January 4, 2006

Steyn On Ice

Hatched by Dafydd

I have just finished reading Mark Steyn's lengthy but fascinating essay, carried in OpinionJournal.com: It's the Demography, Stupid; the real reason the West is in danger of extinction. (It was flagged by Hugh Hewitt, fortunately.)

Steyn argues that the demographics of population growth heavily favor the Moslem cultures over the secular, "post-Christian civilizations" of Europe; the EU's population shrinks as the ummah's population rises. At the same time, post-Christian secularists in the West are increasingly unwilling to physically (or even verbally) defend their culture. As a result, concludes Steyn, most of Western Civilization -- at least in Europe -- will inevitably collapse, to be supplanted by a resurgent Islamic funamentalist one:

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. There'll probably still be a geographical area on the map marked as Italy or the Netherlands--probably--just as in Istanbul there's still a building called St. Sophia's Cathedral. But it's not a cathedral; it's merely a designation for a piece of real estate. Likewise, Italy and the Netherlands will merely be designations for real estate. The challenge for those who reckon Western civilization is on balance better than the alternatives is to figure out a way to save at least some parts of the West.

The essay is brilliant, persuasively argued, and displays the passion Steyn has for Western Civ. Fortunately, it suffers from one terrible flaw that spoils everything: it is a classic example of discredited static analysis.

Oh, I suppose I must detour into a brief explanation. Dynamics is the mathematical study of things that move (calculus and related modes of analysis); by extension, statics is the study of things that are immobile, such as geometry, trigonometry, and algebra. Generalizing, analysis is dynamic if it presumes that events will interact with -- and alter -- each other; it is static if it assumes that each event is discrete and does not significantly alter other events.

In the real world, the distinction most often arises in economics. Imagine you have a marginal income tax of 40% above a certain level of income; assume this brings in $600 billion in revenue. Now suppose the government is experiencing a bad budget deficit of (by coincidence) exactly $600 billion.

Under static economic analysis, the obvious "solution" is to double the marginal tax rate to 80%... which, by this reasoning, should bring in an extra $600 billion dollars, saving the day.

In reality, of course, we all know that a marginal income-tax rate of 80% would not bring in double the tax revenue; in fact, it would be a miracle if it generated even as much revenue as the earlier, 40% tax: such an incentive-killer would result in a massive change in behavior away from productive (taxable) investment. In other words, we instinctively understand that such a huge change in the tax rate will cause a correspondingly huge change in behavior; this, as you likely already know, is an example of dynamic economic analysis.

So too with Steyn's analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations. His analysis depends upon the West not reacting at all to its own collapse, even when that collapse manifests itself in macroscopic changes. For example, Steyn notes that the replacement-rate for population is about 2.1 live births per woman (the extra .1 makes up for children who sadly die before having their own children, or who decide never to have children, or who cannot for medical reasons do so). Without at least 2.1 kids per mother, population declines, not taking immigration into account.

Then he notes that Spain's birthrate is only half that level:

But Canada's fertility rate is down to 1.5, well below replacement rate; Germany and Austria are at 1.3, the brink of the death spiral; Russia and Italy are at 1.2; Spain 1.1, about half replacement rate. That's to say, Spain's population is halving every generation.

(This is faulty math, by the way, since folks live longer than a single generation. Spain's population is 40 million, and there are about 400,000 live births per year; so let's assume there are 800,000 deaths per year (twice the birthrate). That's a deficit of 400,000 per year; in a twenty-five year generation, this amounts to a loss of 10 million -- which would not cut Spain's population in half but rather by one quarter. Still bad, but not as catastrophic as Steyn's claim.)

He reasons from this drop in population to the conclusion that Spain, along with other EU countries, will eventually be overwhelmed by Moslem cultures... this is particularly vivid in the case of Spain, because Moslems do indeed consider it still part of the ummah: Spain was once largely conquered by the Moors, who called it al-Andaluz; and once in the ummah, always in the ummah... thus, Osama bin Laden whined at one point about the "crusaders" who had stolen Spain from the Moslems (disregarding the fact that the Moslems stole it from the Christians). So it's at least plausible that Spain could be reconquered.

