David Attenborough on large families: A wolf in safari clothing?

This week the TV naturalist sounded a population warning, announcing "Things are going to get worse" if we have large families

Share
Related Topics

Attacking ‘national treasures’ is no way to make friends, but here goes.

There is a monster in our midst. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (a pair of khakis and a spume of cotton wool hair, to be precise). Many of us invite him into our home weekly, sometimes more (should we own any of his DVDs), and allow him to preach a message to our families imbued with deep social intolerance. Who is this predator, you ask? His name is Sir David Attenborough: one of the most influential conservative ideologues of our time.

Following comments in January that humanity is a ‘plague on earth’, the Blue Planet presenter has, in this week’s Radio Times, expressed qualified support for China’s one-child policy, saying that people should be discouraged from having large families. It’s a point he’s made before as patron of Population Matters, a charity concerned with population growth and family planning. And in gloomy tones, he concludes that, should his warnings not be heeded, "things are going to get worse".

So unnatural is humanity’s rampant progress, Sir David asserts, that we have burst free from the evolutionary constraints that govern all other animal kind. "We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95-99 per cent of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were.”

His preponderance with controlling humanity’s procreative behaviour shouldn’t come as a surprise, though: his documentaries have long held a deep socially conservative message. From the mess and melee of the animal kingdom, carefully crafted from hundreds upon hundreds of hours of footage, Attenborough always arrives at the same neat narrative. It’s the story of a tight family unit, fortified through life cycles and tests of mettle. Sir David’s BBC documentary stable mate Adam Curtis points out that his message of ‘static conservatism’ is intensified by the backdrop of the seasons and their cosmic inevitability (‘spring returns and the first green shoots force their way through the melting snows’). Attenborough’s design is presented as the one by which lifeforms have always lived, and always should live.

He’s keeping us away from the best bits, though. We don’t see much of the liberated sex of bonobos (they do it all the time: not just to procreate but to regulate social tensions), the homosexual killer whales (90 per cent of them are at it, apparently), and the female hyena’s sexual dominance (she takes her pick, shags, and leaves). Through Attenborough’s superlative storytelling, the rich and diverse animal kingdom is made to mirror his worldview: life is to be spent building one’s home, finding one’s mate, and replicating the cycle.

Great Sunday night family viewing, sure. But his programmes aren’t just warming antidotes to the weekend past. They’re laden with the idea of a natural harmony which can be attained, but only if we play by the rules. Ergo, deviation is bad. Need it be said, as a nation, we have a soft spot for our ‘national treasures’. But when Sir Dave starts spouting off about curtailing people’s reproduction and the like, let’s not just roll over and take it, dutifully, like a docile old sealioness. As ever, it’s best to question what we’re told; even when it comes from one of the oldest and most respected in the pack.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Engineer - Powered Access

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They pride themselves that they...

Recruitment Genius: Pharmacy Branch Manager

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This pharmacy group are looking...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...

Recruitment Genius: Lift and Elevator Contract Manager - London

£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence