The Left Hand of the Electron
17 - ...BUT HOW?
Sometimes I wish I were smart enough to know when I've happened
to say something smart so that I can get it down on paper and notarize it,
as proof for posterity.
For instance, back in 1952, I was listening to the news of the election-day
Eisenhower landslide with considerable gloom* when a
ray of sunshine penetrated the darkness.
It seemed a young Democrat had just won his election to the Senate by a
comfortable margin in the face of the tidal wave in the other direction at
the presidential level. He was shown thanking his election workers and, in
doing so, displayed such irresistible charm that I turned to my wife and
'If he weren't a Catholic, he'd be the next President of the United States,
' You're ahead of me, I know, but that young man was John F. Kennedy and
I was remarkably prescient. Unfortunately, I have no record of the remark
and my wife -the only witness - doesn't remember it.
On the other hand, at about the same time, in the early 1950's, I said, in
the course of a discussion at a social gathering, 'This is the last generation
in which the unrestricted right to breed will remain unquestioned. After
this, birth control will be enforced.'
'What about the Roman Catholic Church?' someone asked me.
'The Roman Catholic Church,' I said, 'will have no choice but to go along.'
I was hooted down by unanimous consensus and it was the general feeling that
being a science fiction writer had gone to my head - but I still stand on
what I said nearly twenty years ago.
* I will hide nothing from you, I am a Democrat.
So we'll limit births for reasons I explained in the previous
-But how? There are many methods of birth control practiced. There is abstention
and chastity, for example. (Don't laugh! For some people, this works, and
we are in no position to turn down the help offered by any method, however
minimal.) There is the rhythm method, of choosing, or trying to choose, that
time of the month when a woman is not ovulating. There is the practice of
withdrawal, or of surgical and permanent sterilization, or of chemical and
temporary sterilization, or of mechanical interception, and so on.
All have their value as far as birth control is concerned; all have their
disadvantages; no one method will do the trick by voluntary acceptance; perhaps
even all together will not do the trick.
Nevertheless, we must try, and if anyone can think of some technique that
is not being tried but ought to be, it is his duty, in this crisis facing
mankind to advance it as forcefully as he can. This I intend to do.
The real enemy, as I see it, is social pressure, which is the strongest human
force in the world. Love laughs at lock-smiths and may flourish under the
severest legal condemnations, but it is love indeed that can persist under
no punishment worse than the cold-hearted ostracism of society.
Social pressure is irrepressible. The rebels who stand firmly against the
Establishment and who object to all the moss-grown mores of yore, quickly
develop a subculture with mores of its own which they do not, and dare not,
And it is social pressure, inexorable social pressure, that dictates that
people shall have children lots of children the more children the better.
There is reason for it. Despite what many think, the conventions of society
are not invented merely to annoy and confuse, or out of a perverse delight
in stupidity. They make sense in the context of the times in which they
Until the nineteenth century, there was virtually no place on Earth and virtually
no time in history in which life expectancy was greater than thirty-five
years. In most places and most times it was considerably less. There was
virtually no place and no time in which infant mortality wasn't terrifyingly
high. It was not the death of children that was surprising, but their survival.
Through all the ages of high infant mortality and low life expectancy, it
stood to reason that each family had to have as many children as possible.
This was not because each family sat down and worried about the future of
mankind in the abstract. Not at all; it was because in a tribal society,
the family is the social and cultural unit, and as many young as possible
were necessary to carry on the work of herding or farming or whatever, while
standing to their weapons to keep off other tribes at odd moments. And it
took all the children the women could have to supply the necessary manpower.
With death so prevalent through hunger, disease, and warfare, the problem
of overpopulation did not arise. If, unexpectedly, a tribe's numbers did
increase substantially, they could always move outward and fall on the next
tribe. It was the withering and extinction of the tribe that seemed the greater
Consequently, social pressures were in favor of children, and naturally and
We needn't go off into anthropological byways to see evidence of this; we
have it at our fingertips in the Bible - the most important single source
of social pressure in Western civilization.
(And this is crucial, for it is Western culture that controls the Earth
militarily, and Western culture that will have to lead the way in population
The first recorded statement of God to humanity after its creation is: 'And
God blessed them and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish
the Earth-' (Genesis I: 28).
On a number of occasions thereafter, the Bible records the fact that the
inability to bear children is considered an enormous calamity. God promises
Abram that he will be taken care of, saying, .... Fear not, Abram: I am thy
shield and thy exceeding great reward' (Genesis 15:1). But Abram can find
no comfort in this and says, '...Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing
I go childless .. .' (Genesis 15 2).
