Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Racial Suicide of Europe

According to the fairly odd Pat Robertson, Europe is right now executing a racial suicide:

ROBERTSON: Studies that I have read indicate that having babies is a sign of a faith in the future. You know, unless you believe in the future, you're not going to take the trouble of raising a child, educating a child, doing something. If there is no future, why do it? Well, unless you believe in God, there's really no future. And when you go back to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, the whole idea of this desperate nightmare we are in -- you know, that we are in this prison, and it has no hope, no exit. That kind of philosophy has permeated the intellectual thinking of Europe, and hopefully it doesn't come here. But nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, Europe is right now in the midst of racial suicide because of the declining birth rate. And they just can't get it together. Why? There's no hope.

This is hilarious. The average European does not read Sartre, and there is no such race as "European". But what Robertson is really talking about is not at all hilarious: it is about the desire to have more white people and fewer people who are Muslims. Fear. Fear is what energizes most wingnuts nowadays.

If you study history you will find that the fear of "racial" suicides or its reverse, the explosion in the numbers of some undesirable racial or ethnic or religious group, is common. Teddy Roosevelt asked (white) American women to have at least four children each, because he feared the impact of the then strong immigration from Southern European countries.

The wingnuts who worry about the death of the "white race" want white women to have more children and women of color fewer. It is the women who are to blame, by the way, for any lack of more whites. The white women are selfish for not bringing into the world lots and lots of little white babies. But then black and brown women are selfish if they have lots of children, because it shows that they are sucking off the teats of the government if in this country, and because they are contributing to the population explosion if in a developing country. Only white women who have hard-working white husbands should breed, especially educated white women. And they should stay at home with the white babies.

The fear of "racial suicide" is especially weird when it is expressed by the evolutionary psychologist faction of the right-wing. For these people believe that evolution should select for the kinds of people they are (mostly white), and they are furious that this isn't happening through a white population explosion. It is the women's fault, naturally, or probably the fault of the feminists who have somehow stopped evolution from working properly (properly being the idea that there should be lots more white people who are deemed to be the fittest by this group because of their greater "intelligence").

That was a slightly inexact satire of their position, but that position itself is fairly inexact. For evolution doesn't work that fast and what Darwin meant by the term "the fittest" has nothing to do with how smart someone is regarded. And if feminists can mess up evolution, why have we not been able to make the Catholic church accept women as priests?

The reasons for varying birth rates across the world are many, but I very much doubt Sartre's writing is one of them. Access to contraceptives matters and so do social and religious norms. But what matters a lot is the economics of having children. To have many children in a poor agrarian society is a financial necessity for the parents, because so many children die as infants, because even quite small children can be used as labor on the farms, and because adult children, especially sons, are the equivalent of the old-age pensions in the post-industrial economies.

Children in India, say, are not just something people might have for emotional reasons (love, the desire to continue the family line) but a necessary resource and insurance policy. Children in Italy, on the other hand, are a financial drain on their parents: the more children you have the less money you will be able to set aside for your old age, and the more money you need to find to pay for all those classes and computers that are required before the children can become productive members of the society. In India a child who cannot read can still work well on the farm. In Italy a child who cannot read will find it hard to survive off welfare.

This is rarely discussed by Robertson and his ilk. They like simple inflammatory explanations which blame either Sartre or the feminists or the secularization of the society for what they call a "racial suicide". Yet the pattern of declining birth rates in Europe, Japan and, indeed, among American whites has nothing to do with race and a lot to do with the effects an increasingly education and information dependent society has on the costs of having many children. Think about how you would pay for the college education of six children in this country. Then think about what six children might mean if you ran a labor-intensive farm in an Indian village.

The American birthrates are maintained by high Latino birth rates right now, but I have recently read articles which suggest that the Latino birth rate is beginning to decline, too. If true, this is an example of the impact of adapting to the American culture and its economic imperatives; a climb up the social class ladder requires children which are well educated, and this is only possible for most people if there aren't too many of them.