Saturday, January 14, 2006

Flight or Invisibility?

We were listening to old “This American Life” stories over Christmas, and were most intrigued by a parlor game that one author (I cannot remember who at the moment) has been playing.

The rules are these:
1) You can have one superpower, either the ability to fly or to be invisible.
2) No one else has superpowers.
3) You can fly 1000 miles per hour.
4) Your clothes become invisible, too.
5) You have all your normal physical properties besides the one superpower.

Which would you choose?

(The originator has found a gender skew to the answers, though the Gruntled family did not quite follow the norm. I will tell you what I would choose, and why, when a few of you have had a chance to respond. Enjoy.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

The World’s Missing Girls

I have been writing in my two previous posts about the shortage of girls in India and China. Today I want to add the even greater sex ratio imbalances in many Muslim countries. Reliapundit, at The Astute Blogger, had a series on Muslim demography, which pointed out that of the 30 countries with significantly more males than females, 20 are predominantly Muslim. Reliapundit speculates that honor killings, and misogyny in general, are a significant factor in producing this imbalance.

Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, argues that one of the reasons that “Islam has bloody borders” today is because the Muslim world’s population is so young. Nations with large numbers of young men are prone to violence internally and war externally. Civilization’s great cure for the violence of young men is marriage. If there are more young men than young women, the men are less likely to marry. This is why a male-skewed sex ratio is dangerous in general. In addition, polygamy would make the effects of a gender imbalance worse, by making it even less likely that low status men will be able to marry.

So here we have the largest countries in the world, China and India, with significant numbers of young men who are not likely to be able to marry. They border on countries, notably Pakistan, which also have significant numbers of young men who are not likely to be able to marry. This is a recipe for war.

Facing them are the industrialized nations with more balanced sex ratios. However, the industrialized populations are old. The upside of these two facts is that men are more likely to find mates and less likely to make war. The downside, though, is that if, God forbid, there were to be a large-scale war, the industrialized nations would be demographically overwhelmed by those places which are already demographically primed for conflict.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

China’s Missing Girls

Yesterday I wrote about a report that there is so much sex-selection abortion in India that they are short half a million girls a year. Wasatch International Adoptions reports that in China there are half a million girls in orphanages who have been abandoned by their families. India’s demographic disaster is due to a combination of widespread prejudice against girls and spreading technology for identifying them. China also has a widespread prejudice against girls. China is getting richer all the time, and the same medical technology – amniocentesis and sonograms – spread further into the countryside each year.

In India the government has been cracking down on female feticide. In China, on the other hand, government policy has made the problem much worse. China has had a “one child per family” policy for a generation. This is the sort of draconian measure that the authoritarian communist regime was prone to try. Now they have an authoritarian capitalist regime, which so far show no signs of ending the brutal practice. The result has been tens of millions of forced abortions – and a widespread abandonment of girls. If the government only lets a couple have one child, and most couples would prefer that one child to be a boy, lots of first-born girls get dumped so the couple can try again.

The silver lining of this disaster has been that tens of thousands of Chinese girls have been adopted by American families. Those who rescue these girls are doing a great thing, and they get a wonderful addition to their own families in the bargain. Girls have become an export commodity for the Chinese regime, in the same way that the old East German communist regime sold their citizens to their separated family members in the West.

America is blessed with Chinese girls. They will grow up to be Americans.

The Chinese government will reap the whirlwind.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Missing Indian Girls

For a generation, India had a bad combination of prejudice against girls, and widespread technology to tell the sex of babies before they are born. The result was massive use of sex-selection abortions. In parts of northern and western India, particularly in villages, sex ratios of 800 girls for every thousand boys were common. Activists against girl feticide report that there is a country saying that if you have two girls, you must have done something wrong in a past life. The practice has been going on so long that young men in these regions face a serious shortage of potential brides. They have taken to buying brides from regions hundreds of miles away.

The Indian government cracked down in 2001 on selection-abortions and doctors who misuse sex-identification technology. This has helped in reducing the practice of killing girl fetuses.

A new study, reported in the British medical journal The Lancet, now reports that the problem is not over. Researchers Prabhat Jha of St Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto, Canada, and Rajesh Kumar of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Research in Chandigarh, report that not only is sex-selection abortion not over in India, couples who have had a girl are increasingly likely to select a boy when pregnant with their next child. Jha and Kumar estimate that India is short half a million girls a year because of sex-selection abortion.

