Archive for the ‘Overpopulation’ Category

Don’t Fret the “Baby Bust”

February 6, 2013

by Froma Harrop

Don't fret the baby bustAmerica’s alleged “baby bust” is pushing the country over “a demographic cliff.” So argues Jonathan V. Last in The Wall Street Journal. Stacking one highly debatable claim on the next, Last builds a palace of hooey, in the basement of which sits a conservative agenda that’s not very conservative.

Continue reading this article.

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

Why David Goldman is Wrong About “Imminent Population Collapse”

April 24, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting a new book by David Goldman, “How Civilizations Die.” Goldman claims the world is in a steep demographic decline whose consequences will be catastrophic.

The world faces a danger more terrible than the worst Green imaginings. The European environmentalist who wants to shrink the world’s population to reduce carbon emissions will spend her declining years in misery, for there will not be enough Europeans alive a generation from now to pay for her pension and medical care. For the first time in history, the birth rate of the whole developed world is well below replacement, and a significant part of it has passed the demographic point of no return.

Notice that Goldman’s victim in this scenario is the European environmentalist, forced to lie upon the bed she has so foolishly made. He continues:

Imminent population collapse makes radical Islam more dangerous, not less so. For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose. … Population decline, the decisive issue of the twenty-first century, will cause violent upheavals in the world order. Countries facing fertility dearth, such as Iran, are responding with aggression. Nations confronting their own mortality may choose to go down in a blaze of glory.

Wait just a doggone minute. Hold them hosses. Is Goldman really saying that the world’s population, which has grown 300% since 1944, is in precipitous decline? Is it possible that today’s European adults will spend their declining years in abject misery for lack of enough young people to pay for their pensions and medical care? Is population collapse really “imminent” and even irreversible in places? And do populations with “elder bulges” really become more belligerent?

Gil Bailie could not be happier with Goldman’s thesis, for it appears to validate the Catholic Church’s longstanding position on contraception. Bailie has this to say:

The Church was right, and those who scoffed were wrong.

For decades, things repugnant to every prior age—contraception and abortion—have not only been considered licit, but beyond reproach. To the social, moral, and cultural damage resulting from the severance of sexuality from procreation and emotional commitment can now be added the demographic tsunami by which we already being engulfed.

And today our government is more determined than ever to favor and fund the anti-natal policies that are leading to this catastrophe. What many have said about the debt crisis is true as well of the very much related demographic one: Never before have we faced crises that were this severe and this predictable. And we are doubling down on the policies that created them.

The Church was right after all. All the evidence suggests so.

Was it? And does it? Are we really experiencing a “demographic tsunami?”

First, Bailie could have been more precise in his choice of a metaphor. A tsunami is a sudden excess of water pushed into coastal areas. That said, let’s weigh the evidence for Goldman’s “imminent population collapse.” My sources for population statistics are the CIA World Factbook and various United Nations publications, all freely available on the Internet.

Global population growth, 1300-2000 AD

Again, the world’s  population has grown 300% since I was born (1944), and it’s still growing very rapidly.

The population growth rate (not to be confused with the amount of growth) has dropped almost exactly 50% in the past 50 years (from 2.2% to 1.1% per annum, and that decrease is mostly attributable to lower fertility rates worldwide, though HIV-related deaths in Southern Africa and deaths from starvation and genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa must certainly be factored in. The growth rate is expected to reach 0.6% per annum by 2050, but that’s still growth, not contraction.

Global population growth rates. Source: World Bank

Yes, worldwide fertility rates have dropped, but only to 2.47 children per woman, well above the replacement rate of 2.1 cpw. It’s a good thing. We were headed toward nine billion before the end of this century.

None of these stats on growth and fertility points to “imminent population collapse” on a global scale. On the contrary, overpopulation is already straining the earth’s resources to an alarming degree.

Global fertility rates. Source: World Bank

But what about population collapse at the national level? Is any population really “collapsing?” Certainly, one might expect population numbers to fluctuate as environmental conditions vary over time. But is Goldman justified in reading “collapse” into every ebbing of a national population? Is any society nearing the “point of no return?” Are developed countries in a “death spiral?”

