Sigh‘s most recent album at this time, In Somniphobia, was awarded the number one album cover art by Revolver Magazine. The article, much of which I read with a dismissive attitude because of the attitude communicated in the author’s words, can be found here.
For the purposes of saving some time, I will quote what the author, one Chris Krovatin, says about In Somniphobia‘s cover art here:
I wish I could even begin to describe what the fuck is going on here. The way I’m seeing it, the elderly aristocrat is pregnant with her eighth dead baby, and everyone at the Italian outdoor market is overjoyed about it. Incredible, but fuck, man.
(Italics from original)
Much as I find the text in the rest of the article idiotic or even offensive, you have to give Chris a lot of credit here. I had not, until reading this description, delved too closely into the meaning of this album cover. It is one of those illustrations you just avoid looking at too closely because of how disturbing the content is. Pretty much as soon as I realised those were dead babies in the cart, I blanked out the image and focused more upon the music. But now that I look at the image again, I have to think a bit about what it could mean. Indeed, the ageing aristocrat in the centre looks like she is very pregnant. Which, given her apparent age, should be impossible by modern standards. Yes, people aged a lot faster in feudal times, but not that much.
But what really stands out to me about this cover art is how, with few exceptions, the peasants on the sides of the image seem to be going out of their way to express joy at the aristocrat’s expectancy. The presence of cuts of meat, and very modern-looking attached pricing signs, in the background also gives one pause for thought.
For those who have not done their homework, Sigh are from Tokyo, Japan. Although many nations are in far worse strife as a result of the overpopulation problem, I doubt you will find a nation that is more acutely aware of being overpopulated than Japan. Problems like subway groping, of both the intentional and unintentional kinds, are just a few of many, many difficulties Japan faces. But a large part of the problem derives from two things. One, the archipelago of Japan has very little in the way of natural resources, so feeding and housing its substantial population already poses quite a substantial problem. But the second part of the problem, that significant parts of the land have been irradiated, also poses quite a difficulty.
At a 2010 census population of 128,056,026, Japan is the tenth most populated nation in the world. That might not seem significant at first, but overpopulation is a more complex problem than just “there are too many people in this place than we feel comfortable with”. Overpopulation means that the Earth is physically unable to keep growing the resources to sustain the population in question. When such a situation occurs, the decline of resources in the world progresses in stages. First, the growth of production, that is the growth in how meat is harvested or how much ore is extracted (to name two examples), stops. That is, whereas the years between 1900 and 1975 might show a five to ten percent increase per annum in fish catches, the years 1975 to 1978 showed a dead halt in such growth. Subsequent stages basically entail a situation where no matter how hard or insistently the people harvesting the resources in question attempt to increase yield, said yield continues to get smaller on a per annum basis. Such is now the case for all of the world’s basic food resources (beef, grain, and fish).
And this is not an isolated example, either. All basic resources from grain to oil to even water are declining in volume. The size of the Human population is such that it consumes drinkable water resources faster than the rain cycle can replenish it. Although most urban populations have not noticed it yet, this is because water supplies are being diverted from rural irrigation to urban drinking supplies. And the less we say about the practice of “recycling” water, the better. But the thing is, this phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down in spite of how serious the warning signs are becoming.
If the population trends projected in the mid-1990s hold true, then by the year 2100, the Earth will have five and a half times as many Humans as population scientists calculated from optimistic figures it will be able to provide with a “modest, but comfortable” lifestyle. That is not quite as dramatic as the implication of the image above (elderly woman about to give birth to an eighth, likely dead, child), but that is beside the point here.
What I have always found peculiar about this world’s behaviour is how the production of children is treated as some sort of sacred and all-important thing. Even now, as entire nations or even entire continents are mostly starving to death in droves, people who produce a brood of eight or more, whether in one hit or not, are being treated in the media as if they just cured cancer. They should instead be shamed, with constant printing of the figures for what it would take to sustain a Human population where every pair of adults in the world produced as many children as they have.
