The tragedy of our age


Self-immolation of endangered peoples is sadly common. Stone-age cultures often disintegrate upon contact with the outside world. Their culture breaks down, and suicides skyrocket. An Australian researcher writes about “suicide contagion or cluster deaths – the phenomenon of indigenous people, particularly men from the same community taking their own lives at an alarming rate”. [3] Canada’s Aboriginal Health Foundation reports, “The overall suicide rate among First Nation communities is about twice that of the total Canadian population; the rate among Inuit is still higher – 6 to 11 times higher than the general population.” [4] Suicide is epidemic among Amazon tribes. The London Telegraph reported on November 19, 2000,

The largest tribe of Amazonian Indians, the 27,000-strong Guarani, are being devastated by a wave of suicides among their children, triggered by their coming into contact with the modern world. Once unheard of among Amazonian Indians, suicide is ravaging the Guarani, who live in the southwest of Brazil, an area that now has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. More than 280 Guarani have taken their own lives in the past 10 years, including 26 children under the age of 14 who have poisoned or hanged themselves. Alcoholism has become widespread, as has the desire to own radios, television sets and denim jeans, bringing an awareness of their poverty. Community structures and family unity have broken down and sacred rituals come to a halt.

Of the more than 6,000 languages now spoken on the planet, two become extinct each week, and by most estimates half will fall silent by the end of the century. [5] A United Nations report claims that nine-tenths of the languages now spoken will become extinct in the next hundred years. [6] Most endangered languages have a very small number of speakers. Perhaps a thousand distinct languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, many by tribes of only a few hundred members. Several are disappearing tribal languages spoken in the Amazon rainforest, the Andes Mountains, or the Siberian taiga. Eighteen languages have only one surviving speaker. It is painful to imagine how the world must look to these individuals. They are orphaned in eternity, wiped clean of memory, their existence reduced to the exigency of the moment.

But are these dying remnants of primitive societies really so different from the rest of us? Mortality stalks most of the peoples of the world – not this year or next, but within the horizon of human reckoning. A good deal of the world seems to have lost the taste for life. Fertility has fallen so far in parts of the industrial world that languages such as Ukrainian and Estonian will be endangered within a century and German, Japanese, and Italian within two. The repudiation of life among advanced countries living in prosperity and peace has no historical precedent, except perhaps in the anomie of Greece in its post-Alexandrian decline and Rome during the first centuries of the Common Era. But Greece fell to Rome, and Rome to the barbarians. In the past, nations that foresaw their own demise fell to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Plague, Famine, and Death. Riding point for the old quartet in today’s more civilized world is a Fifth Horseman: loss of faith. Today’s cultures are dying of apathy, not by the swords of their enemies.

Nor is the Muslim world immune:

But Islamic society is even more fragile. As Muslim fertility shrinks at a rate demographers have never seen before, it is converging on Europe’s catastrophically low fertility as if in time-lapse photography. The average 30-year-old Iranian woman comes from a family of six children, but she will bear only one or two children during her lifetime. Turkey and Algeria are just behind Iran on the way down, and most of the other Muslim countries are catching up quickly. By the middle of this century, the belt of Muslim countries from Morocco to Iran will become as gray as depopulating Europe. The Islamic world will have the same proportion of dependent elderly as the industrial countries – but one-tenth the productivity. A time bomb that cannot be defused is ticking in the Muslim world.

Facing the death of one’s culture and religion is the characteristic anguish of our time.  How odd that this great human drama will be largely overlooked by our artists and storytellers because their own individualistic, universalist prejudices keep them from seeing it.

H/T:  E. Feser

19 Responses

  1. Well, the population projections probably won’t apply in three generations time: after all, people must eat.

    Meanwhile in the next couple of decades, when we could still expect to be alive, on a timescale where population projections are reliable:

  2. I don’t know that ALL the artists are blind to what’s going on. I’ve always sensed in some of Cormac McCarthy’s more popular books a sense of the catastrophic less prevalent in the modern world. No Country for Old Men conveys this especially; The Road is a bit more in-your-face about it.

