As the family disintegrates, Western culture has proven itself unequal to the task of keeping up with the change. We have no model for a non-family based society, and our responses to the reality are becoming increasingly incoherent.
Take Jacques Chirac, for example. The president of France tried to convince French voters that the EU constitution was worthwhile by arguing, “[it is] about your future and that of your children, of the future of France and the future of Europe. On Sunday, everyone will have a share of the destiny of France in its hands.”
It was one of the sillier things he could have said. The French have a population growth rate of 1.85, one of the lowest rates of child-bearing in recorded French history. Chirac was appealing to an electorate that didn’t exist: parents. He lost the referendum.
We could write this off as the fate of the French if not for a recent story on San Francisco. It has become an essentially child-free city: only 14.5% of the city’s population is 18 or younger. The city is busily building programs for children who don’t exist. It may not be politically correct to mention the facts, but homosexual sex is functionally sterile. This is apparently only beginning to dawn on the city’s ruling elite and the news media.
Certainly the prime-time networks are unfamiliar with family life, as are the people who tout the prime-time shows. “ ‘Desperate Housewives’ made good on its pledge to solve the posthumous mystery of Mary Alice as its smash first season concluded on Wisteria Lane, the ABC show's mythical but all-too-recognizable slice of suburbia.” So said CNN, but most real parents are at a loss to figure out what is recognizably suburban about any of it. Most suburbanites do not have bodies buried in the back yard, nor stay-at-home moms, nor yard boys to have adulterous flings with.
But this kind of senility isn’t unique to secular atheists either. Christian organizations are attempting to organize boycotts of Carl Jr.’s and Hardees based on the family-unfriendliness of its Paris Hilton commercials. It has not yet occurred to anyone that the burger chain’s number-crunchers may have written off the family market. Indeed, as the American fertility rate hovers just below replacement level, held that high only by Hispanic and black fertility rates, appeals to do something “for the children” are going to fall on increasingly deaf ears. You can’t appeal for support to families that don’t exist.
So where have all the children gone? Well, even as children disappear from cities and suburbs, faux children rise to take their place. Recent screenings of Star Wars were preceded by trailers advertising Spiderman, Batman, the X-men and the Fantastic Four. Advertisers have long known that the adolescent segment is the best market segment, if only because immature people are easily separated from the money they carry. Because commerce is interested in maintaining immaturity for as long as possible, we have become a comic book nation.
And this is not just a cute phrase. As has been pointed out, “[a recent] National Endowment for the Arts survey found a dramatic decrease in Americans who read literature (novels, plays, poetry, short stories), with more than half - HALF! - of Americans not reading for pleasure. The survey found an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, a loss of 20 million potential readers…. it was particularly dramatic among those 18 to 24 years old. Among this group, the decline was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population. At the current rate of loss among the young, literary reading will virtually disappear in 50 years, the NEA warns.”
The irony is enormous. We don’t have children because we want to indulge ourselves. Our culture encourages this perpetual adolescence because it allows business to strip our money from us more efficiently. Precisely because we keep people immature for as long as we can, we do not raise families. Thus the supply of real children dwindles, resulting in an ever-more desperate attempt to lengthen the period of immaturity among the population that remains.
As I pointed out in an essay several months ago, abortion is self-limiting if only because it kills its own future customers. In this respect, the free enterprise system resonates with the abortion culture. By encouraging immaturity among its audience, commerce kills tomorrow’s market in its insatiable quest for today’s market share.
There are limits to how long this childishness can continue.