Swans Commentary » swans.com May 3, 2010  



The Mother Jones Conspiracy?


by Michael Barker





(Swans - May 3, 2010)   The front cover of the May/June 2010 issue of Mother Jones magazine boldly asks: "Who is to blame for the population crisis?" Inside, intrepid journalists apparently answer this question by shedding light on the taboo that "unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists and scientists in a conspiracy of silence." However, in Julia Whitty's headlining feature story, "The Last Taboo," she systematically fails to grasp the historical dimensions of the population issue. In lieu of a viable argument she simply repackages imperial myths with a "new" sustainable façade, facilitating the neoliberal onslaught on the majority of the world's humans. No doubt this outcome is unintended, but it is a logical outcome of her ineptitude; an ineptitude that enables her naïve literary flourishes to render service to Mother Jones' commitment to elite social engineering (see "Mother Jones and the Defence of Liberal Elites").

Taking a leaf from the reigning king of the neo-Malthusian population scaremongers Paul Ehrlich, Whitty's pitiful tale is set in the slums of India, where in her opening paragraph we are reminded that people sleep "draped over sacks of rice or on work carts," and others "sprawl haphazardly across the sidewalks, snoring." (1) Yet while Ehrlich's influential book, The Population Bomb (Sierra Club, 1968), epitomized the unrepentant colonial mentality of liberal imperialists, Whitty's take is more subtle, and she even traces her family roots to 17th century Calcutta -- to Indians I presume, not British colonialists.

On reading Whitty's misinformed nonfiction, we are left in no doubt as to where the overpopulation problem lies, as a subheading on the article's first page notes that of the 157 new people who are born every minute in our world, 153 of those are born in developing countries. (2) According to Whitty, the "only known solution" to this tragic situation "is to decelerate our population growth faster than it's decelerating now and eventually reverse it"; the elephant in the room in Mother Jones' conspiracy of silence is of course capitalism. But the pachyderm is not overpopulation, as Whitty and Ehrlich would have us believe, as while this idea is perhaps not talked about as openly as they might like, a racist fixation on overpopulation actually forms the backbone of mainstream environmentalism. In fact, as I and others have argued elsewhere, the newly invigorated environmental movement of the 1970s was in large part an extension of the Malthusian population control movement. (3)

The failure of Whitty to engage with obvious criticisms of the political structure under which so much violence is perpetrated helps explain why she gives "thanks" to the work of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, who in 1798 wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population. "For 150 years after Malthus," she writes, "hunger killed millions." What Whitty failed to notice in her investigative "research" was that this famous essay was not a faultless treatise on the causes of poverty and death, but in fact was a seminal defense of capitalist exploitation. Hunger did not kill millions, capitalism killed millions by profitably starving them, a good example being the Great Famine of Ireland.

Having so spectacularly failed History 101, it is not surprising that Whitty claims that the reason why the "inevitable mass starvation" that was predicted by Ehrlich in his 1968 book did not eventuate owed to the "monumental achievement" of the "Green Revolution," which she adds rendered the population issue "largely taboo." Here, although she observes that the "miracle of the Green Revolution" was not a complete success ("giving life with one hand, and robbing life support with the other") her reliance on the propaganda of the liberal foundations that developed the revolution is severely problematic. With a special emphasis on the destruction that was wrought by the Green Revolution on India, Vandana Shiva writes:

The American strategy of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations differed from the indigenous strategies primarily in the lack of respect for nature's processes and people's knowledge. In mistakenly identifying the sustainable and lasting as backward and primitive, and in perceiving nature's limits as constraints on productivity that had to be removed, American experts spread ecologically destructive and unsustainable agricultural practices worldwide. (4)

Shiva's analysis is perhaps too generous to the motivations of the liberal philanthropists behind the revolution, and as Eric Ross suggests, it might be more appropriate to see it as a method for propagating capitalist land reforms, "which only large commercial farms could provide." Such reforms were certainly conducive to the US foreign policy establishment, which required the imperialist penetration of overseas markets and saw the development of "national agriculture as part of a comprehensive package for thwarting revolutionary change." (5) Thus while the chief public rationale for the Green Revolution was supposedly humanitarianism, a good case can be made that the logic undergirding this revolution was Malthusian. This foundation-guided project of "civilization engineering" becomes clearer when the Green Revolution is historically contextualized; this is because the same liberal foundations that financed the Green Revolution worked in tandem to successfully elevate population control to become a key priority for US foreign policy elites in the 1960s.

