• Helen

the birth dearth, mommy dearest, zoom school and its discontents

It has been a while since this article actually came out, but since it played a great part in motivating me to actually construct the long-imagined project that is The Woman Question, I think it’s the appropriate place to start. On June 24, Lyman Stone and Bradford Wilcox of AEI published an article in Newsweek entitled “Empty Cradles Mean a Bleaker Future.”

Impressive, frankly, that they were willing to make their implicit heteronormative value assessments (to borrow a phrase from the wokerati) explicit in the title. And risk being lumped in with the pronatalists? The anti-choicers? The nationalists? These guys must be Catholic, shameless, or some combination thereof.

Stone and Wilcox claim that American families have foregone over seven million babies between 2008 and 2020 and will forego nine million more by 2030. As marriage rates continue a long trajectory of decline, especially for the working class, family life is beginning to be conceived of as an upper-middle-class luxury good. Stone and Wilcox conclude that financial and policy obstacles are the primary reasons for our shrinking fertility, and that if we lift those obstacles through reform-minded Child Tax Credits and the like, then people will be able to have precisely the number of children they believe will make them happy in life. Otherwise, about 25 percent of women born in the 1990s will likely never have any children, 5% of whom explicitly state that they don’t want children.

Financial, educational and housing-related factors are major reasons why people don't marry and have children in the United States today. That's why we have written, testified and argued extensively in favor of practical proposals to provide reasonable financial support to families, remove obstacles to marriage and create a more family-friendly society. Birthrates are not too low because the economy or the public budget needs more babies—they are too low because people want more babies, but are prevented from having them by financial and policy obstacles that can and should be addressed.

While AEI and IFS’s wealth of research on the topic suggests that these financial barriers appear in polls as a common reason cited for avoiding childbirth, the alleviation of those barriers seems to provide extremely modest, however encouraging, results in national fecundity. It helps a little but not a lot. Perhaps necessary but not sufficient.

It’s not just the meager statistical evidence that fails to impress. The idea that in a world of unprecedented material abundance, people avoid having children because they can’t “afford” them simply does not pass the sniff test. Populations have reproduced historically through famine, pandemic, war, and pestilence of every variety. What does it mean to “afford” children in America in 2020? Everyone gets their own room in the McMansion? Every child has their own complete college fund prior to conception?

Hesitation to reproduce signifies a deep spiritual complacency that money simply will not solve. It distills perfectly down to the assumption mentioned above: that people view child bearing as an activity that one chooses each time as a means of increasing one’s own happiness. Family life is understood as a luxury good because children themselves are improperly understood as objects that may either add or subtract value from one’s life. If below a certain income threshold, children become net negative assets (this is the central argument for abortion). If above a certain income threshold, children may be seen as assets that can increase parents’ social status by their college and career choices.

So perhaps working class people feel the birth dearth more sharply, and upper class people still have kids eventually, but we all share a narcissistic worldview about children that will remain the primary inhibitor to fecundity despite child tax credits. Money is an easy and believable excuse, and psychologically diverts those who cite it from reckoning with the fact that avarice, human respect, and material pleasure is most central to their existence. Their avoidance of love and life is borne of fear. Heavens forbid a parasitic human baby disrupts the coomer-consoomer lifestyle for even a moment!

Yet the psychic trauma that follows the fertility eclipse in women will always transcend even the most powerful of false consciousness. Not only is domestic life the most foundational, and therefore most important, form of political community, it is also the arena for which women are specifically designed to enjoy. When the prospect of fulfilling one’s natural drives is made unavailable to large segments of the population, antisocial behavior emerges. We were ready to admit this when it came to incels. What about femcels?

It’s time to consider the real outcomes of a group of millions of women, having denied their biological imperative for so long for whatever reason, reaching the point of no return. Because that’s going to be reality in America in fifteen years. When the last of the frozen eggs don’t stick, what then? Will she go quietly into that long night? Alone? Will her career be enough to console her?

We should prepare for mass psychosis exceeding in scope and intensity what we’re already seeing now.

Mass psychosis does characterize the age. This is beyond Coronavirus, but of course, arbitrarily mandated isolation and media frenzy make things worse. Recently, however, I’ve felt a disturbing shift in the force similar to when “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself” went from incisive, edgy social commentary to...appearing on crop tops. Is it Stockholm syndrome? Some sort of highly complex coping mechanism?

One mom recently posted what became a viral picture of her six year old boy on a zoom conference with a schoolteacher, splayed on his chair in a position of exhaustion and defeat, describing his clear boredom if not misery as “a total mood.”

As a sidenote, comedy for and by millenial women may be the most annoying genre, because it seems to exclusively boil down to one punchline: “LOL GUYS, ISN’T IT HILARIOUS HOW F*CKING DEPRAVED AND DEPRESSED WE ALL ARE?”

What does this behavior the cutesy commodification of one’s own miserable reality signify? It’s probably best understood in terms of a predictable stage in a strategy of subversion, advocated by Saul Alinsky, exposed by Yuri Bezmozov, and explicated by Paul Blackstock in The Strategy of Subversion: “normalization.” After many years of de-spiritualizing education, we accept our degradation with a smile, because we have learned to love ourselves as moral midgets. We seek to standardize our own slavery. To reduce our own culpability in that enslavement? To justify our clear inferiority, to invert it? Our slavishness is the font of our moral sense. Forget Alinsky, Bezmozov, and Blackstock. All we need is Nietzsche.

Modern mothers, supposedly the more sensitive sex, can no longer be stirred by even the dehumanization of their own children. This is not a good sign, but like any other example of the normalization of antihuman behavior, it has had several glaring precursors. Specific to this moment, the term “the new normal” has been gestating in email signatures and sentimental clickbait for months. More generally, we live in world completely desensitized to the horror and reality of abortion.

Most fundamentally, how might we expect a woman trained up in, to borrow a term from Paglia, the “you go girl boosterism” of postwar America to regard her children differently than she regards herself? Bootstrap Becky knows that work is drudgery, but work is her identity. She expects her babies to work like she did, and believes it's good; the more arduous, the better. Her little CEOs will start “school” at two years old and learn Chinese in kindergarten. Bootstrap Becky’s 1.5 babies will be well-groomed global citizens with better resumes by third grade than I had leaving college. Produce, consume, produce, consume. To what end?

Becky doesn’t know, and she doesn’t care.

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