Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's 2006--Time to Stir the Pot

This will get me vilified and pilloried like nothing else I've ever posted, I imagine, but please read this long article:

It's the Demography, Stupid
(This link will probably go defunct before too much longer; I plan to archive the article in my own web space when that happens--it's that important.)

The primary argument that Steyn makes is that a lot of the worrying we do as pampered citizens of the West is pointless: by the simple fact of the birth rates we're achieving (if the word "achieving" can be used with a straight face), the less-multiculturally-enlightened cultures of the world (read, Sharia-adherent Muslims) will have bred the West out of existence by the 2040s.

Here's one of the scarier pairs of paragraphs:
[..]When it comes to forecasting the future, the birthrate is the nearest thing to hard numbers. [...] And the hard data on babies around the Western world is that they're running out a lot faster than the oil is. "Replacement" fertility rate--i.e., the number you need for merely a stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller--is 2.1 babies per woman. Some countries are well above that: the global fertility leader, Somalia, is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, Yemen 6.75. Notice what those nations have in common?

Scroll way down to the bottom of the Hot One Hundred top breeders and you'll eventually find the United States, hovering just at replacement rate with 2.07 births per woman. Ireland is 1.87, New Zealand 1.79, Australia 1.76. But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation. By 2050, Italy's population will have fallen by 22%, Bulgaria's by 36%, Estonia's by 52%. In America, demographic trends suggest that the blue states ought to apply for honorary membership of the EU: In the 2004 election, John Kerry won the 16 with the lowest birthrates; George W. Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest. By 2050, there will be 100 million fewer Europeans, 100 million more Americans--and mostly red-state Americans.
Steyn is harsh with some of his rhetoric, but I've been following these sorts of demographic trends for a while, and I think he's on the money with his predictions: absent some form of basic shift in the Western attitude toward reproduction, Western civilization as we know it will not survive the next hundred years, if even the next fifty. I see this owing to one reason: the major factor making the demographically successful cultures successful is their ideology. Simply put, Sharia (as most widely interpreted and applied) holds little respect for a woman's right to choose, or indeed many of the familial morés Westerners embrace as more or less equal-rights societies. This means that what displaces us won't be a new Muslimized form of the liberties and privileges we enjoy, it will be something inherently more Muslim and likely harsher, because that Muslim-ness is what will have made it succeed over our model in the first place.

I find myself wondering whether historians centuries years from now will be forced to conclude that social liberalism (in the classic sense, not the current political sense) is incompatible with societal success. If a culture enshrines personal freedoms and reduces the importance of family to the point that A) women become free to decide not to have children, and B) the perceived value of childbearing depreciates below the point of desirability for most women, does a culture doom itself? I'd argue that it does.

Here's a closing bit from Steyn:
I watched that big abortion rally in Washington in 2004, where Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem were cheered by women waving "Keep your Bush off my bush" placards, and I thought it was the equivalent of a White Russian tea party in 1917. By prioritizing a "woman's right to choose," Western women are delivering their societies into the hands of fellows far more patriarchal than a 1950s sitcom dad. If any of those women marching for their "reproductive rights" still have babies, they might like to ponder demographic realities: A little girl born today will be unlikely, at the age of 40, to be free to prance around demonstrations in Eurabian Paris or Amsterdam chanting "Hands off my bush!"
Again, his rhetoric is rough-edged, but I think the larger point is valid: if basic personal freedoms are worth fighting for and preserving (and I think they most definitely are, please don't misunderstand), how do we reconcile that with the observed tendency of freed women to deprioritize reproduction? To an extent we have a "tragedy of the commons" situation, wherein the free-female societies are playing by one set of rules, and another group of societies are emphatically not, and are profiting by it.

So what's the solution? I'm not sure there is one--we can't start mandating or incentivizing breeding; to my knowledge incentives seldom have worked (and I'd imagine they aren't sustainable as an indefinite trend), and we can't start revoking freedoms without destroying an integral part of ourselves.

There are only two ways out of the situation that I see: either A) we somehow make big families and babymaking desirable and "cool" again, and tell "slavery to the patriarchy" feminism to take a running jump, or B) we go all Sci-Fi on the problem and develop artificial wombs, mandating/incentivizing the contribution of genetic material from everybody so we can let machines do the heavy species-propagation lifting. Day care in either case would become a growth industry, though the quality of childrearing would likely suffer if there wasn't also an increase in stay-at-home mommery (I'd say "parenting," but I'm feeling too demographically honest).

Okay, that's my piece mostly said. I imagine there will be truckloads of commentary (provided I get any). If you're moved to respond in the negative, please A) be prepared to provide evidence that we're *not* being outbred by factors of three by societies choosing to limit the reproductive freedom of their women, and B) try to avoid ad hominem attacks on Steyn as a horrific conservative kitten-hater, or bloviating multicultural red herrings to the effect of Western societies deserving to be bred out of existence because of our rapine and pillage of Mother Earth, and/or displacement of other impoverished and thus less-culpable cultures. Also, C) I don't want to get into any sort of overpopulation debate--in any event, a replacement birthrate like the U.S.'s would be much better for any overpop scenario than a triple-replacement rate like Somalia's. Finally, D) I fully expect the diehard multi-cultis to start labeling me as an evil racist white male reparations-owing so-and-so. Whatever.


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