But what would be the effect on Europe and America were Spain actually to be taken over by Islamic fundamentalists, who would institute sharia law and rule it as the Taliban ruled Afghanistan? Steyn must assume there would be no impact at all; by contrast, I believe the effect would be galvanizing... just as was the conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century, which sparked the crusades.

  • Spain was eventually liberated from the Moors by King Ferdinand and Queel Isabella in 1492 (it's no coincidence that Columbus was financed by the royal pair that same year).
  • Thirty-seven years later, in 1529, the mighty Ottoman Empire besieged Vienna and was turned back, the first time that had happened. They tried again in 1683, and this time the Turks were catastrophically defeated. They fled back around the Mediterranean, and their empire began to collapse.
  • The Barbary pirates had plagued shipping in the Med for centuries, starting in the late Middle Ages; operating from their bases in Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco, they raided European Christian nations, hauling off loot and slaves. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, American and European (mostly British and Dutch) forces rallied and sacked and looted the Barbary coast, destroying the pirates by about 1815.

What do these histories have in common? They are all examples of the Western world rallying itself, fighting back against the Moslems, and defeating them -- for only a short time in the case of the crusades, but permanently (or at least until the present day) in the other three illustrations.

Note the point: for centuries, Western Civilization has reacted to Moslem conquest by waking up from its lethargy, fighting back, and eventually winning. There is no reason to assume, as Steyn necessarily does to reach his thesis, that this history abruptly ends now, with this particular demographic conquest... that this will be the one incursion that will spark no social survival sense, no pushback, and will be permanent.

Too, Steyn seems to assume that demographics, in the sense of sheer numbers, is by itself dispositive of civilization. But the time is long past where the biggest army necessarily wins; intel, technology, strategy, and training -- intelligence, that is, in the broad sense of "smartness" -- act as force multipliers to make scientifically advanced Western nations far more powerful than numerically superior but technologically inferior Islamic nations. This is why Israel has been attacked again and again, yet always prevailed against seemingly overwhelming odds.

Even in pure economics, Steyn's analysis is strongly static:

What will London--or Paris, or Amsterdam--be like in the mid-'30s? If European politicians make no serious attempt this decade to wean the populace off their unsustainable 35-hour weeks, retirement at 60, etc., then to keep the present level of pensions and health benefits the EU will need to import so many workers from North Africa and the Middle East that it will be well on its way to majority Muslim by 2035.

What astonishes me is that Mark Steyn -- who writes his columns using a word-processing program on a laptop or desktop computer, I presume -- would have so little expectation of technological improvement -- over thirty years! Is it really too difficult to imagine human labor being supplanted by automation, such that national wealth does not suffer from a reduced population?

Is it really hard to envision a time when improving technology makes the 35-hour work week and retirement at 60 as commonplace as 40-hour work weeks and retirement at 67 today? Recall that not too long ago, people routinely worked all day, every day, excepting only Sunday during church, and "retired" when they became too sick (or too dead) to continue slaving away. In many parts of the world (including most Moslem countries), this is still the norm.

Do we really agree with Steyn that --

[D]emographics is a game of last man standing. The groups that succumb to demographic apathy last will have a huge advantage. [Emphasis added]

Do we really agree that our only route to economic success is to have more babies, so we'll have more worker-bees to labor at mind-numbing assembly-line jobs and stoop labor? That we'll always need those "hewers of wood and drawers of water" on which to build the prosperity of the elites?

I choose not to believe that scientific progress is an illusion, or that life is static, except to the extent that it all goes to hell. The material world may not be perfectable (we cannot immanentize the Eschaton), but that doesn't mean it's not improvable, and drastically so: after all, haven't we drastically improved life since the Middle Ages? "What Man has done, Man can aspire to do."

Mind, I do think Steyn makes a great many good and valuable points in this essay; for example, his clarion call for the EU to realize, however belatedly, that they cannot simpy continue to import labor from cultures fundamentally at odds with theirs, refuse to assimilate or acculturate them -- and expect that they will remain content to be the modern equivalents of indentured servants. The riots in France should be the first alarm of that pending conflagration. But the solution isn't to stop immigration... it is to assimilate each new generation of immigrants, or at least their children, into thinking of themselves first as citizens of their new nation, not the old.

