Well what do you know, a recent spate of articles has recognized what many of us have known for decades: Overpopulation is a myth and an ever-increasing decline in births is a bitter reality. Typical of these articles is one by Jonathan V. Last in The Wall Street Journal:
America’s fertility rate began falling almost as soon as the nation was founded. In 1800, the average white American woman had seven children. (The first reliable data on black fertility begin in the 1850s.) Since then, our fertility rate has floated consistently downward, with only one major moment of increase—the baby boom. In 1940, America’s fertility rate was already skirting the replacement level, but after the war it jumped and remained elevated for a generation. Then, beginning in 1970, it began to sink like a stone.
There’s a constellation of reasons for this decline: Middle-class wages began a long period of stagnation. College became a universal experience for most Americans, which not only pushed people into marrying later but made having children more expensive. Women began attending college in equal (and then greater) numbers than men. More important, women began branching out into careers beyond teaching and nursing. And the combination of the birth-control pill and the rise of cohabitation broke the iron triangle linking sex, marriage and childbearing.
This is only a partial list, and many of these developments are clearly positive. But even a social development that represents a net good can carry a serious cost. Continue reading
One of the many divides among modern Catholics is between what we might call the “moralizers” and the “justice seekers”. “Moralizers” are those who emphasize the importance of teaching people moral laws and urging them to abide by them. “Justice seekers” seek to mitigate various social evils (poverty, lack of access to health care, joblessness, etc.) and believe that if only these social evils are reduced, this will encourage people to behave better.
Moralizers tend to criticize the justice seekers by pointing out that following moral laws is apt to alleviate a lot of the social evils that worry the justice seekers, arguing, for example, that if one finishes high school, holds a job and gets married before having children, one is far less likely to be poor than if one violates these norms.
Justice seekers reply that the moralizers are not taking into account all the pressures there work upon the poor and disadvantaged, and argue that it’s much more effective to better people’s condition than to moralize at them (or try to pass laws to restrict their actions) because if only social forces weren’t forcing people to make bad choices, they of course wouldn’t do so.
(I’m more of a moralizer myself, but I think that we moralizers still need to take the justice seeker critique into account in understanding where people are coming from and what they’re capable of.)
One area in which the justice seeker approach seems to come into particular prominence is the discussion of abortion. We often hear politically progressive Catholics argue that the best way to reduce abortions is not to attempt to ban or restrict them, but rather to reduce poverty and make sure that everyone has access to health care. There’s an oft quoted sound bite from Cardinal Basil Hume (Archbishop of Westminster) to this effect:
“If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed, she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”
You’d think that it was obvious, but I’m suspicious of the idea that having more money or resources makes us better or less selfish people (an idea which strikes me as smacking of a certain spiritual Rousseauian quality that doesn’t take fallen human nature into account) so I thought it would be interesting to see if there’s any data on this.
I was not able to find data on the relationship of abortion to health insurance, but I was able to find data on the relation of abortion to poverty, and it turns out that the Cardinal, and conventional wisdom, are wrong.
Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal featured an interesting review of Mara Hvistendahl’s new book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. The topic is one that pro-lifers are all to familiar with — the use of sex selective abortion throughout the world which has resulted in the death of 163 million unborn girls being aborted over the last 40 years, specifically because their parents wanted a boy instead. (In other words, over and above all of the abortions going on for other reasons.) The sheer number of “missing girls” is staggering — imagine a number of women equal to the current total populations of France and the UK combined.
Mara Hvistendahl is worried about girls. Not in any political, moral or cultural sense but as an existential matter. She is right to be. In China, India and numerous other countries (both developing and developed), there are many more men than women, the result of systematic campaigns against baby girls. In “Unnatural Selection,” Ms. Hvistendahl reports on this gender imbalance: what it is, how it came to be and what it means for the future.
In nature, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. This ratio is biologically ironclad. Between 104 and 106 is the normal range, and that’s as far as the natural window goes. Any other number is the result of unnatural events.
Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls. In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120. Continue reading
Ever since people finished identifying “the American Dream” — the idea that in the US in particular and the New World in general somehow allowed people to escape the hidebound social structures of the Old World and better themselves via their own efforts — people have been worried that it is on the point of dying. Americans continue to show an an unusual degree of belief in the ability those who work hard to better themselves by their own efforts. For instance, in the 1999 International Social Survey, 61% of Americans agreed that “people get rewarded for their effort”, whereas only 41% of Japanese agreed, 33% of British and 23% of French. This belief has actually increased in recent decades. In 2005 the New York Times reported that while in 1983 only about 60% Americans agreed that “It is possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich” by 2005 nearly 80% of Americans agreed with that statement.
And yet, those who study inter-generational income mobility have been increasingly worried in recent decades that despite American’s belief that people can work hard and get ahead, that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to actually achieve this in the US. In a lengthy report by the liberal think thank Center for American Progress, Tom Hertz of American university brings together a number of the recent studies on intergenerational income mobility in the US as compared to other countries, showing how people who are born into the lower income quartiles in the United States are less likely to reach the top levels of income than in other countries such as Germany, Sweden or Denmark. Continue reading
It’s long been a trope of the “culture war” that the rich as social and religious libertines while the stolid middle class cling to traditional values. Or, as another portion of America sees it, that the educated elite have moved beyond the primative and prejudices social mores of the past while the uneducated cling to their guns and their religion. I would venture to say that for many of us reading here this may also to a stereotype which fits with our lived experience.