  3. I think rather this is just a blip, a temporary drop as the non-maternal females and non-paternal males voluntarily remove their genes from our pool. Yes, we do have a temporary population shrinkage for now, but in a generation or two, the only people left will be those who WANT to have children. Keep in mind, the stats you cite are describing the FIRST GENERATION in world history wherein breeding has become completely voluntary. I believe the phenomenon we are living through is known as a bottleneck event, as some external pressure squeezes down the existing population, eliminating a great deal of genetic diversity. At this time, we are eliminating the Liberals… Rejoice!

  4. Thumbs up on articles which 1) bemoan the loss of the West’s faith while 2) using the phrase “Common Era.”

  5. Well, Spengler is a Jew, so when he laments our loss of faith, he probably means something different than when we talk about things like that.

  6. The Xhosa cattle-killing movement of the mid-1860s, sparked by the pressure of civilizational encounter with British settlers and which resulted in the mass self-induced starvation of much of that tribe, is a notable historical example of this pattern of outcome.

  7. This post raises an important distinction that is rarely noticed or remarked upon. For a Christian reactionary in the West, the impact of modernity is experienced in an entirely different way than for a religious traditionalist within a culture outside the West. In the first case, the threat imposed by modernity is intellectual and spiritual, but not directly physical or existential. On the contrary, the immediate physical benefits of life under modernity are too well known to mention. In the second case, however, the threat imposed by modernity encompasses all these categories, for the historical experience of modernity for three hundred years has been fundamentally tied to the political, economic and military ascendancy of the West over all other civilizations. This is the strange contradiction at the heart of modernity in the West, for the increasing predominance of secularism in its historical experience has simultaneously yielded both civilizational ascendancy in worldly terms and a progressive loss of faith leading to an entrenched and growing nihilism. Its ascendancy has forced the decision on all other civilizations to either modernize themselves or perish, thereby undermining those civilizations in either case, while its loss of faith has undermined its own historical civilizational achievement. Secular modernity is an outcome of the Christian West: its origins and development are to be found there and not elsewhere. This is a bitter pill to swallow, but there it is. To misquote Commander Perry, “we have met the enemy, and they are us.”

  8. @Peter S – That’s pretty much how I see it too; except I see the past three hundred years as gradually arising from the 700 years before that, when Western Christendom split away from Eastern – i.e. when The West gradually emerged as distinct.

    So much that we rightly value as Western genius (in philosophy, science, architecture, art and literature) was also (we now perceive) bound-up with the current nihilistic malaise – that this is indeed a bitter pill to swallow.

    The basic process behind this is, I think, differentiation and specialization of societal functions – each step in specialization yielding a short-term advantage (from focusing ability on a smaller domain) but increasing long-term social (and mental) fragmentation – and, in the end, a state of intractable alienation.

  9. Once a country’s total fertility rate (total lifetime number of births per female) drops below 1.7, population decline becomes almost irreversible, due to the aging of the population and the corresponding reduction of the number of women of child-bearing age.

    If one looks at Japan, which has very little inward or outward migration, the percentage of the population, over 65 increased from 11.6% in 1989 to 21.2% in 2007. In the same year, the percentage of those under 15 was 13.8%. The total fertility rate in that year was 1.34.

    The real problem is not just a reduction in population numbers, but the number of dependent elderly within that population, many of whom are childless (In Japan, in 2007, 24% of women between 40 & 50 were childless).

    Other countries’ figures are often affected by inward migration, as in the USA and Western Europe, or by outward migration, notably in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, where low birth-rates are compounded by a flight of the young.

  10. Yes, this is an important caveat: it is not Christianity per se that led to modernity, but rather the specific experience and unfolding of Christianity historically in the West. The Christian East did not follow this path. Since Spengler, a Zionist Jew, likes to hammer on Islam, it is worth noting that, in certain critical ways, the Christian East might be observed to actually be closer to Islam than to the Christian West.

