A speech by Don Feder at Ave Maria University, September 20, 2011
Hollywood has a penchant for blowing things up – especially the world. Since the 1950s, apocalyptic movies (which come with a variety of special effects) have been all the rage.
We’ve met our doom through nuclear war (“On The Beach,” “The Day After”), a worldwide super-plague (“Twelve Monkeys” “The Stand”), global warming (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “Waterworld,”), the earth’s core over-heating (“2012,” “The Core”), overpopulation (“Soylent Green”), a comet striking the earth (“Deep Impact,” “Armageddon”), sentient machines taking over (the “Terminator” and “Matrix” series), rampaging simians (the “Planet of The Apes” series), alien invasion (“Invasion of The Body Snatchers,” “War of the Worlds” “Battle Los Angles”), flesh-eating zombies – often mistaken for Democrats - (”I Am Legend,” “Zombieland”) and fire-breathing dragons (“Reign of Fire”).
Did I miss anything?
But the most plausible disaster scenario is the one you never see coming, because it happens in slow motion and flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
Sentient machines out to destroy their makers, rampaging apes, flesh-eating zombies are, of course, fiction. The apocalypse looming on the horizon is fact. And, as one of my favorite presidents, John Adams, famously said: “Facts are stubborn things.”
Fact: Worldwide, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) – the number of children the average woman has during her childbearing years - fell from 5 in the mid-1960s to 2.7 today, a decline of almost 50%.
Fact: 59 countries, with 44% of the world’s population, now have below replacement fertility – in many cases, well below replacement. A birthrate of 2.1 is needed just to replace current population.
Fact: Russia, Germany and Greece are already experiencing population decline. Greece has a TFR of 1.3, making it impossible for tax revenue to keep pace with entitlements and the salaries of government workers, leading to riots and a nation on the brink of revolution. In Russia each year, abortions outnumber live births. The average Russian woman has six abortions in her lifetime. Not surprisingly, Russia is losing 700,000 people a year. Demographers tell us that – everything else being equal – with a birthrate of 1.3, a nation will lose half its people every 45 years.
Fact: From 1990 to 2000, the percentage of Spanish women who are childless at age 30 doubled, rising from 30% to 60%. Nearly one in five American women ends her childbearing years without having children – compared to one in 10 in the 1970s. Germany has the highest proportion of childless women in Europe, one out of every three. Of Japanese women born in the 1970s, half are childless.
Fact: Due to China’s one-child-per-family policy, the traditional preference for male children and gender-selection abortions, in the Middle Kingdom, there are now six newborn males for every five females, an unprecedented gender imbalance. Already, there are 18 million more Chinese men than women of marriageable age. That number is expected to rise to between 29 million and 40 million by the year 2020.
Fact: Developed nations are aging rapidly. Japan’s over-60 population went from 11.6% of total in 1989 to 21.2% in 2011. For each of the past 4 years, there have been more deaths than births in Japan. In 2010, the nation lost 125,000 people. In developed nations, seniors are expected to be to 32% of the total population by 2050. Then, there will be two elderly for every child.
Fact: By 2015, the global contraceptive market will generate an estimated $17.2 billion annually.
Fact: Today, there are six million fewer children in the world than there were in 1990. But that’s just the initial tremor of a coming earthquake. The United Nations Population Division estimates that by 2050, there will be 248 million fewer children in the world under 5 than there are now.
One more Fact: Nothing happens in a vacuum. In human experience, nothing occurs spontaneously. For every effect there is a cause – or multiple causes.
All over the world, individuals, governments and societies have embraced a set of assumptions and policies which have led inexorably to rapidly falling birthrates. In other words, whether or not we did so consciously, we chose Demographic Winter.
The roots of Demographic Winter lie in the 1960s. It’s no coincidence that the phenomenon was first manifested in the late 1970s, about a decade after the Sixties, which resulted in the most profound social upheaval since the French Revolution.
The hallmark of the 60’s revolution was youth rejecting authority - especially parental and religious authority. Supposedly this was a sign of intellectual independence and maturity. In reality, it was blind acceptance of a set of clichés and dogmas in place of eternal truths and time-tested wisdom.
Chief among these clichés was “do your own thing” – which roughly translates as “live for yourself.” If you embrace this axiom, you become the warm center of your own little universe – Planet You in the Galaxy Charlie Sheen. It should surprise no one that my generation (the Baby-Boomers) is known as the Me-Generation, in recognition of our self-centeredness. If you meet one of us at a party, we’ll be wearing a name-tag that reads. “Hi. I’m (fill in the blank), let me tell you about me.”