Clearly, Goldman’s hyperbolic rhetoric appears intended to evoke fear. It also appears to be driven by his own fears. But fears of what? The answer is beyond the scope of this post, but Goldman’s Spengler page on PJ Media will offer some clues. Suffice it to say that Gil Bailie and David Goldman share a visceral distaste for liberalism, modernism, secularism, Islam, and the sexual revolution; and that both are opposed to contraception.

Population Dynamics

The scientific literature on population dynamics shows basically four “stages” of population growth, with bulges moving up from bottom to top. As you might expect, there are problems with stage #1, which has a youth bulge, and stage #4, which has a “elder bulge.”

When too many young people come on-stream in a society that is ill-equipped to deal with them, as in stage #1, the results are likely to be increased social unrest, war, terrorism, and even genocide. Second and third sons can’t find employment and often turn to religious or political ideologies to make their mark in the world. Nevertheless, the “youth bulge” is never the only factor explaining these pathologies. Resources are key to whether predicting whether a society can effectively handle a youth bulge. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has done well, while Egypt has done very poorly.

Global Median Age

Where there’s an “elder bulge,” as we are seeing in Japan and Europe, social services are strained at the other end (i.e., social welfare for seniors), and the fewer resources that are available, the more acute the problems become. An educated and informed democratic society can always tweak policy to address the challenges. While draconian measures like criminalization of contraception are never necessary, they are often advocated by religious institutions locked into pre-modern and pre-scientific conceptions of social engineering. And make no mistake about it: Policies that criminalize or deny access to contraception are a form of social engineering.

The fourth model, with its “elder bulge,” is never an inverted pyramid. People don’t completely stop having children, even in modern China. And, contrary to what David Golden claims, elder bulges don’t provoke violent social upheavals.  As Samuel Huntington wrote in Clash of Civilizations, “Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.”

It’s always a complicated equation—never as simple as David Goldman’s model—and one must never factor out resources and other environmental factors. Overpopulation occurs when an area’s population exceeds its carrying capacity, and underpopulation occurs when there are not enough people to maintain an economic system. Depopulation occurs when people leave an area or are killed off. Somalia is overpopulated because it lacks resources to sustain its people, and the continent of Antarctica is underpopulated because conditions of life there are so harsh.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has quadrupled since 1945, causing a precipitous decline in resources, especially water, fuel, and soil nutrients. In Somalia, 12 million people are facing famine. The linkage between overpopulation and famine is undisputed.

What is the solution to Somalia’s problems? Certainly an infusion of food and water supplies would alleviate suffering there. But until that happens, would anyone dare suggest that Somalis should have more babies? Would anyone in his right mind suggest withholding contraceptives? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you probably need to read up on Catholic teachings.

There isn’t a single country or society where either underpopulation or depopulation, as defined above, is currently a social problem on the scale of the overpopulation problem in Africa. This is not to claim that populations cannot implode. Indigenous populations were decimated throughout the Americas from disease and conquest following the arrival of Europeans. The Vikings left Greenland because of climate change, and some Polynesian islands were abandoned between 800 and 1000 AD for environmental reasons that are still in dispute. In none of these cases was “birth dearth” the cause of depopulation. Again, environmental factors were decisive.

So, if there is, in Gil Bailie’s words, a demographic “tsunami,” then surely we are witnessing it in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed a “death spiral,” but one that results from overpopulation, not depopulation.

David Goldman’s concerns about declining fertility rates in developed countries are driven less by fears of underpopulation than by fears about cultural dilutions resulting from immigration. There is certainly no dearth of people in the world, and, as said earlier, the total fertility rate is still well above the replacement rate of 2.1 bpw. The key to understanding Goldman’s misplaced concerns is to understand what he, as a stakeholder, fears about cultural dilution.

If developed countries need to beef up their populations, they can prioritize financial incentives for families to have more than 2.1 children, as Japan and some northern European countries are currently doing. Or they can leverage immigration, or encourage workers to delay retirement. Students can be given low-interest-rate loans so that starting a family after college does not become an impossible financial burden for them. There are costs involved in any of these measures, but the resources are not lacking.

The reality is that resources in developed nations are not yet at a point where population attrition is inevitable. These societies are now being asked to decide whether unlimited accrual of personal wealth is conducive to cultural or national survival. At some point, the perceived common good may require adjusting priorities. Women who have political choice will not opt for more children when resources are scarce, and they may justly demand a reallocation of resources.

Strained resources in India

If less-developed nations face overpopulation, then why not support family planning as a way of bringing those populations under control? We know that family planning works, but we have not yet seen that resource replacement does so.