Ignorant of history, Whitty moves on to quote John Guillebaud to disabuse her readers of some of their misconceptions about the population issue: what remains unstated is that Guillebaud is the former co-chair (now patron) of a controversial British-based group called the Optimum Population Trust. According to Guillebaud, population growth is unrelated to poverty and/or the mechanics of capitalism. Instead, he says, "poor people have large families" because they fail to use contraceptives effectively. How simple it must be to live in a world detached from history: no need to challenge capitalism, let's just spread the good word about contraception. Here, to bolster her fictional argument, Whitty refers to the stellar work that has been undertaken by the former vice president at Goldman Sachs Sheryl WuDunn, who along with her husband Nicholas Kristof recently published Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009). WuDann explains: "When women are educated, they tend to marry later in life, to have children later in life, and to have fewer children. In effect, you have a form of population control that's peaceful, voluntary, and efficient."

Appropriately the rest of Whitty's propaganda spiel is a puff piece for micro-finance, which in Whitty's deluded mind is the capitalist solution par excellence for the world's woes. There follows a glowing discussion of a group called Freedom From Hunger, whose Ambassadors Council's co-chair is Muhammad Yunus, and whose financial supporters include the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation. Freedom From Hunger's major financial supporter, however, is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest liberal foundation and lead backer of the misnamed Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa: with no sense of irony Whitty writes that women aided by such elite aid are "hungry for this education." Not surprisingly she concludes that: "The best 21st-century contraceptive is a Yunusian device, a microloan."

Having forged a career as a filmmaker of nature documentaries for mainstream propaganda outlets in the United States, it is fitting that Julia Whitty should have turned her written skills to the promotion of free-market environmentalism; her latest contribution to this area of "knowledge" is the book Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean, which is due to be published in a few months. There is no conspiracy at work here, just the normal fare for mainstream corporate America, which fits comfortably with Mother Jones, a publication that contrary to its popular image is far from radical.

There is, however, a conspiracy of silence by Mother Jones' senior staff and board members, which is expressed by their inability to publish articles that are critical of the imperialism of liberal philanthropists. No doubt this owes to the heavy reliance of their magazine on the money of the same foundations critically examined in this article. Furthermore, members of Mother Jones' board of directors might also be implicated in such a conspiracy (read: promoting capitalist growth imperatives). To take just one example, Mother Jones board member Susan Pritzker is the past chair of the Chicago Foundation for Women, a large foundation that finances many of the same women's health groups that the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations back, like for example the controversial and well-funded population behemoth Planned Parenthood (see "Planned Parenthood for Capitalists"). (6)

Unfortunately, as Bob Feldman surmises: "Left media and left think tank staff people generally deny that the acceptance by their organizations of grants from liberal foundations has transformed their organizational priorities, subjected them to elite control, or channeled their energies into safe, legalistic, bureaucratic activities and mild reformism." (7) The evidence suggests that this is exactly what has happened. However, this situation is unlikely to be remedied by people working within the nonprofit industrial complex, thus it is imperative that we begin to vocalize our concerns about one of the very last real taboos, "The Funding Taboo."


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1.  In her article, Whitty cites Paul Ehrlich who says: "We don't talk about overpopulation because of real fears from the past -- of racism, eugenics, colonialism, forced sterilization, forced family planning, plus the fears from some of contraception, abortion, and sex." On the latter points Ehrlich is talking about conservative opposition to population control, but on all the former points he is referring to policies of oppression and imperialism that were promoted by the very same liberal elites that have long supported the propagation of his own ideas. Two books that review this well-documented subject matter are Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus (Knopf, 1977); and Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (South End Press, 1995).

