Thu, 16 Mar 2006
For those of you who aren’t regular readers of Foreign Policy magazine, you might have missed this article (subscription required) which basically reiterates (using longer words) my comments from a few months back about low birthrates and the impending death of liberalism.
Very depressing. Of course, baleful predictions about the end of the world as we know it usually turn out to be wrong by approximately one hundred percent. Remember that forty years ago the Gloomy Guses were going on not about low birthrates but about overpopulation, and the biggest fear wasn’t global warming, but the oncoming ice age. Still, civilisations do collapse from time to time, so you can’t be too smug about it.
But we’re not talking about the civilisation collapsing, just changing in a fundamental way. And that’s pretty bad, too, if you’re at all invested in things remaining the way they currently are. Probably our descendants, sitting in Bible-study class in their ankle-length skirts and kerchiefs, will look back on our licentious era with horror, as a dignified Victorian gentleman might have looked back upon the bear-baiting excesses of Shakespeare’s age. The Victorians of the future will regard their litany of petty taboos as signs not of repression but of enlightenment, and, just like every culture, will celebrate what stifles them. They’ll be content. But we don’t have to be. Although we won’t survive long enough to be appalled by the backwardness of those who come after us, we’re alive right now, and we have every right to worry that our cultural heirs might be a bunch of prudes and uptight a-holes. If only we could disinherit them, and pass on our culture – with all its kinks and perversions intact – to someone who could be trusted to preserve it – a race of space aliens, maybe, who would continue masturbating to internet porn, and quoting liberally from old Seinfeld episodes, and neglecting to procreate, just as we’d wish them to, beneath the surface of one of Saturn’s water-bearing moons.
But till those masturbating aliens come along, we’re stuck with the dilemma of how to preserve our culture here on the planet earth. As I see it, there are three possible strategies:
- We outbreed the cultural conservatives.
- We prevent them from breeding.
- We corrupt their offspring before they get old enough to start bullying the rest of us around.
Option 1 is a non-starter, unless we develop new reproductive technology to enhance our fertility. Maybe if all the downtown-dwelling bachelors and bachelorettes could be convinced to clone themselves, we could keep pace with the rural South Dakotan housewife who thinks permanent pregnancy is her sacred duty to God and the Founding Fathers. But the technology isn’t developing fast enough for this solution to be viable. By the time I drag Michael v2.0 naked and shivering from his fluid-filled sac, the demographic battle will already be lost.
Option 2 isn’t really feasible, either. To coercively limit the birthrate, as the Communist Party did in China, goes against the very principle of liberty that we’re trying to preserve. Which leaves Option 3 – the one we’re already pursuing, by default – the corruption of the youth. This is a delicate operation. Obviously in order to coax the kids over to our side we need to make decadence and unrestrained free expression as attractive as possible – which isn’t difficult – but, if we go too far we’ll provoke a reaction from their vigilant parents, who’ll just lock their sons and daughters in the basement, slap a V-chip on the television and an internet content filter on the computer, and ignore the outside world as it parties itself to extinction. Also, we can’t cop to our strategy or else the parents will figure out what we’re up to – you can already hear them muttering about “activist judges” and the “homosexual agenda” – so it’s difficult to coordinate our scattered efforts to undermine the traditional family.
Unfortunately, we’re not likely to live long enough to see whether our plan has been successful. Or maybe that’s a blessing. If these really are the Last Days of the Roman Empire, as the survivalists and conspiracy theorists have been ranting for years, we can only hope for a pleasant death in a nursing home, with Seinfeld reruns on the TV, while the barbarians glower at us through the windows.