Page 4, 14th May 1954

14th May 1954
Page 4

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Editor of the 'Catholic Medical Guardian' Birth-rates cannot be turned on and off like a tap within the 'framework of a Five Year Plan VAGUE rumours of disaster impress us more deeply than wellfounded promises of prosperity. The particular and slight risk of our contracting some fatal disease seems much more significant than the general, but very real, prospect of our continuing to enjoy good health.

So it is that most of us are more acutely aware of the opinion that the world is—or soon will be-over-populated in terms of its natural resources than we are of the belief that those resources are still capable of very extensive development.

The size of the population of the world is all too often spoken of as if there were some absolute figure beyond which it may in all circumstances be described as excessive. In fact, the concept of population density is a relative one; it is a concept that can have a meaning only when it is related to the natural resources at our disposal.

Helpful impatience

FVEN the most unrealistic approach to this question will serve a useful purpose if, as often happens, it stimulates others to examine the problem from a new point of view.

Those who imagined that the answer to over-population was merely a question of family limitation did mankind a serviee by being so impatient with those who thought otherwise. Their analysis of the situation was too simple to be true; inevitably it produced a reaction and in more recent times invaluable research has been directed towards increasing the natural resources at man's disposal.

This is, of course, the direction in which the solution to population problems in general will be found because it is man's natural destiny to increase and multiply. Propaganda intended to persuade him to forswear this destiny will never in the long run succeed— and would be highly dangerous if it did—while all positive measures aimed at preventing him from fulfilling it must to some extent involve a violation of natural rights.

No world problem

IN The Limits of the

Earth* Mr. Osborn is concerned with setting the population question in its social, political and economic context. It is, he points out, quite inaccurate to speak of a "world population problem" at all if, as is so often the case, that phrase is used in such a way as to imply that there is a single, welldefined population problem applicable to the world as a whole and therefore that there is a single, well-defined and easily applied solution to the problem.

The fact is that there are a series of quite distinct local problems much more closely associated with the spiritual, social, political and economic circumstances peculiar to a particular country than is ever acknowledged by those who put forward the concept of a "world population problem."

It is one thing to argue that the problems of a country like India are of interest and concern to the whole world; it is, however, quite another thing to assume that India's future well-being will best be served by thrusting upon her solutions to her problems that are mere makeshifts: adopting any expedient for the sake of doing something. National needs and aspirations are a matter of fact and on this, as on all other issues, there is no excuse for ignoring them.

Death rates

HAVING deprecated the uncritical use to which the phrase "world population problem" is put, Mr. Osborne goes on to indicate how great a variety of local population problems are to be found in the various parts of the world with which he deals. In doing so he shows how far from the truth are many commonly accepted ideas on population densities and standards of living.

It is, for example, widely assumed that India's problems are simply the result of the growth in the size of her population. But, Mr. Osborne points out, over the past century and a half the rate of increase in the population of Europe has been proportionately far higher than that experienced in India and many other parts of the East; yet how different in the main are their respective standards of living.

A hundred and fifty years is, it is true, a very long time and the long view in relation to population questions is out of fashion today. We are more accustomed to reading estimates of how many babies are being born in a minute. Useful as such calculations are for reproducing complex statistical data in an easily understood form they bear very little relationship with reality, for changes in the size of a population—in either direction—are the outcome not of hours but of a long period of years.

So deeply are we affected by the outlook of our age that invariably when changes in population pressure are mentioned we think of birth-rates. It must be remembered, however, that we live in an of great progress in medical science and that as a result of this the lowering of death-rates has in many cases as significant an influence on population size as any increase in birth-rates. era

Age composition

Pr HIS is an important point -a because size is not all that matters; the composition of a population—the relative proportions of young and old—is in the long run quite as worthy of attention.

In the under-developed countries of the East it is only in recent years that the effect of medical progress on the death-rate has been felt—in relation to cholera and malaria, for example. Yet the question of relieving the resultant population pressure in these parts of the world has almost invariably been tackled in terms of birth prevention—or as it is more commonly called, family planning.

In the West, where the results of medical progress were experienced much sooner, a decline in the death-rate has coincided with the widespread adoption of contraception. The net result has been an astonishingly rapid and marked shift in the age composition of the population.

Pure humbug

3IR. OSBORN quotes the Five-Year Plan (1951) of the Indian National Planning Commission advocating the introduction of instruction in family planning.

The Commission may have made this recommendation as a crisis measure and perhaps they did not intend it as a long-term solution. If that is the case they deceived themselves, or at any rate ran the risk of deceiving others, for the widespread use of contra ceptive methods which they advo cated must depend on the inculcation of a climate of opinion favourable to birth prevention. It would be difficult, if not impossible, on the scale the Cornmission intended, to have one without the other. What the Commission undertook, therefore, was not so much the establishment of birth control clinics as the creation of an attitude of mind favourably disposed towards childlessness.

