Population Control

This is a blog-post that I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time because it has confused me for over a year. I have an anthropologist friend, and shortly after I announced to her my decision to become a Sociology major, I was met with a cold look. Apparently, anthropologists take umbrage at the pursuits of us Sociologists, and finally, at last, I think I may understand why. To describe this phenomenon, I will use as an example, the “problem” our planet seems to be having with population. Our population is increasing at an exponential rate, we are running out of clean water for all these thirsty people, we are running out of places to put all of these people’s waste, and we are running out of room to grow food for all of these hungry people. Many scientists are afraid we truly are approaching a Malthusian catastrophe.

Like many fields a young person like myself can study at a great big University, Sociology believes it has a solution. That solution comes out of studying society and the organization of people in society. When we do this we notice a couple of very interesting things. We notice that when literacy rates go up, birth rates go down. This is noted as one of the initiators of the Arab Spring, young people who had more access to education were forgoing raising children and turned instead to the streets and the local politic, to interact with global society, to make their voices heard. These were democratic revolutions . While whether they will sustain that way is yet to be seen, they nevertheless demonstrate a kind of pattern that could be reproducible in other parts of the world. As literacy rates increase, birth rates decrease, and citizen involvement in democratic international politics increases.

Literacy is certainly one effective method of dealing with birth-rates, and indeed it is a sociological one. Another method, however, could be seen as more controversial by some, though I am hesitant to say that. This is because I am talking about Women’s Rights and an increasingly modern perspective of a woman’s relationship with her body. Initially, it would seem that this notion of “Feminist” thought is a particularly Western one, whether that’s true I really don’t know for sure. But it is that fact, which I believe to be the point of contention between Sociologists and Anthropologists.

If women in the world were more empowered to see their body as theirs than they will be less likely to give in to the whims of male sex-drives. This is the theory, and we see this theory’s efficacy when we look more specifically at how women’s literacy rates effect birth-rates. On the one hand, I would initially wish to argue the point of “what’s wrong with empowering women?” Isn’t empowering women a good thing? At first this argument seems to be moot. Of course! Furthermore, if it’s a movement towards a sustainable population, then its even better. However, there is another philosophy, which I am still not sure I agree with or not.

This new mode of thinking would involve a change to already existing cultures, cultures which have long-rooted traditions, ceremonies, and beliefs. History is nothing if not an excellent source of stories of one group of people trying to change an already existing culture in the name of righteousness. This is central to the argument about Islamic women wearing the traditional hijab, it is not simply a matter of western religion clashing with Islam, but also of western notions of femininity clashing with another culture’s relationship to the female gender. If we go out into the world saying, women need to be empowered to be in control of their bodies (which is a much haughtier claim than simply that women should be educated the same as men) then we are bumping right up against another culture and that, my Anthropologist friend would probably say, is absolutely not okay. Who are we to say that the practices of one culture are better or more sustainable than another? We should leave other cultures alone.

But what about the sustainability of our entire planet? What are we going to do? Is it okay, is it ethical, to say that certain cultures should change in certain ways in order for all people on the planet to survive? How much do we really value culture?

That’s the question I leave with you, let me know what you think!

Posted in Blogging, Soapbox, Sociology by Preston on November 30th, 2012

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