Monday, January 28, 2019


The sites I visit, whether they are stressing conservatism or genetics, keep coming back to the idea of low birthrate among smart people spelling doom for us all.  The women are usually blamed more than the men for this. We measure birthrate on the female side, so that is going to suggest the role of women automatically at every turn, but I think we would focus on them anyway. Women entering the workforce, more years of education and the delaying of marriage, and many strains of feminism devaluing and discouraging the raising of children are all mentioned rather declaratively, which tells me it’s not just being cued by how the statistic is reported. We’re all going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s your fault, lady.   

A moment to remind you of Bethany's  observation over at Graph Paper Diaries on the subject of fertility. Also, having children is an expression of optimism about the future. A dozen years ago, I saw a correlation between being an oppressor nation and a diminished birthrate.
There’s more than one thing wrong with this. That men also have some say in “Hey, I just don’t think we’re ready to have kids right now,” or “I think we have enough children” is pretty obvious. Yes, it is complicated in every relationship, and for that reason difficult to sort out on a cultural level which sex is driving down the number of children. I don’t think there is a clear general answer to that other than “It’s not just the women.” The availability of birth control is certainly a much larger cause.  The fact of a pregnancy changes everyone’s theorizing about what they think is optimal. The purpose of birth control is not really family planning, or choosing when to have children. It’s a tool one uses to not have children at a particular time, and thus inevitably, to reduce the number of children.  It may in individual cases result in the same number of children, but the overall trend is going to be down.

There are deeper questions. What is it we are trying to preserve?  A society?  For Christians, it is this world that is temporary and the individual that is immortal. It is a value of Western Civilisation to improve institutions “so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.” Christianity encourages this, but regards the matter as secondary.  It is a type of good work, which a person might engage in for the benefit of his fellows, but it is not required. It does not remotely show up in the Ten Commandments, The Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer. It is derivative. 
What is it we are trying to preserve? Well, what do we think is going to go wrong? In this future world where we have ever-fewer of the “right” babies, tempting us to adopt the European solution of taking in immigrants whose qualification is that they are younger and likely to have more children than our own culture does, will we be poorer? Given technological advancements, probably not.  Will we have more crime?  Perhaps, but I think technology will help us out there, at least some. Will we be in more danger from other nations? We may, in terms of the necessary technologies of war, or cold war.  Yet immigrants may be more willing, not less, to resort to violent defense if needed, judging from their home cultures. The mostly-European settlement of America was a context of people who were both sick of war, but also very clear that sometimes battle is necessary. That is likely going to be true of any immigrants going forward.  It is the populations which have been at peace in America for generations that people the antiwar protests.

An immigrant population may be less willing to fight strategic wars. That might matter. Yet there is not universal agreement that strategic wars have worked out that well for America. Or anyone else, really.

I think there is a real worry that if America, or the Anglosphere in general is less in command of its own culture as currently understood that some valuable things will be lost.  Not money, not hot dogs and condiments, nor merely drive, entrepreneurship, and that can-do spirit, but human rights. Individual rights are being forced backwards*, as group memberships are again being considered evidence of guilt or innocence; rules of evidence still persist in court, but those may be eroding as well, as judges try to include what people would like to be true; the role of evidence in academic debate is greatly weakened in many fields, and if mathematics is not immune, we have to fear that things could get very bad indeed. There is of course an irony, that the stress on individual rights is what has protected women and minorities up until now, and increased their freedom of action. If we are to increasingly restrict rights of people to be heard, and even to speak at all except in approved manner, the unintended effects may not be pleasant for the very people they were intended to help.  Feminists who are being shushed about what they cannot say about transgenders are appalled. Being shushed is a very big deal for them.  Trust me on this.

Back on task.  I recently wrote about what culture we are preserving, exactly. We are talking about culture being swamped, and not just the eel pies. However, how much of that is going to be a result of the birth rate?  Even if we went to the All-American fantasy of half the people going to college suddenly saying Screw that.  We can get better paying jobs doing something else now, let’s get married, get a small house, and have a bunch of kids, with half of the remainder doing college from home with similar plans, and stunningly, the fashion turns to having a collection of free-range kids - the coolest thing for the next two generations and the birthrate jumps to 3.3 - how much would even that change things? Some. But I don’t think even magical changes are going to reverse other cultural trends.  Worldwide, the trend is that everyone’s birthrate is falling.

*Again. The rights of the collective against the individual have always been strong, even in America. Just not as strong as other places. We may have hit a high-water mark in our lifetimes, which we are now receding from.  The behavior of the ACLU may be one measure of that.


Donna B. said...

I don't think my comment will have much to do with where your post was/is going... however, that's not going to stop me.

The first time I ever told my father that I thought he was completely and absolutely wrong was when he commented that my daughter shouldn't have a baby (his grandchild!) because "who would want to bring a child into the world today?" Before then, I'd only been brave enough to tell him he might be wrong.

Yeah, I sort of came "unglued" at his comment. I told him that my grandchild might be the one to finally find the cure to "cancer" or that he/she might finally figure out a way for the world to be at peace... or that he/she might finally come up with the ultimate recipe for cornbread. And then I told him that he should think about how he might have felt if his mother had told him the same thing.

While I had disagreements with my father from the time I was 3 years old, it was well into my 50s when I first told him that I thought he was so utterly and completely wrong. We were both stunned.

My father is not the first to hold the sentiment that the world is so awful that children should not be born into it. Frankly that doesn't make sense to me.

james said...

WRT valuable things lost:
“As Chesterton says, a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he ‘could not even begin’ to enumerate all the things he would miss.”

I wonder--the information is probably out there somewhere--what the distribution of "number of kids I'd like to have" has been for men and for women over time.

Texan99 said...

It's a little wimpy, isn't it? Our ancestors cheerfully or at least with a decent resignation brought children into the world when it was a heck of a lot more challenging than the present. Or would they have, if they'd been able to enjoy limitless sex without kids?

There's more than a little reluctance in my past to have kids "yet"--and that didn't work out so well--but I never told myself I was thinking of the welfare of the hypothetical kids. Frankly the dominant concern was the effect on me: is this a good time? Will my colleagues use my brief absence to sideline me, always a danger? Can I live on my own savings; can I stand not to earn my own living? My only concern for a possible child was that a motherless woman doesn't make a good mother, and I have not at any age felt the slightest urge to associate with children. It certainly wasn't that I thought the world in general wasn't up to snuff.

David Foster said...

I wonder if the Oppressor/Rescuer/Victim analysis is really showing "Winners vs Losers"

Texan99 said...

I guess if you're a victim who can persuade a rescuer to beat the oppressor up, that's a kind of winning strategy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Very plausible re-interpretation.