A few days ago I had a chat with a very nice young English teacher. He said that he could never really see himself settling down, marrying and having children. His mum was a bit disappointed but hey, he has to live his life, not hers. He thought he just wasn’t the type to get married and settle down to have 2.4 children.
I should have pointed out to him that he would only have to have about 1.4 children to come up to the present average of most native Europeans, whose numbers are virtually halving with every new generation. A population needs to have about 2.1 children for every woman to maintain its numbers. Just two is not enough since some of those children will either not be able to have children, will choose not to have them or will die before they reach adulthood. Of course, we don’t notice this decline in native European numbers because immigrants are making up the shortfall.
The very thought of having children made this teacher panic. He much preferred a foot-loose kind of existence, being able to travel and do pretty much whatever he liked. He pointed out that he felt no duty to do his bit to add to humanity since there is no shortage of children in the world. Humans are not an endangered species and when seen from a worldwide perspective, it was actually more environmentally-friendly for him not to add to an already over-crowded planet. He felt that for someone like himself, doing good in the world and helping children in the Third World was a better way of spending his time and energy than settling down and raising his own children.
This is not an unusual view among young western university-educated liberals and I have heard it many times before. However, it is unusual when viewed from a non-progressive liberal perspective. Such a view seems to me almost inhuman in its even-handedness, to care more about the children of strangers than about your own potential offspring. I can’t decide whether it demonstrates human kindness on a grand scale or the existential confusion of a being that has completely lost its moorings, a creature so disorientated by 16 years of progressive education that it no longer knows quite what to think or feel.
First of all, it is historically unusual not to feel beholden to anyone but yourself. In this case it is the young teacher’s mother, father and smallish community in the middle of England that doesn’t need to be taken into consideration. Most young westerners feel no duty towards their family or the community they grew up in. They talk a lot about community for others, but they themselves generally don’t feel they need to be part of one. They see themselves as free-floating spirits and the traditional idea of belonging to a community, which by definition excludes others, no longer strikes a chord with them. The whole world is their community so no one and nothing is excluded.
From my own vantage point, which is that of a childless single 54-year-old man who has always done pretty much whatever he liked, it seems that without these bonds of inter-relatedness and duty you are almost nothing. You are an atomised, isolated individual who can do some good in the world but who belongs nowhere, to nothing and to no one. You have never learned to drop your guard so completely as you do when living cheek-by-jowl with your family. I don’t believe that this teacher’s idea of community, which is a kind of political solidarity with the world’s poor and with Facebook friends, a community you can leave at any time, is a proper substitute for a settled community of flesh and blood children, parents, grandparents and neighbours. With this latter community the person you argue with will still be there tomorrow so you both have to learn to deal with it. You can’t simply ‘unfriend’ them or move on to some other volunteer project. The teacher’s community is a virtual one, something suitable for the internet age.
I understand that there are people in the world who don’t much like children and who want to keep as far away from them as possible but this teacher isn’t one of them. He was a nursery school teacher for a year in South Korea and loved it. He wants to help poor children wherever they may be. He is more than happy not to have children of his own so as to be able to help other people’s children. An African or Korean child means as much to him as his own hypothetical child, and since this planet will soon be home to 8 billion people, one more Charlotte or George won’t be missed.
The idea behind all this is that people the world over are interchangeable, both in the personal sense that it doesn’t matter to him whether he or the next man has children, and in the wider sense that one race can easily substitute another without any loss.
Yet the fact that the world is very slowly emptying of Charlottes, Georges, Kyokos and Shinjis and quickly filling up with Mohammeds, Aishas and whatever African children are called might actually matter. People of European and Japanese extraction have contributed an enormous amount to world civilisation but they now constitute a rapidly dwindling percentage of the world population. Only if people were completely interchangeable, like clones, would this be unimportant to anyone other than the grandparents of George and Kyoko.