In fact, childlessness was viewed as divine punishment. Thus, Jacob married
two sisters: Leab and Rachel. He had wanted only Rachel but had been forced
to take Leah through a trick. As a result, he showed considerable favoritism
and of this God apparently disapproved; 'And when the Lord saw that Leah
was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren' (Genesis 29: 31).
Naturally, Rachel was upset. 'And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no
children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children,
or else I die' (Genesis 30: 1).
There is the case of Hannah, who was barren,
despite constant prayer; and
who was miserable over it, despite the faithful love of her husband, who
overlooked her barren-ness (which made her worthless in a tribal sense and
which placed her under strong suspicion of sinfulness) and expressed his
love for her most touchingly: 'Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah,
why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved?
am not I better to thee than ten sons?' (1 Samuel 1: 8).
But Hannah perseveres in prayer and conceives at last, bearing Samuel. The
second chapter of the book contains her triumphant song of celebration.
A particularly clear indication that barrenness is the punishment of sin
arises in connection with the history of David. David had brought the Ark
of the Covenant into Jerusalem and, in celebration, had participated in the
ritualistic, orgiastic dance of celebration, one in which (the Bible is not
clear) there may have been strong fertility-rite components. David's wife,
Michal, disapproved strongly, saying sarcastically, "... How glorious was
the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the
handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth
himself!' (2 Samuel 6: 20).
This criticism displeased David and, apparently, God as well, for 'Therefore
Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death' (2 Samuel
So strong was the tribal push for children that if a wife were barren, she
herself might take the initiative of forcing her husband to impregnate a
servant of her own, that she might have the credit of children by surrogate.
Thus, when Abram's wife, Sarai, proved barren, she said to her husband '.....
Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in
unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her .. .' (Genesis
Similarly, Jacob's wife, Rachel, lent her husband her maid, Bilhah, while
his other wife, Leah, not to be behind-hand, made her maid Zilpah available.
These four women, among them, are described as being the mothers of the various
ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel.
It worked the other way, too. If a husband died before having children, it
was the duty of the nearest member of the family (the brother, if possible)
to make the effort of impregnating the widow in order that she might have
sons which would then be counted to the credit of the dead man. Thus, Jacob's
fourth son, Judah, had an oldest son, Er, for whom he arranged a marriage
with a young lady named Tamar. Unfortunately, Er died, so Judah told his
next son, Onan: '.... Go in unto thy brother's wife and marry her,
and raise up seed to thy brother' (Genesis 38: 8).
Onan, however, did not want to. 'And Onan knew that the seed should not be
his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he
spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And
the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also' (Genesis
Thus, the sin of Onan is not masturbation (which
is what the word 'onanism' means) but what we call 'coitus interruptus.'
The pressure to bear children exists because a tribal society would not long
survive without converting women into baby machines, and the biblical tales
To be sure, there are religious sects which glorify birth control in the
form of chastity and virginity - but almost invariably because they expect
the imminent end of the Earth.* The early Christians were
among these and to this day chastity is a Christian virtue, and virginity
is considered a pretty praiseworthy thing. Yet, even so, it is taken for
granted in our traditional society that the greatest fuffillment a woman
can possibly experience on Earth is that of becoming a wife and mother, that
motherhood is of all
things on Earth the most sacred, that to have many children is really
a blessing and to have few children, or none, through some act of will is
somehow to be selfish.
The pressures produce important myths about men, too, for to have many children
seems to be accepted as proving something about a man's virility. Even today,
the father of triplets or more sometimes manages a look of smug modesty before
the camera, an 'oh-it-was-nothing' expression that he thinks befits the sexual
athlete. (Actually, whatever a man does or does not do has no connection
at all with multiple births.)
All these pressures inherited from the dead past exist, then, despite the
fact that the situation is now no longer what it was in tribal days. It is
completely and catastrophically the opposite. We no longer have an empty
Earth, we have a full one. We no longer have a short life expectancy, but
a long one. We no longer have a high infant mortality rate, but a low one.
We are no longer doubling Earth's population in several millennia, but in
Yet when we speak of birth control even today, we still have to overcome
all the age-old beliefs of the tribal situation.
* Which, in a way, is why the modern population
experts are pushing for birth control, too, because otherwise they expect
the imminent end of the Earth.
