It happened once, on a planet not much different from our own, that researchers at a drug company got lucky with a substance they were testing as a pain reliever. Ingesting this substance, called D3346,pain-ridden mice began to exhibit signs of relief: They were friskier, they mated more often, theirappetites improved, and so on. Human tests made company officials ecstatic. D3346 outperformedmuch more powerful drugs and had no deleterious side effects (aside from imparting to the subject anobjectionable odor that soon disappeared when the drug was discontinued).The new drug worked so well that the marketing department knew they had more than a merepainkiller on their hands. People put up with a host of small aches and pains more or less all the time,and simply by getting rid of them, D3346 gave users a feeling of well-being so intense that it almostamounted to a high.
The name Blessing was adopted for the new product without discussion, as wasits slogan: Works on pain you didnt even know you had! The drug was initially marketed in pill and liquid forms, but in less than a year someone had thebright idea of packaging it as a powder in disposable shakers designed to take their place beside the salt and pepper on the dining-room table. Within months, all medicinal forms had disappeared from store shelves, and Blessing was no longer taken for pain. It had become just another beneficial food additive, like a vitamin.
No one was surprised when, nine months after the introduction of the drug, the birth rate began toclimb. This had been predicted, and everyone understood the reasons for it. Blessing didnt increasefertility or sexual appetite; it wasnt an aphrodisiac. People using it just felt bettermore playful, moreaffectionate, more outgoing. It was predicted that the birth rate would soon level off and it did . . . at about ten percent above the old rate.
On this planet, the people Ive been talking about did not constitute a dominant world culture, as wedobut they soon began to be noticed globally. In the first place, they smelled bad, which earned themthe name by which they became known all across the world: the Stinkards. In the second place,responding to internal population pressures, they were incorrigible trespassers and encroachers.Nonetheless, the Stinkards usually managed to do their encroaching without violence . . . by sending Blessing ahead of them. It didnt matter that no one wanted to end up smelling like the Stinkards. The Blessing was there,and few could resist taking just an occasional dose for a sore back or a headache, and before long theywere using it like table salt. People began by loathing the Stinkards and passionately resisting their encroachments, but ended up becoming Stinkards themselves.
After a few hundred years the Stinkard expansion came to an end because there were no new lands to expand into. The entire planet wasStinkard. Farsighted leaders realized that population was soon going to be an urgent problem, but a century passed without significant action being taken. The human population, having no reason to do anythingelse, continued to grow. Famine became a familiar feature of life in certain parts of the world, and insome quarters the problem came to be understood not as one of curbing growth but as one of increasing food production. Another century passed, and the human population continued to expand.
In informed circles, people began to practice and advocate various population-control strategies,ranging from birth control in one form or another to school programs designed to reduce teenagepregnancies, but none of these initiatives had any measurable effect. As more and more people becameaware of the crisis, sociologists and economists began to probe more deeply for its causes. They noted,for example, that in many parts of the world, having children was a means of financial success; lackingother economic opportunities, especially for women, people brought children into the world to serve asunpaid workers and guarantors of old-age security.
One biohistorian by the name of Spry tried to draw peoples attention to the fact that, before theappearance of Blessina, the human population of the planet had been virtually stable, but his listenershad a hard time seeing the connection between the two things.- 137 -Dr. Spry tried to explain. If you introduce Blessing into the diet of any species, he said, the resultwill be the same: The birth rate will increase. Without any offsetting increase in the death rate, thespecies overall population will inevitably increase as well.The professors listeners really had no notion of what he was getting at, since Blessing had been aconstant feature of the human diet for a thousand years, and they couldnt begin to imagine how it felt to live without it. He had to explain very patiently that, without a constant intake of Blessing, everyone would experience a whole host of minor aches and pains, and experiencing these minor aches andpains, they would be slightly less frisky, slightly less playful, slightly less affectionate, slightly less outgoing-and slightly less inclined to mate. As a result, the birth rate would go down, and the population would soon become stable once again.
Are you saying that the solution to our population problem is to live in pain? people asked him incredulously.Thats a complete exaggeration of my point, the professor said. Before Blessing came along,people didnt think of themselves as living in pain. They were not living in pain. They were justliving.Others said, This is really all beside the point. Dr. Spry has already pointed out that Blessing isnt an aphrodisiac and doesnt in itself increase fertility. The fact that we use Blessing doesnt compel us tomate more often. We can mate as little or as much as we want. Whats more, we can also use anynumber of contraceptive methods to avoid pregnancy. So its hard to see what Blessing has to do with the matter at all.It has this to do with it, Dr. Spry replied. If you make Blessing available to any species, themembers of that species will mate more often, and their birth rate will rise. Its not a question of what you or I will do whether you or I will elect to use contraceptives, for example. Its a question of whatthe species as a whole will do. And I can demonstrate this experimentally: The birth rate of any specieswith free access to Blessing will increase. It doesnt matter whether its mice or cats or lizards orchickensor humans. This isnt a matter of what individuals do, this is a matter of what wholepopulations do.
But the professors audiences always indignantly rejected this observation. Were not mice! theywould yell. Were not cats or lizards or chickens!Increasingly regarded as a crank and an extremist, Dr. Spry eventually lost his teaching post andwith it his credibility as an authority on any subject, and was heard from no more.The population crisis mounted. Environmental biologists estimated that the human population hadalready exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet and was headed for a catastrophic collapse. Evenformer scoffers and optimists began to see that something had to change.
Finally the heads of state ofthe major world powers convened a global conference to study and discuss the issues. It was animpressive event, unprecedented in human history. Thousands of thinkers from dozens of disciplinescame together to put the problem under scrutiny.The concept of control soon emerged as the overriding theme of the conference. Population control,of course, was the subject itself. But achieving control of population implied control on all sorts oflevels and in all sorts of ways. New economic controls would encourage couples to control family size.In backward lands, where women were little more than breeding machines, new social controls wouldrelease their creativity to enhance family prosperity. Birth-control devices, birth-control substances,and birth-control strategies needed wider dissemination. Naturally, on the level of the individual,personal control needed to be improved. Educational controls were hotly debated, with some arguing that controls were needed to keep children ignorant about sex while others argued that controls wereneeded to make children aware of sex.Control, control, controlit was a word heard ten thousand times, a million times.Unlike the word Blessing.At the Stinkards great global conference on population, Blessing wasnt a major topicor even aminor topic.In fact, Blessing wasnt even mentioned once