Merchants of Despair: Robert Zubrin vs. Malthus, Darwin, and Others
Robert Zubrin first came to my attention speaking about his book Energy Victory. That book, which doesn't fit neatly into either conservative or liberal cubbyholes, is really a seminal work on a real scientific solution to our revolting overdependence on the single source of oil for transport.
Robert Zubrin is also well-known as a strong advocate for manned space exploration, especially exploration of Mars, and has a strong background in the physical sciences and space technology. As you will find when you read his work, he has a knack for explaining complex subjects and cutting down pseudo-science and outright lies, sometimes with wry humor.
Zubrin's new book, Merchants of Despair (Encounter Books), takes aim at "anti-humanism" based on pseudo-science and lies. This is the broad premise that man (especially inferior non-white races) is a pox on the planet and that eventually he will consume and destroy every resource available. In the first few chapters, Zubrin skillfully weaves the work of Malthus, Darwin, and the fathers of eugenics together. He quickly demonstrates that these overlapping theories, when brought together, have become an ideology to rival any religious movement in the hold it exerts on its adherents.
Punctuating the book are excellent explanations of pertinent scientific details. The first "Focus Section" succinctly demolishes the entire edifice of Thomas Malthus's theory that human reproduction always outruns available resources. According to Malthus, as world populations grow, living standards must decline. Zubrin demonstrates in a few pages and charts that, even at the time Malthus's theory was invented in 1800, it was demonstrably wrong. Today, with population way beyond anything Malthus thought possible, living standards have improved by almost any measure chosen. This is a complete refutation of everything Malthus argued.
This would all be of little importance were it not for the hold that Malthus's work still has: John Holdren, Obama's science adviser, and Paul Ehrlich are adherents to Malthus's anti-humanist beliefs, co-authoring books and articles directly descended from Malthus's anti-human views since the 1970s.
Zubrin's discussion of Darwin is carefully nuanced: it is not the theory of evolution that is in question, but the application of Darwin's contribution of a theory for natural selection to humans. This "social Darwinism" has led to "wildly incorrect conclusions (some by Darwin himself) and catastrophically unethical policies (by his followers)." It is Darwin's work on human social development, The Descent of Man -- in which his exposition that nations rise and triumph because of the genetic makeup of their members -- which became the bedrock of some of the worst genetic and race-based eugenic theories to spring forth later.
The Malthusian root of the deaths by famine of millions in Ireland and India are succinctly presented, along with the steps deliberately not taken to stop these famines in accordance with the theories of Malthus. The creation of eugenics movements in the U.S. and Germany and the close relationship between the two up to and during the Nazi genocides are all laid out.
The following opening to a chapter might fill you with some small element of dread:
The first and most important of the Green Parties was founded in Germany in 1980 ... [by] a former officer in the Nazi SS, Haussleiter had a long history in fascist politics, going back to standing beside Adolf Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.
He demonstrates how these elements and their adherents mutate into modern environmental movements; another Focus Section presents the discrediting of DDT through the book Silent Spring in 1971. DDT had already saved millions from many diseases starting during WW2 in Italy, and its unfounded banning has almost certainly led to the unnecessary deaths and impoverishment of hundreds of millions since.
The resistance to nuclear power and bio-tech food production is similarly cut down and proved to be based on lies. He shows how population control and the inhuman policies of USAID and U.N. organizations have been perpetrating deliberate and silent genocides through Malthusian policies for decades.
But it is anthropogenic global warming, the anti-humanists' theory du jour, which appears to need the most thorough treatment. I say appears because Zubrin argues forcefully that the current obsession with CO2 and carbon is merely the latest vector for Malthusian destroyers to work through.
Zubrin quickly presents valid scientific arguments showing that man-made warming may be real. But warming has happened in the past without man and has been a boon for most life on Earth! Most certainly, the extreme doom-laden projections of Al Gore's film are way outside reality. But the real point is that at every stage of man's existence, when unconstrained by doomsayers, death-mongers, and tyrants, it is man's astonishing creativity that has resulted in an almost uninterrupted improvement in his living conditions. And all this in the face of relentlessly increasing population.
For many U.S. readers, however, the plainly laid out facts surrounding U.S.-sponsored "population control" programs running worldwide under Malthusian principles since the '60s might provide a far greater shock. These programs aim to eradicate poverty by physically eradicating the poor and their offspring. It is not an understatement to say that this effort has the aims and effects of a racist genocide to cull black, brown, and yellow people worldwide. It is almost certainly a transgression of U.S. law, and definitely contrary to the morals of the majority of Americans. And Americans are paying for it, and it is ongoing.
None of this is a left/right issue; however, today's left is most completely subsumed by such matters. Zubrin is keen to show examples of classical left-wing thinking that opposed Malthus right back to Marx and Engels. It's clear that there was a deliberate takeover of the antiwar movement in the 1960s, and Zubrin's conclusions in this regard chime with the work of many others.
Perhaps some will criticise Zubrin's glib rejection of concerns over genetic engineering of foodstuffs (he presents it as an extension of the selective breeding we've practiced for millennia) or the complete acceptance of the safety of DDT, but the book doesn't pretend to be a definitive work on these complex subjects. Zubrin's two page restatement of Energy Victory makes it clear that much more study is needed to fully understand each of these subjects; their place in the whole narrative of antihuman rejection of progress is made very clear, however.
The book is well-written, fast-paced, and suitable for non-academic readers. It is also extensively footnoted. It may be profoundly depressing until you realize that the first step to fixing any problem is to acknowledge the problem.
Zubrin does not present a religious case, but it's clear that the anti-humanist side has always needed to remove the fundamentals of Judeo-Christian ethics from a population in order to propagate.
One final piece of advice: whenever Merchants of Despair seems to be too much, just read the last chapter. There is some hope there.
Brian London made aliyah (emigrated) from the U.K. to Israel in 2009. He owns and operates his own import company in Israel with more than 15 employees. For many years, Brian co-wrote and hosted the satirical Shire Network News podcast, and he has written for a number outlets. Today he most regularly blogs at Israellycool.com about life in Israel, countering jihad, and occasionally business topics.