Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

Falling birth rates! Fall of civilization?

4 August 2009

What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?” Thus began the article by David Brooks, a columnist with NYT, reprinted in IE.

He initially indulges himself with a little charitable view that looks at the positives, “If anything, the mass-sterilization might reduce the environmental strain on the planet. People might focus on living for the moment, valuing the here and now.

Then he sees the dark side, “—–These people undertook their grand projects because they were building for their descendants. They were motivated — as ambitious leaders, writers and artists are — by their hunger for immortal fame. Without posterity, there are no grand designs. There are no high ambitions. Politics becomes insignificant. Even words like justice lose meaning because everything gets reduced to the narrow qualities of the here and now. If people knew that their nation, group and family were doomed to perish, they would build no lasting buildings. They would not strive to start new companies. They wouldn’t concern themselves with the preservation of the environment. They wouldn’t save or invest.

Shortly & surely this darkness becomes overwhelming, “—–Instead there would be brutal division between those with the power to possess the future and those without. If millions of immigrants were brought over, they would populate the buildings but not perpetuate the culture. They wouldn’t be like current immigrants because they wouldn’t be joining a common project, but displacing it. There would be no sense of peoplehood, none of the untaught affections of those who are part of an organic social unit that shares the same destiny. Within weeks, in other words, everything would break down and society would be unrecognizable. The scenario is unrelievedly grim. An individual who does not have children still contributes fully to the future of society. But when a society doesn’t reproduce there is nothing left to contribute to.

Finally, a tantalizing journey peters out into oblivion, “But, of course, that’s the beauty of this odd question. There are no sterilizing sunspots. Instead, we are blessed with the disciplining power of our posterity. We rely on this strong, invisible and unacknowledged force — these millions of unborn people we will never meet but who give us the gift of our way of life.

This article appeared about 3 days back in IE. It set me thinking immediately. While David saw no sterilizing sun spots – it is funny how he missed them belong, as he does, to a culture facing its palpable effects – I was sensitive to them. The sterilizing sunspots I see are made of materialistic society, where insatiable mass consumerism stimulated by artificial notions of perceived & programmed (follow these links to see film Story of Stuff) obsolescence are imperative to drive the growth, an untrammelled growth paradigm of modern capitalism. This is where individuals & couples have both to work, at times doing more than one job, just to cope & stay in place. Consumerism has an equally potent partner – an extreme form of individualism. Such Individualism encourages a self centred worldview. More developed this system, less time people have to themselves to make children & to help them grow. Falling birth rates in most materially advanced countries is a testimony to this. Couple this with high living standards, advanced medicine & clean infrastructure and what one has on hands is slowly yet steadily aging population. These are the sterilizing sunspots (or Consumerism-Individualism spots) David has missed. This holds true for aging & dwindling population of long established inhabitants or early immigrants, but this is not true for the populations as a whole of these countries. What explains this conundrum? Answer is simple – current wave of immigrants.

While David missed his sunspots, some sections in every society are hyper sensitive to these changes, especially to rising populations despite falling birth rates. Only today a friend, Anil, coincidentally wrote in to say, “Have recently seen your article on controversy about article 377 and the exchange of views between cross section of people on the same subject. Recently came across the enclosed presentation about the ” changing Demographics in the western world” and thought if we were to follow western concept of liberal society, it is long before we will be facing the same problem what the western world is facing now” & to seek my views. He provided the presentation too, which I have called “Spectre of Falling Birth rates (you may need to download the file to view)”. Presentation is gripping – a must see. Strikingly, it had the same trappings like our local paranoid campaigns such as “MNS militating over Bihari & UP bhaiyyas swarming Marathi Manoos & his culture” or “Ram Sene vexing over Valentine’s Day corrupting the Hindu culture”. What are seen as cataclysmic events in “spectre of falling birth rates” are surprisingly happening all the time. This may come as shock to many that ancient cultures & tongues are disappearing at a rate of one every two week. Nearly half the world’s languages are expected to vanish in under 100 years (see Bringing voices to the future). Yet it remains arcane knowledge as presently it affects only disenfranchised marginal communities who missed the survival bus long ago. When the same problem infects the mainstream, especially the strongest segments within it, then it becomes news. It is only natural that we panic or worry or become belligerent when our own home is under attack – whether from natural or manmade disasters. Briefly visiting the paranoia in the film, it may be summed up as follows “Falling birth rates are surely & irreversibly threatening established cultures of Christianity. Populations are still rising. This is thanks to unbridled immigration. Immigrants are overwhelmingly Muslims. Muslim fecundity is unabated. Coming decades will turn most of the rich world Muslim (In case of USA, it will become Hispanic). What terrorism or petro-dollars couldn’t or wouldn’t achieve will happen insidiously. Wake up! Time to act is now.” It would be worthwhile to visit elements of this paranoia separately & in little detail.