It is interesting to note that Whitty points out that both Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, were former board members of the racist Federation for American Immigration Reform, only "part[ing] ways" with this group when it was revealed that they obtained funding from a white supremacist group known as the Pioneer Fund. The Ehrlichs left FAIR around the time that Paul renamed his nonprofit group Zero Population Growth to the more politically acceptable Population Connection (a change that occurred in 2002). Despite this parting of ways other environmental groups remain closely linked to FAIR, as a current advisory board member of FAIR, Diana Hull, is the president of Californians for Population Stabilization (for other links between these two groups, see below) -- a group whose emeriti advisor's include David Brower (1912-2000) and Garrett Hardin (1915-2003), and current advisors include famed theorist of deep ecology, George Sessions. Notably, the vice president of Californians for Population Stabilization, Ben Zuckerman, is a board member of the deep ecology-inspired Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. This connection is worth highlighting as deep ecology has been closely wedded to the Malthusian population control agenda, and Paul Watson, the founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society played an important role in propagating such Malthusianism when he served as board member of the Sierra Club (2003-06), and was the endorsed candidate of the anti-immigration body, Sierrans United for U.S. Population Stability.

Diana Hull is not the only person at Californians for Population Stabilization who works with FAIR. Other individuals include Henry Mayer, Robert Gillespie, Richard Lamm, and Fred Pinkham. Likewise it is important to point out that three other people associated with Californians for Population Stabilization are affiliated with the racist group NumbersUSA; these include Ben Zuckerman, Dick Schneider, and Leon Bouvier.  (back)

2.  The cited source for this "statistic" is the Population Reference Bureau. This hard done-by member of the population establishment was funded to the tune of $9.7 million in 2008 -- of which $2.5 million came from the US government, and $6.2 million from liberal foundations. In 2009, while their money collected from Contributions dropped from $0.3 million (in 2008) to $0.1 million, government support increased to $3 million and foundation aid remained even. The former CEO of the Population Reference Bureau, Peter Donaldson (1994-2003), went on to join the leading member of the population establishment, the Population Council, and was subsequently appointed their president in 2005. For an early critique of the Population Council, see Steve Weissman, "Why The Population Bomb Is a Rockefeller Baby," In: Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 27-41. (Donaldson obtained his first postdoctoral employment as a Population Council staff associate in Thailand, 1973-75, and then as their representative in South Korea, 1975-77.)  (back)

3.  Michael Barker, "The Liberal Foundations of Environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford Connection," Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), 2008, pp. 15-42.

Last month, Brian Tokar drew attention to the negative influence that liberal foundations have exerted on the environmental movement in his article "Reclaiming Earth Day: With Climate Chaos on the Horizon, the Environmental Movement Needs Traction," The Indypendent, April 23, 2010.

Here it is also worth pointing out that biotech investor and president of Hyatt Development Corporation Nicholas Pritzker is the husband of Mother Jones board member Susan Pritzker (see later). This is relevant as Nicholas is a vice chair of the imperial "environmental" outfit, Conservation International (for criticism, see "When Environmentalists Legitimize Plunder").  (back)

4.  Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Ecological Degradation and Political Conflict in Punjab (Zed Press, 1992), p.34. "'Green Revolution' is the name given to this science-based transformation of Third World agriculture, and the Indian Punjab was its most celebrated success. Paradoxically, after two decades of the Green Revolution, Punjab is neither a land of prosperity, nor peace. It is a region riddled with discontent and violence. Instead of abundance, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogged deserts and indebted and discontented farmers. Instead of peace, Punjab has inherited conflict and violence." (p.19)  (back)

5.  Eric Ross, The Malthus Factor: Population, Poverty, and Politics in Capitalist Development (Zed Books, 1999), p.105, p.116. The global agricultural transformation promoted by the Ford and Rockefeller (and to a lesser degree the Kellogg) Foundations, was less interested in "enhancing the food security of the poor in developing countries than about securing the economic security of the United States, through the enhancement of the Western corporate interests with which they were associated." (p.140)  (back)

6.  While Mother Jones receives the bulk of their funding from liberal philanthropists, they still rely upon advertising ascertained from nonprofit organizations. Thus in the May/June 2010 issue, page 11 of the magazine is filled by an advert for CARE, a controversial "humanitarian" organization that progressive magazines ought to be critiquing not supporting.  (back)

7.  Bob Feldman, "Report from the Field: Left Media and Left Think Tanks -- Foundation-Managed Protest?" Critical Sociology, 33 (3), 2007, p.427; also see Michael Barker, "Who Funds the Progressive Media?" Center for Research on Globalization, July 7, 2008. (Article was removed from their Web site the same day, but has been reposted here in Spanish, and has been linked to by the editor of Open Media Boston.)  (back)


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Published May 3, 2010