I appear to have stirred up a hornet’s nest in my last entry The Market for Reproductive Rights. I sort of expected the reaction from a few people. Much of the reaction has been of the knee-jerk variety. So here is a promise and a challenge.
I ask that we reason this one out together. Give me a chance to explain why I believe what I believe and in return I promise to debate the topic with anyone willing to do so. I am willing to be persuaded that I am mistaken. I like to think that I am not intellectually dishonest. I will readily admit that I am wrong if it can be logically demonstrated. And for your troubles in demonstrating that, I promise to buy you dinner at a restaurant of your choice at a mutually convenient time.
(Disclaimer:Getting to the restaurant is not included in this offer. So if you want the dinner in Paris, for instance, you will have to get there on your own. I will pick up the restaurant tab but not the airline fare. Offer void where prohibited or taxed. Batteries not included. Some assembly required. Contents may have settled during shipment. Your mileage may vary depending upon weather and other driving conditions. Past performance is not a guarantee of future prospects. You get the idea.)
To make it fair, in case you do accept the challenge, you will have to promise to buy me dinner at a restaurant of my choice (I will pay my way to the restaurant) if I am able to bring you around to my point of view through the force of argument.
The problem we are addressing is a complex, multi-faceted beast. Nothing that is worth debating has simplistic and simple answers. Even an apparently simple question such as “How many people can the earth support?” provides serious challenges to thoughtful people and gives rise to substantial scholarly books such as the one by Joel Cohen who wrote a book with that question as its title. I invite you to read that book if you are serious about engaging in debate around a topic that is not only intellectually fascinating but also has enormous social, political, moral, ethical, and economic implications.
(Aside: Joel Cohen told me how that book came about. A reporter called him up and asked, “Professor, how many people can the earth support?” Joel replied that it is not easy to answer off the top of his head. Could he get back to the reporter by the end of the week? The reporter said fine. So Joel started researching the question and it took him three years to arrive at a tentative answer which occupies a book.
Edward Wilson, Harvard University, certainly one of the greatest living biologists says, “Count this the definitive work on the global population problem. Cohen, one of the foremost theoretical biologists in the world, has brought extraordinary analytic powers and humanitarian learning to the topic, and those who care about the human future will do well to read his conclusions.”
William Nordhaus, Yale University economist and Nobel laureate, writing in the New York Times Book Review said, “It would be hard to conceive of a better book for those interested in a scholarly and nonideological review and analysis of population issues. … Fascinating and lucid. … a gem of a book.”
If I had one wish granted, I would ask that I have the power to compel every academic, every political leader, every adult in India to read the book by Cohen because it will awaken them to the real problem that India faces. Compared to the population problem, nukes from Pakistan or China appear to be like an invitation to a arm-wrestling match. Compared to the population problem, AIDS seems like a minor cold.
I kid you not: if after considering the problem in some depth, you can sleep soundly at night, I would say that you are an enlightened being who is not disturbed by affairs that afflict the merely mortal. End aside.)
There is a payoff in engaging in this exercise, one of personal growth. Both of us, you and I, will be enriched by this inquiry and debate. I ask you to seriously consider my invitation to debate and further, ask you to take up my challenge. Email me and tell me if we are on, and whether you want to pick up this challenge publicly or not. If you do want to accept the challenge publicly, then readers of this blog will know who are on which side of the debate.
The game is afoot. Time to take up the questions that have been raised as comments to the last post, which I will do shortly. Thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to email me and to comment on the proposal.