  • Figures often mislead. Comparing birth rates an assertion is made that established cultures have witnessed a steady drop below what is called minimum sustainable rate of 2.1, while the Muslims are claimed to be replicating far above this rate. It is unclear if Muslim birth rates claimed are for Muslim immigrants in Europe & North America, or for Muslims in their parent countries. 2008 statistics from Nation Master Shows that birth rates in Saudi Arabia (2.88) & Syria (2.65) are higher than India (2.22), but Kuwait (2.19), UAE (1.66), Jordan (2.01) are below. Most populous country at the moment, China, compares very favourably with France & Italy with a birth rate of 1.38. What has Phi Longman – a demographer – to say on world population at Voice America website? “—–What we’re seeing now in many countries is the drop in fertility is so fast, it’s literally without precedent in human history. —–And what it’s going to mean is that countries like China for example, are going to age in a single generation as much as countries like France aged in 150 years.” UN population division says, “This unprecedented drop in fertility is driven mostly by developing countries. The United Nations Population Division says that in the 1970s, each woman in the developing world had an average of almost six children. By the late 1990s, birth rates fell to about 3.9 children per woman. Fertility levels fell in all but four developing countries.
  • Figures don’t support the paranoia. What do population studies suggest? Again VOA website tells, “Demographers say there are many reasons for the drop. Over the past few decades, people have used more effective contraception and delayed marriage. Women have had increased access to education and expanded opportunities for work.” Phil avers, “—–that above all, the rapid movement of people from farms to cities is causing fertility rates to fall. We’re now on the threshold of having half the world’s population live in urban areas and the economics of parenthood are just dramatically different. If you’re trying to raise a child in a high-rise apartment as opposed to on a farm, children go from being an economic asset to being an economic liability.” Economics does suggest a link between mode of living and birth rates.
  • Treatment of pregnant women & mothers of infants heavily influences the birth rates. Government policies in this regard can play a tipping role in shifting population growth in a desired direction. In 1970, the Chinese policy was hostage to fears of marauding population & shortages of food due to declining farm productivity and in response implemented a severe control strategy driving birth rates below 1.4. “Where have all the children gone?”, a documentary compares Germany & France in this context. Millions of apartments across Germany are being torn down because the next generation of tenants is missing. In contrast, across the border in France, the birth rates are booming. The French government provides state run nurseries, enabling both parents to work. In contrast, “If you’re a woman and you have children, you can’t have a career in Germany“, claims a mother. So, necessity of both partners working & possibility of coping as a working mother needs to be balanced.
  • Do immigrants force their way into Europe or elsewhere? Some immigrants do enter illegally or try it anyway. But major influx is through legal channels. Often films such as “Spectre of Falling Birth rates” are directed against a country’s immigration policy & are aimed at creating widespread dissatisfaction among the general population against the immigrants. Whether these are the clever handiwork of wily & scheming politicians to gain power or these spring from hyper-phobic imaginations of the genuinely demented is hard to tell. However, there effects are egregious either way. In reality though, immigrants need the better economic prospects offered by the host countries as much as established cultures need cheap labour to do various jobs including those necessary but forsaken by their own youngsters either out of choice or simply because they are not there. Aging populations mean all care providing functions such as physiotherapy, nursing, companionship etc. are in great demand & need young hands to administer them.

