Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Coming Demographic Winter

From Crisis:
Of course we Americans are hardly in a position to boast since our own fertility rates are far from bullish.  Indeed, the birthrate over here has plummeted to the lowest levels in U.S. history, rivaling even the most dismal days of the Great Depression.  From 2007 to 2011, which is the period where the latest hard data exists, the fertility rate fell by 9 percent.  Another way of putting it is to compare the rates of maternity-free American women from the 1970s, which was 1 in 10, with those of today, which are twice that number, which is to say, 1 in 5.   And while the change is perhaps not yet as catastrophic as in Italy, where nearly one-fourth of childbearing women will never give birth, it is nevertheless a pretty dramatic and disturbing trend.  Across the Western world, in other words, a looming demographic winter is taking shape.

Not that there aren’t babies being born in the West, only that more and more they tend to be the offspring of immigrant women, whose openness to new life stands in striking contrast to the ennui that characterizes the resolutely childless.  And who are these immigrant women whose children more and more provide the numbers that keep the life force going?  Would it surprise you to know that many of them are Muslim?  And that the fertility missiles leaving the launching pad are fueled largely by faith?  The English philosopher Roger Scruton, in a moving piece from his book Gentle Regrets, puts it in chilling terms:  “The Muslims in our midst,” he writes,  “do not share our impious attitude to absent generations.  They come to us from the demographic infernos of North Africa and Pakistan, like Aeneas from the burning ruins of Troy, each with an old man on his shoulders, a child at his feet, and his hands full of strange gods.  They are manifestly in the business of social, as well as biological, reproduction.  They show us what we really stand to lose, if we hold nothing sacred: namely, the future.”

And to whom, finally, does the future belong?  It belongs to those who show up, which is to say, to the fertile.  Provided, that is, they remain tethered to life, to fruitfulness.  What happens to a society prescinded from that procreative urge, a society in which the full meaning of eros has been either thwarted or trivialized, is a kind of suicide.  That men and women will no longer do what the animals do without having to think about doing it?  What else can that be but an invitation to extinction.  A state of entropy entirely self-inflicted, too.  In an op-ed piece that appeared December 2012 in the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat makes the point that society’s “retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion,” a condition of “decadence,” he calls it, evoking “ a spirit that privileges the present over the future.” (Read more.)

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