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human nature, morality, Politics, Religion

Successful Farming, or Why Birth Control is Awesome

Over the course of several blogs and several weeks, I’ve frequently referenced our human bias with regard to ourselves.  It’s admittedly a very hard thing for us to remove ourselves from our own perspective, but I want to offer another exercise to do just that.  I hope it will demonstrate just how strongly we hold to the belief that we are different in a good way from everything else on the planet.

Imagine that you are a farmer, and you have a five acre plot of land.  (Five acres isn’t a lot for farming.)  Let’s also suppose that you grow a type of plant that requires a certain amount of space per individual.  (I am not a farmer, and I don’t feel like looking things up for so trivial a point.)  Let’s call it “Purple Corn.”  For simplicity, let’s suppose that each purple corn plant requires exactly 1/100 of an acre to grow to its optimum height and produce healthy, nutritious purple ears of corn.

After leaving space for yourself to live, let’s say one acre, you have four acres left.  If you’re going to grow only purple corn, you can place 400 plants on your property, right?  Now, let’s suppose that you don’t have 400 plants.  Instead, you only have 100, but that’s ok, because purple corn naturally increases its numbers each growing season by 20%.  So, you plant what you have and reap your harvest.

After the first harvest, you have plenty of food, and life is good.  After the second harvest, life is even better.  You now have 120 plants, and an abundance of food.   Over the next few years, your corn population looks like this:

1. 100

2. 120

3. 144

4. 172 (I’m rounding down, since half a plant is not a plant, and we must use whole numbers.)

5. 206

6. 247

7. 296

This is all well and good, except that you’re starting to see a potential problem.  Purple corn needs fertilizer to grow, and you get your fertilizer from a few chickens and several cows that live on one acre of your property.  The cows are already having a hard time.  With slightly over one acre, they really don’t have enough space to live like cows normally live.  The chickens look like they’re soon going to be feeling cooped up (Yeah… I know… sue me.) as well.

But it’s worse.  You have a well, and it appears that it is running dry.  There is only so much water to be had, and the water requirements of growing so much corn are getting taxing.  In fact, a little math leads you to a relatively simple prediction.  If your corn takes over much more of your farm (you’re not sure exactly how much… it’s an inexact formula, after all) you won’t have enough water to keep yourself, the cows, the chickens, and the corn from dying.

What’s the right thing to do?  To answer this, let’s remind ourselves of what the word “should” actually means.  To quote myself:

Any statement about what we should do is really an IF-THEN statement, or a contingency. In other words, a certain outcome is contingent upon us doing a certain thing. “You should temper the milk before adding it to your hot pan, IF you don’t want the sauce to curdle.” There are different ways of expressing contingency. The word must is stronger than should. “You must keep your speed under sixty-five miles per hour if you are to obey the law.” There is no wiggle room in this statement. If we exceed sixty-five, we will be breaking the law, regardless of whether or not we are caught. On the other hand, we should drive under seventy if we don’t want to run an excessive risk of being pulled over in a sixty-five zone. We know that the chances of being pulled over are very slim if we maintain a speed of five miles per hour over, but it’s not certain.

We need to make an IF-THEN statement.  This one looks like it will be accurate and relevant:  IF we are to maintain our ability to grow corn and raise chickens and cows with enough resources left over for ourselves, THEN we must control the growth of our corn. There are several good reasons for this.  The corn isn’t going to control itself.  It reproduces 20% each year, and we can easily predict when it’s going to start causing real problems.   Also, we know the result of overcrowded corn — there isn’t enough water to go around, and either some of the corn will just have to dry up and die, or all of the corn will have to suffer in quality.  We also know that eventually, we’re going to have to choose between the corn and our livestock.  One or the other will have to go if the population is left unchecked.

Ok.  My gentle readers aren’t dumb.  Let’s get to the real issue.  If humans are risking the destruction of their environment by their population growth, and they will bring suffering on themselves, and we want to avoid this consequence, the thing we should do is control the population, right?

Wrong.  Condoms are killing Africans by the million.  Abortion is the same as murdering a full grown adult.  Zygotes are a gift from God, and we need eighteen kids at a time to build conquering armies.  A woman isn’t complete as a person unless she is a mother.  Childless people are… strange…  or worse…

Does anyone besides me notice a disconnect from logic?  We have a legitimate problem, and instead of doing what we should do to correct it, we are literally trying to legislate against the most humane ways of solving the problem.  Birth control is obviously the best method.  When that fails, or when people fail to use it, abortion is the next best option.  It’s cheap, it’s safe when performed properly, and it is unquestionably less emotionally painful than killing a full grown adult.  Sterilization is a great option, and yet doctors routinely discourage patients from having the procedure done.

I have heard no compelling argument for why humans should be exempt from the logic of population control.  I’d like to know if you, gentle readers, know something I don’t know.  Is there a good argument?

If we are not exempt from the logic of population control, we are limited by reality.  Either we must prevent pregnancies, terminate pregnancies, or terminate the lives of individuals who have been born.  If you’re against abortion, you must choose one of the other two options.  If you’re against condoms and abortions, you’re bat shit crazy and I don’t want to associate with you.

We have been dealt a hand, and we must play it.  People will not be abstinent.  Only fools and the religious believe this is possible.  (Or, am I being redundant?)  We will reach a peak population.  Ask any ecologist.  (Then, ask them why K-selected populations don’t grow above that peak.  The answer’s not pretty.)  What are we going to do?  There are only so many choices, and the religious seem to have left us only one, since we can’t prevent pregnancy or abort fetuses.

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Discussion

One thought on “Successful Farming, or Why Birth Control is Awesome

  1. Funny thing: You don’t even need a hypothetical. We control animal populations all of the time, the best examples coming in the form of invasive species.

    A good recent example is the Humboldt Squid; they’re recently began migrating their feeding territory to off of the Western Coast of North America, and it’s been absolutely devastating to the fish populations as the squids can essentially grow and predate unchecked in the region. To avoid a serious ecological disaster, humans have had to step-in and implement measures to control the squid populations (note that even in this instance, ‘population control’ does not directly translate to ‘kill a whole bunch of squids’. While sometimes game, wildlife & fishery organizations do have to resort to direct culling (usually after the problem has been left unchecked for too long), ecological science has come a *long way* since the days of merely shooting ‘troublesome’ populations and calling it that – just as medical science has come a long way from the days of hook & scalpel abortions). If we don’t do something, the fish will all be eaten and the squids and other predators will starve (nobody wins).

    Humans play by the same rules, as Hamby elucidated above, and it’s a head-hanging shame that most people ideologically insist that we shouldn’t have to. Unless you think that we can somehow invent magical wells, gardens and petroleum stations in the next few years that will magically produce all of the resources our perpetually surging population demands, you need to very seriously consider the consequences of your actions before you willfully impregnate someone or willfully become impregnated with every intention of carrying a pregnancy to term.

    Posted by Kevin R Brown | March 23, 2009, 6:51 pm

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