[LATE] Cluster 2 Post: Sen and Sanger’s contrasting arguments and ideal policies

In Sen’s Population: Delusion or Reality, she examines this growing (delusional) fear of overpopulation and the means in which policy makers will handle it. She calls one the “override approach”, because family’s personal choices are overridden by an external agency.  The alternative approach is “collaborative”, in which women and men make rational decisions, encouraged by open dialogue and education. The override approach uses legal and economic pressures while the collaborative has the government and citizens working together to produce economic and social conditions.

However, Sen’s main point is how this fear of overpopulation is, in fact, irrational and misconstrued. For one thing, it seems as though this fear is held by those in the North concerned with an overpopulation of those in the South, or those in third world countries, when in actuality the growth in certain populations is re-establishing a balance of races that was held pre-Industrial Revolution.

This fear of overpopulation leading to an “imbalance” of races is actually similar to Margaret Sanger’s views. In Sanger’s article “The Case for Birth Control”, she argues for birth control not in fear of a general overpopulation but instead fear of overpopulation of “unfit” people. Sanger outlines nine cases in which a child should not be conceived, ranging from age limitations to health of the parents.

Sanger’s article makes me uncomfortable due to the nature of her requirements and how limiting and particular her opinions are. She looks at reproduction and population through a very individualistic lens—someone in class made the point that Sanger’s ideas seemed very much like the practice of eugenics. Though many of her reasons are understandable—for example, we wouldn’t want children to be born to those parents who have an inheritable disease because then that disease would spread—and not absolutely unreasonable, like some supporters of eugenics have advocated, her reasons are still not feasible policies to be implemented.  She also does not thoroughly express her reasoning nor does she consider opposing arguments; Sanger says that a married couple should wait until after two years of their marriage to conceive children in order for them to truly know each other and understand the responsibilities that marriage and parenthood entail, but she does not consider those parents that do have children earlier than two years in and have successful families.

Sen advocates for the collaborative approach and I think her argument is successful exactly where Sanger’s is not—Sen discusses the override approach at length, using specific examples of when it has been used and how it has worked (or hasn’t). In China, though it would be assumed that the “One-Child Policy” would be a huge success, China’s fertility rates has fallen much less sharply than those countries that encourage collaborative and voluntary reductions in birth rates (page 17). I think Sen is more convincing because she explains the effects of different policies and how they affect a population on a larger scale. Sanger’s ideas, though never implemented, are not convincing nor useful because she does explain them fully. Sen argues against the clichéd fear of overpopulation while Sanger does not explain why exactly it is bad for “diseased” people to reproduce. Even though some of her reasons may make sense and not be irrational, they fail to be compelling because she doesn’t consider the counter argument. 

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6 thoughts on “[LATE] Cluster 2 Post: Sen and Sanger’s contrasting arguments and ideal policies

  1. Your bring a really interesting perspective by tying the Sanger to the Sen in terms of a fear of overpopulation actually representing a fear of unfit populations. I agree that Sen does a better job constructing his argument and proposing solutions than Sanger, but I also remember still feeling unsettled and concerned after reading Sen. Though he advocated for a collaborative method to bring about changes in reproductive patterns, he framed education as a tool for women to see “the drudgery of continuous childbearing.” What do we make of education and empowerment to help others “make a choice” that the political body already has in mind?

    • I was actually wondering something similar to wyseuc. I’m concerned with Sen’s advocacy of a “collaborative” approach where that approach has a clear political agenda. If the government is going to educate women in a propaganda-esque manner to achieve their own political ends, then is the method really collaborative at all? While I agree that this method is better than the “override” method (insofar as it gives at least some semblance of agency to women), it seems like these two methods have more in common than might be thought at first glance.

      • It makes me wonder, then, what is the collaborative method? How can it be used effectively? I think an unbiased education on every option, every birth control method, every consequence, is one way the government can work with the citizens. But aside from that, I do think that there many collaborative methods have similarities to override methods, and the distinction needs to be clearer.

    • I think that while education can be empowering, I agree with you, there is something unsettling with framing it in that light. Education should teach women and men about all of their options and the consequences of them rather than teach people about the downsides of reproduction… It’s scary how politics can affect our education and make it bias in their favor in manners like reproduction that have such serious consequences (I’m also thinking of the schools that are very religious and emphasize abstinence without talking about birth control methods etc, and their students end up being extremely ill informed, even ending up getting pregnant because they didn’t know how condoms worked, etc etc).

  2. I found Sen’s distinctions between ‘override’ and ‘collaborative’ compelling as well. While reading these articles I inherently preferred the collaborative method. But our in class discussion made me realize that the ‘collaborative’ method still runs the risk of being ‘overridden’ by the government’ I think the ‘collaborative’ method can only work if the education and discussion used to facilitate this method is not solely under the control of one group. If, for example, the government dictates the curriculum for the population’s education on these topics, the government holds the power to directly impact and direct the public dialogue. I wonder if a collaborative method can ever be implemented that does not run these risks.

    • It makes me wonder though–considering the similarities collaborative and override methods run, is there a way that a fusion of these methods could actually be beneficial to both parties? If those are the only ways that the government can control the population, is there any way, then, that it can be effective without completely taking away their rights/agency?

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