Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dan Brown's New Book and Population Control???

I didn't begin Dan Brown's new blockbuster book expecting to be confronted with some very uncomfortable facts and socially unacceptable theories that while logic filled, are rather repulsive. Brown's new book Inferno, check it out for yourself here, has much of what his readers, myself included, have come to love and expect from his books: art puzzles, a well paced mystery, a knowledgeable description of various art pieces and their history, as well as a hero we can all relate to and love. However, this one dealt with the fact that as of 2013 there are more humans on the planet than ever and unless mathematics have suddenly stopped working, there will be an explosion in our numbers soon. The protagonist is working throughout the book to see the fruition of his revolutionary, illegal, and morally questionable solution to that problem causing fact.

I grew up in a large family of seven. My grandparents all came from families of a similar number. I myself have three daughters and haven't ruled out having more and my siblings all have families numbering from just one to seven as well. I have always scrolled quickly past articles speaking on population control or clinked on them angrily to see what they are saying against 'us' this time and angrily stick up for the way I have grown up. While the world at large is having babies at an astounding rate, within the United States it is rather uncool to have more than the acceptable two-four kids. I have never looked down on someone for not desiring children at all or only a few and could never understand those who looked down on parents who wished for lots. (The Duggers....well even I had a hard time not raising an eyebrow at them lol.). I have always rested secure in my love and admiration of big families when they are built by loving parents who enjoy and succeed at that type of life. I can see the merit in the argument that with so many children already born in the world who don't have parents, those looking to begin a family should adopt. But there will always be some who want at least a few, if not all natural born children. Now of course teen pregnancy and rape sort of situations aside, those babies created under responsible circumstances are always a wonderful gift and cause for celebration.

What is so morally questionable about the protagonist's goal in Inferno (I'll do my best to not include any big spoilers) is that it creates a situation in which one person unilaterally creates two groups of people...those who can procreate and those who can't. Who among us should say he and she get to create life and begin a family but that this other he and she shouldn't? Where is the line? What are the criteria for making the cut? These types of questions inevitably bring up a Nazi reference and rightly so because whenever there is a situation where power can be abused, rest assured it can and will be. Humans are hardwired to protect their own interests. Throw in the fact that an adult human can so easily be made into a fear, hate, self-loathing filled individual to which all 'other' 'different from me' is seen automatically as wrong and an abomination to them. The creation then of any type of medical or social guidelines for who can procreate and who can not,  will be at some point misused by those who do not have the overall good of man kind as their guide post. Take it one step farther, history is rife with those who in their heart of hearts believed they were acting in the good of man kind and although they didn't perpetuate deliberate physical or emotion harm to their fellow earth inhabitants, in the end they set back the moral arc of the universe and irreparably hurt others. In China we have the One Child Rule which has been in place for some time now. Many stories have come out of the country about the pain parents have had to endure because of it but more important are the stories of the babies that are created and born and must be 'dealt away with' from some measure. Here is a state who took a hard look at their population problems when much of the world refuses to, and came up with what they thought was a solution but ended up creating new problems. Children keep being born anyway. The abandonment of these babies is something that should never happen and saddens us all. A possible solution is abortion. Abortion always must be a woman's choice and in some cases is very necessary but show me the person alive who thinks its a wonderful thing and I will kiss your feet. Even those of us who are Pro-Choice know that it is a civil liberty that must be protected, while putting as much resources towards the goal of keeping the need for an abortion in the first place, achieved. The creation of life, childbearing and birth, has been throughout history a wild west sort of free-for-all in which anybody who could or wanted to did, and many times others were forced to or did so accidentally. Knowing humans are the evil little puntas we are...should the wild west mentality remain or has the time come to confront the facts of our chubby planet and begin a discussion about a way to deal with the problem without curtailing the civil liberties of those different from us.

One paragraph that made me sit up and take notice in the book was this:

 "Did you know that if you live another nineteen will witness the population triple in your lifetime. One lifetime-a tripling. Think of the implications. As you know, the World Health Organization has again increased its forecasts, predicting there will be some nine billion people on earth before the midpoint of this century. Animal species are going extinct at a precipitously accelerated rate. The demand for dwindling natural resources is skyrocketing. Clean water is harder and harder to come by. By any biological gauge, our species has exceeded our sustainable numbers."

