18 December 2008

Overpopulation and ethics

This post is inspired by a post and attendant comments by Martin Rundkvist at Sb
He posited:
  • It is unethical for anyone to produce more than two children. (Adoption of orphans, on the other hand, is highly commendable.)

  • It is unethical to limit the availability of contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation, vasectomy and adoption.

  • It is unethical to use public money to support infertility treatments. Let those unfortunate enough to need such treatment pay their own way or adopt. And let's put the money into subsidising contraceptives, abortion, surgical sterilisation, vasectomy and adoption instead.
In a comment, one person suggested that a mandatory reversible sterilization be implemented, until such time as the individual proved they were capable of responsibly rearing offspring. They were promptly jumped on for proposing eugenics, which was not the suggestion at all, as you can see. It was not a proposal to limit breeding to certain genetic material, only that people be prepared for the responsibility - something which anyone can accomplish.

I agree that having children is something that should require training. If we want to limit our population and improve our fitness as a species, the we need to collectively have fewer children, and raise them responsibly. I have seen too many mothers who, due to youth, poverty, neglect or ignorance have permanently sabotaged their children. Requiring people to be responsible when engaging in the most important job a species has is not eugenics. One might as well argue that requiring a driver's license or voting age is a violation of rights. We have these rules in place because we collectively saw that regulating certain activities benefits everyone. I would suggest that raising a child is a much more important activity than driving a car, drinking at a bar, voting, or even fighting for your country. Yet out of all these activities, raising a child is the only one for which no age or skill baseline is required. I am only suggesting that, at least, the childbearing age should not be lower than the drinking or voting age, and that potential parents be well informed of the needs of a child and the obligations they will have to the child, as well as certain basic skills pertaining to childbearing. This is not eugenics, this is not elitism, this is not based on income, disability, race, religion, gender, or level of education. It is simply beneficial to everyone, so I suspect that it will be hotly contested. If someone wants children, these circumstances will only ensure that they are prepared for them.

Another population growth solution is the one child per couple policy has been in effect and effectually enforced in China for quite some time now. It works because people are aware of the necessity for it. The problem that policy would have in North America are the large numbers of people who feel that clinging to their out-dated mythology is more important then the well-being of our species and ecosystem. I'd almost rather have eugenics than that type of 'ethics'.

Finally, regarding abortion, this comment was made:
This argument, more generally, is, "it is unethical to tax person X to pay for policy Q, but ethical to tax person X to pay for policy Z." It ignores the question of whether it is ethical to force people to pay for policies they disagree with. If it is ethical to force Christians to subsidize abortions, do they not have a claim that it is ethical to force me to subsidize printing of Bibles?

The first difference would be that legalized abortion benefits the population as a whole, even if the Christians refuse to admit it. Printing religious texts does not benefit the population as a whole (or anyone, IMHO).
The second point is that I pay taxes for things I don't use/agree with all the time, because they are a benefit to the population as a whole. I support the military, even though I am a pacifist. I pay for public education, even though I have no children. I pay for health care, even though I am healthy and don't need it myself. I also pay for abortions for people who need them, and free contraceptives, sex education, and I am mightily insulted that the religious institutions which oppose education and reduced population growth are tax-exempt. Religious views or programs should never be paid for by public money. Ever. Especially when they run counter to the good of the society as a whole.

In conclusion, I would venture to say that if your religion is advocating something that is obviously not (or no longer) beneficial to our species or society, maybe it's time to re-evaluate your beliefs. If your 'ethics' conflict with what is beneficial to our species as a whole, those should be re-evaluated too.

07 December 2008

That is bigotry. That is Ignorance. That is Irony.

The following is an excerpt from a letter, the whole of which can be found at Pharyngula...

Addressed to Dr. P.Z. Myers from a wingnut:

"It is teachers like you that have exploded the growth of home schooling. It is professors like you that have encouraged the installation and growth of faith based and Christian Colleges. So for that, I guess I have people like you to thank. Thank God my children will have somewhere else to go. I don't want them learning the fairy tale of evolution, I want them to be free to investigate ALL available arguments. All of them. I mean, the theory of evolution is all you have? Seriously? Science isn't in the box, professor. You can't prove evolution and you can't prove creation. No one can. So why can't we talk about both? We rehash the same dead, unproven, broken theory when there are so many other questions out there to be asked, researched and experimented with? That sir, is intolerance. That is bigotry. That is ignorance."

And people ask why I am frustrated with the state of education in the world today... Can people get more brainwashed? Seriously? Read a biology book, you ignorant stain.

Lacy quoting Dawkins - nice viewpoint

Here is a highly relevant viewpoint for anyone interested in the atheist/christian debate. Well worth the listen for a short clip...

05 December 2008

So sad... so... religious

A couple of parents beat their 13 month old child to death. With a hammer. They were trying to rid it of demons. That's right, demons.

What's wrong with religion, you say? Here you go. Just one of a hundred thousand examples.


01 December 2008

Canadian government once again being assholes

As a nation proud of our rights and freedoms, a country which helps human rights around the world every year, a country which was instrumental in forming the International Labour Organization, we should at the very least be able to keep up the standards which we helped establish. Instead, we fall short. Very short.