As I sit here with my second daughter getting ready for school, I find this chilling. The good news for Americans is that, for all the difficulties that girls might have here, we cherish their lives.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Family Car: Minivans Beat SUVs

There are all kinds of psychological reasons that people might buy SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles, or possibly Suburbans Über Volkswagens). A conscious part of the marketing has been to sell dads on the idea that they are protecting their families with a monster car. Moms, too, make up a surprisingly large part of the SUV market, largely on the grounds that they are safer for kids. David Brooks, in On Paradise Road, reports the axiom that in the suburbs, the larger the car, the smaller the woman who gets out of it.

A new study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, however, has found that SUVs are not safer for children. Now, a Ford Mars Expedition or a Chevy Subdivision will probably protect kids better than a Cooper Mini. But for their weight, SUVs are not actually safer for kids.

I recall a study, reported in the New York Times a few Christmases ago, comparing men who drove SUVs with men who drove minivans. The main finding: men who drive minivans are more secure in their masculinity than are SUV guys. And this was before Hummers …

The author drives a sticker-covered Sienna minivan with GRUNTL plates. Thanks for asking.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Great Families vs. Social Darwinism

On Lawn, at Opine Editorials, has a very gratifying appreciation of last week’s series on national greatness and the ecology of families. He or she called these comments “The Social Darwinism of Families.” This got me thinking about the ways in which my position is like social Darwinism – and in a crucial respect is the opposite of social Darwinism.

On Lawn writes, “Social Darwinism contends that the rules of evolution are alive in human sociality. Corporations, religions, families evolve.” I believe this is largely true. However, social Darwinism (or what should probably be called Herbert Spencerism) always has a fundamental ambiguity which makes it hard to apply in real societies. Darwin talked about two kinds of selection – natural selection, and the less-familiar sexual selection. Under natural selection, species compete with one another for survival within a natural ecology. Under sexual selection, individuals compete with one another for what later Darwinists would identify as genetic survival. The perennial question for social Darwinists is “What is the unit of analysis? What social bodies compete with one another in the social ecology?” Early attempts to treat races as the unit of social competition have not endured – the “races” are too amorphous, diverse, and changeable, and members of the different races constantly intermarry. Other units – the “corporations, religions, families” that On Lawn suggests – also have problems. They either do not embrace everyone in society, or are too intermixed to endure over time. The closest thing to an enduring and comprehensive social unit would be, I think, a lineage.

Lineages compete with one another over generations not only to survive, but to prosper. Put another way, my argument about the ecology of families is that strong families, sustained over generations, tend to lead to the social ascent of their lineages, and weak families tend to lead to their lineage’s social descent.

Which leads back to the question of evolution. As I argued in “What are Strong Families?” I think the basic form, functional system, and division of labor in the strongest families does not change much. However, there is a great deal of room for evolution of many aspects of family life within that general model. In our time, the major evolution has been toward much greater equality of husbands and wives within marriage.

The major difference that I see between what I think makes for great families and great nations, on the one hand, and social Darwinism as it is normally conceived, on the other, turns on who or what the family serves. Here I am going beyond what On Lawn said or should be held responsible for, and am dealing with the broader tradition of social Darwinism. In all forms of Darwinism, the standard of evolutionary excellence is mere survival. I believe that the main feature of human beings that distinguishes us from all the other creatures is that it is important to people to feel that their lives are meaningful. Mere survival is not enough. And ruthlessness in the interests of mere survival, which all other plants and animals do routinely, undermines human beings’ feeling that they are living right.

Human beings lead the most satisfying lives not when they are crushing the competition, but when they are serving the greater good. And, counter-intuitively, serving the greater good is actually the best way to serve your own interests. The strong family lineages that endure and advance in wealth, power, and esteem tend to be those that serve the greater good. This is congruent with an evolutionary theory, but goes beyond what is normally understood as social Darwinism.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Civil Religion Calendar

The annual “Happy Holidays” controversy has made me think of what the civil religion calendar would like if wholly freed from religion. Here is my offering. Flags available.
(Your comments welcome).

New Year’s Fitness Resolution Day

Mysterious Monday Off (formerly, Feel Good About Race Relations Day)

Super Bowl Commercial Sunday

Rodent Shadow Day

Forced Romance Day

Mysterious Monday Off (formerly, Celebration of Famous Presidents You Should Have Studied In School)

Drunken Green Day

Chocolate Bunny Day

TAX DAY (or Day of Atonement)

First Day of Summer (formerly, Honor Dead Soldiers While Forgetting War Day)

Fireworks Day

Last Day of Summer (formerly, Don’t Labor Day)

Mysterious Monday Off (formerly, Catholic Parade Day)

Costume and Candy Day

Mysterious Monday Off (formerly, Honor Living Soldiers While Forgetting War Day)

Family Turkey Day

Happy Shopidays