However, a report out from the Institute for American Values stands this set of stereotypes somewhat on its head, showing a educated elite which is going to church more and sleeping around less, while the broad middle class is going to church less, having more children out of wedlock and getting divorced more often.
The Democratic Party suffered a historic drubbing a couple weeks ago. However, one of the things with which several left leaning commentators publically consoled themselves was that demographics are in their favor. The parts of the electorate which tend to vote for Democrats are growing, while those who tends to vote for Republicans are shrinking. Progressives like to focus on the examples of this they feel proud of: the non-white percentage of the US population is growing, and non-whites tend to vote Democratic. Young people also lean more heavily progressive on a variety of issues than previous generations did at the same age.
From a progressive point of view this sounds pretty good: progressivism will succeed in the end because it is supported by young and diverse people, while conservatism will die out because it is supported by old white people — and no one like them anyway, did they?
I’d like to propose an alternate reading of the data: Continue reading
If you move in conservative Catholic circles much, you have doubtless heard the phrase “contraceptive mentality”. Though used frequently and negatively, I think there is value in delving a bit more deeply into what we mean by the phrase. I was moved to write this in semi-response to an interesting post by Brett Salkeld a couple months back which sought to explore the bounds of what a “contraceptive mentality” is. Another good resource on the topic is this post at Catholic Culture on the contraceptive mentality.
While recognizing the dangers of trying to be too wide ranging in subject matter in the limited space of a blog post, my goal here is to set out answers to the following:
- What is a “contraceptive mentality”?
- How is a contraceptive mentality contrary to how humans are “meant” to function morally and sexually?
- How, if at all, does NFP (natural family planning) relate to a contraceptive mentality?
I think it’s easiest to think about the idea of a contraceptive mentality against the backdrop of how we function sexually as human creatures — a term I use advisedly in that I want to emphasize our rootedness in a certain biological reality of being primates with certain biological systems and instincts, while at the same time not ignoring our rational, emotional and moral sensibilities in the sense that “human animal” strikes me as implying.
Uncertainty and Conception
One thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that humans have fairly even sexual drive all of the time. Or, at least, men have sexual drive pretty much all of the time. Women seem to have more variation in their level of interest, and indeed there is a fair amount of evidence that one driving (though unconscious) element of their drive is that they are more “in the mood” during the times of the month when they are fertile than when they are not. Another thing that sets us apart from most other higher primates is that a woman’s fertility is not marked by unmistakable physical signs (change of color and swelling of the genital area, changes in smell, etc.) (Though Bonobos have often been compared to humans in regards to their relatively constant sex drive, they are like chimps in that female fertility is readily apparent through external signs.)
[Cross posted from DarwinCatholic]
I have the feeling that readers have emailed me about this site a couple times before, and I left it without comment because some topics seem like shooting fish in a barrel for a blog with the tagline “Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don’t survive.” However there comes a point when fish who choose to live in barrels deserve to come under fire.
Meet the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
VHEMT (pronounced vehement) is a movement not an organization. It’s a movement advanced by people who care about life on planet Earth. We’re not just a bunch of misanthropes and anti-social, Malthusian misfits, taking morbid delight whenever disaster strikes humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Voluntary human extinction is the humanitarian alternative to human disasters.
We don’t carry on about how the human race has shown itself to be a greedy, amoral parasite on the once-healthy face of this planet. That type of negativity offers no solution to the inexorable horrors which human activity is causing.
Rather, The Movement presents an encouraging alternative to the callous exploitation and wholesale destruction of Earth’s ecology. Continue reading
Ever since McGovern, Democrats repeatedly staked their electoral hopes on an expended avalanch of young voters. This year, it appeared to happen, with Obama winning the votes of 18-29 year olds in a landslide:
Democratic brand domination was the corollary to Obama’s 66%-32% blowout among 18-29 year-old voters. The youth also voted 63%-34% for House Democrats. So, young voters also voted straight ticket for the Democrats down ballot. The real story about the youth vote is not how many “new” voters Obama got to show up, but rather how he produced a gargantuan 34% differential in the youth, versus a 9% margin for Kerry in 2004.
In 2008, 18% of the electorate was comprised of 18-29 year-olds. That figure, when multiplied by the 34 percent differential in Obama voting equals 6.1 points, or a majority of Obama’s popular vote margin. Had the Democratic 18-29 year-old vote stayed the same as 2004′s margin, Obama would have won by about 1 to 2 points, and would not have won 73 electoral votes from Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, or Indiana. “The Electoral College result would not have been the same, nor can we say that Obama would have won the election,” said Greenberg.
Does this overwhelming Obama victory among young voters represent a strong likelihood that the Democrats have a long rule ahead of them?