When we talk about freedom we are really concerned with relative self-determination (some level of capacity to consent, or level of choice), which would logically start with an account of our deontological population ethics – including egalitarian thresholds for entry into the world that free us from others – because all systems derive from some level of obligation. The climate crisis has taught us that the borders of human power are not lines on a map, but the creation of humans into the nonhuman world. We would thus have to start with a creation norm, or first and overriding principle / universal family planning policy, that looks to comprise systems of governance where population growth is directly inverse to absolute self-determination. This would look like systems akin to 0123…0, with point zero being the absence of power (nonpolity or nature), self-determination being relative to point zero, and offset equally as new persons enter, up until division or subdivision of the system is required.
That norm would precede and thus override all competing norms and rights, including property rights that would otherwise block the redistribution of wealth and resources children need to be empowered enough to offset others equally over the phase in which they enter our systems.
Even if we reject the demanding norm above we can ask anyone making any sort of claim what minimum levels of: 1) welfare, 2) equality of equality of opportunity, 3) ecological biodiversity and health, 4) ability to meaningfully impact the rules under which one must live, and of 5) efficiency in terms of ensuring high levels of personal development, they would require for each child born.
Most will give answers that show they have little, if any conception, of ensuring any levels for any child. After all, having kids is private stuff – the business of would-be parents.
This is not about traditional notions of population as counting people, but power relations created between people – and with their ecologies – as they are born, and a unity of value (one that far exceeds what Ronald Dworkin saw) that is within reach during this process.
Put another way, try to think, say, or do anything that does not derive from some set of theoretical or actual power relations, relations that would have had to derive from whatever norm created the people between whom those relations exist. Not possible. So we always start everything with an ecosocial fair start in life – and the ecocentrism of starting at zero – in order to maintain the capacity to consent to the power of others. Older theories of justice missed this, never dealing with actual relations because they ignored the creation of those relations. Without this account we cannot be free because we cannot account for our obligations to others, and their obligations to us. Those ignoring or blocking this account inevitably contradict the values they exhibit in their own lives, refusing them to others. They are preconstitutional and a threat to freedom, and can be targeted – as described in this Newsweek writing – as such.
And yet this accounting and reform are absolutely doable, and through means that are themselves just.
That right to a fair start precedes and overrides all others because we have to first empower each new person equally, and from the time that it was feasible to do this – around the middle of the Twentieth Century – it should have been the baseline for assessing all costs and benefits. The right comes before nations can assign property rights that otherwise derogate from fairness.
Unless someone is willing to claim that people should not be empowered equally to control the rules under which they must live, then they must admit they made a critical mistake by not using that baseline (seeing creation of persons as the first human border of human power and freedom, or compliance with the Children’s Convention that ensures minimum levels of welfare, equity, biodiversity through climate restoration, the efficiency of maximizing each person’s potential, and participatory democracy) in the past, a mistake that harmed many.
This is not altruism. Free people will want the capacity to consent, as equals, to the influence others would have over them – including incoming citizens. They will not submit to sharing democracy with those not prepared by the conditions of their birth and development for self-rule.
In practice this looks like redistributing wealth as climate reparations to pay young women to collectively plan their children with delay and smaller families, with that being done as the praxis of the first and overriding human right as recognized by the United Nations. It would look like avoiding babies dying in the workers’ bathrooms at U.S. slaughterhouses. Wealth at the top was built at cost to freedom by using ecosocially unsustainable family policies that for decades slowly converted town halls to shopping malls via growth and a lack of investment in kids. Those at the top owe the difference in value, with that amount to be used to reverse the process and create natural participatory democracies in the future, the most effective way to protect the most vulnerable.
Many concentrations of wealth and power fund distracting nonprofits that appear to do good work but are actually blocking effective reforms that challenge the power structure. There is an easy way to test these nonprofits – do they advocate for using the Convention, climate restoration, birth equity etc. as a family planning standard? I have seen funders choose organizations that refused to do this, and have been wasting millions of dollars letting growth undo their own work, rather than fund a mostly-volunteer organization whose work would benefit billions of people, but which threatens the growth funders want and rely upon.
I have sat with the heads of foundations (the wealth of which was built by externalizing ecosocial costs on others) who were passing control – in nepotistic moves – to their own children, and who would rather see the missions of the foundations fail than turn to Fair Start reforms.
Free people will fight for a restored and democratic future, and against the shill organizations and those funders behind them that hide this truth about the baseline for costs and benefits, as well as the white supremacy that the hiding – including refusing to ensure birth equity – entails. To think that one is obligated to follow the law when they were created for shopping malls (and media covered falling fertility rates shows that we all were created as such) rather than town halls is called the “constitutive fallacy” – basing one’s obligation to follow the law on top-down instruments like written constitutions rather than bottom-up family reforms that actually empower people without disempowering others, and in an objective and measurable way. The acts of mass violence we see today could very well be driven by this disempowerment, and ending them may require the sort of empowerment family reforms can ensure.
TAKE ACTION: WE ARE AT A CROSSROADS – BACK THE SEEDS FOR THE FUTURE EFFORT TO BEND THE ARC OF GROWTH TOWARDS JUSTICE.