Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Let the Pagan Spill Theirs O'er Mountain, Hill, and Plain.

Last weekend, upon leaving my favourite sub continental eatery after troughing down enough curry to sink a small barge, I wobbled out of Pasar Festival and chanced upon a rather boisterous event that was taking place in the car park. A couple of hundred people were gathered and were enjoying musical performances and speeches. Moreover, everyone was wearing identical T-shirts emblazoned with the acronym BKKBN, which stands for Badan Kordinasi Keluarga Berencana Nasional, which roughly translates as the National Coordinating Body for Family Planning.

Many of the assembled teenyboppers present looked far too young to be thinking about condoms, coils and pessaries. In fact, their nascent sexualities were probably more at the Peter Porn video on the mobile phone, embarrassed giggling and packets of tissues stage. Family planning education from a young age is clearly very important however, especially as many here seem to get married about three weeks after finishing high school.

Java is massively populated of course and, if you exclude far smaller islands with populations of less than ten million, it is by far the most densely packed island in the world. Around 130 million people are crammed onto Java's 132,089 km square, giving an average population density of 1026 per kilometre square. This is even more remarkable given how mountainous and actively volcanic the island is.

Back to the BKKBN 82nd birthday bash though. The costume parades and the music continued apace and slogans extolling the virtues of family planning could be seen everywhere. Former President and current National Hero candidate, Suharto, famously waged a, "Dua Anak Cukup," (Two Children are Enough) campaign during his three decade-long reign. In my view, this is one of the very few decent things that can be attributed to him, although this laudable attempt at public education was surely undercut by the general anti-intellectual herd mentality and impoverishing cultural docility that the dictator largely succeeded in inculcating in the general population in order to protect his personal empire, but hey that's just my view.

Perusing the BKKBN literature on hand, I found a few points of interest. One survey had questioned people about the best number of years to leave between a first and second child. Respondents could choose between one and five years. Gratifyingly, most chose five years but perhaps the BKKBN is preaching to the converted. I also learned that men are increasingly involving themselves in the issue of family planning because, "Men played a part in every birth that occurred," which I think hits the nail squarely on the head.

Alas, condom promotion, both for family planning and AIDS prevention purposes, has often hit the brick wall of intransigent Islamic piety here. Admittedly Muslims don't have the whole, to quote Monty Python, "Every sperm is sacred," Catholic approach to conception (and when you consider that a man can produce 100 million sperm in a single ejaculation, then masturbation is clearly close to genocide in the whole papist scheme of things).

What Islamists do have a downer on however, are sex and sexuality in general, and seeing as the subject of family planning inevitably involves the use of words such as, “penis” and “orgasm”, the whole contraception debate has often proved to fraught with religious sensitivities at a nuts and bolts level (and I stress the word bolts). In the Islamist's mind, condoms encourage promiscuity, which I think is rather putting the cart before the horse, but there you go.

The Malthusian nightmare of billions chewing up the planet for fun and profit is surely an increasing reality though and the clock’s running. Gaian theorist, James Lovelock, warns that if things don't change radically, we had better stash all essential human knowledge at the Earth's poles in a medium that doesn't require electricity. As it stands, the population of the world grows by one million every four days, a number that personally I find quite hard to get my head around.

What might a successful family planning campaign that actually reduces the country's, and indeed the world's, population look like? If everyone followed the now all but abandoned Chinese policy of one child per family, then by 2100, the population of the planet would be around 1.6 billion, a level last seen in the 19th Century before advances in medicine, food production and energy created a demographic time bomb. The world would daily become a better place and the results of this wouldn't just be in abstract statistical form, they would be outside everybody's window in the form of fresher air and a recovering planet.

A noble cause for sure! And so with my head held high and inspired by the BKKBN bun fight, I headed round the corner to Pasar Festival's huge new branch of 7 Eleven in search of some latex civilisation savers. Fighting my way through the retina scorching strip lighting, which is equivalent to about ten OId Traffords worth of floodlights, I selected a packet of three Durex Performa, as I need all the help that I can get in that department. Reading the packet, I was also gratified to note that a special cream keeps the wolf from the door when you're nearing what in British slang are known as the vinegar strokes. Just the ticket. Have a well planned week one and all.