In summary, religion plays little or no part in the dynamics of birth rates. But, modern lifestyles arranged around individualism & based on the gospel of consumerism do play a critical role. Government policies can act as tipping points to move trend in a particular direction. Lastly, place of immigrants in any society is based largely on symbiotic association. However, when they are needed in large numbers, prejudices soar. Immigrants are needed, but they are not wanted. Since the film has little to offer by way of theory, we have no option but to return to David Brook’s article to take an account of his arguments to test their validity.

  • First he talks of cataclysmic spiritual crisis, since both Judaism & Christianity (he forgets to mention Islam) are based on a covenant with god – a contract with obligations & rights. Alas he misses that this contract is not in perpetuity. It has an expiry date. It is called Judgement day or Qiyamat. Judgement day was anticipated around the turn of this century, but is now expected anytime soon. Sterilizing sunspots will be seen as an omen from god about the approaching & much anticipated judgement day. Devout will celebrate the event. Their progeny will be saved the fate that would surely visit the rest of humanity. They would learn that pagans or heathens alone are condemned to eternal hell on earth wrought by god through climate change. Science for once will be in agreement with divinity thus further upholding the believers’ faith.
  • Grandeur of human civilization has been made possible, David holds, because humanity acts like a going concern. That is to say visions of posterity impel the great among men (& women) to dream grand projects & to tirelessly see them to fruition. Without posterity this cornerstone of civilization will just fall by the way side, he decides. Posterity does play some part. But I doubt it is so pivotal. He astutely mentions immortality – a dream that has proved enduring, but later confuses it with posterity. Posterity always played the role of a consolation prize when main prize of Immortality was deemed attainable. Men are moved by notions of power, prestige, wealth, compassion, competition, revenge, & kindred such motivators here and now. Had it been otherwise, one would not have seen cold war build up of nuclear arsenal to such an absurdity that it was presciently called ‘M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction – an eventuality barely avoided); one would not have seen the avarice on wall street bringing USA’s economy to its knees and along with it massive dislocations in global economy; nor would one have seen the reckless exploitation of earth’s resources on such gargantuan scale that many generations’ future may have been stymied and held hostage. Perpetuity (of mankind) is a presumption that so intoxicates the senses as to render any restrain on greed or obsession totally impotent.
  • Lastly, David laments that clash of the civilizations between those with the power to possess future & those without will lead to utter ruin of the latter. Though this sounds alarmingly true, it disregards history absolutely. Throughout ages old cultures have seemingly disappeared. Pharaohs, Aryans, Greeks, Sumerians, Assyrians, Romans, Incans, etc. are to name just a few. Some cultures declined after a violent clash with another, others through internal contradictions, or both. But no culture just like languages has remained immutable. Stagnancy is not a sign of life. Though cultures have changed unrecognisably, generally no major culture has completely disappeared without a trace. Mostly what happens is cultures vary through a process called acculturation (Definition : cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact). Acculturation is at work even in post conflict situation. When changes keep on accruing over a period, a culture changes so completely as to appear totally new to an episodic observer who hasn’t been either part of the process or on constant vigil. So he may justifiably lament that the culture as he knows and likes will vanish, similar to every generation that laments the slang, dress code, social mores, behaviour, etc. of the next. But he cannot reasonably argue that his culture will be annihilated. Its features will continue to exist in the new amalgam.

“World we live in is not the world in which our children will live”, is the doomsday message delivered in the film. Message is true. It is also true that the world we live in is not the world is which our parents lived. Do we consider the latter catastrophic? Then why panic about the former. If falling birth rates is seen as catastrophic, then one must take it as the price of progress. Progress as is now defined & worshipped. It may indeed be a wakeup call to act, but not against Islam or Islamists. It is a wakeup call to rethink our civilization’s priorities & purpose.