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Just a Little Too Much

SandraGandarez's picture


In our course Non-Fictional Prose we recently read Arne Naess’, The Ecology of Wisdom. During the discussion of this text many of my classmates expressed a very frustrated view towards him because they felt like he was trying to push his ideas and philosophies on them (see Owl, Aya Seaver, veritatemdilexi, EVD). There seemed to be conflicting ideas and stances regarding interpretations of what he said and some individuals even said that it seemed like we met different Arne Naess’. Since our class consists of 18 women majoring in a variety of different topics there was some range of opinion expected but the level of this range and its extremes present took me by surprise. I personally did not find him offensive or beleaguering in his opinion and I saw great potential in his essays. One student observed that, when discussing the necessity for population reduction, Naess's ideas seemed to mirror those of the Nazis. I agree that Naess' explanation for the need to regulate the procreation of future generations has troubling implications; it raises, for starters, all sorts of questions about who will decide, and how, to limit population growth. Naess’ language was thought to be too strong and forceful but after a thoughtful examination of some excerpts I stand by my position that he is suggesting rather than forcing his thoughts on us. I was not alone in my stance on the suggestive nature of Naess during our classes discussion. These conflicting opinions of Naess are what inspired me to delve into his language and suggestions and in particular explore his idea of population control.

I did not feel pushed or smothered by Naess’ suggestions because to me they were just that, suggestions rather than something forced onto you. While I can understand many people’s outlook I have found a few quotes that highlight his flexibility that might sway their initial opinion. On page 28, “Those who accept the aforementioned points are responsible for trying to contribute directly or indirectly to the necessary changes.” So he sounds a bit forceful by saying that individuals are ‘responsible’ for completing a certain action, but if you do not agree with his previous points about diversity of life as well as environmental change then according to Naess you are not responsible for anything. His statement is aimed at individuals who feel the same as he does and even then you can help in any way you see fit, whether it is ‘directly or indirectly’. Several other examples are seen throughout his essay on Lifestyle Trends (pg 140-141), some of which include “Try to maintain and increase the sensitivity and appreciation of goods in sufficient supply for all to enjoy” and “Appreciate and choose, when possible, meaningful work rather than just making a living.” In each of those he is making suggestions as to what he personally feels is best, which is apparent in his phrasing. ‘Try to’ and ‘when possible’ are not forceful or overbearing in their intensity but more suggestive and cajoling. ‘Try to’ is seen in this list in 5 out of the 25 items, while other suggestions are something that we should do on our own and not because he suggests it; I have the statement, “Appreciate ethnic and cultural differences among people; do not view the differences as threats,” in mind.

He is not telling us “you must do this and that is the end of the discussion.” I feel his work is more exploratory and meant to raise questions and ideas about aspects of everyday life you may not think about. An idea that was brought up for me was the population control aspect in regards to being ecologically sound. I am aware that our population is spiraling out of control and we will eventually reach a plateau where we do not have sufficient food to feed them; we will eventually reach the limit of our resources. Naess sums it up beautifully on page 28, “It would be better for humans if there were fewer than them, and much better for other living creatures.” So population control is something that should be looked into by our government and has already been implemented in other countries.

China has many different facets regarding the control of their population, some of which are beneficial while others are a bit more controversial. In 1979 they implemented a law that couples could only have one child and to enforce that law they created severe and excessive fines and penalties. If a couple had more than one child they could be fined up to half of their income, be terminated from their place of employment or suffer the loss of other benefits. While the law does not seem too harsh, the penalties for not abiding it strike a chord of disbelief; these penalties have also decreased the public approval of this law, by many citizens as well as other countries. Unplanned pregnancies or those not sanctioned by the government were terminated, which is something that no government should have the power to do in my opinion. Though I must admit that I am not clear in the methods they used to enforce that. In the 80's the Chinese government started a sterilization project in which it was mandatory for individuals with two children to participate; it reached the point where 35 percent of the birth control methods were permanent forms of sterilization and abortions. Since many families preferred male children and only one child was allowed, many female children were killed upon their birth. Families in rural areas who had a female as their first child were allowed to have a second because of this. Though I seem to be highlighting the faults of this program there has also been many benefits; some which include, but are not limited to, an increase in the quality of life for the citizens, life expectancies have doubled, infant mortality rate has dropped and medical insurance now covers the cost of birth and compensation for mothers who follow the law. (Cook, J. 1999)

