Monday, August 07, 2006

Link Love 1

"Culture and Demographic Crisis", by Frederick Turner, writing for TCS. Reflecting on how a visiting Martian might wonder why humanity appears to choose mystical and transcendent religions to give order and meaning to the cosmos and their place in it, instead of secular humanism or existentialism, he writes:
Only after a study of the evolutionary history of the species would the Martian come to the shocking realization that the reason such sensible, inexpensive and prudent views did not prevail across the globe was that every society that adopted them had died out from lack of natural increase. He would note that all the cultures of the present day that had taken the intelligent position on meaning were undergoing demographic collapse and would, in geological time, be extinct tomorrow.
This is a point that often seems to escape the otherwise fine writers over at GNXP. While recognizing the global threat of Islamism, they miss that the secularized society they favor may not, and probably doesn't, have the internal fortitude to adequately resist it. Mr. Turner proceeds to make a mistake of his own, namely advocate open borders as opposed to "closing the border," as if these were our only options. We can, and should, take note of our demographics and how the kinds of immigrants we let in may adversely affect our institutions.
Update: In the comments, Razib of GNXP writes, among other things:
I do not favor a secular society in that that is a society where the majority of individuals reject the supernatural. That simply won't happen (even those who are against "organized religon" are usually spiritual or vaguely theistic, not atheists). I simply favor one where atheists can be left alone to flourish and make their contribution to posterity.
My apologies for the misrepresentation.

3 comments:

Razib said...

the attack is only demographic, islamism has no firepower because secular society has all the weapons and is much better at producing them. if you want a attrition comparison the key is can muslims reproduce faster than secularists kill them? of course that's not going to happen. in any case, the secularism = low birthrate is a bit too simple. after all, birthrates have been dropping throughout the world while secularism has been increasing only marginally. iran's TFR is 1.8, and southern europe (spain, italy) tends to be more religious than france or sweden, but the latter have higher TFRs (and this can not just be attributed to immigration, the native born whites tend to have higher TFR).

in any case, frederick turner is wrong, secular societies did not die out, because societies as a whole do not choose to be secular or not. it seems far more plausible that individuals do or do not reproduce, and by their nature those who reproduce within a society replace those who do not (it is a feedback mechanism). large scale immigration can alter this dynamic.

but in any case, societies maybe secular, but individuals are not. most western societies are not atheistic, just post-christian. it seems that strong cognitive biases exist which will perpetuate supernatural belief.

Razib said...

p.s., i do not favor a secular society in that that is a society where the majority of individuals reject the supernatural. that simply won't happen (even those who are against "organized religon" are usually spiritual or vaguely theistic, not atheists). i simply favor one where atheists can be left alone to flourish and make their contribution to posterity.

Φ said...

Razib, thanks for posting.

To speak of a society has having a collective consciousness regarding something like religion is, to an extent, metaphorical; however, the individual decisions and attitudes are nonetheless cumulative. Although I would have to go looking for the actual data, I have seen any number of studies showing that Americans regularly outpoll Europeans on measures of religious piety, and we also have a higher total fertility rate (TFR). Within the U.S. also, reliosity correlates with fertility.

But you are correct that the relationship is multivariate, and the lines of causality probably run both ways.

The effect of low fertility on national power is almost certainly bad, both directly and indirectly. The direct effect is that a nation with few children is less willing to risk them in war, no matter how highly leveraged by technology their lives may be. Indirectly, as Frederick Turner writes, low fertility and religious indifference may both be symptoms of social malaise, specifically the doubt that the civilization passed to it may be worth preserving.