Along with a fixation on self came a lessening of feelings of responsibility for the things that really matter. Curiously, we feel responsible for endangered species, pollution and the ozone layer (things largely beyond our control) – but not for our families, our nation or our people.
In the past, men and women didn’t ask why have children - any more than they asked why eat or why breathe. It was such a natural part of existence as to require no explanation.
You had children because you had a responsibility to your family to assure its continuity. You had a responsibility to your people – so that they would not go the way of the Babylonian and the Phoenician, whose downfall probably began when they started distributing condoms in their schools. And you had a responsibility to God, who created you and made procreation the first commandment.
In the United States, birth-control pills came into widespread use in the early 1960s. Today, for the first time in history, just under half the world’s population of child-bearing age uses some form of contraception. In the United States, children as young as 12 are instructed in the proper use of condoms. This includes fitting condoms over bananas, which – at least in the case of fruit – seems not to be working that well, as we still have an adequate supply of bananas.
In America, abortion was legalized by judicial decree in the 1973. Other Western nations followed our egregious example. Like contraception, abortion is based on 1960s assumptions, chief among them that nothing should be allowed to interfere with your happiness (or what you’ve been told will make you happy), including children. Again: Do your own thing. And if “your own thing” includes having a scalpel shoved in the skull of a child in utero and his brains suctioned out, that’s a small price to pay for you being you.
Worldwide, there are approximately 115,000 abortions a day or 42 million a year. Morality aside, from a demographic perspective, we’re not just aborting 42 million unborn children a year, but their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will never exist. As Dick Cavett said, “If your parents never had children, chances are you won’t either.”
At its heart, the Sixties revolution was a sexual revolution. Sex was divorced from marriage, commitment and even psychological connection. We’ve seen the initiation of sexual activity at an earlier and earlier age. Sex before marriage led to sex outside marriage, which led to multiple liaisons, divorce and what’s been called serial polygamy. In a few decades, we’ve gone from making love to having sex. This may seem counter-intuitive, but more and more sex has led to fewer and fewer children.
Cohabitation also plays a significant part here. According to the Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2010, there was a 13% increase in cohabiting heterosexual couples - from 6.7 million to 7.5 million. That’s on top of a tenfold increase in cohabitation between 1960 and the year 2000.
Given the impermanence of their relationships, cohabitating couples are more likely to be childless or to have fewer children. In much of the Western world, marriage has become optional – a ceremony to mark a legal relationship, rather than an estate sanctified by faith and tradition.
In France, last year, more people began living together than married. In 2009, 3,727 couples were married in the Archdiocese of Boston, not far from where I live, compared to 8,343 a decade earlier.
Once a central reality of existence, marriage seems headed toward obsolescence. We marry because we choose to, not because we ought to. Fewer marriages equal fewer children.
Same-sex marriage (so-called) – the beau ideal of Western elites - completely cuts the tie between marriage and children. Some couples choose not to have children. Others are unable to have children. With “homosexual marriage,” (and I use the term advisably) we’re applying the label to couples which, by their very nature, are incapable of reproduction – severing the already tenuous connection between marriage and procreation.
Men and women who do marry are marrying later and later in life – which also reduces the number of children. After age 35, it becomes progressively harder for women to conceive. The ability of men to father children also declines with age.
Despite what politicians tell us about doing “it” (whatever “it” happens to be) for the children, increasingly, we live in an anti-child culture. From cinema, to news media, to public education and academia - children are presented as a burden and an annoyance, rather than a joy and a blessing. The culture treats large families (today, defined as more than two or three children) as something freakish – the result of parental eccentricity or religious fundamentalism.
We are constantly reminded of the cost of children to society – in educational, medical and law enforcement expenditures. You may recall that in 2009, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended funding of contraception in the Stimulus bill as a cost-cutting device – suggesting that in times of fiscal constraint, children are a burden on the state.
What’s usually overlooked is the other side of the ledger: That the children of today are the workers, producers, consumers, innovators, care-givers, and the taxpayers of tomorrow – those whose payments keep pension plans solvent, those who care for patients in the nursing homes, keep the streets safe, safeguard the nation, operate factories and farms and keep the lights on all over the world. The family with four children helps to assure a comfortable old age to the voluntarily childless.
Over the past 200 years, the world’s population grew from 980 million to 7 billion. That population explosion fueled every advance from the industrial revolution to the computer age. The same period saw a phenomenal growth in productivity and advances in science, health and material well-being.
