Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Babies As Necessary Evils

I'm not one for demographic predictions of gloom and doom. Ever since I went to college in the 80's I've heard about and read about this or that dire demographic catastrophe that was right around the corner. Well, we've been turning corners for thirty years and all we've found are other corners to turn.

I've heard people say that there are just too many people on the earth and it just won't sustain the numbers anymore, or it won't once we turn that corner. Now I read that the real trouble is that there won't be enough westerners to stave their (and our) civilizations from collapse.

It isn't that I don't believe that demographics can have profound effects. Everybody in my age cohort can see that if they look around. I was born in 1968. That places me in a generation that doesn't enjoy the sheer weight of numbers that the Baby Boomers enjoy in America, or those in what they call the Boomlet. As a result our generation could be best called "demographically challenged." There just isn't enough of us to cast a very long shadow over our political society or our consumer economy. You will see what I mean in a few years time when during PBS pledge drives the early prime time programming lineup will feature Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Moody Blues, and the late prime time will lineup feature Pearl Jam and Green Day. It will be as if nothing came in between.

I ramble.

Anyway, I was reading this piece from Mark Steyn (The Strange Death Of The Liberal West) and I came up on this section:

Almost every issue facing the EU - from immigration rates to crippling state pension liabilities - has at its heart the same glaringly plain root cause: a huge lack of babies. I could understand a disinclination by sunny politicians to peddle doom and gloom were it not for the fact that, in all other areas of public policy, our rulers embrace doomsday scenarios at the drop of a hat. Most 20-year projections - on global warming, fuel resources, etc - are almost laughably speculative. They fail to take into account the most important factor of all - human inventiveness: "We can't feed the world!" they shriek. But we develop more efficient farming methods with nary a thought. "The oil will run out by the year 2000!" But we develop new extraction methods and find we've got enough oil for as long as we'll need it.

But human inventiveness depends on humans - and that's the one thing we really are running out of. When it comes to forecasting the future, the birth rate is the nearest thing to hard numbers. If only a million babies are born in 2005, it's hard to have two million adults enter the workforce in 2025 (or 2033, or 2041, or whenever they get around to finishing their Anger Management, Systemic Racism and Gay Studies degrees). If that's not a political issue, what is? To cite only the most obviously affected corner of the realm, what's the long-term future of the Scottish National Party if there are no Scottish nationals?

When I've mentioned the birth dearth on previous occasions, pro-abortion correspondents have insisted it's due to other factors - the generally declining fertility rates that affect all materially prosperous societies, or the high taxes that make large families prohibitively expensive in materially prosperous societies. But this is a bit like arguing over which came first, the chicken or the egg - or, in this case, which came first, the lack of eggs or the scraggy old chicken-necked women desperate for one designer baby at the age of 48. How much of Europe's fertility woes derive from abortion is debatable. But what should be obvious is that the way the abortion issue is framed - as a Blairite issue of personal choice - is itself symptomatic of the broader crisis of the dying West.

I read this and I tried to come up, not with exceptions to this or that assumption of Steyn's or this or that statistic of his, but with a different way to frame the issue he is talking about. I've not been able to do it. I believe he is framing the issue fairly and, more importantly, in a non-ideological fashion.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the drift in our society is towards viewing babies as necessary evils, and maybe not even as necessary. I don't mean this in a "pro-choice vs. pro-life" manner. The change in western society from the day that families routinely had 7-10 children to the day that families had 2-4 children does seem to be explained sufficiently by the rising living standards. The shift from 7-10 children to 2-4 children didn't necessarily mean that societies were thinking differently about children in the abstract. However, the change in societies from families of 2-4 children to "families" with one or none does seem to have engendered a fundamentally different view of children.

It's also hard not to view this as true when you read the following (also from Steyn):

In Britain, two doctors escape prosecution for aborting an otherwise healthy baby with a treatable cleft palate because the authorities are satisfied they acted "in good faith". You can read similar stories in almost any corner of the developed world, except perhaps the Netherlands, where discretionary euthanasia is so advanced it's news if the kid makes it out of the maternity ward. As the New York Times reported the other day: "Babies born into what is certain to be a brief life of grievous suffering should have their lives ended by physicians under strict guidelines, according to two doctors in the Netherlands.

"The doctors, Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J. J. Sauer of the University Medical Center in Groningen, in an essay in today's New England Journal of Medicine, said they had developed guidelines, known as the Groningen protocol."

Ah, the protocols of the elders of science. Odd the way scientists have such little regard for scientific progress. It's highly likely that many birth defects - not just the bilateral cleft lips - will be treatable and correctible in the next decade or two. But once you start weighing the relative values of individual lives, there's no end to it. Much of that derives from the way abortion has redefined life - as a "choice", an option

It just struck me as strange that we have doctors that seem to believe that a baby born with a birth defect is, in effect, struggling to die as opposed to fighting to live. At least that is the best face we can put on the matter. The harsh reality seems more likely to be that, for us modern western adults, if we are going to "endure the evils of raising children" we should at least not have to put up with the defective variety. This is especially true if we only plan to have a single child.

The Catholic marriage rites have a moment when the bride and groom are asked if they will accept the children that God may grant them as an integral part of their life together. I wonder now if that language doesn't sound merely strange and archaic to our ears but positively alien. That children might come naturally as a result of marriage simply doesn't make sense in a society that views every child as a choice, and a reluctant and grudging one at that.

And before I get emails or comments from people saying how they personally really want 25 children, and so on, let me state again I'm talking about the drift of our entire society in general. I also am not exempting myself from this drift. I am 36 years old, and I have no children. Now, I've never been married either, but it is not so easy for me to let myself off the hook. Now, maybe for the unmarried man the thought of fathering children will always be intertwined with thoughts of horror. But can I honestly say that doesn't also mask a view of babies as necessary evils? I desperately wish I had an unequivocal answer to that. I'm not sure I do.

Maybe there is nothing so insidious as thoughts of our own comfort.

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