Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Human Locusts

Mark Steyn worries that the West is not breeding enough children, and that the world of the future will therefore belong to the Muslim hordes, who - like all caricaturish figures of ethnic menace - breed like sewer rats:

Much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive this century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most Western European countries....Europe by the end of this century will be a continent after the neutron bomb: The grand buildings will still be standing, but the people who built them will be gone. We are living through a remarkable period: the self-extinction of the races who, for good or ill, shaped the modern world.
His argument is astonishingly lengthy and digressive, and I don't have the time to address every error of fact and logic it contains. Accordingly, I may as well target its central proposition:
"Replacement" fertility rate--i.e., the number you need for merely a stable population, not getting any bigger, not getting any smaller--is 2.1 babies per woman. Some countries are well above that: the global fertility leader, Somalia, is 6.91, Niger 6.83, Afghanistan 6.78, Yemen 6.75.

Notice what those nations have in common?
One thing I notice is that these countries have high rates of infant mortality. Somalia, for instance, loses 119 children out of every 1000 live births, while Niger loses 123, and Afghanistan - that bright new jewel in the diadem of representative democracy - loses 167. The number of children in these countries who die before reaching reproductive age is also quite high.

Fertility rates fluctuate from year to year, of course, as do mortality rates; both are unpredictable. Regarding fertility rate, the general trend is downwards in a number of Islamic countries (for instance, Iran's fertility rate is down by almost 70 percent).

Population dynamics are extremely complicated, and very hard to predict. Steyn spends a lot of time mocking other people's faulty extrapolations from population trends, but he bases his own theory that Western civilization is in a "death spiral" on precisely the same type of projections. Experts are often wrong, of course, but the best of them are at least plausible, and are able to explain how they arrived at their conclusions. Steyn, by contrast, is simply a buffoon. For instance, here's how he interprets the current population trends in Spain:
Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation.
For what it's worth, Spain's fertility rate is closer to 1.3, as of 2005. More to the point, Spain's population isn't "halving every generation"; that's an absolutely insane thing to say. In 2000, a UN study claimed that Spain's population would decrease by 9.4 million by 2050; that would represent a 24-percent net loss. The current UN report claims Spain's population will decrease by 1.2 percent by 2050.

Steyn assumes that immigrants to Western countries will generally be implacably hostile to "Western culture," which is debatable, to say the least. He seems to think that once a critical mass of "Muslim" immigration is reached, the political systems of Europe will simply embrace Sharia en masse. If nothing else, this view is consistent with the standard fascist or racist view of nonwhite immigration as a contagion that eats a country away from within. In this country, of course, the Irish, the Chinese, and the Jews were just three of the unassimilable groups who supposedly threatened to destroy the American way of life. The remarks of the Reverend E. Trumbull Lee in 1886 are typical of this school of thought:
[W]hy must the Chinese go? Because they never can become a part of our Nation. The cry against Chinese is not that that they are foreigners, but that they are a race that cannot be taken up and assimilated into our body politic. They have no ambition to become citizens except in very rare instances, and they hug pagan traditions and customs with a tenacity which our better civilization cannot break....John Swinton calls the Chinaman "a human locust," because he stings clean everything he touches, or, to use Swinton's own words: "Where the Chinaman pastures, no other being can live." Now, allow the Chinese population to increase from one sixth to one fourth to one half, and then what measures will Congress be obliged to adopt to stem the tide. Will Congress then be able to stem the tide?"
People like Steyn invariably overstate the fecundity of despised groups, while understating their willingness and ability to be assimilated, or at least to co-exist. That's not to say that demographic transition won't have profound effects on Western countries; it almost certainly will. But there's no good reason to believe that these effects will dovetail neatly with Steyn's paranoid ideological assumptions.

Like a lot of his peers, Steyn ridicules "fear-mongering" and "doomsaying" when it's based on the assiduous research of climatologists:
There will be no environmental doomsday. Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about.
But he's perfectly comfortable proclaiming the literal extinction of Western (i.e., white) culture, and the replacement of European democracies with Islamic theocracies. As far as I can tell, his own "doomsday" scenario is based on nothing more compelling than racial animus and an inability to understand statistics.

