Demographic implosion

There is a common worry particularly among right-wingers, both religious and secular—that secular postindustrial populations are aging and reproducing below the replacement level. This, apparently, is going to lead to all sorts of disasters (doomed social insurance systems etc.), or, alternatively, is symptomatic of cultural disaster (a society in demographic decline has lost the will to exist etc.). And that’s even before the Europe-is-going-to-be-all-Muslim paranoia kicks in.

Well, secularists have typically worried about the opposite: overpopulation. Indeed, I don’t see how any sane strategy for avoiding environmental and civilizational collapse (assuming we’re not already too late) can do without population decline. Western Europe, in its secular aversion to reproduction, is behaving in a way I can only applaud.

Still, it’s interesting to ask how much substance there is in worries about demographic decline. Secular economists apparently think so, though there are exceptions. Mind you, I do not trust mainstream economists—I suspect they’re largely propagandists for wealthy interests, and I am tempted to think that though secular, together with other plutocratic conservatives, they’re worse menaces than theocratic right-wingers. Unfortunately, I only have a high level of distrust, and not much of a counternarrative that I feel entitled to put confidence in. There’s a risk of going along with even worse loonies just because they also distrust a similar set of bastards.

I can say similar things when looking at the more religious and culturally flavored versions of worry about a demographic implosion. I don’t know, maybe it is true that secular women not popping out the requisite number of children is a symptom of a decaying culture. How the bloody hell am I supposed to tell? Such cultural arguments tend to float on selectively-assembled structures of plausibility with only a tenuous tether to reliable evidence. Again, I can probably come up with an alternative set of cultural experts with views more congenial to me. But all that would mean is that there are people out there whose prejudices align with mine.

All this is very annoying. I’m not a chemist, I don’t even like chemistry, but when I have to depend on chemists, I know damn well that the community of chemists is pretty reliable when it comes to chemistry. In contrast, too many times, when I encounter religion as a social and political phenomenon, I find myself in territory where I don’t know how to extend trust. It’s frustrating.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16247404092985882680 David Mabus

    Dear Shermer, I spoke with God yesterday… Do you want to know what he said?

    THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION – JAN 1, 2011

    OMENS OF DEATH:

    youtube.com/user/xviolatex?feature=mhum

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00176754512128249839 Nathaniel

    Supporting the survival of a system does not require biological reproduction. That is, secular society does not reproduce in a purely biological manner. There is plenty of horizontal transfer of traits. Obviously, there must be since secularism seems to be on the rise (in developed countries, the percentage of the population which is non-religious is increasing). All you've got to do is divorce the concept of survival from biological survival and fix it where it belongs, upon the persistence of systems which are defined by certain traits.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14122063258829618476 Katie

    I liked this.

    shared.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07704269001780299394 Diet Pop Sipping Leftist

    Dean Baker is the one economist I trust the most and he's been pretty spot on, at least when it comes to identifying the housing bubble.


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