Here is a Brain of Britain-style poser for you: what do the following three have in common? An 18th century English cleric, a character from Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Don't know? Well, here are some clues.
The cleric in question is Thomas Robert Malthus and the character from Jude the Obscure is the young son of Jude Fawley. It's time to give you the connection between these three ideas. In a word, population. Population is the theme. Whatever people may tell you, no-one knows the exact population of the UK these days, though it's reckoned to be more than sixty but not quite seventy million.
In 1798 Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population. In it he held that if we allow our population to grow unchecked, Nature will do a culling job for us. That is because population growth far outstrips our ability to feed all the mouths. We simply cannot grow enough food. The consequences of a bursting population are, Malthus tells us, death, disease, starvation or war.
Consider the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which presage the end of the world in the Book of Revelations. They carry the banners of pestilence, war, famine and death. Creepy, isn't it? At least we know what our choices will be!
In 1895 Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure. The little note that read 'Because we are too menny' was written by young Jude. It was a suicide note left because his family was starving. Having penned it, little Jude murdered his two siblings and then killed himself. He felt he was somehow to blame for his family's misfortune. He took responsibility for it, in however gauche a way.
The lesson is clear. Either we do something about our population or it will be done for us. The sperm count in men is declining, as is fertility in women. It looks as if less and less of our land will be cultivable or even inhabitable and there are strains of influenza which pose a real threat in a society in which everyone is crushed together.
I'm not clever enough to know the answer. I can only tell you the problem. The two choices we have are - ignore it and hope it will go away or take responsibility and actually do something.
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