That's what she said

by CarlD

According to a press release by the Optimum Population Trust for a recent conference of population and climate scientists in London, it turns out that population growth is caused by sex. Perhaps this is not an entirely new insight.

Haha, it’s funny because they’re self-defeating and don’t know it. Anyway, the OPT’s point is that large families in developing nations need not be explained, as would be the case according to a kind of market fundamentalism, by intentional economic rationality. Large families happen quite naturally when folks have a lot of sex without contraception. “Having a large rather than a small family is less of a planned decision than an automatic outcome of human sexuality,” Prof. Guillebaud of University College London says. “For a fertile couple, nothing is easier.” Right, sort of like with bunnies and cows and voles and drunken teenagers.

Getting square on this seemingly simple question is of some importance if it’s the case that there are real limits to the numbers of humans the planet can sustainably carry. The good folks at OPT, like our Protestant exemplars in the video, note that contraception is a good thing to “separate sex from conception,” and they find that people will actively choose contraception if it’s available. But they also stay true to the original insight that rational choice is not likely to be the solution to all problems by observing that contraceptives for which the “default state” (what happens when you botch it) is failure are likely to disappoint in real human use. The Pill and condoms, not so good; implants and IUDs, much better.

Of course there’s always the worry that this is just another way to recolonially meddle in the affairs of the world’s downtrodden peoples. Let’s see implants in our own sons and daughters before we go tsk-tsking about all the little brown babies. But from this perspective you’ve got to admire the profound wisdom and sacrifice of the Pythons’ Protestant couple, who have gotten themselves into such a tangled Gordian twist about sex it’s a miracle they managed to produce two little carbon-emitters at all.

Thanks to Improbable Research for this notice.

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5 Comments to “That's what she said”

  1. This is some coincidence– I was just thinking about how outmoded hormonal contraceptives are, technologically speaking, and what an environmental nightmare it would be if all of the less developed nations suddenly got on board with them just as we’re learning more about “endocrine disruptors” in the environment…much the same way we’ve dropped certain materials and made weak attempts to raise manufacturing standards just as China and India have begun mass manufacturing and distributing really crummy energy inefficient products for Asian markets.

    The future of birth control is surely non-traditional IUDs like “Mirena” (technically an IUS, I think) or in non-hormonal male birth control pills. Tubal implants are a new permanent measure with a very low failure rate–but let’s start distributing the responsibility more than we have been, and looking for less messy technologies that won’t cause problems for developed or developing nations.

  2. Yep, agreed.

    Btw I tried hard to give this piece all the credit I could, but just in passing it’s worth mentioning that plotting contraception strategy without an std thought in there somewhere is pretty seriously myopic. Not that it’s a problem from a population-load standpoint if lots of people off themselves with dread diseases by enjoying pregnancy-free sex with non-barrier contraceptives, but for some reason this environmentally-convenient mortality is not generally embraced.

  3. Carlo I am endlessly amused by the narcissistic cat, who throws herself with such passion at issues of social engagemaint that you’d think revolution was pouring out of her lips:

    When I criticize hermeneutics, deconstruction, phenomenology, or semiotics, this is not in the name of consigning them to the dustbin of history, but of rejecting the hegemonic role one or the other of these positions plays in the analysis of our world. It is not that we should cease doing phenomenology, deconstruction, semiotics, or hermeneutics, but that we should cease believing that all other actors can be reduced to one or the other of the actors or objects privileged by these various orientations. In short, it is about tracking the differences produced by each of these types of actors and how these actors enter into networks or assemblages with one another forming a particular type of network.

    Maybe I’m just nuts, but to me this sounds like one of the standardest truisms of the social sciences: ”movements must not play a hegemonic role” – somewhere in the vicinity of the chicken vs egg debate and the nature vs nurture skirmishes.

    This is then followed by the obligatory homosexuality post, which gives the narcissistic cat a chance to emphasize, even more, that she’s in for CHANGE and that we simply must stop with this conservativism and ideologizing at the Academia.

    In comes the Egyptian temptress to tap her boy on the back: ”I agree with everything Levi said”, she purrs, ”especially the parts where she quoted me or based her thought on my work.”

    Lately the cat has been deleting certain comments, like that time I said the title for the new book could be LITTLE PRINCE OF NETWORKS.

  4. Dejan, I’ve made roughly the same point about social science truisms to LS. The thing to remember and maybe even appreciate is that he’s trying to think his way out of the philosophy box, as you and I might think by laboriously reconstructing the commonplaces of sociology, anthropology etc. The philosophical mode is a totalizing one, so he’s not wrong to see hegemonic maneuvers all around him; therefore what remains to be seen is if he can do what he wants to do and remain a philosopher (which is also something he wants to do).

    Of course the social sciences have their own characteristic weaknesses, but that’s a long story in itself.

    I’m away again this week so please be patient if I’m slow to hold up my end here!

  5. well i can identify with the cat somewhat in the sense that had i stayed with the social sciences, i’d have experienced similar meanderings for sure; however i would never have taken the leap she took into philosophy because i think the practice of psychology, its work with humans, offers exactly the kind of a glimpse into (de-hegemonizing) singularity that the cat is pursuing in her theoretical ambitions. in fact she can give more to philo as a former clinician, than as a little prince of networks. i don’t know why she pulled off the highway maaaaan, it’s probably her burgeoning ambition which as she approaches her mid-thirties should be subsiding a little bit, but you know how that evil temptress has a manner of cracking even a tough Texan nut.

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