Unnatural thoughts

When our latest baby began to lose plumpness and to develop the scrawny neck of childhood, even I felt broody. And I suspect that, if health questions had not intervened, our five children would rapidly have turned into 10. This feeling of special care for the very young may not be universal but it is certainly spread widely through the human race.

The instinctive emotion extends beyond our own young and can be strongly focused on pets and other young animals, particularly if they are blessed with large eyes and the vulnerable appearance which reminds us of our own young.

Evolution is at work here. The instinct of caring for young is necessary for the human race to survive, just as it is for many species of animal. But, as an emotional instinct, reason is not involved. And valuable though it is, the discovery that care for our young is also a moral obligation is a different process involving reason and moral judgment. The instinct is nature’s fallback to support or replace our rational choice of necessary action.

The problems can arise when we allow our emotions to overcome our rational judgment. I fear that we are very good at this.The outstanding example of our time arose when ultrasound scans of babies at the foetal stage began to be published, and used as part of the abortion debate. Not unexpectedly the proponents of abortion cried, “foul”! This was an unfair use of emotion to manipulate the putative mother’s choices.

But it had been an emotional question throughout. The very invisibility of the baby had formerly checked the incipient maternal feeling, allowing other issues such as the problems of unmarried motherhood or the size of the family to remain in command. This was perhaps most extreme when babies who were viable could be aborted up to the moment before birth for a relatively minor imperfection.

I have often wondered how a population of really quite good and intelligent people can sit back, sometimes with a regretful sigh, and permit a slaughter which under other circumstances would be ruled as perhaps the most massive crime against humanity which the world has ever seen. And of course the answer lies in allowing emotion to trump reason – enabling us to do evil and yet to feel good about it.

There are plenty of other examples. For instance, the much-married celebrity who in fact is as much hooked by the sensation of “being in love” as any other drug taker, and who can cause as much damage. Or that splendid feeling of righteousness at the doings of tabloid telephone hackers or MPs who fiddle their claims. If only people were as scrupulous with their own consciences as they are with others the world would be a much better place. Perhaps I should refer to “us” rather than “people”, for few of us would survive a sincere examination of conscience.

I am not attacking emotions. To begin with, we would scarcely be moved to accomplish anything without the boost of emotion. We are not cold-blooded machines. And, since they are products of evolution, emotions are very good at indicating what is good and what is harmful. It is only when they get separated from the moderation of reason that they are dangerous. And we live in a world where this danger is welcomed with open arms.

In this context I want to recommend a new book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl (Perseus Books £16). It is a truly frightening exploration of to what extent many countries, legally or illegally, go in for selecting boy babies over girls. Once this was done by infanticide; this was succeeded by amniocentesis prior to abortion, and nowadays – and in huge numbers – by ultrasound scan followed by abortion. To give you one figure, there are more females missing though abortion in Asia than the entire female population of the United States.

The consequences of this man-manoeuvred plague are potentially disastrous. Far from putting women on a pedestal it will, as always happens, put them into social slavery. And the streets of the world will be ridden by surplus males full of unused testosterone, looking to escape drought in a world of climate change. I, however, shall be dead, but my grandchildren won’t.

And lest we should feel that western countries are innocent, we may remember that much of this has been financed in the past by the West as part of a policy of population control. Thus the contraception and abortion campaign financed by the Americans in post-war Japan has had appalling consequences in terms of age balance in the population. Ironically, wealthy women in the US are able to dodge abortion by selecting the embryo with only the desired characteristics for implantation. They, however, opt for girls.

Eugenics is an unfashionable notion now. Its modern history starts with the Darwinian survival of the fittest and, by the beginning of the 20th century, much respectable opinion championed the approach of improving human stock through its means. The Americans were enthusiastic, and about 60,000 unsatisfactory people were forcibly sterilised up to 1981. The Germans, however, took it a mite too far.

But eugenics by any other name will smell as rank. And the threat is even greater as we learn new methods of engineering the human race. In fact the true lesson of Darwinism is that, on the whole, nature is the best regulator of human breeding. We should be wary indeed when we propose to modify it. Here be dragons!


