Clive Barker and the future of the human race

St Ives Hepworth

“It’s amazing how often I hear people say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t be on this planet.’ I’d never heard that before. That’s very new, the whole idea that the people on the animal planet are talking about the fact that we are the problem not the solution – the wolf not the shepherd – and the decent thing that we should do is just get a gun and put it to our collective heads, I’d never heard of that said before, or mooted before, but it’s an incredibly scary prospect that people, sensible people now think the only solution for what they consider a more valuable piece of creation than us – which is the rest of nature – is best served by us packing our bags and leaving. And that is a frightening thought, just because sensible people are saying that. And I want to address that in the third book of The Art – we need to be pro-life; and pro-life isn’t just about babies, it’s about old people too.”

Clive Barker, Revelations interview, May/June 2014

This excerpt, from the latest interview on Barker’s website, is interesting for several reasons. But first, a pedantic point: the idea of the Earth being salvageable only if the human race is removed from it, is not a new one. I remember discussing this with Andy Martin (then of The Apostles, now of UNIT) at his home in Hackney around 30 years ago. Andy’s question – “If you had a bomb that wiped out humans but didn’t damage anything else, would you use it?” – eventually became the basis for my first novel, The Gathering, which was drafted several years ago but is as yet unfinished. I’m sure it was discussed by ‘sensible’ (assuming Barker means intelligent people who are approaching the issue from an environmental/bigger picture angle, rather than screaming fascists who just want to choose in which order to execute everyone) people before then, too.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me to hear that the thought is being discussed more. I’m not sure what Barker means by being ‘pro-life’, although it appears that he’s restricting the term to human life. For me it’s not just about babies, or old people; as far as I’m concerned it’s about all life. Is it such a radical concept to consider that the incredible array of life on this planet (as well as the planet itself being a living, evolving thing [Gaia, the Great Mother of All, or, for the more scientifically minded, the Gaia Hypothesis]) has as much right to be here as we consider ourselves to have? Even to be pro-human life (above all other forms of life on Earth) surely means that we have to face the fact that humans have massively over populated the planet and the way in which we live is destroying it? We are so close to the point of no return (and further as far as having made untold species extinct) that I find it astounding when other ‘sensible’ people talk about simply adapting in order to feed the massive amounts of people that humans are producing instead of dealing with the issue of over population. We are a part of nature and yet totally apart from it. Could any other species survive in such unsustainable numbers? It really, really isn’t just about us.

I’m also unsure as to what Barker finds scary – the fact that ‘sensible’ people can see how things are going for the planet and therefore it must be bad, or whether he feels that such people have, perhaps, given up on the human race. It could easily be both. This was a small point in an interview, of course, but it would be fascinating to expand on it with him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he addresses it in the third book of The Art.

Barker, presumably, is of the opinion that humans can be better than they are now, can make the Earth a better place. This is an optimistic view – and, of course, it’s always possible – but then I’ve always thought of Barker as an optimistic person. More probable, in my opinion, is David Attenborough belief that we will bring about some kind of environmental catastrophe and then the Earth will continue, with a far, far smaller amount of humans on it than there are now.

But basically, it comes down to this: is the good of the planet and everything on it worth the extinction of the human race? Or is the short-term good of some of the human race worth the ruin of the planet and the extinction of many of the other species which live on it?

5 thoughts on “Clive Barker and the future of the human race

  1. Good post. I also recall discussions in my youth regarding the extinction of humankind being the only thing that could keep the Earth going; that was a big deal during the ’80s when nuclear war was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Not sure why it’s new to Clive…?

    Population control is a complex issue. Not only is there heavy social indoctrination regarding the “biological imperative” to breed, but there’s deep sense of entitlement when it comes to carrying on personal genetic material. It takes a strong person to break that, to refuse to be part of the problem. Not only does it take inner determination, but also the ability to make personal medical choices to ensure one will not breed — and that’s been becoming more difficult as of late, especially on my side of the ocean.

    • Constructive points, as always. Despite my seemingly being born without the ‘breeding’ gene – I’ve never had a moment’s yearning to procreate – I do understand that most people will have that urge, and any government that talks about their citizens not doing so is going to be extremely unpopular (I know China has had birth rate restrictions for some time, but there’s not many countries who take any such steps) and would probably be ousted, even if they were only talking about reduction for the future of the planet – and their citizens’ children/grandchildren. There are also plenty of people who only think poorer countries should reduce their population and I completely disagree with that – it’s clearly a global issue that needs global action. What I don’t get is what seems to be a general reluctance of the environmental lobby (and I’m not deeply involved, so I may well have missed it) to talk about how much human life this planet can realistically sustain, rather than the ‘need’ to work the planet to death in order for everyone to have as many children as they want. Perhaps they’re just far more sensitive and realistic about the reaction to such a statement than I am!

      The other main point is whether the human race has forfeited its right to be here. I would say that, as a species, we’ve blown it and it’s time to hand the reins (such as we have them – Nature wins more or less every time and may well exert her authority eventually anyway, which is what David Attenborough is saying) over, by choice rather than by having our hand forced, but I can’t see many people agreeing.

      And, agreed, there are, of course, less choices for poorer people, in reproduction as in most other aspects of life.

      But planet Earth without any humans on it? It sounds full of possibilities to me and rather wonderful as far as all other life is concerned.

  2. Fascinating discussion. I also agree with many of the points you guys have brought up here. I think one of the main reasons the environmental movement refrains from the overpopulation question, is that as you acknowledge it’s difficult to address without entering the murky waters of fascism or eugenics or plain old racism/snobbery. But it should be addressed! The question is how? I too have never had the urge to procreate, but realize that others do, and even the most ardent environmentalists often still want to have kids. How to bring up the subject without scolding? I also agree with Attenborough; even though I’m in favor of taking all measures possible to reduce our impact on the earth’s environment, I also believe that at some point in the future the earth as we now know it will cease to exist. Humans will no longer be a part of it – neither a part of nature, nor a part of the problem.

    • Naturally, the poor are feeling some of the affects of climate change first – and perhaps it’s only when the rich and powerful are having their homes/families washed away that we’ll start not only taking this stuff seriously but actually trying to do something about it, although it might be too late by then. My interest in archaeology has taught me that it didn’t take long for prehistoric humans – and there weren’t that many of us at that time – to clear whole countries (as they are now) of forests for farming etc. We do use a huge amount of resources, things that take a long, long time to replace. So the numbers the planet can realistically sustain must be quite low.

      However, I’ve currently reading The Occult by Colin Wilson, and it’s reminded me that humans were once very spiritual, magical beings that were a part of nature. ‘Civilisation’ has made us drift away from this and most of us have either forgotten or don’t know what we’re capable of. If we could reawaken that part of us then who knows which direction we could go in? Of course, I’m opening myself up to accusations of being a hippy/Tree Hugger here… ; )

      • I applaud (and embrace for myself) the tree hugger title! Humans do forget these days that we are still a part of nature, despite the many barriers we have built separating us, and the many devastating impacts we wreak upon nature. Eventually, it seems that humans will disappear and die out, and our planet and star system will also cease to exist in its current form – and become something else entirely. I like what you say about the meantime, however, reawakening our connection with nature to discover and connect more deeply with ourselves and each other!

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