To take contraception off the table is to deprive ourselves of a highly effective tool for managing populations and for ensuring the well-being of those who do populate our planet. It isn’t just numbers that we want, or more life. Humans are not warrior ants, driven only to reproduce and make war. We are made for something better.

Randall Jennings comments:

Seems the modern world is very good at creating problems and then creating new ones with their “fixes” on ever grander scales. I could foresee tens of millions Chinese men, for instance, having their own ideas of reducing global population as they realize they will very well never have a bride and a normal family life after the ‘success’ of the state’s one child policy.

George Dunn responds to Randall Jennings:

Randall, the widening disproportion of men to women is a concern of the Chinese government, which is one reason they are relaxing the one child policy. What you foresee is also foreseeable by policymakers, who are in a position to adjust the policy accordingly. But I hope you’re not suggesting (as Gil undoubtedly would) that the solution is to criminalize the use of contraceptives. That would be to consign hundreds of millions of Chinese to grinding poverty and possibly starvation. Say what you will about the current Chinese regime (and, as an expat in China, I am certainly not an unqualified fan), but they have succeeded where their predecessors have all failed in meeting the greatest challenge that a developing country must face—they are keeping every single one of their 1.3 billion citizens fed. Not only that, but they have lifted an unprecedented 600 million people out of poverty. I shudder to think what China would be like today if contraception had been criminalized for the last fifty years.

Ian Mac Laue writes:

I don’t dispute that some of the data might be overblown or used to support xenophobic ends that aren’t by any means admirable, but as it concerns strictly european nations there does seem to be a problem of replacement level growth. Shouldn’t a country be concerned when its tax base is incapable of supporting its older members? Or are you suggesting that any such problem could be allieviated by an influx of immigration?

My response to Ian Mac Laue:

Countries with birthrates below replacement levels have legitimate concerns about the burdens placed on working-age populations to support their elderly. People throughout the developed world are living longer, and women are having fewer babies.

I don’t believe there is any single solution to this problem, but I do believe certain proposed solutions should be taken off the table. Criminalizing or withholding access to contraception is a non-starter. Turning back the rights revolution and the sexual revolution is another non-starter. Once women got the right to vote, the game was up for patriarchal structures of power, and the path ahead is clear. Women will continue to demand equality and the right to control their own reproductive lives, and they will increasingly achieve their goals. We must just accept that as a given.

Populations that are still growing are generally those where women are still substantially oppressed. Oppression is not an option for constitutional democracies.

Solutions to birth dearth include immigration, government-sponsored incentives, and later retirement. None of these solutions is without problems of its own, but at least none of them requires any curtailment of individual liberties.

Dean Hansen responds to Gil Bailie:

I wasn’t aware that contraception and abortion have been repugnant to every age. When we refuse to examine our own “repugnance” regarding reproduction issues, nature steps in and does it for us with bubonic plague, cholera epidemics, wars, droughts, floods, and fires.  Nature doesn’t give a damn about our moral scrupulosity. I’m so glad Gil took this time out of his busy schedule to remind us how happy we could be if we surrendered our autonomy to the authority of a group of demented celibate old men in Rome. Of course, Gil has been taking time out of his busy schedule to say the same stuff over and over, day after day, quoting anyone who will agree with him, and then covering his ears every time someone objects.

What I do believe is that people who live their lives in fear and superstition can make life a living hell for those who don’t, but women have always resorted to whatever means were available to them, regardless of the darkness of the age they resided in, or the potential danger to themselves, to wrest control of their own lives from “well meaning” male authorities who claimed to speak for God. Much of that so-called repugnance was nothing more than a continuation of a shaming mechanism aimed at reducing human reproduction and human sexuality into a miserable farce whose whole aim to is to denigrate any kind of sexual act that doesn’t take place in the sacred baby-making factory of family bedroom.

Yes, those declining years will be spent in misery, unless we make up our minds to burden an already over-stressed world with a new and continuous supply of human beings—who can starve along with the ones who are already here, many of them unwanted or unplanned—and to put additional demands on resources that are irreplaceable and on energy systems that are still dominated by an oil industry determined to keep their profits rolling in no matter what the cost to the planet. The real misery for subsequent generations will be fished-out seas and coal-fired plants belching more carbon into an already overloaded atmosphere. And when the electricity goes off, so does the running water, the toilet, the shower, the microwave oven, the refrigerator, the TV, the air conditioning … well, just about anything that distinguishes our relatively civilized culture from the others that will be dying off at an even faster rate.  Now that’s population collapse, brother, and it won’t be caused by our inability to remember how to fuck and make babies.

