Posted in musings, quotes

when fear skews our ethics

“…a growing body of research suggested that investing in education and work for women propelled economic development and led to lower birth rates. Later in the 1967 meeting University of Chicago sociologist Philip Hauser alluded to this research when he asked the delegates: ‘Do we really know whether the classical approach of family planning propaganda and clinical services is more useful in reducing birth rates than the same effort spent on building a road into the village or constructing a soap factory where women can work or furthering education for girls?’ But population control activists tended to dismiss an emphasis on female workforce participation and education as a strategy dreamed up by unrealistic feminists. And Polgar [head of research for Planned Parenthood Federation of America] didn’t mention the alternative approach from the podium. Instead, he gazed out at the delgates and, according to minutes from the meeting, ‘urged that sociologists stimulate biologists to find a method of sex determination, since some parents have additional children in order to get one of specified sex.'” – Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, pg 99-100

“Others talked about the necessity of an Asian pregnancy police, foreshadowing China’s system of birth permits under the one-child policy, and suggested flying planes over India once a year to spray it with a ‘contraceptive aerial mist.’ And the racist application of birth control was no longer confined to the developing world. In 1973 African American and Native American women across the American South and Southwest alleged in federal district court that they had been sterilized under threat of their welfare benefits being withdrawn. Gerhard Gesell, the judge who heard Relf v. Weinberger, concluded in his ruling that the women had been coerced. He estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 poor American women had been sterilized under federal programs, adding, ‘the dividing line between family planning and eugenics is murky.'” – Ibid, pg 104

The idea was that families would have fewer children if they didn’t have to keep trying and trying to have a child of the sex they desired. Instead of a family having 3 or 4 or more daughters before having a son, and having 4 or 5 total children, the parents could eliminate those daughters, or most of them, and end up only having 1 or 2 children. In the 1960s, when the world was as scared of population growth as we are of climate change, that reduction in the birth rate was the pot at the end of the rainbow. But instead of choosing to support economic development and female empowerment (which has historically led to lower birth rates on its own), Western nations and foundations decided to tie their aid money to population control programs, leading to mass sterilizations, countless abortions, and the eventual skewing of the gender ratios across the world due to Polgar’s final vague and understated observation above.

Was it all just a response of fear to the specter of a world overfilled with people, starving and suffering and dying? While I think that played a role, there was a definite racial component to the issue, as the decreasing birth rate in the West combined with the economic development of the rest of the world struck fear into the hearts of white Americans and Europeans worried about losing their hold on global power and wealth. And the result of those fears, both the altruistic and the selfish racist fears, was death and suffering – for the men who underwent forced sterilizations during Indira Gandhi’s rule in India, for the women whose babies were aborted because of the one-child policy in China, for the aborted babies themselves (mostly girls), for the men who are growing up to find themselves consigned to singleness due to a shortage of women.

It is never wise to forsake the path of righteousness in response to fear. We must have a more constant moral compass than that of pragmatism and self help, or the very things that we think good, in our efforts to avoid what we fear, will end up hurting us (or others) in ways we never dreamed of, just as much or even more than the things we were trying to avoid. Such a moral compass will also help us determine whether or not our fears are ethically just – as a fear of humanity starving and suffering would be, while a fear of the global gains of other races would not. Population control wasn’t the solution for the fears of the 1960s; economic development and education accomplished the same ends without the oppression and injustice. Maybe Christianity was right when it said that children are blessings; and maybe if we worked together for the common good instead of seeking our own good at the expense of other human beings we could conquer the evils we fear without causing greater evils yet to roam the earth.

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