About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Unnatural thoughts

  1. st.joseph says:

    I have heard it said ‘that if females had glass tummys they would never have an abortion”.

  2. Vincent says:

    A point which I take from this is the ease with which we are able to justify what we want. And nowadays we are inclined to claim the following of conscience as the main authority. But if men and communities have been wrong so often over the ages, ought we not be much more wary of our own decisions than appears to be the case – even on this blog occasionally?

  3. mike Horsnall says:

    On this blog quite often actually!

    There is a conceit in all this and it is to believe that our rationality is based in objectivity when in fact it is not. In the main individual rationality IS emotion, albeit refined along a specific line. In this society where we prize what we call a ‘civilised’ approach often a persons first line of attack is a form of behaviour which constitutes an appeal to ‘rationality’… in fact this appeal represents the first thrust of the rapier and represents cold venom. Personally I have a great distrust of ‘rationality’ Self control I can understand and ‘being reasonable’ is something we all aspire to but rationality by and large is the joker in the pack which leads us out to guard dogs and Gulags.

  4. Bob says:

    Mike, I think you’ve identified the meat of the matter. Surely the real question in relation to rationality is: are we analysing the issue in terms of objectivity, subjectivity or a mixture of both ? For example, I chose to run in my spare time. I think that this is a rational thing to do. It keeps my weight under control and reduces my stress levels. However, it is also, on occasions, a profoundly exhausting and occasionally painful experience. Therefore, you might think that my decision to run on Sunday mornings when I could be lying in bed is irrational. No absolute measure is available. My rationality is different to yours. It is possible to conceive of an objective or universally acceptable rationality which might be defined as an approach which reflects prevalent moral mores.

  5. Iona says:

    Milke – you mean, we pick and choose among possible “reasons” until we find one that justifies what we actually want to do?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Yes, in a nutshell that is what we do. Perhaps more often we have a visceral conviction of what is ‘right’ This conviction is not rational in the sense that it arises not from consciously assessed criteria but from somewhere deeper and more obscure. We then set about convincing others. Bob chooses fairly innocuous examples in his post on the relativity of rationalism. A more telling example was shown recently on TV where a Jewish lawyer called Hitler to give account of brownshirt excesses. Hitler overuled the lawyer by the simple application of a kind of brutish rationalism that struck a deep chord in the hearts of those present- with the result that Hitler went free and the lawyer went to Dachau.
      Going back to Vincents caveat about our own strongly held views on this blog it seems equally clear that most of us hold views we feel to be rational but which are often entirely conflicting; I guess I believe that most so called ‘rational’ thought is an expression of a will to power. Probably we need a clear definition of what we mean by ‘rational’ To me this means the appeal to ‘objective’ criteria and the potential to weigh issues.

      • st.joseph says:

        What comes to mind is the case of Terry Schiavvo, a Florida women who suffered a brain damage,was being denied food and water on the basis of a court order.
        Her husband Michael Schiavo, had been fighting for years to have the courts declare his wife to be in a “persistant” vegetative state and be allowed to die.
        But Terri’s perents fought their son-in-law every step of the way. The parents maintained that she could be taught to eat and drink on her own. She still had the ability to digest food
        It was later revealed that before “Terri’s Law” was passed the Woodside Hospice where Terri was being treated refused to allow religious objects in Terri’s room and staff threw out all religious objects that had been previousley left by her parents.
        It was a very sad story and thousands of pro-lifers from around the country supporting her .
        In the end her husband won his case
        I often wonder how much right does a husband have over a parent, there were even doubts

        about her injuries!

  6. claret says:

    Is it rational to draw parallels between going for a jog on a Sunday morning with the killing of millions of unborn children ?

    • Rahner says:

      No, but there are certain kinds of pro-lifers who seem incapable of finishing any sentence without using the words “abortion” or “euthanasia”……

      Off topic, The new Mass translation – So good to see that there is an alternative to the awful Confiteor and that you can use the doctrine-lite Apostles’ Creed. I guess this is all part of the great Benedictine reform??

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Strangely enough yes- when you consider that each of the many slaughterings Quentin refers to in that 3rd world infant pogrom was carried out on the basis one presumes of individual decisions made to what was a perceived good?

