Page 6, 7th January 1972

7th January 1972
Page 6
Page 6, 7th January 1972 — The ecology of liberty
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The ecology of liberty

and a situation in which 'macrofreedom' equals the sum of all 'microfreedoms'

Population versus Liberty by Jack Parsons (Pemberton Books £3.25)

IBERI'Y threatened is a I 1 stirring spectacle; and to argue that the human race is cannibalising its own freedom is to put humanity firmly on the defensive.

Jack Parsons' humanist thesis is that even an infinitesimal growth in our national, or world, population will be disastrous, above all for the continuance of individual liberties of which freedom of movement is not only the most typical but the worst threatened — at least in a developed society such as ours.

Mr. Parsons does a good job in developing his concept of the "ecology of liberty" — a phrase surely destined for immortality on the lips of politicians. The central problem, however, is that to keep the birth rate down to replacement level demands, quite apart from any religious or moral considerations, either an impossible degree of public voluntary co-operation, or a degree of state regulation and interference which would seriously erode existing freedoms and rights to privacy.

The author acknowledges the problem, but fails to meet it convincingly. Instead, he resorts to a pseudo-mathematical jargon of "macrofreedom" equalling the sum of all compatible "microfreedoms" which amounts to little more than an intellectual parlour game, in which moral considerations are irrelevant.

Religion. and even nonreligious philosophies. get short shrift in this book. Catholics and Communists make a joint. brief appearance to be accused of sabotaging international discussion on birth control, but Communism (with its embarrassing history of failed experiments in popilation con• troll is soon despatched front the dock, leaving the Catholic Church to stand trial for "what amounts to a conspiracy . . . to undermine the laws of the land . . ." In an age when ecumenism extends t o humanists, Mr. Parsons in turn should be more tolerant of deeply-held convictions.

Where he really falls down, however, is in failing to decide whether he is a popularising journalist, or a polemicising researcher. The result is ,some disturbing incongruities of scale — for example, his prescription for what seems the comparatively minor problem of the surplus of three quarters of a million British males anticipated by the year 2000.

"Our thinking," he lectures, "should be flexible enough at least to consider the possibility of 'marriage' allowances for male homosexual households, group marriage, polyandry. social approval of lovers for married women, state brothels . . . and so on."

Heaven knows what Mr.

Parsons has in store for the day when the sexes really get out of balance (as they have for centuries in Tibet). Tolerance of sexual deviation is a welcome development, but for Mr. Parsons' millennium we shall need anew Petronius to write a new Satyricon.

More serious is his ;Assump tion, with a notable lack of evidence, that population growth is equally bad for everyone in the world. Not all the developing countries are over-populated — many are deficient in population and for others, human beings are their only tangible asset. These peo ple need labour-intensive agriculture and industry, which will bring them economic self

sufficiency. not capital-intensive mechanisation, which will merely leave them in debt to the rich countries.

Mr. Parsons has, in fact, tried to do too much at once a characteristic flaw in the humanist approach. He could have written a better, and a much shorter book, if he had been more self-disciplined from the start.

David Crawford




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