Friday, September 12, 2008

"Be Fruitful and Increase in Number...." Gen. 1:28

The diminutive biology professor looked like an Irish leprechaun turned Mormon missionary in his white shirt with pocket protector, but his message was not one of love and reconciliation.

“Who’s the bigger son-of-a-bitch?” he shouted, his bellowing voice belying his small stature. “Is it the guy who drops napalm on their villages and winnows their body politic down to the size where they have some small hope of feeding themselves?” He paused to take a breath. It was said that he’d been born a “blue baby,” and was one of the world’s first surviving open-heart-surgery patients. This fact seemed to explain his stunted growth, his lack of physical robustness, and also his “I’m going to get even with the world” demeanor.

“Or is the son-of-a-bitch a guy like Tom Dooley, a guy who goes in and gives them medical care so that their population grows to the point where they all starve to death?” he continued. “I say the son-of-bitch is Tom Dooley!” The dark-haired girl (a New York City liberal type) who sat in back of me let out an audible gasp, as the biology professor launched into a lengthy polemic about population increase and the mathematics of geometric versus arithmetic progression.

All this happened before worldwide advances in post-World War II agriculture became widely recognized, along with the coining of the phrase “Green Revolution.” Science found ways to increase food production so successfully that Earth was able to sustain far greater numbers of human beings than had seemed possible at one time, and to buy time for a while before the inevitable crunch, as described in Paul Ehrlich’s widely read book, The Population Bomb, which was published later that same year. But enough people in my generation took the threat of overpopulation seriously, and limited the number of offspring they produced. In fact I’m hard pressed to think of anyone I know from either in high school or college who went on to have more than two kids, and more likely one or none. A great number of my friends spent their lives teaching the children of others, and are now retired and childless, while a great nation of immigrants came in to take (admittedly) lower paying jobs, but who are now competing with us for real estate and services. The Bomb went off to the south and east of us, and we are feeling the effects.

What will the ultimate effects of worldwide unbridled population growth look like? One need not look farther than our neighboring country, Haiti, which is a “closed system,” embodying more than eight million souls on a piece of land largely destroyed by disastrous ecological practices, no larger than Massachusetts. The city of Gonaives, still in the process of recovering from Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, has been flooded this year by rains from Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike. Gonaives (pictured above, by the way) is not know as a “garden spot,” even in the best of times. It’s been in the news recently as the scene of political riots. During the dry season it is a hot and dusty place. When it rains, it becomes a mud hole. Here are a few quotes from recent articles–-look for a common thread:

In a cathedral surrounded by mud and flood waters, the 34-year-old motorcycle taxi driver shivers on a pew, wrapped in a sheet and delirious from fever. He struggles to remember the names of his four children, one of whom died when two storms submerged Gonaives and the villages around it in vile muck.

But now is bad enough. In the cathedral, Nicole Guistinville lies on her side, struggling to breathe as a hypertension attack makes her head feel like it's exploding. "The water took away my medicine," she whispers. "I'm supposed to eat before I take it, but I have seven children to feed."

“Please, please give me one job,” said the man, imploring. “I have eleven children!”

At one time we saw signs in Haiti saying: ‘Medam ansent yo: apre youn petit, fe planing!’ (Pregnant ladies: after one little one, practice planning!) or 'Tout moun ap fe planing anvan lane 2000'--(Everyone to practice family planning by the year 2000). I appears that little or nothing came out of that well-intentioned effort. We’ve even heard that our own foreign aid policies forbid use of funds to promote family planning, an apparent sop to right-wing fundies who seem to think that allowing the creation of a Hell on earth may somehow hasten the day of the arrival of God’s Earthly Kingdom.

“Oh,” says the liberal, “of course you can’t do anything with birth control anyway... It’s part of all agrarian cultures to produce as many children as possible, to aid in the farmwork.” Well, that’s true enough, but the population of Haiti has now gone past the point where any increase in the number of humans can be reasonably construed as beneficial. Even the smallest increase can only aggravate an insoluble ecological disaster. China has been roundly condemned for their “one child” policy, but ultimately that type of policy is the only answer in checking unbridled population growth, and the sooner it can be imposed on Haiti, the better off they will be.

I know many people will take umbrage at this opinion, and I have no rejoinder other than the request that they go to Haiti and live there for a year or so. If they come back with the same opinion as they left with, I certainly wouldn’t dream of arguing with them. In the meantime, no one who has not spent a year in Haiti has any right speaking out on the pros and cons of birth control, be it abroad or here at home. And that includes our foreign policy establishment, every radio Bible-thumper in the world, the Holy Father in Rome and anyone else who doesn’t see what the problem is.

No, I don’t think Tom Dooley was a son-of-a-bitch, nor do I hold with dropping napalm on agrarian villagers. But I’d like to think that, if we bombed ‘em with condoms, they eventually might get the right idea.

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