    • Bob says:

      No. With respect that is not what I was seeking to do. The mere suggestion is offensive. I was merely trying to fix the boundaries of the debate with a pretty basic example. I think Mike used the word ‘innocuous’. Perhaps I should gracefully retire from a discussion board which is so keen to condemn another’s first contribution with fiery emotive rhetoric. Over and out.

      • tim says:

        I’m sorry we’ve apparently lost Bob. Have we also lost the post that distressed him?

      • tim says:

        It seems I can’t reply to my own comment – so this may precede it. I have now identified the comment that seems to have upset Bob. Perhaps it was a little strong, but it’s a pity that he should have taken it so badly. His justification of his original post seems perfectly reasonable to me, and I think it’s sad that he shouldn’t have felt confident that other readers would take his side. The lessons may be that we need to be careful of how we post, and equally not to be too sensitive to actual or implied criticism. (I greatly regret the departure of Camilla Gorilla, whose own style was robust, but after a rebuke from Quentin has never posted again).

  7. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, one of your best articles. I can’t comment on it as I can’t find anything in it with which I might disagree and I couldn’t myself write anything of this quality and perception. Please keep up the standard (I’m sure you will!)

  8. Quentin says:

    Thank you, John N. That’s a great encouragement.

    I’d like to comment on Mike’s remark, “Probably we need a clear definition of what we mean by ‘rational’ To me this means the appeal to ‘objective’ criteria and the potential to weigh issues.”

    I am sure that this is a good starting point, but we need to explore the different weights we bring to bear in the weighing of issues. For instance I have a friend who is a retired policeman, and a man of considerable intelligence. His natural philosophical stance is well left of centre. So he brings to social problems a series of assumptions with which I would disagree. I assume that our past experiences, family influences etc affect our priorities. We arrive at different opinions using rational inferences. But our assumptions and what we have experienced will be largely unconscious, and so one link in the chain leading to our conclusion is at least arational — and our inferences can never be stronger than the weakest link in our chain.

    • mike Horsnall says:


      I think this is the point about behaviour deemed rational and the faculty of rationality.

      Rationality functions best as a shared and deliberative attribute because in the mutuality of consideration individual differences can be ironed out or at least examined and balanced.

      The flip side of this is that if an idea or course of action seems rational or reasonable it may be acted upon to large effect, all well and good if the proposal springs from disinterested motive-not so good if it be personal, parochial or partisan in nature. Mao’s China was responsible for the emphasis on population growth which led to the murderous one child policy. Mao himself was highly promiscuous and anti family in his disposition and prediliction and his cheerful philandering and lack of fidelity was eagerly emulated by his cadres. This is precisely why ‘rationality’ as well as being an asset, presents such a danger. Communism I would think and the practices of its Governments are the best example in recent times religions too are susceptible and Capitalist thinking is fully capable of producing horror.

      On the topic of mass slaughter being carried out cheerfully before ones eyes I think it is a mixture of the pseudo rationalism that can grip first a peoples rulers and then the people-coupled with a government willing to use force.During the five years I spent working in Chinese hospitals after Tiannmen Square it was clear that the view on abortion by decree was in part despised and in part tolerated as a needful policy -but the doctors and nurses I spoke with who were in the units carrying out the proceedures were usually in no doubt as to the true and hideous nature of what they were being required to do…they were also aware of the consequences of refusal to do their jobs.

  9. Vincent says:

    This discussion on rationality is in itself very interesting. But, beyond that, I have a greater concern. Is Quentin (and/or Hvistendahl) scare-mongering, or are we facing a real crisis? I put that deliberately in the present tense because the demographic consequences of the future are often set by what is happening decades before. We can already make a quite confident guess about the sex ratios in various countries as their present youth populations mature.

  10. Quentin says:

    Vincent is right. I did a calculation in my column “The Human Race Disappears” (put barmy in the search box) which showed that, at the current rate of births in Europe, the population would almost disappear in 15 generations. But that was optimistic because it assumed that male and female birth would be about equal. But it is the number of females which dictates size of population. Thus if the number of females born is artificially reduced the decline in population size will automatically steepen.

