Don't be afraid to let our children grow
By GABRIEL MARTINEZ
"More than merely saving lives, those lives should be worth living. Many poor countries are experiencing explosive population growth, far beyond their ability to provide a decent standard of living. Much of this is due to the effect of modern science, for example in health and agriculture," (David Sheldon, The Economist, Sept. 4, 1999.)
Two weeks ago, we argued that a fast-growing population is able to come up with the solutions to its problems more easily, even if (because) it puts more strain on its resources. If resources were well distributed, we would not need to fear population growth: Every child would be born with a loaf of bread under his arm. True, children are not born with televisions, but in a just society there should be enough for all.
A misanthrope is someone who hates or mistrusts humankind. Although it is usually applied to extreme introverts, I will borrow the word to name those who celebrate catastrophes because they reduce "overpopulation."
I am scared at the mindset of misanthrope David Sheldon. Overpopulation makes lives not worth living, he says, and advances in health and agriculture are to blame. There's been too much food and too much medicine, and now there are too many people. It is scary to think in this mindset because the thought that springs to mind is withholding health and nutrition. People will starve and die like they used to in the good old days of stable populations. Maybe population growth will be reversed in Africa, and those societies will become able to provide a decent standard of living. Sheldon (or UNICEF) gets to decide whether poverty or disease make a life not worth saving. Things will be good after the bodies finish rotting in the streets, dead from lack of food and medicine.
Misanthropes are human enough to avoid saying that they want this (at least out loud). So instead, they say that they are for "population control," which means state programs aided by the education of the masses. Of course, these can be forces for good because responsible parenting is a duty for the family and families can be helped by society in this endeavor (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2372). But in the hands of misanthropes, these programs become coercion and brain washing: Witness China's population policies and the forced sterilizations in Perú. Witness your friends and relatives, who have been lied into believing (implicitly) that people are evil, insatiable and unproductive: The less of them, the better.
Widespread contraception is clearly bad from a practical point of view. A contracepting society (like Sweden, Spain or Italy) is a society dominated by retirees who live off of a declining workforce. It is an old society, where the young are the minority and innovation and creativity suffer. A contracepting society is one that despises its ultimate resource — people.
Misanthropes will probably reject being called this. "I love people, so I don't think a child should grow up in a slum." But misanthropes are bent to see every child as a burden, every man as a liability and every pregnant woman as a danger. Moreover, they are blind to the endless creativity of the human person and to our yet unexhausted capacity to solve our problems — in a just society.
People lovers, like me, don't think, "Let's fill every square inch of the Earth." Yet we see visceral fear of population growth — truly homophobia — as either useless or destructive. People lovers hold that every person has dignity and that a new person is an invaluable gift.
Moreover, we recognize that people have a beneficial economic effect. Because of this (not in spite of it) we also hold that begetting must be responsible and undertaken with generosity and prudence.
Misanthropes frequently say that people lovers advocate having children without any thought for tomorrow. This reduces women to child-makers, enslaves men to overworking or makes them careless and impoverishes the children. My guess is that irresponsible parenting does have those effects. But this is not what we advocate.
What we advocate is generosity and prudence. A new person is always a gift to be celebrated and desired. Because parents and society must be able to provide these gifts and allow them to reach their full potential, there is a just space for the regulation of births. Parents that face physical, psychological, social or economic limitations are justified in spacing births, if they have a spirit free of selfishness and full of generosity.
To do this, they must use the right means, means that respect the dignity of the human person. Moreover, the state and society, using the right means, are allowed to establish a demographic policy (cf. CCC 2368-72).
Human beings are very good. Don't be afraid, don't have children with fear. Bring more life into the world with responsibility and openness.
Gabriel Martinez is a graduate student in the economics department. His column runs every other Thursday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, October 7, 1999