worth a hundred dollars invested in economic growth.” He then refused famine relief to India unless it agreed to forced sterilization.

When DDT caused malarial infections to fall by 99 percent in Latin America and Asia and prevented 500 million deaths in 20 years, the population controllers were alarmed. Aldous Huxley, for example, warned that DDT would cause global starvation. In 1962 Rachel Carson sparked a crusade against it in Silent Spring, distorting much of what she cited “in a brazen act of scientific dishonesty.” She falsely claimed that it was a carcinogen and that bird populations had declined where it was used. In 1968 Charles Wurster of the Environmental Defense Fund alleged that DDT in seawater prevented the photosynthesis of phytoplankton and so threatened the “existence of all life in the ocean, and possibly on the planet.” Even after a scientific investigation concluded that these claims were not true, the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972. Countries receiving aid from the U.S. had to give up their best weapon against malaria.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club commissioned Ehrlich to write The Population Bomb, “a new Malthusian bible for modern times.” It predicted that, without population control, hundreds of millions would starve to death by the 1980s. The American Left, which had previously opposed Mal­thusianism, now adopted its man­tra of “zero population growth.” Not all were seduced: Richard John Neuhaus wrote In Defense of People against the Left’s new anti-humanism. A “global empire” of interlocking organizations emerged, operating with billion-dollar budgets “to suppress the existence of people considered undesirable by the U.S. State Department.” Funds were removed from disease-prevention programs so our non-military foreign aid program could be streamlined as “an agency for human elimination.”

From India to Peru, population control was typically racist, with the local ruling class using sterilization to suppress ethnic groups. In the U.S. Native Americans were targeted from 1973 to 1976 in sterilization programs set up by the federally funded In­dian Health Services. The same thing occurred on a global scale. Zub­rin agrees with Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, that the population controllers may have caused the AIDS crisis in Africa. In 2009 sub-Saharan Africa was home to 12 percent of the world’s population but 68 percent of the world’s HIV cases and more than 90 percent of its HIV-infected children. The numbers of infected quadrupled between 1995 and 2008 during the time when the U.S. Agency for International Development sent a hundred million hypodermic needles for injecting the contraceptive Depo-Provera. These needles were routinely re-used without being sterilized. The World Health Organization estimates that the proportion of injections given with unsterilized needles was as high as 70 percent, so that three billion unsafe injections were given each year. Little wonder that AIDS killed a million annually and that 30 million of the people we tried to “help” now face imminent death.

Recently, the population controllers have embraced global warming, “a mass cult” capable of recasting “the basic Malthusian line in a novel form, but with the equivalent end result.” Their proposed cure again involves “human sacrifice.” Yet, as Zubrin demonstrates, variations in global temperature, uncaused by human beings, have occurred regularly in past millennia.

Zubrin’s book is well argued and documented. He is right to be outraged by the violations of human dignity and the genocides wrought by population controllers under the veil of Malthusian and Darwinist “science.” His work is a much needed warning for us to be wary of all scientific claims that lead directly to anti-humanism.

- Anne Barbeau Gardiner

The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers.  By George M. Young. Oxford University Press. 296 pages. $29.95.

The phrase “playing God” usually describes man’s prideful assertion of the power to end human lives or, more rarely, to create them in test tubes. The Cosmists, a group composed largely of Russian intellectuals, aim for loftier goals: immortality and the power to resurrect. Their plan of action doesn’t align with Christian teachings; Cosmists instead promote the practice of “active or self-directed evolution.” George M. Young, a fellow at the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England, introduces the Russian Cosmists and their complex ideas, which involve such esoteric terms as noosphere, ex­o­teric thaumaturgy, and planetarian consciousness. Young recommends knowledge of Cosmism as apropos to a world that needs to give regard to Russia in economics, politics, and intellectualism.

In modern Cosmist writer Svet­lana Semanova’s definition of Cos­mism, mankind has attained the point of “active evolution” and now requires a “cosmos-centered view” to actively alter human and earthly evolution. Various fields of study must merge together as an “exoteric thau­ma­turgy,” an amalgamation of scientific and magical thought imparted to the public as a philosophy of action. Young fleshes out the origins of Cos­mism by presenting its forerunners in Russian philosophical, theological, and popular magical thought from the 18th and 19th centuries. He then gives a biographical treatment of Nikolai Fedorov, the 19th-century “father of Russian Cosmism,” whose “common task” remains the central tenet of the movement: Death is a conditional state, rather than a reality, as most Western philosophies consider it, and men should engage themselves in studying and eventually overcoming death, which will result in the resurrection of all human beings — past, present, and future. The advances in the knowledge necessary to achieve this end are to be active rather than merely scientifically observational. One of Fedorov’s projects for man to control nature involves the construction of enormous cones on earth that utilize electromagnetic forces to steer the planet “like a spaceship through the cosmos in search of particles of departed ancestors” all the way back to Adam.

