Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The breeding gap

Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh?

One of the more curious but increasingly popular explanations of how red state values have risen to the top in 21st century America is that progressives just don't breed fast enough.

This thesis has been very actively promoted by Phillip Longman in a book, in USA Today and in a long article in the most recent Foreign Policy. The basic argument is that while liberals and leftists have been spending too much time hanging out in cafes, red staters have been breeding like rabbits.
In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs...It's not that people in a progressive city such as Seattle are so much fonder of dogs than are people in a conservative city such as Salt Lake City. It's that progressives are so much less likely to have children. (USA Today)
So fertility correlates with conservative values? Actually, no. Froma Harrop has some fun picking apart the fishy statistics and suspicious racial assumptions underlying Longman's arguments.

But Longman goes even further. After a lot of anxiety about falling fertility rates, a motley assortment of historical anecdotes and a weird attempt to explore the nurturing side of patriarchy, he argues that patriarchy has an evolutionary advantage.
Without implying any endorsement for the strategy, one must observe that a society that presents women with essentially three options--be a nun, be a prostitute, or marry a man and bear children--has stumbled upon a highly effective way to reduce the risk of demographic decline. (FP)
Because of this supposed evolutionary advantage, he believes that patriarchs will, perhaps tragically but nonetheless inevitably, inherit the earth.

It is hard to believe that this kind of simplistic argumentation is publishable even in a journal like Foreign Policy. One fundamental problem with this whole analysis is that the only mechanism for transmission of values that Longman really takes seriously is inheritance. Although he seems aware of the fact that values are not in fact genetically transmitted, he tends to dismiss the effectiveness of cultural influence and education with loose generalizations and snappy phrases:
To be sure, some members of the rising generation may reject their parents' values, as always happens. But when they look around for fellow secularists and counterculturalists with whom to make common cause, they will find that most of their would-be fellow travelers were quite literally never born. (FP)
The critical role of social and economic pressures in shaping values is never even discussed.

We are not going to breed--or pray--our way out of this crisis. We are going to have to think our way out by facing the all too real problems that are looming over us and trying to come up with realistic solutions. And while we are at it, we might as well start by corrupting the youth.

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