So, next-gen conservative thinker [sic] Ross Douthat's latest column for the New York Times, "More Babies, Please," is all about the US' plummeting birthrate. And he has a lot of great theories about why that's so—"economic instability and a shortage of marriageable men," for instance—but my favorite theory is definitely this one:
Beneath these policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It's a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.Ah, our old friend "not having children is selfish," but dressed up in the ugliest clothes imaginable.
It takes a special sort of asshole to accuse people who choose not to have children with "privileging the present over the future, choosing stagnation over innovation, preferring what already exists over what might be" when many people are choosing against childbearing because of a very uncertain future, economically and existentially, thanks to Douthat's cohorts in the corporate conservative trenches who have facilitated economic turmoil and a global climate crisis in pursuit of satiating a voracious greed that could not possibly be more contemptuous of progress or more disconcerned with the future.
To assert that the decadent ones are those who opt out of childbearing because of the fucked-up world created by the optimism-hostile greed-fiends for whom Douthat carries water is not just a mendacious position to take; it's a profoundly indecent one.
Most of my friends do not have children. Some do not have children because they can't—one couple because of fertility issues but the rest because they are same-sex couples in states that either won't let them adopt and/or won't let them both have equal standing as parents if only one is a bio parent. Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Some of us do not have children because we cannot afford to, thanks to our shitty economy and/or bleak job prospects and/or towering students loans and/or the lack of health insurance. Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Some of us do not have children because we do not live in a country that supports in a meaningful way a woman's ability to have a career and be a mother, and, when forced to choose, we choose ourselves, because we know we would not make good mothers to children we may resent. Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Some of us do not have children because, despite Douthat's contention that "government's power over fertility rates is limited" with zero mention of its intervention in reproductive rights, the GOP has been eroding access to reproductive healthcare in state governments across the nation, and women who live in states where they are not guaranteed access to abortion even if our lives hang in the balance, are reluctant to get pregnant at all. Some among us may want children, but don't want to risk our lives to have them. Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Some of us do not have children because we worry about passing on dysfunctional and abusive family dynamics. Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Some of us do not have children because we simply don't want them. (And no one makes a worse parent than someone who doesn't want to be one.) Decadence, says Ross Douthat.
Most of us do not have children for a combination of these reasons, many of which are better described as "valid responses to conservative policy" and/or "our own fucking decisions about our own fucking lives which is none of your fucking business," rather than "decadence."
If conservatives like Douthat want more USians to have children, perhaps they could set about making the US the sort of country in which more people with the privilege of choosing not to have children choose otherwise. Naturally, however, Douthat prefers to take the usual conservative route of tasking individuals with solving the systemic problems they created:
Such decadence need not be permanent, but neither can it be undone by political willpower alone. It can only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, which is how all social and cultural recoveries are ultimately made.Just feed your babies bootstraps. Everything will be fine.