Old Marley is as dead as a door-nail. Even
Scrooge is dead. Even Charles Dickens, their creator, is dead. But the English caricatures which people his
exuberant fiction are alive and kicking. They burble every day in the
London newspapers – figures so grotesque that Dickens himself would
have greedily captured them for a new novel. They inflate themselves
with hot air from burning press releases. They sun themselves in
the media’s camera lamps.

Take the Optimum Population Trust, a
superannuated gaggle of gimlet-eyed, thin-lipped Gradgrinds who
out-Scrooge Scrooge. Their aim is to slash the number of unfeathered
bipeds who pollute the earth with carbon emissions. “Everything we
manage to achieve for the natural environment is being wiped out by the
nearly 80 million extra people each year who need to use up space and
resources,” they claim. They have even launched PopOffsets,
a charity which offsets your carbon footprint by reducing the number of
babies in the developing world. And they have the nerve to describe
themselves as a “charity”!

I can just imagine them counting up their
miserabilist PopOffset dollars: “Another $7 for the charity, one less baby in
Ghana; $21 for the charity, 3 less in Sierra Leone; $35 for the charity; 5 less in Chad.”
And after a heavy night out on New Year’s Eve adding to their carbon
footprint with champers and fireworks, the new hair of the dog is a
donation to PopOffset to scrub a few more babies from the population of
Zaire.

What would Dickens say to this? Perhaps what he said about the unreformed Scrooge:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the
grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping,
clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no
steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained,
and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features,
nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made
his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating
voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry
chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced
his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

After 2000 celebrations of how precious a single life is, we still haven’t learned the lesson of A Christmas Carol.
Had I thought of it earlier, I would have sent a copy to Sir David
Attenborough, the famed documentary director who is an enthusiastic
patron of the OPT. The OPT’s fanatical determination to eliminate CO2
by eliminating people is basically the “odious, stingy, hard,
unfeeling” Malthusian policy of eliminating poverty by eliminating the
poor. Scrooge was a Malthusian, you will remember. Here he is refusing
a few pence for the poor:

“‘I wish to be left alone,’ said Scrooge.
‘… I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make
idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have
mentioned [prisons and workhouses] – they cost enough; and those who
are badly off must go there.’

“‘Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.’

“‘If they would rather die,’ said Scrooge, ‘they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’”

It sounds familiar doesn’t it? The rich,
isolated, beggar-my-neighbour individual. The mean, narrow-minded
bean-counting. The fear of the population bomb. The scoffing at the
possibility of happiness. “‘If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge
indignantly, ‘every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his
lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of
holly through his heart. He should!’”

How do the Spirits of Christmas teach
Scrooge that “quality of life” isn’t everything? Basically by showing
him visions of family life. It’s the simple, affectionate family life
of the impoverished Cratchits and their six children. “They were not a
handsome family; they were not well-dressed… but they were happy,
grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time,” says
Dickens. Of all of them, it is Tiny Tim, the “useless” cripple, with
his crutch and iron frame, who strikes the spark of human sympathy into
Scrooge’s withered heart.

An illegitimate appeal to crass
sentimentality? Of course it is. Dickens is notorious for it. But most
arguments for population control and all the other manifestations of
the culture of death are crassly sentimental. I remember a newspaper
article about a Dutch woman who helped organise her mother’s
euthanasia: “We didn’t talk anymore. We just held hands because
everything was said …the room was full of love and understanding… Then
my mother said, ‘I’m ready for the journey. Give me a kiss.’”

Give me a break. You can search the
complete works of Dickens for a passage more purple and manipulative
than this. But of such material are woven the arguments which sway
public opinion, not subtle philosophical, legal, moral and medical
discourses.

The most telling argument for human life is
family life. I’m sure that an afternoon with the Cratchits would shake
the convictions of the latter-day Scrooges in the OPT.

But just by observing a healthy, normal
family you learn how precious a life is. You learn that the most
defenceless and vulnerable family members enrich the lives of the
others. You see that the joys are multiplied and the sorrows divided.
Parents often think that their battles to raise their kids are just
their private struggle. But they have a public dimension as well. They
undermine the scoffers by showing that love and self-sacrifice are
possible. They give hope to the wounded doubters. Happy families are
the real Ghost of the Christmas Present.

Perhaps the problem with the prune-faced
patrons of the OPT is that they haven’t read enough Dickens. If I had
my way they wouldn’t allowed to put out another press release until
they have learned by heart the Ghost’s lecture to Scrooge:

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in
heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered
What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall
live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you
are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor
man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the
too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”


Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.