    Some may find decline in population welcome but in economic terms it means a continuous state of recession. If anyone here believes in reincarnation they had better choose the time of their return carefully.

  11. mike Horsnall says:

    I would guess the truth is difficult to arrive at particularly in the third world where demographic recodring is probably less than rigourously adhered to. I keep an eye on China because I lived there and from what I read and am told the one child policy is now being subverted in all kinds of ways with fines being levied on two child families as a kind of taxation policy along with some relaxation of what was a viciously applied policy of infanticide towards the peasant populations.

  12. Gerry says:

    ‘In fact the true lesson of Darwinism is that, on the whole, nature is the best regulator of human breeding. We should be wary indeed when we propose to modify it. Here be dragons!’ Well, that needs thinking about!

    Nature used to regulate human breeding by disease, famine, and war, with a good deal of infanticide thrown in. Quentin has a job on his hands if he is really going to attempt to persuade people to go back to nature. I must have misunderstood him.

    The catch with leaving the regulation of human breeding to nature is that over the last 60 years we have already interfered with nature on a gigantic scale. When it was left to nature the best guess I can find for Africa, for instance, is that roughly 45 per thousand died annually and roughly 45 per thouand were born. Then western medical expertise and other “improvements” arrived and the death rate in sub-Saharan Africa fell from 45 per thousand in pre-modern times to 27 per thousand in 1950 and then to 12 per thousand in 2010. Meanwhile the birth rate in sub-Saharan Africa changed from 45 per thousand in pre-modern times to 47 per thousand in 1950, to 38 per thousand in 2010.

    To put it another way: With nature, sub-Saharan Africa kept going happily (?) with a ratio of births to deaths of 45/45. Then strangers arrived and their ideas about better sanitation and other matters, changed that ratio so that by 1950 the ratio of births to deaths was 47/27. After that came artificial death control by means of huge immunisation programmes and the like, so that by 2010 the ratio was 38/12.

    The resulting population explosion is already causing horrendous misery in Africa, and this will go on increasing until someone has the sense to see that if death rates fall and birth rates remain high we will go back to the age old natural methods of death control – namely war, famine, and disease – with a good deal of infanticide by distraught families thrown in. Here be dragons all right!

    Infanticide: In some societies anthropologists suggest a figure for infanticide of around 15% to 50%, and it does seem that girl babies nearly always come off worse. I’m reading Pearl Buck’s biography at present. As a child in China just over a century ago, she wandered around the cemetery near her home and found the bodies of babies. They were nearly always girls. She did her best to bury them and chase away the dogs looking for a meal.

    The Abrahamic faiths condemn infanticide so in their regions the rate will be low, but in China and Japan, if there was no population control it is reasonable to presume that selective infanticide would account for as many “lost” females as selective abortion does today. Darwin, I understand, though I cannot find the reference, believed that infanticide “especially of female infants” was the most important restraint on the proliferation of early man. By all accounts infanticide has been prevalent in almost all societies for millenia. Whether selective abortion is more damaging and more immoral than selective infanticed is a question. In modern society, infanticide or abortion so as to select the preferred sex seems to me to be inexcusable.

  13. Quentin says:

    Gerry, I don’t think we are at odds here, except in matters of detail. ”Here be dragons” is not a prohibition but a warning of danger. I have already pointed out elsewhere that human beings evolved their high fertility to compensate for the early mortality of their children. And that the great reduction in this mortality (in developed countries) means that we have to control this fertility so that population growth is reasonable.

    The danger here is that we encourage a situation in which the population is not reproducing itself and so decreasing. Mathematically, this means that we go through a long period when the population ages – causing the problems we already envision with regard to financial care of the old. Eventually this disproportion of the old works its way through, and population starts a net decline.

    If we add into this the possible capacity to tailor the genes of the conceptus, we encounter the problem of an imbalance of characteristics which are seen as desirable – instead of the broad and balanced spread which evolutions has provided. We know, as my column implies, that people follow their own interests in the matter of sex selection, via abortion, thus causing a damaging imbalance. I suggest that we must all agree that the danger of getting this wrong over the next century demands that we think very wisely and very carefully about what will, and will not, help society to flourish.

