Over at Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet Stemwedel has written a fabulously complex post about ethics and population, which I highly recommend for your reading pleasure and contemplation. It was inspired by a post by Martin on the ethics of overpopulation, in which he offered a grand and simple three-point manifesto:
- 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 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 and adoption instead.
The juxtaposition of Martin’s simple three-point proposition with Janet’s long and complex disquisition on the exact same topic left me with an ironic smile, for I had just a few moments ago finished reading a quote by Germaine Greer in the December 12, 2008 issue of the Chronicle Review, in a round-up of comments about Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success.
Every week, either by snail mail or e-mail, I get a book that explains everything. Without exception, they are all written by men. Occasionally one of the male authors claims to be female, but it’s a vain ploy. His maleness resounds from every monomaniacal sentence. There is no answer to everything, and only a deluded male would spend his life trying to find it. The most deluded think they have actually found it. …
Brandishing the “big idea” is a bookish version of male display, and as such a product of the same mind-set as that behind the manuscripts that litter my desk. To explain is in some sense to control. Proselytizing has always been a male preserve. …
I would hope that fewer women have so far featured in the big-ideas landscape because, by and large, they are more interested in understanding than explaining, in describing rather than accounting for. Giving credence to a big idea is a way of permitting ourselves to skirt strenuous engagement with the enigma that is our life. (The Guardian)**
I like Martin, as a Scibling and blogger, and don’t think of him as a deluded male – on the contrary I find him to be generally progressive and open-minded. But I couldn’t help being amused by this apparent bloggish illustration of Martin explaining how we should go about tackling overpopulation whilst Janet struggles to understand the complexities of any proposed solutions.
Just to be clear: I am no proponent of essentialism and do not mean to imply that there is something innate in men that drives them to propose big ideas rather than grapple with understanding complexities. I don’t doubt, however, that on average men are more likely to be encouraged towards the proposing of grand schemes and ideas whereas women are more likely to be encouraged towards attention to all the nagging little details of life that make those grand schemes a bit troublesome in the actual working out.
Reminds me of when Dad came home and announced that we were going camping! for vacation! and it would be FUN! And then mom figured out how to cope with caring for six kids in a tent for a week (one of whom was still being potty-trained), cooking meals on a Coleman stove, and trying to keep meat and milk and eggs fresh in a cooler like this. Heh. Good times, good times. Amazingly enough, my mother remembers those trips as fondly as the rest of us do.
**(The Chronicle does not give a link to the original article and I was unable to find it online, so if anybody does know where it is, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know in the comments.)