Sunday, 13 October 2013

Is it Right to Take Steps to Control Population Growth?

In China there is a one child policy. In India, government jobs are given only to those with two or fewer children and encourages hysterectomies after a second child. In Iran a couple must undertake a mandatory contraceptive course before marriage. Uzbekistan is reported to have been pursuing a policy of forced sterilizations, hysterectomies and IUD insertions to impose population control. 

What is population control? It is the practice of altering the rate of growth, usually through the birth rate, in a country through either positive reinforcement, ie benefits for small families, or negative reinforcement, ie punishment of those who exceed the country's limit. It is usually carried out by the government, who have ultimate power over their citizens. Population control is often a response to over-population, poverty, environmental concerns or sustainability issues, and on the most part proves successful. 

But where did the idea come from? Who decided that it would be best to take away self-control and responsibility from countless families worldwide? Most fingers point to Thomas Robert Malthus, a scholar on political economy and demographics in the 18th century. He is most well known for his theories concerning population change. Malthus considered population growth a danger that would eventually lead to catastrophe. Humans would always reproduce faster than the world's capacity to feed them. 

"That the increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence. That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence by misery and vice." an Essay on the Principles of Population

Malthus was aware of the changes being made to the agricultural and mechanical industries, and he foresaw the increase in crop development and transport to further regions of the world. Therefore the means of subsistence grew and continues to grow with the domestication of land in order to feed the growing population. When we run out of space to grow crops, we will have reached the limit of the means of subsistence, and the population will have to stop growing as well. Malthus argued that there are two types of checks which hold the population within resource limits. The positive checks include hunger, war and disease - events which kill existing people. Negative checks include contraception, abortion and celibacy - actions which lower the birthrate. 

The general consensus in most governments is to use negative checks to keep the population under control. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts the global population is estimated to rise to between 8.3 and 10.9 billion by 2050 according to UN projections. However it is also thought to be likely that by 2150 for the population to drop as far as 6.2 billion! This is due to growing concerns that continued population build up will be unsustainable in connection with pressures on the environment, global food supplies and energy resources.

But this is not news to us. The world has experienced continuous human growth since the end of the Great Famine and the Black Death in 1350. Even two World Wars last century did not slow down growth. In fact people celebrated by having more children. We've known for a while that we cannot keep growing under the slower rate of growth of sustainable resources. However, most people seem to be under the impression that as Bosrup said, "Necessity is the Mother of Invention." With the more urgent need to find food, people will strike out more often to create new methods to gain more resources.

Take for example the recent news story about the world's first lab-grown burger. Although it was met with great criticism, it marks the beginning of a new doorway, opening up routes for us to become more sustainable. But this is only one case, and how sustainable can it really be? Is Bosrup's idea an illusion, or could we just continue growing forever, creating new ways of sustaining ourselves?

But there is a difference between letting humanity grow abundantly and freely, and letting it grow sustainably, within our current limits. So I put this question to you again. Is it right to take steps to control the global population using governmental policies and actions? Obviously many people would agree that it is right - that we have to keep the door open for the next generation and make life easier for them, not leaving them to fix our mistakes. And the policies do seem to be working. Although harsh, China's one child policy has successfully prevented over 400 million births since 1979 and continues to work today.

On the other hand, there are also arguments against population control. For some it is considered a form of authoritative control, a tool of the rich implemented over the poorest inhabitants of the world. Its the classic belief that you want to change the world, but you don't directly want it to affect you. Therefore the rich and powerful who have the authority to implement rules over the citizens actually on the whole ignore those rules themselves.

The rich are also threatened by the poor, of which there are many more in the world. By giving aid to the poor masses, you are only imperiling everyone else. Therefore the brutal reality according to capitalists is simply to leave them to starve. The massive populations of the Third World seem to present a threat to the West and Capitalism. In 1966, the USA made their foreign aid dependent on the receiving country adopting family planning programs. Japan, Sweden and the UK soon started to devote more money to reducing the birthrate in the Third World. Of course this focus on diminishing global numbers is needed, but it still doesn't answer the question as to it's ethical morality.

Anyway you look at it, steps to population control are considered immoral by the majority of the world. Most important is the use of positive checks, hunger, war and disease. By using positive checks to control the size of the population, you are automatically killing people, either directly in war, or indirectly in letting them starve or become sick. Of course killing and murder is considered wrong in almost every culture, while it is a part of basic human kindness to look after one another and to help those in need.

However, negative checks are more difficult to discern. That is why most countries use these to control the birthrate. As I said before, negative checks include contraceptive methods, abortion, celibacy and mutilation for sterilization such as a hysterectomy. Of course, Christian ethics would suggest that out of these, only celibacy would be considered morally right. Catholic arguments against contraception and abortion are renowned. On the other hand, more secular and utilitarian ethicists could be inclined to believe that if the child is not wanted, or if the lack of that child would cause happiness for others then it would be perfectly acceptable to make use of the negative checks to support the governments in trying to control overpopulation.

