Marriage, Children and Naive Realism

What do this piece and this paper have in common? Well, they're symptoms of a problem that will worsen in the future. If poor boys = struggling men, and women mate across and above their level in the hierarchy, then the future is bound to be plagued with the persistence of low birth rates, delaying marriage and children. The correlation (which runs both ways) there is not difficult to see. The deeper cultural questions and implications of this, however, are more pressing and interesting. I opine that these phenomena are symptoms of the problem of our culture's discontinuity with the past. It is often tricky and borderline impossible to objectively analyze the occurrences of one's generation. Still, one of the more apparent problems here is that we believe we are so different from our ancestors, so much so that we would act differently from them if we were in their shoes and vice versa. The implications of this lens are genuinely terrifying when one thinks it through.

How different is our situation from our ancestors? For most of human history, humans had to deal with the reality of their death or the death of their children. They also enjoyed no shortage of scarcity in their lives. If you lived in the middle ages, you could just as easily die from a "broken heart" as you could from a cold or the numerous beasts they believed to live in the dark forests. In such a world, one could make the case that bringing in children is cruel and entirely selfish. And, in fact, it largely was because children brought with them hope, meaning, and, in almost everyone's case, a less than miserable retirement, if they don’t die before you do. Shifting further in time, one can compare our age of Pinkerian peace, affluence, modern medicine, and long lifespans to times when the world felt like it was falling apart (e.g., the 20th century), largely because it was. We were by no means talking about birthrates of this level and sentiments on having children by the young (i.e., those in their 20s and early 30s) this dismal. Now, we cite what amounts to excuses, legitimate or not, like climate change, cost of raising a child, etc., as reasons to either defer or not have children altogether. Yet, we make decisions with the implicit assumption of a burgeoning future. We live in this weird world where we are not depraved enough to, en masse, reject the project of having children while having lost or abandoned the myths that encourage and praise the having of children.

There's another more subtle problem here—the problem of a special form of naive realism. Naive realism is the issue here for pontificators like this author. Naive realism in philosophy basically states that our senses not just give us an accurate picture of an object but the entire object in itself. We fail to see that the prevailing mood is not limited to the United States, instead it is similar to China's population issue, Japan's loneliness epidemic, and Europe's declining population. As a result, our solutions become laughable. One cannot pontificate an entire generation into monumental life decisions like choosing to have children as much as they can choose to have children based on the proclamation of a policy. At least on one end, the threat of force is an incentive. This issue is deeply complex as at each rung of the ladder, each individual makes relatively rational micro-level decisions that do seem to change as they grow older. It is also incredibly difficult to truly see things from other people's perspective, as much as we say (or hope) we can. In fact, I believe it is a fool's errand (I can explain this in a later post). So, where does that leave us? Well, doomed unless something changes and we all follow Ross Douthat's suggestions.

Certainty Rating: 87%