Saturday, August 07, 2004

Is tradition an evolutionary advantage?

There's a very interesting article on global birth rates in the current edition of the left-liberal magazine New Statesman (31/5/04 - not yet online).

The author, Phillip Longman, begins by pointing out that birth rates are falling even faster in the developing world than in Western countries. Since the start of the 1970s, fertility rates have fallen by 27% in the industrialised countries and 46% in less developed nations.

Brazil is one country which has experienced this fertility decline. Since 1975 its birth rate has dropped by nearly half to just 2.27 children per woman. Similar declines have been recorded in countries like China, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Mexico.

What this means is that within 30 years or so, the population pressures in developing countries will probably ease. Hopefully, this will mean less pressure from third world "refugees" flowing into Western countries. So Western conservatives shouldn't give up trying to retain immigration controls: we should do our best over the next 30 years to preserve what we can, before the pressures of third world population flows begin to ease.

Why is fertility declining globally? Phillip Longman gives what is a very significant answer for a left liberal. He believes that children are no longer seen as an advantage in modern, secular countries for several reasons. First, when people move from small farms into large cities, children become more of an economic liability than a resource.

He also believes that the message conveyed by television in third world countries is that "people with wealth and sophistication are people who have at most one or two chilren."

Phillip Longman also quotes the views of biologists who,

speculate that modern human beings have created an environment in which the "fittest", or most successful individuals are precisely those who have few, if any, offspring. As more and more humans find themselves living under conditions in which children, far from providing economic benefit, have become costly impediments to success, those who are well adapted to this new environment will tend not to reproduce themselves.

This scenario disturbs the left-liberal Phillip Longman. It means that those who adapt best to modern liberal societies won't be the ones reproducing. The ones who will reproduce will be those who "out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game [of secular, liberal societies] altogether."

Longman believes that this is already happening. He quotes birth statistics from the United States where the highest fertility rates (90 children per 1000 women) are in conservative Utah, compared to only 49 children per 1000 women in liberal Vermont, the only state to send a socialist to Congress and the first to enact gay marriage.

I believe that Longman is at least partly correct in all this. A man who is stubbornly conservative and wants to continue his own line (whether of his family or nation) is likely to choose to have children regardless of the economic cost, or loss of cultural status. Someone who has accepted modern liberalism is less likely to have this motivation.

For Phillip Longman the result is that,

Those who reject modernity would thus seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons, or Muslims who remain committed to comparatively large families, or members of emerging sects and national movements that combine pro-natalism with anti-materialism".

So there you have it. An intelligent left-liberal concludes from the data that traditionalists have an evolutionary advantage!

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