Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Environmental doomsaying declining

Steve Hayward answers some questions about environmental issues. His latest edition of Index of Leading Environmental Indicators is out.
He claims to have spotted "a turning point." According to the Index, "It appears that public regard for environmental doomsaying is declining."

Discussions - 4 Comments

From a college biology textbook: “Even if ways are found to increase food supply to feed the seven billion people expected on the earth in the year 2000, compared to the 3.5 billion living now, man may well be limited by the supply of air pure enough to breath, the supply of water pure enough to drink, or the availability of places to put his accumulated trash and garbage.”(p.590)

"The human population is clearly in danger of multiplying beyond the ability of the earth to support it . . . .Some limitation of human reproduction is clearly inevitable. It remains to be seen whether man will do this voluntarily or involuntarily.”(849) -------------------------“Biology” Villee, Clause A., Harvard U. 1972,

Scary stuff. And perhaps the origin of the left wing’s desperate promotion of abortion.

G.M.

Such doomsday scenarios actually follow from the refusal to accept the fact that humans are not just animals...we are unique in our ability to abstract to the future and modify our own behavior. Case in point, the strong relationship between population density and fertility -- it’s negative. As humans crowd together and competition for resources heats up, we don’t respond the way animals do (continued reproduction and then, ultimately, starvation and dieoff). We lower or fertility and innovate to support more people...even poor old Herbert Spencer realized this.

And of course this is happening. Global fertility is dropping, and in the developed countries we are below replacement. Like human populations always have, we are struggling to find the equilibrium point.

I wonder whether population pressure has changed the public’s perception of the morality of birth control? When Malthus wrote his piece he wrote immorality (birth control among other things) kept population in check. Nowadays it seems almost everyone thinks contraception is moral, except serious Catholics.

This makes me wonder whether ideas about sexual morality are relative (depending upon population pressure), or whether there is some absolute right in sexual morality (birth control is always wrong, no matter if people are starving to death or birth control is an individual right even if it results in the extinction of the species).

I have always found it curious that Greeks were much more comfortable with homosexuality (mountanious terrain, could support few people) than the Romans (terrain that could support a large population).

In all of this I am assuming the sexual desire of individuals is some sort of constant.

I am curious about what others think. I favor a sexual morality based on prudence, but I suppose this makes me somewhat relativistic. If anyone wants to share their ideas on whether American Federal Government or State Governments ought to be able to prohibit people from using birth control, I would be interested to hear it, and how they would justify it.

Steve:

I write to offer a bit of clarification.

Catholic teaching doesn’t actually object absolutely to all birth "control," broadly construed. In fact, both Pius XII and Paul VI (the first in a speech to Catholic midwives in the late 50s, the latter in Humanae vitae in 1968) recognize that married couples can, for good and proportionate reasons, act to regulate both the frequency and the number of births in their family.

What the teaching of "Humanae vitae" objects to is means that are deemed artificial. Some critics scoff at the natural/artificial distinction, I know, but I cite it because that is a distinction which the Church takes seriously, and responsible discussion (even if ultimately disagreeing w/ the Church) should take that self-understanding into account.

And beyond this, of course, the Church leans "pronatalist," such that a couple should in the normal course of things and ceteris paribus not completely close their marriage off to children in a deliberate way, even if only natural means of avoiding pregnancy are used.

This is one of the ironies of "serious" post-Vatican II Catholicism, at least in the West: The old rhythm method, once ridiculed as "Vatican roulette," has actually now been refined into a "symptothermal" technique that can be quite effective at regulating the occurrence of pregnancy: I myself know a devout Catholic couple, for instance, who following discernment had their first child about 2.5 years after they were married, and then had three more kids at 2- to 3-year intervals after that. This couple never touched an artificial contraceptive, and report that achieving the result they did was not especially difficult (a calendar and a thermometer are all the material gear they used).

Back in the 60s, of course, the big puzzle was The Pill. (Could it be acceptable for Catholics, etc.?) Today, it’s well understood that the Pill can act as an early-term abortificient, so its use would be ruled out on those grounds alone, even if the "artificiality" criterion were dropped. Since abortifacience isn’t a concern that applies in the case of barrier contraceptives, however, they form a separate topic of analysis and debate as to their intrinsic moral acceptability or lack thereof.

I hope this is useful background.

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