Mark Steyn recently wrote “It’s the demographics, stupid” which appeared online in the New Criterion and the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal. I was taken by the main thrust of the piece and expressed some disappointment to certain friends that I had yet to write such an article. These friends view the world from a wide circumference of perspectives and some did not share my endorsement of Steyn. Originally this was supposed to be a straightforward introduction and link to the article before a I received a concise and strong rejection of Steyn from a learned friend and former colleague. Now I must also defend ramparts that would have remained unmanned.
In Steyn’s piece he frames and fills the notion that it will be the sheer population numbers that determine the political, cultural, and economic future of regions that today are viewed as the origins and major repositories of western culture. Those familiar with his writing style know that he uses bold colors and broad strokes which sometimes overlap the canvas on which many readers are prepared to receive him.
Perhaps I missed something, but from a careful perusal the article came across as predictive and not prescriptive. Steyn basically says that the Muslims will outnumber and out vote their hosts in the countries to which they are now immigrating in ever greater numbers given that current trends and policies continue unchanged. Steyn’s arguments are to be taken in the context of such recent scholarly essays as Multitude (2004) by Hardt & Negri and Fewer (2004) by Wattenberg.
Steyn also states that “Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about.” in the relative scheme of today’s problems. This is strong stuff, nevertheless, it is the bath water in which the demographics baby is presented. I happen to agree with his relative positioning of the energy and environmental issues for the simple reason that only the developed (read rich) nations will have the desire and means to do anything about these problems. And large scale collectivistic social philosophies have never produced anything but human misery, and promise no better in the future no matter how they are relabeled today for public consumption.
Do I believe that dependence on oil is not a problem? Not at all. Simmons in Twilight in the Desert (2005) makes the compelling case for weaning ourselves from fossil fuels since all evidence points to our being on the back side of the so-called Hubbert Peak of oil production portending scarcity and rapidly rising costs. While the link between human CO2 emissions and climate change is still being debated, all people of good will agree that reducing such emissions will contribute to the quality of life in densely populated areas. However, no developing country (least of all China) will be delayed or diverted by such concerns; and no one knows how to bring the rich countries down to a soft landing without making them poor and causing worldwide political upheaval in its aftermath. The collectivists’ solutions – ‘but this time it will be different’ - here are totally unconvincing when taken in the context of known human behavior. Deforestation fundamentally is a problem of national wealth. The rich countries are enjoying more trees today than they have ever had contrary to the clamoring we hear in the media. But, of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recycle when certain types of recycling make sense (again, not all recycling makes good environmental and economical sense, but that’s another matter).
But returning to Steyn’s main argument leaves little to debate if we are to learn anything from the system sciences. Larger cultures with their values and mores will dominate and drive out the smaller cultures. This is true especially when the target cultures value the practice of a multiculturally tolerant social system above their own survival. And that is basically all that Steyn is saying. He does not offer prescriptions of having the much vilified white Protestants entering into a baby boom competition with the Muslims. But while highlighting the causal precursors, he does predict and lament the impending demise of what many of us have come to celebrate as western culture.
On 10 September 2001 I wrote a letter decrying the “war on terror” label that was suddenly on everyone’s lips. If conducted successfully, this was to be no more a war on terror than WW2 was a war on blitzkrieg. From the post-war history of Islamic states it was clear, at least to me, that Islam never took its defeat in Vienna to be the end to its conquest of the west. In the intervening centuries since 1683 their young men were taught that the time for the reinvigoration of Islam would again come. And only the western intellectuals would consider this reinvigoration to take the form of a higher algebra or edifying literature the courses for which have obviously been missing from their “universities”.
In sum we have a war between two fundamentally different ideologies – one tolerant and becoming ever more pluralistic, and one intolerant of any but its own narrow view. But ideologies do not prevail on the basis of some intellectual correctness metric. An ideology prevails through the sheer number of people who embrace it and, moreover, are willing to die in its name – it was ever thus. The result of no war was ever abrogated because of the victor's ideological deficit. Tyranny remains the most stable form of government known. History shows that once established, it can last for centuries, especially if abetted by technology. I fully agree with the Islamists who teach that fundamental Islam must now conquer or perish (e.g. suffer the fate of the former Christendom). Evidence abounds on what MTV, blue jeans, rock and roll, and hamburgers can do to unprepared cultures around the world – and now add the internet. Its not lost on the Islamists that to date we have undermined the culture of more than just France.
This is my take away from Steyn, and fastening on the froth that he sprays beyond this thesis serves only to highlight his main causal argument for the west’s demise – we no longer have our eyes on the prize that is our culture and legacy.