It amazes me that Gil holds up Paul Ehrlich as an example of bad science, when much of what he said was prescient and has come true.  The dates were off but the trends are sound.  We are at three times the population world-wide that existed at the time of Mr. Bailie’s birth. We are running out of potable water, sustainable crops, and non-polluting energy, and still he dumbs-down the rhetoric by quoting anyone who parrots the idiocy about “fertility dearth.”  The only real and measurable dearth is in the neuronal dendrites that can no longer be called into service in Bailie’s apparently concrete-filled head as they march into the waste basket of his own personal historical delusions.

And what’s the final cherry atop the tasty Catholic cobbler in this intellectual feast or famine? “The Church was right after all.”  Right about what??

I would modify that numbing bit of falderal by suggesting the people who have left the church in order to maintain their sanity and live lives of honesty were right, and that that will ultimately make the only real difference.

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice? (Ctd.)

March 30, 2012

Leo Walker responds to my previous post:

Thirteen is quite a lot of kids! No wonder your grandma was worn out. Yet these are choices that she made along with your grandpa. Even back in deepest darkest 19th century the connection between conjugal relations and children was understood. They made choices and, so far as your narrative illustrates, they accepted responsibility for those choices. Poverty is not the worst evil in the world, nor is it an impediment to joy, love, or any other virtue, though it makes some harder. You imply that your grandparents suffered unremitting misery and despair. Was there no love, joy, peace, sense of accomplishment, surprise, curiosity or triumph in their lives? I doubt that this would be true of them, or their children. If poverty is difficult to bear, should we then grant them sweet release by some form of murder under another name? I notice that the poor; I have known and lived among the poor who aspire to what passes for poverty in the USA; don’ t seem to be hungering for death. On the contrary, they often live more fearlessly and fully than so many who have more to defend. The Catholic position on the issue balances openness to receive the gift of children from God and a prudent stewardship of the procreative act. Planned parenthood, as it now constituted, is a repudiation of both of these principles. The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources. Justice consists not in murdering, sterilizing or otherwise outraging their lives, but in working to make God’s bounty available to them. Life is a greater good than material well being. Condemning to death those whose standard of living is suspected of not meeting some arbitrary standard set by the road-to-Hell-pavers is no mercy. Oh, and I might mention that arguing from a particular to a universal, which you do above, is a logical fallacy and any conclusion drawn from it is ipso facto false.

@Leo Walker: Referring to my great-grandmother’s 13 children, you write, “…these are choices that she made along with your [great]-grandpa.”

You make her sound like a modern woman who has voting rights and a real range of choices for her life. She was not and did not. She was poor and uneducated, powerless and voiceless. She lived in an intensely patriarchal culture where her life plans were laid out for her by men. Women’s educational and employment opportunities were restricted or non-existent, and they were cruelly shamed for making any effort to better their lives. These are just facts, not generalizations off a particular case history.

I recognize that many women of that era were happy with their lot, but my point is that those who were not did not have any choice. Choice became so important to American women that they were finally willing to fight for it. Their crowning achievement was passage of the 19th Amendment, giving them the right to vote. From there to here (via Roe v. Wade) is an unfolding story of liberation and greater choice. As long as women have the same choices as men do, they will continue to want control over their bodies and their reproductive cycles.

A severely malnourished child lies down after being admitted to Banadir Hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on July 26, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ Mustafa ABDI

To your point about poverty, I would just reiterate that overpopulation leads to social and ecological collapse. Those affected by extreme poverty may not want to die, but often they will kill others over scarce resources. Again, this is just an empirical fact. The earth’s resources are not inexhaustible, and the goal of equitable and efficient distribution may be a chimera. Water, for example, is plentiful but extremely hard to transport in the quantities needed to sustain populations in areas affected by drought. “Prudent stewardship of the procreative act” (your words) must be coupled with—or even guided by—prudent stewardship of resources. Stewardship does not mean “maximizing births.” It may require limiting them, for its goal must always be to bring supply and demand into balance.