    (I leave aside here the moral question of what is properly under our control in this matter of procreation [that is our part in the creation of beings intended by God to love him forever] and the means through which this is achieved.)

  14. st.joseph says:

    In 2002 I read in the Catholic World Report that the Government in Taiwan had drafted a plan to counter population shrinkage.By awarding couples who give birth to more than 2 children I cant remember how much it was but it was a large amount- and the plan would also provide so much a month equal to one months minimum wage-to any working mother with more than 3 children.Other tax incentives to encourage child bearing were also under consideration. Statistics indicated that the birth rate had declined to understainable levels-from 6 children per woman in the 1950s to 1.6 children per women in 2001.At that time I couldn,t see any problem with over population. I wonder what the statistics are now.

    • Quentin says:

      This provides a very good example of how difficult it is for government action to change population rates. The estimated figure for 2011 in Taiwan is 1.15 (CIA Fact Book).

  15. Gerry says:

    Quentin, How far apart? I’m not too sure. My guess: very far! I’m as circumspect as possible when writing to Secondsight! I believe the world needs a much smaller population if we human beings are not going to destroy our homeland. I doubt that many Catholics believe that.

    I see you use CIA figures. They are quite as good as the United Nations, but so many Catholics disapprove of the CIA that I seldom use their figures. I may have sent it before, and apologies if I have, but the CIA World Factbook 2011 puts first on its list of the long-standing challenges that the world faces, ‘the addition of 80 million people each year to an already overcrowded globe…which is… exacerbating the problems of underemployment, pollution, waste-disposal, epidemics, water-shortages, famine, over-fishing of oceans, deforestation, desertification, and depletion of non-renewable resources’.

    By the way, according to the United Nations medium variant, the populations of both the UK and Western Europe – already to my way of thinking seriously overcrowded – are going to increase for the foreseeable future. Of course, Eastern Europe with its high abortion rate is quite different. It reached it peak population in 1990 and the population has been falling since then, and the UN estimates that the fall will continue for the foreseeable future. For years, Cuba, Vietnam, and – if I remember aright – Romania used to have the highest abortion rates, but today I see the highest rates are in Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Cuba, with Sweden, fifth, a long way back.

    (The reason why Cuba has trundled along reasonably well despite their hopeless economic system is that for decades they have had much the lowest fertility rate in Latin America: at present the Cuban rate is around 1.5. The UK rate is around 1.8 and rising.)

    • Quentin says:

      Gerry, we can I am sure agree that we want a world which is able to sustain a population which can be broadly prosperous, and poverty minimised. There are two sides to that equation: numbers of people and extent (and distribution) of resources.

      Until the last couple of generations the Malthusian threat has been largely avoided by the increase in prosperity. That there are still large impoverished areas is primarily due to man’s often culpable mismanagement, resulting from greed and lust for power.

      Today, the other side of the equation has come into play. One feature is our greater capacity to prolong life, but also our capacity to reduce our breeding level either through contraception, both natural and artificial, and widespread abortion. But this side of the equation is very difficult to control without draconian policies interfering with people’s freedom. The danger lies in the possibility that individual choice may not, when seen collectively, benefit the common good.

      If you can think of a reliable way to achieve the right outcome without an aging and eventually declining population, you are a cleverer man than me.

  16. Horace says:

    All this seems to be a splendid example of Merton’s “Law of unintended consequences”!

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    Whats that Horace and which Merton was it?

  18. Horace says:

    The substance of what has become known as the Law of unintended consequences is :- ” actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended”. It is most frequently quoted by economists!
    I think that it derives from a 1936 article by the American sociologist Robert K. Merton “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”. (American Sociological Review 1 (6): 895)

