One of the books I read this summer was Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It was a fascinating look at many different societies throughout history, and the choices they made that allowed the society to survive – or to collapse, sometimes with no survivors. (population being too big for food production to support is a very common theme in the collapses). It is a BIG book but I had a hard time putting it down. Examples range from modern-day Montana, to ancient Easter Island, Greenland, Iceland, the Maya civilization, Japan, Rwanda, Australia, China … so many different stories.
One part that really caught my attention was control of population growth. Diamond gave 2 examples (and others) of this occurring in an obvious way. China is an example of the legislated, top-down “one child per family” law. The other was a small island, I believe in the South Pacific. (the book has been returned to the library, overdue, and I didn’t make notes at the time). This island is small enough that you can walk the entire perimeter in about a day, maybe less. The consequences of too many mouths to feed are obvious to everyone on the island. There are a few strategies in place to make sure the population does not get beyond the food support: late stage abortions for families that have the accepted norm of children; groups of adolescents occasionally setting out into the ocean in canoes to go adventuring (sometimes to their deaths in this perilous venture, other times to emigrate or bring back new spouses to mix in with the gene pool); but also choosing to be childfree or “celibate.” In this context celibate does not mean refraining from marriage or sex, but it does mean being committed to not having children.
It just really made me think. In this society, those who choose to live childfree probably have a well accepted and celebrated place. They are making a sacrifice for the good of the entire society. That choice may be attractive because it possibly brings a more carefree life. I would imagine that those who do have children see them more as everyone’s children, to be loved and shared and adored by all. It makes me think of the whole “it takes a village to raise a child” idea, where the children in a sense are cared for by everyone – and the elders of the population are cared for by all as well, having had an important role evident to everyone, whether or not they have children. (please note these are my own thoughts – I’m extrapolating here.)
I can’t imagine what the freedom of choice or pressures to choose one way or another might be. It makes me wonder – if our society was different and truly embraced childfree as a choice – if it were a celebrated and honoured choice – how that would change the experience of living without children for those who arrive there by choice and also by infertility. The dynamics of our societies being so big in comparison to this island, and with such great land masses – it means we are disconnected from each other, from our food supply and how much growth we can support – and from how much we could need and love each other. (Mind you, there are distinct disadvantages of small societies where everyone knows your business too! I could be thinking of this in a light that is too romantic).
Once I get to the library and pay my (bleeping) fines, I will probably take this book out again to re-read it more slowly. It does make me wonder where our world is headed – if we can make the choices to improve our planet and our lives, instead of the choices that would lead to collapse. I hope we can!