I will not accept any macro-analysis of civilization that fails to take technological innovation into account. It's like a teenager trying to predict his income in ten years by a straight-line projection of how much he earns working at McDonalds today. Nor will I sit still for futurism that assumes Western decadence and suicidal social policies a priori.

It is Mark Steyn's despair I reject. I have seen nothing to make me believe that the most powerful culture ever invented by humans, Western liberal democracy, having risen up and defeated the Moslem jihadists the first five hundred times, will simply roll over and die on the five hundred and first. And that is the crack in the marble that splinters the beautiful edifice of Mark Steyn's thesis: Western Civ will survive because we have been socially evolved as winners and survivors for millennia; we will prevail because we refuse, in the end, to accept any other result.

And even the Europeans will awaken from their slumber of multi-culti "tolerance" when they realize that a dhimmi must work even longer than 35 hours in a week... and doesn't even get August off!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 4, 2006, at the time of 11:55 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/384


The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Thanks for the un-depressing news, Dafydd. I added a link to your post to my It's the Demography, Stupid post.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 1:58 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

lol, Dafydd, i completely agree.
Steyn gives up a linear analysis for a non-linear world.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 6:47 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

Steyn should read Kurzweil. In thirty years Steyn's linear birthrate decline will be convolved with the Singularity. "When humans transcend biology."
You won't need replacement rates of 6.1 units when citizens live until they're two hundred.
Steyn also ignores catastrophe theory. Some sort of flu pandemic is projected for the next decade. Attrition will be vastly greater in the unprepared third world. Like the Martians in the War of the Worlds, a natural version of Captain Trips will do our job for us.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 7:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mrs. Peel

Thank you, Dafydd. I needed that.

Matoko Kusanagi - The scientists have been predicting another flu pandemic for quite some time. They say, in essence, that the world is way overdue because the last one was the Spanish flu. While I know there is some validity to their concern about H5N1 (bird flu) mutating to become transmissible between humans, it's hard to stay vigilant when every flu season is prefaced by their gloom-and-doom warnings...

The above hissed in response by: Mrs. Peel [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 8:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: pbswatcher

"They are all examples of the Western world rallying itself, fighting back against the Moslems, and defeating them -- for only a short time in the case of the crusades, but permanently"

The difference between all of your examples and the current situation is cultural confidence. In all the previous cases the people had ample cultural identity and confidence, they simply needed to be awakened to the threat. Today we have a cultural and educational elite which believes western civilization is the root of all the worlds problems. Rampant multi-culturalism and political correctness does not allow the concept of an external enemy, let alone actually having an external enemy, let alone acknowledging an external enemy, let alone accurately naming an external enemy, let alone fighting back against an external enemy. The only real enemies are George Bush and the internal fascists. Hence the silence of the womens' rights, gay rights, and freedom from (Christian) religion in government crowds on the subject of the Islamic threat.

The above hissed in response by: pbswatcher [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 8:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

I personally doubt it will be exactly H5N1. Like i said here.
But it will be an RNA virus. Past pandemics have occurred every 30-35 years.
We are not doing a good job on antivirals. Tamiflu (oceltamivir) resistance is already occurring in bird flu, because we use it for other variants of flu. See here and here.
We need to be working on broad-spectrum antivirals, like mutagens and RNAi's.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 8:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: Tommy V


Steyn contention is not that things will stay the same (the static math), but that if they do say the same, this is what can be expected.

At least how I read it, it was a warning, not a prediction.

It was a warning to have the courage and the "cultural confidence" to change the direction things are going in Europe. I hope that you are right in that the early changes will be enough to jolt the system and change the direction, but if the European Elites (and American elites for that matter) keep hiding, ignoring, and even encouraging the problem, I think the demogarphy that Steyn warns about has a chance of becoming true.

The above hissed in response by: Tommy V [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 8:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: pbswatcher

Technology can change the equation but only in the sense of relieving the need for immigration. But that outcome is far from a certainty and it would be foolish to bet the future of the culture on it. Futhermore, I don't think there is any progress being made in generating backbones. Even if immigration is no longer necessary, Europeans will still need develop the will to shut off immigration. If they don't take that step soon, Steyn's demographics, notwithstanding his math errors, will relieve them of the votes to do so.

