This is an interesting talk by Hans Rosling. Watching the dots move across time is worth the 13 minutes. Very nicely done.
Rosling notes that the population trends he uncovers depend, in part, on access to family planning. Higher incomes and higher education aren’t enough to normalize a 2.4 children per mother ration across the world.
He notes that some places in Africa will join the rest of the world in this presumed golden mean when they have better access to family planning. Melinda Gates has talked a lot about that, too.
I’m all for everyone making informed decisions. I’m also on something of a lonely political island on the issue of abortion as family planning. I think of myself as politically progressive, but peskily and persistently, I struggle to see what’s progressive about abortion as such. Perhaps it’s about feeling called to the margin, and not imagining anything (no animal, no habitat, no economy, no culture) more vulnerable than a genetically and ontologically Other growing in the body of and at the discretion of another. I know that’s loaded. But this idea of Otherness is very significant for me. We can debate the degree to which, let’s say, a fetus is genetically Other, and we can measure that and chart that and try to figure out together what that should or shouldn’t mean. The issue of ontological Otherness, though, is where we always have trouble. It’s not necessarily about when life begins, it’s not exactly about something like a soul or divine spark. It’s more physical than all of that, more tangible than those things, though it relates to them. That’s rightly a topic for another (series of) post(s).
The point I do want to make here, though, is that as much as we help educate people in developing nations about responsible choices (and there is so much to be done there, even on levels most of us would consider very basic), we should also be in the business of strengthening participation in Rosling’s other pillars of responsible growth: improved education (in general) and the elimination of poverty through fair and sustainable markets and practices. Family planning by itself ends up sounding too much like eugenics, especially to people whose suspicions of power and empire track very near the heart of public witness.
I didn’t mention the One Child policy, but certainly, that’s a major factor in Rosling’s China data, and a major example of the tension between personal rights, freedoms of conscious, and what a central regime may or may not deem good for the whole.