It may be argued that what was wanted was not childlessness but the limitation of children to the figure per family which scientists have calculated is "desirable," but this distinction is unlikely to cut much ice in the face of the traditional belief that children as such are the gift of God. Who are we, after all, to pick and choose among God's gifts?

Certainly whatever beliefs influence the average married couple in India or anywhere else. it is pure humbug to claim that they base their decision to have—or not to have—another child on current population trends. Someone is trying to pull the wool over our eyes 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111lInalle IllIllIltIlIl Blackfriars Bridge Pulpit

TN the grand tradition of

1Catholic hospitality, the Guild of Ransom invites to dinner, after the annual general meeting, a number of guests, clerical and lay, to meet the Master and council of the guild. This is not only a Christian gesture of courtesy and affection but also an opportunity for fostering the friendship and understanding within which a great Catholic work can develop and attain to great results. As a result of it, I feel inclined to give all possible publicity to the work of the guild, and I am sure that far more emine,nt and important guests feel exactly the same way.

And the first thing I want to do is to back up the lead given by Canon Fitzgerald at the A.G.M. itself. Reminding us that, as a true Irishman, his loyalty was given to "the Popes in succession to St. Patrick," he then proceeded to underline the great importance of the Church in England looking English—and what country had an easier task in this when the whole country was still covered with the monuments and shrines of the true Faith which so many Englishmen today say can never suit our temperament? Sitting at the dinner next to the Dominican Provincial, Fr. Hilary Carpenter. I was given an excellent example of what the Canon meant. Fr. Hilary was telling me of a lecture he gaveon a Thames steamer. Approaching Blackfriars Bridge. he illustrated the "black" by donning the black cloak which marks the Dominicans. But the last word was with a member of the crew who was listening and watching fascinated, and then said : "I knew all about this, because Blackfriars Bridge still carries the marks of the Preaching Friars. Look. it is flanked by pulpits." And, indeed, the architect has made little embrasures on either side exactly the shape of a pulpit.

I can now see the guild hiring a number of boats and getting a Dominican to preach to the passengers from a Blackfriars The 'Dead See' I ARRIVED at the meeting in Westminster Cathedral Hall a little late and consequently had to sit in the back row. I do not think I am at all deaf. but I could only clearly hear Canon Fitzgerald and Fr. Meyies reading the report which, anyway, was in everyone's hands. It

if we are being asked to believe that birth-rates can be turned on and off like a tap within the framework of a Five-Year Plan.

Food production

0N the other side of the

agenda — still largely awaiting attention—is the problem of raising food production. It is not only great errors that have small beginnings but great achievements also. Mr. Osborn mentions many apparently unimportant factors whose influence may in fact be very great. He refers, for example, to the lack of fuel in many parts of the East and the practice of burning dried dung instead, as a result of which an important organic fertiliser is lost to the soil. He also mentions that when a man dies his land is divided up among his heirs; as a result, smallholdings go on being divided and sub-divided with a great loss of productive capacity; at the same time vast areas of India lie untitled.

He deals also with food production in comparatively well-developed parts of the world: in Europe, where agricultural productivity has not greatly changed since the 1920s; in Australia with an area equal to that of the United States and a population little larger than that of New York, where the spread of industrialisation—officially encouraged—has been allowed to supercede agriculture; in South Africa, where there is no lack of technical knowledge or equipment but where productivity is hampered by restrictive social conditions which a subservient Government is loth to alter.

These are but a few of the hundreds of considerations to be found in books like Mr. Osborn's which make nonsense of the contention that all other means of removing the disparity between population growth and food production have been tried and family planning alone remains.


cRANTED that there is a

am level beyond which food supplies become too low to maintain life; granted also that that level has been reached in certain parts of the East and that disaster has followed, has it ever been established that a famine was the result of numbers alone? Were the 2,000,000 people who died in the Bengal famine of 1943 the victims of over-population or were they not the victims of a situation which was not remedied because the world was at that time too busy with other things?

Do civilisations perish merely from material want or is it not decadence at a more spiritual level that proves their undoing?

Mr. Osborn quotes the example of the decline of the Roman Empire and says that, coincidence or not, it is a fact that all the while that the Empire was breaking up, family life was decaying also. The land as a physical asset was depleted and family life as a moral asset was thrown away.

It will be remembered that G. K. Chesterton also drew a

parallel between the land and the family and pointed out that in both only an abundant harvest could be regarded as a safe harvest.

Cautiousness is all very well in its place but cautiousness that is merely an excuse for shirking responsibilities will attract an appropriately niggardly reward.

*THE LIMITS OF THE EARTH by Fairfield Osborn (Faber & Faber, 12s. 6d.).

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