Saturday, February 10, 2007

From The Archives

In lieu of a burst of creative thought today, I would like to re-post a piece I put on my old MSN Communities site, circa March 2002.

Be Fruitless and Don't Multiply

There is an old computer game - Sid Meier's Civilization - in which the player has to manipulate a society into a major world power starting with nothing but a few settlers. It involves the foundation of cities, the discovery of technologies, and the conquering of other nations by military, economic, and diplomatic means. I used to play it for hours at a time, much to my parents' disapproval.

A sequel, Civilization II, was produced a few years after the original, and I broke down and bought it as well, and found it to be more graphically impressive and strategically immersive. But one thing really baffled me in that sequel.

At the end of the game you score points for every improvement your society has accrued over the millenia, like money in the treasury, number of technological advances discovered, and total population. Another factor in the score, which also affected game play, was construction of Wonders of the World. Only one civilization could possess a certain Wonder, so there was usually a rush to construct them once the relevant technologies had been uncovered. The original game had things like the Pyramids (which provided grain storage, and thus faster city growth for your empire) and the Great Wall (which provided extra combat points for the defenders of your cities). A few of the standard Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were carried over into the sequel, and there were also added wonders from different ages. For example, building the Gutenberg Press increased the overall science, and thus research, output of your society, and sped discovery of new technologies. Peculiarly, however, they added Contraception as a Wonder for the Modern Age.

The video clip (really just fancy animation) which played after you discovered Contraception featured a room of babies, bundled snugly into cribs crowded one after the other for as far as the eye could see. All you could hear was a cacophony of wailing infants, and the whole scene was cast over with a glaring red light. Then the light gradually began to change to blue, and the babies and cribs in the room all began to fade away, until all that was left was one in the very middle, which cooed softly to itself, suddenly not upset anymore. A lullaby quietly chimed in the background.

Then you saw the word "Contraception" fade onto the screen, billing itself as increasing the happiness in your society by two points, thus reducing the risk of riots in your cities.

Do you see the confusion here? One of the factors determining the final score in the game is total population. And yet you get extra points for having a Wonder which (if the math model in the game had been accurately engineered) would have subtracted from your overall score.

By now you've picked up on my theme. This is not a rant against the computer game industry for inconsistent themeology. (If it was, I could also mention an action game recently released in which a lesbian couple scour through archaeological sites fighting monsters and spirits and doing other things that two women should never do. It has been hailed by reviewers as an attempt to bring the computer game industry to a new level of tolerance, when really it's just a ploy to make teenage boys, the largest demographic of computer game players, buy the game.)

In pondering how to compile this column, I began to search the internet for relevant information on contraception and soon reached information overload, most of which made me quite mad. From the slick (and somewhat greasy) presentation of a Planned Parenthood teen website, to the blasphemous rantings of a bitter ex-priest who pinned all his woes on Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, I was soon reminded that there are a lot of people who see nothing wrong with birth control.

So you'll allow me to (generally) disregard statistics and employ my favourite debating tool; Chestertonian logic.

For decades we've had it pounded into our heads that Evolution is how we came to be, and that it will dictate the further development of humanity as a species. Contraception throws a rather large wrench into the proverbial evolutionary machine. The Theory works on the basis of reproducible genetic advantages; ie, traits which, after appearing through random mutation, are deemed useful by Natural Selection and retained in the next generation of the species. It is a sort of trial and error system, where the useless, crippling, or dangerous traits are not passed on in the interest of propagation. It has taken billions of years for humanity to emerge in the form we now know. So now, after only a few thousand years of being self-aware enough to keep a recorded history (roughly one millionth of the time already elapsed in history, although certain parties insist it's closer to two millionths) Natural Selection has outgrown its usefulness, and we can determine on our own just who will be able to reproduce, thank you very much. This is, at the very least, the ultimate transgression of pride.

More recently, we're being told how the unknown monster of genetically engineered food is potentially killing people. One can hardly surf the documentary-type cable channels without clicking past some nature freak promoting organic horticulture and granola. Yet the same people who balk at a little fish in their tomato will not be heard opposing a little extra estrogen, or other less-natural chemicals, in their veins for the purpose of denying new life the opportunity to begin or grow. These new age farmers won't spray for locusts, but they have no problem tying off a tube or two to keep the pitter patter of little feet from interfering with their hand-picked harvest.

And when the baby boomer generation starts needing federal pensions and health care for their 80 year old bodies, there will be a much smaller group of people to pick up the tab with their sure-to-increase income tax. If you feel your taxes are too high and dread the slightest increase, then breed, for heaven's sake! In the interest of your own pocketbook, look at the big picture and realize that we're kinking the hose of our future by encouraging minimal offspring. You think we're seeing social spending cuts now; just you wait. Economists know that a small factor like a tenth of percentage point in one sector of the market can mean the difference between economic recession and economic growth. Well, in twenty years there will be four times as many people needing federal funding for their retirement. Meaning the governments of the day will either have to raise taxes to an unheard-of high level, or else cut their budgets like never before in the history of taxation.

Then it would seem quite illogical for a society at all interested in self-preservation to promote the use of contraception, even considering the vast amounts of "unwanted" pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases out there. But what's the solution, the socialists cry? The world can only support so many people. People can't be told not to be responsible.

I don't have a firm grasp on just how much food the dirt of the world can provide, and because it's such a vast topic, I don't think anybody else does either. But this I do know. Growing up in Saskatchewan and routinely seeing massive bins and elevators full of grain, I know that humanity can produce a heck of a lot more food than the experts give us credit for. This is but one sparsely populated, relatively dry province in a remote, infertile corner of the world, which has more grain than it can use itself and ends up exporting most of it. And there are areas of the world capable of easily lapping Saskatchewan by virtue of their climate alone. In fiscal 2000/2001, the continent of Africa exported 7,801,900 metric tons of wheat, whereas the whole Western Hemisphere accounted for much less at 5,305,500 metric tons exported (Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agriculture Service). That's a lot of food produced by a continent rife with civil wars and oppressive dictatorships in which free markets are a luxury known to only a handful of countries. Don't tell me we can't afford to feed the extra babies if people have them; economies are wonderfully adaptive things, and they will find ways to get food to hungry people, especially if they are born in the wealthy West.

The ultimate problem with birth control, however, is that its usage is promoted to people who by their very actions display a lack of self control. Telling somebody who won't keep it zipped to unzip responsibly is like telling somebody who won't refrain from doing drugs to do drugs responsibly.

The sad thing is, we do that too. Will this world ever make sense?

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