I'm not really all that mysterious

economic discrepancy

This article is stupid. It discusses the evolutionary advantage of a patriarchal society, with definite disregard for the value of human life. While it is true that a rapidly growing society tends to overwhelm less rapidly growing societies, this article completely disregards the reasons—both biological and economic—why population growth slows. My feeling is that the natural tendency of populations is to grow rapidly. And while we have, for the most part, in industrialized nations, made the specter of starvation less prominent (although we all know people in the U.S. who are citizens who are starving), what we have not gotten a handle on is the cost of generating children.

The article discusses the idea that social conservatism—which generally encourages procreation—tends to take root in societies whose birth rates decrease. This is simply an application of game theory to population growth, and is probably true to an extent. The premise is that social conservatives reproduce faster, and what’s more, children tend to select the social strategy of their parents. This idea is questionable, because, biologically speaking, you can generate more children as a male by spreading your seed far and wide and without dealing with the vagaries of marriage. And certainly, while the children of Republicans tend to—one way or another—eventually become Republicans, this is a statistical argument based on popular poll data, and it questionable whether this can truly be extrapolated into the future—the adoption of a particular social strategy not only depends on what your parents chose, but must be analyzed in the proper context of the current social situation.

Anyway, ultimately, it is more expensive in an industrialized nation to raise a child. Hence, developing nations grow faster than industrialized nations. But also, even in an industrialized nation, families with six children are by definition unable to provide the same resources to their children that families with two children can. Fact of the matter is that the majority of social conservatives are not multimillionaires, and when pitted reproductively against families with similar income with fewer children, I doubt being in a family of six kids versus being in a family of two kids is all that advantageous. Also, in a family of six kids, all other resources held equal, especially in a socially conservative milleu, it is less likely that the combined income of both parents will exceed the combined income of parents with a smaller family. In a socially conservative setting, the mother is generally encouraged not to work, resulting in a significant decrease in income.

My dispassionate analysis is simply this: all other parameters being equal, bigger families tend to be more resource-strapped than smaller families. The average family may succeed in sending their two children to college (which in itself is no mean feat and already requires significant financial sacrifice), but the two average parents who attempt to have six or more children will most definitely be hard pressed to provide the same for all their children, and in an industrialized society such as ours, an advanced degree seems necessary for economic prosperity, statistically speaking.

In other words, I don’t buy it.

We live in quite a different world than Roman times. The human race is completely interconnected, and covers almost every square inch of this planet. Territorial expansion is simply more difficult. And, perhaps unexpectedly, it seems that the more asymmetric the warfare being conducted is, the more futile it becomes for the aggressor to achieve their expansion. We may have nuclear weapons, but I suspect that nuclear weapons are a poor method for trying to expand territory.

Then again, maybe he has a point. When Americans went on their Pacific Ocean-bound rampage, slaughtering Native American in their way, white people were definitely growing faster than Native American populations. In contrast, Filipinos are still on the exponential part of their population growth curve, and while the asymmetry of casualties during the Filipino American War are obvious (possibly as high as a million Filipinos versus a few thousand Americans), and the status of the Philippines as a satellite of the American Empire continues, ultimately, the Americans were unable to territorially dominate the Philippines. (Economic and cultural domination is another matter.) The imperial engine faltered again in Vietnam—again, the asymmetry of warfare and of casualties is obvious, and yet the Vietnamese prevailed. This imperial failure is likewise manifest in the misadventure in Iraq.

Ultimately, it comes down to this heartless equation: in order to create an industrially advanced society, you need to maximize your labor output. Maximization of labor often means that both man and woman need to work. This was already true with the Industrial Revolution in England which spread throughout Europe. Once you do that, you have the recipe for declining birth rates in hand. And in an industrially-advanced society, resource-wise, it becomes more and more expensive to raise children, so the cycle reinforces itself. And, again, rather heartlessly (and resonating with the article’s disdain for the value of human life), think of the asymmetry of casualties in the imperial misadventures of the U.S. The resisting state always experiences vaster casualties than we do, and yet the resisting state tends to prevail. Sure, part of this is our distaste for genocide (which is usually the only way to win a territorial war), but probably the other issue is how much we quantitatively value the life of an American. Just from a purely resources-oriented analysis that does not take into account the inherent dignity of all human life, it becomes extraordinarily costly to send one’s children to be torn apart limb from limb.

We go back to the Romans: it is interesting the way their patriarchic society dealt with militaristic needs of their society. Since the rich and the wealthy were likely not very willing to send their children off to war, what happened was that the Germans—recently assimilated into Roman society, generally poorer than the average Roman—become more and more the bulk of their military strength. Some will point out that this contributed to the destruction of the Western Roman Empire. (After all it was the German Odoacer, who was a general of the Roman Army, who deposed the last Western Emperor.) The point of this is not to encourage xenophobia, but similarly, in the U.S., many people involved in the armed forces are people-of-color, who tend to be poorer than their white counterparts. It becomes that as the ruling classes show less and less committment to their military (which is clear considering that Republicans would rather have their tax breaks instead of properly funding the armed forces), and as the ruling classes make it more and more difficult for those who are poor and otherwise disenfranchised (Germans in the time of Rome, people-of-color in our present) to succeed economically, this probably sets us up for creating a class of people who have no loyalty to the current nation-state.

With this in mind, and using the Roman Empire as a metric, one can’t help but wonder if the American Empire is in its decline. The advocacy and adoption of paternalism as espoused by this article is likely merely a manifestation of reaction to this trend, and it bodes ill, because, truly, it seems that paternalism is only really useful in an Empire’s growth and expansion phase—except in societies that experienced other cataclysmic changes, reversion to such a growth pattern has never saved any failing Empires.

Then again, we live in a Brave New World, where it is somewhat pointless and unnecessarily expensive to achieve territorial hegemony, when economic and cultural hegemony can be had a one-tenth the price. I doubt that the old rules apply in our post-modern, post-industrial world. Instead, I much rather prefer my vision of territorial expansion.

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