Saturday, April 24, 2021

On the Make

At Brown Pundits, there is an interesting consensus that the US is certainly not the civilisation of the future, and may not even be the civilisation of the present.  They are divided whether China is the present and much of the future, some saying this is inevitable because of numbers, force, and technology, others claiming that its internal contradictions are so great, and its abuse of its neighbors and supposed allies so thorough that it is not sustainable. They are mostly positive that India is a player in the future, though painfully slowly. They do hedge, noting that America remains quite different in many ways and may find a dozen small ways to reinvent itself even if it cannot manage the large overall reinvention that futures require.

They mention Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia as countries that are still generally poor but very much on the make and rising.  They are quite certain those places are part of whatever future comes. The Middle East is occasionally mentioned, South America not at all, and Africa only as a possible distant future.

Europe is seen as the civilisation of the past, with America and Japan going down that road.  They do not seem to think this downfall will be at all quick, and point to Europe as an example of a region that has been going downhill for a century but is still very powerful. This is what they expect of the US, that even as it declines, it will still be a giant in 2100 and maybe 2200. They also expect Europe to be varied in its survival. There was a fun exchange in which it was noted that Italy has had 500 years of decline and is unlikely to make a comeback at this point, but Northern Europe should rally a half-dozen times before the end. They did not comment on American regions, but I would be interested. The City-state model - Singapore, Shanghai, London, New York - should have influence even through long collapse, but is it still stable?

I don't know if they are smarter and more objective than Western observers, but it is true that Europe has been dying for a long time, yet still looks fairly prosperous and livable. On the empirical approach to anthropology that something that has lasted until today is likely to be here tomorrow because it works somehow, that isn't shocking.

Relatedly, there is this article on How the West (mostly the global left) Lost the Culture Wars in India.


james said...

Their consensus isn't terribly surprising. The US elite offer little but self-criticism, which isn't a great sales strategy. Most of the world wants things or processes, not symbols of diversity--they typically have more diversity than they want already, thank you very kindly. We've been pretty explicit that symbols of diversity are more important than the product.

Is this fair? Have we lost self-confidence and interest in doing, or is this just this decade's elite fashion? If the diversity cult is just words that get lip service, maybe there's an invisible power here still "on the make."

I think one way to tell is to look at the birth rate. Do we have enough confidence in ourselves and our future to bring children into the world?

It looks like not. Our various tribes are pretty mixed--maybe they'll shake out geographically if we can stay a federal republic. That could be interesting, as you note. I suspect the different tribes reproduce at different rates, but that won't make a huge difference unless they re-sort geographically. As it is, the relatively barren elite easily entices others to join, or at least imitate them.

I should probably learn more about Hindutva--I'm not entirely sure I understand how that fits in. Maybe commenter humasarin is right.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Birth rate is a sign of general optimism. You can hear it yourself in the young people you know: "I just don't know if it's right to bring children into a world like this," and other variations on that theme. The last numbers I saw were that evangelicals were having just about replacement levels at 2.1 births per woman, with trad Catholics and Orthodox Jews running about the same. When I see families with more than two children out on the rail trail, I am tempted to ask "Evangelical or Catholic?" but I never do. Mainstream, including white Catholics is at about 1.7, "Nones" at 1.6, atheists and non-Orthodox Jews 1.4, and agnostics 1.3. If LDS, Greek Orthodox, and other small groups were mentioned, I don't recall, but I would bet both are higher than average, and Muslims higher still.

One of my earliest posts in 2006 was about birthrates of the nations fighting WWII, whether they were oppressor, neutral, rescuer, victime, or mixed, and there was a rough trend that the rescuers and victims had higher rates. I now look at what I did and find it was oversimplified, not very precise in definitions. Still, it tells us something. Germany, and especially Italy and Japan, have had extremely low birthrates and this has gone even lower. We aren't going to have enough money/time/stability to share, we can just sense it.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: At Brown Pundits, there is an interesting consensus that the US is certainly not the civilisation of the future, and may not even be the civilisation of the present.

The U.S. will remain important among nations, but it is only natural, especially if you believe in the ideal of self-determination, that other nations will have more of a say in global affairs. The world is growing up. The influence of China and other developing nations will wax. The Chinese people, as a whole, are very proud of progress they have made over the last generation, and that optimism will fuel their expansion, for good and bad.

On the other hand, the U.S. has huge advantages: vast natural resources, an educated and highly motivated workforce, a culture of entrepreneurship and creativity, scientific preeminence, strong institutional stability, and a deep network of alliances and trading relationships. Of course, the U.S. can't continue to make gross errors forever without paying a price, but there is still plenty of time to set course for a more prosperous future.

David Foster said...

"an educated and highly motivated workforce"...I talked with a carpenter who said younger hires often had problems learning to read a ruler or tape measure, because they had never been taught how to do fractional arithmetic. Also talked with a machinist who made the same point about micrometers and decimal arithmetic.

Mike Guenther said...

I'm a carpenter. And you're right about younger hires having trouble reading a simple tape measure. They even manufacture tape measures with the fractures printed out between the inch markings.

But you know...2+2 = 5 in modern, woke math. How'd you like to cross a bridge or go into a building engineered by one of the people who ascribe to woke math?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It goes deeper than wokeness, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that applying wokeness to math is downstream of poor teaching methods.

As with phonics, the education establishment is determined to prove, no matter how many children's lives they destroy along the way, that "drill and kill" is not the way to teach. Any other method is allowed. All theories of what will work (this time) are entertained. There are a few possibilities as to motive, and I can't say which is dominant. Perhaps all have some part in it. It is no fun to teach drill. You don't feel that you are really spreading your wings and applying professional training when you use the old boring method. Maybe it is just the pigheadedness of "this is what we were told at ed school was better, and we're not backing down." Maybe it is helplessness in the face of the textbook and curriculum designers refusing to read real research. It might come from a misguided fear that students will feel insulted if you treat them like they are dumb and can't pick things up in the tricky abstract ways the teacher is using.