I actually went back and reread the intro to make sure I had remembered correctly. I had. Dan Brown assures us at the beginning that "All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real." I will confess that for the purposes of this little blog entry I have not checked to make sure but if the subject interests you enough, I encourage you to do so and comment back if his numbers are off. Everybody knows humans need to eat to live. If you have only so much land, all you eat must be grown on that land, the land can only produce so much per year, each person needs so much to live, and more and more people are born, a problem will soon arise.There are those who offer up genetically modified food as a solution and while this would make Monsanto happy it would make the rest of us sick and unhealthy. (I can just hear the conspiracy folks standing up and saying something here lol) As a strong proponent of organic, 'grown and raised close to where you live' food, I couldn't get behind a long-term solution like that. So if there doesn't seem to be any solution for our growing lack of natural resources compared to our population growth that isn't morally icky or include the stealth of personal freedom, where does that leave us? Keep on growing? 

I admire Brown for choosing this topic because of its ick factor. Its a topic that few want to touch within their own mind much less in a public conversation capacity. Those who are comfortable confronting the scientific facts and coming catastrophic effects of our population growth can easily come off as cold-hearted pompass asses at the best or maniacal evil geniuses or dictators out to control the world at the worst. Those who speak for the fact that the individual has just as much worth as the group as a whole and articulate their abhorrence of  the often cruel nature of all solutions proposed so far seem like bleeding-hearted softies who willingly stick their heads in the mud because it hurts too much to propose a solution. I can't even say that at the end of the blog that I have come up with my own brilliant idea. I have no idea what to think. Inferno allowed me to finally realize the problem actually exists in all its severity and won't go away because I choose not to think about it. It also-and the internet digging I've done since then-made me realize that this particular debate is filled with people who are firmly in one of the two camps above. The average person...those of us who are having all of these babies lol...haven't spoken out and joined the conversation much less gotten involved with reading up on the views of both sides. 

The devil's advocate in me reading about the protagonist's 'solution' had me thinking that while it was  morally just soooo not good, it did have an element of the humane in it. Scientifically it was brilliant. Involving genetic engineering (the goal of not doing spoilers is becoming much harder to achieve lol if I haven't failed already...) and the natural process of evolution, the mad scientist in one fell swoop, took what the human body already does but sped up the process by thousands of years. Brown uses one of the characters to ask the important question is there "wisdom [in] attempting to accelerate the natural process of evolution"? This question in one form of another has been vexing us for years now. Even those who for religious reasons don't believe in evolution (most of Texas says amen) will still get a bit of discomfort when they hear of a cloned sheep or what have you. Many times our own brilliance scares us. Our brain's capacity for knowledge retention and creativity has allowed us to make some amazing things that change the world so fast that many are left wondering if it is too fast. Evolution is a fact but historically the change it brings happens so slowly. Would we be shooting ourselves in the foot to speed it up? In the conversation in Inferno, another character pipes up and says:
"Genetic engineering is not an acceleration of the evolutionary process. It is the natural course of events!"
Evolution created the scientists on the forefront of the genetic engineering discoveries being made. There "superior intellect was the product of the very process Darwin evolution over time." These scientist's "rare insight into genetics did not come as a flash of divine was the product of years of human intellectual progress."

