Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sterile Subject

David Brooks philosophizes on what would happen if half the world suddenly became sterile.

Some people might try to perpetuate their society by recruiting people from the fertile half of the earth. But that wouldn’t work. Immigration is the painful process of leaving behind one culture and way of living so that your children and children’s children can enjoy a different future. No one would be willing to undertake that traumatic process in order to move from a society that was reproducing to a society that was fading. There wouldn’t be the generations required to assimilate immigrants. A sterile culture could not thrive and, thus, could not inspire assimilation.

Instead there would be brutal division between those with the power to possess the future and those without. If millions of immigrants were brought over, they would populate the buildings but not perpetuate the culture. They wouldn’t be like current immigrants because they wouldn’t be joining a common project, but displacing it. There would be no sense of peoplehood, none of the untaught affections of those who are part of an organic social unit that shares the same destiny.

Within weeks, in other words, everything would break down and society would be unrecognizable. The scenario is unrelievedly grim. An individual who does not have children still contributes fully to the future of society. But when a society doesn’t reproduce there is nothing left to contribute to.

I think he’s saying that what would save us is our human desire to create a legacy. Or he’s making an argument against same-sex marriage. Or something. When he goes off on these little sitting-around-the-campfire-passing-the-roachclip tangents, I’m never really quite sure.

One thing I’m reminded of, though, is a line from The Curious Savage by John Patrick: “Mankind is, by nature, optimistic. Otherwise we’d eat our young.”