The Canadian government has failed to live up to the established commitments of the ILO in the past, and now has lessened our right to collective bargaining still further. What are they thinking?

facts are here: http://www.labourrights.ca/fastfacts.htm
do something: http://www.labourrights.ca/getinvolved.htm

Sugata Mitra on Education

R Dawkins Interview

Man, this guy manages to say everything so well.

Things which make Less sense...

The new minister of Science and Technology in Harper's cabinet is a Chiropractor. A CHIROPRACTOR. Not even a real doctor. His summary of past experience has very little to do with medicine, and nothing to do with any other science or technology.

What I am wondering is if Harper really is as dumb as Bush, or whether the whole government is so underqualified that they couldn't find anyone better?

31 August 2008

A case for 'anti-tolerance'

So well said, I'll just link to it...
Hat tip to 'Almost Diamonds'

28 August 2008

Good programs, but still just programs

I have to say, I like what CELA has done here. Their hearts (and minds) are in the right place. CELA is the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and they have just released their newest project; "Our Toxic-Free Future: An Action Plan and Model - Toxics Use Reduction Law for Ontario"

I still can't help thinking however, that programs like this, while they are definitely moving in the right direction, still have that drop in the bucket feel to them.

23 August 2008

Very Exciting Algae

Okay, so in a slight departure from anthropology, here is something really cool. It started with humans strip-mining and eventually creating one of the most toxic environments on earth. Then, years later, we found something living there.

This, like most extremophile cases, perfectly illustrates that life does in fact, always find a way. Although I'm sure there are some jerks who will argue that a divine superbeing put life in a lifeless place, completely ignoring the adaptive processes undergone by generations of algae, I prefer to revel in the magnificence of adaptation and how we can learn from it.

The part I find especially cool is that "Some can even repair their own damaged DNA, a trait which makes them extremely interesting to cancer researchers" The tenacity of researchers "...led to the discovery of a number of promising chemicals. Three of these, berkeleydione, berkeleytrione, and Berkeley acid, came from species of the fungus Penicillium that had never been seen before, and were therefore named after the Berkeley Pit....Further tests revealed that berkeleydione helped slow the growth of a type of lung cancer cell, and Berkeley acid went after ovarian cancer cells. All five were passed along to the National Cancer Institute for further study."

Unfortunately, while this pit of human-made toxicity has caused certain algae and bacteria to flourish, likely benefiting us as well, we should not forget that human irresponsibility has also taken a high toll and will continue to do so.

"In 1995, a flock of migrating snow geese stopped at the massive pond for a rest, and at least 342 of them died there. Authorities now use firecrackers and loudspeakers to scare away migrating waterfowl, but there have been a few smaller die-offs nonetheless....the water level is rising at a rate of several inches a month, and if unchecked it will spill over into the area’s groundwater in twenty years."


17 August 2008

Addressing a few common myths about humans before the 'agricultural revolution'

1. There was in fact agriculture going on for quite some time in various parts of the world before people in Mesopotamia decided to make it a full time job. Before that, people grew gardens and cultivated naturally occurring plants, which added but a few hours to a very light workweek. Totalitarian agriculture, on the other hand, caused food production to be the single most laborious and time-consuming task humans have ever come up with.

2. "The noble savage" or other variations which I have heard, basically endows hunter gatherers (and early horticulturalists) with ideal lives, unaffected by war, conflict, or disagreement. There is no basis for this opinion! There were wars, although they were very small in scale and were intended only as a means of defining a tribe's boundaries and a show of strength, rather than as an attempt to wipe out or take over a neighboring tribe. There were conflicts, and the means of dealing with them, much as there are among modern hunter-gatherers. Laws were not needed, because each culture had means of dealing with specific problems that worked, usually through recompense or restoration rather than punishment. In short, while there are many aspects of the ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle we could stand to learn from, they were still human, and like any other animal, still had conflicts and obstacles. They also did not have access to all the wonderful things that science has brought us in the way of medicine and knowledge of our world and universe, among others.

3. They were slow/stupid/unsophisticated. I get really riled about this one. Some ancient peoples made remarkable tools with limited technology, incredibly intricate carvings, and textiles to rival the modern Italian fashion industry. They had the same brains we do, and would have had geniuses on par with Einstein, Beethoven, or Hawking. What they did not have was the 200,000 years of progressing knowledge to build upon as we do- they were the ones that started that knowledge base for us. The scientific method(In short: observe, hypothesize, test, repeat) was vital to early humans for survival. They needed to predict seasonal shifts, determine patterns and variables in animal migrations and plant growth, not to mention the extensive knowledge of animals' anatomy and behaviour neccessary to effectively hunt and use said animals. We are not the strongest, nor the fastest, nor the most agile of creatures, but we are the only ones with an ingrained desire to know what is going to happen and when!

4. They were 'closer to nature'. They were not 'closer' to nature, they were PART of nature. Humans didn't start looking at themselves as 'above' nature until we were so completely dependent on agriculture that we couldn't live without it.

I think that's all for now, but I'm sure I'll get back to the topic fairly soon.