Policy makers learn in due course to look for clues in the nooks and crannies: those places clothed in semi-darkness while life’s big battles go on in the fierce sunlight.
The birthrate problem—“problem”? You don’t have to call it that, but others do—exists in a semi-hidden, up to now, venue for examination of the consequences that follow from de-valuing human life.
The other day China, still run by the overweening folk we once supposed would be gone by now, declared modification of its birth policies. A Chinese couple is now, lawfully—without fear of prison or fine—permitted to have three children.
Three! It used to be two. And before that it was one, under the Maoist prescription for slowing population growth.
What happened? What happened was that most, though decidedly not all, Chinese couples reduced their populational output, in line with the Party’s will. And behold—population growth slowed. And now China has, or is approaching, a population problem of the sort hard for outsiders to imagine when it relates to the world’s most populous nation. But, yes, with births dropping steadily over the past four years, the labor market of the near future is marked for shortages, meaning challenges in supplying human needs. Thus the inauguration of the three-child policy. Get busy!, the Party is saying in effect. Your duty is to propagate.
Oh? What about the duty not to propagate!? That’s off. A course correction is under way, and we’ll see how it works out. However, it comes late in the voyage. The Wall Street Journal quotes the economist Justin Evans-Pritchard to the effect that “With small family sizes now well ingrained into the fabric of Chinese society, there is little that policy makers can do to turn back the clock.” A 38-year-old woman who lives with her boyfriend and several cats is quoted as saying, “Getting married and having children is not the only path for women anymore. We have more options and can live our lives in many ways.”
Where have we heard that one before? In the modern United States, as well as Western Europe. Birth rates in the major industrial countries are below the rate necessary to replace those “going out,” shall we say—I speak as one of them—with those “coming in.” A population drop, howsoever caused, contributes to disorders not just of the economic but of the cultural kind—educational, for example; religious; psychological. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s King of Siam put it.
But that’s where we are. Assumptions, as expressed by the afore-mentioned Chinese lady, are not the same as they once were. The attendant consequences rapidly unfold.
I mentioned clues to the larger picture. That picture displays, inter alia, women surrounded by cats; pursuing interests that would have seemed foreign to the baby-breeding old-timers responsible for those who read these lines.
I invite attention to how modern assumptions about the importance of life have influenced the way moderns think about abortion. The more one thinks about Roe v. Wade (regardless of what the present Supreme Court decides to do with that infamous decision), the clearer it becomes that, yes, the Court in 1973 got ahead of the nation but not by all that much. As with Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down school segregation in 1954, public attitudes and assumptions were changing. There was something in the air. The Court sniffed. Took it in. And sensed something not sensed before.
So Roe v. Wade partook of a new public mood: one of fast-growing attention to the asserted rights of women for independence and free choice. The new mood left diminished room for the deeply planted, not to mention God-breathed, satisfactions and obligations attendant on the creation of new life. We just weren’t into that old stuff anymore. Thus Roe. Thus the struggles of the past half-century over the Court’s brush-off of God and nature alike.
Communist China gave a similar brush-off to the ancient sentiments and beliefs, only to discover in due and predictable course the inconveniences, injuries, and setbacks that accompany arrogant meddling of the unmistakably human kind.
“When will they evvvvv-er learn?,” as Peter, Paul, and Mary used emotionally to warble, to the accompaniment of guitars. Probably never. Meddling seems woven into the human character. But watching the meddlers squirm and slap their foreheads, as in China and elsewhere, can be fun in a perverse sort of way. And instructive: provided we’re paying due and direct attention.