The above hissed in response by: pbswatcher [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 9:17 AM

The following hissed in response by: David

I think that a step back may be rwuired. (LIke the passive voice? :-)

Steyn's jeremiad uses stats in much the same way that, well, Jeremiah --heh-- used current conditions to warn acient Israel, "If this continues (or since this has continured), here are the results you can expect."

Steyns article is a polemic: an attempt to warn by extrapolating current trands in such a way as to show the worst outcome barring a change in behavior by Western Civ proponents. As such, I think it rightly avoids entangle ment with alternatives. Those can be safely left to others, such as yourself, Dafydd, to devise in response to his polemic.

OK, IF the trends Steyn says continue, how can we best respond to preserve Western Civ? How can we persuade fellow Westerners to protect and defend what is good about Western Civ without rejecting useful elements from other putative civilizations (assuming there are any others--I'm not so sure that's an easily-argued case any more... )? etc.

That's the kind of response I would hope Steyn's article would engender. And maybe that's the kind of response he was hoping for as well. Since he goes out of his way to be a provocative writer, I suspect that's pretty much what he was going for.

The above hissed in response by: David [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 11:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: lmg

I think you missed Stein's point. In a democracy (which Europe still is, sort of), the group that has the most babies eventually has the most votes. In this case, they can vote in Sharia and impose it on the remainder of the population, no matter how many iPods and personal robots they may have. Unless, that is, the Europeans decide that their laws do not constitute a suicide pact, and decide to throw the "external enemy" (which is now very much internal) the heck out of their countries. One of Stein's points is that he sees no evidence that the population has any wish to turn away from suicide and save themselves, so completely has their will been sapped by the self-hatred drummed into them by their elite institutions. We see the same thing here to a lesser extent with our illegal immigration problem, where the overriding attitude seems to be, "Well, they're here now, and *there is nothing we can do about it*."

The above hissed in response by: lmg [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 6:14 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


In a democracy (which Europe still is, sort of), the group that has the most babies eventually has the most votes.

Rather, you missed my point, lmg; you have fallen into the trap of supposing that agenda is completely determined by race.

I propose instead that agenda is not determined at all, but is influenced first by culture and next by a person's own thoughts and beliefs, independent of how he was raised. Both of these criteria are affected by governmental policy towards immigrants.

What Europe needs to do is begin teaching civics to the children, not just of immigrants, but all of them. We should do it, too. There used to be a time (I don't know your age, so I don't know if you remember this personally) when schools actually taught students how to be Americans. They taught us our history, the American credo, and not only our rights but our duties as Americans.

Schools stopped doing this (for me, at least) in the mid-1970s; instead, they began to teach the goofy multi-culti idea that every culture was as good as every other culture. I started speaking up against this radical (and cockamamie) idea in high school, demanding of one teacher whether he was literally saying that there was no moral distinction between the United States in the Vietnam war, the example he was discussing -- and Nazi Germany's butchery of Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, blacks, and gays.

I was (and am) an incredibly annoying little prat (ask Patterico!), but I'm also relentless when tugging on a philosophical bone, and Teach was eventually forced to admit that no, American soldiers in "'Nam" (he wasn't there, but he kept calling it that) were not as despicable, as insanely murderous, or as sociopathic as the Nazis were.

"So doesn't that belie your entire point?" I asked.

Well... doesn't it? (He had no answer, in case you were wondering; he paused, then continued with the lesson as if there had been no exchange. But he had lost his audience.)

If American schools began training kids (including nissei of every nationality) to be Americans -- and French schools began training kids to be French, and German schools training their kids to be Germans -- that would actually answer your (and Mark Steyn's) conundrum: you can accept as many immigrants as you please, so long as you assimilate them.

Which is what I said, I think.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 5, 2006 6:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: pbswatcher


"you can accept as many immigrants as you please, so long as you assimilate them."

And if it weren't for this damn gravity, I could jump to the moon. In the multi-culti PC view assimilation is a synonym for racism, the worst possible sin in their secular world. Your approach requires two impossibilities in order to succeed. First, complete rejection of the multi-cultural view and adoption of its antithesis. Second, acceptance of such a regime by the unassimilated (and I would say unassimilable) already present as well as by the waves of unassimilated and unassimilable on the way and those yet to come.

The above hissed in response by: pbswatcher [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 6, 2006 1:33 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved