Monday, July 14, 2008

Back to our future?

Star Trek, whether it intended to or not, often anticipated our future. The timing may have been off, but technological progress suggests that Roddenberry and the writers may have had a touch of prophecy in them. However it wasn't always about technology.

Space Seed, starring Ricardo Montalban as Khan, suggested that Earth went through an Eugenics War in the 1990s. No such war has occurred, but over at The Energy Bulletin a speculative article about sustainability and population control raises the specter of eugenics as it asks the really hard question: How do we create and maintain a world of sustainable resources? What will it look like and how will it operate? Like it or not, we may find that the Earth's population exceeds the planet's carrying capacity. We cannot assume that technology will solve this problem.

Whether it's Hitler's Final Solution, the one-child policy of China, forced sterilization of people labeled unfit to have children, or some other eugenics-based population control methodology, we are talking about balancing the rights of the individual against the need to manage Earth's resources, especially in an energy-constrained world. Do we let nature handle it, or do we step forward and set the boundaries ourselves? What is fair, appropriate, equitable? These are rhetorical questions today, but what if they turn out to be more than rhetorical in the future?

6 comments:

The North Coast said...

There is no need, and never was a need, to violate people's rights in order to attain zero population growth.

There is a libertarian solution and it has always been there.

Empower the world's women to control their own reproduction, and empower them to get jobs, go to school, and defy their families that pressure them (and FORCE them) into early marriage and incontinent breeding.

Education and independence in women tend to function as very effective birth control.

But we won't do that, and our current administration, wed to the regressive and savage Christian Right, will not even promote birth control programs.

The North Coast said...

Oh, yes,and make individuals, male or female, responsible for the results of their behaviors.

People need to know that a kid is not proof of manhood or womanhood, not potential slave labor, and not someone who can be dumped on others at will, but a 20 YEAR RESPONSIBILITY.

We right now have about 30,000 kids in the system here in IL whose parents can't or won't care for them. Unless the parent is proved incapacitated, that parent should be billed for the kids care. No escape. If your kids have to be removed from your custody because of abuse or neglect, your paycheck will be docked for their care.

Then, say, have children or not as you please. We should work to remove the remaining cultural prejudices against the childless, and we should remove all incentives to forming families, such as tax deductions for each child and freebies for families.

Kheris said...

The Christian Right aside, there is a strong cultural, perhaps biological, imperative that supports the formation of family groups. These are groups formed out of kinship (children) or relationship (friends you make over time). Money, or lack of it, is not a driver.

Changing the way people view families (traditional vs other forms (ex. gay couples, single parents) and those who are childless (by choice or not) will take a long time, but I think the process has begun. The concern I have is with a pendulum that may swing too far to the other side. Holding parents financially responsible for their children is important as it is a tangible reminder of their duty. However, we have to do so with some care. Not even the IRS leaves you penniless, unless you ignore them completely and they then empty your bank account and paycheck in order to clear the account. People do need some baseline amount of money to put a roof over their heads and eat.

The North Coast said...

I don't mean strip a person of everything, I mean merely make them contribute to their children's support, whether they have custody or not.

People will always want families, but they wouldn't always want large ones. Decently educated women overwhelmingly prefer small families, and the number of children tends to increase as you move further up the educational ladder. Two children satisfy the urge to parent and produce progeny perfectly well.

Government force will never really work, or at least not produce exactly the intended results. Removing the incentives would work better, while respecting people's rights. I don't think anyone has a problem with the concept that you must be responsible for your behavior, and that you have the right to govern your personal life as long as you accept the consequences, except for traditional religions.

twestgard said...

The higher a woman's income, in the US, the fewer children she has. France and Germany have negative population growth, when immigrants and their children are excepted. Those countries have high income opportunity for women, and easy access to preventive birth control.

You pose an interesting question, and because so many of the answers are unpleasant, it feels better to avoid thinking about them. I also think it's okay to think about what we can do immediately to help the situation, like taking better care of the children we have now. Starting with providing real sex ed, and birth control in high schools.

twestgard said...

I also take issue with north coast's punitive tone. people don't have kids to make money. the paltry tax benefits available to parents are a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of raising them. taking those away would hurt the kids more than the parents. this over-commercialized concept of how people make decisions doesn't match the reality. people have never allowed poverty to prevent them from having children. you can go into the "shoulds" of that but doing so won't reduce the birth rate. do what works, instead.