  19. Gerry says:

    Quentin, I think the gap is unbridgeable, but I’m not absolutely sure. I agree with your first paragraph. The other three paragraphs show the gap:
    The increase in prosperity across the developed world would not have been anything like so great without the spread of contraception, or “vice” as Malthus would have called it. (Norman Borlaug said of the green revolution that “the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral .” The same can be said of prosperity.) By 1950, the fertility rate in Europe had fallen to 2.6 with much the same figure for all developed nations. We were all set for prosperity. In Africa in 1950 the fertility rate was 6.6 with much the same rate for other developing countries. They were all set for poverty. At least since 1950, man’s mismanagement, greed and lust for power has been a minor cause of poverty compared to the effect of the huge population increase in developing countries. Our failure to persuade Africans and others that they needed the same population control that we had ourselves was a tragedy, and I’m afraid we Catholics had a hand in this failure.
    Population control can be managed without draconian measures as we can see in Europe and most developed countries. Iran is the most recent example of successful population control. The fertility rate there has fallen from 6.5 in 1980-85 to 1.7 in 2005-2010. Education in schools, and clinics in every village did the trick. Abortion is restricted.
    In developed countries, if we avoid famine, disease, and war, and other unknown catastrophes, we are going to have an aging population, and I hope we will have a declining population, so as to help prevent the troubles described in World Factbook. Unfortunately, there is no sign of this decline yet: quite the opposite. Of course, we will have to lead much simpler lives, and work until a greater age. Eric Hobsbawm’s Golden Age is going to be less golden. I suspect they will manage this fairly sensibly in the Americas and in the Far East. In our third of the world – Africa, the Greater Middle East, and Europe – I suspect difficulties will arise as – by 2050 – about 600 million Europeans (excluding Russia) who are mainly elderly, and mostly prosperous, interact with 2,400-3000 million mainly young, mostly very poor Africans and Middle Easterners. It will be quite a drama.

  20. Quentin says:

    Gerry, I don’t doubt your figures but they do not address the points I am making.

    Overpopulation is not a matter of choosing a maximum figure in the abstract but choosing a maximum figure for which there are, or will be (in good time) sufficient resources. In essence the claim of Malthusianism is that resources are finite, and increase arithmetically while population growth is potentially infinite and increases geometrically. It is a simple mathematical truism. In the past we have battled its dangers by increasing resources: in the present we add to this reduction of the breeding rate.

    It is also a simple truism that if the total fertility rate (tfr) is less than 2.1 there will be a decrease in the younger (initially newborn) population and the ratio of the old to the young will change. If, for ease of calculation, we call the replacement tfr 2, and the actual tfr 1.5 (which is approximately correct for Europe) then each successive generation will be 75% of the previous one. This means first that the population will have a rising median age – putting an increasing burden on the young and, when this has evened out, the overall population will continue to decrease. This is straightforward Malthusianism mathematics in reverse – the compounding has turned into discounting.

    What the recent past has indicated is that when contraceptive and abortive means of controlling population are easily and cheaply available people tend to use them. And the effect of rising prosperity in developing areas is to stimulate conceptive control, partly because people realise the material advantages of small families and partly because they have a better opportunity to fund their old age and so reduce their dependence on the young.
    I am suggesting that this is hard to control, and indeed our newspapers are already full of the problems of fewer taxpayers supporting more OAPs. It is ironic that, in my professional life, I forecast this outcome about 20 years ago. I did not have prophetic powers; I just looked at the figures. What is a local problem for developed countries will become a worldwide problem eventually for developing countries.

    Now, if you can show me that my reasoning is wrong no one will be more relieved than me.

  21. mike Horsnall says:

    No ones reasoning here seems particularly wrong-rational beings that we are- but little of it takes into account the fact that attitudes to population growth can change quite quickly. China went through radical switches in opinion during a 30 year period. Also what about the rise in population here in Britain where more than 15%of hospital births now go to persons not of British origin?.Surely,until restricted, there must be fairly large scale shifts in demographics as people cross the lands searching work and opportunity-the young being prepared to travel more easily. It seems to me that assimilation times and notions of citizenship also have effect on the futures of nations. Also productivity levels shift and disease patterns fluctuate…we do not know what lies ahead although we can be certain that the future involes war,famine and plague together with the opportunity to care for our neighbours wherever they are.

  22. Gerry says:

    Quentin, I think if we kept these letters going for ten years we would be getting somewhere!
    If it wasn’t for some complexities, I’m sure your calculations will be correct. Mike mentions the main complexity in the UK – immigrants arriving and bringing their own fertility rates with them, at least for a time. For the reason that Mike notes, it is best to look at the figures for Japan where they do not have much immigration.