Yet in my opinion races are not interchangeable. A world filled with Arabs and Africans will look very different to a world filled with Europeans and Japanese. It’s unfashionable to say so but all data points to the fact that it is not only culture that matters but biology too. The reason Detroit is now bankrupt and no business or family in their right mind would want to move there has a lot to do with the DNA of its inhabitants.
I believe the reason that say, Japan and Haiti are the countries they are, is that Japan is full of Japanese while Haiti is full of Haitians. Yes, culture plays a role in the fortunes of both nations but culture does not appear out of thin air. Japanese culture, including the shinkansen and the morning rush hour of salarymen, is the Japanese genome made visible. The structured nature of Japanese society is not a chance occurrence that could equally well have settled on Haiti. Likewise, the lawlessness and dysfunction of many black countries and communities is to a large extent a consequence of the DNA of the people who live there. To pretend that biology counts for nothing, or that biology and culture are unrelated, is a fantasy.
Evolution has spent a lot of time and trouble sculpting humans and it could well be the case that people who evolved in cold climates, as did the northern Europeans and the Japanese, had harsher survival pressures forced upon them than those living in warmer climates. Only the children of the cleverest and most caring parents in cold climates survived while pretty much everyone, including the children of the unintelligent and the uncaring, survived in warmer climates.
There appear to be two different evolutionary survival strategies at work. The Japanese have very few children and put all their resources into ensuring that these few children survive. Africans on the other hand have many children, some of which survive and some don’t. These children are often passed over to siblings to look after while their single mum goes looking for a new temporary husband. This is not a new phenomenon of New York and London but is ancestral to the way things are done in Africa.
Both strategies have their advantages for the survival rates of offspring and may be suited to the environments where they evolved and both seem to be accompanied by different kinds of evolved behaviour. However, the two sets of behaviour are not equally well suited to life in a modern First World city and many Africans struggle to adapt. The blame for their struggle is usually attributed to the legacy of slavery and colonialism and the continuing maliciousness of whites. Racism and white privilege are allegedly what are holding blacks back. If whites are so racist, why do some many white and brown people want to come and live with them? If white malice is all that is holding blacks back, why isn’t Africa thriving? Why is it precisely those cities in America where the majority of people are black and blacks are in local government and heads of the police that have fallen apart? Why has South Africa gone from being an economic powerhouse under white rule to becoming a basket case under black rule in just 20 years?
The progressive liberal view that our personal genetic inheritance and that of our tribe and race should be a matter of supreme indifference to us is a bizarre cultural trend that only looks reasonable, and even praiseworthy, when you have grown up in a western liberal bubble. From all other perspectives in time and space it just looks weird. From the standpoint of Europe two millennia ago, Alexander the Great wouldn’t have known what to make of it. To him it would look like evolutionary suicide and he would wonder what strange set of events had occurred to make Europeans think this way. Genghis Kahn would have been left scratching his head. Even in the present day, from the perspective of members of most others tribes, say that of a Bantu warrior looking out over the plains of Africa, the pleasant young teacher’s ideas would be a total puzzle to him. Sacrifice my future children so that I can look after the children of men from other tribes? Are you out of your mind?
I think the young teacher’s response to all this would be to largely agree but to add that things are as they are. He can’t conjure up a desire for his own children out of thin air. I think this is partly true but ignores the fact that how he feels is not unconnected with the education, both formal and informal, he has received. Just as it was necessary for Germans to be shown film footage of rats superimposed on footage of Jews for the message that Jews were vermin to sink into good Germans’ heads, so educated westerners first needed to be indoctrinated into the pieties of progressive liberalism before their own genetic inheritance could become a matter of indifference to them.
Charles Darwin once wrote to his colleague Asa Gray that, ‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ The reason it sickened him was that the peacock’s elaborate feathers appeared to convey no adaptive advantage. If anything it was an apparent disadvantage and thus contradicted Darwin’s theory of natural selection. I sometimes wonder what Darwin would have made of celibate Catholic priests – or my young teaching colleague.