Translated by Harri Heinonen and Michael Moynihan
Introduction by Michael Moynihan:
Is Pentti Linkola posing the most dangerous thoughts mankind has ever considered? Or is he this planet’s only remaining voice of sanity? Living an ascetic existence as a fisherman in a remote rural region of his frigid homeland, the Finnish philosopher has pondered mankind’s position vis-à-vis the earth it inhabits and dares to utter the unspeakable.In order for the planet to continue living, man—or Homo destructivus, as Linkola names him—must be violently thinned to a mere fraction of his current global population. Linkola’s metaphor for the predicament is as follows:
What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and only one lifeboat, with room for only ten people, has been launched? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the extra hands that cling to the sides of the boat.
As time creaks onward, Linkola’s predictions and indictments grow more dire. He has come to realise that extreme situations demand extreme solutions: “We still have a chance to be cruel. But if we are not cruel today, all is lost.” The sworn enemy of Christians and Humanists both, Linkola knows that the fate of the earth will never be rescued by those who exalt “tenderness, love and dandelion garlands.” Neither the developed nor under-developed populations of the planet deserve to survive at the expense of the biosphere as a whole. Linkola has urged that millions will starve to death or be promptly slaughtered in genocidal civil wars. Mandatory abortions should be carried out for any female who has more than two offspring. The only countries capable of initiating such draconian measures are those of the West, yet ironically they are the ones most hamstrung by debilitating notions of liberal humanism. As Linkola explains, “The United States symbolizes the worst ideologies in the world: growth and freedom.” The realistic solution will be found in the implementation of an eco-fascist regime where brutal battalions of “green police,” having freed their consciences from the “syrup ethics,” are capable of doing whatever is necessary.
In Finland, Linkola’s books are best-sellers. The rest of the world clearly cannot stomach his brand of medicine, as was evidenced when the Wall Street Journalran an article on Linkola in 1995. A stack of indignant hate-mail ensued from ostensibly turn-the-other-cheek Christians, loving mothers, and assorted do-gooders. One reader squawked, ‘Sincere advocates of depopulation should set an example for all of us and begin the depopulating with themselves.” Linkola’s reply is far more logical: “If there were a button I could press, I would sacrifice myself without hesitating if it meant millions of people would die.”
What follows is the major text of Linkola’s to be translated into English. It is a chapter from his 1989 book johdatus 1990-luvun ajatteluun [Introduction to the Thought of the 1990s].
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What is man? “Oh, what art thou man?” the poets of the good old days used to wonder. Man may be defined in an arbitrary number of ways, but to convey his most fundamental characteristic, he could be described with two words: too much. I’m too much, you’re too much. There’s five billion of us—an absurd, astonishing number, and still increasing. . . . The earth’s biosphere could possibly support a population of five million large mammals of this size, given their food requirements and the offal they produce, in order that they might exist in their own ecological niche, living as one species among many, without discriminating against the richness of other forms of life.
What meaning is there in these masses, what use do they have? What essential new contribution is brought forth to the world by hundreds of human societies similar to one other, or by the hundreds of identical communities existing within these societies? What sense is there in the fact that every small Finnish town has the same choice of workshops and stores, a similar men’s choir and a similar municipal theater, all clogging up the earth’s surface with their foundations and asphalt slabs? Would it be any loss to the biosphere—or to humanity itself—if the area of Äänekoski no longer existed, and instead in its place was an unregulated and diverse mosaic of natural landscape, containing thousands of species and tilting slopes of gnarled, primitive trees mirrored in the shimmering surface of Kuhmojärvi lake? Or would it really be a loss if a small bundle of towns disappeared from the map—Ylivieska, Kuusamo, lahti, Duisburg, Jefremov, Gloucester—and wilderness replaced them? How about Belgium?
What use do we have with Ylivieska? The question is not ingenious, but it’s relevant. And the only answer isn’t that, perhaps, there is no use for these places—but rather that the people in Ylivieska town have a reason: they live there. I’m not just talking about the suffocation of life due to the population explosion, or that life and the earth’s respiratory rhythm cry out for the productive, metabolic green oases they sorely need everywhere, between the areas razed by man. I also mean that humanity, by squirting and birthing all these teeming, filth-producing multitudes from out of itself, in the process also suffocates and defames its own culture—one in which individuals and communities have to spasmodically search for the “meaning of life” and create an identity for themselves through petty childish arguing.