Clearly, social pressure can be fought only with social pressure
and as an example I have sometimes suggested (with a grin, lest I be lynched
on the spot) that we begin by abolishing Mother's Day and replacing it with
Childless Day, in which we honor all the adult women without children.
Social pressures involves more than merely a question of having
children or not having children. The social pressures that for thousands
of years have insisted on children, have gone into detail to make sure that
these children come to pass. They have definitely and specifically outlawed
the easiest methods of birth control, methods which require no equipment,
no chemicals, no calculations, no particular self-control, methods which,
if applied, under tribal conditions of yore, would have threatened
the tribe with extinction.
So successful has this pressure been that such methods of birth control have
passed beyond human ken, apparently. At least, when I hear proponents of
birth control speak, or read what they write, I never seem to hear or see
any mention of these natural methods. Either they are blissfully ignorant
of them, or are afraid to speak of them.
The fact is, you see, that there are a variety of sexual practices that seem
to give satisfaction, that do no physiological harm, and that offer no chance,
whatsoever, for conception.
One and all, these stand condemned in our society for reasons that stretch
back to the primitive necessity for babies. For instance, the simplest possible
non-conception-centered sexual practice is masturbation (in either male or
female). It reduces tension and does no physiological harm.
Yet for how many years in our own society has it been viewed as an unspeakable
vice (despite the fact that I understand, it is almost universally practiced).
The pressure to consider it as more than a vice, and as actually a sin, has
been such that in the effort to find biblical thunder against it, Onan's
deed was considered masturbation, which it most certainly was not.
Clearly, the real crime of masturbation is that it wastes
semen which, by tribal views, ought to be used in
a sporting effort to effect conception. To say this, however, would be alien
to the spirit of our society, so lies are invented instead. Masturbation
(the threat goes) 'weakens' you; by which is meant that you won't perform
effectively with women - a horrifying possibility to most men. Worse than
that is the wild threat that masturbation gives rise to degeneracy (whatever
that is) and even insanity.
Actually, it does none of these things. It does not even have the evils implicit
in its being a 'solitary vice.' It can be indulged in, in company, and not
necessarily in 'vile orgies,' but in ordinary heterosexual interaction.
All the strictures and fulminations against masturbation have never succeeded
in wiping it out. It continued universal. What the lies did do, however,
was to force the act to be carried on in secret, in shame, and in fear, so
that those lies helped raise up generations of neurotics with distorted and
utterly unnecessary hangups about sex. And why? To pay lip service to practices
necessary to primitive tribes, but fatal to ourselves.
Part and parcel of the battle against masturbation is that against pornography.
There have been periods in history when pornography was driven underground
with scorn and disgust. This did not wipe out 'dirty books', 'dirty pictures',
and 'dirty jokes'. It lent them an added titillation, if anything, But the
drive against pornography did make it clear that sex was filthy, and therefore
utterly distorted the attitude of millions concerning an activity which is
both necessary and intensely pleasurable.
And what is the reason usually given for forbidding pornography? The one
I hear most often is that it will inflame minds and cause people encountering
such 'filth' to go ravening out into the street like wild beasts, seeking
to rape and pervert.
It is ridiculous to think so. I suspect that what happens when you involve
yourself with pornography, assuming it succeeds in arousing 'vile impulses'
within you, is that you masturbate at the first opportunity. It releases
tension rather than building it.
It is, in fact, by building tensions through a studied effort to consider
sex dirty and forbidden, that one is most likely to be driven to rape.
No, the real evil of pornography in a tribal society is that, by encouraging
masturbation, it diminishes the chance of conception.
There is a whole array of practices which, by the society and therefore by
law, are stigmatized as perverse, as unnatural,
as unspeakable, as crimes against nature', and so on. That these are unnatural
is clearly not so, for if they were they would be easy to suppress. Indeed,
there would be no need to suppress them, for they wouldn't exist. It is
unnatural, for instance, to fly by flapping your arms, so that there are
no laws against it. It is unnatural to live without breathing, so no one
has to inveigh against it.
What is true about the so-called perversions is that they are very
natural. They are so natural, indeed, that not all the shackles of the law,
and not all the hellfire of religion, can serve to wipe them out.
And what harm do they do? Are they sicknesses?
I frequently hear
spoken of as a sickness, for instance, and yet there have been societies
in which it was taken more or less for granted. Homosexuality was prevalent,
and even approved, in the Golden Age of Athens; it was prevalent during the
Golden Age of Islam; and despite everything, it was prevalent (I understand)
among the upper classes of the Victorian Age.
It may be sickness but it does not seem to be inconsistent with culture.
