7 billion, plus or minus

The United Nations Population Fund picked the date of October 31, 2011, as the day when the earth’s population reached seven billion human beings. The news media have dodged the real story — the real story is that there are too many human beings on earth — and instead have been creating the story that we don’t really know exactly how many people there are on earth right now. In other words, instead of reporting on the disaster of human overpopulation, the news media are reporting on something that really isn’t at all important.

There are seven billion people on earth today, plus or minus a few tens of millions. All our current ecological crises have roots in overpopulation. There are too many people, and too many people require too many resources and cause too much pollution, so we are wiping out other species at an unprecedented rate, and there is every likelihood that soon we will wipe out our own species. This is the story that most of the news media are refusing to report on; I expect they think this story is too scary for the people who consume their news stories, too scary even for Hallowe’en. Heaven forbid the news media should lose even a few consumers by reporting the true state of affairs.

Last week, I had lunch with my friend Mike-the-science-fiction-fan. He half-jokingly suggested that we should apply the cap-and-trade principle to the human population: each person gets the right to have, say, two offspring; if you want to have more than two (that would be four offspring per couple), you would have to go out and buy the rights to have additional children from someone who has no children. Mike and I both liked this idea because neither of us has children, and we could both use a little extra money. — And yes, we were laughing uproariously as we talked about this, for this is a completely silly and impractical idea. Outside of China, it is impossible to conceive of a political situation in which you could actually implement such a scheme.

Nevertheless, it would be nice if our society were kinder to people who choose not to have children. Carol and I have chosen not to have children, and we still get people saying to us, “Oh, but you should have children, you’d make such good parents.” I’m not convinced that we would make good parents, but that’s not even the point. Instead of having a social norm that we are supposed to encourage people to have children whether they want them or not, we really need to evolve a new social norm. We should thank the people who do have children for taking the time and making the sacrifice that raising children inevitably involves, and we should also thank the people who choose not to have children for helping to reduce overpopulation. — And yes, now you can begin laughing uproariously, for this, too, is a completely silly and impractical idea.

Isaac Asimov on sex education

In his memoir I. Asimov, the writer Isaac Asimov has this to say about sex education:

Considering how important sex is,how great a source of joy, how enormous a source of misery and disease, how it permeates the working of courtship and marriage, isn’t it strange that we go to great lengths to teach our children to play football and make no effort whatever to teach them to play sex?

Any attempt to introduce sex education classes into the school curriculum is always met with fierce opposition. The feeling among those who oppose it (after you strip off the hypocrisies of “morality”) is that learning about sex will encourage youngsters to experiment with it and lead to unwanted pregnancies and disease.

To me, this seems ridiculous. Nothing on earth can stop youngsters from experimenting with sex unless they are kept so brutally in ignorance and captivity that their lives are distorted and ruined. By stripping away the mysteries of sex and treating it openly, the act is robbed of illegality, of its attraction as “forbidden fruit.” In my opinion, good knowledge of all aspects of sex, including proper methods of contraception and hygiene, will actually reduce unwanted pregnancies and disease.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Big government, or big business? Neither.

This morning, Carol was reading aloud from an opinion piece in which the author took the Occupy Wall Street protesters to task because they didn’t criticize big government enough.

“That means he’s a right-winger,” I said. “Right-wingers all believe that big government is the problem. Left-wingers all believe that big business is the problem.”

Carol laughed, and the conversation moved on to something else.

But it’s true: in the U.S., as soon as a commentator reviles big business, you can bet that person is sympathetic with the Democratic Party, or the Green Party, or some other leftist organization. And as soon as a commentator reviles big government, you can bet that person sympathizes with, or is a member of, the Republican Party. Political differences in the United States have been reduced to that level.

This may be why I feel uneasy with both the left-wingers and the right-wingers in the United States. Even though most people would call me a leftist, I am skeptical of both big government and big business, especially since both devote little attention or energy to helping persons who happen to be poor. As a religious liberal, I want a society that is grounded in strong moral and ethical values. I maintain that, in these days of consumer capitalism, big business has given up all pretense of moral and ethical values, because it looks only to quarterly profits; while big government still clings to at least some pretense of adhering to moral and ethical values. Thus, because I revile big business more than big government, I must be a leftist.

At this point, I feel more comfortable with Occupiers than with the Republicans or the Democrats. The big problem in our society at this moment is neither big business nor big government: the real problem is that too many powerful people have abandoned moral and ethical precepts in favor of naked greed. As long as at least some of the Occupiers are willing to say that in public — as long as they are willing to excoriate naked greed — I consider that they are doing good work in the world. They still haven’t gone far enough in articulating a set of moral and ethical values I can affirm, but they’ve gone farther than anyone else.

Paying the bookstore tax

I went over to Berkeley to meet my friend Mike for lunch today. He told me about his forthcoming academic book. After we ate, we went to Dark Carnival, a bookstore in Oakland. As we were walking from the car to the bookstore, I told Mike that I now proudly claim my geekhood. “Geek pride,” I said. “I’m too f&$%ing old to be bothered hiding it any more.”

Claiming my geekhood means admitting — no, bragging about the fact that browsing in bookstores is one of my favorite activities. After a stressful week, I lower my blood pressure by going to bookstores. I probably read as much online as I read in books these days, but I still love going to bookstores. Bookstores are one of the few places where geeks and intellectuals still congregate in public, places where reading books is still a public and even social activity.

But bookstores are an endangered species, and I always make a point of paying the bookstore tax: you walk into a bookstore, you have to buy at least one book. Since I haven’t been to Dark Carnival in months, I bought four books, which was my way of paying back taxes. Despite the threat of the evil Amazombie, I want to be able to keep going to bookstores for a long, long time.

