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Solving Problems by Elimination

We live in a time that places a high value on community. The European Economic Community, global markets, the global village, accords and governance--universal fraternity is the wave of the future. Consequently, Pope John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus, with its emphasis on the human person in community, could be seen as simply following these current trends. For those not aware of its continuity with a living tradition, it appears to be an attempt to build bridges where there are none.

This encyclical, however, does indeed stand in continuity with the great tradition of Christian moral teaching. Further, its universal perspective, spanning all places and peoples, argues against the criticism that the pontiff has succumbed to the trendy globalism of our day. What sets it apart from the contemporary passion for community is how it sheds light on the ironies that riddle and, in many respects, embarrass the world community-building machine.

A distinct paradox is threading its way throughout the history of this century. On one level, we see concerted activity toward breaking down divides, abolishing borders, and fostering international cooperation. On another level, we see growing distrust between countries, the rise of nationalism, and the fracturing of societies into rich and poor, North and South, East and West. Our world is struggling stubbornly toward an ideal of community but is unable to attain it. Centesimus Annus' genius rests in its ability to address this failure and to lay out the conditions for authentic human community. In so doing, it provides principles that explain why the contemporary efforts to achieve community continually fall short.

Humanitarian Aid: Building the Community of Tomorrow?

Undoubtedly, the great “community builders” of our time are humanitarian aid and development programs. Governments of all developed nations have international aid budgets that, even if comprising a fraction of their total expenditures, total billions of dollars yearly. The United States Agency for International Development (usaid), for instance, has requested 7.3 billion dollars for its world wide humanitarian aid programs in 1999. Such programs have a clear “society building” objective; for instance, two of the five stated usaid goals are “promoting economic growth” and “advancing democracy.” Humanitarian aid is seen as both an act of solidarity and an investment in the future. Beyond usaid, the United States appropriates other monies for international development (i.e., United Nations, World Bank, or International Monetary Fund contributions), and other governments have similar budgets. Meanwhile, the u.n. continues to call for increases in the percentage of gnp set aside for assistance to the international community.

At face value, this solution seems reasonable enough and has a long historical precedent. The reality, however, is that the old idea of humanitarian aid as a community builder has slowly been replaced by a paradigm of development that emphasizes family planning programs beyond all else. As such, family planning has become the core of the modern fight against poverty, injustice, and totalitarianism. Family planning, we are told, empowers the poor to better their economic situations, empowers women to become equal participants in society, and empowers societies to deal with problems such as poverty, overcrowding, and unemployment.

In theory, family planning concerns couples' decisions about their fertility and provides them with the means to do so. In practice, planning a family means limiting its size; thus family planning programs concentrate on supplying the Third World with condoms and contraceptives of every sort, sterilization, and abortion. Played out on a societal scale, planning families means controlling population growth.

The logic of this approach is rather straightforward: We live in a world of limited resources, inequitable access to these resources, and difficulty in providing educational and training opportunities. Reducing the number of people in the world relieves the competition for these resources and reduces the development burden by reducing the number of those dependent upon outside aid. We can be more effective, this approach argues, because we have less to do. It is a hard reality, but one demanded, we are told, by “responsibility” to future generations--and, ultimately, realism about our own.

This principle--that we fight poverty by eliminating the poor--stands in stark contrast to John Paul II's analysis of true human community. Contrary to this fundamental assumption, John Paul II writes in Centesimus Annus that “besides the earth, man's principal resource is man himself” (P 32) and that “man too is God's gift to man” (P 38). These two points are the fundamental insights of what John Paul II's calls an authentic human ecology. Lose sight of these truths, and you lose the path to building true and lasting community.

“The first and fundamental structure for 'human ecology' is the family,” John Paul II writes (P 39). A development paradigm that focuses on family planning, in the sense spoken of earlier, cuts to the core of human community, for it does not focus on a mutual, loving, and self-giving relationship as the context for procreation but, rather, on severing the bond between sexuality and procreation. In sum, it pollutes the ecology of the family by introducing not only the methods but also the mentality of contraception.

Family Planning at the Cost of True Development

There is no need to elaborate here the links between contraceptive practice and mentality and the breakdown of the family. The consequences of exporting these ideas to the developing world will not necessarily be felt this year or next, but they will in a generation. With these consequences will come the slow disintegration not only of families but of whole societies. The family is the basis of community because, as John Paul II writes, it is the place where a person learns “what it means to love and to be loved ... what it actually means to be a person” (P 39). Without this experience, a person is unable to “enter into a stable relationship with another person” (P 39). People remain “individuals,” unable to enter into the universal “brotherhood” that both motivates the humanitarian project and functions as its good.

What we have with this modern development paradigm and its family planning mentality, then, is a model that discourages the formation of the fundamental component of human ecology--the family. Because of this disposition, it neglects authentic human development, which John Paul II identifies as creation of “the proper conditions for human reproduction.” The realities of contemporary practice confirm this assessment only too well.