Abdifatah Hassan who is eleven months old and suffers from severe malnutrition lies on a cot at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in the biggest refugee camp in the world in Dadaab on July 4, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT

You write, “The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources.” If that is true, then let’s get the supply chains in good working order before encouraging people to have more and more children in areas susceptible to drought and famine. In 2011, 12 million people living in the horn of Africa were in urgent need of food and water. The U.N. estimates that six million children die of malnutrition every year, worldwide.

Finally, I’d like to call out your straw man. I am not advocating abortion, the murder of poor people, or forced sterilization. I am advocating family planning and education around reproductive issues so that women can, together with their husbands, make informed choices. These choices should include contraception, of course, because contraception decreases the likelihood that a woman will seek an abortion, licit or illicit. Abortions are not a desirable outcome, but when they occur (as they will), they should be performed under optimal medical conditions to protect the health of the mother.

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice?

March 30, 2012

Gil Bailie responds to the final paragraph of my previous post:

The efficacy of a sacrificial regime – understood in terms of the anthropological analysis of René Girard – does not require that the sacrificial community hate or revile the sacrificial victim. All that is required is the conviction that the elimination of the victim is necessary to the preservation of the community as presently constituted, and that the present constitution of the community is worth the sacrificial costs required to preserve it.

Understood in this way, the existence of abortion on demand qualifies as the greatest single sacrificial system of all time. The killing of the unborn is – explicitly or implicitly – considered to be indispensable to the continuance of the regime of the sexual revolution, and the sheer number of those sacrificed to its continuance exceeds that of any regime in history. Moreover, the unborn undeniably constitute the most powerless and voiceless category of victims imaginable.

In the late 19th century, my great grandmother, living in Texas, was virtually a baby factory. She bore thirteen infants (no twins). She was poor, and her husband offered very little help in raising these children. She did all the care-taking herself—the washing, cleaning, cooking, and shopping—all during an era when there were no electric appliances or motorized transport to make the work easier. She even made and patched the children’s clothes, grew vegetables, and looked after chickens.

She died not many years after giving birth to her thirteenth child. She was, as my mother says, “worn out.” Her husband lived to a ripe old age.

The sacrificial system Gil Bailie has described was fully in place and operational, but instead of sacrificing the fetus, the community (as constituted at that time) sacrificed the mother. Let’s not forget that women of that era were about as “powerless and voiceless” as the fetuses that Bailie would like to protect. (The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was not passed until 1920). The siblings also suffered because their quality of life was so diminished by having to share scant resources. They were poor, overworked, and undereducated, and they never forgot the hardships they endured during those years.

My great grandparents probably did not use any form of birth control and would not have considered an early-term abortion. I personally think it would have been better if they had, even though I might never have born as a result.

More life is not necessarily better than less life. The world’s population has more than doubled in the last fifty years, to 6.8 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 at latest. Approximately one-seventh of the world’s population suffers from chronic hunger, which causes not just craving but exhaustion and disease. I am much more disturbed by the sight of an emaciated child than by the thought of a fetus that was aborted before it could even experience pain.

I am more concerned about eliminating human misery and improving the quality of life than about bringing new life into this world at any cost. This is why I support the efforts of organizations like Planned Parenthood. Family planning promotes maternal well-being while reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions.

My own parents, who were poor at the time of my birth, had decided to limit their family size, and I must say it worked out extremely well. I have only one sibling, but we had the benefits of good nutrition, the attention of  two healthy parents, and a college education. Best of all, my mother did not wear herself out as her grandmother had done. She is now 93 and in excellent health, living in her home of the last forty years and about to buy a new car. She obviously plans to be around for awhile. By not bringing those extra lives into the world, she and my dad improved the quality of all our lives. I do not mourn the children that weren’t born, and I certainly don’t regard my mother or father as “murderers” for having used birth control. Nor would I reproach them if I were to learn they had decided to abort an early term fetus. I hope I would recognize that it was a difficult and painful decision for them.

In short, I don’t think the “sacrifice” that my parents made (or might have made in more extreme circumstances) rises to the level of victimage as described by René Girard. My parents simply “tended their garden” in a mature and responsible manner. On the other hand, Bailie’s calumnies of gays and lesbians and his endorsement of organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and the Ruth Institute clearly do cross the line. The suggestion that same-sex marriage will bring about an unravelling of natural law, a birth dearth, and, ultimately, civilizational collapse is not only unwarranted by empirical reality but also obviously intended to stoke deep-seated fears and animosities. No good can come of it.

