Problems With the New Biopolitics

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
23 June 2006
Vol. 8 / No. 24
Reproduced with Permission

For some time now, liberal politicians and writers have been wringing their hands over the lack of attractive progressive ideas. Even prominent Democrats complain that their party cannot come up with a program with which to beat weakened Republicans in this year's elections. So-called progressives are actually reactionary and perceived as such by most of the public, which notes progressives' attachment to ideas and policies with a 40-year record of failure. Now, the first issue of an interesting new left-leaning magazine features an article on how demographics is affecting geopolitics in a seemingly fresh take on this underestimated problem  but actually advocating the same four-decade-old population control strategies for the Third World.

Just as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) helped mold the ideas and policies that, combined with his winning personality, made Bill Clinton President, new centers for progressive thinking have arisen to provide intellectual direction for the floundering liberal movement. The DLC has become notorious among American leftists for moderating Democratic Party stances too much for their tastes, so new ways of injecting the appearance of sense into liberal policy-wonking must be found. Moderate liberal David S. Broder, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, on June 22 praised the first of issue of Democracy: A Journal of New Ideas for its articles exploring thought outside the box. He singled out the lead article, called "The New Biopolitics," for its innovative proposals, and, in fact, the article does contain some intriguing new ideas. But, most saliently, the article essentially calls for neo-imperialist Western efforts to remake Asian societies into the same narcissist and feminist (the latter is a subset of the former) image that is, quite literally, exterminating the Western world.

"The lead article, by Jedediah Purdy of Duke Law School, explores the demographic trends around the world. It discusses the implications of population decline in Europe and Japan and how the abortion-influenced gender imbalances in China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan result in a 'surplus' of millions of single men in those fragile democracies or authoritarian states," wrote Broder. "Purdy ends by suggesting a long-term bargain between Europe and Asia, or maybe between the United States and India, in which the advanced nations pump development money in now, in return for future help in financing their retirees' pensions."

This sounds like an innovative way for the West to help both itself and friendly developing nations: Make massive investments now in poor, labor-rich countries such as India and Indonesia to set their infrastructures on a solid footing, then in 20 years use the payouts from these investments to maintain the solvency of social security and health care systems in graying Europe and America. The idea has the added advantage of working toward the stability of these poor countries and tying them closer to the West, hopefully drawing them away from alternatives such as China or Islamism.

Yet Purdy proposes societal transformations for these developing nations that would destroy what makes them attractive investments: Their relatively high birthrates yielding plentiful labor. If he had his way, these Third World nations, which are already on the path to rapid population aging due to falling birthrates, would hit a Western-style worker-to-retiree ratio problem about when the West would most need its return on its infrastructure investments. These countries could well decide they couldn't afford to meet their obligations to usand would have developed to the point where they didn't need us anymore, anyway.

Purdy rightly decries the massive and growing imbalance between the number of men and women in China, India, and other Asian nations resulting from sex-selective abortion. "What do people in modernizing cultures do when they take reproduction out of the realm of luck and nature and put it under self-conscious control?" Purdy asks. "In much of Asia, the answer has turned out to be that they have sons. For those conditioned by U.S. abortion politics to think of reproductive choice as always and entirely pro-woman, this is a disconcerting irony. Even more troubling is that millions of individual reproductive choices produce a massive demographic distortion -- scores of millions of men with no one to court, love, or marry." Huge numbers of couples, Westernized enough to desire only one or two children but not Westernized enough to be sex-neutral, in these Asian nations abort their daughters in the womb in order to have sons. One expert has estimated that up to 200 million women are missing from the world because of the kill-the-girls phenomenon, leaving about 200 million men and boys unable to marry over the next 20 yearsand growing.

Of course, Purdy does not suggest any of the genuine, time-tested remedies for this socially destabilizing problem. He does not suggest a cultural return to the celebration of large families, nor does he advocate reducing the massive taxes that have prompted so many people worldwide to limit their family sizes. He doesn't even suggest the abolition of China's coercive one-child-per-family population quota.

And never, never would it occur to the progressive mind to suggest encouragement for, and government policies to enable, more women to be homemakers, who tend to have more children than working mothers. Instead, he proposes the opposite: A massive feministization campaign.

A new deal between East and West "could also fit into a strategy for women's empowerment: properly targeted, the public investments in the first stage could do a lot for women's literacy, access to family planning, job training, and other aspects of sexually egalitarian development," Purdy wrote. "Such investments would help women in developing countries push back against their increasingly male-dominated societies: skills and employment give women control of resources and an exit option from the family. Literacy also brings women into contact with a broad world of aspirations and ideas about what they might do and who they might be. Globalization that equalizes power in economic, social, and intimate life is less likely to produce perverse results like the problem of missing women."

"Access to family planning," "job training," "an exit option from the family": All these will export to Asia the suicidal birthrates plaguing Europeans and native-born Americans. In fact, anti-family careerist attitudes are already taking hold. Even India's fertility rate has been falling fast and will be under replacement rate, and thus into suicidal territory, within 20 years or so, according to the United Nations. Such feministization, where the feminine norm is extirpated by the masculine careerist one (why isn't feminism called masculism?), might indeed solve the destructive sex-selective abortion imbalance. But at what cost?

Purdy's proposal is disguised population control and the acceleration of suicidal impulses in mankind. "Liberal modernity is all about expanding human freedom," Purdy says. But what if this freedom produces the death of the society in which it is practiced? What if, once extended universally, it threatens the continued existence of the human race? Is freedom so important, or is there something else more important?