Vietnam has implemented a similar “Family Planning” technique but it initially suggested guidelines rather than a law, but eventually was converted to a law in 1986 with certain punishments if not followed. The guidelines they set allow for two children per couple with a minimum of five years between the two. It also requires that a mother be at least 22 years old before giving birth to her first child; this may be in response to the fact that more than half of their population is under 20 years old. They also raised the legal marrying age for women to 22 years old. The government focuses more on preventing pregnancies rather than terminating them, which allowed them to have the support of the church. If a couple did not adhere to these guidelines they were faced with possible pay cuts and negation of bonuses and promotions. A proverb that I read regarding this law was, “To have one son is to have; to have ten daughters is not to have.” That seems to be an issue commonly brought up when these regulations are put into play. Since more value is placed on males, female children are in danger of being aborted or killed once they are born. This is something that I did not read about being addressed and is a major issue that needs to be remedied and prevented. (Population)

As a concept, the population control methods are economically and ecologically sound; they would not only assure that there is no shortage of food, jobs and housing but also that we would be able to sustain ourselves well into the foreseeable future. If the population continues to grow exponentially we will eventually hit the plateau where we are incapable of feeding everyone. I think that population control methods are a course of action that should be looked into and my suggestion is that something closer to Vietnam's plan would be best. A limit of two children with the penalties for having more than two would be that you are ineligible for public assistance (WIC, food stamps, etc.). If you have more than three then something along the lines of 5 percent of your paycheck would go towards that fine; every additional child would remove an additional 5 percent. I do not think those penalties are harsh but may be constricting to individuals with strong religious conviction and do not believe in birth control. This means that the government would have to take responsibility for all birth control expenses since this is something that the population needs to abide by and is not an option. There is no real compromise that can be had between the government and religious individuals; however I am not clear on religion and its allowances so I am not an authority to speak on this. I do believe that this issue will begin to gain popularity as the population grows and the agricultural community struggles to keep up with it. I can assure that this will not be the only time that population control is mentioned in regards to our country.


Cook, Jamie. December 5, 1999. Population Control and Consequences in China.




Anne Dalke's picture

On controlling the population

Literary critics pride themselves on their skills in "close reading," and I see you (probably because of your scientific training?) putting such skills to good use in this essay; you really read Naess's prose very closely, calling our attention to his "suggestive and cajoling" language: his use of phrases like "try to" and "when possible"; his saying only that if we "accept his points" we are responsible for action; turns out, in his view, that if we do not agree w/ him, "we are not responsible for anything." That certainly frees up his readers! I very much appreciate this careful re-reading and attentiveness to the nuance of word choice and tonality.

We talked, after you wrote your last paper on constructing medical histories, about your weaving your quotations more seamlessly into your text. You've done that here (for which many thanks), and now I'd like to nudge you again stylistically, in two different directions. First, I'd like to ask you, in this essay on the tonality of Naess's prose, to consider your own tonality. To say that you "stand by your position," and that you hope to "sway the initial opinion" of others who didn't like his work, is to begin from the stance of debate and argumentation. How might you phrase your readings in more inviting, less antagonistic ways?

Secondly, your paragraphs need much clearer, much more explicit transitions (how do you get, for example, from saying that you didn't find Naess's work "offensive or beleaguering" to agreeing that some of his ideas have "troubling implications"? How do you move (more exactly, how can you help your reader-- whose brain follows different associations than your own-- make the move) from your claim that Naess's "work is exploratory," to his much stronger claim that "it would be better for humans if there were fewer of them"?

To turn now, to more substantive points: your survey of the One Child Policy in China and the Family Planning program in Vietnam are most striking, of course, in highlighting a dimension that Naess didn't touch in his work:  the gender inequities in those societies, which ave been brought to the fore by both those programs of population control.

I also appreciate your taking the risk of proposing future programs, as well as your acknowledging that such projects "may be constricting to individuals with strong religious convictions," who do not believe in birth control. What might happen to such a program in the U.S., where separation of church and state is such a guiding principle?

Since it pleases me so much to see you and your classmates taking advantage of the resources that are opened up to you by publishing your papers on the web, I want to mention also that I particularly appreciate your publishing your "afterthought" to this paper. I suspect that the "convoluted math problem" you mention, w/ regard to second marriages, is only one that will be raised by population reduction plans.  What about (for starters) the plight of single people who want to be parents?

SandraGandarez's picture

after further thought..


After I posted this I realized that I did not even address the issue of individuals who remarry. If they have two children in their first marriage can they also have two in their second? In this time when people remarry often I feel that it is also an important issue to address, but one that I do not feel capable of addressing. My first thought was that if they had two children in their first but their new spouse did not have any then they can have one with their new spouse because it is a way in which every individual has a child. The complications come from what if both individuals had 1 child in a previous marriage, then are they allotted their two together? But if both halves of the initial couple have 2 in a second marriage and the one together then they technically have three. It all seems like a convoluted math problem that I cannot see an answer to. Along with religious beliefs this would be something that has to be thought of in advance since it would undoubtedly come up if such a law was put into place.