In the end, everyone has a different opinion about growth policies. Personally, I am totally in favor of these policies. Yes they can be harsh, and yes they do often lead to social problems, but there are not many resources as it is, and to allow everyone to grow freely, eventually even the land mass on the planet could not hold us, let alone the environmentally harmful waste that would be given off. It is not a pleasant solution to our problem, but it is the easiest solution if everyone complies with their country's policy. However, I think everyone should be involved in these policies, the rich and authoritative just as much as the poor and desperate. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Analogy of the Jar of Life.

Dr Stephen R Covey, a renowned philosopher, shared his views on the priorities of life through his book, First Things First. His following analogy is a poignant and deep vision of how we see our life, and how we could see our life. 

A professor walked into his classroom one day with a large jar and sat it on the desktop. He turned to his class and asked them if the jar was full. The class simultaneously shook their heads; the jar was empty. The professor then took from behind the desk large rocks and began to drop them into the jar one by one. 

When he could no longer fit any more rocks in the jar, he again turned to the class and asked if now the jar was full. This time, the class agreed that it was. 

Next he took a small bag of pebbles from his satchel and tipped the entire bag into the jar. As he shook it around, the little pebbles rolled into the gaps between the rocks. He again asked the class if he had now filled up the jar. The answer was, of course, yes. 

Last of all, he took a bag of sand and poured it all into the jar. The sand filled up every other little space, and filled the jar right up to the rim. The class didn't wait for the professor to ask before exclaiming that now the jar was completely full. 

"Yes," The professor agreed. "The jar is entirely full. But if I had first filled the jar with sand, there would not have been space for the rocks and pebbles." His class nodded, but couldn't see his point. 

"Pretend the jar is your life. The rocks are the most important things to you - love, family, health and so on. It is essential that you have these in your life, and so you must prioritize these in your jar. 

The pebbles are the other less important things  - your job, car, home, your sustaining sources. To live comfortably, you need to also put these in your jar. 

Lastly, the sand is everything else which you can come across - the daily stresses, dramas, unimportant things which seem to take over sometimes. These must also go in the jar to help you learn. They are the mistakes you make, the tasks you achieve, the things you want. To have a successful life, you must also let these in your life, but you must not prioritize them over the important things."

Monday, 7 October 2013

God Is Nature.

The concept is strange. The concept is interesting. Above all, the concept is oddly beautiful. 

When we think of nature, it is abundant, anomalous, adaptable, alien, alluring, anarchic, arbitrary... Amazing. All of these adjectives could also be used to describe God - abundant in forgiveness, anomalous in his approach to evil, adaptable to the needs of his people, alien in our lack of understanding him, alluring in human desire to understand him, anarchic in characterization, and arbitrary in his warnings. 

Baruch Spinoza, an influential philosopher of the 17th Century, viewed god and nature as two names for the same reality, namely a single fundamental substance which is the basis of the universe, and all lesser beings such as ourselves are simply modes and modifications. Everything that exists in nature is one reality, and there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are a part. Through this theory, Spinoza was considered the greatest advocate of Pantheism, the belief that everything composes an all-encompassing and impersonal god. 

It is said that there are more pantheists than theists in the world. For example, Hindu literature and religious text contains pantheistic ideas. The Atman (the human soul) is indistinct from Brahman (the unknown reality of everything). Examples of pantheistic ideas can also be found everywhere from Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism to Taoism, traditional African and American religions and Ancient Greek mythology. 

The phrase "God is nature" links together themes from different religions. Firstly, it takes the personification of earth, Gaia, from Greek Mythology. She was a primordial deity, the creator of the Earth and all the universe, the very embodiment of nature. You could add the idea of the Jewish God Elohjim as an omnipotent creator of nature or the animalistic visions of Native American traditions. 

Nature is powerful, majestic, ordered even in chaos. It has a complex system where everything works together in harmony to create beauty. What is God? The Creator and Sustainer of life. What is Nature? The Creator and Sustainer of life. If you leave the idea of a conscious Christian or Islam God, and think purely about an impersonal and formless God, this concept is very attractive. 

If you look out of the window, take a stroll through the park, appreciate your surroundings, you learn to respect the beauty and energy of nature. Because nature isn't dead. It isn't dormant. It's bursting with energy, actively working, changing , improving with every moment. The power of nature is breathtaking when you really take it in, and I feel that understanding the strength of the universe is akin to meeting God, if you ever were to. 

Christians, Jews, and Sikhs alike believe that God is part of the world, all around us in everyday life. Whether you believe it or not, it is a comforting idea for many to feel that God is all around us, in the air we breathe, the fruit we eat, the colors we see and the scent of rain on arid ground we smell. 

I leave you with one final quote to reflect on from Helen Keller: 
"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched - they must be felt with the heart."