A constant cry of the so-called “green movement” is that we all have to stop using as many resources as we do, or start sourcing our resources from more sustainable means. The latter is all well and good when the means to start doing so are available. But as resentment towards the Baby Boomers on the part of Children Of The ’80s makes clear, there are only so many sacrifices you can ask an individual to make in order to make up for the gluttony of those who came before before the instinct to rebel kicks in.
The image above shows just how dramatic a problem population growth really is. The image plots out about sixty percent of the approximate time that the Human species is believed to have existed for. The estimated Human population of this world reached one billion in the year 1804. Keep in mind that most palaeontologists agree that the Human species began about twenty thousand years prior to that point. It only took another 207 years, roughly, for the Human population of this world to reach seven billion, as this chart shows.
Yet still we glorify and even canonise the act of giving birth, regardless of how many times prior it has been done by the individual, whilst reviling and even vilifying every action to prevent births. How this must look to the proverbial man from Mars is a question for the ages.
During the closing stages of No Country For Old Men (the film, I mean), two officers in law enforcement have a good grumble about the perplexing (to them) behaviour of the youth of the time (the early 1980s). But later still in the film, when Tommy Lee Jones‘ character goes to visit what appears to be a relative who used to work in law enforcement, this relative flatly tells him that it is not all waiting on him. Never a truer word has been spoken to an “old timer” who sits on his porch and gargles through a mouth of excessive saliva what the hell is wrong with kids these days. Metaphorically, I mean.
The science of psychology is a relatively young one, and one with a lot more theory than data behind it. But I think most practitioners of it would agree with me when I say that when one segment of the population feels it is being treated unfairly in order to benefit another, that first segment will react to the second with proportionally increasing disrespect.
What it might surprise people living in post-industrial society to learn is that this is not the first time Humans have faced situations of overpopulation. It is just that this is the first time anything on this planet has faced overpopulation to this degree. I somewhat doubt that there have even been seven billion insects on this planet prior to 2011, and even the presence of seven billion germs on the planet is quite difficult to fathom. Even picturing seven billion Humans all standing in one group is quite difficult.
Nature is all about balance. Predators eat their prey in order to keep their prey from eating all of the stuff the prey eats, and so on. Problem is, when a creature that is normally prey is placed in an area where they have no natural predators, they begin to bred in prodigious amounts, devouring everything in their path, until they and the natural inhabitants of the area lay around dying of starvation in droves. We have seen this with the rabbit. Brought to Australia by some idiot in the creatively titled First Fleet in 1788, in 1859 two million of them could be killed annually without any noticeable effect upon their numbers. As I have said previously, in order to bring the Human population down to a sustainable level, hundreds of millions of additional deaths are going to need to occur each year for the next eighty-odd years. Yet we still coo and eagerly cry over every new birth as if bringing yet another individual into a world that cannot cope with it is the equivalent of creating a cure for cancer or diabetes.
The biggest problem with Humans, both on a social and individual level, is that nothing quite motivates them to do the right thing like being given absolutely no other option. This makes the likely path of the next century pretty easy to picture. Even if all of the renewable energy initiatives and other such band-aid measures succeed, the plain and simple fact is that short of legalising murder, an increasingly tight limit on the number of children people are allowed to have is the only way the problem is going to be solved. And that needs to start happening now, not in another thirty to fifty years when wars over food start taking place.
Which is sort of what I have been dancing around for a while now. Hell, war over access to such basic elements as food and water has been going on in parts of Africa for a while now. You see, when people are too busy fighting a murderous bloody war over the basics to engage in any kind of polite discourse, expecting them to be civil to one another is a bit like asking them to refrain from urinating or excreting for an entire month. So, again, you need to start fixing this problem now, not in another thirty to fifty years when wars over food start taking place.
Or do not. I do care, as I cannot make you decide on a course of action. I just hope you are ready to explain your decisions to my nephew and nieces when they are my present age.