What is more, family planning programs not only focus on restricting the size of families but also work subtly to eliminate them altogether. “Reproductive health,” “gender equality,” and “adolescent rights” (all explicit targets of family planning programs) are new euphemisms for the old cant and values of the sexual revolution. The world of the development paradigm explicitly espoused by, for instance, the International Planned Parenthood Federation or the various u.n. agencies and implicitly articulated by usaid is a world where “family” means any combination of two or more individuals; where parents have no rights over the education and upbringing of their children; and where contraception, sterilization, and abortion are the safeguards against unwanted consequences of this “freedom” that family planning programs are intended to foster. Traditional moral and religious values are seen as obstacles to this liberation and must be eliminated since they stand in the path of this new, universal self-awareness.

Individual country aid portfolios bring the point home starkly. In 1997, the total usaid development budget for Mexico was 17.8 million dollars. 12.9 million (72.58 percent) of this was spent on population activities, compared to $500,000 on health activities, and a mere $150,000 on economic growth. Mexico has a total fertility rate of 2.97 women per children (1997 est.), and a country-specific replacement fertility recently set at 3.3 because of infant mortality. The demographic realities of Mexico hardly seem to warrant spending more money on population control than on health or economic growth.

Consequences of the Family Planning Approach

Centesimus Annus describes the ultimate consequences of such undermining of the human ecology: lack of freedom, promulgation of the idea that children are a commodity that must compete with other commodities, and, ultimately, the spread of the culture of death (P 39). A brief look at international development programs confirms the truth of this analysis.

China and its brutal one-child policy have long been the example of what is usually considered family planning run amok. In the name of development, over two decades of parents have been denied the freedom to have the children they desire. Coerced abortion, sterilization, and contraception have become the official mechanisms of enforcing this policy; infanticide and gender-selective abortion are the unofficial mechanisms of policy compliance. Permission for second children may be bought, at a price often reaching the equivalent of several years' worth of salary. Children are reduced not only to commodities but to luxuries that cannot be afforded.

China, sadly, does not stand alone. Government-sponsored family planning programs of forced sterilization have been aggressively carried out in Indonesia, China, and, most recently, Peru. Thirty-eight countries, to date, are on record for the human rights abuses that occur within their family planning programs, and reports of new abuses in new locations continue to grow. Far from an exception, China is now only the most-obvious and best-known embodiment of the idea that a country's population is a liability to be controlled rather than an asset to be nurtured.

De-sanctified People, Destabilized Social Orders

Peru stands as one of the most recent cases in point, with a program that has led some to call it, “the China of the 1990s.” In Peru, women are being pressured to submit to sterilization in order to receive necessary medical attention or to keep their children enrolled in nutritional supplement programs. Many who resist this pressure have been sterilized anyway while undergoing other medical procedures (such as a caesarean section delivery) or simply by strength of force. The death toll mounts as government health workers perform the procedure without adequate training and in unhygienic conditions in a scramble to meet the quotas set by government population policy and to keep their jobs.

The Peruvian government continues to deny responsibility for the deaths and human rights' abuses that result from this program. This denial illustrates well one of John Paul II's key insights: Our policy decisions give rise to social structures that can “impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them” (P 38). So, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori did not, in instituting this program, target the freedom, existing children, and lives of Peruvian women, but the program he created does, for it encroaches upon the most intimate decisions that constitute a family. By instituting the program, Fujimori signaled the de-sanctification of individual dignity and the freedoms that argue against this arrogation of family rights. He set off a chain of events that is swiftly destabilizing the social order of his country.

A similar disruption is gathering momentum on the international level. As aid policies of developed countries place increased focus on family planning and population control programs, there is a growing distrust of these programs and a perceived “new colonialism” by the developed world. People in developing countries are dying of pneumonia, malaria, and dehydration--all of which take pennies per case to cure--for lack of vitally necessary drugs. Meanwhile, Third-World family planning clinics are bursting with condoms and mechanical and chemical contraceptives generously donated by bilateral and multilateral aid. The counter-productiveness of this approach from a development point of view is clear.

One African doctor has paired family-planning programs with aids, labeling them as the “twin scourge” that is depopulating Africa and consigning it to poverty “like none that we have ever known.” A nurse from the Philippines testified during a Washington press conference that “of the twenty-five-plus million dollars [usaid] spends on population and health [in the Philippines], twenty-two million is for population activities, less than three million is for health services. Are you trying to help mothers in my country, or just stop them from having children?” As these testimonies accent, there is a growing distrust on the part of aid-dependent countries, but dependence on the aid they receive makes it impossible for these countries to effectively protest the programs that they recognize as detrimental to their social and economic orders. The combined experiences of exploitation and powerlessness only deepen the rift between North and South.

“Man ... Is God's Gift to Man”

If we look to Centesimus Annus for insight, two implications stand out clearly for the development community to learn. First, the way to build brotherhood is to emphasize the value of people, in word and in deed. Family planning as the means of development ultimately fails because it denies this value and thus espouses one of the anthropological errors John Paul II identifies as underlying mistaken views about the social order. “Man too is God's gift to man.” The basis of a stable society is the acceptance of the other as “gift”--in the mutual self-donation of married love, in the procreation that is the natural result of that love, and in the solidarity of reaching out to the other in need.

Second, it is not enough to keep intentions pure. There is a natural order. When this order is violated, it is unavoidable that very specific consequences should follow. Arguments that these were not intended are simply disingenuous, and genuine surprise at unintended consequences is unable to repair the damage that has been done. If development programs continue to promote population control under the euphemism of family planning, no amount of high ideals can prevent the disintegration of the social order, and their efforts will be in vain.