The Vasectarmy: Securing Our Future Against Marauding Sperm
In following health care trends (which is what I do to relax – I also eat corn husks for dessert), I’ve been tracking a phenomenon: as medicine grows more specialized, jobs once done only by MDs are going to non-physicians, like nurses and physicians assistants – folks with limited training which is enough for what they do.
It’s like the industrial revolution. Before the industrial revolution, if you wanted a job as a car-builder you had to know how to build a car, which requires heavy education (like an MD). After the industrial revolution, you could get a job in the auto industry pounding rivets on an assembly line (more nurse-like).
I think there’s an opportunity for the environment in this trend. The idea:
Make vasectomies more attractive, available, and cheap by training specialists who do nothing but perform vasectomies.
At root, all our environmental problems are the result of this:
This is Earth’s human population through time. It’s exponential, which means sooner or later the curve will level off (and probably come down), and there are only two ways it can happen: either we do it voluntarily or nature does it for us.
Note that more than 90% of all species that have ever existed on Earth are extinct, including most of the “dominant” ones. We can argue that we’re special because we can build jets and catheters, and there’s a chance we’re right, but do we want to bet the human race on that hunch, in light of strong evidence for species fragility? Aren’t some precautions in order? Michael Jordan is an exceptional specimen but I bet he has health insurance.
Our global environment is now changing fast because we’re forcing it to, and we’re entering a period of instability the likes of which have killed countless species before us. The damage done will depend on how much more change we force, and that depends on what we do with our population before nature starts doing it for us. The more we reduce our numbers, the less dramatic the eventual culling is likely to be.
If your Implausibility Alarm is going off it’s because you’ve lived in an atypical time, like an investor whose investing philosophy was shaped inside a stock bubble. If you‘ve never seen things go kablooey you’ll doubt that they can. A look back on Earth’s history shows a lot of kablooeys. Our one hope is that we have the capacity to anticipate the next one and act preemptively. Or so I believe despite our present behavior, which shows all the foresight of a nematode.
Back to Vasectomies
We need birthrates to plummet. How? A full answer is best left to loftier minds, but one thing that will help is to create a group of professionals whose only job is to perform vasectomies. This would have two effects:
- Reduce the price. Vasectomy technicians would have less training and lower pay than physicians, and this would reduce the price. Vasectomies typically cost between $500 and $1000. I’d like to see them below $100. I know this alone would make at least some difference because I don’t have a vasectomy and if it cost $100 I’d be inclined to walk out the door and get one. In the meantime I could go on an impregnation-rampage at any moment.
- By creating professionals whose livelihoods depend on convincing us that vasectomies are worth considering, we’ll create a new cultural messaging force. The messages that dominate in our culture do so because someone has a vested interest in them. We drink Pepsi because Pepsi spends millions telling us to. Our Vasectarmy would be in the same position. It’ll learn how to market and to tell stories convincing us that vasectomies are good, which will help change how we think about the choice to have children.
Note that we wouldn’t have to train huge numbers of people. One person can perform a lot of vasectomies, because they’re fast outpatient procedures.
Some physicians will object, but they probably don’t merit much credence, what with their vested interest.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. (Upton Sinclair)
I believe strongly in this idea. If this were a career option, I’d do it, no hesitation. Scrotums are gross but I’d do it anyway. I want to see a vasectomy booth at Wal-Mart squeezed between the liquor store and the barber. I’ll man that sucker for the rest of my days.
- Population growth is already slowing on its own. True, but we won’t peak till we reach 9 or 10 billion, and we may already be too high at 7 billion. Fertility rates may have to fall more quickly than they are to avert cataclysm. We don’t know for sure, but that’s no reason not to act. I don’t know for sure if Russian roulette will kill me (in fact there’s only a 17% chance that it will), but I’ll never play Russian roulette. We’re playing global Russian roulette by our inaction.
- The only people who will take advantage of the proposed service are those who wouldn’t have had kids anyway. This is wrong for two reasons: a) See the point about cultural messaging above; and more importantly, b) 40%-50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. We could fix that.
- Bigger populations create stronger economies. This was once true but it’s less so now, due to automation. In 1900, if you wanted to make 10,000 cars in a day, you’d need like 100,000 people to do it. How many would you need now? Orders of magnitude fewer, because our tireless robot friends do most of the work. It’s true that bigger populations create higher GDP, but that doesn’t matter. What matters for human security is GDP-per-person, and a larger population doesn’t ensure that. In fact, in times of resource scarcity, higher populations can mean reduced GDP-per-person. We’re entering such a time (see peak oil or peak phosphorus, for example).
- The real problem is the developing world, which is making all the babies. We can keep making them at about replacement rates. It’s true that developing nations are where all the excess baby-making is, but the objection overlooks something: Americans have mammoth carbon footprints. The carbon footprint of an average American is about 100 times bigger than that of a Bangladeshi for example. Ergo, $1 worth of American vasectomies buys as much environmental protection as $100 of Bangladeshi vasectomies. Similar math holds for a comparison between the U.S. and nearly all other developing nations. The best return on investment is in the U.S., by far. That won’t change until Americans start living much more frugally. Also there’s no reason that developing countries shouldn’t do the same thing, and in fact the cost reduction might have a bigger impact where people are poor.
- What if something goes wrong during the procedure? An M.D. will know what to do, but a vasectomy technician might not. True but easily fixable. Vasectomy technicians can work in or near hospitals, just like nurses and physician’s assistants and midwives. If something goes wrong, the big guns can come out.
- Vasectomies aren’t God’s will. No reply because faith makes discussion impossible. Agree to disagree. I’m looking at you, Quiverfull.
-From the Sea
Posted September 07, 2011 in Smashing Ideas | 14 Comments on The Vasectarmy: Securing Our Future Against Marauding Sperm