Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Endearing Innocence

Frank Furedi warns us that "the totalitarian impulse to control people's reproductive lives has received the blessing of sections of the political elite."

It's probably unnecessary to explain that he's not talking about a new mutterkreuz, or some Steynian scheme to outfuck the Islamofascists. Political encouragements to be fruitful and multiply don't represent a "totalitarian impulse," after all; they merely signify that our public servants are humbling themselves before the Natural Order, and asking all goodhearted citizens to follow suit.

Furedi's specific complaint against limiting population growth is fascinating:

Throughout history, different cultures have celebrated birth as a unique moment signifying the joy of life. The reinterpretation of birth as a form of greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour speaks to today's degraded imagination, where carbon-reduction becomes the supreme moral imperative. Once every newborn baby is dehumanised in this way, represented as a professional polluter who is a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel anything other than apprehension about the growth of the human race.

Robbing babies of what we perceive to be their endearing innocence makes it easier to scare people off having them. In recent centuries, babies were described as a blessing; now some argue that not having a baby is a blessing, at least for the environment.
Now, you can't actually rob babies of "endearing innocence"; the people who are being robbed, here, are the ones who have an ideological need for this sentimental myth, which they can use to justify virtually every type of brutality and viciousness on earth.

What interests me about Furedi's argument is that he knows this is a sentimental myth; he says as much. He's not worried about myth per se; he's worried about a degraded myth, and he's worried about it specifically because it's not comforting. "Dehumanizing" babies, to his way of thinking, is a simple matter of humanizing them: It's a simple matter of acknowledging that it costs money to feed and raise them, and that they use up resources and produce waste.

We are not to look at things this way, no matter how useful cost/benefit analysis may be for assessing every other goddamn thing under the sun. As James Pethokoukis argued last week, babies are a blessing, period; fretting over how you'll afford one -- in a society whose best and brightest view child-protective social programs as way-stations en route to the Gulag -- is like complaining about the vintage of the wine into which Jesus just changed your water.

We can be marvelously unsentimental when it comes to explaining away famine and sweatshop labor and slum dwelling and the loss of species and the bombing of foreign capitals, but looking realistically at the "miracle of life" -- with an eye to preventing the very miseries that are routinely shrugged off by our "political elite" -- is the act of soulless bureaucrats and baby-haters, by definition.

Furedi goes on to praise Western society's "unprecedented degree of affirmation for human life," as exemplified by our "phenomenal growth in health expenditure." (I know what you're thinking...but honestly, why else would costs be going up?)
In some cases, Western societies go to extraordinary lengths to keep alive a premature baby or to prolong the life of elderly people or people who are chronically ill.
Hooray for us! Of course, Western societies also demand that we wave the flag over the corpses of pregnant foreigners and the smoldering ruins of hospitals and schools, or that we blame the poor and undernourished for their failure to thrive, and treat every dime that's spent on helping them as a moral scandal. But Furedi's worry, curiously, is that by treating newborn children as real, living, breathing human beings instead of perfect angels, we'll devalue the very same human life that we routinely throw away as casually as old batteries:
[I]t is difficult to celebrate human life if people, or at least the growth of the number of people, are looked upon as the source of the world's problems.
See, that's where we differ. I'd argue that it's "difficult to celebrate human life" when you're starving people, and bombing them, and torturing them, and detaining them indefinitely, and withholding medical treatment from them, and insisting that they bear children against their will, and obliging them to dig through medical waste to earn what passes for their living. (Though to be fair, some of these people aren't innocent babies, so they probably had it coming.)

Next, Furedi makes perhaps the oddest argument for human exceptionalism I've ever seen:
The idea that civilisation is responsible for the perils we face today assigns an undistinguished status to the human species.
On the contrary, it burdens us -- uniquely -- with the very responsibilities and powers that Furedi rejects in favor of waxing maudlin over Western civilization and its adorable little cherubs.

When an opinion columnist starts cooing over a cradle, you can be pretty sure that he intends very shortly to demonize an entire class of people. Sure enough, Furedi frets that the goal of environmentalists is "to make us scared of ourselves" (even though the 20th century should've made it quite clear that our affairs are in good hands). These alien pseudo-people are afflicted with "a loathing for everything human," which is why no degree of opposition to them can really be considered excessive. (Behold the better nature to which the sweetly sleeping infant recalls us!)

Make no mistake, friends: it's us against them:
[M]aybe the solution is the extinction of the human race? The argument for limiting family sizes in Britain is the first [!!!!] hesitant step in that direction.
Actually, I suspect that step was taken long ago, not at all hesitantly, to applause and acclaim from shameless ideological shills like Mr. Furedi.


Libby Spencer said...

I can't argue with this. Sometimes you're so smart it almost scares me as much as it awes me.

four legs good said...

Well, I don't want to control people's reproductivity.

But I sure wish American's would stop making a fetish of pregnancy and infants.

kai thx bai

ps. I'm not nearly as smart as you are so I'll shut up now.

four legs good said...

and I prove it by adding a possessive

[smacks forehaid]


Anonymous said...

Nice skewer. Don't know if you've come across Furedi before, but he's the eminence grise behind this bunch of techno-optimist, gargoyles (see here for more info). Every single article Furedi or one of his acolytes has written bangs out exactly the same formula, usually with "environmentalists want to make us scared of ourselves" as payoff.

Reading their stuff is like watching Road Runner cartoons, only featuring a madcap squadron of plastic libertarians instead of ol' Wile E.

Phila said...

Nice skewer. Don't know if you've come across Furedi before, but he's the eminence grise behind this bunch of techno-optimist, gargoyles (see here for more info). Every single article Furedi or one of his acolytes has written bangs out exactly the same formula, usually with "environmentalists want to make us scared of ourselves" as payoff.

He was new to me until this article...not sure how I missed him, but it's probably as well that I did, for my blood pressure's sake.

A friend gave me a link to some information on him yesterday, after I posted this, and I was pretty appalled...he seemed to be a horrible amalgam of the Kotkin-style US wingnut and the Dawkins-style UK pop philosopher/loudmouth. A quick look at your link leaves me feeling more than a little bloodthirsty. I'd like to think I won't read more, but I know I will.