Um, “MC Yogi”?

Driving home late at night, I was flipping through the radio stations at the low end of the dial, and happened to hear an interview with a yoga teacher who calls himself “MC Yogi,” and who has issued a yogi hip hop album called “Elephant Power” (after Ganesh, natch). Here’s a video “MC Yogi” has released on Youtube:

In a way, it’s kind of fun that someone is using hip hop as a medium to talk about Hindu gods and goddesses. But it also makes me uncomfortable. If you check out some of the live videos of MC Yogi on Youtube, you’ll see a bunch of fit white people in expensive yoga togs shaking their yoga bodies at a retreat center somewhere far from the inner city predominantly black neighborhoods where hip hop was born. That cultural dissonance makes me pause; then throw in comic-book stories about Haruman and Ganesh, and I’m beyond pausing and into discomfort.

Dan McKanan on Tavis Smiley

Dan McKanan, the Ralph Waldo Emerson professor of Unitarian Universalist studies at Harvard, gets interviewed by Tavis Smiley, talking about McKanan’s new book Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition. It’s a good eight minute interview.

The book comes out in November from Beacon Press. You can pre-order it from the independent Seminary Coop Bookstore.

Tense standoff at Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland was broken up early this morning. Citing allegations of drunkenness, sexual assault, and health violations, the city sent in the police at 4:30 a.m. to take down the camp. Given the timing of the police action, it’s hard to believe that drunkenness and health violations constituted a real part of the reason for eviction, and one sexual assault had been reported several days before. Nevertheless, the police broke up the encampment, and city workers removed all tents and equipment, presumably destroying the garden that Everett and I saw yesterday.

The Oakland Tribune has been liveblogging the events today, and as of 6:30 p.m. (20 minutes ago), about a thousand protesters are in front of city hall at the site of the encampment. Police have demanded the protesters disperse, but the protesters aren’t going:

The protesters, possibly as many as 1,000 people, are all gathered at 14th street and Broadway. Over the last 30 minutes, police have launched wooden dowls and some concussion gernades into the crowds. It was not immediately known how many protesters, if any, were hit. An Oakland Tribune news photographer was hit with something launched by police. At least two people have been arrested since the rally and march kicked off at 4 p.m. Many in the crowd are wearing bandanas, possibly to protect themselve if the police use tear gas. Sirens are sounding, motorcycle police from many agencies are in downtown and there is general chaos as police try and clear out the massive amount of people.

I talked with Everett a couple of hours ago, and we agreed that we were glad we had seen the encampment — more of a village, really — before the city destroyed it; and from what had had seen of the occupiers, we also agreed that we would not be surprised if they returned. But what will happen tonight is anyone’s guess.

Occupy SF, Occupy Oakland

Everett Hoagland and I went down to the Interfaith Clergy Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street San Francisco today. We walked to various banks where two dancers, labeled “Equality” and “Justice,” set up a golden calf, representing the idolatry of money, and ritually covered the idol with a cloth:

A poem started bubbling up for Everett, so he dropped out of the march to do some writing. I kept walking. There were something on the order of 150 to 200 clergy and other faith leaders marching; I counted ten Unitarian Universalist ministers, and half a dozen of our seminarians. TV news coverage of today’s event: Rev. Jeremiah Kalendae of the Unitarian Unviersalist church in San Francisco is quoted in the text portion of Channel 5’s (CBS) coverage. Link to ABC’s live coverage. Radio coverage on KQED (story begins 0:37).

In the afternoon, Everett and I went over to Occupy Oakland, and spent an hour or two there, talking to some people, and just trying to lend our support. I was impressed that the occupiers have a children’s program during the day, a library, classes and committee meetings, and they have started a garden:

The city of Oakland keeps threatening to arrest all the occupiers — nevertheless, with accommodations for children, and a garden, they are planning for the long term. More on the Oakland occupation: From KALW today, “A Day in the Life of Occupy Oakland” (audio with transcript).

Happy 375th birthday

My home congregation, First Parish in Concord, Massachusetts, the Unitarian Universalist church I grew up in, just celebrated its 375th birthday. My dad, who is still a member of that congregation, attended the festivities. In fact, he was one of the honored guests at the birthday banquet last night:— he was one of 16 people who have been members of the congregation for 50 or more years. He and my mother joined First Parish not long after I was born, and there’s a story behind that.

My mother had grown up Unitarian, had been the Superintendent of the Junior Department of the Sunday school of the Wilmington, Delaware, Unitarian church back in the 1950s when they had something like 600 kids in their Sunday school, but when she and my father moved to Concord, she did not go to church. The minister at that time called on her to find out why she wasn’t coming to church, and she told him it was because she had an infant (me) and a toddler (my older sister Jean), and there was no child care during the Sunday services. So the minister recruited a woman named Betsy Connelley, along with some other people, to serve as volunteer staff in a child care service they called “Pooh Corner” (and before the wiseacres in the audience ask, it was named after Winnie the Pooh, and the name had nothing to do with the diapering process). Once there was child care, my parents could attend Sunday services, and 50 years later, my dad is still a member there. Moral of the story: provide great child care in your congregation.

Dad told me that one of the honored guests sitting with him last night was none other than Betsy Connelley. She still remembers me, and asked me dad to say hi. One of the best things about congregations is the sense of continuity they can provide; they are communities in which human connections can be held for generations.

So here’s to First Parish in Concord on its 375th birthday!

The Book of Revelation

“I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language. I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.”

Hunter S. Thompson, author of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 and other books, in his Generation of Swine (New York: Summit Books, 1988), p. 9; quoted in William McKeen, Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (New York: Norton, 2008), pp. 311-312.