    Japan’s tfr finally settled below 2.1 in 1975-1980, reaching a low of 1.3 in 2000-2005. Because of the momentum of the high numbers of females born before 1975-1980 the population is only just beginning to decline this year – the estimated 2015 figure being the first to show a fall. The Japanese – being a brainy lot – have been worrying about this for decades and seem to be taking action – the tfr is expected to rise for the rest of this century. (The United Nations high variant estimates it will be above 2.1 by 2025-2030 and that the population will start increasing again by 2055.) Japan’s troubles due to a low fertility rate may be great – whose going to look after the old folk? – but they are as nothing compared to the troubles due to a high fertility rate that we already see in Africa and the Greater Middle East

    If it were not for immigration– I understand that in the UK 21% of babies have mothers who were born over seas – if, in fact, Europe had as little immigration as the Japanese, I’ve no doubt that, being nearly as brainy as the Japanese, we Europeans would be increasing our fertility rate so that we had a stable population. In the meantime, we have to keep in mind that for the foreseeable future, for many decades to come, overcrowded Western Europe will be increasing its population.

    • Quentin says:

      I was interested to read the Japanese figures you gave. I first encountered these demographic questions in the Jesuit, Fr Lestapis’s book (1959 I think) – which majored on Japan. It was good to be brought up to date.

      Reviewing our correspondence I have concluded that, if we formed an executive committee of two directing world population, we might solve the problem. We should argue, of course, but out of our creative tension great things would come.

  23. Quentin says:

    Tim, I remember the name Camilla Gorilla but can’t recall the comment. Lest however people get the impression that I yield a heavy censorship pen I should say that I have either excluded or altered fewer than 5 comments out of the nearly 4000 comments we have received since 2008. I think that is a tribute to the responsibility of our contributors. (I except of course the occasional typo which makes a contribution difficult to understand; I simply correct those.)

    I imagine that Bob may simply not have had time to look at the Blog. I will send him a note.

    • Bob says:

      Quentin and Tim,

      I regret throwing my toys out of the pram !
      I accept that my contribution was rather ill-conceived and careless.
      My reaction to the response was also ill-advised.
      No offence meant…I hope folk will bear with me
      Just getting used to this forum as a non-Catholic with a real heart for issues that affect all of us.
      I think gentleness and a reduction in sensitivity on my part are called for.

      Thank you


  24. mike Horsnall says:


    I think you run a pretty good blog here Quentin -it takes a bit of time to get the hang of folk and its a bit tricky at times being both relaxed AND passionate about debates. But I’m pretty impressed overall with the ‘atmosphere’ here . I enjoy our debates and learn quite a lot about the mindset of a certain kind of Catholic view as well.

  25. Gerry says:


    I agree, but events may have overtaken us before we had come to our happy conclusion.

    The name Stanislas de Lestapis always sets me off. As you know, he was on the 1964-66 Commission from the very beginning. I wonder what John Marshall thought of him, They must have got to know each other very well. I’d better not go on about him.

    Refreshing my memory in the book The Encyclical That Never Was which has a preface by John Marshall, I came across two interesting pieces which I had forgotten:

    First this: “Less than a year before this (1958) in Rome, Igino Cardinale (you may have met him when he moved to a new job) an undersecretary of state at the Vatican, had received Donald Straus, president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and assured him the church was a concerned as he was about the population explosion.” Those were the days!

    Then this: The two protagonists ‘De Lestapis and De Loche had each been asked to take the other’s side. What, de Lestapis was asked, would be the pastoral consequences of change in the church’s teaching? De Lestapis could hardly conceive of such a thing….

    De Loche was told to consider the consequences of no change…

    “These old norms will be less and less accepted in a blind way. People will discuss them and they will find them doubtful. More and more, they will challenge the power of the church to make pronouncements with an irreformable certainty on moral questions…”’

    As we know, total victory – at least for the time being – went to de Lestapis, and de Loche’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

    Hi Mike, are you still with us?! Gerry

  26. Gerry says:

    Thanks Quentin, If you do meet JM, please give him my kind regards. He may just remember me, not by name but as a GP in Grand Drive in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s