2007-09-14 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Are We Better Off Dead?
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

I gave up my subscription to the New York Times about two years ago. I just couldn't take it anymore. While it still had some interesting stuff, it's relentlessly self-absorbed "progressive" agenda left me cold. It used to drive me bonkers, in fact, as far back as the eighties, to see the "spin" the Times routinely put on so-called straight news. And so, I finally bit the bullet, canceling my subscription. Nor have I found that I miss the paper all that much, especially since we no longer have all that excess newsprint to pack up for recycling each Sunday night.

One thing I do miss, though, is the Sunday Book Review section. I used to read it on Sunday mornings before any other part of the paper. Still, even that was losing its appeal, since it had gotten to the point where you couldn't read a single issue without encountering numerous backhanded (and mostly gratuitous) swipes at the Bush administration and Republicans.

Recently, one of my neighbors remembered that I had once asked her to save me the Book Review, rather than toss it, and she called me over to offer me the latest edition. I took it gratefully and settled down for a leisurely read. I thought it'd be like old times. It wasn't. Or, actually, it was, except that old times weren't quite as I remembered them. Most of the books under review weren't particularly interesting, until I came to one about a book called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. The review was by a Book Review editor, Jennifer Schuessler. I thought this a bit strange, since the Times usually assigns well-known authors or academics to do their reviews, only rarely deploying one of their own. Well, she's on the clock, I thought, so maybe the Times, whose stock and profits have been in the tank lately, was just looking to save some bucks by using inhouse talent. But what a book she'd been assigned!

The thesis of Weisman's new book is that the human race is a bane upon this planet and needs to be diminished. Mankind needs to go! I couldn't believe what I was reading. Of course I had read about the occasional strange environmentalists who actually think it would serve Mother Earth to infect the human race with some fatal virus or other and thereby "liberate" the planet, but I didn't think any of them had hit the mainstream yet. But Weisman apparently had, with publisher Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press (named after a saint, no less!).

Weisman, according to reviewer Schuessler, makes the case that mankind is a blight on planet Earth. He checks in with one Les Knight, described as "founder of the 'Voluntary Human Extinction Movement,'" which, we're told, "advocates gradually putting our species to sleep by collective refusal to procreate." Says Knight, according to Weisman, as per Schuessler: Once we've stopped procreating and begun to die off, "The last humans could enjoy their final sunsets peacefully, knowing they have returned the planet as close as possible to the Garden of Eden." I was flabbergasted.

Knight apparently imagines that, as we age out, everything would be "peaceful," despite the fact that there would be fewer and fewer people around to run the things we depend on - you know, minor stuff like electricity, food, light, heat, medicine, clean water - all the things which enable us to live in relative ease. Who would run the infrastructure, grow the food, transport it, make medicines, build and run MRIs and hospitals, etc.? But perhaps Knight just has no concern about the return of brute nature in our lifetimes, a return which would no doubt accompany our last hurrah on this planet. One has the feeling that someone like Knight who advocates such views can have little sympathy for the human condition, in any case. Presumably, the idea that the dwindling population might engage in a death struggle for shrinking goods and resources leaves people like Knight unimpressed. After all, their prescription is to send us out as soon as possible, anyway. So what if we start killing each other off, instead of waiting to go quietly as we contemplate unpolluted sunsets?

But, according to Schuessler, Weisman is not actually advocating anything quite so extreme as Knight. Weisman proposes, instead, that we merely limit ourselves to one child per couple from now on, thereby ensuring the desired population shrinkage. Of course, countries which are enduring population shrinkage today are the ones facing real hardships, as the burden increases on their young to support the old. More, a shrinking population invites new populations in, since not everyone in the world can be expected to embrace the same negative growth strategy. So you're more likely to get a whole lot of new societal disruptions, instead of beautiful sunsets on view from Century Village. When this happened to ancient Rome, it heralded the Dark Ages. Whoops!

It takes a certain kind of person to think like Weisman and Knight, I fear, and a certain kind of culture to embrace them. Alas, that mindset has actually been gaining traction in the West of late, characterized by people who apparently disdain what we, and they, are. But not every human culture is likely to choose this path, leaving room for new population shifts and the conflicts they invariably entail. Even perpetually halving our population over the years, as Schuessler tells us Weisman advocates, isn't going to deliver peace and bliss for the remaining humans, since our kind, when thrust into a state of nature, have historically shown themselves to be as fierce and dangerous as the returning predators who would soon fill the ecological niches we have vacated. This attitude of self-immolation is nothing less than a prescription for cultural defeat and replacement by other humans who don't share our peculiar self-loathing, but may well loathe us nonetheless.

It's astonishing that a book like this even managed to find a mainstream publisher but, perhaps, somewhat less so that it received a serious review in the New York Times. What else would you expect from a newspaper that thinks treating terrorists as enemies is a provocation and an infringement on their civil liberties? Perhaps the people who run the Times would prefer to try their luck with our successors instead? Maybe they'd be happier with Osama bin Laden in charge?

An unrelated note to those of you who want to hang around a while. This coming Tuesday, September 18, is a primary election. Because it's an off-year, many may still not be aware of it, but there's a race on the Republican side for control of the 23rd AD in which Rockaway happens to be situated.

Registered Republicans, of whom there is no small number here in Rockaway, should not forget to head for the polls and vote. Rockaway lost its chance to regain a leadership position in the local GOP two years ago, because so many didn't think it mattered. As a result, the candidates supported by, and supporting our peninsula were beaten by a poor Republican turnout on this side of the bay.

This year, Eric Ulrich and Jane Deacy, both members of the Rockaway Republicans, are in the race. If Rockaway's Republicans don't turn out to elect them, they might as well give up trying to bring about a rebirth of the two-party system on this peninsula. In the end, we deserve the politics we get, if we don't do what we can to make it better. Ulrich and Deacy can do that for us if we make the effort to vote for them!


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