But what happens when more and more becomes less and less? The U.N.’s “low variant projection” has the world’s population peaking at 8 billion by 2040 and then beginning to decline. At some point, decline could become free-fall.
Civilization depends on population growth. Population decline is terra incognita.
Ultimately, our culture of selfishness is based on a loss of hope and faith. It’s no coincidence that Europe, the continent with the lowest birthrates (in the European Union, the average TFR is 1.5), is said to be afflicted by a universal ennui.
Having gone through two world wars, several revolutions and any number of social upheavals over the past century, most Europeans have come to believe that the life well-lived consists of a month of vacation a year, and retirement at age 55.
Europeans are embarrassed by their religious roots. Once Europe was known as Christendom. Yet, the 70,000-word preamble to the European Constitution contains not a single reference to the faith which was the continent’s defining reality for over 1,000 years.
There is a direct correlation between birth rates and belief. In a 2011 Gallup Poll, 92% of Americans said they believe in God, compared to 52% of Europeans in a Eurostate/European Barometer survey. Only 21% of Europeans say religion is “very important” to them, compared to 59% of Americans. In consequence, the U.S. birthrate is around 2.06, slightly below replacement. In the European Union as a whole, it’s 1.5, well below replacement.
Countries with high church attendance have above-replacement birth rates. The reverse is also true: Empty churches equal empty cradles and empty hearts. I’ve yet to encounter a family with more than three children that didn’t have a firm foundation in faith – be it Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, or Mormonism. All of these faiths recognize the centrality of family. All understand that procreation is a commandment. All support parental responsibility and authority. In other words, all are countercultural in the truest sense of the word.
On January 3, 2010, Yitta Schwartz passed away at age 94. A Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Schwartz and her husband had 17 children. In 1978, when her husband died, they already had more than 170 grandchildren. At the time of her death, her descendants numbered more than 2,500.
You will be shocked – shocked, I say – to learn that Yita Schwartz was not a secular humanist. She was a member of a Hasidic sect know for its piety and devotion to the mitzvot (commandments).
Religion teaches responsibility to God and our fellow man. It makes individuals other-oriented. It teaches that our own lives aren’t the sum total of human existence, that there’s something higher – a grand scheme that tells us both who we are and why we are. In consequence, it provides the only real foundation for happiness. There is a very simple formula to determine who’s having large families and who isn’t. Those who have faith in the future have children. Those who don’t, don’t. Where does faith in the future come from? It comes from faith.
The assault on procreation and families is led by the secular left. By putting these people in charge of our governments and our culture, by allowing them to indoctrinate our children (in the guise of educating and entertaining them), by subconsciously assimilating their values (including radical autonomy, skepticism, secularism, feminism, environmentalism and family planning), by closing our eyes to the reality and inevitable consequences of falling birth rates, we choose Demographic Winter.
“Choice” is the watchword of the anti-family left. The concept is more fitting than it could ever imagine. In thousands of ways, every day, humanity literally chooses its future – or non-future.
But the wonderful thing about being human is that – unlike the animals – we can conceptualize. Besides conceiving children, we can also conceive ideas. By the application of reason, we can evaluate theories, accepting or rejecting them.
Besides morality, the ultimate test of an idea is its practicality. Does it work? The ideas that have lead to the tragedy of rapidly falling birth rates are disastrously wrong and must give way to better ideas if humanity is to have a future.
To return to our Hollywood disaster-movie analogy, how could you possibly make a movie about plummeting birthrates and where they are taking us? What would you call it, “The Exterminator,” “Attack of the Population Planners” (in which Margaret Sanger rises from the grave to perform vasectomies and tubal ligations?), “Raiders of The Lost Fertility,” “The Incredible Shrinking Family”?
There would be no shortage villains – among them, the neo-Malthusians, including Paul Ehrlich of “The Population Bomb” fame (who confidently predicted mass worldwide starvation in the late 1960s, when the earth’s population was 3 billion), Zero Population Growth, Britain’s Optimum Population Trust, the United Nations Population Fund (Contraceptives and Abortion R Us), the carbon-footprint crowd, including Al Gore, who says we must stabilize the world’s population through “fertility management” – “educating and empowering women and girls” to make the right choices – by which he means the choices of which Al Gore approves - contraception and abortion.
While the demographers I know are great guys, none of them looks like Indiana Jones.
Things would happen too slowly for it to be a drama. Perhaps it could be a tragicomedy – combining both tragic and comic elements.
One thing is certain: it would be a script without an ending. Because how this movie ends depends on you.
Don Feder is a former Boston Herald writer who is now a political/communications consultant. He also maintains his own website, DonFeder.com.
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