Fri, 13 Jan 2006
I am not, nor do I have any interest in becoming, a demographer, a geographer, an economist, or a statistician. But many of my friends have heard me ramble on about The Future and what I think it should look like. I remember a conversation with Dean & Anne where I mooted the idea of starting a new provincial political party, the Evacuation Party, whose platform would be to return Saskatchewan in its entirety to the Indians (assuming they still wanted it) and move everyone else to BC. This wasn’t really a joke. I believe that the declining birthrate in Canada and other western countries presents us with a chance to remake the architecture of our civilisation in a fundamental way; to bulldoze our ugly freeways and generic suburbs and let them return to nature, and retrench with a smaller and denser population to a more attractive climate.
That’s my utopian vision of Canada: nothing but bison and bears in the middle of the country, with a small, cosmopolitan, and well-educated population living in cities along the coasts. But I have to acknowledge the fears of conservative writers like Mark Steyn, who believes that the West is low-birthrating itself out of existence. He’s Canadian, but his argument deals primarily with Europe:
“If European politicians make no serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable thirty-five-hour weeks, retirement at sixty, etc., then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035.”
The problem, as Steyn sees it, isn’t so much that Europe will be predominantly Muslim, but that European culture may cease to be European. He fears that much of the incoming Muslim population shows little interest in embracing the values of liberalism, tolerance, and equality that Europeans regard as the foundation of their culture. These Muslims are happy to shelter under Europe’s protections for minorities so long as they themselves are the minority; but will they retain the habit when Muslims are the majority and it is Europe’s gays, gypsies, and Lutherans who need protecting?
It’s easy to caricature Steyn’s article as mere anti-Muslim paranoia, but his argument can be extended to other societies besides Europe. Take Israel; founded by secularists, but increasingly dominated in its politics and culture by high-birthrate Orthodox Jews who believe that it is not only strategically unwise, but an actual sin against G-d, to cede any territory to the Arabs. Or consider the U.S., where high-birthrate fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have shifted the political centre of gravity away from the liberal northeast and toward the more conservative south, resulting in the rise of George W. Bush.
Nearly everywhere that secular and religious societies live side by side, the secularists are declining in population and consequently in political influence. The reason is that secular women aren’t that interested in having babies. Why should they be? Babies are unpleasant to have. They’re a physical burden for nine months, and an emotional and financial burden for decades afterward. Most secular women seem to want to have one anyway – presumably on the grounds that Well, I’ve got this uterus, I might as well try it out at least once – while some are willing to go for two, and a few even for three. How many will go higher? The only women who continue to have babies in any numbers are those who believe that having babies is their duty; namely, very religious women.
Here’s where I part company with Mark Steyn; he believes that secular women should put their careers on hold and start breeding like Somalis. I think women should give up breeding altogether and we should grow our babies in bottles. But regardless of one’s politics, the demographic trend is worrisome, if we care about passing on liberal democratic values to the next generation.
(Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to use the word “we”. But it’s probably safe to assume that everyone reading this, whatever his or her religious leanings, broadly favours the secular values of our society over the values of, say, Saudi Arabia, or even rural Oklahoma.)
So what can secularists do? (Short of having more babies, which we don’t want to do.) As it’s not viable economically to close ourselves off from the outside world – and anyway to do so would go against our principles – we have to absorb and integrate an ever-increasing number of high-birthrate peoples. And whether the incoming group is Muslim or Mormon or Sikh or Southern Baptist, we low-birthrate secularists, if we wish to retain our freedoms, have to somehow convince these very religious newcomers to accept laws and customs that may be deeply disagreeable to them; gay rights, sacrilege of various stripes, lewd double entendres on network television.
We have to ask believers in a Revealed Truth to co-exist peacefully with a plurality of other Revealed Truths. In so doing, we are effectively asking them to water down their Truth, while we cling tenaciously to our own; which is that there is no one Truth. But of course our Truth is a paradox – if there is no one Truth, then our Truth, too, could be false – while theirs is a banner, or a book, or a bloodline; something which can be rallied around and fought for. So our subtle, gnostic Truth will always be at a disadvantage against the louder, angrier Truths of the others; and that disadvantage will only be compounded by our numerical weakness.
Meanwhile the severer sort of Muslim (to take one example) has the opposite fear; that our Untruth is so seductive that if it isn’t combatted with violence, he will succumb to it, and become an Unbeliever like us. And frankly, I hope he’s right. That is to say, I really hope that western culture, from Dante through to Desperate Housewives, from the Federalist Papers to the Bush Doctrine, is as toxic as the mullahs believe it to be, so that we may infect the downtrodden masses of the Arab world before their culture grows strong enough to infect us. I don’t really mind if our descendants a hundred years from now (living in their lovely tree-lined cities on the BC coast) wind up speaking some other language besides English, and I certainly don’t care whether their skin is brown or white. But I’ll be deeply peeved if the women are lurching around under little black tents and the boy children are sitting in madrassas, cultivating their wispy beards, and learning that the truth revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is the only truth worth knowing.
Update, Sept 6 2011: I just noticed that the New Criterion has made Mark Steyn’s article subscriber-only, so I found, via Google, a blog where you can read the whole text. Unfortunately, the proprietor of the Locust Blog appears to be a paranoid racist. Fair warning.