Love him or hate him, Stephen Colbert doesn’t waste time getting to the point. In last Thursday’s interview  with Melinda Gates on the Colbert Report, he asked Melinda about her newest initiative and cut straight to the chase: the new population control movement exists to save lives by erasing lives.
Colbert: “But now you’ve got a new charitable hobby horse you’re on, and it’s not necessarily saving people’s lives, so much as it’s stopping people’s lives from existing. You want to provide family planning to 120 million men and women around the world.”
Melinda Gates: “Right.”
The old population control movement existed for more or less the same reason, to eradicate poverty by eradicating the poor. In fact, the only major difference between the two movements is one of semantics. Today’s newest generation of population control proponents are still billionaires, still from the first world, and are still convinced that the poor are at the center of the world’s woe.
What’s changed is their marketing campaign and rhetoric.
The word “control”, especially when placed directly after the word population, evokes a flood of concrete historical memories  that include coercive family planning programs still infamous today. The programs were known for addressing poverty through forced sterilizations, eradicating the poor in order to eradicate poverty. In the process, they robbed the poor person of their humanity and replaced it with a number in order to fulfill fertility quotas.
The policies were racist and driven by ideological fear. They were sponsored by many of the same organizations that make up the new population movement today. The new movement, however, has attempted to distance itself from its past with a very modern, subtle shift in ideology. No longer do they emphasize eugenics or even use the word “control”, but prefer the word “empowerment” and the ideology of women’s rights.
Today they use words like “population dynamics” and phrases like “demography is not destiny”. They shame the poor world into believing that the real problem isn’t so much investment in their education, health, or economy as it is their fertility. They tell them, “if you only would use family planning to ‘space your children’ properly you wouldn’t have the problems that you do, you wouldn’t be so poor and uneducated.” Then they tell these people, especially women, many of whom have access to modern methods of family planning, that it is their “right” to use those methods, even though, given their strong insistence, it seems to be less of right than an “obligation”.
Their message is as clear as it was 5o years ago: the poor are the problem, and according to this movement, it is the poor that are the ones responsible for solving it. How? By controlling their population growth. By not having children. The billionaires can’t do it for them, they can’t force them. They can pay them to do it, they can educate them on to do it, they can even increase their access to the services that will help them to do it, but they can’t make them. They already tried that.
So instead they focus on rights, and they focus on shame, and they tell people like me, in the first world, that the poor people in the southern hemisphere would be okay if they just get access to contraception. And we mostly believe them. Except, something just doesn’t seem right.
Does development really come from contraception? And is it really a problem of too many people? What about investing in jobs, education, health and infrastructure? Perhaps those are the real problems. Perhaps, and this is just a wild guess, that is the way the north has been able to grow….
The north developed without contraception. It became rich and educated without contraception. Fertility began dropping later, and again, without contraception. Instead it was education that made the difference. It was economic growth provided by investment and the entrepreneurship of people, not numbers.
The new population control movement, led by billionaires like Melinda Gates in coordination with organizations the like UNFPA and governments that include both the United States and the United Kingdom, still wants to eradicate poverty by eradicating the poor, it’s just that, for historical reasons, they can’t come out and say it so directly. Yet, every now and then they do, just as Melinda did the other night. This needs to be made clear. This movement must be de-masked, and defeated once again.
I think that Melinda Gates actually believes that increasing the poor’s access to family planning will really better their lives. I also think that many of the people involved in the population control movement in the 40s, 50s and 60s did as well. However, what they don’t seem to be able to understand, or at least reconcile, is that this is not the only solution. Instead it’s a solution that comes at the cost of reducing people to numbers, and one that will put billions of dollars into “empowering” people to stop having children rather than educating them and helping them to build a society where they are valued as a resource rather than a curse.
Yes, Melinda Gates is Catholic, but this is not the “preferential option for the poor” that we have been educated to at Church and in school for the last 2,000 years. No, that option is built on love, responsibility and the experience of seeing human beings as protagonists and not numbers.