ADDENDUM: Anyone who's interested in a more realistic and rational assessment of demographic transition - and the uncertainties involved in calculating it - should have a look at Population Bulletin's Transitions in World Population.

10 comments:

WHT said...

I was reading your post and kept on thinking "doomer ... doomer" and sure enough at the end you show that Steyn practices the fine art of projection as he labels the other side as the doomsayers.

Phila said...

WHT,

That particular form of projection drives me around the bend. These guys call everyone else "Chicken Little," while advancing dozens of bizarre doomsday scenarios..."gay marriage will result in bestiality becoming legal," etc.

AJ said...

I'd forwarded this to a couple of journalists, some of whom had previously written challenging pieces about Steyn and his tactics, and from the responses I got, some are still taken by his demographic arguments. Apparently understanding statistics, especially the way they can be distorted to advance a political agenda, isn't a required topic in J-school anymore. It's become incumbent upon people like yourself to point out what the countervailing, scientific consensus on the matter is...sometimes you have to spell it out for them - as with global climate change and peak oil.

Phila said...

AJ,

The whole thing's baffling. I mean, Steyn doesn't have a demographic argument. He simply notes the trend of sub-replacement fertility, assumes that any missing "Western" population will be replaced with Muslim immigrants, and then assumes that this'll magically result in a Muslim takeover of government.

What I tried to get across here, and perhaps I addressed it too quickly and casually, is that Steyn's done none of the work you'd need to do in order to make this argument. Taking Spain as an example, you'd want to look for starters at its current ethnic breakdown, its current religious breakdown, and the comparative birth rates in each group.

Then you'd want to look at immigration rates from various regions, and the religious identifications of those immigrants; you can't simply assume that every single immigrant from a Muslim country is going to be an extremist of some sort, or even religious. Plus, you need to consider the various rates of mortality before reproductive age, as well as the huge wild card of AIDS.

There's also the question of sub-replacement fertility in the Muslim world. Even people from the AEI manage to acknowledge this point:

Perhaps the biggest surprise, given received notions about the Arab/Muslim expanse, is the recent spread of sub-replacement fertility to parts of the Arab and the Muslim world. Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon are now sub-replacement countries, as is Turkey. And there is the remarkable case of Iran, with a current TFR of under 1.9, which is lower than the United States’. Between 1986 and 2000, the country’s TFR plummeted from well over 6 to just over 2.

Steyn simply assumes that "good guys" are disappearing and being replaced with "bad guys." Where there should be reams of statistics and footnotes, there's simply a racist assumption about what an increasing Muslim population must mean for Europe. And even if he were right about that, his refusal to look at all of the variables here makes his timeline for an Islamic Europe pretty goddamn dubious, in my book.

AJ said...

by the way, found a remarkably well-researched assessment of Steyn's long career of wingnuttery and distortion here. links galore...

Anonymous said...

No doubt some of you are familiar with the site Asia Times on Line, at which there are some good essays and reports on ongoing world affairs, especially in Asia. Surprizingly, however, despite the general good quality of the work, some of which shows up on sites like Truthout.org and counterpunch.org, there is some character there who calls himself Spengler, and who trots out the same sort of paranoid bloviation that Steyn spouts. In fact the two may be the same person. I was surprised to read this man assert that a declining Japanese birthrate would, in 20 or 30 years, lead to the downfall of Japanese society as it is infiltrated by Phillipina nurses. Spengler's take on the muslim takeover of Europe is the same as Steyn's. But the guy is a great writer in that his drivel is so erudite and maculated with internal inconsistencies and disconnects with reality, that it's like reading the Onion.

frumiousb said...

needed to be done. thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese, Jews and 99% of the other ethnicities don't go around the world blowing up American targets...9/11, etc, etc? And the moderate peaceful Muslims remain silent...they protect their extremists because it serves their political interests and gives them leverage/influence...that way non-Muslim politicians are always on their toes because if they say or do something that's not in the Muslim people's interests, then they can get blown up which gives the moderates bargaining power. The problem is the future cannot be changed and they will take over eventually. You can't negotiate with people who sacrifice their own children and their own lives without hesitation and breed their children to be killers. We're all goners eventually whether or not Steyn is 100% right or 10% right.

Phila said...

We're all goners eventually whether or not Steyn is 100% right or 10% right.

Boo fucking hoo.

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