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Luigi De Marchi, Ph.D., Italian psychologist and writer, was a founder of the Italian planned parenthood movement, obtained from the Supreme Court the abolition of Italian anti-birth control laws, and is now president of the Italian Society for Political Psychology. This article was broadcast from a popular Italian radio station (Radio Radicale) on June 18, 2007.

Psychological causes and remedies of the demographic tragedy

Going through my bookshelves, yesterday I came across an old report of Lester R. Brown’s Worldwatch Institute, printed about 30 years ago and titled “22 Dimensions of the Population Issue.” As my listeners well know, I usually describe overpopulation as “the mother of all contemporary tragedies” and denounce hunger, thirst, mass unemployment, poverty, pollution and desperate migrations as some of its effects. But the monsters generated by overpopulation are much more numerous, and Lester Brown was able to mention 22 of them in 1978 – from illiteracy to a collapse in Oceanic fishing, from the destruction of natural parks to inflation, from climate change to urban crowding. And, after all, this proliferation is not only logic but obvious. Most of today’s tragedies are produced by the fact that the available resources in terms of food, water, urban space, arable land, oil, forests and jobs are inadequate to the need of crowded and growing populations which, however, almost nobody asks to control.
   In Lester Brown’s prophetic report there was no mention of two “dimensions” of population pressure which, in the last decade, became dramatic—mass migrations and terrorism. As I often stress, the mass exodus from underdeveloped to industrial countries, which threatens today to destroy liberal societies, is an obvious “shock wave” of the population bomb in the Third World, although none of our “experts” and “masters of journalism” dares say it.
   The connection between overpopulation and terrorism is more complex, but equally strong. In many Islamic countries, for instance, poverty forces a lot of poor and prolific families to enrol their children in the thousands of Koranic schools recently born, which give them free food and shelter thanks to the financial support of the pious sheiks (including Bin Laden) but brainwash them with the fanatic ideas of their fundamentalist teachers and prepare millions of students for jihad and terrorism.
     Anyway, almost 30 years ago an internationally famous expert as Lester Brown was already documenting the disastrous impact of the population bomb on many social and international problems, denouncing it as the gravest threat for human liberty and peace. In other words, any political or religious leader willing to understand and to act had already, 30 years ago, all the necessary information. As for me, I had started to signal the terrific threat as far as 45 years ago. But all these timely efforts were in vain.
   This stubborn refusal to listen to the voice of science and common sense is an irrefutable evidence of a pathological attitude which, in psychological jargon, is called “repression,” i.e. a refusal to see or acknowledge a too much feared emotion or reality. In sum, as I have repeatedly stressed, the crucial tragedy is not the population bomb as such, but the generalized refusal of some religious leaders to admit its terrible effects and to avert them by adequate birth control measures. And this refusal, born from sexual taboos and inner conflicts, was rapidly imitated by political and scientific opportunists – a crushing majority among politicians and so-called experts.
   These crucial factors were later reinforced by the “secondary advantages of neurosis,” as Freud calls them. Dogmatic religions soon realized that hunger and poverty were formidable incentives for enrolments in religious schools and, after years of indoctrination, in the clergy. When I started my work for planned parenthood in Italy, in the Fifties, Pope Pious XII warmly asked my arrest and, in an official speech, stated that the Catholic Church appreciates prolific families because  (hear ye, hear ye!) “they are the gardens of Christian vocations” – a delicate way to say that poor families are happy to get rid of the children they cannot feed and educate by throwing them into religious schools, where they can be easily transformed into priests and nuns (or, in the madrasses, into kamikaze). When poverty was defeated in Italy and Europe, the Catholic Church lost its “gardens of vocations” but soon discovered a gigantic “latifundium of vocations” in Third World hungry countries.
    Altogether, the superiority of this psycho-political approach compared to traditional political analysis (and also to Lester Brown’s purely descriptive work) is demonstrated by its ability to explain the transversal support the negation of the population issue has found in the most different religious and political groups (from Nazis to Communists, from Islamic to Catholic fundamentalists, from free-market to Marxist economists) in spite of their savage ideological, theological and economic enmities.  This approach can also give us, with motivational psychology, an effective and “soft” solution to the problem of a generalized acceptance of  birth control, as evidenced by my Italian popular photo-stories in 1975 and by Ryerson’s and Sabido’s soap operas in Latin America, Africa and Asia from 1977 up to now.

Luigi De Marchi

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