I spent a summer once touring Poland by bicycle. It is a lovely country, one where small Catholic children, cute as buttons, almost entirely dressed in silk, turn up around every corner. I read from a travel brochure that in Poland the percentage of people who perished in the Second World War is larger than in any other country—about six million, if my memory doesn’t fail me. From another part of the brochure I calculated that since the end of the war, population growth has compensated for the loss threefold in forty years. . . . On my next trip after that, I went through the most bombed-out city in the world, Dresden. It was terrifying in its ugliness and filth, overstuffed to the point of suffocation—a smoke-filled, polluting nest where the first spontaneous impression was that another vaccination from the sky wouldn’t do any harm. Who misses all those who died in the Second World War? Who misses the twenty million executed by Stalin? Who misses Hitler’s six million Jews? Israel creaks with overcrowdedness; in Asia minor, overpopulation creates struggles for mere square meters of dirt. The cities throughout the world were rebuilt and filled to the brim with people long ago, their churches and monuments restored so that acid rain would have something to eat through. Who misses the unused procreation potential of those killed in the Second World War? Is the world lacking another hundred million people at the moment? Is there a shortage of books, songs, movies, porcelain dogs, vases? Are one billion embodiments of motherly love and one billion sweet silver-haired grandmothers not enough?
All species have an oversized capacity for reproduction, otherwise they would become extinct in times of crisis due to variations of circumstances. In the end it’s always hunger that enforces a limit on the size of a population. A great many species have self-regulating birth control mechanisms which prevent them from constantly falling into crisis situations and suffering from hunger. In the case of man, however, such mechanisms—when found at all—are only weak and ineffective: for example, the small-scale infanticide practiced in primitive cultures. Throughout its evolutionary development, humankind has defied and outdistanced the hunger line. Man has been a conspicuously extravagant breeder, and decidedly animal-like. Mankind produces especially large litters both in cramped, distressed conditions, as well as among very prosperous segments of the population. Humans reproduce abundantly in the times of peace and particularly abundantly in the aftermath of a war, owing to a peculiar decree of nature.
It may be said that man’s defensive methods are powerless against hunger controlling his population growth, but his offensive methods for pushing the hunger line out of the way of the swelling population are enormously eminent. Man is extremely expansive—fundamentally so, as a species.
In the history of mankind we witness Nature’s desperate struggle against an error of her own evolution. An old and previously efficacious method of curtailment, hunger, began to increasingly lose its effectiveness as man’s engineering abilities progressed. Man had wrenched himself loose from his niche and started to grab more and more resources, displacing other forms of life. Then Nature took stock of the situation, found out that she had lost the first round, and changed strategy. She brandished a weapon she hadn’t been able to employ when the enemy had been scattered in numbers, but one which was all the more effective now against the densely proliferating enemy troops. With the aid of microbes—or “infectious diseases” as man calls them, in the parlance of his war propaganda—Nature fought stubbornly for two thousand years against mankind and achieved many brilliant victories. But these triumphs remained localised, and more and more ineluctably took on the flavour of rear-guard actions. Nature wasn’t capable of destroying the echelon of humanity in which scientists and researchers toiled away, and in the meantime they managed to disarm Nature of her arsenal.
At this point, Nature—no longer possessed of the weapons for attaining victory, yet utterly embittered and still retaining her sense of self-esteem—decided to concede a Pyrrhic victory to man, but only in the most absolute sense of the term. During the entire war, Nature had maintained her peculiar connection to the enemy: they had both shared the same supply sources, they drank from the same springs and ate from the same fields. Regardless of the course of the war, a permanent position of constraint prevailed at this point; for just as much as the enemy had not succeeded in conquering the supply targets for himself, Nature likewise did not possess the capability to take these same targets out of the clutches of humanity. The only option left was the scorched earth policy, which Nature had already tested on a small scale during the microbe-phase of the war, and which she decided to carry through to the bitter end. Nature did not submit to defeat—she called it a draw, but at the price of self-immolation. Man wasn’t, after all, an external, autonomous enemy, but rather her very own tumour. And the fate of a tumour ordains that it must always die along with its host.
In the case of man—who sits atop the food chain, yet nevertheless ominously lacks the ability to sufficiently restrain his own population growth—it might appear that salvation would lie in the propensity for killing his fellow man. The characteristically human institution of war, with its wholesale massacre of fellow humanoids, would seem to contain a basis for desirable population control—that is, if it hadn’t been portentously thwarted, since there is no human culture where young females take part in war. Thus, even a large decrease in population as a result of war affects only males, and lasts only a very short time in a given generation. The very next generation is up to strength, and by the natural law of the “baby boom” even becomes oversized, as the females are fertilised through the resilience of just a very small number of males. In reality, the evolution of war, while erratic, has actually been even more negative: in the early stages of its development there were more wars of a type that swept away a moderate amount of civilians as well. But by a twist of man’s tragicomic fate, at the very point when the institution of war appeared capable of taking out truly significant shares of fertile females