Wednesday, December 10, 2014

cheaper by the dozen?

Can there be a better moment in life?

You are at a party talking to someone who makes a statement that very well could be true, but, by chance, you know is not.  The classic example is the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen pulls Marshall McLuhan from behind an easel to prove a point.

Those moments do not come along very often.  But I had one served up to me last week on a silver platter -- between the main course and the sorbet. 

Three of us were discussing the murdered 43 students and what it means for Mexico, when a friend of mine blurted out a "fact" I have heard repeated as if it were a known universal.

"Mexico's biggest problem is its population explosion.  It needs to get it under control."  And, I knew him well enough that his corollary was predictable.  "It's the fault of the Catholic church making birth control illegal."

Now, I am not an apologist for the Catholic church.  But I knew both assertions were simply not true.  Not in Mexico.

Mexico is not undergoing a population explosion.  Quite the contrary.

It would have been true in the 1960s.  While Americans were welcoming The Beatles to America, the average number of children per Mexican mother was 7.2. 

It is now 2.2.  Just a bit higher than The States.  By 2040, the birth rate in Mexico will be lower than its northern neighbor.  That is hardly a population explosion.  Maybe an implosion.

My dinner partners were a bit surprised.  Even though they live here, they are still caught up in the myth that Mexico is a third world country.

I knew about the birth rate because of research I have done for essays -- and for my history lecture last year at our cultural awareness classes.  But I had discovered elsewhere the interesting little story about the Catholic church's part in helping the birth rate to decline.  It is a fascinating tapestry with several threads.

The Mexican government in the 1950s recognized its population growth was soon going to be a brake on its inevitable move from an agricultural society to an industrial economy.  For some years, Mexicans had started what would be a burgeoning process of leaving their farms to move to Mexico's quickly-growing cities. 

Big families are necessary for farm work.  Not so much so in an urban environment.  And certainly not for the nascent middle class that was becoming a social force.

An odd set of events came together in those years.  Researchers had isolated a compound found in wild yams that women in a Mexican tribe had been using for years to control the birth rate in their villages. 

When it was released as a pharmaceutical, it was the birth of "The Pill."  Just as Mexico was starting its efforts to reduce its birth rate.

But what about the Catholic church?  Why didn't it put a stop to the use of The Pill?

When most of us discuss this issue, we consider birth control in light of Paul VI's  Humanae Vitae encyclical.  But it was issued in the summer of 1968.

Ten years earlier, Pope Pius XII addressed the 7th International Congress of Hematology.  In hs speech, he made a passing reference to The Pill.  If its purpose was contraceptive, it was in violation of natural law.  But, if it was used to cure other maladies, and only had a salutary effect as a contraceptive, it did not violate church teachings.

Pius was dead within a month.  But the ambiguity in his address was enough to keep the church on the sidelines while the Mexican government launched a massive program through
Mexfam -- The Mexican Family Planning Association.

Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, Mexican women had been receiving government assistance through the program and had enjoyed the benefits of a lower birth rate for a decade.  They decided to follow the earlier ambiguous advice and ignore the bothersome latter teaching.
That conclusion is supported by this staggering figure -- 70% of Mexican women currently use some form of birth control. 

To get there, many eggs were broken (as Lenin would have justified).  Forced sterilizations, especially amongst Indian women, simply should not have occurred.  Just as they should not have occurred in Canada or The States.

That is my dinner party story.  I would have not known of the Pope Pius XII connection had I not read Richard Grabman's Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos.

You all know him.  He often stops by here -- or on Mexpatriate's Facebook page.

Richard and I share a love of history.  We may differ on our politics and our world view, but we have proven that two guys with differing views can be civil to one another -- and to learn from one another.

In my dinner party experience, it was Richard Grabman who I gleefully pulled from Marshall
McLuhan's priest hole.

Thanks, Richard, for letting me share your hard-researched work.

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If you want to see the inspiration for today's hook, I give you Mr. Woody Allen.

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