Maggie Gallagher’s Demographic Bomb

August 27, 2010

Maggie Gallagher

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Maggie Gallagher, a conservative columnist who is now president of the National Organization for Marriage, wrote a highly influential opinion piece that is still kicking around on the Internet. Its title is “The Demographic Bomb,” and it was one of the first in a long succession of right-wing efforts to persuade the public that legalized abortion and homosexuality are not just violations of natural law but that they are contributing to a “birth dearth,” a “demographic winter” in which Western civilization will become dangerously diluted by immigration from more populous societies that don’t share “our” values.

But the “demographic winter” concept is about more than just abortion and homosexuality. It has much, much more to offer—namely, a semi-plausible real-world rationale for nativism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-feminism, anti-secularism, anti-modernism, and Islamophobia. It was made to order for the radical right because of its visceral appeal to the oldest and most primitive part of our brain—where fear of extinction resides—and it provides fresh cover for racism, homophobia, and sexism.

I found Gallagher’s piece interesting because it shows signs of having been written hastily, thus offering a somewhat “unprocessed” version of her views—or those she is channeling. Since its publication, she has sharpened her message and learned to deflect questions that might expose the shoddy crafting of the birth-dearth ideology and its implied repudiation of the European Enlightenment and the American civil rights tradition. After all, efforts to roll back the progress of the last several centuries must be handled with finesse.

It was perhaps because I had lived in Saudi Arabia for 11 years that her opening paragraph immediately caught my attention. In it, she expresses puzzlement: How can certain fundamentalist Muslims live for so long in Western democracies without being seduced by our way of life? Instead, they denounce Western civilization as decadent and doomed. “How could they know us so well and still hate us so?” she asks. This very question had occurred to me after 9/11, but I didn’t find it quite so puzzling.

But Gallagher is packing an answer. These Muslims—i.e., those who have lived among us and yet despise us—have seen the truth about our sexual culture: It has become “debased, destructive, and ugly, full of fatherless children and fragmented families.” “Sex,” she declares, “has been demoted into a product.” And yet these dysfunctions, in her view, are only the “surface symptoms of an even deeper problem: a hollowing out of sexual meaning and purpose.”

Sexual meaning and purpose in America before its "hollowing-out" by modern feminists

Is Gallagher serving us the conservative version of liberal guilt—i.e., they hate us because we are bad and deserve their contempt? Even allowing that there has been a “hollowing out” of sexual meaning and purpose since an earlier era (which she will later place in some unspecified period prior to 1970), is Western civilization on the verge of collapse, as these Muslims predict? Gallagher is affirmative on both counts: Fundamentalist Muslims have correctly identified the problem: Our sexual culture is dysfunctional and we’re doomed if we don’t straighten up (see illustration).

I should say right up front that I share Gallagher’s concerns about the social ills she describes. No one who has eyes to see and ears to hear can be indifferent to the pain of broken families and scarred lives, the loneliness and insecurity of single motherhood, or the emotional trauma experienced by children caught in the crux of marital miseries. And sexuality is indeed a powerful force that can wreak havoc in people’s lives if it is not managed with wisdom and care.

Sexual meaning and purpose in the South before the feminists hollowed it out. (A Streetcar Named Desire)

However, Gallagher and the Islamic fundamentalists with whom she sees eye-to-eye about Western decadence have traced a straight line of causation from our sexual mores to a host of societal dysfunctions, as if no other explanations for the latter were possible. What about the role of alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, racism, unemployment, mental illness, and environmental stresses, for starters? Gallagher sees fatherless children and fragmented families as symptoms of a loss of sexual purpose, but maybe this loss of sexual purpose is itself only a symptom of a larger disarray brought about by a multiplicity of problems. Maybe, in other words, it’s not all about sex, and maybe all our society’s ills cannot be blamed on abortion, homosexuality, and women’s liberation. We live in a complex world.

I’ve noticed what a fondness there is among fundamentalists and orthodox Catholics (Gallagher is the latter) for visions of imminent civilizational collapse. Such talk dovetails so nicely with apocalyptic scenarios from the Bible and the Koran, and it’s so useful for getting people’s attention and stoking their fears. However, prophets of doom are being rehabilitated even in scientific circles these days (e.g., climate scientists James Lovelock, James Hansen, Bill McKibben), so, though not even religious, I will shortly indulge in a bit of such talk myself. But first, where is Gallagher taking us, and why would her “hollowing out of sexual meaning and purpose” lead to civilizational collapse?

