The Human Dilemma

Paul Chadwick‘s Concrete: The Human Dilemma is one of the most accessible, balanced and finely crafted stories we have that explores the problems of overpopulation. The storytelling is superb – Chadwick consistently produces emotive art and compelling narratives that are exemplars of sequential art – and provides a magnificent framework for making sense of such a complex subject.

Overpopulation is a critical issue that we face as a world. Even a casual look at the state of the world reveals that the pieces vital for building the kinds of civilizations we can thrive in are being sapped, in large part, because we fail to limit reproduction. Our staggering numbers have helped turn things such as space, food, fuel and infrastructure into scarce resources. When we consider the complexities of disparities in development, quality of life and consumption we are faced with an overwhelming challenge.

Chadwick points out complications of motivation (baser tendencies, higher ideals and transcendent awe) and cultural momentum alongside statistics about overpopulation and possible strategies for combating it throughout The Human Dilemma. He presents an appropriately nuanced perspective of the issue, acknowledging conservative concerns, possible harmful extremes and obstacles in the way of implementing programs while being steadfast in the conviction that we must act to reduce our numbers.

One of the most important aspects of the overpopulation problem comes to the fore early in the book. The main character, Concrete, becomes involved in a program encouraging couples to opt for sterilization rather than contribute to overpopulation, thus creating role models and acceptance for life without reproducing. Creating public acceptance of not having children and forging new stations of life that embrace this will be incredibly hard to do. There is so much momentum in our cultures and biology that embeds the process of having biological children with a sense of obligation and benefit, and this will be challenging to counter.

Looking at the positive implications of fewer humans on Earth reveals a lot of promise. Imagine a world that is environmentally healthier, with abundant resources, greater wealth, more opportunity for individual and cultural growth, more people freed to contribute their greatest potential to the world rather than struggling just to create the necessities to sustain us and with space to build societies of great dignity. Those children we would choose to create would have better, happier, more rewarding and meaningful lives in a world with the kind of freedom we deny ourselves, in part, through overpopulation. If it comes down to a question of quantity of lives versus quality of lives, I think it’s clear we should work to create less lives and less suffering.

Speechwriter Ron Lithgow’s mind was suddenly removed from his body and placed into that of an immense extraterrestrial-one with a rock-like shell for skin. Now Lithgow enters into another contemplative conundrum. As the accidental celebrity Concrete, he is now courted by a high-profile CEO to lend his name to a controversial population control program. While Concrete mulls this generous proposition over with his companion Maureen, his longtime aide Larry Munro mulls over an entirely different sort of proposal.

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