And how much of its sickness is the result of the hidden world in which it
is forced to live, the fear and shame that are made to accompany it? What
is the real crime of all these so-called perversions? Might it not be that
one and all are effective birth control agents. No practicing, exclusive
homosexual, male or female, can possibly make or become pregnant. No one
can ever impregnate or be impregnated by oral-genital contacts.
So what's wrong - in a time when birth rate must be lowered?
I don't mean that there aren't practices that do do harm, and these one ought
to oppose. Sadomasochistic practices carried beyond the level of mild stimulation
are not to be encouraged, for the same reason we oppose mutilation and murder.
Those practices which involve seriously unhygienic conditions should be
discouraged for the same reason any other unhygienic condition is discouraged.
Nor do I imply that we must force people to practice perversions. I, for
instance, am not a homosexual and wouldn't consider becoming one just to
avoid having children. Nor would I persuade anyone to become one for that
purpose and that purpose only.
I merely say that in a world threatened by overconception, it is useless
and even suicidally harmful to carry on a battle against those who, of their
own accord, prefer homosexuality, who in doing so do us no harm, and who,
indeed, spare us children. Furthermore, there are borderline cases who might
be homosexuals if left to themselves; shall we force them, by unbearable
social pressure, into loveless heterosexual marriages, and into presenting
the world with unneeded babies?
How do we justify this in the endangered world of the late twentieth century?
Social pressure - and the law - invades the bedrooms of even legally married
individuals and dictates their private sexual practices. I am told that if
a man and wife wish to practice anal or oral intercourse and are caught at
it, they can be given stiff jail sentences in almost any state of the Union.
Why? What harm have they done themselves or anyone else? It is punishment
without crime. The 'harm', of course, is that they've practiced a completely
effective birth control method that requires no equipment, no preparation,
and supplies them, presumably, with satisfaction - something incompatible
with the needs of a long-dead-and-gone tribal past.
I have heard it said that the practice of 'perversions 'is that it
replaces the 'normal way', which is then neglected.
I've never seen evidence presented to back this view, but even if it were
true, what then? What is the 'normal way' in a world like ours which must
dread overconception? And If someone doesn't like the 'normal way' and therefore
doesn't have children, whose business is that? If that same couple chose
not to have children by practicing abstention, would anyone care? Would the
law care? Then what's wrong with not having children another way? Because
pleasure is a crime?
In David Reuben's book Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex,
he devotes a section to oral-genital contacts, of which he seems to approve,
but concludes that regular copulation is even more enjoyable'.
Actually, I suppose that is for each individual to decide for himself, but
even if 'regular copulation' is more enjoyable, what then? If you find
roast beef more enjoyable than bread and butter, is that a reason to outlaw
bread and butter? And if you can't have roast beef and must choose between
bread and butter and starvation, would you choose starvation?
It might very well be that it is variety that is best of all, and that for
law and custom to try to insist on a monotony which, of all monotonies, is
most dangerous to us today, is the greatest perversion of all.
Let's summarize, then.
I think that the importance of birth control is such that we ought to allow
no useful method to lie unused.
All the common methods have their drawbacks: abstention is nearly impossible;
sterilization is abhorrent; the rhythm method is cold-blooded and deprives
the female of sex at just the time of the month she is most receptive; mechanical
devices slow you up just when you least want to slow up; chemicals are bound
to have side effects. I think, then, there is room for another method,
particularly one which has none of these drawbacks.
With that in mind I think that social pressure against those practices commonly
called 'perversions' ought to be lifted, where these are not physiologically
harmful The very qualities that made them perversions in a conception-centered
society make them virtues in a non-conception-centered society.
I think that sex education ought to include not only information concerning
what is usually considered 'normal' but also about those practices which
are non-conception-centered. No one need to be taught to indulge in them
exclusively, but by knowing they exist and aren't 'wrong', the number of
occasions that so-called normal intercourse need be indulged in, with all
the complications and drawbacks of artificial birth control methods, can
be reduced. And, of course, if a couple have no children, and want one or
two, they will know what to do.
As for those who can't stomach 'perversions' and who insist on doing everything
by the numbers in the way that was good enough for their grandmother (I wonder!),
then good luck to them, but they had better be careful. One way or another,
birth control must be made effective, and what I have suggested here is only
one more method; one which, joined to the others already available, increases
by that much the general effectiveness of the system as a whole and makes
the chance just a little bit greater that the world might yet be saved.
|| The Left Hand of the Electron