 A stroke of brilliance within a single paragraph! I'm not saying this thought hasn't been thought and said by many before but Brown was the first to say it to me. It seems to me, to be logic itself and completely takes away the footing of 'we must go slow' in inventing and implementing scientific discoveries. Now this isn't to say that all discoveries are good or that each one can't be twisted into something bad...atomic bomb anybody? But that is something you deal with everyday, humans mess everything up lol. You make adjustments or put in place watchdogs or checks and balances to balance out the inevitable misuse. But the fact remains that the conversation doesn't end with eugenics or the One Child Policy, or genetically modified food. The topic of scientific discovery and population control in 2013 is amusing since the discovery or invention of the condom is how many years old now? Proven to be the most effective form of birth control yet, it eradicates the need for all but the most dire abortions, keeps the number of large families down to only those who want them and is incredibly inexpensive to buy. The Catholic Church should take a moment to think about what their god would have to say about exhausting 'his' lol planet's resources and killing us all simply because the robed powers-that-be blocked the access of so many to condoms or made them fearful to use them. I digress? Not really because the fact remains that condoms are the only non-icky solution currently around to keep our growing numbers down and the Catholic Church has been very vocal against them, particularly in many third world countries where the growth is the highest. There was another passage in the Inferno that wasn't speaking about condoms but it could have been.  "...nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check-plagues, famines, floods. it possible that nature found a different way this time? Instead of sending us horrific disasters and misery...maybe nature, through the process of evolution..." has given us brains who invented condoms?

It shouldn't end with condoms I think. After all they are a discovery many many years old. Even speaking outside of the narrow category of genetic engineering we have learned so much. The more that is known in one area the more will be known in others because information is like running water. Often that stroke of genius or flash of insight will come from taking the new information discovered in one category and realizing it can be used in another. Also as a character in Brown's book said  "we as humans have a moral obligation to participate in our evolutionary use our technologies to advance the species, to create better humans- healthier, stronger, with higher-functioning brains." Now that we are here at this particular moment in history as humans with these large fabulous brains, it is time for use to not sit back and passively await the next flood or what have you, but push for a better future.

"If we don't...then we are as undeserving of life as the caveman who freezes to death because he is afraid to start a fire."

~Thanks to Dan Brown for creating such a fabulous story! Not only did it make for a great summer read but clearly it sparked a great deal of thought in at least one of his readers lol. All in all a #MUSTread!

~I would welcome any and all comments and opinions. The topic is a complex one and my personal opinions are not all fleshed out either. This blog is my thoughts on the book and the ideas it raised. If the book or this blog did the same for you, I would love to hear them. :)

~Also I do apologize if there were to many spoilers lol


  1. I heard an interview with the head of the WWF some years ago, and he said that all the money they have spent on this and that special program targeted at one particular area or species would likely have been far better spent simply distributing condoms and teaching people to use them.

    That said, the population will still likely grow, and we are using up resources faster than the sun helps create them, not to mention making the environment ever more toxic for our particular form of life. There's one very long term solution - move. Keep funding NASA, and every other space aganecy you can find. Send colonists and terraforming equipment to Mars. Start thinking very, very long term about how to send people and equipment to places much farther away than that.

    Have I read too much SF? Maybe. But the Earth isn't getting any bigger...

  2. The debate is a very interesting book topic for sure and the solution proposed - as I understand it at least - sounds like a good idea IF there was a viable method of allocation. I wholeheartedly agree that there are herds of individuals out in this vast land who do not deserve to have children - or perhaps the children deserve better than to have these particular individuals as parents - while on the flip-side there are many who would make fabulous parents but are unable to due to some kind of defect. If it were possible to have some sort of foresight that could accurately detect which of us would be good candidates worthy of venturing into the realms of parenthood and weeding out those who were not, then a process which allowed the former the definite ability to reproduce and removed it from the latter then I for one would be all for it.
    I don't necessarily think that the ability to reproduce being removed or preallocated would actually instigate a decline in population though. Those who could have children would likely still have loads. I think what it would actually do is cause resentment, hate, anger and likely violence. Think about it; all these people who were unable to have children may very well begin to attack those who can or, worst still, their children. It sounds like I have jumped to an extreme but we know all too well how extreme the human mind can be when it feels it has been wronged in some way. This process and the subsequent reaction would actually be the thing that causes the stabilisation of our population because there would be people dying faster than they were able to reproduce. Perhaps that is the real crux of the idea? Conspiracy theorist, I know.

    Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but condoms are not actually THAT effective. Not as far as birth control at least. If i'm not mistaken, things like the pill are far more effective as a method of birth control while the condom is most valuable for protecting against infections and diseases - but even there it has a window of failure which is said to possibly around 85%.