Overpopulation: A Road To Dystopia

Ever since the Black Death in the 14th century, caused by the Bubonic plague, the growth in human population has been on a constant rise. And within the last century, these numbers have risen exponentially. Indeed, in 1927 the population on earth was estimated to be 2 billion. Less than 90 years later in 2016, we have a population of 7.4 billion and it’s continuing to grow.

There are several contributing factors that have led to this population explosion. The most significant being attributed to declining death rates. Thanks to modern medicine and technology, we’ve been able to overcome problems of widespread hunger and poverty. Fertility treatments and better medical facilities have led otherwise fatal diseases and defects to be recoverable. And today, we reap the benefits and comfort that these advances have provided us.

The question remains: Should we be concerned about overpopulation? Within the scientific community there is diverse opinion on both when and what amount the population will peak at before stabilization or decline. Scientific studies have ranges of time as early as 2050 to 2300 and beyond. Estimates for the peak of population hover between the 9-12 billion range. (1, 2)

However, many of these scientific studies don’t take into consideration the potential scientific breakthroughs that may occur over the next two centuries. What if, for instance, it becomes normal to live to be 150 or even 200 years old? Considering the existence of super-centenarians, we should remain open and optimistic to the idea of increased human longevity. This would push the figures well beyond what many of these studies conclude.

Likewise, it is also possible that science could revolutionize the resources we need to survive and flourish. We have a limitless supply of energy in the sun and it’s only a matter of time before we begin to harvest this energy efficiently. In addition, the continuous evolution of technology like 3d printers may have enormous effects in the way we manage our resources. These kinds of innovations could nearly negate overpopulation as a problem altogether.

Of course we should remain skeptical of such ideas. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how our population growth plays out over the next several decades and whether this growth becomes a major problem. If it does become a problem, what are the philosophical consequences? Will we need to enable policies that discourage people from having children? Would that be ethical? My libertarian leanings may certainly begin having doubts.

Imagine a world with extremely scarce resources. People are starving and poverty is rampant. Every new child being born into this world would suffer this same miserable existence. In such a world, it may be morally reprehensible to not get an abortion. Can you picture such a thing?

The consequences of overpopulation are definitely reminiscent of those in dystopian fiction in many ways. And while this may be new territory for humans, overpopulation is nothing new for many animal species. When it does occurs to a species, it isn’t pretty. Nature has it’s own way of restoring order. One of two things tends to happen under these circumstances:

  1. There becomes an increase in their predators which naturally reduces the species.
  2. There becomes massive conflict over the remaining resources and there’s a major population crash.

Number one is common among several animals including snowshoe hares, deer and lemmings. If predators are not increased to keep the population low, number two becomes the inevitable result. Starvation and thirst becomes common, and eventually violent competition between their own species arises. However, some animals have learned to refrain from mating under such conditions thanks to their evolutionary pheromones. (1) Thus preventing conflict.

So how does this apply to us? Humans are apex predators, meaning we reside at the top of the food chain in which no other creatures prey. Therefore we would skip number one and go straight to number two. If humans weren’t to refrain from reproduction, we may escalate far beyond the violent skirmishes present in many animal species. In a worst case scenario, we could enter another world war led by fascist leaders. Just how far do you think some people would be willing to go under such dire circumstances? It’s a scary thing to consider.

It’s important to note that many of these violent outcomes are only possible if we let overpopulation get out of hand in the first place. Nevertheless, overpopulation may still present problems to a lesser degree including: major unemployment, increased global warming and a reduced quality of life for most people.

Whether or not overpopulation comes to fruition is yet to be seen, but the conversation needs to begin sooner rather than later. Someday, we may have to rethink our moral intuitions. For better or for worse.

What Does A Utopia Look Like?

From its inception in ancient literature, to the popular movies and novels of today, humans have tried to imagine what a perfect society would look like. And not surprisingly, it’s been a difficult task. Often times these perfect societies portrayed in works of fiction and movies turn out to be dystopias in disguise. Novels such as Brave New World, 1984 and A Clockwork Orange and movies such as The Matrix, Minority Report and Equilibrium all share this feature.

Another characteristic these stories share is that they all took great advancements in technology for these societies to become a reality. And eerily enough, it’s hard not to see the resemblance these works of art share with what is actually taking place in the real world.

Technology will continue to advance and with it comes a plethora of possibilities. Can we use this technology to create a utopia? Is a utopia even possible? Or will this attempt at a perfect society lead to a dystopia in disguise in which so many works of fiction have imagined?

To me, a utopia would provide happiness to everyone that belongs in it. And ideally, to describe the opposite of Sam Harris’s “worst possible misery for everyone” in his book The Moral Landscape, a utopia would attempt to achieve the best possible happiness for everyone. Let’s call it BPHFE.

It’s incredibly difficult to imagine how BPHFE would be implemented into a society. Brave New World attempts to do this by stupefying the lower castes while they’re young, and providing them with plenty of drugs and recreational sex when they’re older. And while you must admit this would increase pleasure, there is a sense of manipulation in the way it is achieved. Besides, happiness doesn’t have to revolve only around drugs and sex.

I believe curiosity is a vital ingredient towards achieving BPHFE. It is curiosity that allows us to keep advancing as a civilization through our willingness to learn and experience new things in life. In order to achieve a society filled with curious people (and therefore BPHFE), we must do the opposite of the society in Brave New World: educate the masses.

A BPHFE utopia would have individuals involved in occupations that would spark their own unique passion and interests. Perhaps the technology of the future will have some type of test to best determine our natural characteristics. Ideally, this would allow every individual to flourish by increasing their curiosity freely and unrestrained.

Advanced machines and computers would keep society functioning. They would provide humans with everything on the bottom two layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These technologies could also produce goods to enrich the lives of the people for the highest layers.

This society would embrace minimalism. Money wouldn’t exist. People could focus purely on their passions without fear, anxiety and hatred. Possessions would have little value or meaning. Life would consist of love, curiosity and experiences; and that’s all we would need.

My idea of a utopia surely has its flaws, but perhaps the concept is not entirely unfathomable. The question remains: What does a utopia look like? Stay curious.