Rote learning works, especially for the less-gifted students. The brighter students will figure much of it out on their own no matter what method you use - though sometimes you can even lose some of those who can't get off the dime because of the stupid assumptions they have picked up from previous curricula. Those have to do some unlearning before they can do learning.

Once you have the higher-IQ students succeeding whatever the hell you do to them - and those are disproportionately white and Asian - the others aren't doing well. And because of wokeness it can't be that the students did anything wrong. And because of ed school it can't be anything that the teachers are doing wrong. The only thing left is that math itself must be wrong. It must be white math or something. There must be some other maths that work just as well, if only we didn't insist on whiteness. Which, BTW, the Asians are even better at.

RichardJohnson said...

Relatedly, there is this article on How the West (mostly the global left) Lost the Culture Wars in India.

Without reading the article, one thing it is probably discussing is that Nehru and his cohort used Fabian socialism, which they learned at British universities, as their template for developing India. That meant heavy government regulation of the economy, in addition to government ownership of many industries. The regulation, such as requiring government licenses for the most picayune corporate decisions, played a big hand in the slower growth of the Indian economy. Removing the hand of government increased growth.

Aggie said...

Our culture and society has grown so fast and come so far that most people can't remember what we went through, to get here. The experiences and memories of the past 5-7 generations are notably distinct from their surrounding cohorts, because of this. A consequence of not contemplating our history in this context is two-fold: First, we're ungrateful, to a degree that is appalling. Second, we're ignorant, and are passing that ignorance down as if it were a virtue.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Richard Johnson - your spidey sense is accurate. I recommend following the links because it will build on information you already clearly know and give you an update.

@ Aggie - yes, it is worth stating again and again that the old myth about America was wrong, but far more accurate than the current myth.

Donna B. said...

"Birth rate is a sign of general optimism. You can hear it yourself in the young people you know: "I just don't know if it's right to bring children into a world like this," and other variations on that theme."

That's not wrong, but I doubt it's even half the story. For one thing, the 'don't know if it's right bringing children into a world like this' trope is essentially knee-jerk virtue signaling. I first heard that from my father when I told him he was about to be a great-grandfather. I reminded him that 30 years earlier when I was wondering where I'd put the 3rd child I was expecting in a 2 bedroom house that he told me "there's always room for one more". And that maybe this great grandchild of his might fix what we'd screwed up.

Don't forget the impact that mostly reliable birth control and the various incantations of feminism have had on family size, especially in wealthy countries. The emotional and intellectual push-pull between sacrosanct motherhood and required career is definitely part of the reason for the maximum 2 child family. Another part of the 2 children max is cultural pressure to give each child so much more attention, support, and 'opportunity' than our parents were expected to provide.

Douglas2 said...

A counter-argument is that before the last century a declining birth rate was a sign that people were confident in their locale's economic and political stability. More children are needed, for example if the expectation is that they'll die in war before being able to provide for you in old-age.

When I was arguing this online 20 years ago, my go-to example was France circa 1800-1830, but there are plenty of other examples from developed western countries where improved living-standards preceded a decline in birth-rate to near replacement level. All this happened many generations before hormonal birth control.

Deducing causation is difficult, but I can't help noticing that countries with birth-rate well below replacement level all introduced a government old-age-pension a generation before that happened.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think those are true, and birth rate does decline as countries become more prosperous. But then the perception among young people, it seems, is that enormous resources must be put into a child to ensure it a place in the adult world comparable to the parents. The idea that "my children should exceed me" is much weaker than it has been in the past 3-4 generations, but still has some force. Among the other things people hope for their children, they also have in the back of their minds how ridiculously expensive college and a house are, and how few the best jobs are in some fields.

So everyone has much more, but feels that it's less, or that it can't be sustained another generation. So this has truth, but it is also something of an illusion, as we are much wealthier.

As for birth control and career, the two likely interacted in the mentality of women growing up over the last sixty years, not always in direct connections but as part of a package that itself interacted with a growing expectation of some sort of college, and of having more land and house space. When the women of a culture can limit the number of children they have, they do, and this is happening in developing countries now. But it then keeps dropping even more, so that two children is no longer the standard model. It is not only that fewer people are having three or more. Couples with one child or none are more common as well.

Douglas2's point about old-age pensions is an interesting see-saw. People are living longer, and farther from their children. All have seen older people run out of money and fear that for themselves and for their parents. While young couples having children are usually not much thinking of that themselves, the fear and lack of optimism do filter down in the society. We may not be able to help you send them to college. We may not leave you anything.

David Foster said...

Aggie..."First, we're ungrateful, to a degree that is appalling."

I note that the same people who talk about their 'privilege' are usually devoid of gratitude.

David Foster said...

One very big factor in the fertility rate is the demand that anyone who wants a serious career must not only attend 4 years of college, but then must also attend 2-5 years, or even more, of grad school, law school, MBA school, or whatever. This runs right into the intersection of the career-startup window and the fertility window.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

And incurs enormous debt, delaying home purchase and thus indirectly family formation, as we ever more think "children need a yard to play in."

Cranberry said...

Everyone's entitled to an opinion. I don't agree with theirs, but time will settle the dispute. Fertility is declining across the world, not only in Europe, North America and Asia. The same factors governing the decline of fertility in North America and Europe are at work in other countries.

For one thing, it has been predicated that the US will be larger than China in 2100.

stevo said...

One subtle form of birth control is the government mandated child car seat which makes having more than 2 children inconvenient and unusual.