    Specifically, one might speak of the Palamite and Ghazalian victories: The Classical Greek philosophical inheritance, transmitted to the Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, was at once instrumental in shaping their theologies as well as problematic with regard to its absorption. In Eastern Orthodoxy, one speaks of the Palamite victory, in reference to Palamas’s rebuttal of the currents of Peripatetically inspired philosophic nominalism and rejection of spiritual knowledge in Orthodoxy. In a similar sense, one may speak of the same clash and rebuttal as having taken place in Islam, particularly in the writings of al-Ghazali (esp. “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” and the “Revival of Religious Sciences”).

    In the Medieval West, the same intellectual clash was taking place – as represented by such figures as Peter Abelard and such key issues as the Problem of Universals – but with a decisively different outcome. Whereas in Islam and the Christian East, philosophy failed to usurp the positions of theology and mysticism, in the Medieval West, such an usurpation was largely successful. The categories of spiritual knowledge became increasingly marginalized in favor of nominalistic philosophic categories. The intellectual trajectory of the West down to our present day can largely be traced from such roots. The results have been large gains in material domination, conjoined with massive alienation and lack of meaning in the human psyche.

  11. @MP-S – You are perfectly correct that this is what has happened – but human populations *can* grow very rapidly even from a small base – for example the ultra-Orthodox Jews which live in my city have an *average* family size of about nine – which means they have quadrupled every c25 years and probably increased sixteen fold in about 50 years (plus inward migration). The Amish have followed a similar trajectory.

    Another route is populations that *can’t* use contraception – such as Australian Aborigines and the Roma – who both dwindled to fairly near extinction but are now rapidly increasing in numbers in both absolute and relative terms.

    Populations *could* therefore recover from even a smallish base.

    But of course we would need to *want* to – and that is the big, big problem for secular materialists – indeed, there is apparently no answer so long as s-m dominates…

  12. Demographic winter scenarios should be taken seriously, but to keep things in balance we should remember that, only forty years ago, we were fretting over a “population bomb.” There is no physical reason why a single child with no cousins can’t bear six, eight, or ten children, so we’re not on a death march to inescapable extinction. We should also beware of the scale problem in aggregate demographic trends. Some Italian families are, presumably, growing, even as others die off. As noted above, we’re going through a phase of radical selection for the philoprogenative. Contraception and cultural acceptance of barrenness have created an “environment” that selects for strongly child-centered individuals. Their descendants will inherit the earth.

  13. I think we are being blinded by averages. For every childless abortionette liberal, there is a religious White woman having 3 kids, giving us the horrible-looking 1.5 TFR. The population may shrink temporarily, but we can expect a resurgence as the non-maternal women remove their genes from our common pool. The abortion rate has already begun to fall after its first-gen peak in 1990, for example, in America at least. see my essay for some stats.

    The average is also brought down by “single moms” who get stuck with one bastard child (which lowers their chance of marriage and a larger family). Once society flips conservative, this problem will also be ameliorated, as the laws change to prevent that kind of thing.

  14. In Japan, contraception seems to be the least of their problems

    25 – 29: Never married Male 69.3%, Female 54.0%.
    30 – 34: Never married Male 42.9%, Female 26.6% (July 2000).

    According to a government survey, more than a quarter of unmarried men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins. 50% of men and women in Japan said they were not “going out with anybody”

  15. I doubt if any society in the world could withstand the combined economic pressure of the projected elderly dependent ratio, coupled with a rapidly rising number of dependent children, rendering a large part of the female population economically inactive.

    High birth rates would no more lead to rapid population growth than they did in pre-industrial Europe and for the same reason – Poor nutrition and a lack of medical care leading to soaring infant and maternal mortality rates.

  16. @MP-S – amazing, and chilling…

    I understand (from Kristor) that the Chinese are currently converting to Christianity at a formidable rate – but I have not heard anything similar of the Japanese. If they will not save themselves, nothing will save them.

  17. Christianity in China is growing, but it grew pretty fast in Korea too, and then topped out while still a clear minority.

  18. Declining birthrates in the West would not be much of an issue were it not for the simultaneous import of large numbers of foreigners. Hence Japan, with highly restrictive immigration policies, will probably come out fine in the end.

  19. “Hence Japan, with highly restrictive immigration policies, will probably come out fine in the end.”

    Until the economy collapses under the burden of dependent elderly. Social services will not only run out of money, but of manpower

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