Technology and social trends are revealing the stark essential of life to be a yes-or-no question: Are there universal, everlasting moral standards? One can move in various directions upon answering. Still, the emergence of difficult issues in need of social policies highlights the centrality of the basic choice. One of the most pressing of these issues is population decline in West, a topic taken on by Stanley Kurtz
in the current edition of Policy Review.
Emotional investment in matters that affect the course of our culture often obscures what prove in retrospect to be logical sequences. For example, developments in birth control technology loosened the tethers on the human impulse toward sexual laxity, with the behavioral norm expanding to include homosexual sex.
The Supreme Court's 1965 decision related to contraception, Griswold v. Connecticut,
declared the right to privacy in the context of marriage which supposedly promotes "a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects." This set of principles eroded the link between marriage and procreation, and the legitimacy of homosexual sex is now tracing back to marriage. It is not outlandish to predict that the emotional drive for normalization will come to justify techniques allowing people of the same sex to create mutual children.
An antecedent branch of the same weed better illustrates the reality that such progressions do not solely affect those who choose to follow them. The brand of feminism that defines equality as similarity led more women to work, increasing the number of two-income households. For many, both parents' working is now a necessity just to get by, making children a luxury and tearing parenting from parenthood through expanded daycare and parental distraction during non-working hours.
Until recently, the two emerging sides in this simmering culture war have been able to resolve difficulties, with mixed results, by following a principle of individual choice. But the cracks have begun to show in that approach. The demands of those who deny the legitimacy of civil enforcement of moral standards have become increasingly oppressive and offensive to those who can no longer be discounted as fear-driven, bigoted mossbacks.
Just as the labor required to support a large family requires couples to deliberate before having multiple children, the population decline in the West will require collective deliberation.
Excluding "endless and compounding population decline," Kurtz sees two options: "at least a partial restoration of traditional social values" or "a radical new eugenics."
In the first case, self-interest and religious revival reprioritize the culture to privilege the family, reinstating many of the beliefs and mores that have traditionally been held to support it. Hopefully, darker aspects rightly corrected during the modern age will be left to history.
The second case is arguably more chilling than even a full return to the bad old days would be: The nuclear family dissolves altogether, separating "pair-bonding from sex and procreation" and "weakening if not eliminating the parent-child bond." Technology and government intervention would take on the role of surrogate.
The first approach is the conservative one. It accepts and works within the world as we've found it. It encourages, therefore, a more organic involvement of the individual in the causes of humanity. Parents directly sacrifice for their families and, through them, society. But in return they enjoy a deeper connection to the world and its Creator.
The second approach is the progressive one. It seeks to manipulate the world, and all relationships are contingent upon the contentment and convenience of those involved. The heritage of a society of artificial wombs and state-based welfare assurance is isolation and nihilism. Because the "progress" is away from reality as known, the focus of society becomes a desperate pursuit and reckless justification of innovations to patch problems as they arise. This will produce consequences that we simply lack the capacity fathom.
One of those consequences is the pain of living in a way inimical to our natures. The enormity of entertainment that is simultaneously immersing and superficial in our culture is evidence of a willful disconnection. More worrying is the insidious trend of medicating ourselves to make life acceptable, using drugs to modify behavior even in the innocent realm of childhood. Once the cultural and emotional barrier to fundamental manipulation of self through external, artificial means has been breached, nothing can any longer be considered inviolable.
Some see evidence of objective morality in the repercussions of denying our nature. The progressives see only another problem to fix. Although the religious may observe design in the unavoidable declaration of faith in one direction or the other, the decades to come may reveal whether the secular forces in Western civilization can answer the yes-or-no question irrevocably.