Even in Fedorov’s lifetime, his philosophy was hard to swallow. He and N.P. Peterson, an intellectual colleague, friend, and Cosmist adherent, presented Fedorov’s ideas in a newspaper; the work was not well received by the public, disheartening Fed­orov with the thought that his ideas were “fated to become unintentionally esoteric.” Nonetheless, Fed­erov attracted religious and scientific followers who developed his thought. Vladimir Sol­ovyov, a Russian Orthodox priest and the first and foremost of the Cos­mist religious thinkers, believed that mankind needs to discover how to achieve immortality, as resurrecting someone would only allow him to die again. Solovyov’s ideas have a more New Age, pantheistic quality than Fedorov’s: Solovyov speaks of resurrection as “the ultimate demonstration of divine-human spiritual power.” Solovyov and his ilk believe in “divine” Sophia, a feminine, mother-earth figure of the body of Christ, or “soul of the world.”

Prominent among Cosmist scientists is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a master of several scientific fields and a prolific inventor. Presaging modern New Age and pantheistic themes, he postulates that even inorganic matter has an “atom spirit,” and that “the mind and might of the leading planets are guiding the universe into a state of perfection.” The resurrection of all people is wasteful to Tsiolkovsky: Only “scientific geniuses and inventors” are to be resurrected, the “defective” are not, and imperfect individuals are, in fact, to be eliminated. Some Cosmists excuse the loss of lives, whether in the Soviet past or in a Cosmist future, with the eventuality of their resurrection.

Cosmist scientists such as Vlad­imir Vernadsky use the term noosphere, coined by Frenchmen, to describe the “sheath of life…infused with and directed by the human mind.” Vasily Kuprevich agreed with Fedorov that science would solve the quest for “indefinite longevity” via alteration of the “aging and death gene.” He believed that Homo im­mortalis lies ahead in the human-controlled evolution of Homo sapiens.

The anthropocentric, even self-centered, nature of Cosmism looms large with nonreligious adherents. Immortalism, genetically controlled human propagation, occultism, and chaste marriage, in which partners redirect “erotic energy” to partnerships of “androgynous persons,” all represent branches of modern Cos­mism. “Technological utopian­ism” emphasizes the worker using his tools to master nature, not allowing man to be only a helpless part of nature. In this, Cosmism rejects the belief of modern ecophiles that man is just another animal in the food chain or circle of life. Late-20th-century Cos­­mist Valerian Muravyov believes that all culture and genetics can be totally controlled and organized like mathematical formulae to create a “cosmocracy” that will focus mankind on a single, primary task. One of Mos­cow’s major libraries and the Tsiol­kovsky center in Kaluga have annual conferences dedicated to promoting Cosmist thought.

Young admittedly embraces Cos­mism and promotes it as a challenge to Western thought. He believes that death should not be feared as evil but investigated, and he questions not whether, but to what extent, our “religion, science, art, magic, culture” should be unified to decide who, when, and how to resurrect.

Will Cosmism catch on? Western media and society certainly embrace anthropocentric and New Age ideas. Note the hint of surprise expressed by TV newscasters that conditions like chronic kidney disease and Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise while heart disease and cancer fall as causes of mortality; their incredulous tone of voice belies an expectation of immortality — as if “you gotta die of something” is a myth. As chronic disease, aging, and rising healthcare costs remain front-burner topics, Cosmist-like views, where smarter, younger, more valuable lives receive better care, seem to fit.

In Russia, after 80 years of Soviet suppression, discussion of Cos­mist thought has grown significantly. Nikolai Fedorov thought scientific advances to achieve his “common task” might take 10,000 years. So we have plenty of time to ponder it. Meanwhile, George Young presents a thorough, systematic introduction to Cosmism, as well as an invitation to understand this strange but increasingly important Russian school of thought.

- Robert J. Rolfes Jr.

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