Tuesday, October 12, 2004

What Jacques Derrida and George Bush have in common.

I enjoy watching politics; but it's next to impossible for me to sit firmly on either side of the fence. For a long time, I've been frustrated with the lack of places a fence-sitter like me can go to research the issues without partisanship obfuscating things.

Jim Faulconer, one of my favorite philosophy professors, made a post over at times and seasons that seemed to speak right at my problem. Though he begins by talking about the mischaracterizations people have of Jacques Derrida, a giant of a philosopher who passed away a few days ago, he moves on to discuss political issues as well:

"As I mentioned on another thread, I do not understand the kinds of discussions that have probably always dominated in politics and at least now seem also to dominate much of the academy: We align ourselves with slogans, calling on secondary sources to justify our alignments, secondary sources that themselves usually rely only on other secondary sources. It is more important that we be in the right camp than that we understand what we are talking about. Politics and academics as fashion and anti-fashion."

"Some insist on aligning themselves with what they perceive to be a new voice. Others insist on aligning themselves against the new. But neither group actually bothers to find out what the voice in question has to say. In these discussions, explanations are not explanations, they are demands for concession, and criticisms are not criticisms, they are brickbats and clubs. "

"If we do not respect that with which we agree or disagree enough to understand it, to take it seriously, we do not to respect ourselves and we certainly do not respect those whom we engage in discussion. It is no secret that I am a partisan of Jacques Derrida and a critic of President Bush. But if I cannot read Derrida and see where I disagree nor listen to Bush and see where he is right, then I cannot claim to understand either. And I have no intellectual or moral right to either criticize or recommend what I do not understand. I have an intellectual and moral obligation to hear those who disagree with me in a way that allows me to see not only where they are wrong, but where they may be right. "

"Presumably anyone reading this blog thinks of himself or herself as an intellectual—as someone concerned with matters of the intellect—regardless of how many years he or she spent in school. In fact, whatever your claims to the contrary, by definition you are an intellectual if you read this blog more than once. Presumably almost everyone reading this blog is also a Latter-day Saint. As Latter-day Saints and as intellectuals, we ought to seek understanding rather than to glom onto whatever slogans first strike us as according with what we already believe. "


At 10/13/2004 02:26:00 PM,

Good topic!

"Experts have given a few reasons for the decline:"

Which "experts" are you quoting? I'm just always wary of self-styled sociological experts, especially as I was a sociology major in college and found a fair amount of hot air and proof-by-assertion in my readings.

I don't claim to be an expert of any sort, just an observer of humanity, so I'd like to examine these purported reasons for low birth rate.

"1. Italy's increased affluence and easier access to education."
Yup. This is an interesting development - that GDP per capita does indeed have a negative correlation with birthrate. After all, as mentioned in the original post, numerous third-world countries have high birthrates; the parents don't mind raising a lot of children in poverty partially because these children are often expected to work in the family business/farm as soon as they're old enough to walk. By age eight or so the children may be effectively paying their own way. In developed countries, however, compulsory education and a relative lack of low-skill jobs keep children out of the labor force until their teens and twenties, meaning that the children are a net economic burden for the parents.

"2. A delayed transition to adulthood." That's not a satisfying explanation for low birthrate because that in itself needs an explanation.

"3. A lack of child care facilities"
I'm not really buying it. If there's demand for child care services outside the home, day care and similar business will rise up to meet the demand just as they have in this country. I happen to think that day care is a terrible substitute for personalized maternal care, so I'm not advocating that Italian entrepreneurs build a lot of soulless corporate baby-holding-tanks, but if the Italians wanted them, they would be there.

"4. An absence of state incentives to have bigger families."
I'm not too sure about this one either. Do married couples (and/or unmarried couples) really have tax breaks or other government policies near the tops of their minds when they decide to conceive children? It seems doubtful.
The obvious exception here is in China where they have a one-child-per-couple policy, but that policy is extremely anomalous.

"5. The feminist revolution in Italy was especially strong."
A little voice inside of me is telling me not to touch this one with a ten-and-a-half foot pole. I'll say this much, though - nobody can glibly blame low birthrate on the actions of the members of any single sex. It takes two to tango.

6. "Because less than 6% help with household chores, women feel overly burdened by child-rearing. The men won't help with kids, so the women don't want any."

Now, that's just awful. Sounds like a valid complaint to me.

As I was reading this post, an alternate explanation popped into my head:
7. The desire for quick gratification without responsibility.
It's not that this desire is necessarily stronger in this generation than it was among previous generations; the important development is that there are more ways of getting quick gratification than ever before.
For example, today, credit is easier to come by than ever before in America and in many other countries. Thus people are more likely to try to live beyond their means, and the ever-increasing incidences of bankruptcies indicate that many are failing to meet the responsibility of paying off their debts.
For another example, there are more types of illicit drugs available in America (and elsewhere) today than ever before, and they are easier to purchase than ever before. Even seemingly-ordinary people tear down their lives bit by bit as they go after quick highs even though they realize that the long-term consequences can be devastating.
And for a final example, one that applies to the topic at hand: there are more types of birth control available today than ever before. This increasingly allows people to engage in casual noncommittal sex, which many make a sport of during their most fertile years; they'd prefer to go for the quick gratification of sexual encouters with whomever's close at hand, rather than put in the effort to build up a stable loving relationship. Of course, the practice of "using" others for sex (or being used) is incredibly degrading to one's self-esteem and can easily lead to depression, but many folks aren't thinking about the long-term consequences at all when they're drunkedly rushing off to bed with a random hottie. (On a somewhat related note, I saw "Sex and the City" for the first time last night and was appalled.)

Increasingly these days, when I see or hear of people who are suffering under afflictions as severe as war, or as minor as the low birth rate in Italy that will bankrupt the pension system, I can't help but think about how much these people need the Gospel in their lives.

Sorry if this post is too preachy or otherwise annoying, but it's more interesting to ponder these issues than the projects that are piling up on my desk. :) 

Posted by Chris Potter

At 10/14/2004 11:23:00 AM,

sorry, posted that in the wrong topic 

Posted by Chris Potter




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