She elaborates,

In Western countries, people have for two generations stopped caring enough about having children to reproduce our population. Historian Paul Johnson writes about his vision of a long-term clash between Islam and the casually mentioned demographic bomb: “Should present trends continue, both these traditionally Catholic countries (Spain and Italy) will become majority Muslim during the 21st century.” Not just because of migration, but because the native birth rates have entered a sudden, dramatic, sustained collapse.

In Gallagher’s view, sex in the West has become uncoupled from any deep-seated meaning or public purpose, and that purpose is babies. If Islamic civilization triumphs over the largely Christian West, it will be because Islam has been successful in growing its population while the West has allowed its own to decline.

Successful population growth

Gallagher’s analysis already begs several vexing questions. One of them, of course, has to do with the very real possibility of ecological—and therefore civilizational—collapse resulting from planetary overpopulation. The facts and projections are well-known: Earth’s population has doubled since 1965, from 3.5 to nearly 7 billion, and it is expected to reach 9 billion within the next 30 years. Scientists warn that the planet’s ecosystem cannot withstand the accompanying increased demands on resources. Rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming, and pollution are all tied to population growth. Humanity is even now in the process of a very slow-motion collision with the planet—so slow, in fact, that we are scarcely aware it is happening.

Gallagher does not mention this end-times scenario, possibly because it is so much more compelling and factual than the one she favors. Then too, once the environmental crisis is acknowledged—along with all its implications for humanity—one more objection against homosexuality and legalized abortion is eliminated. Simply put, the environmentalist’s end-times scenario cannot be used to promote natural law. Quite the contrary, in fact: Natural law may be bad for the planet.

So, having bracketed out the overpopulation question and diverted our attention to the perils of underpopulation, she proceeds right on to the next question in line—about the implications of these ideas for individual rights—i.e., what do we have to do and what sacrifices are required?—and offers a formulation that is breath-taking in its implied repudiation of the civil rights gains made by women over the past century or so, if not the entire European Enlightenment:

Islam remains a successful civilization because it fulfills the two minimum functions any culture must: It channels intense social energy of individuals into the two great sacrifices of self: war and babies. The children in Islamic societies suffer, and the women even more. But though individuals suffer, the family system itself works. The society perpetuates itself. It even finds new adherents in our country, primarily among those who have suffered most deeply from our current sexual disorder, African-Americans. [Emphasis mine.]

This is an astonishing prescription that deserves reading several times if we are to absorb its full impact.

Army Ants

So this is what we are reduced to—war and babies? Men derive meaning and purpose from war, and women from bearing and raising children? Women and children are in the soft center whose boundaries are protected by warrior men? Why does this sound more like an ant colony than the advanced human civilization that Maggie Gallagher was born into and that provided such abundant opportunities for her?

Perhaps anticipating objections, Gallagher concludes her essay as follows:

The way forward is never the way back. Still, up until about 1970, Western civilization combined democracy, freedom, capitalism, and neighborliness with a functioning family system. Who can now say the same?

Notice the hedging: “The way forward is never the way back,” immediately followed by “Still,…” My sense is that Gallagher would like to take us way, way back—to an era when Western civilization looked more like fundamentalist Islamic societies of today. Sacrifices might be called for, but the payoff is that, in her words, “the society perpetuates itself.” It’s all about survival, folks, in case you’d forgotten that. And we’re not going to survive if pro-choice women and gays have their way. We’re all going…to…die.

Note, also, Gallagher’s characterization of Islam as a “successful civilization,” with the implication that it might serve as a model for Western societies because it prioritizes babies and war over—presumably—careers and peace. But if Islamic societies are so worthy of emulation, then why should Gallagher fear Islamic influence in the West? She should welcome it.

And what is the significance of 1970 for Gallagher? That was a year of intense activism on the part of women supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, which, though passed by congress two years later, was never ratified by the states, thanks to lobbying efforts by anti-feminist Catholic leader Phyllis Schlafly and others. Nevertheless, the seventies saw the first in a long succession of anti-discrimination measures benefiting women. For a quick summary of civil rights gains for women since 1972, here’s a passage from Head and Heart, by Garry Wills:

Congressional action included these acts: In 1972, Title IX of the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1972 opened up campus activities to women on an equal basis. In 1974, the Equal Opportunity Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex for getting consumer credit or public assistance. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protected women from being fired or denied a job or promotion because of their pregnancy. In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act provided special protection for victims of rape or domestic abuse.

Court action included these decisions: In 1973, Roe v. Wade gave women freedom to choose an abortion. In 1974, Corning Glass Works v. Brennan ruled that women could not be paid less because men would not accept the work in question. In 1976, Planned Parenthood v. Danforth denied that parents can forbid an abortion. In 1983, City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc. said that a waiting period before having an abortion could not be imposed. In 1986, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson decided that sexual harassment is a form of job discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1986, Thornburgh v. American College of Obstretricians denied that a woman can be given an abortion only after detailed instruction on fetus development. In 1989, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services ruled against Missouri’s restrictions on the right to an abortion. In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruled against Pennsylvania’s attempt to restrict abortion rights.

So which of these victories for women’s rights have led to our current crisis, as Gallagher sees it? What about equal access to campus activities, consumer credit, public assistance, jobs, promotions, equal pay, and protection from rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment? Gallagher attended Yale, so we would assume she supports equal access to campus activities. She probably has consumer credit, which facilitates her travels from one speaking venue to the next. As a former unwed mother, she can identify with other women in such circumstances and would probably support some form of public assistance for them and their children (One would hope!). She has a robust career and probably earns pretty big bucks, so it’s a safe bet she favors equal opportunity for women in the workplace. I think we can assume she supports protections against rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment.

That leaves abortion, and we know where she stands on that. So we are left with two broad possibilities regarding all the remaining civil rights gains for women in the past 40 years: She supports them, or she sees them as a mistake. (We’ll assume for now that she’s not selective.)

Suffragettes in the early 20th century

If she supports them, then she’s happy with all the freedoms that she now enjoys, including, presumably, those that were won for her before 1970—the freedom to marry and divorce whom she pleases, her right to vote and to own property, her right to hold public office, to drive a car, to choose her own clothing, and to travel and associate in whatever way she likes. Taken altogether, what has allowed Gallagher to prosper in the life she has freely chosen is an enormous range of individual liberties wrested from patriarchal culture by women over the past several centuries.

But then, how can she characterize fundamentalist Islamic societies as “successful?” In many of them, women are not guaranteed any of these rights, not even protection against rape. They are considered to be the property of men, and many become virtually infantilized as a result of life-long dependency on male family members.

Saudi Arabia is ranked 130 out of 134 for gender parity in the World Economic Forum’s 2009 Global Gender Gap Report. It was the only country to score a zero for political empowerment of women. Women’s rights there, as in many or most predominantly Muslim countries, are defined by Sharia law, which is often interpreted according to tribal customs. Women may not drive, they may not appear in public without an abaya (covering their head and face), they may not freely associate with men other than family members, and they must have a male guardian, whose permission they must seek for marriage, travel, education, employment, opening a bank account, and elective surgery.

Preparation for stoning, Iran

And it gets worse. Much worse. Wherever the most Fundamentalist strains of Islam prevail, women may be stoned for committing adultery or murdered by male family members for “dishonoring” their families. In Egypt, 95% of pre-pubescent Muslim girls experience genital mutilations, a practice that has been internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. Forced marriages are commonplace in all traditional Muslim societies.

Gallagher began her essay by expressing puzzlement that fundamentalist Muslims could live among us and still hate us, and she concluded that their scorn was justified because of our deteriorating attitudes toward sex.

I will end this essay on a note of puzzlement as well. How can Gallagher have been raised in a beautiful and privileged place like Lake Oswego, Oregon, later earning a degree at Yale and enjoying all the incomparable freedoms that life in the U.S. offers women—freedoms for which her ancestors and mine fought and suffered—and still believe that Saudi Arabia’s or Iran’s model for the treatment of women is more “successful” and more worthy of emulation than that of her own country?

At the very least, Gallagher’s prescription for our society’s dysfunctions would strip away centuries, even millennia, of progress toward freedom and equality in Western civilization. What, indeed, could be more destructive of the very civilization that Gallagher claims to protect?

Mae West: No "Escape from Freedom" necessary